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Bolling memo addresses fire chief pay
  • Updated

Kingston City Manager David Bolling sent a memo to council members this week regarding supplemental pay that Fire Chief Willie Gordon has received over the years. The memo also addressed volunteer pay that Bolling himself said he received for work he’s done for the city fire department.

According to the memo, in 2002 Gordon started receiving twice a year supplemental pay for work he did “above and beyond his job as fire chief.” The memo said the pay was authorized by then city manager Gary Humphreys and continued during the tenure of Jim Pinkerton, who followed Humphreys as city manager.

“Per Chief Gordon, and a conversation I had with Carolyn Brewer in 2013 when I first noticed this, this pay was intended to help offset time that he worked outside of his normal job hours, such as time spent covering shifts and responding to calls after hours,” the memo said. “Because this had been deemed justified by my two immediate predecessors and our Finance Director over an 11-year period prior to me becoming City Manager, I certainly saw no reason to question it. From the first payment he received in October of 2002, until the last payment in May of 2021, Chief Gordon received just over $44,000 in supplemental pay.”

The memo explained why the practice was halted last year.

“In November of last year it was brought to my attention by Finance Director Michelle Kelley that, per MTAS, exempt municipal employees are not eligible to receive any form of supplemental pay,” the memo said. “Again, I never questioned Chief Gordon’s pay because of the over a decade long precedent in place before I was hired.”

The memo said the State Comptroller’s Office has been contacted about the matter.

“It has come to our attention that an anonymous complaint was made to the Comptroller’s Office regarding Chief Gordon receiving these supplemental payments, and they have requested some information,” the memo said.

The Comptroller’s Office declined to comment on the matter when contacted Wednesday.

“As with any matter related to a possible or potential investigative review I can only provide our standard response: The Comptroller’s Office has broad authority to review government entities including the City of Kingston,” Comptroller Director of Communications John Dunn said. “It is our policy to not comment further.”

Bolling said he sent the memo to council members in the interest of transparency.

“The Comptroller’s Office reached out to our Finance Office to follow up on the complaint they received, and we provided them everything they asked for,” he said. “I sent that memo to Council to bring them up to speed. My name wasn’t mentioned in the complaint but, as I stated in the memo, I wanted to be fully transparent.”

Bolling said he’s done work for the fire department during his free time.

“I moved to Kingston in 2015 and, at that time, lived just down the street from the Fire Hall,” the memo said. “Because I was close by, and had a lot of free time on my hands, I began spending time working with the Fire Department outside of my work hours. As such, as others have, I periodically received payment for duties performed as a volunteer firefighter.”

Bolling added that he never requested the pay, but also never refused it.

“I accepted it under the justification that I assisted the fire department many times in capacities outside of my duties as City Manager,” the memo said. “From April of 2015 until May of last year, I received a total of $3,390 in volunteer pay.”

Bolling said he’s assisted on medical calls, rolled hoses on fire scenes, provided water to firefighters on fire scenes, battled a brush fire in the middle of the night and assisted members of the fire department when they were helping with the Gatlinburg fires.

“I didn’t do any of that as the City Manager,” he said. “I did it because I wanted to help out, and because I enjoyed it.”

Bolling said he’s prepared to repay the $3,390 if it is determined he wasn’t entitled to the money.

“Regarding Chief Gordon, he was receiving authorized supplemental pay originally approved by a former City Manager 20 years ago,” the memo said. “Every payment he has received since was approved by the City Manager and processed by the Finance Director, so I want to stress that this absolutely is not a case of him taking money that nobody knew about.”

Rockwood kid outsmarts thieves
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Jax Bagnell of Rockwood became a local sleuth recently when his ingenuity led Rockwood police to catching a group of thieves and returning the boy’s stolen bicycles to him. Jax, 11, resolved to get back his bike after it was stolen last month.

“We had actually noticed that one of his bikes was missing from the front yard,” said Misty Bagnell, Jax’s mother. “And we walked around and realized that it was nowhere to be seen, which really upset him because that was his favorite bike.”

Jax’s ingenuity earned him the nickname “MacGuyver” after the inventive crime fighting TV character.

“He actually had an AirTag that he got and he cut the seat on his other bike and put the AirTag in it and then he put duct tape over the seat to make it look older than it really was,” Misty said. “I guess it was about six days and our guys had come to mow the yard. I didn’t see the bike outside, so I just kind of made mention and thought it would be fun to let him go check his AirTag. He went out and realized his bike wasn’t in the yard, so he checked his AirTag and realized his bike was on the other side of town.”

Jax’s foresight and planning helped Rockwood Police Officers Chance York and Noah Harris quickly track the missing bikes to a house’s front yard.

“We pulled up in front of the house just to stop and speak with officers and his first bike was in their front yard,” Misty said. “So, we went back home and the officers were able to speak with the people that lived there and got the story of how the bike got there.”

