Heated Merit meeting appoints hearing officer for Dooley complaint
By Mike Steely
In a contentious meeting last Thursday, the three-member Knox County Merit System Council voted to appoint Judge Sharon Bell as the hearing officer for the upcoming hearing of Martha Dooley’s complaints against the sheriff’s department.
The Knox County Law Director has said that even holding such a hearing, now set for Wednesday and Thursday, January 19 and 20, would break the council’s own rules.
Alternate merit council member John Marshall confronted Chairwoman Gina Oster and member Jim Jennings with a series of questions. Jennings at first objected to Marshall speaking but Council Attorney Myers Morton said the alternate member has a right to address the council.
Marshall said the council is not supposed to advocate for anyone and has made decisions without items being on the agenda. He also said that Bell was already mentioned publically as being chosen as the hearing officer without a discussion or vote.
Jennings replied that Attorney Gary Prince had suggested getting an outside hearing officer to make sure the hearing of Dooley’s complaints was fair.
“I went out on my own and asked Judge Bell,” Jennings said, adding his actions were without the knowledge of the merit council. Jennings said that to not violate the Sunshine Law a vote would be necessary. The vote was unanimous.
Marshall talked about his service as the alternate member and how he has witnessed several rule violations. He chided the members, accusing them of delaying hearings.
Oster replied, “We’re not lawyers,” and said that each time a hearing was set “the lawyers keep running to chancellery court.” She explained that Morton said they could proceed with the Dooley hearing because a ruling on the case from the court has not been made.
Marshall accused the council members of holding secret discussions. When asking about pay for the hearing officer, he was told she will do so pro-bono, without payment.
Oster countered Marshall by accusing him of speaking directly to the merit system director, Paula Taylor, and being rude to her. She said that “would not be tolerated.” She also told him to “sit quietly like the alternate” should.
Oster adjourned the meeting after the 3-0 vote.