Hawkins 911 board votes to fire director for breach of contract

Jeff Bobo • Mar 13, 2020 at 3:15 PM

ROGERSVILLE — The writing has been on the wall for more than a year that Hawkins County 911 Director Gay Murrell’s job was in jeopardy, and on Thursday her board of directors made it official.

Murrell, who has worked for Hawkins County Central Dispatch for 27 years, including 19 as director, was fired Thursday by a vote of 6-1, with the only dissenting vote coming from board member Lawrence Wheeler.

Board Chairman Mike Herrell told the Times News Monday that Murrell breached her contract when she allowed non-certified staff members to answer 911 calls last year.

As of last November, all dispatchers had been certified, but Herrell said the lapse in keeping their training up to date last year placed Murrell in breach of contract.

The state comptroller has also been investigating Hawkins County Central Dispatch expenditures at the request of County Mayor Jim Lee, although Herrell said that investigation didn’t play into the board’s decision Thursday.

“She had new employees who were not certified on the radio answering 911 calls,” Herrell said. “I can tell you the comptroller from Knoxville came up here to 911 last week and they picked up (financial records from) 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. I don’t know the outcome of all that yet, but they’re moving pretty quick.”

Herrell added, “I’m probably going to have a special called meeting next week to start searching for a new director.”

In the meantime, Chucky Johnson will oversee administration at Central Dispatch, and Caitlyn Smith will oversee operations.

Herrell said he believes the board decision was legally justified and he’s not worried about a potential lawsuit.

“Me and the board want to make 911 a better place,” Herrell said. “We need a change, and we felt like it’s time for a change.”

Murrell told the Times-News Friday that she had gone home sick early Thursday and didn’t attend the 911 board meeting.

She was allowed to remove her personal belongings from the office Friday morning, but she hadn’t received any separation paperwork or official reason for the termination from the board.

“My attorney has advised me not to comment at this time,” Murrell said. “I don’t have a separation notice. I don’t have my final paycheck. I don’t have any type of documentation whatsoever. He (Herrell) didn’t know when he would be able to get me that.”

Hawkins County Central Dispatch and Hawkins 911 is an independent agency that receives annual funding contributions from the county in the amount of $175,000 per year. The only control that Hawkins County has over that agency is the county mayor’s power to appoint 911 board members.

Shortly before the August 2018 election, the previous 911 board signed Murrell to a four-year contract. Mayor Lee, and some of the new 911 board members whom Lee appointed, had been attempting to remove Murrell from the director position since late 2018, but that contract was protecting her.

Lee stated last year that he would not sign a contract with Hawkins County Central Dispatch while Murrell was director. Although that contract still hasn’t been signed for 2019-20, the County Commission approved the funding in this year’s budget. 

“Although I’m not a voting member, I fully support the E911 board’s decision, especially with all that has gone on there,” Lee told the Times News Friday. “I look forward to working together with 911 and all the dedicated dispatchers there.”

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