2018-09-12 / Front Page

City upholds decision to terminate building inspector

DIANA ROYAL

In a 4-2 vote after a nearly fourhour long hearing, the City of Waynesboro upheld its decision to fire former building inspector Marcus Cobb. Council members Dick Byne, Brenda Lewis, Bill Tinley and Willie Williams were in favor of the decision while Alberta Anderson and James “Chick” Jones were in opposition.

During the hearing’s opening statements, city attorney Chris Dube summarized the reasons behind Cobb’s termination: failure to complete testing and obtain certification, drastic lack of understanding in building code, providing incorrect information to project investors and unanswered emails and phone calls. “He has basically run out of time,” Dube said. “He has just not performed or taken care of business.”

While Cobb declined making an opening statement, he requested upfront that he receive a copy of the transcript from the hearing. Throughout most of city manager Jerry Coalson’s testimony, Cobb remained on his cell phone, stating to Dube at one point, “I’ve got them all man. I don’t know why you’re doing that,” as the attorney supplied him with copies of items entered into the hearing for exhibit.

Those items included performance reviews from Cobb’s eight years of employment – a paper trail showing the need for more training, inadequate knowledge and failed exams that took him more than six years to take – and various complaints from customers and contractors that he was rude, often unavailable or late and required unnecessary information than what was required by code.

In his termination letter to Cobb, Coalson stated that keeping him employed would be a liability to the City, which was reiterated during testimony. In addition to seeming unfamiliar with applicable codes, Cobb granted a building permit to an unlicensed contractor. He also failed the Residential Electrical Inspector exam on two occasions, which Coalson said indicated Cobb was not as experienced as he initially claimed to be.

Chris Gibbie, a local investor, testified that Cobb had an “I’m the law and you’re going to listen to me” approach and that he never seemed to know the rules and guidelines. Ben Roberts, deputy chief appraiser at the Burke County Tax Assessors Office, also provided testimony that the information Cobb provided his office was often lacking in content, be it contractors’ names, inspection dates, map and parcel numbers, etc. “It created more work for our office,” Roberts said. “Without having sufficient information, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack at that point.”

Cobb, however, had two witnesses step up to his defense, with Waynesboro resident Shirley Thomas stating, “ I think you have great character,” when Cobb asked her, “What type of char- acter do you think I have?” and Juan Casarez, a local contractor, answering Cobb’s “What has our relationship been like,” with a single word – “good.”

When questioned about not checking his email, which had exceeded 14,000 unread messages at the time of Cobb’s termination, he responded that half of them were spam. “How do you know the other 7,000 weren’t spam?” councilman Byne asked, pointing out that Cobb obviously knew the difference. Cobb responded with, “I don’t know.”

“But you know the difference between spam and regular email? It’s your job and you don’t know? That’s confusing to me,” Byne retorted.

During questioning, Cobb summed up the whole ordeal as being a miscommunication between him and Coalson and that he felt Coalson just did not show he cared.

“He gave you four extensions (on exam deadlines) and you don’t think that shows he cares?” Dube pressed, adding that the City had also offered to pay for training and examination fees.

Cobb said simply, “no.”

He chose not to testify and when asked for a closing statement, he responded, “If the City does decide to rehire me, I request that I receive back pay.”

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