On the payroll but not on the job

County administrator:

County commission officials informed The Blount Countian Friday that county administrator Ralph Mitchell was asked last week to absent himself from the courthouse for a few days.

According to a meeting between The Blount Countian and county commissioners Waymon Pitts, Dean Calvert, and Allen Armstrong, Mitchell’s employment status is unchanged. He is not on administrative leave, they emphasized, he’s just been asked to “stay home for a few days.”

“We really can’t comment on this at all,” Pitts said, when asked why the administrator had been asked to stay home, “but everything that’s come up will be thoroughly checked,” he concluded. After some wrangling over terminology and reluctance to use the word “investigation,” commissioners said an inquiry into those things that have “come up” will be done. “We have turned it over to county lawyers,” Calvert said.

Contacted for comment, county attorney Tom Prickett said “I don’t know” in several different ways to the paper’s questions concerning the status of Mitchell, the status of the inquiry, what it’s all about, whether interviews have been conducted, whether an announcement is forthcoming, and related matters. Prickett said he is not the “point man” on the matter, without identifying who is.

Jeff Sherrer, the other county attorney and next likeliest “point man” for the inquiry, did not return the paper’s calls.

Meanwhile, rumors proliferate, and citizens are demanding – including a few that walked into the newspaper office – that the newspaper determine what’s going on and tell them. Everyone’s got a theory and a package of conjectures, mostly sketchy and some contradictory.

What it amounts to is that everyone’s going to have to wait until the inquiry is complete and a public announcement is made. And that’s what we’re going to do. When facts and official information are available, we’ll report on them further.