MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - We’re learning more about why the mayor of Meridian fired one of his department heads.
Mayor Percy Bland initially would not comment on the termination of Parks and Recreation Director Kelvin McGruder. Only telling reporters, as a department head, serves at the will and pleasure of the mayor.
McGruder, who had been on administrative leave since May 31st due to a state audit involving his department, was officially fired Wednesday.
But when Ward 5 Councilman Weston Lindemann publicly questioned McGruder's termination, Mayor Bland released additional information and defended his actions.
“They were both communicated the same thing when we last met with Mr. McGruder that he could not communicate with any representatives, city staff or any other elected officials during this process,” says Mayor Bland.
The mayor says McGruder was fired because he failed to obey a directive to not talk to city officials or employees during his suspension. Mayor Bland says McGruder communicated with Councilman Lindemann over the course of his suspension, which was in violation of his directive.
“But I was really shocked to hear after our council communicated with Councilman Lindemann on numerous occasions not to discuss this matter with Mr. McGruder, that he still did it,” says Mayor Bland.
Councilman Lindemann is now disputing those claims saying McGruder was unjustly fired because he invoked his whistle blowing rights about recent city payroll and spending concerns.
“Mr. McGruder invoked his rights as a whistle blower that is outlined in section 6.09 in the employee handbook, which McGruder has signed an employee acknowledgement form which clearly states that he is agreeing to the terms listed in the employee handbook that everybody signs.”
“Because he’s a department head that serves under the will and pleasure of the mayor, I think that is overlooking the fact that there are federal protection for whistle blowers. And in the attempt that he was making to make the mayor aware of improprieties within the ranks of our local government, he should’ve been protected under the way I look under the whistle blower policy,” says Councilman Lindemann.
Councilman Lindemann says it was his understanding that McGruder's job was protected, despite the directive from Mayor Bland.
“It really wasn’t a consideration of mines that they would eventually link our communications together affirmatively but that was determined at the council meeting that we have been communicating and I don’t see that that’s an issue,” says Councilman Lindemann.
In the meantime, the mayor says three Parks and Rec employees will split the director duties until a replacement is appointed.
The mayor released this full statement in regard to McGruder’s termination:
"Mr. McGruder was placed on unpaid administrative leave May 31st, 2018 due to an active investigation involving a state law enforcement agency and the initial findings of that process.
Mr. McGruder was emphatically told not to speak to any City of Meridian employees nor elected officials by our legal counsel as to not impede and or obstruct the investigative process. The City Council was told the same.
It was discovered that Mr. McGruder had been in working collaboration with Councilman Lindemann at Tuesday’s July 17, 2018 Council Meeting.
Councilman Lindemann provided forged time cards from the most recent pay period, claiming them to be factual evidence that he received from his communications with Mr. McGruder.
Those time cards provided by Councilman Lindemann do not reflect the true time cards located in HR.
We have forwarded all of Councilman Lindemann’s additional evidence to the state of Mississippi.
We will continue to assist the Office of the State Auditor in any way to ensure the integrity of the investigative process, and we await the truth to come to light."
Councilman Lindemann responded to the statement by saying that he can provide time cards that can dispute the mayor’s claims. The councilman also questioned the authenticity of the investigation into Mr. McGruder.
We reached out to Kelvin McGruder multiple times via email for comment. He has not responded to our requests for an interview.