JASPER, Tenn. — The move to a new retirement plan over the last year has created a rift between some city leaders and some long-time Jasper employees.
Many of those employees were unhappy with the lump sums they set to receive soon after the town's departure from a Nationwide Insurance retirement plan.
In April, Jasper employees proposed a $1.477 million longevity bonus to be paid to them by the city on a sliding scale in order to help with future retirement needs.
The Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to form a committee of two elected officials and two city employees to examine the proposal.
At the board's August meeting, Linda Mason, who handles Jasper's municipal court clerk duties as well as property taxes and business licenses, said she has spoken to the board for months about the city employees' "dissatisfaction" regarding the results of retirement benefits after the move.
"It's still our dissatisfaction," she said.
By the end of this month, employees should get their lump sum benefit checks direct deposited into their bank accounts, officials said.
"The town has done everything they could do, and it's been a waiting thing," Mayor Paul Evans said.
Mason said the longevity bonus committee shouldn't meet until after those deposits are complete.
"I feel like that it would probably be beneficial to just wait until that's done before we start meeting on any kind of retention incentives for the employees that were kind of shafted," she said.
The committee was supposed to consist of Aldermen Jason Turner and Paul "Mac" Bumpus, as well as Mason and Ed Freeman, Jasper's water and sewer superintendent.
However, Freeman's status on the committee was called into question by Evans and City Attorney Mark Raines.
"It's my understanding that Ed quit, and he's not an employee," Raines said. "So, I don't know why he needs to be on any committee of any of our employees or aldermen or anybody that's going to make these decisions."
Freeman must be a city employee to serve on the committee, he said.
"He [Freeman] is no longer an employee, so we need to fill that vacancy," Raines said.
Freeman, who has worked for Jasper for 40 years and was at the meeting, said he "didn't actually quit."
"Yes, you did," Evans told him.
"I just said, 'I'm leaving. I will not be back until something takes place — until something is done about our retirement," Freeman replied.
Evans said he had no reason to lie about the encounter.
"You can say whatever you want to," Freeman told Evans. "I didn't [quit]. I said I may."
One fellow employee said he was at that meeting, and Freeman's account was accurate.
"That water department out there needs some direction, some leadership," Vice Mayor Paul West said.
He said he knew only "bits and pieces" of what transpired between Evans and Freeman at city hall.
"I want to make a motion right now," West said. "Put the man back to work like he was — back in his position out there because lord knows the town needs him. It needs his expertise out there."
The board voted 3-2 to reinstate Freeman with the same tenure and pay as before.
Evans and Bumpus cast the dissenting votes.
West said city leaders needed to find out "what all this contention is" that caused the issues between Evans and Freeman and "put a stop to it."
"I'm going to tell you one thing," Evans told West, Turner and Alderman Josh Jennings. "If you all would quit interfering with how things are done, and when I have employees that want to run to you all — that's one big problem right there. Don't sit there and frown because when something is said about doing this or that, it's, well, the mayor can't fire me."
He said as mayor he couldn't fire any employee without a majority vote of the board, but he could suspend or reprimand an employee until the next board meeting.
Mason said employees were "still kind of upset" about the amounts of those retirement payouts.
Now that the committee's members are officially set, it can begin examining the employees' bonus proposal soon.
"We're looking forward to meeting with that committee to find out [what will happen]," Mason said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org