Known for his period costumes and big personality, Harper Harris was fired by museum management on May 17, a decision that was upheld this week in a ruling by Judge Philip Taylor.
Howard Evans, Harris’ defense attorney, said he and his client are considering appealing the judge’s decision.
“The decision is a disappointment, but not an unexpected outcome,” Evans said. “Harper’s dedication and high job performance ratings for 15 years is overshadowed by emphasis on a couple of incidents which were addressed at the time they occurred.”
In a four-page decision, Taylor wrote that there was “sufficient” and “substantial” evidence presented to uphold the termination.
“The hearing officer finds that the employee/appellant’s job duties were more than providing colorful commentary on the Civil War period and period pieces in the museum,” Taylor wrote. “Specifically, the hearing officer finds that the employee/appellant’s job required that he be on time for work, events and programs, that he properly complete needed reports, that he properly organize his work day, that he properly organize and plan for upcoming events including tours and major programs, and that he work as a team member with fellow employees and supervisors.”
During an appeal hearing on June 20, the city said Harris — who had worked for the city for 15 years — did not conduct himself professionally despite being warned on several occasions that his job performance needed improvement.
City Attorney Jamie Wingler said Harris was fired for insubordination, tardiness, inappropriate behavior toward visitors, unsafe habits surrounding demonstration weapons and poor program planning.
Museum Executive Director Dr. Richard Banz testified that Harris failed to raise his performance level after being placed on a 90-day performance improvement plan in February.
But Harris and his attorney maintained that his firing was a part of a plan by Banz to clean house of longtime museum employees after the former college professor was hired to lead the museum in 2010. Banz acknowledged that five part-time employees were laid off last summer to cut the budget by 11 percent but said Harris’ termination was based solely on his lack of performance and professionalism.
On Thursday, Harris said he was disappointed in the direction taken by the museum; its fundraising arm, called the Kennesaw Museum Foundation; and the Kennesaw City Council. The city owns the museum, home of “The General” Civil War-era locomotive.
“I could not let them fire me after 15 years and walk out without a fight,” said Harris, 59. “It’s sad that they had to resort to embellishing things to make me look bad. People who know me, know me. They know it’s not true. I worked very hard to make the museum work over the years. I’m really proud of all of my accomplishments, friends and acquaintances from all over the world that I had a chance to meet.”
But most of all, Harris said he will miss the children and seniors to whom he gave often gave guided tours.
Harris said he does not plan to return to the museum under the current management. As for the future, he said he will consider his interests in music and acting when deciding on his next career move.
“I’m a local fellow, born and raised here, and plan to be a part of this community and Civil War community in some way or another,” Harris said.