By MELINDA WILLIAMS
Tom Compton, an employee of the town of Pulaski who was terminated last April, should be reinstated to his position and afforded the hearing he was denied at the time of his dismissal, according to a Pulaski County judge.
“Because the town failed to provide a hearing before discharging Compton, he was not properly removed from his position in the town and should be reinstated,” Circuit Court Judge Colin Gibb states in a recent opinion letter. He granted the Writ of Mandamus Compton was seeking and directed Compton’s attorney to prepare such an order. The order has not been officially filed with the court.
In his letter, Gibb cites a section of the Virginia Administrative Code (VAC) stating that a building official, after permanent appointment, “shall not be removed from his office except for cause after having been afforded a full opportunity to be heard on specific and relevant charges by and before the appointing authority,” in this case, Pulaski Town Council.
Compton, a 63-year-old 27-year employee of Pulaski, filed for a Writ of Mandamus in May seeking to force the town to reinstate him with full benefits and demanding that he be given an “evidentiary hearing” before town council. The petition sought to have the Writ directed to Pulaski Engineer Bill Pedigo and town council.
Gibb said the “narrow question” in the case was whether Compton was the town’s “building official” and, therefore, entitled to a hearing before council. The judge found that Compton was indeed the “de facto building official” even though the town contended that was not Compton’s position.
The judge found that Compton was “the” building official for the town at the time of his termination and “for many years prior” since Compton was the town official with the authority to issue and review permits, as required under the VAC.
“He signed on behalf of the town in legal matters pertaining to the building code,” Gibb says of Compton. “In effect, he served as ‘the chief officer in charge of the State Building Code.’”
Despite the fact the town hired Compton as its “code compliance officer” and Compton was never formally appointed as building official, the job “evolved into the building inspector and de facto building official,” said the judge. Code compliance officers are not afforded the protection of the VAC hearing requirement.
“While it was in the town’s interest for him to serve as the building official, the town cloaked him with the authority of the office and position,” Gibb said. “It was only after the town’s interests apparently shifted that the town has rescinded their recognition of that authority.”
According to Gibb, the purpose of the VAC hearing requirement is to ensure “fair and impartial administration and enforcement of the building code” for an official who may become embroiled in controversy when dealing with the public by virtue of the job’s requirements.