MOUNT CARMEL — Mayor Chris Jones resigned by email on Thursday, and Alderman Carl Wolfe resigned in person during a workshop — one day after the city attorney filed a writ of ouster against them alleging official misconduct.
On Wednesday, City Attorney John Pevy filed a writ of ouster against Jones and Wolfe in Hawkins County Circuit Court stemming from an alleged attempt to evict Jones' girlfriend from a house he rents from Wolfe using a bogus “Notice to Vacate” illegally embossed with the city seal.
On Thursday afternoon, Jones emailed a letter of resignation to city officials that states, “Mike Housewright and members of the Board of Mayor and Alderman, Effective immediately, I am resigning and stepping down as Mayor for the Town of Mount Carmel. I wish the town only the best! Christopher Jones”
The BMA had already scheduled its regular monthly workshop on Thursday evening, where Wolfe appeared with a prepared statement of resignation, which he read to the board at the beginning of the meeting.
Wolfe stated, “I've been on this board 19.5 years, and over the years the decisions I've made — I thought were the right decisions. I made mistakes like everybody else did. But, on the 6th and the 3rd of this month I was handed a piece of paper the mayor had drawn up, and I wasn't aware of. I did sign an eviction notice for somebody, and the next thing I know — I didn't notice at the time — there was a seal from the town of Mount Carmel. That is illegal.”
He then noted that he had consulted an attorney.
Wolfe added, “Therefore, to keep from embarrassing the town, I wish to withdraw from being an alderman from the town of Mount Carmel at this time. Y'all can make it official at the regular board meeting when you accept my resignation. I've enjoyed it. Whatever decisions I've made — I've made a lot of friends. It's been a good run. But, that's what it's come to. I won't do nothing to embarrass the town.”
How we got to this point
Jones, 48, was arrested the night of May 28 and charged with domestic assault after he allegedly pushed down his girlfriend Amber Page Hale, 31, during an argument over his TV being removed from his room.
A condition of his bond on that charge was that he have no contact with Hale, whose legal address is the house on Hemlock Street in Mount Carmel that Jones rents from Wolfe. As a result, Jones was effectively homeless.
The writ of ouster alleges Jones and Wolfe cooked up a bogus eviction notice scheme to get Hale out of the house so that Jones could return home. City officials told the Times News that Jones had slept at City Hall on one night since the domestic assault arrest, and at the fire hall on two nights until the city changed the locks.
Jones allegedly drafted a fake three-day eviction notice on June 3 titled “Notice to Vacate” on his desk computer at City Hall.
In the writ of ouster, Pevy states, “In the presence of Mount Carmel police officers, Jones stated that under the auspices of making the unlawful eviction document 'look more official' he would stamp it with the town of Mount Carmel official seal. Jones requested the town's official seal from the Mount Carmel Court Clerk without informing her of the use for which it was to be utilized, and he was provided with the seal owing to his position as the mayor of Mount Carmel.”
Jones then allegedly placed the city seal on the fake notice in the presence of police, the city manager and Wolfe. Wolfe then allegedly signed the bogus notice and posted it on the door of the house where Hale resides.
“At some point thereafter, Amber Hale discovered the unlawful eviction notice which had been posted to her door and which bore the town's official seal,” Pevy further states. “At no point were either Jones or Wolfe, in their official capacity as members of the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen, authorized to carry out eviction proceedings, nor to emboss personal documents with the town's official seal.”
On Wednesday, Third Judicial District Attorney General Dan Armstrong confirmed for the Times News that both Jones and Wolfe are now the subject of a criminal investigation. Armstrong, who is already prosecuting Jones on the domestic assault, as well as an unrelated charge of theft over $250,000, also agreed to join Pevy's ouster action against Jones and Wolfe.
Why a writ of ouster now?
There have been numerous calls from the community for Jones’ ouster/ removal from office since he was accused of embezzling $394,000 from his late grandmother’s estate — an accusation that resulted in a $571,000 Hawkins County Chancery Court judgment against him last year, and a Hawkins County grand jury indictment for theft over $250,000 in February.
He has since been arrested for the alleged domestic assault on May 28 and indicted in Sullivan County on June 2 on charges of felony criminal simulation and two counts of criminal impersonation for allegedly impersonating a police officer.
But, because the criminal charges were pending and he hasn’t been convicted of anything, the BMA had no grounds to pursue an ouster.
Pevy noted, however, that the alleged misuse of the city seal is an act of official misconduct against the city and can be used as grounds for removal from office.
What happens next?
Technically, the resignations won’t take effect until the BMA formally accepts them at its June 18 meeting.
Pevy told the BMA on Thursday that there is a hearing scheduled in Hawkins County Circuit Court on June 18 to determine if Jones and Wolfe should be suspended from participating on the BMA pending the court’s final decision on the writ of ouster.
If the BMA accepts the resignations on June 18, however, that renders the writ of ouster a moot point, and the court’s part in the action is ended. Alderman Steven McLain asked what would happen if the BMA doesn’t accept their resignations.
Pevy said the writ of ouster hearing would move forward, and if the court upholds the writ of ouster against Jones and Wolfe, aside from being removed from the board they would be prohibited form holding elected office in Tennessee for 10 years.
Vice Mayor Jennifer Williams will take over as interim mayor and, if the resignations are approved on June 18, she will call for nominations to appoint two new aldermen onto the board to complete the terms of Jones and Wolfe; those terms expire at the end of this year. There would also be a board election to name a new vice mayor.