Kingsport Times News Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Local News

Hawkins property assessor feels vindicated for his stance against drug testing policy

January 28th, 2014 8:25 pm by Jeff Bobo

Hawkins property assessor feels vindicated for  his stance against drug testing policy

JEFF THACKER

ROGERSVILLE  —  Hawkins County Property Assessor Jeff Thacker told the Hawkins County Commission on Monday he feels vindicated for taking a stance against the county’s “illegal” drug testing policy.

The county called employees for random drug tests last fall, despite the fact that an employee handbook outlining the drug-testing policy was never submitted to the county clerk’s office, or to employees, as is required by state law.

Thacker said he felt “vilified” by the media for his initial stance against the county drug-testing policy.

He told commissioners Monday that on several occasions he was handed a cup, “by friend and detractor alike,” and asked to hand in a urine sample.

The Times-News first reported the issue on Dec. 15 following a meeting of the commission’s Public Safety Committee.

During that meeting, the county’s insurance provider stated that the county could be at risk of losing a $17,541 insurance premium discount if Thacker’s office didn’t comply with the county drug-testing policy.

One of Thacker’s employees was called for a random drug test last year, but Thacker told the employee not to go.

Thacker wasn’t aware his office would be discussed at that Public Safety Committee meeting and didn’t attend, but he was contacted by the Times-News after the meeting. He was quoted as saying he felt the county policy was illegal and put the county at risk for a lawsuit by employees.

One of his chief concerns was who had access to drug test results, which would be stored in the county mayor’s office. At that time, Thacker began work on implementing his own drug-testing policy for his department so the county could still receive the discount.

Earlier this month at a county office holders meeting, it was revealed that the county’s drug testing policy, which was originally approved in a 2011 County Commission resolution, has been implemented illegally due to the lack of an employee handbook outlining the policy.

“Now I feel vindicated because I did the right thing,” Thacker said. “I did not place the county in a position of liability. I followed the letter of the law. I did what was in the best interest of all of the residents of this great county. Everyone knows the county’s substance abuse testing policy was not lawful. I take little personal satisfaction in knowing I was right, for I feel the reluctance of some to heed the warnings of the shortcomings of the county’s drug-testing program led to some unlawful practices and led us to exposure to liability.” 

Each individual county department is currently working on its own drug-testing handbook for employees. The county’s insurance provider gave the county until March to bring its drug-testing policy into compliance or face losing the discount.


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