The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 16, 2013

City workers claim race discrimination

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Allegations of racial discrimination in the Spa City’s maintenance department were aired at Monday’s City Council meeting.

City resident Joan Wilmer told council, “The maintenance department has changed. You don’t see John Arnold or Charles Wilmer out in the community any longer.”

Joan Wilmer is Charles Wilmer’s mother.

She said, although both African American men are still working 40-hour weeks, they have been consigned to less-visible tasks since the retirement of former maintenance supervisor Randy Pickering late last year.

“They all need to be treated equally,” Wilmer said of the city employees.

Maintenance supervisor Matthew Hanna insisted, “They are treated equal,” noting both men are in the public eye five days a week, collecting garbage.

The men under discussion acknowledged they operate the trash truck, but said Hanna sends them “back to the barn” when they finish their daily routes.

“You don’t let us out,” they said to Hanna.

Wilmer and Arnold are the maintenance department’s only African American employees.

Council member G.P. Parker tried to curtail the discussion, saying employees with grievances should take their complaints to the mayor, rather than airing them at a council session.

Mayor Thomas Taylor said, “We’ve talked about it.”

But Hanna contradicted that statement, saying, “No, we haven’t.”

Taylor said that Hanna has “made it very clear” that he does not recognize the authority of the mayor, claiming he answers to council instead.

“If city council wants me to handle it, I will,” Taylor stated. “I’ve had my discussion with Charles (Wilmer) and John (Arnold).”

Taylor advised all of the parties to the dispute that he would be in his office at 8 a.m. Tuesday and expected them to join him.

“We’ll get this issue resolved tomorrow,” the mayor said Monday night.

Contacted by telephone late Tuesday morning, Taylor said the complaints remain unresolved.

“We’re still working on it,” he said, without elaboration.

Asked if Hanna and his two employees had reported as instructed for the 8 a.m. meeting, Taylor declined to say, citing personnel privacy concerns.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com