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Jackson: Eley must return pay he got as firefighter

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Sid Eley

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By Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly

Saturday, April 20, 2019

HERTFORD — Hert­ford’s mayor pro tem is de­mand­ing the town coun­cilor he was found guilty of punch­ing in the head to re­turn money the coun­cilor re­ceived from the town as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter, threat­en­ing a law­suit if he doesn’t.

Mayor Pro Tem Quentin Jack­son de­manded dur­ing Mon­day’s Hert­ford Town Coun­cil meet­ing that Coun­cilor Sid Eley re­turn the $6,100 Jack­son claims Eley was paid as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter, say­ing it vi­o­lates town poli­cies.

Jack­son’s de­mand came a week af­ter he called for Eley to be re­moved from the Hert­ford Fire Depart­ment, claim­ing the 72-year-old Eley is un­fit to serve as a vol­un­teer fire­fighter for the town. Eley has served as a Hert­ford vol­un­teer fire­fighter for 49 years.

The de­mand also comes while Jack­son is await­ing trial in Su­pe­rior Court on a charge of as­sault­ing Eley fol­low­ing a town board meet­ing last Oc­to­ber. A District Court judge found Jack­son guilty of as­sault on a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial in Jan­uary, sen­tenc­ing him to 120 days in jail. The jail sen­tence is on hold, how­ever, be­cause Jack­son ap­pealed the ver­dict to Su­pe­rior Court.

Dur­ing Mon­day’s Town Coun­cil meet­ing, Jack­son said Hert­ford’s poli­cies pro­hibit the town’s elected of­fi­cials from tak­ing any money from the town be­yond the salary they re­ceive for serv­ing as coun­cilors or the mayor.

Fire­fight­ers don’t get a salary but they are paid each time they re­spond to a fire. The town also puts money into the pen­sion fund they’re of­fered as fire­fight­ers.

Jack­son said Eley owes the town $4,600 he was paid for re­spond­ing to fires plus $1,500 that went to his pen­sion ac­count. If Eley doesn’t re­pay that money, Jack­son said the town should hire an at­tor­ney to sue Eley in court and de­mand he also pay dam­ages.

It is un­clear if the dol­lar amounts Jack­son cited were only for Eley’s cur­rent term in of­fice. There was a pe­riod where Eley, the town’s mayor for 14 years, did not serve on the town board fol­low­ing his de­feat by cur­rent Mayor Ho­race Reid. Eley’s cur­rent coun­cil term ex­pires in De­cem­ber.

At least one other town fire­fighter, Ed Lane, has served on both the fire de­part­ment and as a mem­ber of Hert­ford Town Coun­cil. Lane was de­feated for re-elec­tion in the Novem­ber 2017 elec­tion — the same elec­tion that brought Jack­son to coun­cil.

It’s not clear if the town can force Eley out of the Hert­ford Fire Depart­ment. Town at­tor­ney John Leidy has said the de­part­ment is a sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tion from the town. The town sim­ply pro­vides equip­ment, like trucks, and pays the fire­fight­ers a small amount based on calls they re­spond to plus the pen­sion con­tri­bu­tion.

Ten­sions seemed high from the mo­ment Mon­day’s Town Coun­cil meet­ing started, as Jack­son and Reid clashed over which of them was in con­trol of the spe­cial meet­ing. They also dif­fered on what ac­com­mo­da­tions the coun­cil should make for Eley, who suf­fers from a hear­ing prob­lem.

Coun­cilors Gra­cie Fel­ton and Frank Nor­man had called for Mon­day’s meet­ing, cit­ing a need to dis­cuss what they said were “coun­cil con­cerns.” They also said coun­cil needed a closed ses­sion with the town’s at­tor­ney.

Reid started the meet­ing by say­ing each coun­cil mem­ber would have five min­utes to speak about their con­cerns. Reid also said Su­san Beck­with, a Hert­ford res­i­dent, would be typ­ing up what was be­ing said so that Eley could read it and re­spond.

“They don’t say I’m deaf, they say I am ‘hard of hear­ing,’” Eley ex­plained.

Eley said his doc­tor told him Mon­day that he has no hear­ing in his right ear and is miss­ing 80 per­cent of his hear­ing in his left ear. The prob­lem isn’t con­stant, and Eley said it is ex­pected to be tem­po­rary. He said the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act re­quires gov­ern­ments to make some ac­com­mo­da­tions for elected of­fi­cials who have dis­abil­i­ties.

Jack­son chal­lenged Reid’s de­ci­sion to limit the time each coun­cilor could speak. He also ques­tioned al­low­ing Beck­with to sit at coun­cil’s ta­ble and help Eley fol­low the dis­cus­sion. He pointed out Eley didn’t bring a doc­tor’s note stat­ing he needed that ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Jack­son also sug­gested he ob­jected to Eley re­ly­ing on Beck­with in par­tic­u­lar. He claimed “there seems to be a leak” in town gov­ern­ment. He also said any­one help­ing tran­scribe dis­cus­sions for pub­lic of­fi­cials should hold cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in that field.

Beck­with has ex­pressed crit­i­cism of Jack­son in the past, and said she’s con­sid­er­ing run­ning for a town coun­cil seat.

Even af­ter coun­cilors were as­sured Beck­with would not be help­ing Eley when they went into closed ses­sion, Jack­son still ex­pressed reser­va­tions about Eley us­ing Beck­with to help him keep up with the dis­cus­sion.

When Beck­with tried to speak to Jack­son, he turned to her and said,”You can­not speak. You can­not speak to me.”

Beck­with said later that she has held cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in tran­scrip­tion ser­vices in the past, but no longer does. She said she agreed to help Eley at the last mo­ment when she was asked to.

At one point dur­ing Mon­day’s meet­ing, Jack­son also turned to the au­di­ence, which was mostly white, and said, “You guys are some of the most racist peo­ple in the town.”

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