ELIZABETHTON — Chris Schuettler, 44, Carter County’s director of planning, has been charged with theft over $1,000 following a four-month investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into alleged falsification on his time sheets for the county’s payroll.
Special Agent Brian Fraley said his investigation revealed that from June 2008 through October 2010, Schuettler had traveled to North Carolina without authorization during work hours and had claimed on his time sheet that he was working during those times.
Fraley said cellular telephone records for the two-year period revealed that Schuettler had been in Lenoir and Wilkesboro, N.C., no less than 15 times during business hours for his office. Fraley’s review of Schuettler’s signed time sheets found that during those times Schuettler had reported that he was working. Fraley calculated that the hours claimed to have been worked by Schuettler while he was allegedly in North Carolina amounted to more than $1,000.
Schuettler has denied the assumptions made by the TBI but said he could not go into specifics until after his initial appearance in Carter County Sessions Court next Tuesday.
“The accusations set forth in the summons that I received on July 12, 2011, are just one of many attacks that I have had to endure since the new administration took office on Sept. 1, 2010. This is nothing more than another attack on me personally and professionally by this administration and its affiliates,” Schuettler said in a news release.
Schuettler had originally been involved in a time card dispute with Mayor Leon Humphrey just days after the mayor took office last September. That dispute had been over compensatory time. Schuettler had claimed he was due 67.25 hours of additional pay for work he had previously performed.
Humphrey said he was a new mayor at the time, only three days into the job, but his previous work experience led him to believe that as a salaried employee, Schuettler was not entitled to comp time. Humphrey discussed the matter with then Carter County Finance Director Jerome Kitchens. After checking with his finance staff, Humphrey called Schuettler to his office and denied his claim for comp time.
The Carter County Planning Commission later voted to allow the additional payment to Schuettler, but Humphrey said to his knowledge Schuettler has not received the additional money. Schuettler concurred that he has not been paid for the time.
The disagreements over the past several months between the mayor and Schuettler have been well publicized, including Humphrey’s efforts to change the private act, which established the Carter County Planning Commission in such a way that Schuettler would have come under the mayor’s control. That effort was soundly defeated by the Carter County Commission.
Humphrey said Wednesday that despite the public perception, “I am not out to get Chris Schuettler.” He said he was concerned that the public trust may have been violated.
“Public monies are to be handled with trust. It doesn’t matter who you are. This seems to be a serious charge,” Humphrey said.
Schuettler said the evidence will show that the allegations he stole public money are unfounded and said “by these types of attacks this administration is not only attempting to hurt me and my family, but also our county and its citizens. Already I have seen this story posted all over the Internet. How does that help us in our efforts to get new business and industry to locate here?”
Schuettler has served as Carter County’s director of planning since Oct. 22, 1991. His service was broken by a 16-month period when his Army Reserve company in the 80th Division was mobilized for active duty in Iraq. He was wounded by a roadside bomb and received several decorations during his military service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Humphrey said that since Schuettler does not work directly for him he could not answer questions of what Schuettler’s work status would be during the time he is facing the charge. He said the Planning Commission would have to make that decision.
Ralph Watson, the chairman of the Planning Commission, was not available on Wednesday. The commission will hold its next meeting on Tuesday, just hours after Schuettler makes his appearance in Sessions Court.