At a Special Sistersville council meeting held June 18 at 7 p.m., the employment of City Water Clerk Alexis Billings was terminated based on 14 points. While some council members appeared to abstain from voting one way or the other, city officials are not releasing the unofficial meeting minutes specifying which council members voted in favor of the action.
"Alexis, this is your opportunity to address the council," began Mayor Dave Fox. "You can do that in open, or you can do that in executive session."
Billings chose to address those points openly, allowing for public observation.
Sistersville City Hall
"Tonight you guys are going to hold my fate in your hands," she said to council. "This job is very important to me and my children and is my livelihood."
She stated the main reason why she thought they were having the meeting.
"During the transfer from the old water billing system to the new water billing system, I found over 57 accounts that were double billed. I reported this to Clyde, the software engineer of the new software billing program, so that it would not be double billed in the new system. I also reported this to my superior, (Recorder) Julie Schleier. She then stated that this could not get out because we would be responsible for reimbursing every customer for as long as they were billed every month for over the years that they were in that house. Most of the time this was going to be a land owner renting to a renter. I made it very clear to Clyde and Julie Schleier that I was not going to lie. I was not going to be the scapegoat in the future for her saying 'We don't know why she didn't correct this.'"
The 14 points against Alexis Billings were shared by her and are presented as follows:
1. Failing to properly code customer account resulting in customers not being billed for services rendered.
2. Failing to properly post cash payments.
3. Failing in properly maintain meter forms pursuant to West Virginia Public Service Commission.
4. Failure to report off work to your immediate supervisor;
5. Refusing to make daily bank deposits per direction of your immediate supervisor
6. Insubordination by refusing to perform assigned work at the direction of immediate supervisor
7. Failing to obtain signed rental agreement forms from customers who rent City facilities.
8. Failing to report and correct billing errors for customers who are double billed.
9. Failing to timely send past due notices and shut off letters to customers on delinquent accounts
10. Failing to properly maintain the deferred payment plan book.
11. Prolonged socializing with family and friends during work hours
12. Misuse of the City computer for non-work related purposes.
13. Excessive talking and texting on personal cell phone during work hours
14. Mishandling and/or misappropriation of customer funds and accounts.
"I have not taken any money from the safe," Billings said, speaking of point 14, mishandling and misappropriation of customer funds and accounts. "I believe that this, the 14 items on this list, is a witch hunt."
"You guys are being used as a pawn in a game of chess by Julie Schleier, who I believe has set me up to be fired," she said, addressing the council.
When asked about the status of an investigation into possible funds missing from a safe inside Sistersville City Hall, Tyler County Sheriff Bob Kendle said that the State Police Department was handling that matter.
Corporal Durrah from the State Police Department confirmed that they are conducting an investigation in which the City of Sistersville is the victim, but he could not release details pertaining to an ongoing investigation.
Although Billings admitted to points four and five, she gave reasons for her actions.
"I do not deny refusing to make a daily bank deposit per direction of my supervisor. This money came from the ferry, Bill Schleier (husband), straight to Julie Schleier (wife), and did not run through more than one person. I did not count that money and I was not going to take money that I had not counted or seen run through two people to the bank. West Virginia State Audit states that money has to run through at least two people before it goes to the bank."
She said the only time she committed point six, insubordination by refusing to perform assigned work at the direction of an immediate supervisor, was when it came to taking the ferry money to the bank.
"I do not deny this either," she said of failing to report off work to my immediate supervisor. "I did not bother to tell her I was sick. I reported it to her equal, City Commissioner Daniel Grimes, and to the one above her, Mayor Dave Fox. The reason I did this was because, since the missing money incident with the safe, I have not been treated right. I have been stripped of my keys, I have been treated rude, I have been given demeaning jobs, I have been given dirty looks, shrewd remarks, all from my superior Julie Schleier. I did not trust that she would report that I was sick that day. I thought she would say I was 'no call, no show'. My word against hers. I reported it as you would in a sexual harassment case. If your supervisor is the one that sexually harasses you, you go to the one above them. I followed the chain of command."
