City responds to lawsuit by former employee

Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, December 27, 2017

An attorney representing the City of Elizabethton in a lawsuit filed by a former city employee claiming he was wrongfully terminated has filed the city’s response to those allegations in Chancery Court.

On November 9, 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.

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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 with the Elizabethton Electric Department.

On Wednesday morning, attorney John Batson Jr., who represents the City of Elizabethton in the matter, filed the city’s response to McKinney’s allegations and denying that the city’s decision to terminate McKinney’s employment “was in any manner whatsoever arbitrary, capricious or illegal.”

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.”

McKinney states in his petition that 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.

During that meeting, McKinney said the city officials advised him to expect termination, and on August 11, he was given his separation papers for 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.

During the hearing, McKinney alleges that no evidence of the claims against him was presented and that Kitchens and Toney testified over objection to things they had heard about McKinney’s alleged activities. McKinney said he was not allowed to cross-examine any of the witnesses during the hearing.

In the city’s response to the lawsuit, Batson states that under the terms of state law and the city’s charter, the Personnel Advisory Board is authorized and empowered only to conduct an investigation into whether or not city administrators followed the proper personnel procedures in terminating an individual’s employment.

“Such investigative hearing is not a trial or a civil service commission proceeding and that the Personnel Advisory Board is not authorized or empowered to conduct an evidentiary hearing to make findings of fact,” Batson said in the response.

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 the law.

In the city’s response, Batson states that while law allows McKinney to petition for certiorari review of his termination, McKinney has no cause of action under the Tennessee Declaratory Judgment Act. Batson said in the response that the Chancery Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction on McKinney’s claims and the city petitions the court to dismiss the suit by McKinney.

In addition to McKinney’s employment with the City of Elizabethton being terminated, he also faces criminal charges in connection with the same allegations that led to that termination.

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.