Citing concerns about exceeding the personnel budget, along with the curious timing associated with a federal corruption trial against her, the Mobile County Commission voted unanimously today to freeze pending pay raises and promotions for 28 employees of License Commissioner Kim Hastie. If the county commissioners hadn’t acted, the promotions would have taken effect Saturday.
In statements to the media while the jury in her case continued to deliberate this morning, Hastie admitted at least one of the recipients of the promotions testified on her behalf during the trial, but suggested the personnel moves were recommended by supervisors at the License Commission and in the works long before she was hit with a criminal indictment in November. Lagniappe first broke news of a federal investigation of Hastie’s office in July of last year. It’s not known if the promotion and raises were planned prior to that time.
A further review of 24 names provided by the Mobile County Commission revealed that of nine employees Hastie approved for promotions were also listed on her defense team’s witness list. Two of those testified as character or factual witnesses.
Hastie said if the promotions were not awarded by June 6, some employees may have to be re-tested or re-evaluated, in accordance with the policy of the Mobile County Personnel Board. At this time Lagniappe has not been able to verify that statement with the Personnel Board.
She also said she was aware of possible suspicion over the timing of the promotions.
“A lot of the reasons these positions were not filled already is because we wanted to make clear that ‘that’ was never said,” Hastie said regarding the assumption she awarded the promotions to curry favor with possible witnesses in her trial. “To be fair to these people, it’s not their fault that I’ve been going through this. We’ve been holding up on their promotions for some of them for almost a year.”
Asked directly whether some of the employees benefitting from the promotions were also called as character witnesses or potential character witnesses in her trial, Hastie offered only one — clerk Angel Parnell, who testified Tuesday about the efficiency Hastie claims to have brought to the License Commission. The list of promoted employees, provided later, showed at least one other who testified in Hastie’s defense.
In an add-on to today’s planning agenda for the Mobile County Commission, county attorney Jay Ross said the county only became aware of the pending promotions yesterday. He recommended the commission adopt a draft resolution freezing the promotions, noting the License Commission’s personnel expenditures would have reached 76 percent of its budgeted amount, just six months into the fiscal year.
Consequently, the County Commission adopted a draft resolution approving in part, “a revocation of the License Commission’s authority to take personnel actions that would have the potential effects of increasing the approved amount of the budget without prior approval …”
Hastie said she “didn’t know [the promotions] had to go through the county commission,” but Mobile County Finance Director Michelle Harmon said the large group of promotions — extended to about a quarter of the License Commission’s total employees — was “very irregular.”
Commissioner Connie Hudson explained how several years ago, the County Commission gave the License Commission and other “appointing authorities” authorization to work directly with the Personnel Board on HR matters, “with the contingency they stay within the amount they were allocated within their budget.”
“So the trust that was there is that they remain within the budget, and the assumption here is that this will not be the case,” Hudson said.
Commissioner Merceria Ludgood suggested the License Commission was on track to exceed its personnel budget for the third year in a row, but Hastie disagreed.
“We’re filling positions that have been there,” she said, also claiming positions vacated by the promotions will remain unfilled.
Commissioner Jerry Carl asked about delaying action until after the verdict, but considering the raises were effective June 6, Ross suggested that awarding the promotions only to rescind them later could result in legal action from the employees. But, Ross said, nothing about the commission’s resolution would prevent the raises from being revisited in the future, “after the budget is analyzed to discover its full impact.”
According to records at the Personnel Board, the License Commission sought the creation of three new positions in January – that of office manager for locations in Theodore, Eight Mile and on Michael Boulevard – but no other promotions or raises within the office have appeared on Personnel Board agendas since.
Meanwhile, the jury in Hastie’s trial in its second day of deliberations.
Claims of jury tampering and an arrest in the matter were part of Hastie’s civil trial in April, along with her husband John Melvin Hastie, Jr., for allegedly attempting to evade paying taxes on a land transaction. Lawrence Oneal, who works for Hastie’s husband, was arrested and charged after an investigation determined he “corruptly endeavored to influence a member of the jury.”
According to the arrest warrant, a potential juror in that trial informed officials his wife had been approached by Oneal at the restaurant in Monroeville where she works and asked the woman and her husband to pray for John Hastie.
Oneal, according to the affidavit filed in his arrest, told investigators that three days before jury selection Hastie provided him the names of some potential jurors and their workplaces.
The original version of this article contained the incorrect name of a License Commission employee called to testify on Hastie’s behalf. Updated to include information about the number of promoted employees on Hastie’s witness list and those that testified, as well as clarify the percentage of the License Commission’s payroll budget that had been spent in the fiscal year to date. Jason Johnson contributed to this report.