Fired city administrator plans to seek workman’s comp

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LaFOLLETTE—Former city administrator Billie Russell will have her day in court, according to her lawyer.

Attorney David H. Dunaway has filed a request for assistance from the state in a worker’s compensation case on behalf of Russell, who was terminated last week by a 3-1 vote of city council.

Dunaway said the city’s insurance carrier denied an earlier worker’s comp claim by Russell.

Russell had been on medical leave since Oct. 11 and 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.

“We feel like the action against Ms. Russell was pretextual,” said Dunaway. “They felt like they could put her in there because they thought she would be a ‘yes’ person. When she immediately began bringing things to their attention, they wanted to take it off her hands. They retaliated, no doubt about it.”

Council member Stephanie Grimm made the motion to terminate Russell, and Joe Bolinger seconded the motion. They both voted for the motion, as did Mayor Mike Stanfield. Councilman Bob Fannon was absent. Hansford Hatmaker, who was the only member of council to vote against the motion, gave an impassioned plea on Russell’s behalf.

“This is too easy to destroy somebody’s life,” said Hatmaker, who didn’t vote for Russell when she was hired in May as the city’s first female administrator. “We had Ms. Russell follow the charter and do what the charter says. She tried to do that. The council is in charge of policies, that’s what the charter says. Ms. Ellison (city recorder) filed a grievance against the city administrator because of the policies. And then the police chief filed a grievance. If he didn’t like the policies, he should’ve filed a grievance against the council.”

When his turn came to vote on Grimm’s motion, he replied, “Absolutely, no, and I want the record to show that I voted no. And when this thing goes to court, don’t look for me to back the city on this.”

Dunaway said LaFollette’s charter prohibits the filing of grievances against the city administrator. He also said the LaFollette Police Department is not doing its job of cleaning up drugs and prostitution in the city, which was an effort that Russell was spearheading when the grievances were filed against her.

Dunaway said he has become frustrated with local police and recently reported illegal activities inside the city limits to Campbell County Sheriff Robbie Goins.

“If the City of LaFollette will not clean these streets up, the sheriff has the jurisdiction to do so,” said Dunaway.

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

“Once they denied her claim, that released her to go back to work. She broke policy when she didn’t,” Stanfield said during an interview last month.

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

The mayor said there was no timetable for hiring a new administrator. He said it would probably be brought up in the next city workshop on Jan. 27, but declined to comment further on the matter.