Alderman Jenna Amacher has come under fire after being discovered inspecting Human Resources (HR) documents being disposed of in a City Hall lockbox, on Feb. 1.
As confirmed by multiple sources, the alderman was found in an HR file closet at City Hall, reading through legal and personnel files, including depositions and harassment complaints. These documents were set to be shredded, following the state’s guidelines for the preservation and destruction of records.
According to city administrator Jennifer Moody, the documents were set to be destroyed, as they contained personal and legal information, such as personal health information, attorney-client privileged information and other types of confidential information kept in employee personnel files.
Moody provided an account of the afternoon in question, stating that Amacher had closed the door behind her and had brought her phone into the closet when she was discovered with the documents by HR Director Casta Brice. She stated that Amacher had been in the closet for approximately eight minutes before Brice opened the door and found her there.
“Two employees interrupted me in a meeting to alert me that they didn't know why Alderman Amacher was in the HR file closet with her phone in hand and with the door closed,” she said. “When I opened the door and asked why she was in the closet and what she was looking for, Amacher told us that she was there to investigate her concerns about Human Resources and that with me leaving that ‘the board was going to be doing a whole lot more oversight of the HR department.’ Her comments and actions were consistent with her, and Alderman Glick’s, ongoing criticisms towards me and the HR Director for our roles in an internal investigation during Kurt Glick’s tenure as Director of Parks and Recreation which resulted in his appeal of a five-day suspension and is a primary part of Glick’s current lawsuit against the City.”
Moody then stated that Amacher “was adamant that she was either going to be allowed to look through the files or she said she would roll them out to her car and take them with her.” The city administrator then brought the files and Amacher to her office, upon which time Amacher called Aldermen Kurt Glick, Derick Mann and Bobbie Wilson to hold a quorum, and Alderman Daniel Berry also arrived at Moody’s office for the ensuing discussion.
“They requested that the papers in question be removed by the police and placed in a secure location in the Tullahoma Police Department,” Moody reported. “After much discussion, they mutually agreed that no one should inspect the records until they had spoken with Attorney [Stephen] Worsham and that they would need to also consider whether anyone should view them at all as they may rather have the city’s auditor or attorney review them and report back. The other Aldermen gave Alderman Glick the task to contact the City Attorney.”
Amacher returned to City Hall on Friday, Feb. 3, attempting to gain access to the documents, in order to “catalog” their contents, according to her statement made to The News. She was reportedly denied access by Tullahoma Police Chief Jason Williams, at which point she contacted The News to give a statement.
“I’m in awe right now,” she said. “I have no idea how to do my job. It should not be like a regular citizen coming in here and filing a FOIA request. I should get immediate production.”
Amacher stated she had received “an inside tip” that a city department was sending “an unordinary amount” of documents to be shredded and disposed of.
“I came up here, and I looked around,” she said. “There’s a closet, which, of course, today is locked, and it was unlocked. There was a big shredder bin that was halfway full. There’s not usually a shredder bin in there, and the lock was undone. I just go into the closet, and I open up the shredder bin. There’s a ton of documents, and I pick up a few to see what they are. They’re from our HR department.”
Amacher admitted that the documents in the box appeared to be legal and personnel files, as well as referencing conversations between her and Glick, related to his lawsuit against the city of Tullahoma for age discrimination.
“It’s also been said, back when Kurt’s situation was going on,” Amacher began, “that he felt that there were problems in HR and that Casta had a ‘hit list,’ if you will, and that she kept records on all the employees - not just employees that were still here, but going back 20-30 years - and that she would essentially invite certain employees into her office and collect dirt on people in town and keep records of that to use to benefit her whenever she needed to for whatever reason. He felt that those files were there.”
Amacher went on to state that she was aware the documents she was inspecting were legal documents, as well as sharing she had offered to review and catalog the documents to determine their contents before the board discusses the events at an executive meeting on Monday, Feb. 6.
“Many of them looked like they were legal documents, even like, depositions, harassment complaints, different things,” she admitted. “These just could be old documents and may be their protocol, but the sheer amount was a little unnerving to me. I’m on the phone with somebody talking with them about ‘What would be the smoking gun here?’ Obviously, I don’t think it’s appropriate to have all these documents shredded until we know exactly what it is we’re shredding. About that time, the door opens, and I’m busted: there’s Casta Brice.”
She described her interaction with the HR director, in which she defends her ability to read the documents due to them being labeled “City of Tullahoma” in the letterhead. She stated that Brice then told her to leave, at which point Amacher shared her response.
