Fired City HR coordinator says she was ‘bullied’

“Effectively  immediately, you are hereby terminated from your position of Human Resources Coordinator with the City of Fayetteville.” This one sentence letter, dated March 23, 2021, was addressed to Sheila Childress and was signed by Scott Collins, City Administrator. Although the letter was to be sent to her home address, it was marked “HAND DELIVERED” and was given to Childress last week, which was one year to the day when she became the first Human Resource Coordinator for the city. It gave no reason for her dismissal.

Childress, who has 30 years experience in Human Resources Management, said that during the past year, her knowledge “is disregarded and taken advantage of daily by Scott Collins and numerous other personnel. Scott Collins has no regard for City personnel and has given authority of overseeing and managing personnel when experience is not in the Human Resources discipline.”

She stated that she has been asked to engage in unethical behavior regarding an employee who is on sick leave and hasn’t been cleared by the doctor to return to work. In a document dated January 17, 2021 requesting a meeting with Collins, that listed several concerns Childress wanted to resolve, number four relates to the employee on sick leave.

It reads: “Unfortunately, employees without the “right to know” have been included in discussions that revealed medical information that is a violation of HIPAA and protected health information. I have clearly stated on numerous occasions for every additional person involved in personnel related matters, the City is subjected to increased liability. This does not meet ethical regulations in human resource principles.”

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Act of 1996 is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

Childress said she contacted Steve Cross with Municipal Technical Advisory Services (MTAS) “regarding the questions that have arisen from the above information…” and whether the employee should return to work. She said Cross advised, “if the physician refused to indicate the employee is ‘fit for duty,’ I would not permit them to return to work until all diagnostic/procedures had been provided and the physician deemed the employee to be capable of fire suppression not only professionally but also morally.”

When Childress had her job performance evaluation six months after coming to work for the city, she said Pam Gentry did the evaluation that resulted in a score below 4. “I have never had an evaluation that low,” Childress said, adding past evaluations ranged from 4.2 – 4.5. “I refused to sign the evaluation,” she said, but gave her rebuttal to Collins.

As HR coordinator, she said that when the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA) gave Collins his evaluation last year and identified personnel discrepancies and “failure to do his job, I reached out and offered to help him. He refused,” adding, she was later reprimanded.

Childress said she went to Collins on eight different occasions reporting that she had been belittled and bullied and unappreciated by multiple employees without any resolve before she went to City Attorney John Hill with a formal complaint. She said Hill told her that her complaint would be addressed with Collins, “but I was never talked to.”

When Collins was asked to respond to Childress’ firing, he said he didn’t comment publicly on personnel matters, but did say, “I regret when internal personnel conflicts erupt to such an extent that disciplinary actions must be taken. I wish Mrs. Childress the best in her future endeavors.”

Childress sent an email to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, with a copy to Collins, titled “Necessitated information” where she stated that as city administrator, Collins “has no regard for City personnel and has given authority of overseeing and managing personnel when experience is not in the Human Resources discipline. Mr. Collins refuses to address concerns of any employee other than those who are deemed in his opinion as important or his favorites. It is absolutely absurd to enjoy your profession that you have worked so hard in for many years and despise to come in every day to an organization due to lack of respect and un-appreciation. Personnel decisions and input are made by employees that should not be included nor have an opinion regarding personnel issues. I am exhausted of providing relevant information/knowledge that other employees take the credit for. The City of Fayetteville needs HR, the employees need HR but HR is not desired by the administration.”

She went on to say that “I have never nor will I ever engage in unethical behavior regardless of the instance. I will always do what is regulated by Federal and State law. The problem lies with individuals that want to continue to ‘do things as they always have been.’ I refuse to entertain or abide by this notion. The “way it’s always been done” is why Scott Collins remains ineffective at his position as it pertains to personnel. I have made multiple complaints to Scott that were not addressed, as which time, I presented the information to Mr. John Hill. Scott has yet to provide follow-up to the issues I brought forth in the first week of February.”

Childress said that “she, along with other employees, deserve better than how we have been treated by multiple personnel up to and including Scott Collins. It is an absolute disgrace for personnel to be devalued as they are here at the City unless you are one of the favorites. I would also like to add that if there are any truths in doubt or unprofessional actions of various employees in questions, please investigate thoroughly before trusting a few.”

Mayor Michael Whisenant said the firing of Childress was a personnel issue and wasn’t based on the fact she sent an email to the board. Under the city charter, all personnel issues are the responsibility of the city administrator. Only the city administrator answers to the board.

“Mrs. Childress’ letter to the board sounded like a press release,” the mayor said. “It was written in a specific format and I believe its intent went beyond just a letter to the board.”

Last week, Huntsville Channel 19 news station reported on Childress’ firing. Mayor Whisenant described the report as “over the top” and a “defined attack on Scott Collins. You have a person protesting the way they are treated and then she says all that she did about her former employer.”

The mayor said he is frequently at city hall and he hasn’t seen the toxic relationships Childress described. “In my eight years as an elected official, I haven’t seen anyone vilified like Scott since [former city of Fayetteville mayor] Gwen Shelton.”