Former city employee petitions court to overturn his termination

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A former City of Elizabethton employee facing criminal charges of theft has filed a petition with a local court denying the allegations of theft and asking the court to reverse the City’s decision to terminate him and to order he be reinstated to his job.

On Thursday afternoon, Jared McKinney, 44, through his attorney, filed a petition in Carter County Chancery Court asking for the judicial review of his termination or, in the alternative, a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the City of Elizabethton.

Employment records obtained by the Elizabethton Star through a Freedom of Information Act request show the City of Elizabethton notified McKinney on August 11 that his employment with the City would end effectively on August 18. The disciplinary action form in McKinney’s employee file documenting his termination lists the reasons McKinney was fired as “theft of electric services at 699 McCloud Road, Elizabethton” and “destruction, carelessness or negligence in the use of the property of the city.”

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In his petition to Chancery Court, McKinney alleges the City of Elizabethton fired him for allegations they did not prove and that the city did not follow proper procedure in terminating his employment.

McKinney states in his petition that during the early part of 2017 he and his wife became estranged and ultimately divorce proceedings began. He said he moved out of their marital home at 699 McCloud Road and was prohibited from going to that home due to his wife obtaining an Order of Protection against him.

In the early part of August, McKinney said he was called to a meeting with Elizabethton City Manager Jerome Kitchens, Elizabethton Electric Department Director Rob Toney, and City Attorney Roger Day where he was told he had been accused of the theft of electrical services. During that meeting, according to McKinney, city officials told him the brother and father of McKinney’s estranged wife had visited Kitchens and told the City Manager that McKinney had been stealing electrical services to the home on McCloud Road and they had discovered alterations made to the connection between the home and the electric line.

According to McKinney, during the city’s investigation into the allegations against him, Toney visited the home on McCloud Road and confiscated tools which he said belonged to the city but which McKinney alleges belong to him.

“(McKinney) denied having committed any theft of any sort and pointed out in the meeting that he had not been at the marital home since the previous February and also indicated to the people in the meeting that his wife was very hostile toward him and that he believed that her father and brother might have an ulterior motive in their accusation,” the petition states.

During that meeting, McKinney said the city officials advised him to expect termination. On August 11, McKinney said he was given a copy of a disciplinary action form stating he was being terminated from his job with the city.

McKinney then filed an appeal of his termination to the City of Elizabethton’s Personnel Advisory Board, which then held a hearing on September 12. During that hearing, the Board voted unanimously to uphold Kitchen’s decision to fire McKinney.

In his petition to Chancery Court, McKinney claims Kitchens and Toney “freely testified over objection as to things they had heard about (McKinney’s) alleged transgressions” but that no one presented any direct evidence linking McKinney to the altered electrical equipment or provided proof that electrical services had been stolen. McKinney also states that neither he nor his attorney was allowed to cross-examine any of the witnesses who spoke during the hearing.

“The Chair of the Personnel Advisory Board made it clear that in her view the Board was not there to establish whether or not (McKinney) was guilty of the things of which he was accused, but only to determine whether or not an advance meeting was granted to the Plaintiff along with at least one week’s advance notice of his termination, as well as whether or not the City Manager ‘felt’ that the termination was justified,” the petition states. “After an abbreviated hearing, in which no direct evidence of any sort at all was introduced tending to show that (McKinney) tampered with the weatherhead, even though it was not controverted that he had been away from the home for several months, and in which he was not allowed to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him, the Board unanimously voted to uphold (McKinney’s) termination.”

In the petition, McKinney claims the review by the Board was deficient because it made “essentially no meaningful review” of Kitchen’s decision to fire McKinney, no rules of evidence were followed, and he was not allowed to cross-examine any witnesses. He further alleges the proceedings leading up to his termination were biased.

McKinney’s petition to Chancery Court asks the court to perform a judicial review of his termination from the city, to reverse the city’s decision to fire him, and to reinstate him to his job with all back benefits to which he may be entitled. Alternatively, McKinney asks the court to grant him declaratory judgment and reinstate him to his job. He also asks the court to order the tools taken from his garage be returned to him and for the court to grant any “further and general relief” which he may be entitled to under law.

The City of Elizabethton has not yet filed its answer to the petition.

On November 8, deputies of the Carter County Sheriff’s Office arrested McKinney on an indictment handed down by the Grand Jury charging him with theft of property over $2,500. The charge in the indictment stems from an investigation by the CCSO which started on August 15 after Toney filed a police report alleging McKinney stole electrical services at the home on McCloud Road during a period of time from November 2015 to June 5, 2017.

McKinney is scheduled to make his first appearance in Carter County Criminal Court on that charge on January 26, 2018.