Former budget director loses lawsuit

Nearly two years after he was fired, former Buncombe County Budget Director Ken Goble has lost a court battle with the county.

The eight-year county employee was fired in June 2000 for alleged insubordination. He sued in October of that year, saying he’d been illegally dismissed — a claim the county denied.

Goble claimed he’d been fired because he’d disagreed with County Manager Wanda Greene‘s handling of the county’s medical-insurance budget. By the time the case went to trial, however, both Goble and his lawyer, John Hunter, had agreed to dismiss that allegation (though they may refile it later).

With that central element gone, the Feb. 25 trial hinged on whether Goble had been insubordinate and whether his right to due process had been fully honored when he appealed his firing. Goble was seeking about $78,000 in back pay, medical insurance and retirement contributions (see “Where there’s smoke, there’s firing,” March 13 Xpress).

On April 23, Superior Court Judge Zoro Guice Jr. ruled that Goble had been insubordinate and that his conduct had been unacceptable because he’d failed to perform requested tasks “promptly and without complaint” and because his acts and comments were “obstructionist/uncooperative.” For those reasons, Guice found that Goble had been fired for “just cause.”

Another key question in the case was whether the county had properly informed Goble about the parameters of a hearing Greene held to consider Goble’s appeal of his firing. Guice ruled that Goble hadn’t been denied due process protections. The judge also ruled that Goble hadn’t proven that he wouldn’t have been fired anyway, even if he’d been given additional due process.

Goble was ordered to pay the county’s court costs, which amounted to $1,103.

“I felt confident all along that we were in a solid position,” Greene said later. “We don’t take any personnel action lightly — we give it a lot of thought.”

Hunter, however, said last week that he and his client were considering whether to appeal.

“We did not believe going into the trial that the facts bore out insubordination,” said Hunter. He added that the legal issues surrounding due process ought to be decided at the appellate-court level.

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