Vester Parsley Named City Attorney

January 29, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

The new attorney for the City of Smithville is Vester Parsley, Jr.

The Smithville Mayor and Aldermen met in special session Tuesday night at city hall and the council voted 4 to 0 for Parsley.

Aldermen Tonya Sullivan, Willie Thomas, Jerry Hutchins Sr., and Steve White voted for Parsley. Alderman Cecil Burger was absent.

Parsley succeeds former city attorney John Pryor, who resigned as of December 31st.

In addition to Parsley, former city attorney Sarah Cripps was also interested in the position and submitted her resume for consideration.

Meanwhile, Jerry Hutchins, Jr., son of alderman Jerry Hutchins' Sr., was hired as an investigator for the Smithville Police Department, upon the recommendation of Police Chief Richard Jennings.

Two others had applied for the job, former Smithville Police Officer Marcus Caldwell and Danny Holmes of Baxter.

At last report, Caldwell was working for the White County Sheriff's Department and Holmes, a former long time employee of the Putnam County Sheriff's Office, was head of Safety and Security at Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

Hutchins is a former employee of the Smithville Police Department and Lebanon Police Department and has been working for the Wilson County Sheriff's Department. He was the only applicant who attended Tuesday night's meeting.

Mayor Taft Hendrixson claimed that neither of the three applicants met the city's qualifications for the position. "One of them has just a little over a year's experience as an officer and we asked for eight. One of them lived out of the county. He could respond within the twenty minutes but he did not live in the county. I don't think probably either one of the three had the three years of prior investigative experience that I could ascertain."

Concerning Hutchins', Mayor Hendrixson added that ‘I talked to the Chief Deputy of Wilson County, where he is currently employed and he said he (Hutchins) had not been employed as an investigator down there but that he was a good employee and he hated to lose him. I talked to a lieutenant at the Lebanon Police Department and he (Hutchins) hadn't been employed as an investigator there."

Mayor Hendrixson says the job description specifications for the city investigator position stated that applicants must have been a POST certified officer for eight years with three years of investigative experience as an investigator.

Hutchins says he has more than three years of investigative experience and cited letters of recommendations he has received from people he has worked for, having done part time private investigation assignments. "This (letter) is from an attorney in Lebanon I have worked for, Karen Chaffin, which says during the past four years I have utilized the services of Jerry Hutchins whenever I have been in need of a trained investigator. Jerry's duties have varied widely from one case to another depending upon the investigative needs of the particular matter. He has always conducted himself in a highly professional manner. I continue to be impressed with his work ethic and his attention to detail."

Hutchins also read a letter of recommendation from an operator of a property management company. "The purpose of this letter is to confirm that Jerry Hutchins has conducted numerous investigations for our office including but not limited to background checks and criminal histories of potential tenants at our rental properties. He has been assisting our office since 2002 on a case by case basis and would highly recommend him for any investigative work that you may need."

Chief Jennings also claimed that during his previous tenure as chief, Hutchins worked in the police department for up to fifteen months, doing investigative work. "He is certified as a child sexual abuse and death/ homicide investigator. He has hostage negotiating experience and he has a narcotics investigation certificate.

Alderman White made a motion that the city re-advertise to seek more applications. However, his motion died for the lack of a second.

White also complained that his fellow aldermen were not adhering to standard procedures that have been followed in the past and recommended by MTAS, allowing the mayor, secretary-treasurer, and city commissioner over the police department to make the initial hire, subject to final approval by the aldermen at a later council meeting.

Aldermen Thomas made a motion to hire Hutchins. Alderman Sullivan offered a second to the motion. Both voted for Hutchins along with Hutchins' father, Jerry Hutchins Sr. Aldermen Steve White voted "no".

Alderman Hutchins stated his "personal interest" but said he was voting his conscience. In a prepared statement, Hutchins said " I would like to advise this Board of my personal interest in one of the applicants, namely, my son, Jerry Hutchins, Jr."

"There have been questions arise regarding whether I could vote or not, so I have contacted MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service), and was informed in writing by their legal department that I would be able to vote without conflict or ethics violations after first stating my interest which I have done."

"I would respectfully ask the City Recorder to make this letter from MTAS a part of the official minutes of this meeting. With this being stated and understood at this time, I will exercise my right to vote and vote "yes".

The letter to Hutchins from Dennis Huffer, legal consultant for MTAS, states that " You asked whether you could vote on a contract between the City of Smithville and your son. In my opinion, this would not be a conflict of interest under state law since you and your son are not in business together and, as you informed me, you and your son do not commingle your funds."

"This situation, however would be a personal interest under the City's ethics ordinance. According to records of the Tennessee Ethics Commission, Smithville adopted the MTAS Model Code of Ethics. Under Section 2 of the model ordinance, a city official has a personal interest in a matter if the official's spouse, parent, step parent, grandchild, sibling, child, or stepchild has a financial interest in the matter. Therefore your son's financial interest becomes your personal interest."

"The matter for which you would have a personal interest is one requiring a vote of the governing body, and Section 3 of the model ordinance mandates the official's actions relative to the vote. You must acknowledge your personal interest in the contract with your son at the meeting and before the vote so your acknowledgment appears in the minutes. Then you may vote or recuse yourself from voting."

In other business, the aldermen voted 4 to 0 to hire Wesley Nokes as the new airport manager, upon the recommendation of the airport board.. Mayor Hendrixson says Nokes has an aerospace degree and has been working for Southwest Airlines in Hartford, Connecticut, but this is his home and he wants to return here.

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