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Former clerk’s attorney plans to file suit against city

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'Whistleblower' defense considered, Augustus says

By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

The Louisville attorney representing the former Milton city clerk/treasurer said Monday that he intends to file a lawsuit within the next couple of weeks against the city on behalf of his client, Shannon Hoskins.

Hoskins was fired Thursday, July 22, by a 3-1 vote of the Milton City Commission at the recommendation of Mayor Denny Jackson.

Jackson recused himself from discussion and abstained from voting; Commissioners Gerald Owen, Jerry Harmon and Lori Jameson voted to fire Hoskins, while Commissioner Steve Brierly dissented. (See full story, “Milton Panel votes 3-1 to fire Hoskins,” Page A1.)

A July 13 letter sent to Hoskins’ attorney, Michael Augustus, by city attorney Genon Hensley, outlined the reasons for Jackson’s decision to terminate Hoskins and gave notice of the July 22 special meeting.

According to the letter, Hoskins was to be terminated for insubordination; low morale among city employees, attributed to her management style; and complaints from citizens about Hoskins “abrasive manner when conducting city business.”

Augustus said in a phone interview Monday that, instead, he believes Hoskins was terminated for being a whistleblower – for allegedly alerting the state Environmental Protection Agency about problems within the city’s water department and concerns for public safety.

Augustus said his client allegedly made a complaint to the state EPA on May 6 over a situation in which she claims she was unable to obtain permission from Jackson to issue a boil-water advisory to residents when a problem arose with the city’s water system.

A waterline break March 18 had resulted in a disruption in service for several hours to most customers in downtown Milton. Because the break also compromised the system, a boil-water advisory was issued to residents once service resumed in case of contamination.

Hoskins related her version of the incident in her statement Thursday to the commission, prior to its vote regarding her employment.

“I advised Mayor Jackson many times that a boil-water advisory needed to be issued, and he let the situation intensify and did nothing,” Hoskins said. “After receiving many calls, being questioned about the outage by many customers, and after one of the commissioners called to say he was receiving calls from the local newspaper, I called our state water and sewer inspector … and told him I believed we needed to issue a boil-water advisory. I told him that our certified field operator [supervisor] was not on duty and could not be reached by telephone to ask him what I needed to do.”

She said the state inspector told her to issue the advisory.

At the time, Danny Purvis was field supervisor for the Milton Water Department. He retired on March 31 and was succeeded in June by Mark Bates of Ghent, Ky.

Attorney: Timing suggests other motive for termination

The timing of that alleged May 6 complaint seems to coincide with a May 24 letter, in which Jackson asked for Hoskins resignation, Augustus said, giving the appearance that her complaint to the state “was motivation for her termination,” Augustus said.

The reasons outlined in the July 13 letter “are very general and were never provided to her at any time prior to her termination and her making that complaint” to the state EPA, he said. “I don’t see any other rational reason for her termination. There were no negative job performance reviews or a requirement to do anything [in her job] differently. She was given a pay raise; she had no inkling that she’d done anything wrong.”

“The bottom line is, Milton’s water is not up to state or federal standards. She tried to protect the residents and was terminated as a result.”

On Monday evening, Hensley declined to respond to Augustus’ claims until “a lawsuit is filed and I have the opportunity to review the issues raised.”

Augustus said a lawsuit may be filed at either the state level, with the claim that the city acted illegally according to state statutes protecting whistleblowers, or at the federal level, under protections for whistleblowers that are outlined under the federal Clean Water Act of 1974.