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Monday, January 26, 2009

Fired Atlanta arborist wants his job back

click to enlarge Tom Coffin, former Atlanta arborist
  • Tom Coffin, former Atlanta arborist

Tom Coffin, the Atlanta senior field arborist whose firing last summer sparked a firestorm of controversy, says he's mulling legal options if the city doesn't rehire him.

In mid-December, his attorney told the city — in the form of an ante litum notice — that he planned to sue to under the city's "whistleblower" statute. Coffin has maintained he was fired because he alerted superiors about alleged lax enforcement by his colleagues of the tree ordinance — an eco-minded yet controversial law that forces homeowners or businesses to meet criteria before cutting down trees. Coffin, whom we cheekily referred to as a real-life Lorax, helped write the ordinance, and has earned both praise and scorn from residents and developers for keeping a watchful eye on its enforcement.

In an open letter last week to the city council and residents, Coffin said he'd prefer to be rehired and get back to enforcing the tree ordinance rather than head to court to argue a case he thinks he can win.

Coffin writes:

"...I seek reinstatement to the Sr. Arborist position that I won through merit and lost through deceit. I wish to continue my nearly 12 years of service to the city in formulating, implementing and enforcing one of its signature environmental laws. I seek my job back. I ask for compensation for lost salary and benefits, and for the legal costs incurred by me since my firing in July 2008. These demands are reasonable and minimal. I ask that the [city's Public Safety] Committee recommend this result to Council in the interest of justice, fairness and economy."

Beth Chandler, the city's attorney, says the law department is reviewing Coffin's claim. There is no timeline for when a decision will be made, she says.

In an earlier open letter to city council and residents, Coffin said the city's tree ordinance, in his absence, has become a "dead letter." Coffin, who travels around the city on a recumbent bicycle, told CL on Friday that even months after he was sacked by the city he still finds himself surveying trees and reporting possible violations to the arborist's office.

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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