2013-09-25 / Front Page

Fired deputy chief claims harassment

By Elizabeth Billips

Roosevelt Lodge Roosevelt Lodge A witch hunt. That’s what Waynesboro’s recently fired deputy police chief called his Sept. 13 ousting. Roosevelt Lodge hand-delivered a five-page formal appeal to city administrator Jerry Coalson late Thursday. He alleges Police Chief Augustus Palmer III has a “personal vendetta” against him and has systematically tried to strip him of his authority with the agency. He maintains it is retaliation for hiring three investigators before Chief Palmer came on board four months ago. “This has been an ongoing harassment and hostile work environment brought on by the chief since his arrival,” Lodge wrote in the appeal, which was requested under the Georgia Open Records Act. “His whole focus has been to undermine my abilities as a manager.” Chief Palmer had fired his second-in-command after a hostile meeting in which Lodge refused to answer questions stemming from complaints that he was using his badge and city resources while moonlighting for a home rental business. Lodge had apparently become the subject of an internal investigation after the chief received those complaints. During the Sept. 11 meeting, he asked Lodge to respond in writing to eight specific questions about working an unapproved job with Properties and using his “city issued vehicle, uniform, badge or position” to enforce rental policies. After refusing to fill out a statement, Lodge allegedly pointed his finger in the chief’s face, walked off the job and drove to Augusta in a city vehicle to talk to his lawyer. Lodge doesn’t deny leaving work or driving to the office of attorney Scott Connell. But he does insist it was Chief Palmer, not himself, who acted aggressively when it became clear the questions would not be immediately answered. “He abruptly jumped up and pointed a finger at me stating to me to sit down,” Lodge wrote, claiming the chief blocked the door. “At that point he was in my face, chest to chest shouting.” Lodge said he resorted to a “football move” to get through the doorway, faking to one side and then slipping by on the other. Two days later, he was fired for insubordination and absence from the job without leave. While Chief Palmer says he does not yet want to go into detail about the “ongoing personnel issue,” he maintains Lodge was uncooperative, repeatedly refused to provide information and abandoned his duties. Now, city administrator Coalson will have to decide which man he believes. After interviewing Lodge on Monday and Chief Palmer on Tuesday, Coalson told The True Citizen he will review all the statements and reports today (Wednesday) before making a decision. If he backs the chief, Lodge can still file an appeal with city council. According to Coalson, the six-person council would then have to decide if they want to hold a public hearing before issuing a final decision. The last time Waynesboro council conducted a hearing for a highprofile firing was in 2010 when former chief investigator Gene Boseman was terminated for sexual harassment. A number of city and county officials called the 2010 public meeting a big embarrassment after more than a dozen witnesses were sequestered in backstage restrooms without food for the majority of the seven and a half hour hearing at the Burke County Office Park. Most of the hundred-plus onlookers stuck it out until the hearing adjourned at 2:30 a.m., taking in hours of dirty laundry – much not even directly related to the case at hand. Boseman was represented by Connell (Lodge’s attorney) and won back his job with a 4-2 vote.

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