Billings cited point 13, excessive talking and texting on personal cell phone during work hours.
"I did use my personal cell phone once the city phone was taken and given to another employee for business," she said. "They still had my contact information and would contact me for boat docks and the pool."
"There was no rule on this anywhere," she went on to say of cell phone use. "I was never given an employee handbook to know otherwise. It was never discussed with me or even stated that this was a problem."
As for point one, failing to properly code customer accounts resulting in customers not being billed for services rendered, she said that, out of 32 codes, she only knew the codes to turn water on and off and did not change anything else. She stated that others who knew the system were also confused by the rest of the codes, which were programmed by previous city employees.
"If there was a result in not being billed for services rendered, this was before me," said Billings.
She stated that point two, failing to properly post cash payments, was the result of a system crash.
"On the 20th (of May), the system did crash" she said. "I was not given any other way or any other option of posting payments by my supervisor. I created a columnar sheet and wrote down the customer's name, account number, whether it was cash or check payment and, if it was a check, with a check number. This way the money could still move to the bank and you could use that columnar sheet to post the payments in the new system once it was up and running. I did this to the best of my ability and, again, I had no help."
Other points she discussed were three, seven and 10: failing to properly maintain meter forms pursuant to West Virginia Public Service Commission; failing to obtain signed rental agreement forms from customers who rent city facilities; and failing to properly maintain the deferred payment plan book.
"This is the first that I have heard of this," she said of those points.
"You guys want to make a motion to go into executive session?" asked Mayor Fox, following Billings's conclusion.
The council voted to enter executive session.
Those in attendance from the public, including Billings, were made to leave the building.
The executive session lasted for approximately an hour-and-a-half as the council deliberated, after which members of the public, as well as the Sistersville police officer standing with them during that time period, were welcomed back inside for the conclusion of the regular meeting.
When Mayor Fox asked the council to make a motion one way or the other, Councilwoman Ann Doig made a motion to terminate Billings based on the 14 points; Councilman Craig Pritchett seconded that motion. Some members of the council then voted in favor of the motion, while others appeared to abstain from voting. No one voted against the measure.
When asked on the following day to clarify council votes, City Recorder Julie Schleier would not release the minutes or corresponding information, citing that they were not yet approved by council and could not be released.
When asked of any rules preventing a recorder from releasing unofficial minutes and information, Joan Parker, executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, expressed otherwise.
"Generally speaking, just because the minutes haven't been approved does not prevent the government body from sharing the information," she said. "In fact, they are encouraged to do so."
On Friday, June 21, upon a further attempt to attain a copy of the unofficial minutes or public information, particularly the council members' votes, Mayor Fox referred Tyler Star News Reporter Alex King to speak with the city's attorney.
"Alex you will be hearing from our attorney," read an email from Recorder Julie Schleier to the Star News on the same day, in response to questions on the council members' votes. As of this writing, City Attorney Carolyn Flannery has not contacted the Star News for comment on why such information is not legally open to the public.
On June 18, council members present in both open meeting and executive session were Ann Doig, Craig Pritchett, Mitch Corley, Colin Marin, Jason Hood, and Richard Long; Mayor Fox and Julie Schleier were also present for both.
Recorder Reveals Votes
Following the receipt of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, City of Sistersville Recorder Julie Schleier has responded to the Tyler Star News's requests for information concerning the votes of council members at the June 18 meeting.
The votes are concerning the employment termination of Water Clerk Alexis Billings based on 14 points against her. Although the Tyler Star News previously reported that not all council members appeared to vote one way or the other, Schleier's response reads:
"In response to your letter dated June 24, 2013, the minutes for the special meeting on June 18, 2013 are not official until they have been approved at the next City Council meeting which is scheduled to be held July 8, 2013. We do anticipate they will be approved at that meeting. After such approval you may have an official copy.
"As far as the information on the council vote a motion was made, the motion was seconded all were in favor and none opposed."
Council members in attendance at that meeting were Ann Doig, Craig Pritchett, Mitch Corley, Colin Marrin, Jason Hood, and Richard Long. Mayor Dave Fox and Schleier were also present.