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Archives 03-15-2011

News

Vacant home burns, foul play suspected
Nepotism policy voted down 9-6
Envoy cuts down phone pole, driver charged with DUI
Unemployment rate up to 9.5% in January

Vacant home burns, foul play suspected

Lyndon Johnson photo
Firefighters from Fairgrounds Volunteer Fire Department keep an eye on the perimeter of a vacant home that burned to the ground Monday evening, March 14. According to David Burchfield with Fairgrounds VFD, the fire crew was dispatched to the home, located at 311 Roaring River Road in the Okolona community, at 5:39 p.m. Burchfield said the home was owned by Charles Qualls, but was not occupied and did not have electricity running to it at the time of the fire. It was reportedly used for storage of odds and ends.

Burchfield reported he thought the blaze to be “suspicious in nature” because the property owner said he had seen some people parked in the driveway of the residence and loitering by the creek nearby in the days before the fire. The owner had reportedly strung steel cable and caution tape across the driveway recently in an effort to keep those individuals off the property.

“I’m pretty sure it was set,” Burchfield said of the fire. He noted that with no electricity running to the home and nobody occupying it, “it didn’t just start itself.” He said he was unsure whether Qualls was working with law enforcement because the structure and its contents seemed to be of little value to him.




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Nepotism policy voted down 9-6

By Dewain E. Peek,
OCN staff

Uniform Nepotism Policy Act of 2011, which would prohibit county employees from being within the direct line of supervision of a relative, was again the hot topic of discussion for Overton County Legislative Body during the regular monthly meeting held Monday, March 14, with all
commissioners present.

When the item came up on the agenda, Commissioner Jackson Carter made a motion to approve the nepotism policy, and Commissioner Ben Danner seconded the motion, which opened the floor for discussion.

Commissioner Gregg Nivens spoke up first, “It’s probably the most important legislation that this county board has ever voted on since I’ve been on it. And all we’re asking for is the protection of our employees, and citizens to be put on a level playing field with everybody around here.

Everybody has the same opportunity regardless of whether they’re related to somebody or not.”

He also stated his belief that the people of Overton County wanted the policy to be in place.

“I have yet to have the first individual come up and tell me that they’re against this, except for the elected officials,” he said. “And what that makes me think, that we’re pretty much a self-serving group if we can’t listen to the public citizens out here. And it’ll be a sad day in Overton County if we can vote in a ‘pig policy’, a private act for a pig that we’ve got the state of Tennessee that’s got a whole agency that enacts that, and we can’t do something for the protection of our citizens out here and our employees where they can be equally treated out here. And that’s all they’re asking for.

“And why this is so controversial with elected officials is beyond me, except for one reason, when we get in these offices, by golly, we’re going to sit here and see how much we can promote our families.”

Commissioner Darwin Clark questioned whether this private act and the private acts other counties have passed are constitutional, and asked County Attorney Daryl Colson to speak on the subject.

“These acts have not been court challenged, so we do not know what the outcome of a court challenge would be,” Colson said.

He said these policies work well when there is a centralized chain of command.

“The state of Tennessee has a centralized chain of command. Most city governments have a centralized chain of command. They are problematic when applying to the counties because a county does not have a centralized chain of command,” Colson said.

“Each office stands on its own and they are only accountable to the voters.

No office is a supervisor to the other. And therein lies the problem.”

He said a Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion from 2007 in a different type of case stated that each office is responsible for its own employees and its own policies.

“The school boards, under Title 49, essentially 49, Chapter 2-301, there gives complete autonomy over their employees, and so a private act will likely fail as it applies to the school board.”

Title 49 Chapter 2-301 and subsequent subparts outline the powers given to the director of schools, including hiring, transfer, and discipline of employees, but does not specifically address authority of the school system in relation to the county government. The section was added when superintendents were changed from being elected to being appointed by the school board.

Title 49 Chapter 2-301-a states, “It being the intention in this part to convert the former elected office of superintendent of public instruction to an administrative position filled by the applicable local board of education.”

Commissioner Clark asserted that the 2007 State Attorney General’s opinion would likely cause a judge to rule against the private act.