After going home to let the officers work, they were able to retrieve both of Jax’s stolen bikes. Unfortunately the first stolen bike, the one Jax was the most attached to, wasn’t retrieved in the condition it had been stolen in, but the Bagnell family was grateful regardless.

“To be honest, I’m kind of proud of myself at how I tried my best to get my bike back,” Jax said.

Jax concluded with sound advice for bike owners: “You should put your bike up in a safe place and remember the serial number.”

Officers York and Harris were congratulated by the Rockwood City Council during a meeting this week.

“These two young men went beyond the call of duty to help a young man that had lost his two bicycles,” Rockwood Mayor Mike “Brillo” Miller said “That is a huge deal. They were important to that young man. They went way beyond to help this kid and got both of the bikes back.”

Commissioners seek to halt donations to Roanenet
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District 2 County Commissioners Junior Hendrickson, Randy Ellis and Greg Ferguson have submitted a resolution for the Aug. 8 Commission meeting to cease all further donations, grants, money, property or assets to Roanenet.

“The resolution sums the situation up well,” Ellis said.

Dayle and Tony Beyer are the cofounders of Roanenet. Tony Beyer is also a candidate in the District 2 race for County Commission. Hendrickson, Ellis, Ferguson, Chris Ahler, Gregory L. Buckles, Brad Goss, Mike Kittrell and Tami Hamby-Ladd are also candidates in the race.

Roanenet is a 501©(3) non-profit organization. There were numerous posts on Roanenet’s Facebook page regarding Tony Beyer and the election along with a profile picture that showed both Beyers in elect Tony Beyer shirts.

Numerous county officials have expressed dismay that Roanenet has been soliciting votes for Tony Beyer in the Aug. 4 election. The resolution specifically references a post that appeared on Roanenet’s Facebook page where Dayle Beyer stated Tony Beyer deserved the vote of anyone who received a free refurbished computer from Roanenet.

“You just can’t do that as a 501©(3),” Roane County Executive Ron Woody said. “Does Facebook have an exception somehow? I wouldn’t think so.”

The IRS addresses political activity by 501©(3) organizations on its website.

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501©(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” the section on political activity states. “Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.”

County Attorney Greg Leffew drafted the resolution for Hendrickson, Ellis and Ferguson.

“Roane County Commission believes that all nonprofit organizations receiving benefits from or through Roane County Government should strictly adhere to all requirements imposed on nonprofits, including, but not limited to, the requirement to not participate, intervene or publish statements regarding any candidate for public office,” the resolution states. “Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved that Roanenet shall receive no further monies, properties or assets of any type, by, from or through from Roane County Government from any source.”

Dayle Beyer denied any wrongdoing when asked about the matter last week. However, the posts regarding Tony Beyer and the election were nowhere to be found on the organization’s Facebook page Thursday morning.

The Aug. 8 Commission meeting will be held at the courthouse in Kingston at 7 p.m.

Schools hot topic at Kingston forum
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Candidates for Roane County executive and County Commission District 3, District 5 and District 6 were invited to take part in a forum at the Kingston Community Center on Tuesday.

Wade Creswell was the only candidate for county executive to participate.

“It’s been an honor to run for this office,” he said.

Creswell said pulling the county together to solve problems will be his goal if elected.

“I believe it’s the No. 1 thing that’s holding us back, and if you elect me as the next Roane County executive, it will be my No. 1 priority and the reason for getting up everyday to help pull us together to solve our biggest problems,” he said.

Wayne Best, Ellison Beard and Victoria Bowers-Gaskins are the other candidates in the county executive’s race.

The County Commission is the funding body for the school system. One of the biggest issues facing the next Commission could be whether or not to fund a school building program. The Commission candidates spoke on that issue during Tuesday’s forum.

“Let me say this and be very clear, we may have personal opinions as commissioners, I don’t make a decision on consolidation,” Ben Gann said. “The school board presents a plan to the Commission. What the Commission does is approve budgets.”

Gann, Ben Briley and Cynthia Plemens are vying for District 3’s lone seat on the County Commission.

Gann, who is the incumbent in the District 3 race, said investing in early childhood education should be a priority.

Briley said talking is important.

“The best thing that we can do for the Commission to work with the school board is talk,” he said. “Understand where we’re coming from. Get a plan together, know how we’re going to reach this plan.”

Plemens compared the schools to cars.

“If you don’t maintain a car it won’t continue to work,” she said. “We have got to either invest in the existing buildings or decide to build new schools.”

Marilyn Calfee and Mike Hooks are running in Commission District 5. Like District 3, District 5 only has one seat on the 15-member County Commission.

“Let’s prioritize our needs over our wants,” Hooks said. “When we do that, we’re winners. We do that, we’re winners.”

