NIOTA, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Niota is again without insurance and has shut down most city services.
According to The Daily Post-Athenian, only a skeleton staff remains in the city of about 800 residents.
Coverage through the Tennessee Municipal League lapsed at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Athens Insurance owner Allen Carter said he received a letter from TML stating that the city did not meet the “long term results needed” for coverage to continue.
Carter had negotiated 60-day temporary coverage for the city through TML.
“Niota just needs to handle their affairs and their business correctly,” said Carter. “But right now, there’s just not that option.”
Carter said a lawsuit against the police department was a factor in TML’s decision, but noted the major issue was errors and omissions by public officials.
The insurance pool indicated in April that it wouldn’t renew the city’s insurance because Commissioners Richard Rutledge and Leesa Corum refused to participate in an investigation. A former city worker had accused both of harassment.
Rutledge said on Tuesday that the loss of insurance is not only because of the actions of him and Corum.
“If I felt in any way that it was my problem, I would step down,” Rutledge said.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported six employees were laid off Tuesday. The police department is closed, the volunteer fire department is shut down as are the library and the parks.
Mayor Lois Preece said the sewer department had been contracted out to avoid steep environmental fines from the state if it ceased working. Preece said garbage collection might go to a contractor as well.
Preece said the layoffs were not a surprise to those now without jobs.
“They knew it was coming,” she said. “I try to be very upfront with my employees.”
(Note: This updates, expands and replaces earlier post)
State attorney general Bob Cooper says a new state law protecting handgun permit holders from criminal prosecution for keeping their guns in locked cars still leaves them vulnerable to being fired by employers who prohibit weapons on their premises.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the opinion, made public Wednesday, “ignores the clear legislative intent of the law.” (Note: full text of opinion HERE)
John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said Cooper’s analysis is correct and echoes points that Second Amendment advocates raised during legislative debate, only to be ignored by Republican legislative leadership.
The attorney general’s opinion, requested by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, also addresses four legal questions raised about the so-called “guns in parking lots” law enacted earlier this year.
Two of them were the subject of considerable debate, including amendments offered on the House floor by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, who had Harris’ help in drafting them.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey disputed assertions Thursday that his bill making it legal for workers to store firearms in vehicles at work leaves them vulnerable to being fired by unhappy employers, reports Andy Sher. “I think if it’s legal for them to have it in their car, they [employers] couldn’t terminate them based on doing a legal act,” the Blountville Republican told reporters. “There’s nothing illegal about having them there.”
He said it is “not my intent at all” to leave workers unprotected. Earlier this week, the House sponsor of Ramsey’s bill, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said the Senate-passed bill will not protect gun-carry permit holders from Tennessee’s “at will” employment law.
State law allows employers to fire, suspend or discipline workers for any reason or none at all, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s website.
“If a business decides to fire someone or to reprimand someone, that is their rule,” Faison told the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, which approved the bill. “This is an at-will state, and they’ll still be able to do whatever they want with a person who has a gun in their car.”
The Tennessean reports that two executive-level Department of Children’s Services staffers — whose duties at the agency included reviewing the deaths of children — were fired Tuesday. Dismissed were:
• Debbie Miller, 61, executive director of family and child well-being, who oversaw medical and behavioral health and education for children in custody and independent living for teens that age out of DCS custody; and
• Alan Hall, 47, executive director of performance and quality improvement, who oversaw department policies, licensing and accountability, and who led the department’s internal audit.
Department spokeswoman Molly Sudderth said Miller’s position was eliminated as part of a restructuring. Hall will be replaced. The Tennessean asked why Hall was dismissed, and Sudderth did not give an answer.
In a Tennessean review of personnel files in October, neither Hall nor Miller had any reprimands. Information about their service since then was not immediately available, Sudderth said.
Reached by phone, Hall said Wednesday he was “certainly shocked” at his firing.
“I’m evaluating my options,” he said.
Miller did not return calls.
The firings are the latest for a department that has seen a high level of executive turnover since Commissioner Kate O’Day took charge in January 2011. The Tennessean reported in November that more than 70 executive-level employees had been terminated during her time — more employees, and a higher rate of dismissals, than all but a handful of other state government departments.
The town of Elkton, population about 600, has 42 fire hydrants and pays the local utility district $24.50 per month per hydrant to have them connected to the water system. The Tennessean cites the situation as an example of problems with Tennessee’s utility districts. Mayor Carolyn Thompson doesn’t think the amount … is fair and is fighting back. She refused to pay the full amount for three months, and the South Giles Utility District threatened to turn off the city’s water.
The dispute highlights an ongoing issue with the more than 180 utility districts across Tennessee. There is often little transparency and accountability for how the districts operate. Water rates and activation fees vary widely from district to district.
The same goes for the fees utilities charge municipalities and others for the use of fire hydrants. Some utilities don’t charge anything. Others pay just a few dollars a month. For some cities, the bill can add up to a huge chunk of the budget.
“I feel that I have a fiscal responsibility to this city to manage the financial situation here to the very best of my ability,” the mayor said.
“We really have cut our budget to the absolute core, and we are still struggling. It is hard on us.”
South Giles Utility District officials say they are simply running a business and need the fee to help offset the cost of the very improvements — such as larger diameter pipes — that make using fire hydrants viable.
