Sullivan County

Sullivan County workers vow to fight for their jobs

Highway department layoffs

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Former Sullivan County workers are vowing to sue tonight after being abruptly fired.   

Seven workers with the Sullivan County Highway Department learned Thursday morning they have been terminated.

This comes a little more than a week after the county named an interim highway commissioner.

That job was vacated back in December, when then-interim commissioner Terry Shaffer retired on the same day the District Attorney announced the department was being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for "irregularities within the highway department."

That investigation is expected to be completed sometime in February.

Shaffer was appointed as interim commissioner by Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey in 2011 following the conviction of then-highway commissioner Alan Pope on official misconduct charges. 

Despite all the controversy surrounding the department, the current leader says these layoffs are simply a matter of dollars and cents. "We stand here today shocked at what has happened, like it makes absolutely no sense at all," said laid off Sullivan County Highway Department worker Christoper Salley.

Four of the seven laid-off Sullivan County Highway Department workers are speaking out about the bad news they got Thursday morning. "We were notified immediately we just didn't have a job no more," said Danny Whitaker, who was also fired after 18 years on the job.

The received no severance and they now have no health care coverage. "This is my livelihood, this is my bread and butter," said Rick Yates, who has worked at the Highway Department for going on 14 years. "This is what I depended on every day of my life.  Of course I've lost my insurance, I'm a heart patient, I've got to take medicines for my conditions, I don't know I've lost it all."

Sullivan County's Interim Highway Commissioner Bobbie Manning said the layoffs were not something he wanted; he said the budget dictated the cuts. "The biggest part of our budget is gas sales tax and beer sales tax and, of course, with gas going up you would think we would get more, but wit the economy being as bad as it is, people aren't driving as much," said Manning.

Manning added that the job cuts will save residents from a tax increase in the near future, without hurting services. "It's positions that we really could do without, these discharges or reduction in force is not going to affect the productivity, or efficiency of what we do here at the Highway Department," said Manning.    

But the laid-off workers don't see it that way. "wWe're very talented, hold various positions that require a lot of skill and I feel like the citizens' services are going to suffer," said Christopher Salley, who has worked with the Highway Department for nearly 17 years.

Another employee said he quit on Monday because he was being demoted after being with the department for 32 years.

As for the employees this news station spoke with Thursday, they took their case to Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey. He told them that his hands are tied and he has no authority to interfere with decisions made within the highway department.

Godsey did invite workers to take their case to the full commission when it meets again on February 18.

Meanwhile, the workers told us they are planning to get an attorney and fight for their jobs. "We're at the bottom, we have nothing else to lose. We're not going to quit, we're not going to go down easy," said Danny Whitaker. "They're going to know we've been here wanting our jobs back, we want some answers."

Bobbie Manning is interim Highway Commissioner until March 17. County leaders say that will give them time to look at resumes and then choose someone to fill that position until the August election.

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