Merit Board selects officers, sets grievance hearing dates

By Mike Steely

Senior Writer

The newly reformed Knox County Sheriff’s Office Employees’ Merit System Board of Directors met Wednesday evening and chose Christopher Manning as chairman and John Valliant Jr. as vice chairman.

Manning, who served as the alternate member of the prior three-member merit council, defeated Valliant in a 5-3 vote. Valliant, son of the former attorney for an ex-KCSO employee, was selected over Kenny Boatman.

Manning guided the new board, which includes former merit members John Marshall and Jim Wright Jr., into a discussion of four pending grievance cases passed along from the former council. Attorney Myers Morton told the board that each case should be considered new although one case, that of Wesley Keck, had been heard but not decided by the previous council.

Two grievances, filed by former KCSO employees Curtis Nathaniel Cole and Israel Suarez, were dismissed and Keck’s hearing was set for the board’s March meeting.

Although the domestic violence charge against Keck was dismissed by the Knox County Attorney General, the board was told the grievance can be heard. Manning suggested subpoenas be issued for the two officers who made the arrest and the merit board receive all the text of the prior hearing and the Attorney General’s ruling.

“I’d like to handle this in one day,” Manning said.

The complaint filed by Lisa Jarrell was scheduled to be heard in the board’s April meeting.

Jarrell spoke to the meeting saying, “I haven’t hired an attorney.” Manning replied, “You don’t need an attorney. That’s why we are here.”

The merit board also discussed lowering the age requirement to 18 for correctional officers and Sheriff Tom Spangler told the meeting dropping it would help in recruiting at high schools and the $40,000 plus per year would be an incentive.

Valliant seemed to oppose the idea, questioning the maturity and judgment abilities of that age group. Clarence Vaughn countered that lowering the age might help recruit a more diverse group of officers.

Sheriff Spangler spoke about the 100 vacancies in the correctional department and the manpower shortage. The vote was 4-3 to recommend lowering the age minimum and the matter now goes to the Knox County Commission.

The board also discussed adopting the county commission’s rules and Robert’s Rules of Order, the membership of the Merit Board of Directors, and a salary study to be discussed further in the February meeting.

Among the small crowd attending the meeting were former Merit Chairwoman Gina Oster and At-Large Commissioner Larsen Jay, who led the two-year effort to reorganize the merit board.