Niota loses insurance, shuts down city services

Niota loses insurance, shuts down city services

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"It's going to hurt me. I have a family to feed and bills to pay," said Wilburn Dawson, a laid-off street department worker. "It's going to hurt me. I have a family to feed and bills to pay," said Wilburn Dawson, a laid-off street department worker.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

NIOTA (WATE) - The town of Niota is a skeleton of its former self after losing liability insurance this week. About a half dozen city employees were laid off as a result.

The police department is dark and the door is locked. The park is roped off with caution tape. The town's small library is also off limits. 

"I think we will get this worked out," said Mayor Lois Preece. She explained why the town's liability insurer dropped them.

"There was some intentional harassment done by the commissioners toward the employees," Preece said.

The insurer, the Tennessee Municipal League Pool (TML), seems to point to that in a letter to the mayor this spring that states that a review of the claims activity, "reveals a pattern of actions aimed at city employees by city representatives that is severely outside the standards required."

City Hall provided paperwork about harassment claims by a former employee against commissioners Leesa Corum and Richard Rutledge. 

"For anyone to believe we would lose insurance coverage because someone made an accusation about harassment claims is ridiculous," Corum said.

She said the real reason the town was dropped is that the insurer has already paid out too much on behalf of the city, more than $200,000 in the last several years. TML would not confirm any numbers or any more specific reasons for discontinuing their coverage.

Commissioner Rutledge said this is also about small town politics.

"They want to blame me, the other commissioners, because they didn't want me on the board," Rutledge said.

Meanwhile, the town waits for a resolution and laid off employees wait to see if they can go back to work.

"It's going to hurt me. I have a family to feed and bills to pay," said Wilburn Dawson, a laid-off street department worker.

The Niota volunteer fire chief says fire service is not affected by the current insurance situation.

The McMinn County Sheriff's Department will be in charge of police protection, which the mayor said might mean longer response times to emergencies.

As for what happens now, the town's insurance agent Allen Carter said no one else will insure them until they can "manage their business correctly."

The TBI confirms it is currently investigating two Niota city commissioners for misconduct.

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