Former public works director says Carter was terminated for performance, not going to the media

Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 4:29 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A former Jackson public works director says Mary Carter was not terminated for going to the media, rather she was terminated because “it was apparent it needed to happen.”

Wednesday, Marlin King, the city’s deputy director of strategic initiatives in the Public Works Department, resigned. The resignation comes days after Carter, Jackson’s former deputy director of water operations, was fired, and after he had been demoted as public works director.

King says he was the 11th director to head up public works in the last 12 years and said that it “is not in the best interest of a new director to have an immediate former director as a deputy, considering the circumstances.”

In a copy of resignation materials King sent to the media, he addressed recent reports about the city’s water system. He also refutes claims that Carter was relieved of her duties for speaking to the press.

He also alleged that Carter was fired for “victimizing co-workers” and creating an environment where employees did not want to work. He also said that Carter left bills unpaid and residents’ complaints unanswered.

“I try at all cost to avoid terminating any employee, in Deputy Carter’s case, it was apparent it needed to happen,” he wrote. “I recommended on two occasions to my superiors that she should be terminated. I was asked to hold off. I have provided copies of those letters.”

According to letters, King intended to terminate Carter on June 21, 2022, and again on July 25, 2022.

In the June 25 letter, he stated that she “lack[ed] the needed skills and mindset to operate the water plants. Your incompetence was shown in numerous meetings where contractors [were] the source of all the reports and reporting.”

The letter went on to say that he “received countless emails from you of your tyrant behavior over the last 90 days” and that she was “insubordinate,” in violation of city code.

The second letter did not mention why Carter was being fired, simply advising her that she served in an “at will” position, meaning it was not protected by the city’s Civil Service Commission.

For her part, Carter said she never saw either letter and did not know why he was calling her insubordinate. “You know, he never talked to me. So, I’m not sure where he’s coming from, but we were running the plant as it should have been [run], and we were reporting as required, so I’m not sure where the incompetence had come in.”

Both letters came out prior to the state imposing a boil water notice on July 29, due to turbidity levels taken in water samples at the plant. They also came out prior to the city’s water crisis, which began in late August, after equipment failures at the plant led to a loss in water pressure and water service for people across the city and in Byram.

She also says that King and his appointees were the bullies. “People weren’t going to work for people like that. Employees are people too. Anywhere you go, you need to have the employees on your side if you want to get the job done,” she said. “Some kind of way, you need to let them know that you’re there for them. You want them to do their job, but you’re there for them. And he did not do that.”

The former deputy director also maintains that her firing was retaliation for speaking to the media. “It had to be retaliation because I was there to work,” she said. “And I was there to make sure that the city could supply the residents with good water.”

Carter was fired on September 9, weeks after she gave a rare on-camera interview to WLBT. In that interview, she detailed problems at the plant and contradicted then-Director King’s claims that the plant was fully staffed by Class A operators at all times.

A WLBT analysis of time sheets submitted to the EPA showed that the Curtis plant did not have a Class A worker on duty for approximately 153 hours during the month of June, a violation of state and federal laws. King said Carter filled in during those hours, but, as a deputy director, she did not have to fill out time sheets like other operators. For her part, Carter said she did not work all those hours.

Carter said she was let go for not participating in the city’s water emergency. She provided an email she sent to interim Public Works Director Jordan Hillman and City Engineer Robert Lee concerned about being left out of meetings with state, federal, and city officials. She said she never received a response to that inquiry.

King, though, alleges the majority of the problems at the city’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant were the result of Carter and said one former water operator would not come back to work because of her.

That employee was Mousetta Spann. We previously reached out to Spann and she declined to comment. Texts provided by King do not show specifically that Carter was the reason she would not come back. However, Spann did say that she would consider coming back if “significant changes” were made.

Texts reveal that King told her that he had spoken to a number of employees who felt the same way, and followed up by saying that he would make sure Spann would report to “Charles, not Mary,”

“Eventually, she confided that Deputy Carter was the reason she resigned, to which I made the offer that she could report directly to Dr. Williams. You can see that we poke at length on the evening of April 11, the day that Deputy Carter complained about her workload.”

