CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An employee panel listened to hours of testimony Wednesday during a termination hearing to determine whether former Mecklenburg County DSS Director Mary Wilson should reclaim her job.
The hearing started in the early morning hours, but by dusk Wilson and others had yet to emerge from a meeting room in the basement of the Government Center.
County officials, who would not divulge the time or place of the hearing, remained tight-lipped. A county spokesman said they would have no comment, and security shooed away a reporter approaching the hearing-room doors.
It was unclear if testimony in Wilson’s hearing ended Wednesday.
Wilson was fired last month after four years on the job. She appealed her termination, saying it was “unfair, unjust and smacks of intimidation aimed at me and my staff.”
The three-person panel must decide whether County General Manager Michelle Lancaster followed policy when she recommended Wilson’s firing from the Department of Social Services. Lancaster was Wilson’s direct supervisor.
Panel members will hear from both sides and make a recommendation to County Manager Harry Jones, who has final say.
Since 2008, 19 county employees have appealed their terminations, officials said. In 16 of those cases, they said panels upheld the firings. In three cases, workers were recommended for reinstatement.
The county has not publicly explained why Wilson was fired, but at a Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners meeting last week officials said employees can be fired for poor job performance, grossly inefficient job performance and misconduct.
In an email to commissioners dated Oct. 8, Wilson questioned the fairness of the termination appeals process and wrote that county officials had “manipulated” the system for her case.
She alleged that county attorneys wanted to preview testimony from witnesses testifying on her behalf. She also wrote that the county failed to respond to seven open-records requests she made.
County administrators and attorneys have defended the process, saying it has remained virtually the same for decades.
“The appeals process is to make sure county policy is consistently followed,” said Chris Peek, county human resources director.
But some commissioners have said they should re-examine the system. Commissioner Bill James asked whether it is appropriate for Jones to have the final say in firings, since he could be involved in the original decisions to recommend termination.
“It creates a perception problem,” commissioners Chairman Harold Cogdell said.