June 15, 2016

Ocracokers question ferry personnel firings, Hatteras Inlet operations

The Ocracoke Observer

The Ocracoke community is buzzing over the firings Friday, June 10, of 11 North Carolina Ferry Division workers at the Silver Lake Ferry terminal operations.

Word was out over the weekend after seven career employees and four temporary employees were dismissed.

Among those fired are Albert O’Neal, 44, ferry operations manager II and 27-year employee, and Scotty Robinson, 54, a ferry master.

According to information sent Monday by Ferry Division Information Officer Tim Hass, the four temporary employees NCDOT were dismissed as of June 10 for “unacceptable personal conduct”: Leland Yeomans, 66, security guard; James Gaskill, 24, general utility worker; Tyler Hamilton, 18, ferry crew member I; Alexander Chadwick, 23, ferry crew member II.

In addition to O’Neal and Robinson, the other career state employees fired from NCDOT as of June 10 are Robert Samson, Jr., 41, ferry crew member I; Kevin Styron, 36, ferry chief engineer; Casey Tolson, 20, ferry crew member II; Rickey Tillett, 56, processing assistant III; and Michael Daniels, 20, ferry crew member II.

Hass did not give a reason for the termination of these career employees.

Although there is talk in the community about the reasons for the firings, the Ocracoke Observer did not receive any reasons from Hass nor did he say if a less severe action was explored.

“There is an appeals process for all permanent state employees,” Hass said in an email.  “NCDOT cannot release any additional information until these career state employees exhaust their state personnel appeal rights.”

As for the vacated positions, Hass said the Ferry Division is filling in from other shifts and other routes where necessary but he could provide no further information.

More  islanders than usual attended the regular monthly meeting with Ferry Division personnel in the Ocracoke Community Center to question the firings, but they did not get answers from Jed Dixon, deputy Ferry Division director, or Chris Bock, Hatteras operations superintendent, who attended for the ferry division.

Dixon told the more than two dozen attendees, including O’Neal and Robinson, that he could not comment on the action.

“There is an open-ended personnel matter we’re not going to discuss,” Dixon said before discussion began.

“This is our community,” said islander Cindy Gaskill. “Why didn’t Ed Goodwin come down to this meeting? This is a witch hunt.”

Goodwin is the Ferry Division chief who reportedly fired the 11 ferry workers.

When John Fletcher, the county commissioner representing Ocracoke, asked if the firings would affect any of the Hatteras runs, Dixon said they would not.

About the Hatteras ferry operations, Dixon said the division is using seven boats now -- five smaller ferries and two larger ones. Last year, the division used four large boats and two small ones.

A third larger boat will be ready for service at the end of June, Bock said.

Dixon also said that although the ferry division was contracted recently by Dare County to do a dredge project in the Hatteras Inlet, that area has already filled in.

“They requested us to do it again,” Dixon said, but the worst shoaling is in a section of the channel the state is not responsible for.

Dixon and other officials have said repeatedly that the worst area of shoaling in the inlet is controlled by the federal government and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

That part of the channel can only be dredged to 100 feet wide. It would take federal legislation passed to double the size of that dredgable area.

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