Citco fires six employees in one day! CWU fighting for two

By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor

Two months after he took office, Belize City Mayor, Bernard Wagner has terminated the services of six of his employees, chief among whom was the City Administrator, Candice Miller who was placed on one month’s suspension for “dereliction of (fiduciary) duties”.

In a terse press release issued late Wednesday evening, the Council made reference to the firings as part of its efforts to restructure, attain financial stability, efficiency and effectiveness, which Wagner had spoken of two weeks ago at a press conference.

But Miller rejects that claim. The former City Admin’s tenure would have expired in 2022. She was earning $90,000 plus $6,000 in allowances annually. Her contract was renewed last September as part of former Mayor Darrell Bradley’s initiative to provide security of tenure for hired staff and protection from political victimization. That measure, however, was never Gazetted as part of the Council’s Act.

Miller is convinced that this was exactly what happened to her – that she was fired for her political affiliation, which she says has never interfered with her profession. She is taking Wagner and the Council to court for wrongful dismissal.
In an exclusive interview with 7 News on Wednesday, Miller said that Wagner and his Council had no valid basis for firing her, and denied that she violated any Council regulation or procedure in carrying out her duties.

“The grounds that the mayor used for the dismissal are none-existent…I am challenging the suspension which I never got to answer to. And why challenge a suspension when you are paid? Because of the slander to my character…I operated by the books and for them to be slandering me, it is damaging my character; it is damaging my ability to go out there and look for another job. I need to clear my name,” Miller said emphatically.

Miller explained that the cheques she made out that have come under scrutiny to cover for food and drinks tabs were for legitimate work-related events that the Council held for its staff.

The other five employees who were fired were called in on Tuesday and handed their letters of termination. None of the letters specified the reason(s) for their termination; and, like Miller, they were reportedly not paid anything, other than for the vacation days that they had accrued.

Those employees are: Lisbeth Butler, who was the Manager in the Office of the Mayor; Cecil Jenkins Sr., who was the Coordinator in the Sanitation Department; Whitney Waight, who was the Parks and Playgrounds Coordinator; Shana Whyte, who was a supervisor in the same Parks Department; and Wayne Samuels, the brother of former Councillor Dean Samuels, who was on the technical staff.

At least two of those employees, who are members of the Christian Workers’ Union (CWU), are also contemplating taking up their dismissals legally. Cecil Jenkins. Sr., told the media this week that the Human Resources Manager, Sharlene Rudon, called him in and handed him his letter, explaining that she had nothing to do with the decision and that it “came from higher up.” Jenkins said that when he inquired about his severance package for his 12 years of service with the Council, he was told that he did not qualify for even that! Like Miller, Jenkins said he believed that the real reason behind his firing was politically motivated. This is because he said he had applied to the United Democratic Party (UDP) to run in the Lake Independence division for the party.

CWU President, Evan “Mose” Hyde, has said that as is outlined in the CWU’s Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Union and the Council, there are procedures that must be followed when dealing with disciplining or firing employees.
“We question that due process, especially in the light of the fact that both these workers have received positive appraisals of their work at the City Council. At no point in time has the Union been notified that there are issues with two of our members there,” Hyde explained, pointing out that there is nothing to make reference to as adequate grounds for the termination of the union members.

“We are going to…try to engage the City Council, in our view, to make right what we view was a process that was completely flawed and needs to be readdressed,” Hyde added, indicating that he was writing to the Council that same day.

The UDP also reacted to the firings on Wednesday, condemning the terminations, and predicting that “there will be more (firings) since there is a long list of employees that the PUP Council has targeted for termination.”
The UDP urged Wagner to reinstate the employees and to desist from terminating anyone unjustly.

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