Around two months ago, the city council voted 3-2 to eliminate Chief Administrative Officer Richie McAlister’s salary. This came after allegations of a hostile work environment due to McAlister, from some city employees. Mayor Percy Bland vetoed the salary decision, ultimately securing McAlister in the position. Councilman Weston Lindemann has since proposed an investigation into McAlister, and today the council held a public hearing, allowing current and former city employees to speak and address the council about a hostile work environment. Nearly a dozen employees signed up to speak, with only nine of them showing up to the meeting.
“Today was somewhat of a vindication that this hostile work environment allegation that has continued to plague our local government is finally put to rest and we can finally move forward together,” said McAlister. However, Lindemann claims he will continue to fight. “I think the consensus, from what I’m hearing, is that people want to move on. I’m still going to do everything I can to investigate everything that comes in front of the council. Anytime I hear concerns of an employee, I’m going to do my best to follow up on that. As long as there are issues that remain, I’m going to continue to be vocal until those problems are resolved.”
Only one city employee spoke against McAlister at the hearing, and that city employee was Kevin Locke, who is the Senior Planner within Public Works, where he oversees landscaping projects among other things. “I would say there’s a definite point in time when Mr. McAlister came onboard as CAO as when I became aware of these situations. We’ve worked on a lot of good projects with administrations, and I’m not saying we’re not doing that—it’s how it’s being done. It’s who is being marginalized. It’s systematic—it’s deliberate,” said Locke. He claims the administration shows favoritism in who they choose to hire in certain positions, and that they hire people with little to no experience compared to a candidate who has the right amount of experience.
These complaints were followed by two letters from employees with concerns, but the mayor, along with other city employees who spoke at the podium, say it’s time to move forward. “We’ve got to get past today. Richie McAlister will continue to be CAO of the city of Meridian. We’re going to have to work together,” said Mayor Bland. “I don’t understand where we’re going with this or why we’re going with this. We care about roads, bridges, creating jobs and opportunities, and creating a better life for those that come after us. I know that this gig right here will not last forever. I know that, but I’m going to keep trying as hard as I can to do something good and worth while for those that come after us,” said McAlister.
Council President Tyrone Johnson says there was a clear definition of what this meeting was supposed to be for, considering most employees who have concerns have not filed an official complaint, including Locke. “A lot of people have the perception that this is a personal attack with Mr. Richie McAlister, and it’s not. We’ve heard from numerous amounts of city employees that they have issues with the city. They feel that they can’t go to their proper chain of command to express those concerns. So, what we as a council decided to do was have a public hearing so we can hear these issues that the city has,” said Johnson. Stephen Wilson, who is the attorney for the Civil Service Commission of the City of Meridian, says city employees have full protection under the CSC and that they will handle any case with complete fairness.