Law Director: Any settlement would be made public

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Knox County offered a school secretary who has now been on paid administrative leave for more than two years $10,000 to resign, according to records obtained by WBIR 10News.

That offer was made in late November 2013.

The employee, Tina Needham, declined the offer and is still collecting a paycheck.

No one, however, will say why Needham was placed on administrative leave with pay. The school system says it cannot comment due to HIPAA, the medical privacy laws.

Health reasons, though, wouldn't necessarily explain why she was placed on administrative leave rather than medical leave, which isn't paid – or why she is still on the payroll.

However, something happened in spring 2012 that led to her going on leave in July of that year, according to a letter sent last November from the county to Needham.

"As you know, you were placed on leave after a disturbance which occurred in April 2012 (and) you have not returned to work, though your pay has continued unabated," the Nov. 27 letter states. "Knox County Schools would now like to end its employment relationship with you. To that end, Knox County Schools is willing to pay you the sum of $10,000."

The offer was contingent on Needham's resignation and the promise to release the county from any potential legal claims. She had until the following month to make a decision.

Needham, who has not filed a lawsuit against the county, declined.

It's not clear what the April "disturbance" mentioned in the letter is.

Needham, 51, was reprimanded months earlier in February 2012 for "offensive" conversations, according to a letter in her file, but her attorney said the matter was unrelated to her leave of absence.

NO SETTLEMENT YET

Needham's attorney, Michael Menefee, suggested to WBIR on Tuesday he was working on a settlement with the county. He wouldn't comment due to "confidentiality agreements that are in place."

The county's law department on Thursday told 10News that so far the two sides are in "ongoing discussions," but have not reached an agreement nor do they have a confidentiality agreement.

Further, the law department said if any settlement was reached, it would be made public.

"All (county) agreements are public record," said Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong, who didn't want to comment further do to the possibility of litigation.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who wasn't aware of the issue until he saw WBIR's report Tuesday, said he wanted it resolved soon.

"I'm certainly concerned about the amount of taxpayer dollars spent by the school system so far, and I'm very interested in learning the circumstances of this situation," he said. "However, because of the possibility of litigation concerning this matter, I cannot comment further."

MORE ON LEAVE

Needham, an administrative secretary in the Central Office, earns $27,555 annually, and was initially hired in early January 2011. Her duties included "office filing, making copies, answering phones and putting packets together for orientation," according to her personnel file.

She was placed on paid administrative leave in early July 2012. The following summer, the school system's compensation supervisor, in a letter to school officials, said Needham "will remain on administrative leave with pay until further notice."

She is not the only school system employee on administrative paid leave, but she's the only one school leaders won't discuss.

There are four others, although, they are mostly under investigation.

They include:

  • Charles H. McMillan, Jr. – placed on administrative leave with pay on 7-30-14 (investigation for inappropriate contact/communication with student). Salary $50,705
  • Cara Hale – placed on administrative leave with pay on 8-4-14 (recommended for termination by principal). Salary $47,595
  • Cynthia J. Hill – placed on administrative leave with pay on 8-4-14 (investigation of allegation of dispensing wrong medication to student). Salary of $35,557
  • Amanda Collins – placed on administrative leave with pay on 8-11-14 (investigation for inappropriate communication to staff). Salary of $47,595
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