Spann said she would not come back to work until changes were made at the water treatment plant.
Spann said she would not come back to work until changes were made at the water treatment plant.(Special to WLBT)
Spann said she would not come back to work until changes were made at the water treatment plant.
Spann said she would not come back to work until changes were made at the water treatment plant.

Dr. Williams is Charles Williams, the former public works director who also served as city engineer. He stepped down earlier this year.

Carter complained about her workload in a May email that was submitted to EPA as part of a request for information from the agency related to the city’s ongoing water struggles. The emails revealed that staffing shortages were a major reason behind complications at the city’s main water plant.

King brought up other concerns with Carter as well, including an alleged “pattern of abuse and unwillingness to work with others,” as well as documents showing invoices that went unpaid under Carter’s watch.

A Wednesday, August 24 email from acting City Engineer Robert Lee states that one company, United Rentals, which provides sewer pumps to the city, “refused to issue the invoice until the city paid back pump bills from the May pumps.”

He goes on to say that “Mary didn’t pay her bills, so United removed the pumps some time ago. Mary just found out the diesel pumps were removed during the Veolia meeting just now. I just found out as well.”

Robert Lee says Mary Carter doesn't pay her bills, leading to sewer pumps being removed from...
Robert Lee says Mary Carter doesn't pay her bills, leading to sewer pumps being removed from work sites.(Special to WLBT)

“The only thing I can say is I only get money from... they’re the ones that put money in my budget. I cannot bring money in. I can only do what my budget allows me to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of unpaid invoices because we don’t get the money in from WSBA to fund our budget. When I left, we were fighting, going back and forth, about them giving us money so we could get chemicals at the plant.”

Carter said because of a lack of funding, or a lack of will to provide her with the funding, the city’s J.H. Fewell Treatment Plant, its smaller water treatment facility, almost ran out of alum.

“I think it was around the end of July or so, but they had to get an emergency order to get chemicals. They were able to call the company... and ask the company that delivered the chemicals and asked them if they would deliver that certain chemical, alum to J.H. Fewell,” she recalled. “They didn’t have the money, but it’s up to finance to figure out where the money should come from. the only thing I could tell them was ‘we were short on funds to purchase chemicals... so would you please give us some extra funds to purchase the chemicals?’”

Jackson’s water/sewer enterprise fund has been in shambles for years, in large part, due to the billing complications brought about by the Siemens contract. The city hired the firm about a decade ago to replace all the city’s analog meters with electronic ones, and install a new billing system at the WSBA office. The system never worked, and thousands of customers ended up not receiving bills, and therefore not making payments.

The administration is currently working to replace the Siemens meters with new ones and has installed new billing software. Auditors’ findings in the spring showed that along with the decreased revenue, Jackson was spending more on water and sewer than it was taking in, and was basing spending on inflated projected revenues that it knew it would not collect.

King provided additional texts and emails as well, including correspondence between Carter and another former deputy director, Carla Dazet.

“I just got a call from Commissioner [Brent] Bailey about [an SSO] pouring into the street. Charles and Mary are copied on the email I am forwarding you, but I just wanted you to be aware. I’m going to try and get in touch with Mary.”

An SSO is a sanitary sewer overflow, which occurs when untreated waste backs out of the sewer system and into the environment. Jackson faces fines from the EPA for any SSO that reaches certain bodies of water, like the Pearl River or its tributaries.

The correspondence shows that Carter responded, but said the city didn’t have anyone to send out to the site. She said the city didn’t anyone to send out because the city was unable to collect on its water bills. “Since our budget has been cut so badly because WSBA can’t bring in money, we have to limp along,” she wrote.

Carter did recall that exchange but said she responded that way because the text came in on a Saturday. “And we did not have anybody working overtime... so we had no one to send out, and they expected us when they got calls to send somebody out,” she said. “I told her the truth. We cannot send anybody out there because don’t have anybody to send out.”

King said he planned to reorganize Public Works, hoping that would make things better, but that did not happen.

“Maybe I would see an improvement in her attitude and treatment of others if I reduced the number of areas that reported to her,” he wrote. “Since no one provided a reasonable answer why water maintenance was divided between her and Deputy (Carla) Dazet a few years ago, I recombined the group and reassigned them to infrastructure management.”

The mayor’s office confirmed King had resigned, but would not comment further, saying it was a personnel issue. King declined to do an on-air interview when asked.

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