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Post Office turmoil results in resignation

By Terry Witt
Staff Writer

One of the three women targeted by a Postal Service investigation resigned Monday after her first day back at work and just three days after she was interviewed by the postmaster in Gainesville.

Kim Poole had been on medical and annual leave since May 29 when co-workers Debbie Hamberger and Bonnie George were suspended without pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Hamberger, George and Poole were interviewed separately by Postmaster Lisa Fletcher last Friday. George said her interview with Fletcher lasted three-and-a-half hours. Fletcher now has the option of firing George and Hamberger or reinstating them.

Fletcher declined comment Tuesday. She said she wasn’t sure when she would be able to comment, except she thought it would be sooner rather than later. However, she said there was no timeline for a decision.

As for Poole’s resignation, she said it was Poole’s personal decision and she would not comment. Poole could not be reached for comment.

George said if they are fired, she and Hamberger would continue their union appeal to the next stage, which would be national arbitration.

The turmoil inside the Chiefland Post Office began when postal inspectors gave Hamberger and Poole a memo on May 29 placing them under emergency suspension without pay. The investigators said George was escorted from the Post Office that day pending further investigation, but they did not say what she was being investigated for.

Later that afternoon, inspectors allege George, Hamberger, Poole and a fourth female co-worker met at Usher Forest. They claim George grabbed the fourth co-worker by the waist and said she would throw her down and beat her if she didn’t shut her mouth. George, Hamberger and Poole say there is no truth to the allegation.

George and Hamberger said they are whistleblowers who are being punished for exposing mismanagement and unethical conduct on the part of superiors at the Chiefland Post Office.

George said they have refused to bend under the pressure of a postal investigation because they haven’t done anything wrong.

"It’s all about beating down three strong women," George said.

The Chiefland City Commission decided not to get involved in the case Monday night after City Commissioner Sammy Cason asked if the nation’s postmaster general should be contacted.

"I don’t know what’s going on over there, if it’s double talk or what," Cason said. "Something or other isn’t right."

Cason added later that writing to the postmaster general would "get their attention."

City Attorney Norm Fugate responded that the three women have union representation and an attorney to defend them.

When Mayor Teal Pomeroy asked Police Chief Robert Douglas what he thought, Douglas said it was an internal investigation by the Postal Service. He suggested the city stay out of it.

Cason had attended Friday’s Greater Chiefland Area Chamber of Commerce meeting where chamber member Shirley Lanier urged residents to stop by George and Hamberger’s petition site opposite the post office and talk to them. She said once people talk to the two women, they could make up their own minds about what is happening.

"I just want people to come up and support them," Lanier said.

Cason said it was Lanier’s comments that prompted him to suggest the city contact the postmaster general.

George and Hamberger have collected 1,150 signatures on petitions that call for their reinstatement, but George said if they are fired, that changes everything.

"Then it’s going from petitioning to picketing," said Jimmy George, her husband.

George said attorney Rod Smith will get involved only if they are fired or charged with a crime.

As for union representation, she said union steward Mara-Lynn Kontrafouris has been told by postal officials not to represent her and Hamberger. George said Kontrafouris has actually made a statement against them, which means the union representation hasn’t been all that great. Union President John Pruitt has been assigned to be their representative.

George said she appreciates city commissioners discussing the possibility of contacting the postmaster general. She said she would still encourage the city to get involved. She said people should realize that this is their post office and they have a stake in how it’s run.

"We are from this community. We are from Levy County. We want to represent the people who do business with us," George said.

Hamberger and George said they are senior postal workers and they did their jobs efficiently and effectively, and their actions were always intended to be in the best interests of their postal customers.

"We dedicated our lives to the Chiefland Post Office," Hamberger said.

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