Grievance filed by former Knox County Sheriff spokeswoman claims demotions are ‘politically motivated’

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A grievance filed by a longtime Knox County Sheriff’s Office employee has escalated after attorneys say Sheriff Tom Spangler refused to accept a subpoena in the case and declined to serve 10 others to employees.

Martha Dooley says in a complaint to the merit system council the situation is politically motivated and designed to force her to quit.

Dooley was hired at KCSO as Director of Planning and Development in 1998. She says she was assigned a fleet vehicle as part of a compensation plan for the decrease in pay she was taking to accept the position.

More than 20 years later, she is a window clerk at the West Precinct. Last September, she was asked to turn in her fleet car and gas card.

“When Spangler came into office he took away my title and functions as Director of Media Relations and gradually demoted me,” Dooley said in a letter appealing the decision to decline to reinstate her use of a fleet vehicle.

Dooley, who resigned as news director at WATE 6 in Knoxville to take the position with the sheriff’s office, details an extensive resume of media experience.

“I believe it was politically motivated because he appointed his campaign manager Kimberly Glenn to the newly formed position of Communications Director and I was named Assistant Communications Manager,” Dooley wrote.

In a grievance letter, Dooley says last September Chief Deputy Bernie Lyons informed her that she was “no longer entitled to the vehicle because she was not on call.” Dooley says that requirement was never part of the agreement.

“Dozens of employees of the Sheriff’s Office are given brand new SUVs and other vehicles yearly, but are not on call … (sic) and never have been. You will not find their names on any official list because it deliberately does not exist. Clearly, this administration wants to keep secret the number and types of vehicles that have been assigned to civilian employees,” Dooley said in an email to the Merit Council.

An attorney’s letter later states that ” at least eleven, but definitely more, employees of the Sheriff’s office who are assigned take-home vehicles despite their positions not being considered ‘on-call.’ “

“I have been singled out by the sheriff for unfair treatment and I believe this latest action is just one more attempt at retaliation to make me quit,” Dooley said in a letter to Chief Mike Ruble on Nov. 17.

Ruble replied on Nov. 23, telling Dooley that the Court of Appeals of Tennessee doesn’t recognize the loss of a take-home vehicle as a ‘grievable’ event under the Knox County Merit System Council.

Dooley continued to pursue a resolution. A list of subpoenas to be issued was sent to the Knox County Merit Council on Feb. 17, one of which was for Spangler.

However, on Feb. 19, Merit Council informed Dooley that “Sheriff Spangler refused to accept his subpoena,” according to a petition by Dooley seeking judicial intervention to force delivery of the subpoenas.

A hearing scheduled for March 3 was first delayed, and now is in question.

“Without the required attendance of those people that were Subpoenaed, Ms. Dooley cannot get a full and fair hearing,” writes an attorney for Martha Dooley.

Under Section 7.3 of the Tennessee Code, a sheriff may transfer personnel within their respective grades based on mission requirements of the Sheriff’s Office. The code states any benefits lost due to the transfer “shall not be considered an adverse employment action of demotion” and that employees have a right to grievance if they feel the transfer was not mission essential.

David L. Buuck, Knox County Law Director, adds that an appeal may be heard only if there is a loss of salary.

“Since Ms. Dooley concedes that there was no loss of salary, she is clearly, under your rules, not entitled to an appeal or hearing before this Council.”

WATE 6 On Your Side requested a comment from Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler, and the sheriff’s office referred us to Sheriff’s Counsel Gary Prince. As of Wednesday night, Prince has yet to respond.

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