Former Marion economic development director Terry Jones did not last long as McPherson’s community development director.
His quick resignation raises questions whether the City of Marion was fully aware of potential liability it may have faced during his tenure here.
As first reported by the McPherson Sentinel, McPherson city police arrested Jones five minutes after normal quitting time on what was to be his first day in his new position Nov. 16. He was charged with driving with a suspended license and released on $320 bond.
After work hours the next day, Tuesday, he tendered his resignation, which was accepted at a special city commission meeting Wednesday.
His resignation letter made no reference to his arrest but did refer to the commute from Marion to McPherson, which he earlier had sought help with on social media.
“This decision was by no means an easy decision to make, as your organization has shown nothing but dedication, rectitude, and friendliness,” he wrote. “These are just a few attributes that make me want to be a part of your great community.
“However, there are many factors that I did not consider that have led me to this letter. These factors include such things as a lack of consideration of the commute to McPherson until I would be able to move as well as a misunderstanding of the position itself.
“I take full responsibility for these misunderstandings and the lack of proper pre-employment research. I surmise that my excitement clouded my best judgment.”
The key question, according to law enforcement sources, is whether the City of Marion could have been held liable for any accident Jones might have been involved in while driving on city business. Insurance typically is void if a driver doesn’t have a valid license.
It could not be verified whether and for how long Jones’s license had been suspended. Federal law prohibits public access to driving records. The only offense listed on his criminal record, which is publically available, is a conviction in 2011 for driving under the influence of intoxicants. The fine in that case exceeded state maximums for a first offense, but there is no indication of any other offenses.
According to the city’s insurance agent, Alex Case, the city was informed that “serious violations” appeared on Jones’s driving record. It is unclear whether this information would have been communicated during hiring. Case said the city provides an updated list of its drivers each year for insurance purposes.
The city also performs routine background checks on employees at the time they are hired. However, results of those investigations are considered private.
Marion city administrator Roger Holter said he had no knowledge of Jones’s license being suspended. He said that background checks, using an employee’s driver’s license number and social security number, typically were conducted by police chief Tyler Mermis.
Mermis declined to comment on whether he conducted a background check on Jones, but said he had no knowledge of Jones driving on a suspended license. At the time of Jones’s hiring, this newspaper reported that his employment was approved “conditional on passing routine screenings.” Holter said these included a background check and a drug test.
Holter said the insurance company had asked him whether Jones drove company vehicles, which Holter said Jones never did. He said he was aware of a past traffic offense but knew no details.
Holter said Jones was reimbursed on occasion for driving expenses during out-of-town trips he made on city business, usually training sessions or conferences.
Holter said city policy required that employees report any convictions they have during or prior to their employment with the city.
A call to Jones requesting an interview was not returned.
According to a relative of Jones, McPherson had been aware of the license suspension and had given Jones six months to obtain a valid license.