ELIZABETHTON — The long-standing disagreements between Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey and Carter County Planning Director Chris Schuettler once again played themselves out in Tuesday’s meeting of the Planning Commission.
Humphrey said he was appearing before the planners because of a matter that had been deferred from last week’s Carter County Commission meeting. He said he was concerned about a letter Schuettler had written to Elizabethton City Manager Fred Edens on Jan. 3, informing Edens that Schuettler and his planning staff would no longer be responsible for the financial oversight of the Elizabethton/Carter County Animal Shelter or supervising the daily activities of the city’s animal control officer.
Humphrey quoted from Schuettler’s letter to Edens that Schuettler and his assistant, Jimmy Church, had each been promised an annual payment of $3,400 for assuming the extra duties of overseeing the shelter staff. Schuettler said in the letter that he understood the city and county were actively recruiting a new manager of the shelter at a rate of $36,000 a year. Schuettler said he has yet to receive any of the money owed him after 19 months. He said if the city wishes to have Schuettler and Church continue to oversee the shelter they expected to receive back payment of $5,383.33 each.
Humphrey said he has worked at building good relations with the city staff but Schuettler’s letter was counterproductive. The mayor said he could not find any written documentation of a commitment to pay Schuettler and Church for their additional duties and said the county employee handbook forbids compensation without documentation. He also said no one has any recollection of the agreement.
In response, Schuettler said the then Planning Commission chairman approached him and Church on June 24, 2010, with a request from the Carter County Animal Control Board to assist the board, the then county mayor and the city manager with the management of the shelter’s employees. Schuettler also said that due to the animal shelter’s poor condition he attempted to bring the facility up to acceptable standards. In return, he and Church were told they would be compensated at $3,400 per year.
Schuettler said he discussed the matter with Humphrey after he was elected mayor, but said Humphrey told him he would not receive any compensation above his salary. Schuettler continued to oversee the shelter. When it was announced the city and county were recruiting a shelter director, Schuettler said he asked the mayor when the director would be hired and said he was told it would be by the first of the year. After speaking to several officials, Schuettler said he agreed to stay on until January, at which time he would send all records to the city manager or county mayor.
During last week’s County Commission meeting, Schuettler was asked to stay on as director of the shelter until a permanent director was hired. Schuettler said he agreed to stay for 60 days.
Humphrey said the new Animal Shelter Advisory Board is just now getting organized and it might take longer to hire a director.
On another animal control matter, the county’s animal control officer, Amanda Dugger, submitted her resignation to the Planning Commission, citing personal matters as the cause for her departure.
She said it was a very demanding job that amounted to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but only paid for 32 hours. In addition, the lack of equipment resulted in her using her own four-wheel drive vehicle to respond to some calls, sometimes costing her two days pay a week for gas.
In a separate report, Dugger said “the lack of resources is overwhelming.” She said it would help if the animal control officer was provided with a uniform when going into unknown situations without any protection.
Even though she was a part-time employee, Dugger said the calls were nonstop and both her personal and cell phone voice mails stayed full no matter how hard she worked.
There were several other contentious discussions between the mayor and the commissioners. One was over the latest annual stormwater report. Schuettler asked the mayor if he had signed it and forwarded it.
Humphrey said he has not seen it. Schuettler said he completed the report in October and brought it to Humphrey’s office, but did not hand deliver it to the mayor because he was in a meeting.
Planning Commission Chairman Steve Pierce said the county should have a hand receipt system for such important documents so there is a paper trail. He reminded the commissioners the county paid a penalty last year because the report was submitted late.
Schuettler provided the mayor with a copy of the report for his signature.
Pierce also congratulated Schuettler on the recent decision by a Carter County grand jury to find a no true bill over a theft charge. Schuettler’s attorney had said the charge was unfounded because it was based on phone records that showed Schuetter was in North Carolina when he should have been working in the county. He said these records were actually of phone calls placed in Carter County but picked up by North Carolina cell towers.