“Anything in this building, I can look at,” she said. “I suggest you go back to your office.”
At this point, Amacher stated that Brice had retrieved the city administrator.
“I’m looking at these documents, and I’m trying to figure out why we’re shredding all these documents,” she said. “[Moody] said, ‘If you have concerns, you need to bring them to me first.’ I don’t know if I have concerns; I need to see what’s on the documents to know first if there is cause to be concerned. I said, ‘Just go back to your office. I’ll come talk to you about it. I’m going to go through every single document I want to find out what it is we’re shredding.’ Then she threatened to call the police on me.”
Amacher then quoted an email she sent to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the city attorney and the city administrator on the morning of Friday, Feb. 3, as well as citing the Municipal Code of the city of Tullahoma.
The code establishes the city recorder as the authority which determines what records will be archived; to schedule archiving; to establish the retention period for each document based upon an approved retention schedule, which shall be prepared pursuant to the Uniform Accounting Manual for Tennessee Cities, Records Management Manual prepared by the Center for Government Training, as reviewed by the city's accountant.
In her email to city officials, Amacher gave all recipients “one hour to object with a lawful reason or join me in such investigation.”
“Without an objection by a quorum, I plan to exercise this authority below beginning at noon today,” she said in her email, sent the morning of Friday, Feb. 3. “I will have the comptroller's office on standby for anyone who decides to stand in the way.”
Amacher then shared her concern regarding the city’s document retention policy. She then stated that Moody had denied the gathered aldermen access to the documents due to Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] protections, prior to redaction.
“Elected officials are not necessarily subject to FOIA when we’re acting in our official capacities or duties,” she claimed. “[Moody] is still treating it as if I’m just a regular person, not an elected official who, literally, by our charter has supervisory and legislative authority over this town.”
In her response to The News, Moody shared the email she sent to the board, as well as legal citations for the state of Tennessee’s response to public records requests, as determined by the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
“I spoke to the Office of Open Records Counsel under the State Comptroller’s Office, and they confirmed that there are no special privileges or authority given under the law specifically to elected officials,” she said in her email to the board. “All citizens of the state of Tennessee have the same right under the law – therefore, we must follow the Tennessee Public Records Act, including giving careful consideration to protecting confidential information (via redaction or denial, in some circumstances) including protection of attorney-client privileged information and personally identifying information and personal health information.”
She stated that due to the sensitive nature of the documents in question, her recommendation was that board members receive guidance from the city attorney on “whether they are the most appropriate ones to conduct an inspection of them.”
“The Office of Open Records Counsel suggested that typically a subset of perhaps the city’s auditor, city’s attorney, or mayor would inspect the records and provide a report back to the Board,” she further stated. “Even for the subset, confidential information would need to be redacted prior to inspection. State law makes the records confidential and that may be grounds for denying requests for inspection.”
She then cited Kersey v. Bratcher (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008) and Swift v. Campbell (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004), whose judgments determined: “… members of the public have the right to view a public record, our General Assembly has not given them either the right to demand that such viewing be done strictly on their terms or the right to disrupt the functioning of a public official's office to the detriment of all other citizens of this state.”
“There are laws, procedures and processes in place for the governing body to conduct investigations, just as there are laws and procedures in place for the City to respond to requests for records,” said Moody. “No reasonable response has been provided for why these laws and procedures were not followed by Alderman Amacher. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen have not met, nor have they requested to meet, in an open, public meeting to discuss any concerns or to vote regarding any investigation. The urgency for trying to obtain access to these records, which are in a secure location per the Aldermen’s request, has not been explained.”
Following her statement to The News, Amacher reportedly “began going into the offices of several employees including the Human Resources Director and [the city administrator’s] assistant],” according to Moody.
“She claimed to be conducting an investigation and again began calling some other Aldermen to ask that they come to City Hall for a meeting with her,” Moody stated. “Mayor Knowis arrived at City Hall and assisted in closing City Hall early, at approximately 2:45 pm. Alderman Amacher had disrupted regular operations and employees were feeling threatened and concerned about what would happen next, who might be pulled from their desk and interviewed, or what they may be directed to do. City Hall was closed; however, when Alderman Glick and Mayor Pro Tem Mathis arrived sometime after the closure, Amacher unlocked the front door to the building to bring them inside for a meeting.”
In the weekend following the events at City Hall, Amacher has made multiple posts on her Facebook account sharing emails and interactions with city officials, as well as Facebook Live videos.