Commissioner Danner asked Colson, “So, if we pass it and an elected
official sued us, their basis would be, they couldn’t hire their family?”

Colson said what they would plead would be that the private act conflicts with state law.

Commissioner Nivens said, “There’s a reason it’s not been challenged since 1982, since it’s been in place, ‘cause it’s political suicide after you pass something like that for a county official go and challenge the county and hire relatives and place them in line, in the direct line of supervision.”

Commissioner Glenn Honeycutt said he had trouble justifying the policy with going along with the wishes of the voters who elect the officials into office.

County Mayor Ron Cyrus told him, “I believe this is the policy to go by, and I believe this is something we need to set an example with.”

As the discussion went on, School Board member David Sadler Sr. spoke up out of the audience to tell the commissioners that the School Board has a nepotism policy.

Commissioner Nivens said of that policy, “This one says you can hire your relatives just as long as you say, ‘This is my dad and I’m going to hire him.’”

Overton County Board of Education Policy 1.108, Nepotism, states:

“Whenever a person is considered by the Board for initial employment in the system and that person is related to a member of the Board, the director of schools, an administrator in the system, a county commissioner, or any appointed or elected county official, the fact of the relationship shall be publicly made known to the Board prior to the employment of such person.

For purposes of this policy, the term “related to” includes the following relationships: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, wife and husband.”

Commissioner Billie G. Phipps said, “For 90-something counties to not be worried about it, and we’ve got so much we need to be worried about instead of this stupid stuff.”

Of the gathered county officials in the audience he said, “If these people back here want to hire somebody in their office, they’ve done it since I was 10 year-old, they’ve done a fine job, they’ve got good officeholders, they’re doing a fine job, and why harass them. That’s all this is, harassment.”

“It’s not harassment,” Mayor Cyrus interjected.

“It is, Mayor Cyrus, it is,” Phipps said.

“I beg to differ with you,” Cyrus said.

Phipps said he had received just three phone calls, two for and one against, and said he doesn’t believe people are wanting it done.

“It’s not there,” he said. “If you want to vote on it, let’s vote on it. But these people are doing a fine job. If they want to work their families, I’ve not had a problem with it. If anybody’s had any problem with it, I don’t know. I’ve worked under several county mayors, county executives, we’ve never had no problem with it in all the years. I’m on my 16th year and never had no problem with it.”

He later added, “It’s just a bunch of bull is what it is. We need to worry about more important things, and that’s my opinion.”

Commissioner Danner spoke up again, saying, “I don’t know if we pass it if it’s legal or not. I don’t know if it’d stand up in court. Our attorney don’t know; nobody else ever challenged it. But what I know is, the people that I’ve talked to all think it’s the right thing to do to pass something like this.”

Commissioner Carter added, “Sometimes the pure ethics of a situation determines whether or not you vote on something.”

Right before the vote was taken, Clark read the oath of office the commissioners take and said, “Now, this is a constitutional matter. It’s our sworn duty to support the state’s constitution. Now, vote the way you want to, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

To which Mayor Cyrus said, “I don’t disagree with that. I’ve been doing that since I was 17 years-old. So, I understand that very, very well.”

When put to a vote, the motion was defeated 9-6, with Commissioners Randall Boswell, Jesse B. Bowman, Darwin Clark, James Clouse, Glenn Honeycutt, Rick Moles, Jean Moore, Billy J. Parrott, and Billie G. Phipps voting against the policy, and Commissioners Jackson Carter, Ben Danner, Bruce Ledford, Frank Martin, Gregg Nivens, and Donna Savage voting for the policy.

After the vote, Nivens said he would not give up pushing for a nepotism policy, and reminded the commissioners and the office holders in attendance that the next election is not that far off, which prompted Overton County Register of Deeds “Peck” Smith to speak out from the audience to Nivens asking, “How many times have you been elected?”

Nivens answered, “Three times.”

Smith said, “I’ve been elected six.”

Prior to consideration of the nepotism policy, the minutes for the February 14 meeting were corrected and approved.

Highway Department Amendment #3 and County General Amendment #9 were approved.

Mayor Cyrus said, “This is simply a transfer of funds.”

