By Erin Smith
The Bladen County Board of Commissioners met on Monday night and heard a brief report of the vital statistics for Bladen County and an update on the Phase IV water system expansion.
The first order of business was the swearing in of two Commissioners, Arthur Bullock and Charles Ray Peterson. Next, the board elected Charles Ray Peterson as Chairman with a vote of 5 to 4 and David Gooden was elected as Vice-Chairman with a vote of 6 to 3.
The Commissioners also recognized Veronica Hester for her retirement after 28 years of service to the county. Following her recognition, a reception was held.
Becky Culbreth, Registrar with the Bladen County Department of Health and Human Services, gave the Commissioners a brief overview of the vital statistics for the county for the years 2016 and 2017. She said the department learned during the accreditation process that they must give an annual report each year.
Culbreth began with the number of births in the county. In 2016, there were 182 births and in 2017 there were 202 births which included one home birth.
“The Bladen County Hospital OB Department sustained damage in Hurricane Florence and the department was shut down for renovations,” said Culbreth.
She explained this means all of the Health Department’s maternity clients and Women’s Health Specialists’ patients in the county are traveling to Fayetteville to give birth. Culbreth said because of that, the numbers of births next year for Bladen County will be down slightly.
Out of County births in 2016 total was 179 and in 2017 there were 148. Culbreth said these births ocurred in Columbus, Cumberland and Robeson counties.
Deaths in Bladen County for 2016 were 179 and in 2017 there were 186 deaths reported.
Commissioner Arthur Bullock asked about whether or not Culbreth is notified if someone dies outside of the county with a communicable disease. She also noted that she does receive a notice when someone with a communicable disease dies outside of Bladen County.
Adam Kiker gave the board an update regarding the Phase IV water system expansion for Bladen County.
“The water lines and the metering system are designed. We are working through some last minute details to get things in order with USDA’s expectations,” said Kiker.
He said county staff are seeking a suitable location for the production well. One sight has been found and the property owner was interested in working with the county and a test well was drilled on the site. Kicker said the tests on the water samples taken came back suitable but with a high iron content.
“In the budget for this project, we did have the costs budgeted to filter the iron,” said Kiker.
He said the county staff will test one more site to see if they can locate a site that does not require iron filtration.
“If it also has high iron, we will pick between the two, the one we feel is best and go from there,” said Kiker.
USDA does require that everything be bid at the same time so construction starts on everything at the same time, said Kiker.
The board heard from Sabrina Murchison regarding her termination from the department of Social Services. She told the board she was terminated on Monday due to a Facebook post she made regarding a Commissioner’s business.
“I think this came about because I filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” said Murchison.
She said she was provided a pre disciplinary conference on Thursday, November 29th, at 8 p.m. Murchison said her supervisors, Bladen County Department of Social Services Director Vickie Smith and Supervisor Jill Sampson, were named in the EEOC complaint.
Murchison said the reason for the conference was to discuss the Facebook post. She told the board the social media policy in the county’s policy manual is “very vague.”
“I informed my director on the next day, Mrs. Vickie Smith, I wanted an attorney on the 29th,” said Murchison.
She claimed that by the end of the day on November 29th another conference was scheduled for November 30th at 9 a.m. Murchison claimed she was off from work on that day and did not give her time to seek legal advice.
Murchison told the board she was terminated on Monday due to the social media policy and “the articles in your policy.”
Murchison also said Smith told her she does not have to report the incident to the OSR but according to the County’s 2015 policy, she does.
She also told the board the posts to her social media account are opinions. Murchison told the board she plans to appeal her termination to Bladen County Human Resources Director Shontia Keaton and Bladen County Manager Greg Martin.
Commissioner Arthur Bullock asked, “Mr. Martin, what are the progressive steps in discipline?”
Bladen County Manger Greg Martin said discipline is basically divided into two categories —performance-related and personal misconduct. He said the progressive discipline steps apply to performance measures.
“Swift action will be taken in regards to personal misconduct,” said Martin.
Chairman Charles Ray Peterson said, “When a county employee is terminated, I don’t know if that is the right word or not, there are steps for their appeal. They appeal it to the County Manager or the Personnel Advisory Committee and then if the employee is not satisfied, that is when it comes to this board.”
Chairman Peterson encouraged the board to allow the complaint to follow the process set forth in the county policies.