HHSP golf employees fired; appeal filed

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Three top employees at the Henry Horton State Park golf course have been dismissed by the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, but at least one, and perhaps two, of the golfers plan to appeal.

Willful abuse or misappropriation of state funds, property and equipment is one of four reasons cited by TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke in similar letters sent to golf course manager Kerry Blanton, his assistant manager, Rusty Jones, and Jim Limbaugh.

The Tribune called all three on Monday. Only Jones was reached and he said he's filed a grievance to appeal his dismissal. Jones, 35, of Sweeney Lane, north of Chapel Hill, wants to regain the job that's paid him about $24,700 annually with an annual bonus that was $1,100 on the anniversary of his employment.

Detailed letters to him, Blanton and Limbaugh specified violations of state Human Resources Department Disciplinary Rules, many of which are policies that Jones said were daily practices at the golf course such as letting police, firefighters and military servicemen play golf at a discounted rate.

"A lot of the allegations against the three of us were practices that were even before we were working at the park," Jones said. "Since our dismissal, they have continued a discount that's off policy to give a discount to PGA and LPGA members."

The park has had a long history of accepting help from volunteers and while they have been allowed to play at no charge, they were expected to pay to use a golf cart, according to Fyke's letter. He also discussed volunteers at the golf course while meeting with Marshall County leaders at the park's inn.

Asked about his former coworkers and whether they'd file grievances, Jones replied that he didn't know for sure, however, "Last time I talked with him (Blanton, the manager) he was filing his grievance with the commissioner."

For Blanton, of 3538 Coble Road on the southern side of the park, loss of the job is only one part of his punishment.

"He will be moving from that (house) because it's a park-owned house," Jones said. "He has to be out in early November."

Some of the reasons cited for dismissal are shared by all three men. They include:

* Negligence in the performance of duties;

* Inefficiency or incompetence in performance of duties;

* Gross misconduct or conduct unbecoming an employee in state service; and,

* The misappropriation of state property which includes loaning a golf club for sale that was used by a player who said he'd buy it, but never paid.

All three were questioned by auditors as they conducted their work, and all three have had due process hearings.

Fyke told Blanton that as the manager Blanton didn't learn how to run a cash register so he couldn't fill in when needed and that he read reports of excessive "no sale" records at registers, but took no action.

"'If you keep your hands out of the till, you can't be accused of stealing,'" Fyke quoted Blanton as telling state officials investigating irregularities revealed by audits.

"At least one witness stated they have observed you intoxicated on the golf course," Fyke wrote to Blanton in the Oct. 11 dismissal letter.

The effective date of dismissal was Monday.

Fyke cited seven violations for dismissing Blanton. Five were listed for Limbaugh and Jones.

State records show:

* Blanton, 52, was paid $3,191 per month, or $38,292 annually.

* Limbaugh, 51, was paid $1,561 per month, or $18,732 annually.

* Jones' salary was $2,062 per month, which is consistent with his reported estimate.