Board accepts Veterans Service Director’s immediate retirement

At a special meeting of the Butler County Veterans Service Commission on Friday the board accepted McPherson’s immediate retirement. Earlier this week the embattled director told the Journal-News he would retire at the end of March.

No reasons were given for the immediate departure.

Commissioner Bob Perry, who has been trying to get McPherson fired for months, voted against accepting the retirement. And two of the three men who have staunchly supported and protected McPherson, Tom Stamper and Ken Smith — Lowell Stewart was not at the meeting — approved the measure.

“If this were a motion for immediate termination I would vote yes in a heartbeat,” Perry said. “In my opinion, this is a solution without honor and without justice.”

Perry said the fact that a 19-page grievance drafted by Chief Service Officer Matt Jones has been ignored — McPherson and Jones conferred about the problems this week — and Stamper, the former board secretary, refused to consider the complaints, were grounds for both men to be gone. Newly named board President Fred Southard said Jones has agreed to withdraw the grievances as moot.

With McPherson’s immediate departure, Prosecutor Mike Gmoser advised the remaining commissioners to discontinue the probe into allegations McPherson fostered a hostile work environment, which allegedly included racial slurs and spawned a potential lawsuit.

“This commission gave recognition to the fact that a hostile work environment is intolerable and that racial slurs, if made, would be intolerable…,” he said. “To further investigate something for which you could really not achieve any benefit beyond that recognition would be a waste of resources and a waste of time … I have never made it a practice to load the gun for those that would point that gun at my clients.”

McPherson told the Journal-News in December he intended to retire in November. He said he was retiring now because he has a job opportunity in the private sector.

His abrupt departure comes in the face of a meeting last week when two of his three supporters voted to allow the independent investigation into the alleged behavior that brought the threat of a lawsuit by former Service Officer Charles Thurmond and to investigate grievances Jones filed that had previously gone unaddressed.

Thurmond’s attorney Stephen Simon sent a letter to the commission on Jan. 10 warning that Thurmond, who is black, is considering a lawsuit because of bullying and racial slurs he allegedly endured while on the job from 2007 to 2012.

Simon said earlier this week he was glad an investigation was launched but he wouldn’t say how McPherson’s retirement might impact the decision to take the board and its former director to court.

Gmoser also recommended the board address several “flash-point issues” such as the executive director’s salary. McPherson was earning $91,420, and the job posting on the veterans commission’s and the county’s websites lists the pay range at $64,156 to $88,752. The prosecutor said the salary should be commensurate with similarly situated directors in other counties.

He also said the commission should stop the practice of allowing the executive director to use the staff car for his own personal purposes.

“I am recommending to you that the vehicle that is now being used for personal to-and-from-home (usage) be limited,” he said. “If it’s a staff car, it’s to be used for staff. Nobody has to ask if they can use it except to log in and log out, as opposed to ‘you can’t have it because it’s at the executive director’s home.’ Those are flash-point issues.”

McPherson had no comment and neither did the board members who used to back him. Southard said in the six weeks he has been on the board, he has come to admire McPherson and wished him well.

“It’s my opinion the past is the past,” Southard said. “I think it is very valiant on your part that you chose to submit your resignation immediately, and I told you in a private conversation I suspect that your decision is based on family and family pressures. I salute you — family always comes first.”

In another twist, Smith asked that Jones — who was banned from commission meetings in January for being on “the other side” — be brought in as interim director. No formal action was taken, but Stewart, who asked for Jones’ ouster, was on the phone during the meeting and said he had no problem “bringing Matt back in.”

Anna O’Neill, who is the assistant director, said she will be in charge until the commissioners decide their next move.

Former board president Dan Biondo, who also tried to oust McPherson, said he wished the board had fired McPherson rather than let him resign. He said he hopes the Thurmond lawsuit comes to fruition.

“I feel that the three commissioners are just as guilty as McPherson is,” he said. “Not only turning their heads to the racial remarks, but all the other things that he has done wrong and going along with everything he has wanted.”

Mark Doty, a Navy veteran, said he is glad the prolonged saga seems to be over.

“I appreciate that this place is getting back to where it’s going to help the veterans,” he said. “That’s my biggest concern.”

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