The Kenner Civil Service Board has reinstated a city employee fired in May, finding that his dismissal — officially blamed on reckless driving — was in fact “arbitrary and … without reasonable cause.”
Joey Metzler, an electrical inspector with Kenner’s Code Enforcement Department who was fired on March 25, will be reinstated with back pay after a 4-1 ruling by the board this week.
Metzler’s attorney said the verdict validated his client’s contention that a single named complaint about his driving was merely a cover for political payback for his complaints about the department and his association with a frequent critic of Mayor Mike Yenni.
“We felt that, given the opportunity to put the case on that we wanted to put on, we’d have a good shot at winning,” attorney Ron Wilson said. “The harshness of what happened to him jumps out at you.”
Alvin Bordelon, the attorney for the city, said Wilson’s charges amounted to little more than a pointless sideshow during the hearings. He said the city was hampered by a bad witness and simply couldn’t mount a compelling defense of its decision.
“They felt — four of them felt — that (the city) didn’t have enough evidence to pull the plug on Metzler, so we lost,” he said. “You always like to win these things, but they ruled, and we respect that.”
The primary incident in the official complaint against Metzler occurred on Sept. 26, 2013. Metzler was driving his city vehicle and pulled out from behind a tractor stopped in a school zone, spurring a complaint from a crossing guard who said he was speeding and almost hit her.
It had come to light the previous week, however, that Metzler was under surveillance by private investigators hired by the city. Metzler’s uncle told the City Council at that time that the city began tailing his nephew a few weeks after he complained about missing money at the Code Enforcement Department and a felony conviction for theft that a superior didn’t disclose on her résumé.
The city didn’t discuss the matter at the time, but Bordelon said Wednesday that Metzler was a “terrible” driver who had drawn a number of anonymous complaints.
The city met with Metzler in the months after the incident with the crossing guard, but it ultimately didn’t take any action because the department was busy with a leadership transition, Bordelon said.
The city says that when current Code Enforcement Director Amy Vallot took over the department in January, she decided to review the case with a fresh set of eyes. She met with Metzler and the crossing guard, decided Metzler wasn’t being truthful and fired him.
But Wilson argued that the Sept. 26 incident already had been reviewed by a superior who found no reason to take action.
He said Metzler’s uncle, Robert Miles, testified that when he went to see Yenni about the investigation of his nephew, the mayor indicated that Metzler’s association with Jack Zewe was a problem.
During the hearings, Yenni said he wasn’t involved in the decisions made about Metzler but that he might have made a comment to Miles about Zewe, who he said has filed more than 100 public records requests with the city and is a nuisance.
The investigator who testified against Metzler at the hearing had two inaccuracies in his résumé, and the crossing guard — who has since been fired from her job for being rude and abrasive to parents — wouldn’t name other people she said saw Metzler drive recklessly, both lawyers said.
Bordelon said the mistakes with the investigator’s credentials were simple errors and the crossing guard just did not make a very good witness.
Wilson, however, said the shortcomings of the two were indicative of the problems with the city’s entire case, and that the report the investigator put together after the inquiry was restarted was a sham.
“It was clear that something was wrong with the report,” he said. “The report had one end and one end only, and that was to terminate Mr. Metzler.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.