The city of Collegedale fired its director of parks and recreation, Traci Bennett-Hobek, citing "a pattern of conduct unbecoming of an employee and manager" after a disagreement between her and city planning department employees over tree placement spilled over into a broader argument.
Her firing contributed to an unsuccessful effort by one city commissioner to fire the city manager.
According to an incident report with statements from multiple city employees, on Feb. 10 Bennett-Hobek had been exchanging emails with Planning and Economic Development Director Kelly Martin and City Planner Kirsten Ert about new holes dug by the public works department for trees that would block areas of green space needed for outdoor programming.
By email, the department relayed to Bennett-Hobek that per her recommendation, they decided to fill the holes and asked for suggestions for new places for the trees, funded by a grant.
After failing to reach her colleagues by phone on Feb. 11, Bennett-Hobek went to Ert's office with intentions to further discuss the placement of the trees. But the conversation took a turn, according to the incident report.
Ert said her colleague appeared aggravated and was speaking in an "elevated tone," while Bennett-Hobek said she did not initially raise her voice and that Ert had "negative vibes," telling her that she already "knows all about me," the report states.
After Bennett-Hobek relayed to Ert her frustrations about being left out of planning processes during her time with the city in a continued back-and-forth exchange, Martin entered the office after "a minute of hearing Traci's agitated tone" to help defuse the situation, the incident report states.
In his statement, he noted that "although her demeanor was highly aggressive, she didn't make any overt displays of physical aggression."
Bennett-Hobek then left the office after exchanging words with the two colleagues that were loud enough to draw the attention of other workers in the building, according to the report.
After the altercation, human resources and risk manager Kristen Boyd met with Bennett-Hobek, who explained the situation and aired grievances that she had with the city and various employees. Boyd wrote in her report that she was "concerned based on my conversation with Traci and other interactions that she is not mentally stable or fit to do her job, as her yelling and inability to control her emotions has become a pattern with multiple people."
Paperwork was filed the same day to officially terminate Bennett-Hobek.
Following her firing, Bennett-Hobek emailed the city's commissioners in an attempt to share her side of the story.
In the email, she alleges multiple instances of the city manager yelling at her in various meetings over the past three years.
The city has not provided the Times Free Press with one attachment referenced in the email as "it is rather personal in nature so she requested it not be shared without permission," but noted that the documents would be provided within seven days if no court order is filed prohibiting it.
The correspondence was referenced in a public meeting on Monday by Commissioner Ethan White as he called for the firing of City Manager Ted Rogers, who is in charge of hiring and terminating city employees such as Bennett-Hobek.
Most of the conversation centered around a proposed park partnership between the city of Collegedale and McKee Foods. White and Rogers acknowledged there had been poor communication about the project from Rogers, who is working with the snack food company on specific details.
White also mentioned, as detailed in Bennett-Hobek's email, that in her role as director of parks and recreation Bennett-Hobek knew very little about the plans for the park.
"It is my opinion that City Manager Rogers has shown he is incompetent in his role as city manager, and I have lost full confidence in his decision making and his ability to carry out the will of this board," White said.
White said he believed "the way in which Traci was terminated and treated is not in the spirit of the Board of Commissioners" and that there was a double standard, as Collegedale police Chief Brian Hickman has been on paid administrative leave for weeks after he hid details from Rogers for days after a pursuit and crash.
"How is that not conduct unbecoming, which Traci was fired for?" White said.
At least one commissioner and the mayor chimed in that there was more information about the firing of Bennett-Hobek that may not have been general knowledge that factored into the decision to remove her from her post.
"I've worked with Traci on the parks and recreation board, and I do respect her; she's done a lot for the city. However, in further investigations, and I have spoken with several people, I felt like that it was justified in what occurred," Commissioner Debbie Baker said at the meeting.
"I do not like the way that it occurred. I don't like people getting fired, but I know that is a necessity. But I don't think that we need to add one situation and compound it with another. We need to deal with things individually."
The motion to fire the city manager died after no one moved to second it and commissioners also rejected a second motion by Vice Mayor Tim Johnson to ask for Rogers' resignation.
Bennett-Hobek was hired in November 2017 as the first director of the city's then-new parks and recreation department.
The Times Free Press was unable to reach Bennett-Hobek for comment.
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