Promotions Fleeced?

Embattled city manager faces troubling allegations

By Robert J. Kicklighter  |   Aug 8, 2017

90% of all management problems are caused by miscommunication

–Dale Carnegie

Embattled city manager marred by past controversy allegedly fleeces promotions and salaries from Brunswick, Ga. police officers. Brunswick city manager, James Drumm, created new controversy with his disingenuous decision to refuse to pay the required salaries of six Brunswick police officers promoted to corporal by Chief Kevin Jones, Brunswick Police Department (BPD).

To reduce personnel turnover and build leadership within his agency, Jones desired to implement a plan to improve the Brunswick Police Department. In doing so, Jones felt he needed to promote six of his officers to the rank of corporal.

Per the complaint filed by Adrienne Browning, attorney for the six officers, a formal meeting occurred on Nov. 5, 2015, between Drumm and Jones, to discuss promoting officers Paul George, Erik Hartshorn, Stephan Lowrey, Carla Futch, Alan Wainwright and Terrence Tanner to the rank of corporal. During the meeting, Drumm agreed to promote the officers to fill vacancies for those positions in the BPD criminal investigation division. Drumm further supported the decision to promote the officers via a text message to Jones where he wrote, “set up the paperwork.”

According to David Matthew Haney, Vice President of the Police Benevolent Association of Georgia: “The promotions of the six dedicated, experienced leaders were just a part of the larger package proposed by Chief Jones to Brunswick City Manager James Drumm in hopes they would help stem the turnover epidemic in his agency. A 65-officer agency that lost approximately one third (23) of its employees in 2015.”

Per the six officers’ complaint, Jones wrote a letter on Nov. 13, 2015, informing them of their promotions. A public ceremony was then held to honor the newly promoted corporals at the Brunswick Police Department.

To the six officers’ dismay, their next paycheck failed to reflect the salaries for their new positions. Confused about the missing funds, the six officers sought assistance from Jones. After investigating the issue, Jones discovered Drumm failed to sign the personnel action forms Jones provided to him. The personnel action forms completed by Jones reflected the salary increases for the Plaintiffs.

Weeks after the six officers’ promotions, Drumm sent a text message to Jones acknowledging the promotions but was now concerned about the amount the promotions were going to cost the City of Brunswick.

Per the City of Brunswick’s Human Resources Standards of Practice, the base (minimum) salary for the position of corporal with the Brunswick Police Department is $18.69 an hour.

According to the officers, a month after the promotions, Jones held another formal meeting with Drumm concerning the officers’ salaries. At this point, Drumm attempted to backtrack and suggested lowering the hourly rates for the six officers, which is in violation of city policy. Still, the issue was unresolved.

Sixteen days later, Jones and Drumm held another meeting regarding the officers’ salaries and to mediate a solution, but once again, the issue was unresolved.

After suffering damages and mental distress, the six officers filed grievances with the City of Brunswick on December 18, 2015. A month later, and approximately two months after the promotions, Drumm met with five of the six officers to discuss their grievance. In an apparent act of blatant deception, Drumm decided for the first time he was not going to honor the promotions and refused to comply with the city policy regarding salaries.

Further, the officers felt betrayed when Drumm sent a letter to them stating:

You are not now, nor have you ever been the rank of Corporal with the Brunswick Police Department.”

On Feb. 17, 2016, Attorney Adrienne Browning attempted to resolve the issue with Brunswick City Council, but to no avail. Finally, Browning was forced to seek relief in the Glynn County Superior Court in April 2016.

In Browning’s pleading, she stated,

Defendant JAMES DRUMM verbally authorized the promotions of the Plaintiffs, and by refusing to sign the Personnel Action Forms, said Defendant has failed to perform and complete his obligations to the Plaintiffs as promised.

The Plaintiffs are entitled to an increase in their hourly (salary) pay rate to $18.69 an hour as required in the City of Brunswick Pay Plan. Additionally, they are entitled to back pay beginning on Nov. 13, 2015, the effective date of their promotion.

The Defendant City of Brunswick breached its contract with the Plaintiffs in bad faith and without sufficient reason or cause.

The Plaintiffs have incurred substantial monetary damages due to, and because of the Defendants’ fraudulent and deceitful conduct.

The faux promotions of the six officers and the ingenious ceremony only belittled the officers and made a fool out of Jones. To save face, Drumm said it was all an unfortunate misunderstanding and deflected the blame to Jones. Drumm’s deflection infuriated many, and Browning describe Drumm’s actions as an injustice.

Haney responded describing Jones as,

A chief who recognizes the delicate position that American law enforcement is in during this modern era and makes a legitimate effort to improve that image. Chief Jones wants to lessen the flood of officers leaving the Brunswick Police (Brunswick News).

It is probable, Drumm is responsible for the “unfortunate misunderstanding” as he apparently failed to communicate with Jones and, also failed to ensure the city was fiscally able to pay the salaries for the promotions before awarding them.

Drumm’s past roles serving as city manager for communities in the state of Florida further indicate he may be the reason for the injustice.

In Sept. 2010, the Gainesville Sun reported that the High Springs city commissioners fired Drumm after concern over an audit and employment decisions involving a public works supervisor. Also, the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2014, the Zephyrhills City Council had issues with Drumm and was considering not renewing his contract. According to the Tampa Bay Times (2014), Council President Lance Smith was quoted saying, “he did not feel the city was headed in the right direction under Drumm’s leadership.”

I don’t think the communication is good between yourself and the employees,” Smith said. “You do some things very well, very well, but managing people in my opinion [sic] is not one of them [sic] and I think we need a city manager that is a manager of people.”

Zephyrhills later cut ties with Drumm, and Smith added, “I do think he has done some good things, but being a strong manager and a good leader of people is not one of them” (Tampa Bay Times, 2014).

Smith’s perception of Drumm appears accurate as the six officers continue their fight for the promotions and salaries Drumm allegedly promised them.

Drumm, on the other hand, may be leaving Brunswick soon as reported by the Ledger. Drumm has applied for the assistant manager position for Polk County, Florida. According to the Ledger (2017), “County Manager Jim Freeman is close to hiring a new assistant to oversee the new regional water cooperative and handle transportation and economic development projects.”

As for the six officers, the City of Brunswick recently lost its motion for summary judgment filed in the Glynn County Superior Court to squash the officers’ pleadings. Judge Scarlet ruled a jury will decide the fate of this case.

As there are more advances in technology, new court cases will arise concerning communication. In a Massachusetts case, John’s Holdings, LLC v. Two Electronics, LLC, a text message with a signature led to a binding contract.

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Robert J. Kicklighter

Robert J. Kicklighter

Robert J. Kicklighter is an experienced educator with a background in criminal law instruction, law enforcement, security administration, and high-performance management. Kicklighter has a PhD. in Public Safety, Forensics, and Homeland Security and a master’s in Criminal Justice. He was the 2002 DUI Officer of the Year. He is a senior Georgia POST instructor and is currently the Law Academy Director at Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and a criminal law professor at Strayer University and Savannah Technical College.
Robert J. Kicklighter

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