EMA Director suspended pending investigation

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  A local Emergency Management Agency drill that did not go according to plan resulted in the suspension of EMA Director Ernest Jackson and warranted an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
  Jackson was suspended on Tuesday morning with pay, according to County Mayor Dale Fair, who said, "I think it is best for him to step away. He is suspended with pay until TBI looks at the legality (of the drill)."
  Fair said that the Tennessee EMA will investigate the protocol of the hostage situation and the County Commission will "make the decision for repercussions."
  Monday evening's commission meeting was interrupted shortly after it began when several armed men and an armed woman took over the meeting that was intended for a vote on a 30 cent property tax rate increase and a $25 wheel tax.
  Jackson intended for the drill to last 30-40 minutes and include emergency response from all county agencies. However, the drill went awry when a few commissioners jumped up and demanded to know why Carter County Sheriff John Henson was sitting behind commissioners without reacting to the hostage situation.
  Almost all of the commissioners, County Mayor, and other officials were intentionally uninformed of the drill. Jackson tried to tell all audience members and commissioners who are law enforcement employees before the meeting.
  Jackson said he was instructed not to answer questions by the media on Tuesday. "I have been asked not to say anything and to direct all questions to Mayor Fair," he said.
  His suspension took effect on Tuesday morning and will last until the TBI investigation is complete. Renee Bowers, who has previous experience as interim director before Jackson was hired last summer, will act as director.
  One man is cashing in on the situation by making T-shirts that read, "I survived the terrorist attack at the Carter County Courthouse." Commissioner Tom "Yogi" Bowers purchased a shirt and plans to wear it at the next commission meeting.
  Fair has yet to set a date to continue the canceled meeting but called commissioners to possibly schedule the meeting for next Monday evening. He did say that one commissioner had a conflict with that date.
  "I am upset that we had 24 commissioners there and then we didn't get the county's business done. I think the drill failed because of the chaos. We lost the meeting," Fair said. "We're living in a different world today. This brought up some security issues in Carter County, but we need to get back to the business of the county."
  Some commissioners questioned Henson and his lack of reaction after the drill was unveiled. Fair said Jackson notified the sheriff about the drill only five minutes before it took place and told him to "not pull his weapon." He added that the sheriff was not asked to participate in the drill and was, therefore, waiting for Jackson's plans to unfold.
  Henson was unavailable Tuesday and did not return a message to this reporter.
  Fair asked Henson to contact the TBI about an investigation and said information would not be released until it is complete.