Merit board hearing set for next week on firing of county administrator

The Blount County Merit Board hearing for Ralph Mitchell, former county administrator fired by the county commission on Aug. 21, has been scheduled for Nov. 15 and 16 at 9 a.m. at the courthouse. At Mitchell’s request, the hearing is closed to the public. The hearing had been originally scheduled for Oct. 12, subsequently rescheduled at the parties’ request.

The hearing will begin on the morning of Nov. 15, then continue on the morning of Nov. 16, if necessary, for all witnesses and testimony to be heard, according to merit board chairman Bill Newman.

Representing Mitchell will be attorney Greg Reid of Hayden, assisted by co-counsel and former Blount County assistant district attorney Larry Waites. Representing the county will be county attorney Jeff Sherrer and Jamie Kidd of the law firm Webb and Eley of Montgomery, legal counsel for the county’s insurance carrier.

Newman said the merit board’s findings and ruling will not be released publicly, but will be provided to the county and to the complainant.

Here is an abbreviated history and timeline of the case.

July 31: County administrator Ralph Mitchell was sent home by two commissioners and asked to remain there until further notice, as a result of an unspecified incident – referred to as “matters that have come up” by Commissioner Waymon Pitts.

Aug. 1-Aug. 12: The county administrator remained on the payroll, but absent from the job.

Aug. 13: The county administrator was absent from the August county commission meeting. His absence was not addressed at the meeting.

Aug. 21: At a special meeting called to address the Mitchell matter, the commission voted 3-1 to terminate Mitchell’s employment, following a 65-minute executive session. District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong dissented. A hearing date of Sept. 6 was set to allow Mitchell to defend himself before the commission on the charges made against him. A “notice of termination” was presented to Greg Reid, Mitchell’s attorney, later that day detailing allegations of misconduct. Taken from the Personnel Policies and Procedures of Blount County, the employee manual, charges included six items: dishonesty, abusive conduct, conduct unbecoming an employee, conflicts of interest, fraud in personnel matters, and failure to comply with ethics law.

Sept. 6: The hearing before the county commission was held, culminating in the commission reaffirming its decision to terminate Mitchell, on the identical 3-1 vote as the initial decision. The meeting was open to the public.

Week of Sept. 12: Mitchell filed, through his attorney, a request for a hearing on his termination before the Blount County Merit Board. As a merit system employee, and having maintained his innocence from the outset, he is entitled to such a hearing. The hearing was originally set for Oct. 12, with Mitchell’s attorney requesting the meeting be closed to the public so he could more effectively represent his client.

Sept. 26, to date: The merit board hearing has been rescheduled more than once to accommodate schedule conflicts of the various parties. The current Nov. 15-Nov. 16 is now considered firm.