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The head of the planning and codes department was relieved of his duties at the beginning of the month. Lee Lawson, the former director of planning and codes, was terminated from his position June 5, according to city officials.

According to documents provided to The News, Lawson was fired after failing to “perform the required functions” of his role as the planning and codes director, as well as a failure to “take corrective action” after “ongoing counseling” by City Administrator Jennifer Moody.

Lawson’s termination letter details the reasoning for his termination, stating he “failed to demonstrate a good faith effort to take direction from the City Administrator and to take steps necessary to ensure that the planning and codes department operates in a manner consistent with those directions.”

According to his termination letter, Lawson was repeatedly counseled on “how to address conflicts that arise between [Lawson] and one or more of [his] employees or citizens.”

“The recurring pattern is that you fail to effectively communicate and do not take a friendly, customer-service oriented approach,” the letter states.

Lawson was cited as frequently refusing to meet with customers without an appointment or funneling them to the weekly planning development meetings held by city officials. He also admitted to telling the planning and codes staff not to provide customers with his city-issued cell phone number while he was telecommuting, according to the letter.

Lawson also was accused of giving Moody “wrong or misleading information,” as well as omitting information she needed to make informed decisions, according to the letter.

Moody additionally stated that public customers and members of the Tullahoma Municipal/Regional Planning Commission had reported Lawson as being an unreliable “source of information or advice.”

Lawson was also reprimanded for his “failure to perform the functions of [his] position appropriately” two years ago.

According to a memo documenting the official oral reprimand, Lawson lacked in three categories: demonstrating consistent and impartial enforcement of all municipal codes; enforcing provisions of the subdivision regulations within the jurisdiction of the Tullahoma-Municipal Planning Commission; and maintaining an effective working relationship with associates, elected officials, representatives of other agencies and the general public.

This instance specifically cited Lawson’s reports on the upcoming neighborhood development The Woodlands, which Moody said were “lacking of knowledge of the city ordinances and omitted important relevant information regarding the plat’s conflict with provisions of the city’s subdivision regulations.”

Lawson was placed on a 60-day probationary period after this incident.

Per the city’s personnel regulations, Lawson appealed his termination through his attorney, Matthew Huffer of Murfreesboro’s Hudson, Reed & Christiansen, PLLC.

In his letter of appeal on Lawson’s behalf, Huffer argued that Lawson was a “public officer” of the city appointed by the board of mayor and aldermen, and Moody lacked the authority to unilaterally terminate Lawson’s employment.

Huffer also argued that Lawson was not given a proper pre-disposition hearing, which violated his right to due process.

Huffer requested Mayor Lane Curlee veto Moody’s termination of Lawson per the city’s personnel regulations, but that request was denied by Curlee through City Attorney Steve Worsham.

Worsham said Lawson was not a “public officer” but rather a city employee and the hiring and firing of city employees fell under the purview of the city administrator.

“The city administrator is vested with authority to appoint and terminate all city employees,” Worsham said in his response. “It is the responsibility of the board of mayor and aldermen to only reject or approve the city administrator’s appointment of department heads, as well as other city employees.”

Worsham also stated Lawson was granted a pre-disposition hearing, which took place May 21. Lawson was notified of the hearing date May 19, according to Worsham.

Because Lawson was a department head, his appeal, should it have been granted, would have been heard by the full city board, Worsham said.

Since Curlee declined to grant Lawson an appeal to the city board, Lawson’s termination stands.

Erin McCullough may be reached at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.

Staff Writer

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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