Hooks is the incumbent in the race.

“Education across the state is going to change,” he said. “Not only by state government, but from the federal government on down. They’re pushing school choice.”

Calfee said the county needs a long term vision.

“My message is clear,” she said. “I’m a leader. I got leadership skills and I’d like to put those to work.”

Whatever happens with the school situation, Calfee said there needs to be buy-in from the entities involved.

“We have to have the school board,” she said. “We have to have the County Commission and the county executive. The cities have to be involved in that conversation. We’re not all going to agree, but I think one thing we can agree on is we want what’s best for our kids.”

Early voting for the election ends on Saturday. Election Day is on Aug. 4.

David Bell, David Brackett, Ron Gregory, Ben Wilson and Larry Woods are the candidates in District 6, which has three seats on the Commission.

Bell is getting over an illness and didn’t attend the forum, but the crowd got to hear from the other candidates in the race.

“The first thing we need to do in school is put God back in school,” Brackett said. “One hundred%, no matter what first and foremost.”

That comment drew a round of applause from the crowd.

“Is now the time to build? I don’t think it is,” Brackett said. “But we can’t sit five years and kick it down the road and keep our kids over here in moldy classrooms, ceilings falling down.”

Gregory said he’s moved around a lot and schools were always important.

“They would move me, my company, and they’d pick the No. 1 school district in that city,” he said. “You know why they did that? Resale. I knew I would only be there for two years. They wanted to make sure I didn’t get hurt financially.”

Gregory said taking care of the schools is a way to attract business.

“The school system is the most important thing on the agenda, in my opinion, we have to fix,” he said.

Bell and Wilson are the incumbents in the District 6 race.

“We have a school problem,” Wilson said. “You’ve done heard about that. I can’t tell you anything new. I’m telling you they got to be fixed.”

Wilson said he wants to see more small businesses in the county.

“So what does that do?” Wilson said. “That’s going to get the sales tax dollars in here. We’re going to put that into the school system and your property taxes are going to stay the same hopefully.”

Woods explained why he’s running for County Commission.

“I heard that the folks that were on County Commission from one of the guys that used to be on it, he said you’ll enjoy that,” Woods recalled. “He said they believe in God, and they try their best to get something done. That’s what I want to be a part of.”

Woods also touched on the school situation.

“Our kids need a better place to learn,” he said. “They need every opportunity to use all the new technology.”

Evidence against Wright includes bloody print
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It looks like fingerprint evidence played a role in charges being filed against the suspect in May’s double homicide.

Lonnie Dale Wright faces two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Steve Groover and Cindy Scruggs. Their bodies were found at 662 Buck Creek Road on May 16. Groover owned the home and reports said Scruggs lived there with him.

“Steven Groover was found laying face down on the living room floor and Cindy Scruggs was found laying on her back in the back bedroom on the floor next to the bed,” a warrant filed in the case said. “Both victims had multiple stab wounds on their bodies.”

While processing the scene, investigators reportedly found a State Farm bill that appeared to have blood on it in Groover’s truck that was parked outside the residence, which is in the eastern part of the county.

“Evidence to include this State Farm bill, was photographed, documented, collected and sent to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s laboratory to be processed,” the warrant said.

The sheriff’s office heard from the lab earlier this month.

“On July 8, 2022, an agent from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s laboratory called Lt. (Art) Wolff and notified him that the bloody fingerprint found on a bank statement in Mr. Groover’s truck was a match to Lonnie Dale Wright’s fingerprint,” the warrant said. “On July 19, 2022, a report from the TBI lab was received confirming that Lonnie Dale Wright’s right index fingerprint was found in blood on the State Farm bill that was located inside of Groover’s vehicle.”

Wright, 48, was arrested on Monday. He has a $1 million bond on each of the first-degree murder counts.

Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said they have a strong case against Wright. The warrant said Wright once dated Groover’s daughter and was familiar with the family. Groover was reportedly known to carry around large amounts of cash.

“A recorded interview was conducted with Wayne Fross, a person known to Lonnie Wright,” the warrant said. “In that statement, Fross advised that Lonnie Wright had approached him prior to the murders and asked if he would help rob Groover. Fross stated that he declined to help.”

Groover was 67. Scruggs was 62.

“It is believed Steven Groover and Cindy Scruggs fought with Mr. Wright trying to stop the robbery, but were killed during the robbery by Lonnie Wright,” the warrant said. “Lonnie Wright searched the residence and Steven Groover’s truck looking for cash leaving his bloody fingerprint on at least the State Farm bill.”

Wright has a hearing scheduled in Roane County General Sessions Court next month. He also faces charges of especially aggravated burglary, especially aggravated robbery, burglary of a motor vehicle, theft of a motor vehicle and vandalism.