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Decision on Hackwood's Future Due Today

January 25, 1996|SHELBY GRAD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The county's employee retirement board on Wednesday came close to deciding the fate of administrator Mary-Jean Hackwood but postponed a final vote until this afternoon.

The board, which oversees the investments of 20,000 current and retired government workers, deliberated for three hours after hearing testimony from several employees who said Hackwood created a hostile work environment and abused her power by ordering employees to run personal errands.

After the meeting, some workers said they were guardedly optimistic that the board would fire Hackwood.

"I feel our talk had an effect," said Shari Altmark, a paralegal and investigator for the retirement system. "I feel they heard us."

Board Chairman Thomas J. Lightvoet declined to describe the deliberations but said the panel probably will take final action today. He said the board will inform employees "about the direction we are going in" at a special meeting today.

A board lawyer also will contact Hackwood's lawyer today to discuss "getting closer to a final conclusion," Lightvoet said.

Hackwood said Wednesday evening that she had not been contacted by board members about their discussions. She declined to comment on the case, adding: "I'm just waiting."

Hackwood managed the county's $2.9-billion retirement fund until last month, when the board placed her on administrative leave while allegations by employees were investigated.

The employees accused Hackwood of charging personal calls to the county and requiring them to water her plants and take her to the airport for personal trips.

"If you fail to recognize this as an opportunity to take decisive action, it will send a message that employees are aren't valued," said Julie Martin, manager of personnel and office services and one of three employees who addressed the board Wednesday.

This is not the first time Hackwood has come under scrutiny. In 1991, she was the subject of a critical management audit that raised questions about the way she treated employees.

But some board members have credited Hackwood with sound management of the county's retirement fund.

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