Commission action upheld; Ralph Mitchell dismissed

MERIT BOARD DECISION...

The Blount County Merit Board ruled Friday morning to uphold the Blount County Commission’s Sept. 6 termination of former county administrator Ralph Mitchell.

Elements of the decision

1. The merit board found sufficient evidence to support two of the six offenses with which Mitchell was charged: abusive conduct and conduct unbecoming an employee.

2. It found insufficient evidence to support the remaining four offenses: dishonesty, conflicts of interest, fraud in personnel matters, and failure to comply with ethics law.

3. It found that the two offenses supported by the evidence do constitute personal misconduct.

4. It cited section 9.7 of the Blount County Personnel Manual that the normal disciplinary action is dismissal for the offenses for which sufficient evidence was found.

5. It stated: “The board finds no mitigating circumstances that warrant a lesser disciplinary action.”

6. It ruled: “The termination of Mitchell is upheld…Mitchell is hereby discharged.”

7. The decision of the four board members Reactions

Lead defense attorney Greg Reid: “We’re disappointed, of course. I respect the merit board, but I disagree with their findings. I think it should be noted they found sufficient evidence on only two of the six charges and it was the most subjective of the charges at that – the two charges that honest people might have honestly different opinions about. And they didn’t find sufficient evidence on four charges. We’re still trying to digest the ruling. There were nearly 1500 pages of testimony. We want to study the transcript closely and see how it relates to the language of the ruling. Then we’ll decide what to do next. Ultimately, the decision of whether to appeal (to the Circuit Court) will be my client’s decision. I feel like there are grounds, and I feel like he will decide to appeal, but as I said, we haven’t reached that decision yet.”

Probate Judge/Commission Chairman Chris Green: “I’m relieved that this chapter in the county’s history is closed with respect to the merit board’s decision. I look forward to getting the commission fully staffed and the county moving forward again. We’ve got a lot of opportunities and challenges and a bright future in front of us, and now we can concentrate our full attention on moving ahead. I’m so appreciative of the extra effort of the courthouse staff and especially the commission staff to make sure that all necessary functions were covered during this time. They’ve all gone above and beyond the call of duty, and I want them to know that, on behalf of the county, I recognize their effort and thank them for it.”