Forsyth County Sheriff’s use of retained attorney sets changes to civil service rules

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — When a Forsyth County employee is fired or disciplined, the civil service board can hear that employee’s appeal.

The civil service handbook states that if the laid-off employee does not use an attorney, the county won’t.

“That was on purpose, in an effort to streamline and make less formal, the candidly expensive civil service process,” County Attorney Ken Jarrard told board members at their Aug. 1 regular meeting.

The rules are changing again.

On July 23, Sheriff Duane Piper asked for the discretion to use a retained lawyer, instead of the county attorney — as the civil service handbook states — even when the appellant indicates they will not use an attorney.

“I’m asking for a modification to the rule, not to do away with the rule,” Sheriff Duane Piper said at that work session.

The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners voted to move forward with the change, but the county attorney said a further amendment is needed to cover all county employees not just constitutional officers.

Richard Neville, the civil service board hearing officer, said he was pleased with the way the current handbook was written because it cut down on costs for the county and leveled the field for an employee appealing.

The issue arose because Piper decided he would like to use his own attorney rather than the county attorney to represent his office.

On Aug. 8, the civil service panel will hear the appeal for former deputy Walter Skowronski, who is appealing his April termination by the sheriff’s office.

On July 23, Piper said he is ready to move forward with Skowronski’s hearing and he won’t seek counsel.

“That hearing can go ahead and we will not use counsel for that hearing,” Piper said. “It’s not this specific case that I’m concerned with. It’s going forward that the sheriff’s office not be limited by outside force on whether or not we can use counsel.”

The civil service board’s new handbook language states a constitutional officer can use the county attorney, a retained attorney and either side can choose not to use an attorney at all.

Forsyth County Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with this change at their Aug. 1 regular meeting.

Jarrard said the rule historically in Forsyth County was always that an employee could bring a lawyer or not bring a lawyer.

The county would typically bring one.

That had an effect on those employees, because they knew that if they were going to have a civil service hearing, the county would have an attorney. So they would retain one also.

Soon, the sophistication of the hearings began to go up, escalating to a peak in 2010 with hearings for former county planning director Jeff Chance, who wanted his job back.

The new modification takes the county back to the time before the changes adopted in November 2012, Jarrard said, where all parties will now likely bring an attorney to the civil service hearing.