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Board considers adding attorney for school issues

Chattanooga-based attorney Scott Bennett presents at the Washington County Board of Education’s Oct. 5 meeting.


Staff Writer

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The Washington County Board of Education is looking to hire a lawyer — maybe.

At the board’s Sept. 7 meeting, school board member David Hammond suggested the board request that Tennessee School Board Association lawyer Scott Bennett come before the board with a presentation of his services.

The board opted to table the decision to hire an attorney for now, but Bennett attended the Oct. 5 meeting to give the board a run down of his work and how much it would cost the county system.

The Chattanooga-based attorney, who has worked with numerous county school boards throughout Tennessee, said his cost is usually $4,500 a month or $195 an hour. He also said the cost mirrors the agreement he currently has with Bradley County, which is of a comparable size to the Washington County School District.

Not all board members were ready to vote a new attorney in, however; school board member Mike Masters said he felt the school system didn’t have the funds to enter an agreement with an added attorney.

“My only comment is, if we vote for this, we’ve got all these people right here that we’ve got to look at,” Masters said. “We can’t even give our teachers a raise. But we’re going to spend money on an attorney we already have? Give me a break.”

The Washington County Board of Education currently works with Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley, who receives payment through the county rather than the school system.

Seeley said he is paid an hourly rate and that he submits an itemized bill to the county on which there’s no distinction between the work he does for the county and for the school system.

Board member and chairman Jack Leonard cited budget concerns as an aspect to consider in the discussion.

“This is what concerns me; this will have to come out of our budget,” Leonard said. “We don’t have a line item for that, which we are going to have to go through finance and through the county commission to get approved.

“They’re going to be asking, ‘Why are you doing this when we are paying for things? Now you’re adding this as a line item?’ It’s going to be a cost to us through the county commission.”

Seeley isn’t the board’s official attorney. And if a conflict of interest were to arise between the county and the school board, Seeley said he could not represent the board.

Hammond said he felt hiring an attorney for the board would save them money in the long run.

“Last month our county attorney informed us he is not our board attorney,” Hammond said. “(Bennett) certainly has saved other counties a good bit of money, which saves tax payers money. It’s kind of an insurance policy, as one TSBA attorney told me.”

Seeley said the board works with Johnson City attorney Earl Booze. Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said the board has also worked with Nashville education lawyer, Chuck Cagle.

Board members Leonard and Todd Ganger both suggested the board take the time to examine its options.

The next BOE meeting will be held on Nov. 9 at the Washington County Department of Education Central Office at 6:30 p.m. located at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.