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Deputy fired; officials donít say why

By Shelley Smith and Scott Jenkins
ssmith@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten has fired a deputy who was a member of the departmentís Special Response Team.
But neither Auten nor the countyís attorney will say why the deputy was fired. The county argues that state law requiring such disclosure does not apply to ěat willî employees including deputies.
Thatís despite an opinion issued by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooperís office in November that the law, which took effect Oct. 1, does apply to those employees.
Meanwhile, the N.C. Sheriffís Association is backing legislation in the N.C. General Assembly that would exempt sheriffís departments from releasing such information.
At the request of the Post, the Sheriffís Office released a memo Friday that had been given to the deputy, John Roach, upon his firing.
Dated May 19 and initialed by Auten, the memo said:
ěAs of today Thursday, May 19, 2011, your services are no longer required at the Rowan County Sheriffís Office. All county owned equipment should be returned immediately.î
When Sheriffís Office spokesman Capt. John Sifford gave the Post a copy of the memo, he wrote in an email that it would be ěthe only comment that the Sheriff would have at this time.î
The Post then asked Rowan County Manager Gary Page and Jay Dees, the countyís attorney, to provide a written dismissal notice that complies with a state personnel records law that took effect in October or a reason the county didnít have to provide one.
Under that law, when a government employee is dismissed, the firing agency must give the employee a letter that states the ěspecific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.î And those letters are public record, according to the law.
But Dees replied that the county didnít have to provide that letter in this case.
ěIn short, a sworn deputyís employment is different than civilian employees that fall under state or county personnel policies, in that sworn deputies may be dismissed for any reason or no reason at all,î Dees wrote in an email to the Post. ě Where it is permissible to dismiss a sworn deputy for no reason at all, it is my opinion that no dismissal letter is required.î
Dees wrote that the new law requires a dismissal notice ěwhere it is otherwise required by law (or personnel policies) ó typically for employees covered by personnel policies substantially equivalent to state personnel policies. This is not the case as to sworn deputies, whose service is completely at the discretion of the elected sheriff.î
On Nov. 8, however, Grayson G. Kelley, chief deputy attorney general with the N.C. Department of Justice, issued an opinion that addressed many questions surrounding the new state law, including whether at-will employees were subject to it.
Kelley wrote that the law does require public agencies to create a dismissal letter for every employee fired for disciplinary reasons, ěincluding employees who are not otherwise entitled to such formal notification.î And, he wrote, those letters are open to public inspection.
And now, the Sheriffís Association ó and groups representing school boards and counties ó are backing legislation that would put an exemption into law.
Sen. Pete Brunstetter, a Republican from Forsyth County, has sponsored a bill that would reduce the amount of information taxpayer-funded agencies must make public. It would also exempt sheriffís departments and other agencies with ěat willî employees from having to write dismissal letters for those employees, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
No telephone listing for Roach could be found Friday.

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