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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A former Register of Deed's Office employee says she wasn't given the opportunity to take a course she needed to be certified for advancement in her job.
County Technical Assistance Services (C-TAS) certifications came under scrutiny in January after employees in the Knox County Trustee's Office received thousands of dollars in bonuses despite not completing the training.
Cheri Wilson, a former employee of the Register of Deeds Office, said she ruffled the feathers of her boss, Sherry Witt, after questioning the office's certification policies.
Wilson says she expressed interest in receiving C-TAS certification, but the questions went unanswered.
"I said I'd like to be [certified], I'd like to go to school. [Witt] said, ‘You do know that it takes three years,' and I said 'Well, would you put me on the list anyway?' Never answered. So that was my answer," explained Wilson.
Wilson worked 22 years for the Register of Deeds and saw the C-TAS program as a way to better herself as an employee.
She says, though, she was never given the opportunity.
"I would have loved to have an additional $3,000 on my paycheck and learn more, so that maybe I could move up," Wilson said. "I started off as a telephone operator in that office and I felt I had moved up some, but I never had the opportunity to be certified and move up further."
Witt says it is up to her discretion about who takes the courses.
"I look at their loyalty to the office and how long they're going to be with Knox County," said Witt. "It's really not fair to send someone that's not going to be with Knox County a long time to that. You're hoping that these people will have administrative potential and there are just some people that do and some people that don't. And just to be quite frank with you I never saw administrative potential in her and that's why she was never asked to attend C-TAS.
Witt says there isn't a set policy on who can participate, but anyone who asks will be considered.
Wilson says that wasn't the case and after she raised questions about the three other employees who were allowed to take the course, bad blood formed between them.
"She got mad at me over that," Wilson explained.
Wilson says discussed Social Security payments this spring with another employee and when it was brought to management's attention Wilson was suspended.
According to office policy, it is against the rules to discuss salary in the office.
Wilson was suspended for three days without pay, but she says the way the matter was handled is what upsets her.
"It really hurt my feelings that she wouldn't come to me, that she didn't give me a verbal reprimand, that she didn't give me a written reprimand. She gave me a three day unpaid suspension and I think it all stems back to me asking too many questions," said Wilson.
Wilson says she was so frustrated by the way it was handled, she decided to resign.
Witt says she handled the situation according to protocol.
"I hate to hurt someone's livelihood and to cost them their job, but that's the way I discipline," said Witt.
The ordeal raises yet another concern for Knox County Commissioner R. Larry Smith, who questions how the C-TAS program should move forward.
"Number one, do we continue it, and if we do, do we continue it with a lesser amount?" asked Smith.
Smith said he thinks the program itself is great, but he questions the amount of bonuses county employees receive upon completion.
Commissioner Smith is looking to form a committee on re-evaluating those bonuses, which can reach up $3,000, but he plans to wait until the investigation into the Trustee's Office is complete.
Sherry Witt says the Register of Deed's office has not been questioned in any investigation.
The bonuses mentioned by Commissioner Smith made headlines earlier this year when County Trustee John Duncan III paid nearly $60,000 to himself and his staff for participating in the C-TAS program.
Some of those bonuses were paid out before the coursework was completed. Duncan and others later re-paid those bonuses.
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