SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Carolyn Case worked as a clerk in the South Pittsburg City Hall for decades, but in late 2016 serious medical issues forced her into an extended hospital stay and recuperation period.
In October, former City Administrator Sammy Burrows pleaded with city leaders to approve hiring part-time help to cover Case's absence, but a motion to do so failed on a 2-2 vote by the South Pittsburg City Commission.
With a new mayor and two new board members in place after the November election, the city commission in February voted to hire a permanent full-time replacement.
Now fully recovered and unaware she'd been replaced, Case said, she planned to return her job in early April.
"I received a letter from [Mayor Virgil Holder] advising me I was terminated due to my inability to perform my job," Case said. "I have never been contacted by the mayor's office inquiring about my health."
At the board's May meeting, Case said she is now "fully capable" of doing her job and has a letter from her physician stating she could return to work.
The South Pittsburg city charter was amended in 2006 to require any hiring or firing of a city employee be done through a vote of the city commission.
"My question to you [the board] is has this board voted to terminate me?" Case asked.
Mayor Virgil Holder replied, simply, "No."
City Attorney Billy Gouger said Holder was relying on the city's personnel policy, which states that if an employee has exhausted vacation time, sick leave and personal leave and at that point is unable to return to work, the position is considered terminated.
"That doesn't take action of the board," he said.
Upon a full recovery, Gouger said, Case would be allowed to request that the board rehire her.
Case questioned whether the personnel policy could supersede the city charter.
"It's not an effective termination," Gouger told her. "It's an inability to work."
Case said she didn't get the termination letter until the last week of March.
"I just thought that was ironic since I was planning on returning the first week of April," she said.
Case asked city leaders to vote publicly on her termination, and the board voted unanimously to rehire her.
That brought a round of applause from those at the meeting.
Holder said Case would not return to work until May 30 because a new city administrator needed to be in place to assign Case's job duties.
"I don't understand that," Case said. "I have the same job duties that I had before."
"No, ma'am," Holder told her. "You were hired back. You will not have the same job duties."
Officials did not say whether the full-time employee hired originally to replace Case would remain on the job or be terminated.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.