Gannon targeted in UCHRA suit

By DAN WHITTLE/ Courier Staff Writer

Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon has been targeted in a lawsuit by a former staff employee with the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency based in Putnam County, charging Gannon played a role in having her terminated from the agency.

Former Upper Cumberland secretary Jana Hill, of Putnam County, has also listed the Upper Cumberland agency and the agency's current executive director, Luke Collins, as defendants in a lawsuit seeking $2 million in damages.

 The lawsuit was filed earlier this month as civil litigation in the Circuit Court of Putnam County, in Cookeville. Nashville attorney Gary Blackburn is representing Ms. Hill in the lawsuit.

Plaintiff Hill, who reportedly was paid in excess of $50,000 as a secretary to the Upper Cumberland's former interim executive director, charges: "Mr. Gannon reached an understanding with Luke Collins that required Mr. Collins to terminate plaintiff Hill as a condition of his employment as (the new) Executive Director (of UCHRA based in Cookeville) in January 2012.

In the suit, Hill alleges Collins, on his first day of employment in May 2012, told the former interim UCHRA executive director (Ruth Ann Woolbright), that he "had to do something you are not going to like…get rid of Jana Hill."

Gannon, who automatically became a voting member of the UCHRA's board of directors when elected as Cannon County executive back in 2002, denies Hill's allegations.

"It's a frivolous lawsuit, a lawsuit that I ask the public to withhold judgment on until all details come out," Gannon noted. "As a member of the board for UCHRA, I don't have any responsibility in the hiring or terminating of employees."

Gannon explained further: "As new UCHRA executive director, Luke Collins did reclassify two positions, and gave Ms. Hill an

opportunity to bid on the reclassified secretarial position. I understand she never bid on the newly reclassified secretarial job."

According to Gannon, the reclassified secretarial job currently pays less than $30,000, compared to the more than $50,000 Ms. Hill was reportedly paid in her former secretarial job.

"When Mr. Collins came in as executive director, he indicated then he needed to make some cuts in costs to the agency," Gannon added. "Our attorney is preparing a response that will make it clear that this is a frivolous lawsuit. In today's world, anyone can file a lawsuit for merely walking across the street…"

Ms. Hill's lawsuit also alleges: "The Defendant Gannon compelled agency management on at least two occasions to misappropriate for his use two contract employees. These individuals were required to perform clerical and maintenance services for the Cannon County government. None of these services benefitted the agency or its clients."

Ruth Ann Woolbright, as UCHRA's former interim executive director, disapproved of Gannon's alleged misappropriation and demanded repayment in a letter drafted and transmitted by Mrs. Hill.

Gannon, according to lawsuit allegations, refused to "reimburse the agency."

The Tennessee Comptroller's Office, in Nashville, criticized that action in a September 2012 report, Hill's attorney said.