Fired employees air grievances

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 22, 2007

AHOSKIE – One wrong doesn’t deserve another.

That’s the feeling among three of the seven Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC) employees recently terminated due to a declared “financial exigency” at the college.

While all seven collectively told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald last week that they felt proper procedure was not used by the RCCC administration during the termination process, three are using what they deemed as “proper channels” by filing official grievances.

Jodi Aerts, RCCC’s now fired Director of Admissions, Hazel Pierce, who spent 13 years serving as an assistant to the Small Business Director, and Barbara Lies, a former Nurse Retention Specialist, have each lodged grievances against the college.

“In reviewing the procedure and policy presented to the (RCCC) employees on the college website, I see no evidence that protocol was followed,” Aerts said in her grievance letter filed on Sept. 27.

Aerts, a Eure resident who had been employed with the college for nearly 19 years, outlined a few of the processes that were not followed. Those included the lack of a 30-day notice, the failure to send her a certified letter of termination and that an ad hoc committee, as outlined in RCCC policy when dealing with reduction in force due to financial exigency, was not appointed to study the situation.

“I believe that I have unjustly been released from my position,” Aerts’ letter reads. “Additionally, this has affected not only my livelihood, but my general health as well.”

Aerts told the R-C News-Herald that she is currently seeking legal advice in regards to her termination.

The firing of Aerts drew the ire of Robert Chadwick Jr., himself a victim of the financial exigency axe as he was terminated after serving RCCC for 13 months as the coordinator of the Evening and Weekend College program.

“No director of admissions, no recruiter, no retention officer; this all just doesn’t make sense,” Chadwick said. “If you think enrollment is low now, just wait. (By firing Aerts) we don’t have a recruiter trying to attract local students, much less any new students from northeastern North Carolina.”

In her grievance letter dated Oct. 17, Pierce, of Ahoskie, questioned the practice of terminating veteran employees over those with little service time at the college.

“According to the procedures manual section entitled Reduction in Force, item ‘C’ (says) consideration shall be given to permanent full-time employees over probationary or part-time employees in addition to considering the total length of service at the college,” said Pierce in her letter.

Her letter continued, “Additionally, section ‘E’ states that the president shall appoint an ad hoc committee representing faculty, support personnel and administration, excluding the president. This committee is to hold meetings, gather information and give advice and recommendations to the president of criteria to use in selecting employees for termination. I believe these procedures were not adhered to as written.”

According to RCCC Policy # 1.2 (Compliance), “all policies of the Board of Trustees of Roanoke-Chowan Community College shall be in compliance with the laws and regulations of the United States, the State of North Carolina, the State Board of Community Colleges and the North Carolina System of Community Colleges. They shall have the effect of law and all employees of the college are expected to follow these policies. Any willful violation of board policy will subject any employee of the college to reprimand, suspension or termination.”

Lies said in her Sept. 27 grievance letter that Board of Trustees Policy #3.7 and College Procedure #03-0902 were not followed during the termination process.

“I see no evidence of the policy and procedure being followed for Financial Exigency and Reduction in Force,” Lies stated in her letter. “The reduction in force was to be done in a fair and systematic manner with full-time, permanent employees being retained over part-time or newly hired employees in positions that have the same or closely related classification titles.”

Lies, of Aulander who has been employed at the college for nearly seven years, outlined why procedure was not followed in her particular case.

“In the nursing department, there are two employees who are newly hired,” she said in the letter. “One has been employed three to four weeks and another for only two complete semesters. I was not given consideration for either position.”

Lies went on to say in her letter that she had seen no evidence of an ad hoc committee being appointed nor was she advised of such representation on her behalf.

In addressing the grievance letter to her past supervisor, Nursing Program Director Virginia Crocker, Lies said, “it is my understanding that you, as the Director of the ADN Program, were never consulted as described in Section D of the procedure to provide input into the effect on your department.”

RCCC Board of Trustees Policy 3.7 – “Financial Exigency Reduction in Force” – was put into place at a special called meeting of the RCCC Board of Trustees on Sept. 6. At that time, the board agreed to allow RCCC President Dr. Ralph Soney to proceed with “cause to be established rules and procedures governing review, reassignment or reduction in force of college personnel due to financial exigency.”

This measure came on the heels of a regularly scheduled Aug. 28 meeting of the trustees where Dr. Soney informed the board of approximately $700,000 in state revenue shortfalls due to declining student enrollment.

Next: Unspoken benefits revealed