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Setterlund asks to retire

Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Jan 25, 2014 at 11:44 AM

Wilson County Board of Education Chairman Don Weathers said Director of Schools Tim Setterlund submitted his retirement papers Friday.

Weathers said Setterlund’s about 33 years of employment in Tennessee schools would make him eligible to retire. He said he wasn’t sure when Setterlund’s retirement would begin if the board accepts it.

“It’s a surprise,” Weathers said. “I think he’s a young man and has a lot to offer.”

Calls to Setterlund seeking comment Friday were not immediately returned.

Due to Setterlund’s decision, the board modified its Saturday meeting agenda to include consideration of Setterlund’s retirement request. The meeting was originally set for Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Central Office to discuss possible disciplinary options for Setterlund after he admitted to drinking a beer before driving his county-supplied vehicle. Wilson County Commissioner Mike Justice asked Setterlund about the incident in a Jan. 16 Budget Committee meeting.

“It changes the meeting completely,” Weathers said. “We will talk about accepting his request for retirement.”

Board attorney Mike Jennings refused Friday to discuss Setterlund’s retirement compensation or conditions.

Weathers said the board would appoint an interim director until a director of schools is hired.

“We will have to have an interim director to run our school system,” Weathers said.

According to Weathers, if the board accepts Setterlund’s retirement request Saturday, the process will then begin to replace him.

“We have a policy that stipulates how we do that,” Weathers said. “We will pull out that policy and see how we do that. If we need to change the policy, we will do that at that time.”

But state law prohibits a director of schools to be appointed 45 days before or 30 days after an election. Under that scenario, the board would not be able to appoint a new director of schools between June 23 and Sept. 7 due to the Aug. 7 election.

After Sept. 7, about a two-week window opens until Sept. 20, which is 45 days before the Nov. 4 General Election. If the board cannot put a director of schools in place before June 23, or between Sept. 7-20, it would have to wait until after Dec. 4, according to state law.

“Until we have a chance to sit down and discuss it, we really don’t know, to be honest,” Weathers said.

Board member Larry Tomlinson said he couldn’t comment on Saturday’s meeting when contacted prior to Setterlund’s retirement announcement.

Board member Wayne McNeese said he didn’t like how the situation was handled. McNeese, too, was interviewed prior to Setterlund’s announcement.

"Regardless of how this happened, to try it in a public forum like Justice did is a shame. He could have come to us, and we could have handled it in a meeting.”

Justice was unable to be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

The board concluded a more than two-hour executive session Sunday afternoon with a decision to think about what action to take against Setterlund.

For two hours and 12 minutes, the board met with Jennings to discuss employment issues regarding Setterlund.

The board called the meeting to order Sunday at about 1:03 p.m. and moved to meet behind closed doors. Jennings cited prior court cases from Smith and Warren counties as precedent to allow the board to discuss employment matters in executive session.

Following the closed-door meeting, Weathers asked Jennings what he thought should be the board’s next action. Jennings advised the board to consider what the board had discussed and render a decision at a special called meeting later in the week.

“If action warrants a special called meeting, then that’s what we will do,” Weathers said.

Weathers and Jennings both confirmed the board discussed an incident from a Jan. 16 Wilson County Budget Committee meeting in which Justice questioned Setterlund on whether Setterlund had a beer at a local establishment and then drove his school board-provided Ford Expedition.

Setterlund answered Justice’s question with “yes.”

At the time, Justice said he was approached by a group of concerned citizens to question Setterlund about his actions.

On Sunday, Setterlund wasn’t present at the meeting, and Weathers said he was on extended vacation due to bad weather.

“We have heard the options our counsel has provided with us today, and we have heard a first-hand account of what transpired in the meeting,” Weathers said. “So we have a lot to think about over the next few days.”

Jennings said the board discussed two policies during the closed-door meeting as they related to Setterlund. One was a policy on drug-free workplace and the other referenced staff rights and responsibilities.

“Board members were hit with a lot of information today,” Jennings said. “The message I think you should take from today is that we have talked about the facts as we know them, school board policy, state law, all of the things that come into play. We are going to take a thorough look at this, not rush to judgment, but move fairly expeditiously and see what action needs to be taken.”

General assignment reporter Kimberly Jordan contributed to this report. 

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