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Dennis Thayer, the former emergency management and 911 director for Catoosa County, speaks to the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, April 16, 2019 during a grievance hearing for Thayer at the Catoosa County administrative office in Ringgold, Georgia. County Manager Alicia Vaughn fired Thayer on March 11, citing "gross insubordination."

RINGGOLD, Ga. — The Catoosa County Commission unanimously voted to uphold the firing of its emergency management and 911 director Tuesday night.

Dennis Thayer appealed his termination in a public hearing April 16, arguing to the commissioners that County Manager Alicia Vaughn had fired him under false pretenses. Contrary to her description in a termination letter, Thayer said he was attentive to the department's needs for new policies. He also said he did not go on an out-of-town training session against her order, an action she called "gross insubordination."

The commissioners did not find Thayer's arguments persuading. They voted to uphold his termination without discussion. After the meeting, Commission Chair Steven Henry said the county needed to fire Thayer because the 911 department has continued to be "weak."

Henry said Thayer did not spend enough time working with the employees, making sure they grew. He believed Thayer was more interested in the emergency management requirements of his job than the day-to-day 911 center operations.

"He never stayed on the job as much as he needed to," Henry said. "I try to make some surprise visits to our departments, and frankly it was hard to catch him in there."

The commissioners hired Thayer under interim county manager Carl Henson in March 2018. Sheriff Gary Sisk said last month that he and other members who interviewed candidates for the job last year told Thayer he needed to write policies for the employees. In November, Vaughn said she met with Thayer and emphasized that he needed to get the policies written.

By the beginning of March, he had not finished the task. Thayer said he made progress, but he gave some of the captains in the department proposed policies. He gave them about two months to provide feedback, which he said delayed the process.

Vaughn said Thayer also directly disobeyed a command. He asked her at the end of January whether he could go to a training session in Savannah. In an email, Vaughn wrote that he couldn't. She said she wanted the commissioners and all department heads to attend a retreat to discuss the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Thayer went to Savannah anyway. He said he actually received permission from Vaughn the same week she rejected his request. He said Vaughn told him the budget retreat was off because commissioners would be out of town at that time. Thayer does not have proof of this conversation, and Vaughn denied it.

In his appeal letter, Thayer said Vaughn really fired him because he refused to hire the husband of Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins, who applied for a job as Thayer's deputy director. Thayer said Vaughn told him and two other employees that she felt Payne-Simpkins' husband would be a good fit for the position.

This issue did not come up during Thayer's appeal hearing. On Tuesday, Henry said he investigated the claim and did not find other county employees who would back up what Thayer wrote. He said the county administrators did not consider Payne-Simpkins for the job, and that he did not apply again when the job came up.

"I take this pretty seriously," Henry said, when asked about the allegation. "I'm confident we made the right decision."

Courtroom video approved

The commissioners also unanimously approved the purchase of telecommunication equipment that will allow judges and attorneys to hold hearings while inmates remain in prison. This is part of a contract between Progressive Communications and the Georgia Department of Corrections, which is also installing the equipment in the prisons around the state.

The equipment costs about $12,000, which the commissioners will pay for through the 2014 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund. Though he did not supply any data, Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk said the equipment will save the local government money in the long run.

He said the county transports 10-15 state inmates from prisons to the local jail during court sessions. Inmates often come for appeal hearings.

"It will cut down on the transport," he said. " Those deputies can stay home, protect the home front."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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