Certification Remains a Mystery
By Kevin Hogencamp
Albany fire Lt. Joey Pait, who garnered more than $400,000 in taxpayer-funded wages over seven years without reporting to work because of criminal charges against him, has returned to the job, public records show.
But City Manager James Taylor continues to illegally withhold public records regarding Pait’s employment, so it’s unclear when Pait returned to work and whether Pait’s work involves duties utilizing a state firefighter certification.
Records maintained by the city of Albany that also are being withheld by Taylor also include documents indicating whether Fire Chief James Carswell has reluctantly complied with Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette’s order that Carswell sign a document saying that Pait is of good moral character. Carswell has said he won’t sign such an order unless he’s compelled by a court to do so because he feels that Pait is not of good moral character.
Taylor recently released two public records that he had previously withheld records requested by The Albany Journal:
■ A document showing that Pait’s annual salary is $47,855.81.
■ A document showing that during a two-week period in late July and early August 2011, Pait was paid for 78.6 hours on the job; 22.4 hours vacation; and three hours overtime.
In addition documents regarding Pait’s certification, Taylor is withholding the remainder of Pait’s payroll records. For months, until last week and in violation of Georgia’s Open Records Law, Taylor concealed all records indicating whether Pait is working while drawing a paycheck. Three sources familiar with the Albany Fire Department’s administration said in May that Pait showed up at the main fire station on payday only, got his paycheck, and did not work. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Nearly all city hall records, including all salary data and most employment records, are public. City Attorney Nathan Davis has said that the city is withholding Pait’s records because of a judge’s gag order in Pait’s civil case against the city. Refusing to disclose public records is a misdemeanor crime. The law does not provide exemptions associated with judge’s gag orders.
A city firefighter since 1988, Pait was reinstated in 2010 after a seven-year legal battle that included being found not guilty of a molestation charge and pleading guilty to theft — and then a lengthy effort to be rehired and receive back pay.
Lockette ruled last year that Pait should receive back pay and should be allowed to return to work. He did not issue a court order at the time, however, and Carswell refused to sign off on state-mandated paperwork declaring that Pait is “of good moral character” – thus making him eligible to re-enter the fire protection profession. Doing so, Carswell has said, would be a breach of ethics.
Lockette also ruled that Pait should not have been terminated because the city personnel policy only requires an employee to be fired for felony convictions, and Lockette noted that under Georgia law, Pait’s first-offender status does not constitute a “conviction.”
Clerk of Court officials say that Lockette has issued a gag order and is concealing all court records associated with the case, including the gag order itself. The civil dispute is continuing, meanwhile, as the city and Pait attempt to determine how much Pait is due in back way. The city’s early estimate is that Pait may be due more than $420,000.
Pait, who was initially suspended with pay and ultimately was fired, pleaded guilty as a first-offender to two misdemeanor theft charges.