By Kevin Hogencamp
(UPDATED 4:39 PM) Editor’s note: Check back for updates to this article.
Former Albany city worker Sean Reddish was convicted today of stealing scrap material from a sign project at the municipal airport despite having his boss’s permission to take scrap material from other projects.
Reddish, who was the airport operations and maintenance director until being indicted last year, was sentenced under Georgia’s first-offender guidelines to five years probation for two felonies – theft by taking and theft by deception.
Reddish scrapped $916 in sign parts that Reddish and an airport contractor says were given to Reddish by the contractor and were not stolen. Under Georgia’s first-offender statutes, Reddish is not deemed a convicted felon and his probation will end in two years if he successfully complies with the court’s rules, including staying out of trouble and paying $416 restitution to the city.
Dougherty Superior Court Judge Denise Marshall handed down the conviction and sentence as Reddish waived his right to a jury trial and opted for a bench trial, instead. District Attorney Greg Edwards said during the trial that the airport contractor was a co-conspirator in the case and could be criminally charged.
At city hall’s urging, Reddish was arrested and indicted despite his boss – airport Director Yvette Aehle – insisting that Reddish did not commit a crime during what she deemed a lapse in judgment on Reddish’s part. Aehle says that Reddish didn’t break the law, but rather used bad judgment. Indeed, Aehle says that she has authorized Reddish and others to bring a smaller amount of scrap metal to a recycling center to raise money for employee activities such as pizza parties, but Aehle and Reddish said that the employees never took Aehle up on her offer.
The indictment claimed Reddish received $1,100 in proceeds from the scrap metal, but Albany police said during the trial that the amount Reddish received was $916. Indeed, police and Edwards – who prosecuted the case for city hall – were unclear early in the trial what recyclable material was scrapped. Reddish has paid $500 to the city and according to terms of his sentence must pay the city an additional $416 during the first two years of his probation.
While Edwards said that the city’s airport sign contactor was a co-conspirator, city officials say otherwise; indeed, City Central Services Director Stephen Collier says the city has not deemed Bennett to have breached his company’s contract with the city. The contract, meanwhile, gave conflicted information about whether the city or the contractor had ownership of the scrap metal in question.
In violation of city policy, inconsistent with earlier personnel decisions and without explanation, then-City Manager Alfred Lott late last year upheld Reddish’s firing by Aehle. City policy requires that an employee under felony indictment to be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the criminal case.
In addition to violating personnel policy, Lott did not follow protocol by citing the reason Reddish was fired. Meanwhile, in at least three recent cases, the city did not fire employees under felony indictment. Reddish has filed a discrimination complaint against the city with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Independently, the Georgia Department of Labor concluded – based on evidence presented in a hearing earlier this year – that no evidence of theft was presented by the city.
“The testimony of the employer is hearsay in regard to the incident. The employer did not provide any witnesses to the incident,” Department of Labor hearing officer Regina Stanley wrote on Feb. 1. “The testimony of the claimant (Reddish) is firsthand and therefore carries the greater weight of evidence. The claimant is not at fault in his discharge.”
Lott refuses to answer questions about the case, including whether he directed Aehle to violate policy and fire Reddish.