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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

EEOC finding regarding fire department
Cocke County Emergency Management Director Kevin Benton has released a finding of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC). The findings were issued on June 21. Benton says he observed former Fire Chief William "Bear" Smallwood, Captain Clayton "Skip" Ellison and other firefighters working on Ellison's lawn mowers while on duty at the fire station. He says he confronted the firefighters regarding "the misuse of county time, county equipment and county personnel." Benton says thereafter firefighters including Ellison "created situation after situation to harass me." He also alleges that Ellison used his position as a county commissioner to attempt to cut funding for the EMA department. Following other incidents of harassment, Benton says he filed complaints with Chief Smallwood who took no action, saying the Fire Department Civil Service Board should investigate the allegations. The EMA director says the continued harassment targeted both he and department Operations Officer Julie Brooks. Benton later filed stalking charges against Ellison, and Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger fired both Smallwood and Ellison. Smallwood is currently a candidate for County Mayor, challenging incumbent Ottinger. Deborah Walker of the EEOC found that the evidence and record "establish that there is reasonable cause to conclude (Benton) was subjected to retaliation after he filed a protected complaint. And that the county failed to take prompt and immediate action." Walker also found that the county's anti-harassment policy and complaint procedures are ineffective. Benton also alleged he was harassed because of his gender, but Walker found no harassment based on his sex. Ellison said for the last eight years his mowing service had mowed the lawn at the fire department at no charge to the county. In response to the findings, Smallwood said, "these are baseless accusations that were conveniently produced right before early voting."

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