Embattled city administrator still out on leave

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Return plans unclear

By Dwane Wilder

LAFOLLETTE—City administrator Billie Russell will be on medical leave at least another month, according to her attorney, David H. Dunaway of LaFollette.

Russell has been on medical leave since Oct. 11 and is said to be suffering from high blood pressure, a heart condition and severe emotional distress after the city recorder, police chief and several members of the police department filed grievances against her.

She was hospitalized briefly before being discharged and has yet to return to her duties. 

LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield said the Tennessee Municipal League’s insurance company denied a worker’s compensation claim last month by Russell.

“Once they denied her claim, that released her to go back to work. She broke policy when she didn’t,” said Stanfield, who wouldn’t say if Russell would be allowed to return to her job at LaFollette.

According to the mayor, Russell is not eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act because she had almost two months left before completing a six-month probationary period. 

Dunaway said LaFollette’s charter prohibits the filing of grievances against the city administrator.

“It’s a very complicated situation,” said Dunaway. “The (state) board of appeals has already said (the city) cannot have a grievance issue against Mrs. Russell. She is an exempt employee. If they wanted the mayor to run the town, then they need to change the charter.”

On Nov. 3, city council voted to spread the city administrator duties around until the situation is resolved. 

Russell was hired in May and began work June 3 as the city’s first female administrator. She replaced Cade Sexton, who resigned in January in the midst of a scandal involving a wrecked city vehicle.