As I thought would happen, Ernie Burzell filed a complaint/appeal with the Civil Service Board over his termination as a deputy under the Civil Service Act. See previous post here. Burzell wrote a letter to the Civil Service Board (Joel Seal, Scott Purkey, and Tim Horner) on March 23, 2010, stating that he wants to "appeal" his termination by Sheriff Esco Jarnagin. He asks the Board to advise Jarnagin not to fill any positions opened as a result of "Sheriff Jarnagin's interpretation of the law regarding deputies running for Sheriff."
But for Burzell to say that he or the other deputies were fired as a result of "Sheriff Jarnagin's interpretation of the law" is ridiculous.
It was the STATE attorney general's interpretation of the law--as found in three different opinions--that said deputies who are covered under civil service can not run for sheriff. The STATE AG also noted that the federal Hatch Act may also prevent deputies from running for sheriff.
It was HAMBLEN COUNTY'S attorney Rusty Cantwell who, after the third STATE attorney general's opinion came out, told Jarnagin that he (Jarnagin) had no choice but to dismiss the deputies (Burzell, Kitts, and Rucker) who were running for sheriff.
Civil service gives deputies protection from political firings BUT, according to the STATE AG, there is a trade-off for this job protection. The STATE AG has opined that deputies, who are covered under civil service, are not allowed to run a political campaign for Sheriff.
Prior to the adoption of Civil Service in Hamblen County, deputies could be hired without any detailed testing standards and could be fired for just about any reason or for no real reason.
Prior to teh adoption of Civil Service in Hamblen County, there was no civil service board with whom a grievance could be filed when an adverse job action occurred.
Prior to the adoption of Civil Service in Hamblen County, deputies could and were required or "strongly encouraged" by Otto Purkey and other incumbent sheriffs to campaign for their boss.
Not every county in Tennessee has adopted the 1974 Civil Service Act. Hamblen County deputies, however, pushed for civil service in Hamblen County. During his last term in office (2002-2006), Sheriff Otto Purkey joined the deputies in asking the County Commission to adopt Civil Service and the Commission subsequently voted Civil Service in.
Now the deputies are seeing the flip-side of civil service. The STATE AG has interpreted the civil service act as requiring that a deputy resign or be terminated prior to announcing a run for Sheriff. The COUNTY ATTORNEY, after the third AG Opinion was released, advised the current Sheriff to dismiss the deputies running for office if they refused to resign.
Burzell is within his right to appeal his termination. He is flat out wrong, however, when he refers in his appeal to the terminations being "a result of Sheriff Jarnagin's interpretation of the law." He should have said he wants the civil service board to review actions taken "as a result of three STATE AG opinions and as a result of the advice of County Attorney Rusty Cantwell."
Read the STATE AG's interpretation of the civil service act and deputies running for office here, here, and here. Read County Attorney Rusty Cantwell's advice to Jarnagin here.