Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

July 1, 2013

Souza questions ethics of council

By Jim Young
Chronicle correspondent

— Toward the end of Tuesday night's special called city council meeting, a discussion of topics surrounding the issues involving the interim city manager, city clerk and city council came up leading to accusations and counter accusations but no action was passed to clear up the matters.

The first discussion of the matter was titled “Crossville circus” on the agenda by Councilman Jesse Kerley who was not at the council's regular June 11 meeting due to a work obligation. Kerley said he had some comments to make about an item that he said “should have never been brought up.” Kerley added that the item “once again turned another council meeting into a circus.”

Kerley opined that Mayor J.H. Graham III brought up accusations against interim city manager Jack Miller “that had no merit whatsoever.” Kerley added that he was surprised Graham brought the matter up after accusations late last year that the mayor had cursed at a city employee during the city hall move. Kerley then said there were three things that he felt needed answers, “What was Sally (Oglesby's) motivation for recording these meetings, why did Sally not inform her co-workers that they were being recorded, and who is the only employee that got out of hand at those meetings?” Kerley said he felt those questions should be answered by the personnel board “where they should have been taken in the first place.”

Councilman Pete Souza spoke next and asked city human resources manager Sandy Gruber to explain the process of grievances and the city personnel board. After the explanation of the three steps in the process, Souza asked Gruber if any grievance had been filed. Gruber responded, “No sir, not to this date.”

Souza continued his comments, “We have two issues here. One is an incident that was brought out in public and the allegations were serious in nature. And we've got how it was handled by elected officials.” Souza said that on the first matter, it was inappropriate for him to comment on it.

Souza accused the mayor and mayor pro-tem Danny Wyatt of “a serious ethical violation in the manner (the accusation) was addressed.” Souza complained that the two men knew of a serious enough violation to call for the firing of the manager but failed to share it with the rest of the council. Souza went on to claim the plan was to surprise councilman Marlow and himself and take advantage of the absence of councilman Kerley.

“Ladies and gentleman, I'm disgusted, really disgusted,” continued Souza. "The easiest thing to do would be to throw Dr. Miller under the bus. I've had numerous calls telling me I should fire Miller. None of these people have the full facts.” Souza added that even he did not have all the facts either but he did have a lot of information and impressions about the matter.

Souza accused Graham and Wyatt of telling those in the audience about the matter because, according to Souza, “I can't believe that any of that was spontaneous,” the councilman apparently referring to the standing ovation Oglesby received after her statement. Souza complained they should have let him and Councilman George Marlow know about the situation by putting the matter on the agenda.

Souza told Wyatt he felt it was unethical for Wyatt to have gone to Oglesby in order to have her write a resolution to take power away from her supervisor, the interim city manager.

Souza summed up his thoughts, “This issue divided the city council, the city and brought out animosity and it couldn't have been any worse. We just passed the resolution for the downtown project, we were all going in the same direction and then, bam! It destroyed the inner workings of the city.”

Souza then proposed a motion to “hire an ethics lawyer to look into the role of mayor Graham and councilman Wyatt and look into the allegations that were made that night. Somebody completely independent and from the outside.” Kerley seconded the motion.

Marlow commented, saying he could not stress enough what an asset Oglesby is to the city of Crossville.

Wyatt then asked Oglesby to read her job description into the record.

Oglesby read the very lengthy job description that was last revised in May 1998. The clerk's job is to be responsible for custody and preservation of most city records. In addition, the clerk is responsible for preparation of the council agenda, attends meetings and takes minutes, also prepares resolution and ordinances for city council consideration. It took Mrs. Oglesby over 5 minutes to read the entire document outlining her numerous responsibilities in the job description.

Wyatt said he had researched state law and found a law called the “public employee political freedom act of 1980.” Wyatt said the law allowed any public employee to talk to any elected employee concerning job related purpose and prohibits a supervisor from disciplining, threatening to discipline or otherwise discriminating against an employee who exercised that right.

Wyatt concluded by addressing the audience, “I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I was elected to serve you all and that's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to get down in the gutter with them.”

The vote was taken on Souza's motion but it failed with councilmen Souza and Kerley in favor, councilman Marlow and mayor Graham opposed and councilman Wyatt abstaining.

Following the vote, Graham asked the city attorney if he was allowed to vote on the motion since it concerned him. Attorney Ken Chadwell told the mayor he was allowed to vote on the matter.