SILVER LAKE — Silver Lake Street and Sewer Superintendent JT Prater will keep his job.
The decision was made by town council members during a special meeting Friday, Nov. 1, at the Silver Lake town meeting hall.
The 90-minute disciplinary hearing was held to determine how to address alleged issues involving Prater. Town Council President Chad Miner announced at the beginning of the meeting that a suspension could be imposed.
“If it’s something where, when we get done, we think a dismissal is warranted, then that would be something we would pick up again at the Nov. 13 regular meeting and we would give written notice to JT,” Miner said.
Prater has been a town employee for the past nine years and has been in the superintendent position since 2014.
Approximately 40 people attended the meeting. Notice of the meeting originally scheduled for Oct. 30 was not posted at the town building. To correct the oversight, a new meeting was scheduled for Friday. Notice was posted and an explanation was given to those who showed up on Oct. 30.
Miner started off providing brief background information. He said that in August of 2018, Prater was suspended for four days. According to Miner, that suspension was due to insubordination, specifically referencing anger issues and lack of cooperation with other employees.
“The concern that I think we have at this point in time is that there hasn’t been improvement in those areas,” Miner said. “That is basically the reason why we wanted to have a proceeding on this.”
Prater’s attorney, Travis J. McConnell, asked if formal complaints had been filed against Prater or if he had received disciplinary action other than the 2018 incident. Miner said no formal grievances had been filed.
When Prater was given an opportunity to speak at the beginning of the meeting, he told council members he was hurt and upset that council members did not inform him directly that he would not be receiving a raise in 2020.
“I had to hear it from the clerk,” Prater said.
This was in reference to a decision made in October when town council chose to bring all department heads to the same hourly rate and to increase all other town employee wages by 2.5 percent for 2020. This resulted in Town Marshal Jason McGlennen’s and Water Department Superintendent Joey McNeal’s salaries being brought up to the same level as Prater’s. Prater was not in attendance at that meeting because he was on vacation.
“We were trying to raise the department heads up to equal status,” Council Member Dana Owens explained.
“When it came time for raises, I think we did have some ongoing concerns as to whether there had been attitude and behavioral improvements we were looking for and I think the feeling was that there hadn’t been,” Miner added.
The majority of those in attendance at the meeting appeared to be in support of Prater. Four letters were sent to Clerk-Treasurer Tonya Conley, all with positive reviews of Prater’s work performance. Several residents who attended the meeting also spoke favorably of Prater.
“What I’ve seen in my 78 years here in Silver Lake, you’ve got one of the best employees,” said one resident. “It’d be a damn shame to get rid of him.”
“He’s went through how many certifications, classes and trainings — he’s done that stuff to better the town. Getting rid of him is a huge mistake,” said resident Kyle Miller.
“We don’t want to lose a good employee, but at the same time I think it’s important that people be able to cooperate, work together,” Miner said.
McConnell informed council members later in the meeting that Prater expressed a willingness to participate in anger management counseling.
Owens made a motion recommending that Prater receive a two-week suspension, complete an anger management assessment at a licensed facility and comply with any recommended follow up and agree to progress monitoring by the town council. Miner amended the motion to include participation in quarterly meetings and tracking progress. Owens then added the amendment that Prater should not miss any quarterly meetings. An amended motion was made and unanimously approved.
“My hope is that this turns out to be the right decision and that going forward, everything is good,” Miner said.