By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Former Interim Deputy Administrator Kirk Roberts doesn’t believe he was “let go” for reasons being cited by the new administrator at Curry County jail.
Roberts was dismissed Wednesday morning as part of what Administrator Keith Norwood classified as restructuring at the facility.
“Dismissed is rather a strong term. He was let go,” Norwood said Wednesday afternoon.
“As a temporary employee, he’s terminable at will. It wasn’t that he was fired or dismissed or anything like that. Because I have a restructuring plan, we had to let him go at that time.”
Contacted by telephone, Roberts said Norwood initially told him he was being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into discussions he had with other command staff regarding jail policies.
He said about 30 minutes later, he was called and told to sign his termination paperwork.
Roberts said the issue stemmed from a Monday meeting with Norwood and members of jail command staff.
During the meeting, he said Norwood told them policy was just a guideline that could be disregarded and instructed command staff to delegate policy deviations to lower ranking jail officers.
“He was going over that it was his position that policy was merely a guideline and doesn’t need to be followed,” Roberts said.
“It was more of a directive that it was going to be happening to some extent and that we were not to do that (violate policy), we were to have our subordinates carry out any tasks that were in violation. That was what I understood him to be saying.”
Roberts said after the meeting he planned to address his concerns with Norwood but he first spoke with others at the meeting to be sure he correctly heard and understood what was said.
“He (Norwood) took offense to that and said I went behind his back,” Roberts said, explaining Norwood told him that was the foundation for the investigation.
Efforts to contact Norwood regarding Roberts’ claims were unsuccessful.
“We have a difference of opinion on the purpose of policy, and I was in disagreement with him that policy was not the backbone of our day-to-day operations, and I disagree with him that it was merely a guideline,” Roberts said.
“I certainly had no intention in carrying out that directive.”
Roberts said while he is disappointed, he was not surprised to be let go and had already decided he would leave the facility.
In the little more than two weeks since Norwood assumed command, Roberts said he has had little communication with Norwood and no communication regarding administrative issues, operation of the facility or future plans.
And he has no plans to seek recourse over the incident.
“As far as trying to find recourse for it, it’s certainly not going to help the situation over there and it’s going to make things more difficult for the folks that were working over there, and I’m not willing to do that,” Roberts said.
“I think you have a very good staff that have worked hard through a lot of adversity and are struggling to do their very best. The community has no idea how hard they’ve worked and they strive to provide more than should be asked of anyone with the limited resources they have.”
Curry County Sheriff Matt Murray appointed Roberts as interim administrator April 1, replacing then-interim administrator Lt. Keith Bessette, who asked to be returned to his duties as a deputy about a month after being placed in command.
The sheriff’s office managed the facility under emergency conditions until June 1, after the attempted escape of four inmates Feb. 21 led to the resignations of Interim Administrator Carlos Ortiz and several members of his command staff.
Roberts was one of three final candidates considered for the position of administrator.
Norwood was hired as administrator June 2.