Lenoir City codes enforcement officer to fight dismissal

Dismissal linked to vehicle policy violation

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LENOIR CITY The Lenoir City codes enforcement officer who found herself in the spotlight during her efforts to clean up illegal signs last year says she has been unfairly terminated.

Leslie Johnson, a codes enforcement officer for the city for more than four years, said she was terminated Jan. 25 for a violation of city policy related to the use of her vehicle.

"There were no allegations of any criminal or financial wrongdoing," Johnson said.

During last fall's election season, Johnson made news when she began to enforce a new city ordinance regarding campaign signs.

Recently, she had increased enforcement efforts on rules against unlicensed business signage.

According to Johnson, the first notice she had of any issues was on Jan. 23 when she was called to a meeting with City Administrator Dale Hurst and Public Safety Director Don White.

Johnson said she was told she was being suspended and was escorted out of City Hall.

Two days later a police officer arrived at her home with paperwork declaring her dismissal, she said.

"I haven't done anything illegal. I take pride in my work," she said.

Johnson confirmed that the reason for dismissal was related to the use of her vehicle. She plans to fight her dismissal in court and has hired Sweetwater, Tenn., lawyer John Cleveland to represent her.

"I am a single parent. I have responsibilities. I have an attorney to represent me and I am going to fight this," she said.

Johnson, who previously served as a codes enforcement officer with the city of Sweetwater, was hired by Lenoir City in 2009 under a five-year contract that was set to expire in November 2014. The contract was to be automatically renewed unless the City Council declined. The contract contains a clause that allows termination "for cause."

Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said he could not comment on the issue. He referred inquiries to Hurst, who did not return calls.