Heads are continuing to roll from the scandal at Upper Cumberland Development District. However, the focus now seems to resemble a witch hunt targeting the people responsible for supplying information to the media.
Recently fired were longtime employees Ashley Pealer and her mother, Kathy Pealer. The two were terminated by interim director Randy Williams, who was appointed June 5. Williams fired them two weeks later.
The decision to fire the two prompted a special called session of the UCDD board yesterday morning.
“The meeting was to answer one question and one question only,” said McMinnville Mayor Norman Rone, who is a member of the UCDD board. “That question is, ‘Does the interim director have the right to hire and fire?’ It’s the consensus of the board that he does.”
Warren County Executive John Pelham, who serves as vice chairman of UCDD, says board members voiced their views on the firings.
“Our bylaws allow the interim director to hire and fire so some board members believe we do not have the right to order him to rehire the Pealers,” Pelham said. “Others felt he should hire those people back and ask board approval before he fires anyone.”
The Pealers have demanded to be rehired and have said they will take legal action if they aren’t.
When questioned about the recent firings and the appearance a witch hunt is under way to oust media informants, Rone agrees the firings are suspect.
“Some of the decisions that are being made appear to be questionable,” Rone said.
Given the ongoing turbulence within the organization, Pelham was asked if replacing the entire UCDD management staff is appropriate to give the agency a fresh start after the corruption scandal.
“The agency has done a tremendous amount of good over the years,” Pelham said. “We have to find a way to work through this. I don’t know how we do that and where we go from here.”
Ashley Pealer was appointed assistant director when Earl Carwile was appointed interim director Feb. 24. That’s when former director Wendy Askins and assistant Larry Webb were placed on leave. Askins and Webb are no longer with the organization.
Carwile, an employee of 16 years, resigned June 15. In his resignation letter, he claimed board members were crippling the organization financially with harmful decisions, as well as generating a list of individuals who leaked information about Askins and her ring of corruption to the media.
Ashley Pealer told NewsChannel 5 that she and Carwile became aware of a “hit list” naming individuals who stood against Askins that were targeted for termination.
The Pealers denied they spoke to the media about Living the Dream. However, they did admit to speaking to two board members regarding $300,000 Askins and her assistant diverted to the project from development district funds without board approval. That money was supposed to benefit the poor.
Ashley told NewsChannel 5 she was told by one of those board members to mind her own business. She recalls the unidentified board member saying, “Times are changing. We don’t need to have anyone telling us how to spend the money that comes into the development district.”
Pelham says he has no idea which board member Pealer could be speaking about. Pelham says the only list to his knowledge is one presented yesterday to the board by Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon.
“Mike said the list was generated by Ashley after she and Carwile were appointed as interims,” Pelham said. “He said the list was of people they intended on firing and who they planned on replacing that individual with.”
The Pealers have hired attorney Gary Blackburn to represent them.