The following were appointed to the Public Records Commission: County Commissioner Jackson Carter, General Sessions Judge John Officer, genealogist Louise Stover, County Clerk Hugh L. Ogletree, Register of Deeds Franklin D. “Peck” Smith, and County Historian Ronald Dishman.

Appointing the commission was mandated by the state, according to Mayor Cyrus.

A grant application for electric cots for Overton County Ambulance Service was approved. The 10% matching funds required is estimated at $17,000 for the 2011-2012 budget. The cots are for use in the event of a disaster.

The following were approved as notaries at-large: Liz Johnson, Karen Ledbetter, Pam Dixon, Erin S. Montgomery, and Tammy Kay Parsons.

First reading of a resolution to ratify Chapter 979 Public Acts was approved.

County Attorney Colson explained, “Whenever the District Attorney’s Office seizes assets of any form from any type of crime, that’s derived from that crime, if that seizing agency happens to be our Sheriff’s Department, then it will allow the county to receive a portion of those seized funds once they’re sold. In order to participate in that program, it requires approval by the County Commission so that we can receive those funds.”



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Envoy cuts down phone pole, driver charged with DUI



Lyndon Johnson photo
A tan 2008 GMC Envoy lays on its side after striking a telephone pole on Preston Street in Livingston on the afternoon of Friday, March 11. The driver, second from left, was identified by Livingston Police Department as Deborah J. Johnson of Apple Drive, Livingston, and was arrested and charged with DUI.


By Lyndon Johnson,
OCN staff

A crash that nearly cut down a telephone pole on Preston Street Friday, March 11 resulted in a Livingston woman being arrested for DUI, according to a report from Livingston Police Department.

Deborah J. Johnson, 36, of 829 Apple Drive, was reportedly driving her tan 2008 GMC Envoy SUV south on Preston Street when she lost control of the vehicle, ran into a ditch, struck a culvert and smashed into a telephone pole. She was trapped inside the vehicle in the immediate aftermath of the crash.

Overton County Ambulance Service and Livingston Fire Department arrived on the scene and gained access to the driver through the rear hatch
of the vehicle.

“Upon the EMS crew helping the driver out of the vehicle, she did refuse treatment by EMS and refused to go to the hospital,” the police report said.

“Ms. Johnson was asked what happened, and she stated that she looked down to get her drink and that she ran off the road,” the report said. “Ms. Johnson was then asked if she was on any medication, and she stated that she was taking pain medication. Ms. Johnson did have slurred speech and seemed incoherent.”

LPD officers Jonathan Storie and Rick Brown then administered a field sobriety test to Johnson, who allegedly had trouble completing the field sobriety test tasks as instructed.

Johnson was placed under arrest for DUI and taken to LPD, where she submitted to having her blood drawn for testing, the report said. She was then taken to Overton County Justice Center.

The vehicle “did have damage all over” from the crash, according to the report, which also noted the utility pole damaged in the crash “belonged to Twin Lakes Telephone Company.”


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Unemployment rate up to 9.5% in January
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for January was 9.5%, up 0.1 from the December rate. The national unemployment rate for January 2011 was 9%, 0.4 percentage point lower than the December rate.

Labor Commissioner Karla Davis said, “Tennessee’s unemployment rate has remained stable since last July. Long-term employment growth is continuing, and our unemployment rate is much improved from last January’s 10.4%.”

According to the Business Survey, transportation equipment increased by 300 jobs, machinery manufacturing increased by 200 jobs, wholesale electronic markets increased by 100 jobs, and primary metal manufacturing increased by 100 jobs.

Major employment decreases occurred in trade, transportation and utilities, down by 17,300. Professional and business services declined by 14,700, and leisure and hospitality declined by 10,400 jobs.

Year-over-year increases occurred in professional and business services, up by 10,900. Educational and health services gained 8,600, and transportation and warehousing was up by 6,000.

Year-over-year decreases occurred in nondurable goods manufacturing, down by 4,300. Arts, entertainment, and recreation lost 2,300, and financial activities decreased by 1,500.


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Overton County News
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Livingston' Tennessee 38570
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