Judge favors Lisa Niles in opinion

Jeremy Nash news-herald.net

Chancellor Frank V. Williams III has issued a memorandum opinion in favor of Loudon County General Sessions and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles for her efforts to gain additional employees and funds.

Williams issued the opinion Wednesday for a court hearing Dec. 20, 2016. As it stands the county will be responsible for providing Niles with four additional employees, with one being a deputy clerk/bookkeeper at $32,000 and others deputy clerks at $25,500. Starting salaries currently stand at $21,500.

“The Petitioner may start new employees at a lower pay and make graduated increases in salary based upon their performance and ability as incentive for further improvement, so that in any given year the County may not actually incur the entire costs for these salaries,” according to Williams’ opinion. “... The Court finds that starting salaries should not be less than $25,500.”

Niles will also be given $50,000 for salary adjustments to current employees in her office, including $11.25 per hour for three tenured part-time deputies. She currently has 18 employees, with 14 full time and four part time.
“We’ve got 30 days to appeal,” Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said. “I’ll get with Chairman (Steve) Harrelson and see if we want to discuss in a workshop or have an executive session or if we choose to maybe have a special-called (meeting) or just wait — of course if we don’t choose to appeal then we’ll go ahead and adopt it probably next commission meeting. Hopefully we’ll have it all worked out by then. We may end up having a special-called (meeting) or an executive session to figure out if that’s the route we want to go.”
The county will seek clarification on the memorandum opinion before entertaining a final judgment, specifically the sum of money Williams gave to Niles and how those funds are to be distributed, Commission Chairman Steve Harrelson said.
“I think we would like to see the judge clarify who gets what according to the positions in the office and not just give a lump sum of money like that,” Harrelson said.
Whether the county will appeal Williams’ ruling remains to be seen, Harrelson said.
“After hearing more details it’s definitely going to be a full commission decision on which route to take, whether let’s just go ahead and try to alter and amend the judge’s opinion or whether we just need to file an official appeal and get everything settled through the appeal process,” Harrelson said. “I just don’t know which way the commission will lean towards. ... We want this put behind us but we also have to look what’s best for Loudon County too and make the best decision for the taxpayers.”
Harrelson will push for an executive session just before the March 20 workshop begins.
“When I took my oath to do my job to the best of my skill and ability, I took it seriously,” Niles said in an email correspondence. “There is no personal gain from following the budget process ending with the Chancellor’s opinion. However, it is a very difficult task and one I took an oath to perform.”
County officials believe the Niles lawsuit will affect budget preparation, but Harrelson said a tax increase is not expected at this time.
“That’s definitely an impact. We’ve got the Tate & Lyle and Kimberly-Clark (tax appeals),” Bradshaw said. “Of course, we’re going to be losing close to $1 million here on the Hall Income Tax and the jail coming up, so it’s going to be a interesting budget cycle to say the least and we’ll just have to see what the — we’ll get with Tracy Blair and find out what the ultimate impact will be and address it from there. ... It’s been drawn out a lot longer than I ever imagined it would and so that’s a double-edged sword. Certainly we wouldn’t mind to see it get behind us.”
Williams has now ruled in Niles’ favor twice.
“It’s clear the chancellor gave very careful consideration to all the evidence and he’s now ruled in Ms. Niles’ favor twice,” Zach Tenry, Niles’ attorney, said. “... The two memorandum opinions the chancellor has handed done speak for themselves, and I think they speak volumes. Anybody who is still on the fence as to whether Ms. Niles did the right thing should take the time to read those two opinions because it lays out the facts and the evidence that was presented very clearly and substantiates her request in what she’s been saying all along.”