Kingsport Times News Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Local News

Proposal aims to fix issues with Sullivan day worker program

March 5th, 2014 12:02 am by J. H. Osborne

Proposal aims to fix issues with Sullivan day worker program

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Commissioner Bob White is leading the charge to address a problem pointed out by the Sullivan County grand jury last week.

On Tuesday, White asked fellow commissioners to support a proposal that will make more stringent the recording of hours served by those sentenced to the county’s “Community Service Program.”

A week before, the grand jury’s February report noted a better system is needed for validating that time.

That note was in a section of the report dealing with a look into activities by Terry Shaffer during his stint as interim highway commissioner.

“The grand jury identified a flaw in reporting time,” White said. “That flaw has to do with how time is recorded. This (proposal) promotes accountability.”

White said he consulted with Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus on the wording for the proposal.

If approved by the full County Commission, it will add a step to the time-recording process — requiring both the “day worker” serving time in the Community Service Program and the department head they are supposed to be working for to sign the document “under penalty of perjury.”

White said he wants the County Commission to send a message to the public, taxpayers and local judges that the county recognizes the Community Service Program is beneficial and saves the county and taxpayers money — and that the county is readily agreeable to fixing the problems brought to light by the investigation of Shaffer.

White said he plans to ask for a vote on the proposal when the full commission meets March 17.

After hearing evidence presented by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the grand jury last week found “an abuse of office” by Shaffer, Staubus said afterward, but no actual criminal violations.

The grand jury’s final report for February said Shaffer was alleged to have misappropriated highway department funds and to have engaged in sexual activity with Community Service Program participants — who often are referred to as “day workers.”

The Community Service Program is for individuals found guilty of nonviolent offenses, allowing them to complete community service at county departments rather than serve time behind bars.

In May of last year, with relatively little discussion and no prior public discussion, the Sullivan County Commission voted to yank the program from oversight by the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office. The program is now under Claude Smith, Sullivan County’s building administrator.

Despite the problems, the grand jury’s report described it as “a good program overall” that “saves the taxpayers of Sullivan County thousands of dollars in labor costs to perform essential services around the county.” 

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