Some interesting events occurred in Cannon County during the final days of August, 2010.
On Monday, Aug. 30, 2010, a ceremony was held at the Cannon County Courthouse to swear in those persons who were elected to county offices on Aug. 5. Some of those officials had won re-election and were staying in their same position. Others were newly-elected to the office they would be heading, as of Sept. 1.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. These swearing-in ceremonies happen after every election everywhere, as a matter of routine business, and law, as the officials have to take an oath of office.
Among those who took oaths were six people — Chip Avera, Travis Turney, James Davis, Bruce Kirby and Matt Goney — all of whom would be going to work at the Cannon County Sheriff's Department for new Sheriff Darrell Young.
No one at the ceremony, not Circuit Judge J. Mark Rogers who administered the oaths, Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon, nor the county commissioners who were all in attendance and took similar oaths, objected to those six people being named to postions at the sheriff's department, even though, at that time, Young was not officially the sheriff and there were not six vacant positions in the department.
The very next day, Aug. 31, 2010, another event of note occurred, one which happened with no notoriety or fanfare. Five people — Charlie Wilder, Vance Walker, Brad Hall, Anna Nichols and Andy Bryson — quit their jobs at the sheriff's department.
Well, technically they did not quit. The were all terminated by Billy Nichols, who would be leaving the position at the end of the day because he had lost his bid for re-election to Young.
On the Notice of Separation for each of those five persons Nichols listed the following as the reason: "Laid off. Change of Administration."
No one — not the county executive, the county attorney, or any of the county commissioners — have questioned why Nichols fired five employees of the sheriff's department on his last day on the job. One thing is clear, however: If those five employees had quit, instead of being laid off, they would not have drawn unemployment benefits.
I don't know whether any other employees at the sheriff's department knew that Nichols was laying off those five persons on that day, but it seems likely since they were all among his top level, inner circle. In that paperwork was involved, it would seem plausible that a person who has said she "performed clerical, payroll, bookkeeping and receptionist and general office duties" at the department knew what was taking place on that day.
I also don't know if there were discussions between Young and any of those five employees between the time he was elected and the day Nichols terminated them. Certainly they must have believed there was reason to be concerned for their jobs, or else they would not have allowed Nichols to take the action he did.
Did they conspire with Nichols to get laid off as some form of political rataliation because the people of Cannon County had sent him packing? Could be, but more likely it was all about collecting the unemployment benefits.
As it turned out, it was pretty convenient that those five people did depart on Aug. 31, because that left room for five of the six people Young was bringing into the department on Sept. 1.
But it also left one of those six in limbo. There was no job open for one person to take.
To fix that situation, Young terminated one employee, Loretta Bailey, on Sept. 1. The reason Young gave on the Notice of Separation for Bailey was basically identical to the one Nichols gave for the five he fired: "Due to new administration services no longer needed."
Bailey recieved money from the taxpayers of Cannon County for accrued vacation time and also unemployment benefits, as did the ones Nichols let go.
In Tennessee, an employer can terminate an employee "at will," meaning no explanation has to be given.
Employeers may terminate an employee for whatever reason whenever they want to without consequence. They may also alter the terms and conditions of employment for a good, bad, or no reason.
However, Bailey seems to think she should be en exception to that rule.
She feels as though her Constitutional and civil rights were violated when Young fired her. She believes it was an act of political retaliation. She is unwilling to accept that her position as that of a person who performed "clerical, payroll, bookkeeping and receptionist and general office duties" is one which Young either didn't think was necessary, or wanted another person to perform.
Therefore, she is suing Young, and Cannon County, for hundreds of thousands of dollars. How her position is any different than those of the other five who were terminated due to "change of administration" is unclear, but it will certainly be interesting to see how it plays out in federal court.
ADDENDUM TO ORIGINAL POST:
It is also worth noting Wayne Prater was also sworn into office on Aug. 30. He won election to the County Trustee's office after the incumbent, James Maxwell, decided not to seek re-election. One of the other candidates, Brenda Mullinax, worked for Maxwell. It is my understanding she was laid off by Maxwell, but likely would not have been retained by Prater. Another candidate, Norma Knox, is working for Prater in the Trustee office.