Two fired city employees sue

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Two former public works employees terminated from their jobs for allegedly violating personnel rules have sued the city of Elizabethton seeking reinstatement.
   The suit was filed Tuesday in Carter County Circuit Court by attorney Lisa Nidiffer Rice on behalf of plaintiffs Larry V. Caldwell and Cleamon Keith Ingram. The suit names the city of Elizabethton as the defendant.
   According to the Elizabethton police report, the men allegedly entered vehicles located on the city's impound lot on Hattie Avenue and took several items.
   The two men, along with a third employee, identified as Todd Berry, were at a city-operated vehicle storage lot located on Hattie Avenue on April 5, 2002 to obtain fill dirt, according to the complaint.
   Caldwell was reputedly operating a dump truck while Ingram was operating a backhoe to move the fill dirt. Berry was operating a crew cab truck.
   The complaint reads that Berry located a can of "Fix-a-flat", a can of brake fluid, and a bottle of power steering fluid in a plastic shopping bag lying in the bed of an abandoned truck in the lot.
   "These items could have all been used on the vehicles used by the employees in the course and scope of their employment," the complaint reads.
   Police Sgt. Danny Hilbert reported observing Berry removing a bag from the truck and later retrieved the bag from him. Caldwell had reportedly left the lot before Hilbert had arrived, according to the complaint.
   According to the suit, Caldwell and Ingram received written notification on April 12, 2002 from public works director, Ted Leger, that they would be terminated effective April 19. The cause for the termination was pursuant to personnel rules regarding the theft, destruction, or careless or negligence in the use of city property, according to the complaint.
   Caldwell, Ingram and Berry, who was also fired from his job, appealed their termination to the Elizabethton Personnel Advisory Board in May. The Board initially deadlocked whether City Manager Charles Stahl properly followed policy procedure when he terminated the employees.
   At that Board meeting, police said they saw the men take items from the cars behind the old Herb and Metal building, many of them stored in a plastic grocery bag. At that meeting, Rice told the Board the items taken did not belong to the city, thus were not city property.
   The Board issued a report read during a City Council meeting in June 2002 that Stahl had accepted properly in the terminations.
   Caldwell had worked for the city for 22 years, Ingram for 17 years, and Berry for five years.
   The complaint alleges that Caldwell and Ingram did not violate this provision of the city's personnel rules and regulations and were innocent of any wrongdoing or misconduct.
   The suit alleges the city -- through Leger and Stahl -- acted in violation of policy and procedure when it terminated them.
   Both plaintiffs seek reinstatement to their positions and all wages and benefits retroactive to the date of their termination plus other damages.