Alexander weighs in on firing of high school ADs; Internal investigation recommendations revealed

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The termination of Eddie Pless and Mike Wilson as athletic directors at Elizabethton High School received attention once again during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Both individuals were recently terminated following an internal investigation from school system officials and due to the pending nature of a Tennessee Comptroller’s investigation in regards to misuse of funds.

Addressing the issue, former Director of Schools Ed Alexander spoke to board members to showcase his support for the two individuals.

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Alexander told board members that he fielded a call from current Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour about the termination of the two athletic directors.

Citing potential backlash from the community, Alexander mentioned he asked Gardenhour if there was any other course of action. According to Alexander, the current director said that the matter is being investigated.

“I told him I couldn’t agree to the decision and that there would be an enormous amount of blowback from the community,” Alexander said.

From his own instances, Alexander stated he first heard about a financial concern involving an employee’s alleged fraud in the postal department – “certainly not anyway related to the two athletic directors,” Alexander said.

Alexander then stated he learned from local media outlets that the two individuals had been terminated from their positions.

“What has occurred with the first employee, and why hasn’t the name been released to the public,” he questioned.

During his address to the BOE, Alexander mentioned that Pless was seeking more information about the decision and contacted system Chief Operating Officer Joey Trent by phone to receive information in his personnel file.

“He was told it would be available in Joey Trent’s office after seven days, a time, which I understand, was after the April board meeting,” Alexander said. “When Mr. Pless obtained the contents of his file, he found a letter dated March 6 from Joey Trent.”

Alexander presented a copy of the recommendation made by the EHS discipline committee to board members, citing permission from Wilson and Pless.

The Elizabethton Star was able to obtain a copy of letter following the meeting, which highlighted findings in regards to the in-house investigation from the discipline committee. The members on the committee included Trent, Federal Programs/Systemwide Athletic Department Director John Hutchins, Finance Director Beth Wilson and EHS Principal Josh Boatman.

In the letter addressed to Gardenhour, committee members unanimously recommended that the system terminate employment with Wilson and Pless while reprimanding and transferring Angie Peters out of the athletic department.

“Mr. Pless had never seen this letter prior to receiving the file information,” Alexander said. “It had been placed in his file without his knowledge. Later on, Mr. Wilson would find the same letter in his file of contents. He also had not seen the letter.”

Citing his understanding of administrative legal business in Elizabethton City Schools, Alexander stated the board would find it interesting to learn the attorneys input on the letter.

“I just don’t think there would be anyway that they would approve, or consider prudent, what has transpired with Mr. Wilson and Mr. Pless.

“By releasing the names of these two gentlemen, their entire families have been publicly humiliated. This action, many believe, shows employee mistreatment and certainly poor judgement,” he added.

Alexander also questioned the hiring of a new athletic director, who is non tenured, and the displacement of a “seasoned individual” who was learning what the job of athletic director entails.

The former director of schools also cited concerns of central administration staff restructuring and “the very obviously exclusion of local administrators from system hirings” and “the exclusion of the same individuals from input on significant matters for which they’ve had past experiences.”

“Regardless of any information from the Comptroller’s report, there is no way that I would ever believe that either of these men would enrich themselves… at the expense of the system. I ask the board to do what they can do publicly to restore the integrity of Mike Wilson and Eddie Pless and closely examine the matter in which this system is being directed,’ he said.

The school system did not issue a comment about Alexander’s presentation, citing the inability to do so until the final results from the Comptroller’s Office investigation are made public.