Town recorder: 'I do not feel safe'

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

PETERSBURG - The woman who complained of sex harassment that allegedly made Town Hall a hostile work environment says she still doesn't feel safe.

"As it stands today," Petersburg Town Recorder Dawn Forlines said Thursday night, "the feeling of being unsafe is gone from the standpoint of sex harassment."

However, when Forlines was asked if she felt safe at work, she replied, No. I do not feel safe and yes, I'm in a hostile work environment."

Exactly why remained unclear. Forelines did, however, make a distinction between a hostile work environment because of sex harassment and working conditions that led to her feeling that she's not safe in her job.

Alderman Kenneth Richardson said he witnessed what led to Forlines' late November complaint that Alderman Anthony Nichols showed her a digitally altered photo of a topless woman's torso with Sara Palin's face superimposed on the other woman's head. The picture was displayed on the small screen of a cellphone camera, Richardson said.

Asked if she believes that alleged sex harassment is over since she complained about Nichols, the town recorder replied, "I can't discuss that anymore."

On Dec. 15, Petersburg's Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to oust Nichols and have Ricky Wright be his successor.

Forlines, Wright, Mayor John Cowden and others spoke about harassment after a non-voting workshop of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week when Wright counseled Forlines that "What you've said is probably enough."

Hesitation and/or refusal to elaborate was a factor in several interviews about what's been happening at Petersburg's Town Hall where discussion during the workshop indicated friction between Forlines and Alderman Brad Dillenback who says he wants billing records for a town cellphone used by Forlines.

"I tape [record] every word with her," Dillenback said Friday about his conversations with Forlines. "And I'm nice and pleasant."

Most of the exchanges between those town leaders are by e-mail, the alderman said.

"I don't know why" Forlines would feel harassed, Dillenback said.

Before moving to Petersburg, Dillenback worked for General Motors in Michigan where he was a quality control supervisor and that experience led to his awareness about personnel procedures, he said.

Dillenbach, 65, was elected Aug. 7 with 41 votes. Nichols was the other newcomer to the town board last summer. He received 52 votes, but he wasn't the top vote-getter in the six-way race. Alderman Kenneth Boles was, with 68 votes.

Forlines' husband, Eugene, placed fourth with 35 votes. Alderwoman Norma Jean Woodlee and James E. Henslee received 34 votes each. Former Alderman Verlin Short decided against seeking re-election, thereby creating an open seat for the election decided by plurality.

Traditionally, the top-vote-getter in Petersburg's elections is then appointed by the other aldermen to serve as mayor, but after the August election, Boles made it clear that he'd rather not be mayor. His work schedule in Fayetteville and church attendance in Shelbyville were two reasons.

Mayor John Cowden's willingness to continue to serve and a lack of interest among other aldermen led Boles to accurately anticipate Cowden's continuance.

Boles had been elected to the Town Board several times before. In an August interview he said there had been contentious moments between alderman including one night when "arguments" led him to resign.

Petersburg is emerging from " financial hole," Boles also said in that interview published Aug. 22.

Officials said in 2007 that the town's water system was apparently leaking a high percentage of its water.

A couple of weeks before Boles was about to return to the board, he said he wanted to stop leaks and replace water meters. Discussion during Thursday night's work session included comments about installation of meters and continued attendance to water system matters.

Cowden said that when the board met next, it should select a special-called meeting date to discuss an audit by the Division of Municipal Audit in the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

In December 2007, Petersburg received a $94,000 Community Development Block Grant to improve its water system. The town matched the grant with $6,000 for a $100,000 project. CDBG grants are federal money channeled through the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Gov. Phil Bredesen and a host of dignitaries gathered in Fayetteville some 13 months ago for that and other check presentations.

That fiscal year's budget totaled some $550,000, according to a report published that summer. The water fund was budgeted at nearly $234,000 which is about two fifths of the entire budget.