Ex circuit clerk employee upset

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, May 19, 2007

One of the two employees fired from Circuit Clerk M.L. “Binkey” Vines’ office Thursday said she felt wronged by Vines’ decision.

“He had a meeting with all the employees Thursday morning,” Jacqueline Nichols said. “He stated to each one of us that he had to lay us off — every one of us, including the interns. The only people working would be him and (bookkeeper) William Kennon.”

Vines said Friday morning that wasn’t true.

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“I didn’t tell everybody they were fired,” Vines said.

Friday evening, he contradicted that statement.

“They were all told they were to be let go, and two offered to come back and work part time,” Vines said.

Vines has recently said his office is financially strapped. County bookkeepers said this week Vines had bounced checks to the county and later made them good.

Nichols said the staff was told they should take vacation time if they had any because Vines didn’t know if he could pay for either vacation or payroll past May 31.

“I had two weeks vacation, and I took it because there was no guarantee,” Nichols said.

Nichols has worked for Vines since 2000. Recently, she said had the responsibility of a full-time job — processing judgments, handling the mail, notarizing and processing marriage applications — and the part-time responsibilities of a youth court clerk combined.

Nichols said she did not understand why she was let go while others apparently remained employed. She always got the impression that Vines thought she was very competent, she said.

“He always felt I could handle the office,” Nichols said. “He made me feel I was capable of handling the office under stress, by myself.”

Nichols said she thought race was the reason she and the only other black employee, a part-time youth clerk, were let go when the whole office was told they would be fired.

“I think that was his way of trying to get rid of me,” she said. “He had no intention of getting rid of the other people. He has always shown a difference in the way he treats his white and black employees, but he expects the black people to get him elected.”

Nichols said she was left out of staff meetings and that Vines made disparaging comments around her.

Vines said Friday night the charges of race as a motivating factor were simply not true.

“(Nichols) was the highest-paid employee in my office,” Vines said. “She had taken more personal time and vacation time than anyone in my office. Her father is a personal friend of mine. I love her, and I love her father. It just hurts me that there would be a statement made like that.”

Nichols said she and the bookkeeper, who she said was supposed to be the only employee retained, earned the same amount.

“I have been loyal; I have worked overtime without getting paid, and I have not had a raise in three or four years,” Nichols said.

Other circuit clerk employees referred questions to Vines and would not comment.

Nothing is set in stone yet, Vines said.

“We will make some changes,” Vines said. “(Chancery Clerk) Tommy O’Beirne will get a letter in a couple days detailing exactly how it’s going to work.”

Vines announced Thursday that, because his office was suffering a financial strain, he would be terminating one full-time and one part-time employee effective June 1.

O’Beirne said Vines had contacted his office, but no employees had been stricken off the county’s payroll as of Friday.

“I need a letter that makes clear his intentions,” O’Beirne said. “With any county department, I need to have in writing who is leaving and who is staying.”