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Contention returns to Unicoi board

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Oct 16, 2017 at 10:28 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Alderman made it more than halfway through the business agenda at its monthly meeting on Monday before a proposal for the adoption of an organizational chart formally establishing a chain of command for town employees set off another round of contentious debate.

Prior to disharmony that came late in the meeting, the board cast a series of four unanimous votes that included a resolution to authorize the town’s payment of a $3,822 annual stipend that Mayor Johnny Lynch has received for the past several years in compensation for the extra duties he is allotted by the town’s strong mayor charter.

Also passed by unanimous votes were resolutions forgiving the remaining $4,000 debt owed by Unicoi Ruritan club for construction of the Buffalo Room at the town’s Visitor Center and two resolutions declaring October National Arts and Humanities Month and November National American Indian Heritage Month in Unicoi.

The debt was incurred through an previous agreement that stipulated the town would build the Visitor Center addition and club would reimburse the town for the cost in anticipation that 90 percent of the room use would by the club and 10 percent would be by the town.

The resolution forgiving the debt was proposed last month by Alderman Jeff Linville, who noted the town uses the room much more than the club and the debt had created a financial burden for a service organization that benefits the town’s residents. The resolution also noted the club had paid $24,770 toward the construction cost.

The harmony broke down in the next two items of business on the agenda and crescendoed at the close of the meeting with a heated personnel policy discussion that prompted the town recorder and town attorney to request the aldermen express their concerns to them prior to the town’s public meetings.

The contention began with Alderman Kathy Bullen request for the board’s approval of the organizational chart that set out the chain of command for town employees and volunteers in keeping with the town’s personnel policy.

Bullen said she asked for the chart two months ago but did not receive it until Monday evening, when she asked for it to be placed on the agenda.

Bullen said the chart she received from Town Recorder Mike Housewright did not follow the chain of command set out in town employee job descriptions and presented an alternate chart she had prepared following those job descriptions.

Linville and Alderman Doug Hopson both argued in support of the chart provided by Housewright. But when Housewright recommended against the adoption of a chain of command that could take away the flexibility to deal with personality conflicts among the the town’s very small staff, Bullen’s proposal to adopt an organizational chart died for lack of a motion.

The heat escalated with the next item of a business — a request from Bullen to be appointed as the town’s representative on the Unicoi County 911 District Committee.

Bullen said her research showed Lynch, the town’s current committee representative, had not attended the meetings in more than a year and had not reported the committee’s actions to the board.

Lynch asserted his authority as mayor to make the committee appointment and refused Bullen’s request. Lynch refused Bullen’s request to for him to discuss his reasons for not attending the committee meetings in a public, telling her he would discuss it privately with her as he had with other aldermen.

Lynch said after the meeting he stopped attending the the 911 committee meetings after the committee chairman “demanded” funding in excess of the $5,000 the town allocates for 911, when by law, the town did not have to provide any funding to 911.

Lynch said his brother, Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch, is also a member of the committee and keeps him abreast of its actions.

The meeting then continued with through a series of departmental reports that concluded with Alderman Roger Cooper questioning Housewright about a deviation from the town’s personnel policy included in a town employee’s employment contract.

When Housewright said the negotiated contract deviated from policy’s provision for vacation time, Cooper said any deviations from the policy must be approved by the board and had not been in the case of this employee’s contract.

When Cooper said the board had the right to know about the deviation, Lynch told Cooper he could have asked to see the contract. Cooper responded he had assumed the town staff was doing their jobs and asked Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis for her opinion the proper process.

Shults-Davis told the board there is process she can research but implored the board members give their requests for her legal opinions to her in advance of “just throwing down the gauntlet in public meetings.”

“Your continuously saying ‘you’re doing this wrong, you’re doing this wrong, you’re doing things wrong, wrong, wrong,’ is not constructive. It is not productive. I would like to see us working cooperatively,” Shults-Davis said.

Housewright told the aldermen likewise to bring their concerns to him in advance of the board meetings. “My office is door is always open, Housewright said.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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