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Friday, February 09, 2018

Smallwood lawsuit is dismissed
US District Judge Curtis L. Collier on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Cocke County Fire Chief William Smallwood against Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger and Cocke County. In March 2017, Mayor Ottinger announced that she had terminated Fire Chief Smallwood. The mayor said she was notified in February that an investigation was being conducted by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission(EEOC)as the result of alleged incidents of sexual harassment, workplace violence and harassment at the Fire Department At the time of the firing, the mayor said there had been two later occurrences which she viewed as retaliatory, one of which involved Smallwood. Based on those incidents as well as other factors, the mayor said Smallwood was given multiple choices of corrective action including a written reprimand. But she says the chief "refused all remedial action", resulting in his termination. Later Smallwood posted a comment on social media saying, "I promise when the whole story comes out, you will be shocked and amazed by what all me and my department has went through." The mayor and some members of the fire department, which she supervises, have had an ongoing conflict, culminating more recently in the firing of Fire Captain/County Commissioner Clayton "Skip" Ellison last month. The termination came after Ellison was indicted by a Cocke County Grand Jury which had heard testimony from Emergency Management Director Kevin Benton, who charged Ellison with stalking. The conflicts between firefighters, the County Legislative Body(CLB) and Mayor Ottinger have escalated since the CLB voted in June, 2016, to appoint a civil service board to oversee the fire department's operations. The mayor says the board is illegal suggesting there is no provision in state law for such a board. In his ruling dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Collier held that in August 2016, EMA Director Benton complained to Ottinger that he and EMA Captain Julie Brooks were being harassed by Ellison and other firefighters. Benton also reported additional alleged incidents by the firefighters. On February 1, 2017, Benton filed an administrative charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Cocke County, alleging harassment and retaliation. The court also points to confrontations between Benton and Smallwood regarding the EEOC filing, with Smallwood suggesting the ongoing conflict stemmed from a dispute over the county budget. Smllwood then was terminated by Mayor Ottinger. Following the termination, Smallwood through his attorney requested that he be either reinstated as Fire Chief or given a hearing before the Fire Department’s Civil Service Board. Judge Collier ruled that in Tennessee, local governments may exercise only those powers granted them by the state legislature. "In fact, the Cocke County Commission did precisely what the Tennessee General Assembly expressly forbade it from doing when it voted to create the civil service board(CSB). Because Tennessee law expressly prohibits local governments from establishing systems of classified service, the Court finds the CSB was improperly formed and therefore null." Newport for years has had a fire civil service board. The court held that any rules and regulations enacted by the CSB are necessarily void and cannot be the basis for Plaintiff’s retaliatory discharge claim. So Judge Collier held that Smallwood had not carried his burden with respect to his claims under both the United States and Tennessee constitutions, and Tennessee’s retaliatory discharge statute. In response to the ruling Mayor Ottinger said, "Throughout the process of the William Smallwood lawsuit, I have maintained the integrity of myself and the Cocke County Mayor's Office. I am pleased that U.S.District Judge Collier has ruled that I acted lawfully and appropriately in terminating Mr. Smallwood's employment and that he has dismissed the suit against Cocke County." The mayor went on to say that the Smallwood termination "was never about violation of civil rights, politics or any other claim that Mr. Smallwood made. Rather it was and always has been, an employment matter involving a county employee(Mr. Smallwood) who falls under the mayor's purview, who would not adhere to the rules and regulations, and who was terminated as a last resort of corrective action."


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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

  • Cocke School Board
  • Jefferson City arrests
  • Smokies biodiversity
  • Campaign funding
  • Tennessee ranks poorly on home energy efficiency
  • Social Security and Medicaid

    Tuesday, October 16, 2018

  • Eternal Beverage project progresses
  • Arrington injured by train
  • Bobby Lovell has died
  • Early voting begins

    Monday, October 15, 2018

  • Cocke County IDB to meet
  • Stanley fatality
  • Worex crash/charge
  • Inmates charged
  • White cutting
  • Gubernatorial debate
  • Greene County fire fatalities

    Friday, October 12, 2018

  • Corker nominated for judgeship
  • CLB workshop
  • Bredesen in Newport
  • Wyse conviction
  • Pattottsville Heritage Days
  • Assad lawsuit

    Thursday, October 11, 2018

  • Cocke Public Safety Committee
  • More Tennessee adults in school
  • TVA cuts support for solar
  • Hurricane Michael
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