Amid the mayor’s “questions” about money transfers between bank accounts, Louisville fired its town administrator Tuesday night in a meeting thick with tension and factionalism.
The meeting drew as many as 125 people - standing room only - to the town hall where Kathy Lovingood was removed as Louisville’s $50,000-a-year town administrator, recorder and treasurer.
The firing comes in response to charges by newly-elected Mayor Tom Bickers that money from an October festival was moved from one city bank account to another by telephone transfer in violation of Lovingood’s authority to do so.
Bickers, elected to the mayor’s post Nov. 2, had himself sworn in at about 9 p.m. election night “to preserve the status quo” of the town’s funds and records. He said at Tuesday’s meeting that he was concerned about unauthorized movement of money between accounts involving one to which Lovingood was a signatory that was not a city account.
City checks, he said, should only be issued over the signature of the mayor and another official, but not the town administrator.
Bickers began the meeting with a grilling of the town accountants about how the funds were moved, who set accounts up, explanations of deposits and who authorized the payments.
At issue was about $4,000 in funds tied to the October festival.
The contentious meeting of the five-member Board of Mayor and Aldermen found Bickers aligned with Vice Mayor Bob Gormley and Alderwoman Angie Holley supporting Lovingood’s termination and Aldermen Joe Gallagher and Steve Dixon opposing it.
Bickers’s resolution on Lovingood’s firing raised “questions” about the financial dealings, which Gallagher countered were “serious allegations” which “impugned” Lovingood’s reputation.
Gallagher accused Bickers of conducting “a witch hunt” and characterized the movement of money as the result of a mistake.
Dixon also confronted Bickers over “impugning the reputation of the town administrator.”
Holley and Gormley were mostly silent during the discussion of Lovingood’s firing but voted with Bickers.
Bickers said he does “not know where the money went” and that his action taking office before the election was certified was an attempt to “secure the books” of the town.
He said that state law indicates that an officeholder’s term expires upon election of a successor, and he was sworn in by Circuit Court Judge David Duggan based on that.
Bickers said that he had the locks changed on all city buildings shortly after the election, and that when he went to the town hall to meet Lovingood so she could get her purse, she showed up with a Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputy and got out of her car screaming that Bickers and Gormley were “evil men” and at one point accused him of stealing her purse.
Lovingood declined comment on that allegation in an interview after she left the meeting following her termination.
The termination resolution included language that required Lovingood to turn over all records, keys and other things in her possession to the town recorder.
But after the firing vote, with Gallagher the only one opposing the final action, Lovingood addressed the board, demanding to know to whom she should surrender the materials, since a new recorder had not been selected yet. She ultimately gave the materials to the assistant recorder.
After walking out of the meeting, Lovingood said elections bring “power change” and that she accepts “termination gladly.”