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Special Called Meeting in Norris over personnel policy

Reprinted from the Norris Bulletin: The Norris City Council will meet in a special called meeting this Thursday evening, March 21 to consider the ramifications of certain provisions of the city’s personnel policy as it relates to a potential violation of the provisions relating to the employment of relatives in various city positions.

The issue was first brought to attention of city officials when  it was noted that Scott Hackler, the newly-named City Manager, had a son who was employed as a part-time dispatcher by the Police Department.  After being asked for a legal opinion concerning the matter, the city’s state consultant for municipal technical services (MTAS) advised that the situa- tion was apparently in  violation of the City’s personnel policy which provides that: No member of an immediate family may be employed under the same line of supervision. This does not preclude employment of immediate family members under other lines of supervision.

After being advised of this policy, Hackler’s son, Gabe, took immediate steps to avoid any violation of this provision and submitted his resignation, thereby preventing any controversy.

However, the situation was further complicated when, upon a closer reading of the City Charter, there was also a potential violation of its nepotism provisions by virtue of the fact that Interim Police Chief Sam Ogburn’s wife, Jessica, serves as a member of City Council, the body which has the responsibility for hiring and evaluating the City Manager, who is the individual charged with the responsibility for hiring and supervising the Police Chief. MTAS’s legal staff pointed out that the “Tennessee Attorney General has opined that a nepotism policy prohibiting immediate family members from being in the ‘direct line of supervision’ of a relative is violated ‘if one relative supervised the person responsible for doing evaluations of the other relative.’” Tenn. Op. Atty Gen. No. 06-101 (June 14, 2006). Clearly, it would appear that inasmuch as City Council mem- bers are the parties charged with responsibility over the City Man- ager who, in turn, is responsible for supervising all department heads, including the Police Chief, the current situation, as it now stands, appears to be in violation of the city’s charter and its personnel policy.

At this juncture, the problem seems to be mired in complexity with considerable uncertainty  as to an effective and satisfactory resolution. At least for the time being, the new City Manager can do little but sit on the sidelines and observe the situation since he does not take office for another two weeks. Nor does it seem equitable or appropriate for the Council to place the onus for action on the shoulders of Interim City Manager Janet Parks, whose only recourse would appear to be to remove Chief Ogburn in an attempt to remedy the nepotism issue.

And, in reality, neither the Mayor nor Council has the power to take any action other than to initiate a move to repeal the ordinance establishing the current nepotism policy, a measure which would seem ill-advised at best and would, in all likelihood, be met with considerable public opposition.

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