Codes Officer Terminated

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

Leslie Johnson vows to challenge firing in court

Leslie Johnson said she will take legal action against Lenoir City after being terminated last week as codes enforcement officer.

Though Johnson deferred details on her termination to her attorney, John Cleveland PC in Sweetwater, Johnson said she was told her contract was terminated with cause.

"There were no allegations of criminal act, no allegations of financial mishaps, nothing of that nature. It was deemed to be a violation of city policy," Johnson said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. "It is most definitely becoming a legal issue."

Cleveland could not be reached by press time Tuesday.

According to Johnson's contract, which is a public record available at Lenoir City Hall, a "for cause" termination means the "employee engaged in misconduct, or has violated a standard of conduct or City policy, including but not limited to, engaging in criminal conduct, violence on the job, insubordination, misuse of city property, neglect of duty, unauthorized absences, corruption, bribery or other documents, violation of the city's drug and alcohol policies, or death or incapacity which renders (him) unable to perform the essential functions of his position."

Johnson, noting her years of work with the city, argued her termination did not fit the "for cause" definition.

"If it is 'for cause' it has to be proven, and this particular case I am animatedly challenging the issues that they are determining to be 'for cause'," Johnson said. "My attorney John Cleveland has been involved since Wednesday afternoon when I was suspended and sent home."

Johnson said she was sent home Wednesday afternoon with pay for the rest of the week after a meeting with City Administrator Dale Hurst and Public Safety Director and Chief of Police Don White.

She was served notification of her termination Friday, Johnson said.

"I was completely blindsided by these actions - completely blindsided," Johnson, who lives in the city, said. "I have incorporated myself into this community - not just a professional commitment, but a personal commitment."

Hurst declined to comment on details of Johnson's termination, saying the matter fell under the category of personnel.

"It's been my practice over the years not to discuss personnel issues publicly," Hurst said.

Attempts to reach White were unsuccessful.

Johnson's employment contract was set to expire Nov. 27, 2014.

According to Johnson's employment agreement, the contract would automatically renew for additional four-year terms "unless the city shall by action of its Council decline to renew this Agreement..."

"For cause" termination entitles Johnson to accumulated sick, vacation and personal leave, according to the contract. A without cause termination meaning there "are no circumstances to justify termination with cause," entitles the employee to one year's salary plus benefits.

Department heads are under contract with the city.

Hurst said David Denton, a retired codes enforcement officer with the city, will serve in Johnson's role "until such time as the personnel committee can deal with making a transition."

Johnson, a native of Cleveland, has been employed with the city just shy of five years.

"This is the first time I have ever been terminated from a position, so again this has just been very blindsiding, but it will be dealt with in a professional manner. That's how we'll deal with it," Johnson said.

"As far as I'm personally concerned that is just one door closed, and there will be more that will open up for me. I have a master's degree. I have 12-plus years of professional-level experience," she added.

"I have chosen my professional career to stay in a small town. I felt it was the best way to utilize my abilities to best serve a community, but as I move forward there are unlimited opportunities that I have before me, so my future is not in jeopardy," she added.