JENNINGS — Two days after calling an emergency meeting to discuss its lack of a clerk — and with it the ability to pay bills and employees — the Town of Jennings had found a solution, at least temporarily.

The Jennings Town Council interviewed Jennifer Hightower, Jasper’s former city clerk, on Feb. 11 and she accepted the position on a temporary basis the next day.

Christy Smith, the town clerk, and Jennifer Gantous, the deputy clerk, both submitted their letters of resignation Feb.6, effective the end of the work week. Both clerks cited a “toxic work environment” for their departure, specifically noting interactions with Councilors Jerry Pittman and Samantha Prueter.

That left town officials scrambling, including holding an emergency meeting Feb. 10 to discuss the situation, including the top priority of payroll and bill payments.

“We are finding out it is not as easy to do their job as we had thought,” Mayor John Prine said. “We’re going to be in trouble when we need to pay these bills.”

Added councilman Charles Barrett: ““Bills and workers need to be paid. We need someone experienced who knows what to do. This is very serious.”

Pittman told the rest of the council that Gantous told him she would not be willing to come back and train someone for the position.

That won’t be necessary with the hiring of Hightower, who brings 16 years of city clerk experience with her.

“It is concerning to me how things have transpired,” Hightower told the council during her interview.

Hightower suggested to the council that it comes up with “failsafes,” to ensure that this sort of scenario does not occur again in order to not put the town and its residents at risk in the future.

The council unanimously approved hiring Hightower as a part-time clerk at the rate of $27.88 per hour, and being able to work up to 20 hours per week.

Hightower was fired as Jasper’s clerk in August 2018, leading to her filing a lawsuit in November 2018 for violating the whistleblower statute. In the suit, she claimed she was fired in retaliation for her complaint against former City Manager Charles Williams. Hightower made allegations that Williams threatened her, while carrying a gun, in a holster at City Hall in April 2018.

Hightower was fired by the city council during its August 2018 meeting, one month after a hostile work environment complaint was filed against Hightower by Patricia Herring, the city’s billing clerk.

In that August 2018 meeting, a report from Allen Norton & Blue said that neither Hightower’s complaint against Williams nor the complaint from Herring against Hightower constituted a hostile working environment.

Jasper recently reached a settlement with Hightower, paying her $75,000 to drop the lawsuit.

As part of the settlement reached, Hightower agrees to not seek future employment with the city.

Kara M. Compo is a reporter for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press. Her beats include general assignment, government, politics, law enforcement and first responders. ​

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