Clark firing, Clark with Stubblefield (copy)

Decherd Alderman Justin Stubblefield, left, talks over issues with City Administrator Rex Clark after a special-called meeting on April 6 where a move was made to fire Clark. However, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen delayed action on the issue, citing potential legal problems due to the subject not being on the evening's agenda. 

The Decherd Board of Mayor and Aldermen has decided to set another special personnel meeting to determine City Administrator Rex Clark’s employment status.

The board voted on Monday to hold the special-called meeting at a future unspecified time in a 3-1 vote. Aldermen Justin Stubblefield, Richard Gulley and Jimmy Wayne Sanders voted in favor of the meeting with Vice Mayor Mary Nell Hess casting the lone dissenting vote.

The board had considered firing Clark in a special-called meeting on April 6 and voted 3-2 in favor of his removal with Aldermen Mary Nell Hess and Justin Stubblefield and Mayor Michael Gillespie agreeing to let Clark go. Aldermen Richard Gulley and Jimmy Wayne Sanders were against firing Clark.

However, the board rescinded its vote on legal grounds and agreed to consider the issue later.

Hess motioned for Clark’s removal, and Stubblefield seconded the move. Gillespie, who only votes on tie-breaking issues, sided with Hess and Stubblefield.

Gulley expressed confusion why the April 6 meeting was called. He said the agenda said “administrative issues” and “legal issues” but said nothing about considering to oust Clark.

City Attorney Jerre Hood said that the board could run into an “administrative” problem if it let the removal vote stand without having the Clark-firing issue listed as an agenda item.

The board then agreed to rescind the vote, and Stubblefield had said the board could consider it at the next meeting which was to be on April 11.

However, a quorum could not be established, and the board did not meet again until Monday.

Gillespie said after Monday’s meeting that it was not determined when the second special meeting to consider Clark’s employment would be held.

Questions were also brought up about whether certain personnel issues could be dealt with in a closed-door environment.

Gillespie said those issues would be determined, and the meeting would be set accordingly.

When the board met on April 6, Hess had said that she has only been in office since September 2021 and has witnessed a city “run by the seat-of-the-pants theory of management.”

She had said Decherd has no plan in place for what it wants accomplished.

“Issues are only addressed when they get to a crisis stage,” she said. “Crisis management leads to groupthink where everyone is trying to keep their job. Job security becomes the priority, whereas the safety and well-being of the citizens are minimized.

“Crisis management means that citizens come to board members when their problems are not addressed at City Hall.”

Hess said a strong, professional leader is needed to outline to department heads what the expectations are and how they can be accomplished.

“The next choice for this position should embody the education and experience to begin to move this town forward on a more positive note,” she said.

Stubblefield said at the April 6 meeting that he’s also had problems with how Clark has handled issues. The 28-year-old Stubblefield had said Decherd is worse than it was when he was a child.

Gulley had said the city is more financially sound than it ever has been, and homes are being built, indicating Decherd is moving forward in a positive way.

He had said that although Hess and Stubblefield had mentioned they’ve had problems with Clark, they didn’t provide any details that would justify his removal.

“We’ve heard nothing specific,” Gulley said. “I can’t solve a problem if you don’t put a problem in front of me.”

Stubblefield referred to an instance where he said it took a business owner five different trips to City Hall just to get a beer license. He added that he believes Clark didn’t handle the situation properly and has a track record with similar results regarding other issues he’s handled.

Gulley had said he knew nothing about the beer-license issue.

“You need to speak to that issue when it occurs,” he said, adding that the board needed to know about it and other issues where there are problems so action can be taken to correct them.

Gulley then said: “You want to remove a person without giving specifics?”

Hess replied that Clark is an employee and can be removed for not handling issues properly.

She then referred to how she deemed Clark handled a situation involving former Public Safety Director Ross Peterson, who resigned on July 23, 2021.

When Peterson resigned, he had been under scrutiny for circumstances stemming from when an off-duty officer was charged with aggravated assault in a road-rage case in Murfreesboro and from a sexual-harassment complaint filed by Police Sgt. Bruce Elliott.

“I don’t believe Rex acted professionally when dealing with Ross Peterson,” Hess said.

Peterson’s wife, Michelle Peterson, a Water Department clerk who resigned following the incident involving her husband, told the board on April 6 that her husband’s case wasn’t handled properly, and all the facts had not been made public.

“He resigned because he felt he had no choice,” she said.

Michelle Peterson said Hood had drafted a letter that cleared her husband of any wrongdoing, but that information had not been made available.

Gulley asked Hood to explain why Chief Peterson had resigned.

Michelle Peterson then said: “I know why he resigned.”

Hood said the issue started with Elliott’s complaint.

“Some of the things he said shouldn’t have been said,” Hood said, referring to Elliott.

Then Hood said: “Other things happened that came to light, and Mr. Peterson decided to resign.”

Gulley then said: “They won’t be brought to light, but they can be.”

Mrs. Peterson then said: “I wish you would.”

She said that if the city did, it would be facing a lawsuit.

Hood said that the complaint started with Elliott, and no one else filed any complaints against Chief Peterson.

Gulley then asked: “Was that the final reason why Ross Peterson resigned?”

Hood replied: “Not the final reason.”

Stubblefield said the situation with Elliott had gone on for a long time, and it could have been handled better.

Clark said after the April 6 meeting that he’s done what was asked of him, and the way the move to fire him has been handled does not follow city policy.

“They have not come to me about any issue,” Clark had said, referring to the board.

He said if action is taken against an employee for failing to do their job, the employee is given a verbal reprimand for the first infraction, a written reprimand for the second and suspension for the third.

Clark said he’s never faced any action for not doing his job.

“There’s nothing in my personnel file,” he said.