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Friday, September 16, 2016

Items removed by order of interim city manager Steve Hill from his own personnel file called into question

An investigation has been started into allegations that interim city manager Steve Hill had items removed from his own personnel file going back to his time as the director of parks and recreation. City attorney Will Ridley has advised Mr. Hill to return those items to the file.

Interim city manager Steve Hill

On August 30, Mr. Hill reportedly ordered human resources administrator Leah Crockett to remove the documents. He advised Crockett that the documents should be removed based on the city personnel policy that states written records of verbal reprimands should be removed after 1 year. Written reprimands under the policy stay in the file up to 5 years.

We spoke with previous city manager David Rutherford and he stated that he had two meetings with Mr. Hill over investigations into questions about tools and items purchased. Rutherford said he considered the first meeting a verbal reprimand but the second one he considered a written reprimand.

Previous city manager David Rutherford

Before the investigation into questions concerning a couple of hand tools and the reported purchase of a lawnmower blade for a cub cadet tractor, a kind that the city did not own could be completed, Mr. Hill put in his retirement effectively ending the investigation according to Rutherford.

We requested a copy of Mr. Hill's complete employee file September 13 and received a copy on September 15. The copy we received did not contain any reprimands in the file. There is a copy of a speed camera ticket from Oak Ridge dated 2012 that could be related to improper use of a city vehicle.

Because the documents were only removed two weeks ago, questions have just started to be asked about the legality of such action and the public records custodian, city clerk Sally Oglesby brought the matter to the attention of city attorney Will Ridley. Ridley reviewed the state law on records and contacted Mr. Hill to replace the documents.

Crossville city attorney Will Ridely

At that point Mr. Hill brought up the issue of the difference between oral and written reprimands because a memo outlining an oral reprimand only stays in the file a year while a more serious written reprimand stays in the file up to 5 years. It may be necessary for the city to formally contact previous city managers David Rutherford and Bruce Wyatt to determine which kind of reprimands were in the file.

In mid April Councilman Pete Souza had reportedly been contacted and reviewed Mr. Hill's employee file and found several documents there that he had copies made of and copies were given to Mr. Hill and the other members of the council. Souza said that his discovery of the documents made Mr. Hill upset at the time.

Mr. Souza provided the following narrative:

“When Mr. Hill was appointed as interim city manager I received calls stating that he had been and was investigated for wrongful theft of municipal property. I am requesting that this investigation be revisited and Mr. Hill be charged or exonerated. I originally received calls from Parks department employees (not Ms. French). I also received inquiries from the press. My first measure was made to Police Chief Shoap and asked him if an internal investigation was ever conducted into the Parks department. Chief Shoap checked and told me his department had not done an investigation.

I pulled Mr. Hills personnel file and read where Mr. Rutherford had admonished him for excessive use of his vehicle (the second admonishment by a city manager) and not having his house in order. I saw to it that the rest of the council got copies of the admonishments.

I called Mr. Rutherford who informed me a councilman had complained to him that he ahd reports of wrongdoing and asked him to look into it. He found a problem with accounting for tools and had ordered inventories of his equipment. He had finance hold the inventories. Then during the investigation Mr. Hill opted for early retirement. Mr. Rutherford put a letter in Hill's file and moved on.

I checked with finance where during one inventory items were missing, the next inventory there were account for, the next inventory they were missing and the next inventory they were accounted for.

Last week a park's employee told me details on the incident. He asked how it was that nothing was done about him and how is it possible that he could come back to replace Ms. French. He told me what happened was Mr. Hill ordered a chain saw, blower and lawn mower blades for a cub cadet (the city did not have a cub cadet). That's when the inventory came about Hill returned the items and told his employee to write a justification for the chain saw and blower. He asked why since they already had a chain saw and blower. Mr. Hill strongly admonished them to just do what they were told.

I asked Mr. Hill about this and he threw a temper tantrum. He stated he did not have anything in his file and he would sue anyone who said anything. A reasonable person would believe that this investigation should be reopened and a determination made to either exonerate Mr. Hill or take appropriate action.”

Councilman Pete Souza

Mr. Souza also pointed out that Mr. Hill sets the example for city employees.

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