Civil Service Board Chief Resigns Post; Peyton Staff Questions on Voting on Employee Discipline Led to Tippins' Decision

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA, The Times-Union

Questions from Mayor John Peyton's staff about how Jacksonville Civil Service Board members vote on employee disciplinary decisions has led to the chairman's resignation and concern among a couple other members.

Civil Service Board Chairman Mark Tippins said top Peyton adviser Steve Diebenow recently voiced "perplexity" in the way the board had been voting, leaving Tippins to believe the administration was dissatisfied with the board. Tippins, who is up for reappointment, said he was resigning as soon as some pending cases are complete.

Fellow board member Tom Brown said he was appalled when he learned about Diebenow's questions to Tippins.

"It seemed as though they were trying to tell us we should favor the city," Brown said.

Tippins said he didn't think Diebenow was trying to convince him how to vote in the future. Former Mayor John Delaney, who appointed Tippins, said it's not unusual to question people up for reappointment about their philosophical views.

The Civil Service Board hears appeals from employees with civil service protection who have been disciplined by their employers from the city, JEA, Duval County school system, and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Civil servants are employees who usually aren't elected or appointed to management positions and who remain in their positions even when a new mayor or sheriff is elected.

While the Civil Service Board members, all of whom are unpaid, usually agree that some discipline is necessary, they don't always agree with the severity of the discipline.

Diebenow, Peyton's chief of policy and government affairs, said he was trying to get to know Tippins better and to find out if he should recommend the reappointment of the local real estate attorney to the board. So the two met for breakfast.

Diebenow also said he questioned Tippins about votes.

"One of the things I was told by lots of folks was that Mark typically votes for the employee regardless of the issue," Diebenow said.

That's not true, according to records reviewed by the Times-Union.

Out of 21 disciplinary cases Tippins voted on in 2002 and 2003, he voted in the favor of the employers's proposed penalty 11 times.

The pattern of Tippins' votes is similar to that of the entire Civil Service Board.

In 2002 and 2003, the board upheld the employers' decisions in 55 percent of the disciplinary cases it voted on and reduced the severity of the proposed penalty in other 45 percent of the cases.

Tippins said it's difficult to get five out of seven members to attend meetings at the same time, which is required for a quorum, because of work and family obligations. Plus, the board has had only six members for about a year.

Add to that the questioning from Diebenow, and Tippins said it was time to quit.

Diebenow said he was going to recommend Tippins for reappointment and was surprised to hear he had resigned. …