BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Chuckey Utility District Board of Directors voted unanimously on Wednesday to discharge three of the four employees placed on leave following a preliminary audit report last fall that indicated "questionable practices by the management."
In October, both the Chuckey and the Cross Anchor utility district boards placed four joint employees on leave when local Certified Public Accountant Mickey Ellis' early audit results revealed the concerns.
Later audit reports detailed findings that Eliis described as violations of state law.
The employees placed on leave include: former manager Shirley Collins; her husband, Willie; their daughter, Kandie Jennings, who became acting general manager after Shirley Collins retired in 2013; and Jennings' husband, Bill.
Attempts by The Greeneville Sun to reach these individuals for comment have been unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, the board expressed an interest in permanently terminating all payments, including insurance, to all four employees.
Shirley Collins, although retired, was receiving a monthly check of more than $7,000. She received over $50,000 from the district between April and October 2013.
Board Chairman John Carter has questioned the contract allowing for these "consulting fees," saying that the board only agreed to pay her insurance.
However, the minutes from the meeting have a redacted section, followed by a new section that details these payments. Carter's signature is also on the contract, although he has called its authenticity into question.
The utility district's attorney, Ed Kershaw, said that the contract could increase the district's liability in voting to terminate all payments to Shirley Collins.
"You're at risk to have a lawsuit by that employee, but there's also a good argument that the actions of that employee breached the contract," Kershaw said.
Because of this contract, the board voted unanimously to dischaee Willie Collins, Kandie Jennings and Bill Jennings.
Members requested that Kershaw further investigate the liability of permanently ending all payments to Shirley Collins and report back at their next meeting.
In other business, the board continued discussions of either combining or splitting the Chuckey and Cross Anchor utility districts.
Both Carter and board member Dennis Adams expressed a desire to see the districts split, but board member Harry Kyker called for a study to evaluate the cost and implications of either move.
Cross Anchor Board President Lloyd Dawson cautioned that a split would be more expensive.
Both Dawson and Carter expressed the opinion that past issues for the districts were able to come about through confusion concerning who owned what equipment and which district had authorized certain actions.
"My personal feelings -- I feel like Chuckey needs to separate from Cross Anchor," Carter said. "I'm not saying to do it tomorrow, next week, six months from now. I mean in the near future."
He said that he has spoken to many customers in his district, and the vast majority have supported a split between the two districts.
Both boards agreed to hold a workshop on Feb. 26 to continue this discussion and to continue policy revisions.