By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — The dismissal of a city employee earlier this month invited speculations of political motivations, but the department manager said the decision was instead just the latest casualty of a budget deficit.
Jeff Dobek, director of Taylor Golf, Parks and Recreation, said the termination notice given on July 9 to Kim Gilliam Barbee was due to lack of funds for her job.
“The position of special events coordinator was eliminated on July 9,” Dobek said. “This was definitely budget-driven.”
Barbee reportedly told a television reporter that she believed she was fired because she’d posted a campaign lawn sign in support of City Councilman Rick Sollars, who is running to unseat incumbent Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand.
The recommendation, however, was made by Dobek, who said the city’s ongoing, five-year deficit elimination plan has resulted in several layoffs over the past year.
“It was my recommendation,” Dobek said. “We review the numbers on a monthly and quarterly basis and we had to make some adjustments. I made a lot of recommendations to the administration. It was discussed and it was based on the budget.”
Taylor Golf, Parks and Recreation operates two golf courses in the city, Taylor Meadows, where Barbee worked, and Lakes of Taylor, in addition to having absorb management of Taylor Sportsplex last year. Dobek said there have been many layoffs in the past year — he did not provide a specific number — and the possibility remains that more will follow. The department currently employs about 100 people during peak, summer hours, but Dobek said that was a considerable decrease.
“It was way more than that at peak,” Dobek said. “It was based on the budget. There may be more, and right now everything is up in the air.”
Lamarand said the recreation department and golf courses are, as with all city departments, operating on a five-year plan to address a deficit that topped $5 million. The city has, at times, been in survival mode and borrowed multiple millions from one fund to cover payroll, an amount increased a week later.
“Revenues are down, events are down,” Lamarand said. “Management-level employees took the option to retire and the golf course was hit with debt costs related to those employees. The golf director came to me and was ready to make the move, and I supported the decisions he had to make.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])