News and Tribune

Clark County

February 11, 2011

Clark County auditor receives notice of tort

Former employee claims she was unfairly fired

CLARK COUNTY — A former Clark County auditor’s office employee has filed a notice of a tort claim for being fired when newly elected Auditor R. Monty Snelling took over the position.

Shirley Bell, a long-time county employee, was fired six-and-a-half months before she was set to retire and on the first day Snelling took over the office.

The notice of tort claim alleges Bell was terminated Jan. 3 from her job as clerk for “political retaliation.” Snelling is a Republican and Bell serves on the Jeffersonville Township Board as a Democrat.

Snelling denies Bell’s claim.

“What I [did] had absolutely nothing to do with political motives,” he said. “In fact, I believe everyone I hired are Democrats.”

Before Snelling took over the office from former Auditor Keith Groth it consisted of 13 employees — both full and part-time. Snelling said he got a job description of all the employees, got their opinions of the office, interviewed each employee and as a result changed the overall organization of the office.

The auditor’s office has since been reduced to nine full-time and two part-time employees who are being cross-trained for multiple jobs. Before Snelling took control of the office he said employees were trained to execute one specific job.

Snelling said the review process began in November and December and he also had previous experience working with the office’s employees when he served as a Clark County Councilman.

But Bell’s attorney Steve Voelker said the timing of his client’s dismissal raises the question of whether the termination was politically motivated.

“Ms. Bell was fired on the first day Mr. Snelling took office,” he said. “Time raises the inference it was political.”

Voelker added that his client was not given an adequate review before being dismissed and that her performance should have been evaluated for at least six months before a determination on her employment was made.

Snelling claimed that Bell, like all employees, was given a review.

“This office had scathing reviews from the state and I made a promise to the taxpayers to straighten it up,” he said. “And what I’ve done is basically reorganize the office. Job descriptions have changed in here. In fact, the job description that Ms. Bell had is no longer there.”

When asked if he specifically interviewed Bell during his review process, Snelling said she was on vacation but she e-mailed him the responses to questions he asked of all of the employees from the previous administration.

The responses Bell gave to the questions were viewed as unacceptable by Snelling.

“One of the things that bothered me about some of the employees were they said they see no reason for changes,” he said.

But Bell said she was not given a fair review or a reason for her dismissal.

“He did nothing,” Bell said. “He just handed me a letter that said he was restructuring.”

Because of the lack of review and that Bell was not a policy-making employee, the notice of a tort claim was filed.

“[A person] cannot be fired for political association or affiliation,” Voelker said. “She was a non-confidential, non-policy making employee. She was only a clerk in the auditor’s office,”

Again, Snelling said there was no political reason for letting Bell go.

“When I took this office, I said once I walked through the door it was no longer a political office,” he said. “We don’t talk politics in here, it has no room in here, there is no place [for it]. My responsibility is to the taxpayers of Clark County,” Snelling said.

No official suit has been filed yet and the county will have 90-days to reach an agreement before the suit can be filed, Voelker said.

He added that if the suit is filed it will be, “at the taxpayers’ expense.”

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