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Town’s fired fire chief reinstated to post

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By Beth Braden

Jellico’s aldermen reinstated Fire Chief Gary Troxell after Mayor Les Stiers fired him last month.
Troxell was fired last month, shortly after documents revealed the town carried no workers’ compensation insurance the day he was injured on the job.
Toward the end of the May 16 board of mayor and alderman meeting the board went into a closed session to discuss personnel issues. Approximately half an hour later, the meeting reconvened and Vice Mayor Venita “Cissco” Johnson motioned to reinstate Troxell with full benefits and retroactively pay him for the time he was terminated.
Human Resources chairperson Pam Carbaugh and Stiers declined to comment on the change of heart.
“I can’t discuss it,” said Stiers.
An interview with Pryor revealed additional details.
A three-page letter dated May 15 from Pryor makes several requests regarding Troxell and asks them to reinstate his employment with full benefits. The document was addressed only to the alderpersons and vice mayor.
“The city is legally liable for a multitude of state and federal causes of action too numerous to list based on discriminatory and retaliatory actions of Mayor Les Stiers,” the letter said.
While the town charter does grant certain temporary powers to the mayor, it does not allow the mayor to fire somebody without board approval.
The board was also asked to pay for Troxell’s injuries.
Troxell and Nelson Kidd were the first men on the scene of a fire on Feb. 18. Kidd was acting as pump operator while Troxell began extinguishing the blaze. Firemen Keith Blair and Larry Wilson later joined them.
During the time, Troxell was the only man fighting, he injured his back when he dragged a ¾-inch hose more than 100 feet and then pulled an air conditioning unit from a window and pried a door on the home open, according to the accident investigation report.
Troxell reported the injury to the mayor that day, but Stiers did not offer medical treatment or provide Troxell with a panel of doctors, according to the letter.
It wasn’t until March 27 Troxell was ever given the “First Report of Work Injury” form from the Tennessee Department of Workforce and Development, according to Pryor.
When the LaFollette Press ran the initial piece about Jellico’s lack of workers’ compensation insurance, Stiers said Troxell hadn’t tried to report the injury until March 27.
“Well, he came in here on [March 27] at 1:50 p.m. and he had gone to see his attorney and came to my office straight from his office and came in here wanting to fill out an injury report. I questioned the injury – where did you get injured – because if you look at the calendar, [March 27],  he hadn’t worked since that weekend,” Stiers said in April.
The March 27 report is what revealed the town’s apparent lack of workers’ compensation insurance, though Stiers maintains the town was indeed covered on the day of Troxell’s injury.
Troxell sought medical attention for his injury, but found his insurance coverage had lapsed.
“When he [Troxell] went to the doctor, we discovered Mayor Stiers had cancelled his health insurance over a month before, while he was still employed with the city,” the letter said.
The letter goes on to say the board needed to reinstate Troxell’s employment, including health insurance, back to March 31.
Pryor also chastised the mayor.
“The behavior of the mayor is shocking to the conscience, and unimaginable that someone would treat anyone like this, especially [an] employee of 34 years. If you decide to go along with the Mayor’s actions, the city council will be imposing the full liability of the mayor’s actions upon the City of Jellico,” Pryor wrote.
The board unanimously approved reinstating Troxell to his position.