LCUB crew 'donates' labor

Stephanie Myers-News Herald

Four men work on duty but off system at gas manager's house

A Lenoir City Utilities Board crew was "doing a favor" for a utilities department manager Tuesday morning to repair a broken sewer pipeline at his home.

Two LCUB utility trucks and a four-member crew had been on site at LCUB Gas Department Manager Mike Strange's Hines Valley Road house for a couple hours, repairing the underground pipeline in the front yard of the residence, Steve Shoemaker of LCUB said Tuesday at the residence.

Shoemaker said the crew was just finishing up.

"We're just doing a favor here, Shoemaker said when asked if tree removal work, which was being performed by another company on the narrowing Hines Valley Road in front of the home, was related to the crew's work in the front yard of the residence.

"Yeah, a favor, so don't put that in the newspaper," he added with a laugh. "Somebody don't have the sewer. The septic tanks were not working and stuff, and we're just trying to help them out. It's not a political part. They would hate that part unless it's one of the council members or something else."

During a follow-up interview, Lenoir City Mayor and LCUB chairman Tony Aikens said policy does not allow private work on residential property.

"If they are out there doing private work that is absolutely against policy, and it will be dealt with accordingly," Aikens said. "I've talked to the general manager, and he assures me that it will be taken care of appropriately and swiftly, and he can give a statement from there."

LCUB General Manager Shannon Littleton said the work by the crew was indeed off the utility's system.

"Some pretty serious discipline will be taken against some of our employees," Littleton said. "Right now the investigation is ongoing, and we don't have the full results yet. I haven't got all the statements in, but I can assure you it will be dealt with quickly."

Littleton said Tuesday afternoon following a visit to the residence that the septic system, which would not be serviced by a public utility, had an issue where sewer was on top of the ground.

"I don't have full facts, like I said. I think they actually took a shovel to investigate what was going on,and they determined from early investigation - I only got one statement so far - but they determined there was a break in the septic line, and I think Mr. Strange was notified he was going to have to get a plumber to repair his septic tank," Littleton said. "From my understanding there have been maybe some minor patchwork done to keep the flow of the sewer going, but there was not what I would consider repair done to the system."

Shoemaker took a phone call during a recorded interview at the residence but later confirmed the house belonged to Strange.

"That's the problem. The fact that it's an employee obviously raises eyebrows. It does mine," Littleton said. "When it's an employee that we are performing work for, but obviously if the if the employee lived on our system obviously they are a customer of LCUB as well as an employee. We are very careful how we handle those situations.

"This particular one I really don't have an answer for you because it was off our system, and some people obviously made some poor judgment calls on how to go about investigating whatever they did, and that's part of the issue," Littleton added. "I don't have the facts totally to know exactly what they performed or what they did, but the major issue in my mind is the fact that we were off our system."

Shoemaker told a News-Herald reporter that Strange had experienced problems with the sewer system at the home, saying the residence was about 30 years old.

"All the roots collapsed it. We didn't do much good. We just replaced a small piece of pipe," Shoemaker said. He then took another phone call.

"Here's my problem. The only problem I have is that with us digging out there and stuff is this considered emergency work? Because, I mean, the state is going to hammer our hind end," Shoemaker said during the call. "My thing is though is that if the state comes by and there's a little problem out there and we're digging and that' just emergency work then we're hammered. We're doing this for the state?"

He paused to listen and began talking to the caller about another work site. Shoemaker said the crew "would get in trouble" if they replaced "the whole thing," but added that the crew could still get in hot water. "If they knew we was out here we could get in trouble. It's really the customer, and we really ain't supposed to be doing stuff for customers," he said.

Shoemaker said LCUB works on main line work and that customer work is the job of a plumber.

"Just to help," Shoemaker said as to why they came out to the Strange residence. "We thought it might be a quick something that we could help do, and we can't help. This house has been sitting empty for sale I guess forever. They bought it, and I think one thing they did when they bought it they just didn't get anything inspected, so they inherited this. We don't mind helping people out at times, but we get looked down on times when we do. We just came out here and sort of donated some labor."

"I'm not going to answer any questions at this time," Strange said later during a telephone interview at his LCUB office. "Let me ask you a question. Were you taking photographs from my driveway? On private property?"