Collins’ 2-week leave under attack

Published 11:29 am Friday, June 17, 2016

Democratic opponent questions authority

A second leave of absence for the assistant director of job and family services brought audience criticism directed toward the Lawrence County Commissioners at their Thursday meeting.

However, the object of the leave said he took it to work on bringing jobs back to the county and had the approval of his superiors.

This week, Christopher Collins, assistant DJFS director, returned from a partial two-week unpaid leave starting on May 31 to June 15. Republican Collins, who was appointed to the No. 2 spot at the DJFS about a year ago, is facing Democrat DeAnna Holliday in the general election for the commission seat now held by commission president Les Boggs.

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Collins, who makes $52,000 a year, took his first unpaid leave when he campaigned this spring to get the Republican nod for the commission seat, beating out Boggs and former Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship.

At the audience participation portion of the meeting, Holliday, who often attends the commission meetings, brought up the leave.

“When did you vote on it,” she asked the commission. “Was it paid or unpaid?”

“There was some discussion,” commissioner Bill Pratt responded. “It was a personal leave of absence. He is back. There was no vote. It is up to the discretion of the commission.”

Neither Boggs nor commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. made any response to any of Holliday’s questions.

Holliday then questioned whether the decision on the leave could be made without a public vote. Pratt said it could. Holliday disagreed.

“You took that control from the director,” Holliday said. “Do we need to be prepared for future leaves?”

Again, Pratt said that decision is up to the commission.

Collins, who did not attend the commission meeting, said later that one week of the leave was without pay and the other was from personal time.

“I wanted off to try to bring jobs to the county,” Collins said. “I didn’t really want to get into this. I am under a confidentiality agreement with business enterprises and am not at liberty. It is one of the main reasons I am running to bring jobs in, help improve the economic climate of my county. (The leave) was approved by my superiors.”

He declined to say if that meant DJFS director Terry Porter or solely the county commissioners.

Porter, who said he has never granted a leave to anyone in the agency, said it was mentioned to him in conversations he had with Collins and Pratt on separate occasions.

“The only way I think I would would be for medical reasons,” Porter said. “I don’t want to set a precedent of everyone taking off when they want to.”

Collins said he is absolutely against employees taking a leave whenever they want.

“I informed my superiors,” he said. “It is very important to bring jobs into the county and not be deterred from it. Why anyone would want to attack me for bringing jobs in. I am trying to keep it quiet.”

Also at the meeting, Kenneth Ater, former assistant DJFS director, said when he was at the agency the commission was not involved in what he called the operation of DJFS.

“There would not have been a leave of absence without the consent, advice and approval of the director,” Ater said. “This is unknown of when I was there.”

Ater also said the agency does not receive the resolutions passed by the commission for its records, which are audited by the state.

“The agency has to operate with the resolutions,” Ater said. “Those are not forthcoming.”

Ater said he did not know why Porter did not come to the meeting to defend himself.

“It is pretty shaky ground for him,” Ater said. “He is to be personally responsible for dollars spent legally or illegally. It all points back to you gentlemen.”