Thursday, Nov. 1 – In a videotaped deposition admitted into evidence by Judge Roger Couch over the vigorous objections of Team Preston, confirmation of what so many have presumed for years was produced. Former Anderson County administrator Joey Preston conceded under oath that he had conducted an eight year extramarital affair with Kelly Nichols.
Nichols, who may appear on the witness stand to offer her testimony, was a subordinate employee of Preston’s during the affair. The admission will certainly raise questions, at least among the public, as to whether Preston’s conduct violated the terms of his employment contract, which contains a moral turpitude clause.
Under questioning by Troy Tessier, one of the attorneys from the Wyche Law Firm, who represents the County in this matter, Preston acknowledged the affair and conceded that such conduct could cause problems for the County. However, when asked if such conduct would justify the termination of the offending employee, Preston simply answered “No.”
In related testimony about the events at Cater’s Lake in February 2006, Preston said that the reports that he and Nichols were sent to the park as part of an undercover operation were false.” Kelly and I were at dinner at Sullivan’s that night. Kelly had real issues with a woman named Jena Trammel. One of our dinner companions started talking about how wonderful Jena was and Kelly got very angry. She said some things to the woman and stormed out.”
Preston said that he and Nichols had been followed by people “trying to catch us doing something to prove we were having an affair”, and that Nichols called him soon after leaving Sullivan’s to say she was being followed once again. “She was very emotional and almost delirious. I got in my car and went after her and I also called Chief Deputy Tim Busha. He seemed very busy – I think something had happened in the county that night. He told me us to go to a well lighted area for safety. I hung up and called Kelly and we turned left into Cater’s Lake park. “
Preston testified that after several minutes, he and Nichols walked down to the lake, which was where they were when the Anderson City police arrived, with blue lights flashing.
Preston, under Tessier’s questioning, provided an explanation for his decisions to “amend” Alison Schaum’s consulting contract related to sustainable agriculture to a three year contract with a major termination provision. He said her program was so successful and so respected around the state that he wanted to provide an incentive for her to stay associated with the county and continue to develop the program.
Tessier established that when Schaum, at Preston’s urging, submitted a proposal for the amended contract, she asked for the equivalent of 20 hours worth of pay for each week of three years, and that Preston instead offered 30 hours worth of pay instead, in the event of termination of the contract.
Tessier earlier established that Scahum’s original rate of pay under her first contract, which was a month by month agreement, was twenty dollars an hour; a figure Preston increased to sixty five dollars an hour. Preston testified that he wanted additional elements of the program’s development included, which drove up the rate, as well as the fact that the County did not provide health insurance to contractors.
Preston had similarly adept explanations for the backdating of documents related to Heather Jones and her county vehicle and proposed trip to Germany. “We had agreed in 2006 that she would have a county vehicle. When the original document was misplaced, we simply memorialized the original agreement with a replacement document.” He explained that when Bill McAbee and Amy Plummer spent more than $30,000 on travel and attending various rail conferences and other industrial events, he had no choice but to approve them. At least $5000 of that amount was spent after McAbee had lost his primary race for reelection.
“The County attorney and the auditors told me that I had no authority to refuse the elected Council members. It was my ministerial duty to approve their travel,” said Preston.
Preston also testified that he had agreed to employ the chairman of the 2008 Council, Michael Thompson, as soon as his term of office ended on December 31, 2008. “I promised to hire Mr. Thompson in March of 2008, after he had approached me about employment. The week after my severance agreement was approved, I honored that obligation.” Previous testimony by Michael Cunningham reflected Cunningham’s refusal to employ Thompson.
Preston also stated that he had no authority to deny Thompson the opportunity to take classes in preparation for employment in the assessor’s office. But according to Preston, he hired Thompson to be a Buyer, either level I or II, in the purchasing department. He said what he termed a “transfer” from the County Council to the buyer’s position took place in late November, 2008.
Tessier, in the deposition process, strove to tie the various agreements and accommodations to the severance agreement awarded Preston in November of 2008, at least in terms of the time frame. For example, Schaum’s contract was “amended” on November 1, while her father, Ron Wilson, was negotiating Preston’s buyout. Thompson was reportedly hired just days after the severance agreement was approved. McAbee, along with Amy Plummer, continued to travel at County expense deep into October of 2008, while those same negotiations were underway; and the documents backdated in relation to Heather Jones were all executed in that same time frame.