When former Animal Control Supervisor Daylon Cornelison walked out of Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell’s office on June 14, he told the department’s only other employee, Shelby Crouch that they had both just been laid off.
With that, the county’s involvement in animal control was effectively shuttered.
“What, really? – Why?” asked Crouch.
A collection of tapes recorded at high-level meetings have since emerged that offer an insight into the details of the termination. The over six-hours of tapes, entrusted to the Manchester Times contain conversations ranging from judicial commissioner lawsuits to bids for city mayor.
The tapes speak for themselves.
In the recording from the June 14 termination meeting, a voice clearly identifiable as Mayor Gary Cordell tells Cornelison at several points that he is closing animal control over a threat of a lawsuit and out of concern for the county’s online image.
According to the audio, the specific reason for Cornelison’s termination involves an incident that happened June 7 during an animal control call when Cornelison, admittedly, was involved in a verbal altercation with a complainant. The subject is said to have later filed a written complaint and threatened a suit against the county.
“I understood him to say if we handle this, he would drop the whatever – I don’t know where he’s going with this crap,” Cordell says on the tape. “I don’t want him to personally try to sue you and sue the county…
“Right now I’m going to suggest that we get out of this quickly and those dogs over there, they (referring presumably to the city) can do whatever they want to with them. They can call RUFF (an animal rescue) to get rid of them and work with them. I hope that Manchester City can make some sense of all this. I hope that Manchester City will partner with us on this,” Cordell says.
Cordell also tells Cornelison that in a private meeting that allegedly occurred the day before with Commissioner Jackie Duncan he said, “I’m out of this. I’m going to suggest that the county close animal control. I’m going to propose to Budget and Finance TOMORROW NIGHT that we take $100,000 of that money (presumably from the Animal Control budget) and send … to the city, $25,000 each quarter. That way if (Director of Public Works George) Gannon, if they merge with the county, they can put another person on (payroll).”
For his part, Cornelison admits his error in the incident and accepts the two verbal reprimands given by Cordell during the meeting.
“I have no excuse for (calling him a ‘punk’) other than (that) I was not (acting) professional, and I didn’t watch my mouth like I should have,” Cornelison is recorded saying.
“This crap has got to stop,” Cordell says, “and one way to do that is to just close the (shelter) down. We’ve talked about that numerous times, and (we’ll) get on with life. If I can work with Manchester in that transition, that’s what we’ve got to do. Hopefully then someone will work with Manchester. With all that’s going on in the county and the city right now, I don’t need to have the relationship more fractured than it already is, with this Bonnaroo and this suit and now animal control. We’re trying to pull this county together,” Cordell says.
Cordell explains to Cornelison how industries search the internet to get a feel of a community prior to developing in an area.
“They look at social media to get a reading on the temperature…of the community. Ours with all this going on…We can’t have a company not locate here because of animal control,” Cordell says.
“I’m looking at the whole big picture, then on Saturday, I got to thinking I could partner with Manchester and let them take over the operation and the county will be completely out of it,” Cordell says.
“That may not be forever. That may only be a year. We don’t know yet. We’re just going to test this and see how this will go,” Cordell says.
“I’m going to meet with HWR (Health Welfare and Recreation Committee) and say this is my recommendation, and I’m out of it,” Cordell says.
Human Resources Director Heather Shelton, introduced by Cordell early in the meeting, adds her input on the employment and benefits side of the layoff, “If you partner with the city, then technically the shelter is gone. There’s no employees. We don’t have those positions anymore, so you could do a layoff for both of them, permanent, that way they can draw unemployment. There would be no question of unemployment at all,” Shelton says in the recording.
“Let’s go that route then. That may get this guy to back off, I’m concerned with this guy, I don’t want him to try to file some kind of lawsuit,” Cordell said. “This guy here…I have to talk with him today. What should be my formal response?”
Concerning the dogs at the shelter, Cordell then asks when the dogs are supposed to be picked up. Cornelison replies Wednesday.
“If you’re in the process of laying us off today, I can call Coffee (Veterinary Clinic) and tell them I need to get four dogs out of here real quick. I need to take them to y’all for (RARE rescue). I can say something online that we’re doing some change work or something and play it off that way,” Cornelison says.
“Go ahead,” Cordell confirms. “Tell (RARE) to pick the dogs up Wednesday. Hand her the keys and whatever.”
At one point Cordell offers Cornelison the chance to quit.
“Or if you all want to walk out, I can understand that, with all the crap that’s going on,” Cordell said. “I told Jackie, I’m out of this and this is not going to put me in the funeral home, all this crap going on. “I’m tired of all this – whatever going on.”
“I’ll let Shelby know that she’s laid off today,” Cornelison says.
“Maybe that will get this guy out so, he won’t try to sue Daylon. I’m convinced that the county doesn’t need to be involved in animal control,” Cordell says.
“I’m so tired of this, once we get the budget passed, we’re going to take a week off and take a vacation and get out of Coffee County. I’m tired of this crap. Thank you for your service, Daylon,” Cordell says.
When Cordell approached the city about Manchester taking over operations at the shelter, the city agreed to temporarily feed the animals. Since then, the city has declined to take over permanent operations. Coffee County Animal Control has been shuttered since June 14. Calls concerning animal control are currently being dispatched to the sheriff’s department. The “New Coffee County Animal Control” Facebook page, an official county document has been deactivated.
Editor’s Note: Tennessee is a one party consent state that allows for “wiretap-type” recordings as long as one party present consents to the recording. The identity of the consenting contributor is being protected by the Times.