Parks & Recreation Director Ira Thompson was fired by newly-appointed interim City Administrator Richard Howell following last Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Alderman Meeting, which was one day shy of his completing six months with the city.
Thompson said the only explanation Howell gave was that “Tennessee is a right to work state.” He cleared his office of personal items Wednesday morning.
Tennessee Code Annotated §50-1-201 et seq. regarding a right to work state says that it is unlawful for any employer or organization to deny or attempt to deny employment to any person by reason of the person’s membership in, affiliation with, resignation from or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization of any kind, etc.
According to the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development, “employers may legally terminate an employee at any time for any reason, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. However, an employer may not discriminate against any employee on the basis of the employee's race, sex, age, religion, color, national origin, or disability.”
Howell did not make any comments concerning the personnel issue.
Board members don’t discuss personnel issues since that is a responsibility of the city administrator. However, Alderman Dorothy Small did say as she was leaving Tuesday’s meeting, “there’s more to this than you know.”
The job vacancy was posted on the city’s web page on Wednesday, Sept. 15. Police Commander Coby Templeton will be overseeing the day-to-day operations of Parks and Recreation, with Chief Howell assisting. Brenda Battle Sharp, who previously worked in the parks department, will be working temporarily in the office, according to Howell.
During the Thursday, Sept. 9 Work Session, Thompson told the board that since taking the job he continually has faced “some kind of a roadblock and has been disrespected,” adding, people are “trying to do my job.
“People tell me what to do that aren’t involved in Parks and Recreation,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t come to you and try to tell you how to do your job. I have 15 years’ experience. We owe better to the city and the community … Please let me do my job.”
During the meeting, Thompson said he has spoken to each board member individually, “so now I am bringing this to the board. I want to work and put my best foot forward,” adding that he constantly faces sabotage and undermining. “I asked the mayor to change the members on [Parks & Recreation Committee] the board. They have issues with me and that is known by everyone. How do we continue to move forward and have a better recreation department with someone always being on my shoulder?”
Alderman Tonya Allen and Alderman Roger Martinez represent the board on Parks & Recreation committee.
Thompson also said he has talked to board members and expressed concerns about the budget and asked to sit down to discuss the budget, but has been denied. “How can I do my job without funding?” he asked. “I am passionate about Parks and Recreation but the flame gets dimmer each day. When is enough, enough? All I want is to do what’s best for the young people and the community. My task isn’t done.”
Board members didn’t respond to any of Thompson’s remarks during the meeting. Thompson admitted during the meeting he may be “pushing myself out the door.”
When former City Administrator Scott Collins hired Thompson in March, he said that Thompson was bringing “a strong leadership background in Parks and Recreation management, as well as a high level of energy and enthusiasm for the opportunities within our Rec Department. Key attributes include project management and program leadership, operations management and budget planning, team building, community engagements, fundraising and outreach initiatives.”
Things changed from April 13 until September 14.
During the April 13 BOMA meeting when Thompson took the oath of office, he received the full support of the board. Vice Mayor Danny Bryant said he had visited four of the city’s parks. “You and your team are doing a great job. I am looking forward to this time next year… I can see you are going in the right direction with a lot of improvements.”
Mayor Michael Whisenant told Thompson that people are back in the parks, and “we asked people to be patients as improvements are made. We support you.”
“You came into a hot mess,” Martinez said. “If people want to help mow… clean up around the parks or paint, let them help. I think you’re rocking and rolling.”
Thompson said he didn’t think he walked into a hot mess. “Some things were awry, but I am thankful for everyone who went before us, right or wrong, however they did things.”
“This board is behind you,” the vice mayor added.