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City employed three Fox family members during mayor's term
Oct 06, 2005 12:00 am
October 5, 2005
The two main combatants in the Lebanon Mayoral race – incumbent Mayor Don Fox and Ward 3 City Councilor William Farmer – have had family working for city government while each man was serving Lebanon's residents.
A survey of personnel and payroll records by The Lebanon Democrat show Fox and Farmer have had relatives on the payroll while they too served the city – Fox as the elected mayor and Farmer as the city's contracted legal counsel.
However, the story of the Fox and Farmer families in city government differ greatly.
According to city records, Fox has had at least three family members on the city government payroll throughout his term. One family member, a current city fireman, was hired back into city service after being fired as a Lebanon Police officer over a criminal conviction for assaulting a woman.
City staff also could not produce any record of Farmer's stepdaughter working for city government, a public claim Fox made that touched off a furor in the mayor's race over allegations of nepotism.
The controversy highlights yet another difference between two candidates who at one time were political allies. Fox is unapologetic for having family on the city payroll, saying excluding any public servant's family from the helping hand city government often provides is unfair. Farmer maintains the practice is a symptom of a city government needing reform.
A Likable Person
Fox stuck by an assertion Tuesday he made in a mayoral candidate forum last month that Farmer's stepdaughter, Christie Jennings, worked for city government though no city records exist to support the mayor's case.
Public records obtained by the newspaper after a request under the state's Public Records Act show Farmer's wife, Linda Farmer, worked for the city from Sept. 14, 1987, to Nov. 3, 1989, in what a payroll "change of status" form referred to as the city's "customer accounts" department. Yet, the same city records show Linda Farmer was not married to William Farmer – at the time the city's contracted legal counsel – when she was hired. Linda Farmer began her city government career as Linda Jennings, according to payroll records.
Farmer explained he served as a contract attorney for Lebanon from 1987 to 1990 and then as city attorney – and a city employee – for Fox's administration from 1994 to 1998.
City staff in the personnel, payroll and city attorney's offices last week could find no record of Christie Jennings ever working for city government, saying the only mention of her name in city records was as a minor on her mother's city insurance policy.
A Sept. 30 memo from City Personnel Director Jim Henderson to City Attorney Andy Wright over the newspaper's public records request states no personnel files exist for Linda Farmer or her daughter.
"As we have explained previously some files were kept and many were not kept prior to 1990 when the personnel department was established," Henderson's memo states.
The issue over Farmer's family began after he received a question during last month's public forum on nepotism in city government, which Farmer said exists in city government. Fox's rebuttal included the assertion Farmer's "stepdaughter" worked for the city at one time.
It is a statement Fox stands behind, saying he has checked with longtime city employees since the debate who remember Christie Jennings working for the city as "temporary, part-time" help in the public works department.
Fox said the early years of his administration saw city personnel records "pulled off the dirt floor" of the Maddox Building, noting many part-time employee files were not maintained at the end of his predecessor's term and early in his term.
Christie Jennings, who is 29, would have turned 18 years old some time in 1994. Fox was elected in 1993.
"Yes she did," Fox insisted when asked about Farmer's stepdaughter. " … She was a likable person, and I remember she worked in public works."
Fox also appeared to regret Farmer's family became an issue in the race. Though it was not part of the debate, a local weekly newspaper published a story last week on Linda Farmer's tenure with the city.
"They should not have been dragged in to this," Fox said.
"She didn't work there," Farmer said flatly Tuesday afternoon, responding to Fox's comments regarding his stepdaughter. "It doesn't matter what he says, it is not true."
Public records obtained by the newspaper in the same Public Records Act request show Fox has had three family members hired by Lebanon since he was elected in 1993 – a nephew, grandson and daughter-in-law.
Fox's nephew, Jerry Dwight Davenport, applied and was hired as a Lebanon firefighter in 1998 and remains with the city fire department, according to city staff contacted in the newspaper's records request.
City records show Davenport was also a Lebanon police officer from 1989 to 1994 when he was discharged after being convicted of assaulting a woman after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe.
Davenport's application for city employment as a firefighter in 1998 lists the conviction as "simple assault" for which he served six months probation. The same application lists Fox as Davenport's uncle in a field on the employment form that asks if the applicant is related to any city employees.
Davenport also listed "D. Fox" as his "immediate supervisor" during his time with the Lebanon Police Department on his application to be a firefighter.
A review of Davenport's personnel file showed consistently positive performance reviews during his time with the fire department.
Records also show Fox's grandson, Rockford A. Cox, was hired as a maintenance worker in 2002.
During the first nine months of Cox's employment, he was reprimanded four times, mainly for refusing to work or comply with supervisors' orders. Cox's personnel file also includes color pictures of Cox – attached to one reprimand sheet – sleeping in a leather arm chair. The picture is marked "maint. department."
City staff said Cox no longer worked for Lebanon, though there was no record of his leaving the city in his personnel file.
Finally, Fox's daughter-in-law, Cindy Fox, was hired by the Lebanon Police Department on June 13, 1995. She applied for and received a position at the Jimmy Floyd Family Center in 1999. Cindy Fox's personnel file shows consistently positive performance reviews.
Fox did not try to downplay or defend hiring his relatives into government during his tenure in the mayor's office, saying families should not be "penalized" when it comes to city employment because one of their own works for the city.
When asked about Davenport, Fox said he was related to him through a marriage on his wife's side of the family, adding simply, "We're not close."
Fox also said he rebuffed his own grandson after he attempted to return to employment with the city.
"When he came back wanting a job next time, I told him no," the mayor said.
Finally, Fox said hiring family was a long-standing practice, though he said he does not directly hire for any of the city's departments.
"A child has a right to go and follow in their family's footsteps," Fox said. "The city is also a place where if you can't find a job anywhere else, we cut people breaks. We have had plenty of family work here. … There is no big deal to this."
Farmer referred to a decision in Fox's first term where Farmer as city attorney oversaw the removal of the city's anti-nepotism policy, clearing the way for family members of elected officials and city employees to work in Lebanon. Farmer said he did not agree with the decision at the time.
"Under the statute he (Fox) caused to be deleted, it would be (nepotism)," Farmer said of Fox's family members working for the city.
Managing Editor Clint Brewer can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 13 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.