It’s been said that small town politics often resembles a playground sandbox squabble. That may be the case in the brouhaha between Abbeville’s town council and its police chief, Noel Vanlandingham, who has sued the council in federal court over its decision to suspend him.
The council suspended Vanlandingham for several days for having allowed an employee to use a municipal vehicle while on leave of absence, and for “conduct that is unbecoming as an employee” for his criticism of the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, a recording of which was made available online.
Vanlandingham argues that his suspension is retaliatory, and that his first amendment right of free speech is being violated.
The council has asked the court to dismiss the case. Vanlandingham has several weeks to answer.
It isn’t a picayune matter; the case raises interesting questions about free speech, behavior in representation of one’s employer, and the notion of at-will employment, in which an employer can dismiss an employee without stating a reason for doing so.
A compelling factor is that the parties involved are all public servants working on behalf of the people of Abbeville, whose tax funds pay the police chief’s salary and whose votes determine whether council members retain their offices.
The parties should reach a quick and fair solution to mitigate the continued legal expenses associated with litigation should the matter proceed to trial.
Otherwise, the voters may well take matters into their own hands – at the ballot box.