Jackson: Eley must return pay he got as firefighter
By Peter Williams
The Perquimans Weekly
Saturday, April 20, 2019
HERTFORD — Hertford’s mayor pro tem is demanding the town councilor he was found guilty of punching in the head to return money the councilor received from the town as a volunteer firefighter, threatening a lawsuit if he doesn’t.
Mayor Pro Tem Quentin Jackson demanded during Monday’s Hertford Town Council meeting that Councilor Sid Eley return the $6,100 Jackson claims Eley was paid as a volunteer firefighter, saying it violates town policies.
Jackson’s demand came a week after he called for Eley to be removed from the Hertford Fire Department, claiming the 72-year-old Eley is unfit to serve as a volunteer firefighter for the town. Eley has served as a Hertford volunteer firefighter for 49 years.
The demand also comes while Jackson is awaiting trial in Superior Court on a charge of assaulting Eley following a town board meeting last October. A District Court judge found Jackson guilty of assault on a government official in January, sentencing him to 120 days in jail. The jail sentence is on hold, however, because Jackson appealed the verdict to Superior Court.
During Monday’s Town Council meeting, Jackson said Hertford’s policies prohibit the town’s elected officials from taking any money from the town beyond the salary they receive for serving as councilors or the mayor.
Firefighters don’t get a salary but they are paid each time they respond to a fire. The town also puts money into the pension fund they’re offered as firefighters.
Jackson said Eley owes the town $4,600 he was paid for responding to fires plus $1,500 that went to his pension account. If Eley doesn’t repay that money, Jackson said the town should hire an attorney to sue Eley in court and demand he also pay damages.
It is unclear if the dollar amounts Jackson cited were only for Eley’s current term in office. There was a period where Eley, the town’s mayor for 14 years, did not serve on the town board following his defeat by current Mayor Horace Reid. Eley’s current council term expires in December.
At least one other town firefighter, Ed Lane, has served on both the fire department and as a member of Hertford Town Council. Lane was defeated for re-election in the November 2017 election — the same election that brought Jackson to council.
It’s not clear if the town can force Eley out of the Hertford Fire Department. Town attorney John Leidy has said the department is a separate organization from the town. The town simply provides equipment, like trucks, and pays the firefighters a small amount based on calls they respond to plus the pension contribution.
Tensions seemed high from the moment Monday’s Town Council meeting started, as Jackson and Reid clashed over which of them was in control of the special meeting. They also differed on what accommodations the council should make for Eley, who suffers from a hearing problem.
Councilors Gracie Felton and Frank Norman had called for Monday’s meeting, citing a need to discuss what they said were “council concerns.” They also said council needed a closed session with the town’s attorney.
Reid started the meeting by saying each council member would have five minutes to speak about their concerns. Reid also said Susan Beckwith, a Hertford resident, would be typing up what was being said so that Eley could read it and respond.
“They don’t say I’m deaf, they say I am ‘hard of hearing,’” Eley explained.
Eley said his doctor told him Monday that he has no hearing in his right ear and is missing 80 percent of his hearing in his left ear. The problem isn’t constant, and Eley said it is expected to be temporary. He said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires governments to make some accommodations for elected officials who have disabilities.
Jackson challenged Reid’s decision to limit the time each councilor could speak. He also questioned allowing Beckwith to sit at council’s table and help Eley follow the discussion. He pointed out Eley didn’t bring a doctor’s note stating he needed that accommodation.
Jackson also suggested he objected to Eley relying on Beckwith in particular. He claimed “there seems to be a leak” in town government. He also said anyone helping transcribe discussions for public officials should hold certification in that field.
Beckwith has expressed criticism of Jackson in the past, and said she’s considering running for a town council seat.
Even after councilors were assured Beckwith would not be helping Eley when they went into closed session, Jackson still expressed reservations about Eley using Beckwith to help him keep up with the discussion.
When Beckwith tried to speak to Jackson, he turned to her and said,”You cannot speak. You cannot speak to me.”
Beckwith said later that she has held certification in transcription services in the past, but no longer does. She said she agreed to help Eley at the last moment when she was asked to.
At one point during Monday’s meeting, Jackson also turned to the audience, which was mostly white, and said, “You guys are some of the most racist people in the town.”