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With fired MCPD officer's appeal looming, BMA begins process of changing policy

Jeff Bobo • Nov 19, 2018 at 9:45 AM

MOUNT CARMEL — Three new aldermen barely had time to let their seats get warm Thursday night before they helped put the wheels in motion reversing a BMA decision earlier this year to continue allowing appeals for dismissed employees.

The issue was raised during Thursday’s BMA meeting by newly elected Alderman Jim Gilliam in response to an appeal hearing that was scheduled that night for recently fired police officer George Copas.

That hearing was reset for next month due to a scheduling conflict for Copas’ attorney, Troy Bowlin.

With more than 20 years on the job with the MCPD, Copas was serving as acting chief earlier this year and appeared to be the heir apparent to retiring chief Jeff Jackson until he was demoted to patrolman by City Manager Mike Housewright for allegedly abusing the sick time and vacation buyback policies.

The official reason listed for Copas’ termination was improper possession of city equipment and poor job performance.

Sources inside city government told the Times News that Copas was accused of being in possession of a city-owned golf cart used in the “Beer Goggles”  program that teaches teenagers about the dangers of drunk driving.

Attempts to contact Bowlin for comment about this accusation Friday were unsuccessful.

Against the advice of the city attorney, city manager and University of Tennessee advisers, in June the BMA voted 4-2 not to approve a new personnel policy that eliminates an employee grievance procedure.

When personnel policy came before the BMA  in June, City Attorney John Pevy told the BMA that its employee appeal/grievance policy increases the town’s liability by giving employees rights they aren’t guaranteed in Tennessee as an “at-will” employer state. That was also the position taken by City Manager Mike Housewright and the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

Two of the aldermen who sided with the grievance policy -— Eugene Christian and Margaret Christian — stepped down Thursday as the newly elected aldermen — Gilliam, Steven McLain and Pat Stilwell — were sworn in following the conclusion of “old business.”

At the end of Thursday’s meeting during alderman comments Gilliam stated that he believes the employee appeal process should be repealed in accordance with the state’s at-will employer status. Gilliam said that the board is not a judge and jury and that the appeal belongs in a courtroom, not the BMA.

Pevy noted, however, that because of the appeals process in the personnel policy, the city cannot deny Copas his hearing.

However, Gilliam said he believes the city should be in compliance with state guidelines. His motion for the BMA to be presented with an ordinance in December that strikes the appeal process from the personnel policy was approved 7-0.

Pevy was also directed to present the BMA with an ordinance in December overturning the current personnel policy. Pevy said that in January when those ordinances came up for their second and final vote, the new personnel policy would be approved by resolution instead of ordinance so that future changes can be made in one vote instead of two. 

Swearing in and board elections

Outgoing Aldermen Mr. and Mrs. Christian as well as Garrett White received plaques of appreciation from Mayor Chris Jones Thursday. Eugene Christian served on the board for 22 years, while Margaret Christian served one four-year term, and White was appointed earlier this year following the resignation of Diane Adams.

Following the swearing in ceremony of Gilliam, McLain and Stillwell, the board election for vice mayor was held.

Current Vice Mayor Carl Wolfe was nominated first, but was defeated 3-4.

Alderman Jennifer Williams was nominated second and was approved 5-1 with one abstention.


 

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