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Lawrence engineer placed on leave

By Kristen Bishop · 340-2443

MOULTON — The Lawrence County Commission has placed County Engineer Gordon O’Neal on administrative leave with pay pending an investigation.

Commission members and Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell went into executive session for 45 minutes and, upon returning, immediately approved a motion to put O’Neal on administrative leave. They named Ronald Burke to fill the position in O’Neal’s absence.

In protecting the engineer’s “good name and character,” the commission did not release information regarding the investigation. “The only thing it is right now is a personnel matter,” said County Administrator Linda Harville.

Lawrence County hired O’Neal in March 2005 with an 18-month contract. After much debate, commissioners agreed to renew his contract for five years in September.

O’Neal drew up his own contract, changing the termination clause and the salary requirements.

The previous contract stated that either the county or the engineer could terminate it. The new contract allows the employee to leave with 30 days notice but takes away the commission’s ability to fire him. Only the personnel board has that authority.

The new contract also states that the commission agrees that the employee shall not be dismissed for any politically motivated reason. O’Neal said during the September commission meeting that he added this sentence to protect himself from “petty disagreements.”

Former Commissioner Randall LouAllen, who did not run for re-election in November, said in September that he felt the contract gave the engineer too much authority.

O’Neal’s current salary is $86,500 with an annual 5 percent raise.

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