King refutes claims he was a bully, discusses his demotion following WLBT report

King speaks to WLBT regarding his recent resignation and claims that he was hard to work with.
King speaks to WLBT regarding his recent resignation and claims that he was hard to work with.(WLBT)
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 6:28 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson’s former public works director is responding to claims from a now-fired subordinate that he bullied employees and was difficult to work with.

The claims were made Wednesday by another former city worker, Mary Carter, who was recently terminated as deputy director of water operations.

Carter presented the accusations after King alleged similar ones about her in documents provided to WLBT.

“I would definitely have a problem with that,” he said. “Because I haven’t bullied anybody.”

King, who was demoted as public works director in August, resigned yesterday, saying that it was in the best interest of the city and of the next director of the department.

He provided WLBT with a copy of his resignation letter and other documents, which show King attempted to fire Carter twice before she was finally let go.

The documents also show what King says is evidence the city’s former top water official had been “insubordinate” and had “victimiz[ed] co-workers.”

Carter fired back after King’s allegations were made public on Wednesday, saying he was the one who was hard to work with. “People weren’t going to work for people like that,” she said. “Employees are people too. Anywhere you go, you need to have the employees on your side if you want to get the job done... And he did not do that.”

King, though, argues that he can back up his statements with documentation.

“You’re not going to find any email where I’ve said to anyone in the threatening tone or anything along those lines versus emails that are well-documented, where she said [those things] to me, where employees have left and cited her bullying,” he said. “You’re just not going to find any documentation that’s going to support what she said.”

King was appointed public works director in 2021, replacing Dr. Charles Williams. He served in the position until shortly after 3 On Your Side’s investigation into staffing challenges at the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. In that report, Carter contradicted King’s statements saying that the plant had a Class A operator on duty at all times.

He says his demotion had nothing to do with the investigation, and that he was removed as department director because he was not the right man to handle the city’s ongoing water struggles.

“As the mayor and I talked about, with the water issues going on, we needed someone that could come in and really grab hold of that,” he said. “And again, I was not put in that position to really deal with this. So that was a big part of it. And he [the mayor] did hear some grumblings from some council people. They felt like there was a vote of no confidence [coming]. But again, you have to go back to why I was put in that position in the first place.”

As for Carter’s termination, King says he was not involved and only learned of it after the fact. “I was literally 1,000 miles away at the time,” he said. “I received text messages letting me know she had been terminated. So, I was not involved in that process.”

Prior to becoming director, King served as Jackson’s interim chief administrative officer. He was put in the top spot in public works to handle the department’s administrative issues. Some council members say they voted to appoint King with the understanding Williams would stay on as city engineer. Prior to King’s appointment, Williams served as director for a short period of time.

Even with King in the top role, Williams was the face of the department and was called on to answer most, if not all, infrastructure-related questions at press conferences and at city council meetings. Williams retired in May.

King says he did not get involved in water plant operations until after Williams stepped down. Then, he relied on consultants, as well as Carter, to keep him informed about what was going on at the city’s O.B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell Treatment Plants.

“I tell people you have to go back to my confirmation, where the mayor was very clear about what my roles and responsibilities were, say, versus Dr. Williams as city engineer,” he said. “And so, when he retired, it was pretty much all hands on deck to really wrap our heads around what was going on.”

King planned to fire Carter twice, once in June and once in July, but was told to hold off by Chief Administrative Officer Louis Wright.

“In the midst of a boil water notice, we just didn’t feel the timing was right,” he said. “But you will notice I wouldn’t have given her something unless it was approved, because it was even a question of whether I could fire her because she was in a deputy’s role, whether or not the mayor’s office needed to make that decision.”

Letters of termination were drawn up on June 21 and July 25. Jackson issued a water conservation advisory on June 21 and a boil water notice on June 24. The state imposed its own boil alert on June 30. Another state-imposed boil notice was issued on July 29. A month later, the state took over the Curtis plant after equipment failures there cut out water for tens of thousands of Jackson residents.

King says he was not aware the plant was operating on two backup pumps prior to the state takeover and had not been given notice by Carter.

As for other issues at the plants, he continues to reiterate what he said in the documents he released. He blames Carter for the staffing shortages and equipment problems at the plants. He also blames her for not submitting contractor invoices for payment. However, when asked, he explained that submitting invoices was a problem throughout the department, not just in water operations. Before he was reassigned, he said he was working on a system to address that issue.

“I think people felt as though somehow some of this was my fault, and especially the way stories came out to say that as a leader, that I was uncaring or didn’t care about the status of what was going on at the plant,” he said. “So, I wanted to clarify that and say, ‘No, I was actively involved.’”

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