The Pulaski County Commissioners met some serious hostility last night during their regular meeting when several dozen people packed into the commissioners’ meeting room in support of Highway Superintendent Kenny Becker, who had been suspended with pay following an investigation by the commissioners into the highway department. The crowd was so boisterous that the commissioners were forced to adjourn their meeting early, having covered only one item on the agenda.
The commissioners issued a press release that Commissioner Tracey Shorter read aloud at the meeting, explaining, without too much detail, the investigation that led up to the suspension of Becker and secretary Lin Morrison, who, it was found out at the meeting, was reinstated into her position shortly after her suspension was made effective. According to the release, the county commissioners received a large number of complaints from both inside and outside sources regarding the highway department. As a result, the commissioners hired an outside consultant to conduct an investigation, and suspended with pay the department head and records keeper to further investigate the matter.
Twenty people were then reportedly interviewed, including nearly all highway department employees, recorded by a licensed court reporter to prevent any claims of false accusations. An executive session was then held to discuss the investigation, and the commissioners directly questioned Becker. The release explained that the issue involves the employee/employer relationship and falls within the executive power of the commissioners.
The commissioners announced that no public debate would be heard nor would public questions or comments be allowed. The commissioners approved a motion to remove Becker’s suspension and appoint him general manager of the highway department to be overseen by Commissioner Larry Brady, who would assume the role of department head.
Immediately following this announcement, the crowd erupted. Accusations were thrown at the commissioners, accusing them of abusing the power given to them by voters. A citizen asked Sheriff Michael Gayer, who was present alongside several officers to keep the peace, how he felt about the job performed by the highway department, and Gayer said he felt Becker has done “a great job.” His response was met by applause from the audience who had gathered in support of Becker.
County Attorney Kevin Tankerslee said he doesn’t expect this to end in a lawsuit for the county, saying Becker was reinstated with Brady overseeing the department. However, this did not stop the excited crowd, many of whom continued yelling questions and, in some cases, insults toward the commissioners.
As a result, the commissioners approved a motion to table the remaining agenda and adjourn their meeting for the night. The crowd dispersed from the commissioners’ room and instead gathered in the lobby of the courthouse, where they cheered and clapped for the newly-reinstated Becker, now general manager of the Pulaski County Highway Department.
However, this conflict is not expected to end here; Becker’s counsel expressed his intention on demanding the names of those who filed complaints against the department, going so far as to even threaten legal action against the county for defamation of character.