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Sullivan commission considers prohibition on hiring convicted felons

J. H. Osborne • Aug 6, 2013 at 11:34 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County commissioners are considering a ban on hiring convicted felons for any level of employment in county government.

The Sullivan County Commission’s Executive Committee discussed the issue Tuesday, but ultimately voted on take “no action.”

Sponsored by Commissioner Eddie Williams, the resolution in question seeks to have the commission go on record that “individuals convicted of a felony are not to be hired in any capacity as a Sullivan County employee.”

Commissioner Bill Kilgore asked if the county has had “a problem” with hiring felons.

Commissioner Dwight King, co-sponsor, said the resolution isn’t in response to a particular, current situation — but King noted he understands it has happened at least twice in the past. King said one of those employees “left” and “maybe the other retired.”

“Are they not to be trusted?” Commissioner Michael Surgenor said. “If they’ve served their time and paid their debt ...?”

Commissioner Matthew Johnson said he’d like time to consider the issue — and questioned whether the county could be accused of discrimination by instituting such a policy.

Commissioner Darlene Calton suggested consideration of an amendment to the Williams/King proposal — to provide a specific timeframe, for example, prohibiting hiring anyone with a felony conviction within the past, say, 10 years.

Commissioner Cathy Armstrong, Executive Committee chairman, pointed out to Johnson that Tennessee is a “right to work” state — which means employers don’t have to give a reason for dismissing a worker.

“It is,” Johnson said. “But you’ve also got the right to sue.”

The resolution to ban convicted felons from any sort of employment with the county could come up for discussion by the commission’s Administrative Committee tonight, and by the commission’s Budget Committee on Thursday.

It could come for a vote by the full commission later this month, but is listed as “new business,” which means a vote by the full body could instead occur in September.

State law prohibits convicted felons from holding certain elected offices — such as county highway commissioner.

Last year, a state appeals court overturned some of the criminal convictions which prompted former Sullivan County Highway Commissioner Allan Pope’s departure from office in 2010 — but affirmed others, including a felony conviction which alone would bar his return to the county highway department’s top job.

Upon review of the record, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Pope that evidence was insufficient to sustain the convictions for official misconduct and private use of public property, and reversed the judgments of conviction and dismissed those counts of the indictment. But the court affirmed the judgment of the trial court on theft of services more than $10,000 but less than $60,000.

The theft over $10,000 conviction is a Class C felony.

Pope was suspended without pay after a trial concluded with a jury’s guilty verdict on Nov. 5, 2010.

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