published Friday, June 20th, 2014

Chattanooga's Department of Public Works parts ways with dancing park ranger

The taxpayer-funded dancing has ground to a halt in Coolidge Park.

Chattanooga's Department of Public Works decided to part ways with park ranger Deryl Nelson late last month after a parkgoer posted a video on Facebook of him dancing in uniform on the parking lot.

But now the city is catching flak from people across the area who say Nelson shouldn't have been fired for having a good time.

The story broke Wednesday and a social media frenzy ensued. Commenters jumped to defend Nelson, 50, who won an award from the Chattanooga Police Department for helping save a woman's life at the park just last year.

"Give him his job back and a pat on the back for caring enough to try to [be] joyful," Harry Uffalussy wrote on the newspaper's Facebook page.

But city officials released records Thursday showing that Nelson received multiple reprimands from supervisors recently for more than just dancing.

In 2010, a supervisor wrote up Nelson for rear-ending another vehicle while on the job. Nelson was suspended without pay for three days and restricted from operating vehicles pending a review of the incident.

In August 2013 Nelson received a five-day suspension for making inappropriate remarks to a co-worker. In that reprimand a supervisor also wrote, "[Y]our record of work performance is substandard."

A full personnel file that would include annual performance reviews was not immediately available Thursday.

"While we do not comment on personnel matters, there were several factors that led to the decision to terminate the employee, including a history of behavior inappropriate for a park ranger in uniform as well as substandard job performance," the city's human resources department said in a statement.

The final straw came May 15 when Justin Holland, deputy administrator of public works, signed a letter to Nelson citing the Facebook video as conduct unbecoming a city employee. The letter said Nelson had been recommended for termination.

Nelson is seen dipping to the concrete and thrusting his pelvis during the video.

He declined to speak with the Times Free Press on the phone Thursday but said through Facebook that he needs financial help to pay for food and gas as he searches for another job.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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