…Elkton pays $12,348 a year for its 42 fire hydrants, regardless of how often or how much water is used. That’s nearly as much as the entire yearly $12,650 budget for the volunteer fire department, records show.
By contrast, Pulaski in Giles County pays a flat $1,033 a year for nearly 500 hydrants. The city of Tullahoma in Franklin and Coffee counties pays about $11.20 a month for each of its 1,024 fire hydrants. And Columbia in Maury County is not charged anything for its hydrants. These cities are all are served by separate utility districts.
Brad Staats, the Republican opposing Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, has fired his campaign manager and hired Jeff Hartline to replace him, reports Michael Cass. Staats, the Republican nominee, said he let John Shorter go because “the campaign just wasn’t going in the direction that I wanted it to go.”
“Several months ago, I wanted very badly to reach not only across party lines but out to some large minority groups that are here in Tennessee,” he said. “We’re now doing that.”
He added that he should have made the change earlier, as his wife had recommended, although he “enjoyed working with John.”
Asked if he was worried that his campaign might appear to be in disarray this close to the election, Staats replied, “I haven’t really given it a second thought. You just have to make the right decision. It has proved very quickly to be the right decision.”
Shorter declined to be interviewed but wrote in an email, “We have run a great campaign with very little resources, but it’s important for the team to be in unity. Both Brad and I had some disagreements with how the campaign should be run in the last month.”
CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The State Fire Marshal’s office has declared a huge treehouse built by a Crossville minister to be an imminent safety hazard and ordered it to close.
The popular attraction was built by Horace Burgess of Crossville over 11 years as a ministry. He said about 1,000 people per week visited his 100-foot-tall Minister’s Treehouse.
Burgess told The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/OSyKf7) that he received a certified letter last week ordering him to close the treehouse.
A copy of the letter released by the state Wednesday said the treehouse is 60 feet too tall, doesn’t appear to have proper structural support, contains several falling hazards and lacks a fire safety plan. It said the structure was so tall, local fire department equipment likely couldn’t reach the top levels.
— Note: A copy of the letter from a state Department of Commerce and Insurance official is HERE.
This post updates and replaces previous post
A Tennessee State Representative is being called a hero for helping evacuate a day care threatened by fire, reports WMC-TV. State representative G.A. Hardaway says he hopes everyone can learn a lesson from his experience.
Although this particular daycare had an evacuation plan and everyone got out safe, Hardaway believes there should always be several different escape routes.
On Monday, Supreme Learning Center owner Ella Malone says during dismissal, her bus driver noticed that the van was on fire.
“And immediately he got out of the bus with the children which was about 11 in there,” said Malone.
The driver took the children inside to safety until they noticed smoke coming from the building.
…The daycare manager says the evacuation plan is to have the children come out of this side door, that is if the building is on fire, but because the van was on fire in front of the school, they were forced to take the children through a gate.
As flames billowed from the van and onto the building, state representative G.A. Hardaway just happened to be driving by.
He and other community members helped the children escape by creating a passageway through the back enclosure.
“They helped us get out of the fence and Representative Hardaway took the children to the store,” said Malone.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester is coming in for heavy criticism over Mark Clayton’s victory in the U.S. Senate primary. A sampler:
From a Chattanooga Free-Press editorial: How long does it take to turn a state political party from an empire that controls every facet of government into an irrelevant laughingstock? Apparently about six years when you have ineffective buffoons like Chip Forrester and Gray Sasser at the helm.
Gail Kerr’s opinion: Clayton has already served a useful and overdue purpose. He has demonstrated that the Tennessee Democratic Party is a complete, dismal mess.
From Democrat-oriented Pam Strickland:
Chip Forrester should be ashamed. When the state Democratic Party chairman hoodwinked the Executive Committee into re-electing him after the bloodbath that the party took in state legislative races in 2010, he promised to do better, but what he has delivered instead is a U.S. Senate nominee that the party has been forced to disavow.
From Republican-oriented Greg Johnson: To repurpose a 1990s post-Soviet era joke about communism, the Democratic Party is dead in Tennessee — it just hasn’t been buried yet. Here’s another knee-slapper: Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said last week’s GOP primary “shows a Republican Party clearly in disarray.” After the Democratic primary, Forrester should know from “disarray.”
From a Tennessean editorial: If the party knew about Clayton’s positions before the election and did not actively educate voters about their opposition, hoping (praying?) that he would not win, because they were afraid to publicize their error in allowing him on the ballot at all (again), then that is unconscionable bad judgment. If they were totally unaware of his positions, then that is incompetence.
In either case, leadership should own their responsibility and make way for a new team.
Washington County Election Commission Administrator of Elections Connie Sinks fired one staff member and demoted another Friday, reports the Johnson City Press. The offense: Sending a handwritten cover letter to three members in November asking that they use accompanying materials for a meeting that may or may not have occurred. “You can’t run elections when you don’t trust your staff,” Sinks said.
After consultation with County Attorney John Rambo, Sinks fired Rebecca Vines, an administrative assistant, for insubordination, claiming the employee alerted the three members about the November meeting and that public notice was never given.
The letter was discovered in a box of documents that were ready to be shredded.
In the letter, Vines writes that she is including a list of 2012 election information prepared for the meeting and that “I have handwritten this cover letter because I didn’t want to risk it with the office computer.” Vines also wrote that “Maybell and I wanted to get this material to you quickly so you will be ready for your lunch meeting this coming Monday.”