Officer Balks At Charges
Stephanie Myers-News Herald
Attorney claims retaliation led to Leslie Johnson's termination
Leslie Johnson is challenging allegations of official
misconduct lodged against her in a disciplinary action letter
that preceded her termination last month as Lenoir City's codes
Johnson's attorney John Cleveland, of Cleveland and Cleveland PC in Sweetwater, said he believed the termination stemmed from a tussle on building codes for the new Lenoir City Hall building.
Cleveland said he did not believe the city had "for cause" reasons to terminate Johnson's contract Jan. 25.
"Right now, without further investigation or research, I suspect the city could terminate her contract for cause for no reason at all, but they can't lawfully terminate her employment for an illegal reason," Cleveland said. "They can't do it in retaliation for lawful actions that she may have taken."
"That's when this started to be a problem," he said. "There really wasn't a problem with her employment before that."
...If nothing else then I believe there has been a breach of contract, but beyond that I don't know until I get a chance to meet with Ms. Johnson face to face and discuss it some more.
Cleveland said Johnson attempted to enforce building codes after the city bought the SunTrust Bank building on Highway 321, asking "that the city apply for a permit and use a licensed contractor to do the work and obtain all the required inspections of the work as it proceeded and before it was occupied.
The city purchased the 22,000 square foot building on Highway 321 late last year for $720,000 in an effort to combine government offices under one roof.
"She believed the city was required todo those things just the same as anyone else doing construction within the city," Cleveland said. As I understand it, the city doesn't believe it has to obey it's own building codes.
"They had never talked to Ms. Johnson about it. They had sort of a hurried meeting that, as I understood it, there was no notice that there was work to be done on this building was on the agenda," he said. "They approved the money to do the work." When she saw that is what they had done in their meeting it was the first she knew about it. I don't know exactly how it happened, but sometime after that they had a discussion about the fact that they had not applied for a permit or anything else."
Johnson said in an earlier interview that her city contract was terminated with cause. Johnson would be entitled to one year's salary plus benefits if the termination was deemed without cause.
"I think at the very least that they did not have cause under her contract to deny her severance pay, and it may have been in retaliation for her efforts to enforce the building codes," Cleveland said.
According to a disciplinary action letter in Johnson's personal file, which the News-Herald obtained by request through the Tennessee Open Records Act, Johnson had violated "at least three" areas of city policy. The letter to Johnson noted: "1) your continuing bad habit of not keeping your supervisor informed as to your whereabouts during business hours; this is tantamount to insubordination; 2) your being away from your office for extended periods of time, during business hours, not engaged in city business; this behavior is tantamount to neglect of duty..."
against the city's written allegations, saying the nature of her job
required Johnson to stay out of the office for extended periods.