Photo courtesy of Sullivan County Sheriff's Office.
Investigation of his placement of home refuse in a publicly-funded dumpster is “the most ridiculous” thing he’s encountered yet as Sullivan County mayor, Steve Godsey said Tuesday morning.
Godsey held a press conference to give his side of the story about the incident, which everyone seems to agree happened after dark on Friday, July 13.
“The reason I asked each of your here is to set the record straight,” Godsey said in a prepared statement, going on to explain how he first learned of the sheriff’s office investigation after being contacted by the Times-News a week after the incident.
“I was amazed to hear such a ridiculous allegation,” Godsey said.
The windows in question were aluminum and came from his home, Godsey said — and he could have put them at the curb in front of his home and they would have been removed, at no additional cost to him, by the private company with which he has an annual contract for waster removal.
“However, knowing that Sullivan County is trying to promote recycling, I decided to put the windows in a Sullivan County dumpster,” Godsey said, going on to point out the vehicle provided to him by county taxpayers is funded through the county’s solid waste department.
“My car is paid for with money from items that the county recycles — so by recycling, my car does not cost taxpayers anything.”
Godsey said after having several windows replaced at his home, he’d asked Solid Waste Director Lucian Lawson and Facilities Manager Claude Smith if the county could recycle the old windows.
“They gave me permission to do so, and Claude Smith gave me a key to the dumpster that I was to put them in,” Godsey said. “I was simply trying to recycle items to help Sullivan County — however, I guess the sheriff doesn’t see it that way. If I did something that deserves the sheriff trying to destroy my integrity and character, I would like for him to show me. Also, I would like to know what I did that deserves being turned over to the district attorney’s office without so much as a phone call from the sheriff or anyone in his department. I have never committed any offense in my life, other than a few speeding tickets.”
Speaking with the Times-News after the press conference, Godsey said he noticed a Chevrolet Impala drive near the dumpster (behind the historic Sullivan County Courthouse) around the time he was putting the windows inside — and shortly thereafter he received a text message on his personal cell phone, with a picture of the windows in the dumpster.
Godsey said he responded to that message and told the sender that it wasn’t anything on him because he had permission to put the windows there.
That, Godsey said, brought a second message from the sender — wanting to know if it was Eddie Williams who gave him that permission “since Eddie Williams runs Sullivan County,” according to the message sender.
Godsey said those messages — including a picture of several windows apparently inside a dumpster Godsey showed briefly to the Times-News — came from a cell phone number he said he knows to belong to someone at the sheriff’s office. When asked about the text messages Anderson confirmed that he sent the photos to Godsey: One of the sign warning of prosecution, another showing the windows in the dumpster.
As for his placement of the windows in the dumpster after dark on a Friday, Godsey said that was simply the first time he’d been able to secure the assistance of his college-student son who is working two jobs. Godsey said they’d been out to family dinner and on returning home he’d thought of the windows and took the opportunity to get his son to help.
The Sullivan County Commission has yet to approve a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
As the budget battle has unfolded over the past several months, the sheriff’s office — underfunded in last year’s budget on some accounts such as fuel — has been a constant sticking point.
“Due to issues that are currently being dealt with, I believe the sheriff is making this personal by fabricating lies to destroy my character,” Godsey said. “I have a great deal of respect for the sheriff and everyone in his department for the great job that they do — protecting the people of Sullivan County.
I am asking that we lay down the personal attacks and focus on what we can do together to fix our budget and make Sullivan County a better place to live. If I have done anything offensive to the sheriff, I am man enough to apologize so that we can move on.”
Sheriff Wayne Anderson, who was out of town on Tuesday, said the detectives were just doing their job in filing the report and investigating the incident like any other case.
“I want to clarify that this is not politically motivated,” Sheriff Wayne Anderson said in a written statement issued to media Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a situation where two detectives were being observant and simply doing their job. The case is being investigated the same way as any other case.”
The Times-News last Wednesday received anonymous tips about the incident and asked sheriff’s office officials if a report was on file. No report was available at that time, but the following day, at 8 a.m a report was entered into records and later obtained by the newspaper.
Anderson said his department’s involvement began on July 13 as the two detectives passed the courthouse on the way to shift change at the sheriff’s office and “they observed a red pickup truck backed up to a dumpster behind the old courthouse.”
“Considering it was 9:45 at night, and county offices were closed, this immediately sent up a red flag,” Anderson said.
The detectives observed two people unloading several windows into the dumpster, Anderson said.
“When they went to get the license plate number they noticed the truck had a dealer plate, when they looked closer they recognized one of the men as Mayor Godsey,” Anderson said. “Considering the dumpsters were, at the time, clearly marked with signs reading ‘Not for public use’ the detectives would have been well within their right to charge the mayor with a criminal offense on the spot. Instead, giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt, they chose to wait and investigate the matter further. As part of the investigation, detectives went to speak with Mayor Godsey last week but were told he was out of the office. At this time the investigation is ongoing. Once complete, the findings will be presented to the District Attorney’s Office.”
The two green dumpsters behind the courthouse are emptied on an as needed basis by the county’s Solid Waste Department, with a cost of $14.70 per dumpster, per trip, charged back to the county buildings maintenance department, staff in that office told the Times-News.
Solid Waste takes the dumpster contents to the transfer station in Kingsport, where community service workers sort out recyclable materials, the office worker said.
But the dumpsters behind the courthouse are not listed as public dropoff points for recyclables, according the the Solid Waste Department’s page on the county’s website.
The official list county recycling dropoff locations accepting mixed paper, magazines, cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum and tin cans:
• Blountville Middle School Football Field, 1651 State Hwy 37
• Colonial Heights, 101 Lakecrest Dr.
• Holston Valley Middle School Football Field, 1717 Bristol Cavern Hwy.
• Sullivan Middle School, 4154 Wilcox Dr.
• Kingsport Civic Auditorium, 1598 Fort Henry Dr.
• Little League Field, 4182 Bluff City Hwy.
• Indian Springs Elementary School, 333 Hill Rd.
• Piney Flats Fire Department, at the Tri-County Industrial Park
• Bristol Chamber of Commerce, Volunteer Parkway (accepting mixed paper and plastic).
• Vance Middle School, parking lot in front of school (accepting plastics and aluminum cans.
Staff writer Rain Smith contributed to this report.