Johnny Payne

Embattled public works director Johnny Payne was terminated by Brighton’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen Jan. 16, its members citing official misconduct.  

According to aldermen, Payne lied to them and to citizens about testing wastewater. 

“We had proof he lied to us. He provided false information to the board,” said vice mayor Stephanie Chapman-Washam.

Questions regarding waste testing on Budget Drain Works had been brought up multiple times by citizen Jack Baker. In meetings he asked how often testing was being done on Budget’s waste outflow. 

Baker alleged Budget was the only septic pumping company used by the Town of Brighton to pump out city-owned septic tanks and suggested the company had a monopoly on septic pumping within the city limits.

The company uses city-owned septic tanks, through a triple-filtration system, to dispose of waste collected through its commercial endeavors. It was permitted to do so for two years beginning in October 2016 with quarterly testing by the city required.

During the Dec. 11 meeting, 

During the Dec. 11 meeting, Payne told the aldermen he had personally seen to the test and assured Baker all testing was done according to the permit’s requirements. Further, he said all test results had come back within acceptable parameters. 

Prior to the Jan. 8 meeting, vice mayor Stephanie Chapman-Washam asked for a list of other septic pumping companies used by the town as well as the results of Budget’s testing.

Washam said town recorder Tammy McKinney quickly replied with a collective list of various septic pumping companies the town has used dating back to 2014. She never received test results.

During the January meeting Payne suggested test results were incomplete or had been mixed up with those of Wells Processing Plant and the relationship with the local utility conducting the testing had ended. 

“Munford is no longer doing our testing and tests will now go to Memphis.,” he said.

He didn’t know the vice mayor had done her research.

“I went to Munford today,” Chapman-Washam told him during the January meeting. “I requested everything Munford has done for us. They gave me test results back to 2015, until now, from Wells Processing. October 2018 were the only results from Budget.”

Further, the sample was dated after the company’s permit had expired. Dumping continued up until two weeks ago when the city issued a cease-and-desist.

Defending himself, Payne said, “Samples were taken quarterly. I’m working with Munford now to get the other results.”

Other board members questioned the paper trail.

Alderman Shane Greer asked, “How come we don’t have test results? If we don’t have records of what happened, then it never happened. Right? There’s no proof anything was tested.”

Payne said he’d have to “get with Munford” and have the city’s contracted public works advisor, David Braden, check on the results as well.

Using the results provided, Chapman-Washam suggested samples had been taken only from Wells, not from Budget, during the entirety of the company’s two-year permit.

Payne maintained samples had been taken, that he had gone to Munford and picked them up that morning, but Munford had mixed up, or combined, the samples from Wells and Budget. He told the aldermen he’d get the samples “separated.”

Though Crocker said, in Payne’s defense, “I know they’ve pulled them, I’ve seen them pulled,” the Munford lab had not received any other waste samples from Budget in a two-year time span.

On Jan. 9, Chapman-Washam and Braden met with the employees from Munford who tested the samples from Brighton. During this meeting it was learned that no such records, aside from an October 2018 sample, existed. 

Further, Chapman-Washam said the employees explained, samples from a gray water tank and an animal processing plant differ in composition. 

Braden, who is general manager of Poplar Grove Utility, said he had never had an issue with Munford assigning test results to the wrong company or being skewed or inaccurate.

The board decided to terminate Payne on Jan. 16. 

“Johnny was terminated because the board felt that he had not properly overseen paperwork for sampling,” the mayor said. “As you know, sampling was supposed to be done quarterly according to the public works employee who was in charge of sewer samples. He took the samples, but no reports were on file and the lab didn’t have anything on file. It was Johnny’s responsibility to maintain any and all paperwork.”

She maintains her defense of Payne. 

On Sunday, she told The Leader, “Johnny and I were present when public works employee Jonathan Briles pulled the sample. Now, where it went from there, I do not know. I didn’t follow it to the lab, but I did see him pull the sample.”

Payne was hired in 2014 and became the public works director after the termination of Matalee Hall. 

Often embattled in controversy, Payne was sitting in his city-issued vehicle when he was arrested in December 2016 for domestic assault. The charges were dropped in April 2017, but his employment with the town continued to be contested by residents. 

 In the summer of 2017 he failed a drug test, after being injured on the job, because the urine sample he gave was not the correct temperature. 

He was suspended for 90 days without pay and had to seek drug treatment at his own expense. 

Payne returned to work in late 2017 as a one-year probationary employee and was appointed by the mayor to serve as the town’s code enforcement officer. A board member has confirmed the position, and its pay, were not budgeted.

When Payne returned to work following his suspension, he was supposed to transition to being a salaried, rather than hourly, employee. However, he still received overtime pay, instead of comp time, as reported by The Leader in October 2018. 

Following Payne’s termination, Greer said, “Over the last year, the board has been questioned regarding the testing of Budget Drain Masters sewage disposal. Mr. Payne repeatedly affirmed that the appropriate testing was being done and all test results came back normal. Recently, the board was made aware that no testing had been done the entire two year term of Budget’s permit.” 

Hall told The Leader, “I hate we were put in a position to give our citizens misinformation.”

Chapman-Washam wants the town’s residents to know they can count on the board to do its due diligence.

“Last month, we told (Mr. Baker), ‘It’s being done. If something illegal is going on, we’re on top of it,” she said. “You can trust us.”

City hall employee Candy Hooks was recently terminated by Crocker, however the mayor said it was unrelated to Payne’s termination.

Brighton is currently accepting applications for both positions. 

Payne did not respond to an invitation to speak out on his behalf.

The next regular meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday,  Feb. 12. A special called meeting will take place next Tuesday in order for the aldermen to review and pay bills which were not approved during the Jan. 8 meeting.

Echo Day is The Leader's managing editor. To contact her, call 901-476-7116 or email eday@covingtonleader.com.

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