City manager suspended

·5 min read

Aug. 4—The Crossville City Council suspended City Manager Greg Wood Tuesday night pending the outcome of an independent investigation into the closure of the Village Inn low-income housing complex the week before.

Property owner Dr. Robert "Buck" Wood, no relation to Greg Wood, told the council the closure felt like a coordinated move.

"I still don't know what happened or why it happened," Robert Wood said.

The housing complex on Main St., next door to city hall, was briefly closed last week. A press release from the city cited concerns with the safety of the two buildings that include about 60 units. The complex was reopened the next day with the city saying there had been a "procedural error."

Robert Wood disputes the condition of the property. A records request is pending with the city of Crossville regarding the report and documentation from the July 27 inspections.

City Attorney Will Ridley told the council he first learned of the closure from social media postings of news reports.

"That was after it had already occurred," Ridley said.

The complex once served as a motel, but now rooms are rented on a weekly or monthly basis, Robert Wood said. He purchased the property in 1991.

"I don't think people realize what the Village Inn does," Robert Wood said. "People who are unable to afford other accommodations are able to come there. It's also an area where we carry people who have not paid rent ... This is not a money-making operation for me or anybody else."

Monthly rent is $550 a month and includes utilities and a furnished room.

Robert Wood said residents sometimes stay a few weeks. Others stay longer.

"The people who have been there long-term kind of feel like it's their family," Robert Wood said. "I think it's a shame the way people were treated."

Residents were told to leave the property by 8 p.m. the night of the closure, and power was later turned off. About 100 residents were impacted. Robert Wood said many lost food in their refrigerators due to the lack of power. Others were inconvenienced in having to find other accommodations for the night.

Several local agencies responded to the housing complex to assist residents. Some went to the Bread of Life Rescue Mission. A local church put a few others up at a hotel. Others made their own arrangements.

The facility was reopened the next day. Of the 44 rooms that were occupied at the time of the closure, 22 tenants have returned, Robert Wood said.

Ridley recommended the council suspend Greg Wood due to proceeding without legal advice in the matter. The suspension will last three weeks or until an independent investigation is complete.

Ridley said his recommendation was "due to the lack of foresight to realize these things should have been taken through proper due process in a court system before they occurred, and due to the fact these things had been relayed to the actors involved on four previous occasions."

Ridley added the city's charter does not allow for temporary unpaid suspensions of the city manager or "preliminary suspension" without pay. Greg Wood can request a hearing to appeal the suspension.

Crossville Mayor James Mayberry said, "From the evidence I've seen, I agree with your suggestions."

He moved to suspend Greg Wood as recommended, supported by Councilman Art Gernt. The motion was unanimously approved.

Ridley said he had conducted a limited review of the situation, adding he believed Crossville Fire Chief Chris South acted in "good faith."

"I do not believe there is any ill will on behalf of the fire chief or the fire department," Ridley said.

Ridley said the city's insurance carrier had recommended the council hire an outside party to conduct an independent investigation into the closure. Ridley recommended the firm of Robinson, Smith and Wells from Chattanooga.

The council agreed to hire the firm, with a fee not to exceed $10,000. Attorneys representing the firm at the meeting said they could start immediately and will report their findings to the court.

Attorney Keith Grant said, "We just find out what happened and report to the council regarding our findings. The council can use those findings however the council sees fit."

There is the potential for litigation stemming from the improper closure. Grant said attorney communications with the council fall under attorney-client privilege.

"Initially, it should be attorney-client privilege," Grant added. "If there's any part that needs to be released, we will release that."

Mayberry moved to hire the firm for the investigation and approve a budget amendment for the fee, supported by Gernt. The motion was unanimously approved.

Robert Wood said he believed he and the council could come to a resolution of the issue without legal action.

"Same here," Mayberry said. "But we've got to get to the bottom of it. That's what this investigation is about."

Greg Wood was not present for the meeting Tuesday. He told the Chronicle on Friday he had been exposed to COVID-19.

The council named City Clerk Valerie Hale as interim city manager, following a policy enacted several months ago allowing the clerk to act as the city manager in the event of an extended absence. The council also approved a temporary increase in pay while she serves as both city manager and city clerk, a difference of $750 a week.

Greg Wood has served as the Crossville city manager since February 2017. In December, the Crossville City Council unanimously extended his contract through March 6, 2024.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.