Commission will appeal Niles ruling
Weeks after Chancellor Frank V. Williams III handed down an opinion in favor of General Sessions and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles’ efforts to gain additional employees and funds, Loudon County Commission responded Monday night with a vote to appeal the ruling.
Commissioners Van Shaver and Matthew Tinker motioned and seconded, respectively, with the vote passing 10-0.
“We’re sending Joe (Ford, county attorney) to the appellate court, and, of course, the appellate court has options,” Shaver said. “They could vacate the judge’s decision, they could change some of the judge’s decision, they could uphold the judge, but most likely whatever they do they’ll just send it back to the chancellor for his reconsideration. That’s just how appellate courts work. I don’t know what they’ll do, but this could go on for quite a long time.”
Williams’ decision would
allow Niles to receive four additional employees, with a deputy
clerk/bookkeeper at $32,000 and deputy clerks at $25,500. Current
starting salaries are $21,500 in the county. Niles was also given
$50,000 for salary adjustments to current employees in her office,
including $11.25 per hour for three tenured part-time deputies.
“The biggest thing was there was two or three items in the judge’s opinion that we just didn’t feel like were written the way we thought they should be,” Steve Harrelson, commission chairman, said. “One of the ones in particular was (the) $50,000 amount that was given for employee raises when I believe the amount asked at the hearing was $45,000. From what I understand from our attorney, the judge can’t give more money than requested in the hearing. So that’s one of the issues, and there’s two or three other issues that needs cleared up and tidied up before finalized.”
Niles currently has 18 employees, with 14 full time and four part time.
“We’ve been trying to look out for the best interest for the taxpayers from day one because that’s who we represent and so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Harrelson said. “Even tonight we decided to appeal. Of course, the appeal was a 10-0 vote, a strong showing from the commissioners that we’re representing our constituents and trying to fight this the best way we can. But there’s going to come a point to where we’ve got to say, ‘Well, the judge is giving her this or that,’ and get some closure to this.”
Shaver believes the appeal is necessary, claiming “after going through what we’ve been through there’s no choice but to appeal this.”
“The legal costs of what we’ve done so far is still less than what it would have cost had we settled with her at the beginning,” Shaver said. “So the legal fees are still much smaller than what it’s going to cost us, what she’s going to cost the county if she ever ultimately wins this suit. If this drags on through the next election and she loses, the next elected court clerk can drop the lawsuit.”
Loudon County’s court fees attached to the case currently total $80,554, Budget Director Tracy Blair said.
Niles could not be reached for comment.
“We just needed to appeal and get some of these items cleared away Harrelson said.
In other news, Loudon County Commission:
• Voted to establish the jail construction committee, replacing Russell Johnson, Rex Dale and Lisa Niles with Jimmy Davis, Paul Curtis and Jake Keener. The rest of the former jail committee remains the same. Commission also approved Michael Brady Inc., for jail architect and engineering services.
• Passed the county’s portion of a payment in lieu of taxes agreement with Tate & Lyle. Loudon City Council and Tate & Lyle will both need to give the go-ahead before it is official.
• Approved a debt issuance resolution not to exceed $15 million, which will be split into two parts. Commission’s vote gives Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw authority to issue the debt for jail construction.
• Passed a resolution authorizing the transfer of funds to Loudon County Economic Development Agency for utility upgrades as an incentive for Innovative Pets, a new industry locating in Loudon County.
• Initially considered deferring a request to add one new employee for the county clerk’s office for driver’s license renewals back to the budget committee for 2017-18 budget discussion, but ultimately voted on the full-time position to begin June 1. Commissioners voted 6-4 in favor, with Commissioners Shaver, Tinker, Harrelson and Earlena Maples opposing. Renewals are set to begin sometime in July.
• Approved an application/acceptance of grant for voting machines. The county will pay $345,855.
• Passed amendments for County General Fund, Recycling Centers Fund, Centre 75 Fund, Highway Department Fund and Education Capital Projects Fund. All funds except Centre 75 were voted on together, which was recommended by Shaver. The amendment included using $14,000 for website design and membership dues for Innovation Valley. Shaver and Maples opposed the amendment to Centre 75 Fund, but ultimately the amendment passed.
• Authorized the sale of four properties because of delinquent taxes based on a recommendation from Commissioner Leo Bradshaw.