Rogersville Water Department facing two state probes

Jeff Bobo • Sep 14, 2017 at 12:26 PM
ROGERSVILLE — Although the Rogersville Water Department is simultaneously being investigated by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Water Commission will try to carry on business as usual with two new members.

On July 18, former water superintendent Shawn Hatchett was suspended with pay after he informed the Water Commission that he had lost $69,000 in cash receipts that he was supposed to deposit in the bank.

Hatchett reportedly stated that the funds were taken from an envelope in his vehicle.

A month later, the Water Commission voted unanimously to fire Hatchett.

Sources within city government told the Times-News that by the time Hatchett was fired, an investigation had revealed alleged financial irregularities within the Water Department that were far worse, and had occurred for a much longer period of time, than anyone suspected or anticipated.

TBI spokesperson Leslie Earhart told the Times-News Wednesday an investigation into the missing funds remains “active and ongoing.”

“Once our investigation is complete, we will turn our findings over to the district attorney general for his consideration and review,” Earhart said.

Tennessee Comptroller spokesman John Dunn said Wednesday he can’t discuss specific investigations, but he said cases which could potentially involve criminal proceedings can take from six to 10 months before a report is completed and the results of the investigation released publicly.

“The comptroller’s office has broad authority to review municipal water systems, including Rogersville’s,” Dunn said. “... In some of these cases, and I’m not saying this is specific to Rogersville, there may be criminal indictments that are factored in. That means we would have to go to a D.A., and a D.A. would have to present to a grand jury,and all that can take time.”

Following Hatchett’s dismissal on Aug. 14,  Bill Pearson resigned from the Water Commission to begin serving as interim superintendent. Pearson’s resignation left two vacancies on the board.

On Tuesday, the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen appointed retired local banking executive and county school board member Jackie Charles and local businessman Bill Sharp to fill the two positions.

However, the decision wasn’t unanimous.

Alderman Craig Kirkpatrick, who also sits on the Water Commission, suggested that the BMA leave one vacancy for Pearson so he could be reappointed to the panel when a permanent water superintendent is hired.

Otherwise the commission would lose Pearson’s vast wealth of knowledge and experience, Kirkpatrick noted.

But, Kirkpatrick’s motion, which would have resulted in one water commissioner being appointed instead of two, was defeated by a vote of 3-3.

The Water Commission met Tuesday evening following the BMA meeting.

As of Tuesday, the question of Pearson’s compensation had yet to be resolved.

Chairman Ed Pace noted that the First Utility District in Church Hill pays its superintendent $67,000 annually, and Pace suggested that Pearson be paid at that level. Pace also stated he believes Hatchett’s salary was $75,000.

“Bill Pearson has done an outstanding job the past few weeks,” Pace said. “He has made the operation of this department enjoyable to be working in. We appreciate what he’s done.”

The commission approved a motion by Mark DeWitte to pay Pearson $1,300 per week, or $67,600 annually, along with any benefits he would be eligible for based on the employee handbook.

Although Pearson took over in mid-July, the commission set his pay retroactive to Aug. 14, when Hatchett was fired and Pearson was officially named interim.

Before adjourning Tuesday, Pace also thanked water department staff members for their efforts during this difficult time.