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Putnam’s termination upheld by City Council following public hearing

By Jonathan Pleasant
Having been postponed for a week, the December Mountain City Council meeting got off to an unusual start with a special public hearing known as a name clearing hearing. Held at the specific request of former long time Mountain City police officer Jody Putnam, the hearing was supposed to be an opportunity to hear both sides of the story behind Putnam’s termination at the recommendation of Police Chief Denver Church back in September.
Legally Putnam had the right to ask for the hearing so that he could publically bring forth evidence, witnesses, legal counsel or any other identified means to defend and justify his position. As such, the City contacted the outside law firm of Herrin, Booze, and McPeak to represent them in the matter. Mr. Earl Booze was present at the meeting where he began by detailing some of the background leading up to this point.
Reportedly Putnam officially requested the hearing in a letter dated in late October. He received a certified, formal answer in a return letter on Nov. 16th setting the date for the December meeting. According to Booze, no further contact was made and the hearing was held as scheduled. Neither Putnam nor any legal representation was present at the meeting, leading the council to make a determination based on the information previously obtained.
To clarify, Mr. Booze went over the various issues with the case, beginning by noting that the city police department conducted a thorough investigation following the Sept. 27th incident at the Dollar General Store that led to Putnam’s dismissal. Statements were taken from seven separate eyewitnesses and photos of the scene were also incorporated into the report. In the end, Putnam was found in violation of three separate city regulations: inappropriate discharge of a department issued firearm, inappropriate discharge of a department issued chemical weapon, and failure to file a use of force report.
Booze went on to say the incident also specifically fell within a city guideline concerning use of force, which prohibits such action when “the danger to innocent bystanders and property is greater than what the suspect poses.” In this case, the suspect being considered was a squirrel.
With no evidence to the contrary and no official word from Putnam, the council unanimously decided to reaffirm their earlier decision and accept Chief Denver Church’s recommendation for termination.
The hearing aside, the regular meeting was rather short. Most members of the board sent their best Christmas wishes out to the city employees, with Alderman Bob Morrison specifically thanking everyone for their continued hard work, especially at the recent Christmas parade.
Alderman Jerry Jordan did have a few small issues to bring up stemming from his role with the county 911. The first involved an address name change for the county election office, which has been intermittently shown to sit at both Joe Barlow Way and Election Avenue. Election Administrator Mike Long was present at the meeting to explain that the confusion began when the small driveway in front of the building came to be known as Election Avenue even though it is not an official city street.
On most things the office has used that specific address, even though the building actually shows up on the state system as located on Joe Barlow Way which runs along the back side. Another issue with the change is that current GPS units don’t actually show Election Avenue as a real street, causing problems for those trying to find the office from outside the county. For his part, Long was hopeful to keep the Election Avenue address simply because everything the office uses is already printed with that name. The council agreed, but did take some deliberation on what exactly to do about the situation.
There was a suggestion to simply adopt the short driveway as a city street, but that would first have to come before the city planning commission. In the meantime, Alderman Bob Morrison made the suggestion that the council formally identify the road as Election Avenue, at least in name, regardless of whether it is an actual city street or not. With the rest of the board in agreement, Morrison went ahead and made a motion to that effect, hoping it would resolve the problem until the planning commission has time to meet.
Alderman Jordan also confirmed that the 911 is currently looking at correcting other minor errors in the system, but would hopefully avoid having to change any large blocks of addresses.
Collection Distribution Superintendent Jerry Horne came before the council with a few small items, the largest of which being a request for a budget amendment to help cover the cost of two sets of tires for the city’s trucks. With some money left in that line item, Horne only requested $1,000 to cover the $1,200 it would actually take to purchase the tires. The council approved the amendment without issue.
There were also a couple of items from the new business portion of the meeting, including the opening of bids for the second phase of the city’s water plant telemetry project. Two companies, BF Technical and Mesa Technical, submitted their anticipated costs with BF coming in around $11,000 higher than Mesa. However, with BF being a local company from Blountville and already familiar with their work on phase one of the project, it was the strong suggestion of Water Plant Manager Andy Garland that ultimately led the council to choose the more expensive route as the best choice under the circumstances.
The other item of new business was the first reading and approval of several small budget amendments, most of which were actually pass through funds that did not directly affect the city’s finances. These included an annual grant that the police department applied for from the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, donations to the fire department, and the Leaps Grant for the County/City Community Center.
With no further discussion from the board and nothing else on the agenda, Alderman Bob Morrison made the motion to adjourn.