Emotions ran high at Monday’s County Commission Committee of the Whole meeting as dozens of local residents protested Sheriff Mark Gammons’ firing of four county employees the day after his election.
Josh Smith, Phil Harper, Jimmy Hardin, and Richard Keller, all employees of the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, received pink slips on Friday, August 8. The letters stated that the department was “taking a new direction in law enforcement for the citizens of Macon County,” and that their services were no longer needed.
The four men have retained an attorney—Rowland Mumford, of Hendersonville—who stood up before the commissioners on Monday night to inform them of his plans to take out a civil suit against the sheriff.
He, and the dozen or so local citizens who stood up to make complaints against Gammons’ actions, also asked for a token resolution from the commissioners, calling for District Attorney Tommy Thompson to request an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Mumford stated said that there had already been meetings earlier in the day with the TBI who took written statements. He said that without a request from Thompson, the investigation might not move forward. “I understand that a token resolution from this board may not be possible tonight, but I do think a message from this commission would be strong,” he concluded.
He also mentioned that two anonymously taped recordings would be available on his own website (they have also been posted on WSMV Channel 4 news station website). One of the recordings is of a meeting this year between Gammons and staff. The other is reportedly of a phone conversation between Gammons and former school SRO officer Josh Smith.
In the Smith recording, Gammons appears to be upset that Smith’s father had placed a Butch Avera sign in his own front yard.
According to the posting on the station website, Gammons states in the recording, “You tell him, vote for that [expletive] son of a [expletive], you better remember who gave you your job.”
“I tell you what,” Gammons says later in the recording, “if my daddy was doing it I’d tell him to get his head out of his [expletive] because I’m getting about $36,000 a year from the sheriff of the county… You need to tell him, he needs to find you $36,000 a year.”
“So you’re gonna fire me because of what he’s doing?” asks Smith, in the recording.
“I’m not firing you. Did I say I was firing you?” says Gammons in the recording.
“I know you’re upset; I just wish you’d talk to him about it, not me, because I didn’t do it,” says Smith in the recording.
“[Expletive] no, I ain’t talking to him, he made his little bed, let him lay in it. But I’m giving you a fair warning… I don’t know what you mean to do from this point on, you make up what side of the fence you’re on and get off the [expletive] teeter totter and jump on Butch’s side or jump on my side. That’s all I’m asking you,” says Gammons in the recording.
In the recorded staff meeting that surfaced last month, Gammons is heard saying “If you can’t support me, that’s fine. It’s hard to support you and sign your check… You try to take food out of my mouth, why should I worry about not taking food out of your mouth?”
Gammons told Channel 4 in an interview last month that he didn’t intend to threaten his staff, only to ask them not to campaign for his opponent during work hours.
During Monday’s meeting, many of those who stood up to speak were calling for an investigation.
“I see what’s gone on…” said local resident Ricky Brown. “I sure would appreciate it if ya’ll would run an investigation on this, because it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right; the man shouldn’t have done what he done. And let the facts come out! Let the truth be told.”
David Gunter, who was a candidate for county commission in the recent election, stood up and stated, “I would just like to say: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
County Mayor Shelvy Linville reminded those gathered that the county commission has no authority to force any elected official to hire or fire anyone.
Some attended the meeting in support of Gammons. Local businessman Bobby Ward said, “If we’d had a different sheriff elected, there’d have been a lot of jobs cut too.” His words were met with applause.
Ward continued, “As Sheriff, we elected him by a vote, and we need to support him because he’s running a business. And I’ve fired people in my business, because my business has got to operate, and his does too. And I believe in the sheriff, and I support him. Because he got voted [in], and he’s done his job. He’s got a job to do.”
At press time, Sheriff Gammons had not returned multiple calls or made any public statement about the firings.
Director of Schools Tony Boles confirmed that replacement officers had been sent into Lafayette Elementary and Central Elementary (the two schools where former SRO officers Josh Smith and Phil Harper were previously stationed).
In other business:
The committee approved minutes of the following meetings: Legislative Body Meeting 7-21-14, Planning Committee Meeting 6-17-14, Loss Control Meeting 7-8-14, Joint Economic Meeting & Industrial Development Meeting 7-8-14; Budget meetings 4-21, 5-5, 5-19, 6-16, 7-7 7-14, 7-21, 7-28.
In one vote, the committee passed the following resolutions: Schools Federal Project Resolution (4-8/2014), Appropriations Resolution (5-8/2014), Non-Profit Organization Resolution (6-8/2014), Tax Levy Resolution (7-8/2014).
The committee passed the Official Zoning Code Resolution (3-8/2014), amending and clarifying zoning codes in the county.
The committee voted to pass a 2014-15 fiscal year budget. The budget will see a second vote at next week’s commissioner meeting.
The committee voted to move forward with legal reparations against the owner of the Budget Motel in Lafayette, who is delinquent by over six months on payment of the Hotel/Motel Tax.
The committee voted to accept a high bid from Fred Holland for the purchase of an old West Macon ambulance for the amount of $631. The ambulance is a 1990 Ford F350 and will be scrapped out.
The committee accepted Nancy Doss’s resignation from the Library Board, appointing Winona Claiborne as replacement for the remainder of her term (about three years).
The committee voted to recognize Mayor Shelvy Linville for his years of service. Linville will soon be replaced by incoming Mayor Steve Jones.
The committee voted to give Linville authority to refinance one county loan which is currently at a 3.95% rate.
The committee voted to require that all county departments get permission from the county commission before selling surplus vehicles, in the hope that some of these vehicles could be interchanged between departments, saving county money.