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Fired city worker finds key support

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

MADEIRA BEACH -- In six years of working for the city, Judy Markham never received a mark lower than "excellent" or "good" on her annual evaluations. She was lauded for her team-oriented attitude. In 1998, she was Employee of the Year.

But Markham, who was the city manager's assistant, was fired last month after City Manager Jim Madden accused her of trying to use political influence to ensure her job with the city. Madden took a blow of his own Thursday afternoon when a citizens committee that hears appeals from fired city employees decided unanimously that Markham did not try to politically sway a city commissioner.

All the Civil Service Commission can do, however, is recommend that Madden rehire Markham and try to find her a comparable job with the city. Now the city manager must decide.

"I haven't made any decisions just yet," Madden said Friday. "I'm reviewing the information that was presented."

Some employees view Markham's firing as a symbol of low morale at City Hall, where employees are talking about forming a union. And in her case to the Civil Service Commission, Markham pointed out that Madden's firing as city manager in Pinellas Park was blamed on poor employee relations.

Markham was buoyed Thursday by an audience of about two dozen people -- from her former co-workers at City Hall to business leaders in Madeira Beach. Civil Service Commission members could not consider audience comments in their decision, instead relying on Markham's personnel file and testimony from Madden, Markham and city Commissioner Charles Parker -- the official Madden thought Markham tried to use.

Parker disputed Madden's claim. He testified that in November, he noticed that Markham was not her typical "pleasant, upbeat, smiling" self. "What's going on?" Parker recalled asking.

Markham told Parker that she could not explain, but he could call her later. When he did, Markham told the city commissioner that he could check her personnel file, which is a public record, if he wanted to know what was troubling her.

Parker checked the file and read Madden's poor evaluation of Markham. He never mentioned Markham's job standing to Madden, but days later Madden asked Parker why he had checked the file.

After Parker explained, Madden suspended Markham without pay and, days later, fired her.

"Ms. Markham's request of Commissioner Parker to review her file appears to attempt to use political influence to secure an advantage for herself and undermine the authority of the city manager," Madden wrote in the memo suspending her.

On Thursday, Civil Service Commission members noted that not only did Parker approach Markham to ask what was wrong, but even after looking at her personnel file, he did not try to influence Madden on Markham's behalf.

Madden said Friday that he thought Markham had taken a more active role in soliciting Parker's help.

"I'm kind of taken aback by that because that's not my understanding," Madden said. He would not elaborate.

The problems between Madden and Markham began months before Parker reviewed the file.

In her testimony, Markham said she grew increasingly frustrated over the months of 2002 because she felt she did not have a good working relationship with her boss. Finally, in October, she asked him whether he had problems with her job performance.

At that meeting, and in his evaluation of Markham one week later, Madden said he was displeased with her proofreading skills and her inability to meet deadlines for the city newsletter.

Markham's past evaluations from former city managers Mike Bonfield and Kim Leinbach suggested that she needed to improve her computer skills, but Madden was the first boss to evaluate her harshly. Madden has been city manager in Madeira Beach since April 2002, so he was evaluating Markham for the first time.

Markham disputed both criticisms and, in a rebuttal of her evaluation, accused Madden of using "ambush tactics" to pursue a "vendetta."

She also proofread and corrected Madden's evaluation of her, which contained several typographical errors.

After the commission recommended that Madden rehire Markham, employees and residents who attended the meeting to support Markham congratulated her.

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