Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

School board lawsuit to be returned to full commission

Referring litigation to a commission committee for discussion and recommendation was unsuccessful, and the issue of whether to join the school board’s lawsuit against Johnson City is being returned to the full board with no direction.
Attorney James Logan requested the county become a nominal party in the lawsuit seeking more than $3 million in liquor-by-the-drink tax revenue from the City of Johnson City during the commission’s March 23 meeting.
Logan shared with commissioners a recent ruling from a similar case in Coffee County that determined the Coffee County School Board did not had the authority to sue the City of Manchester.
He said the same defense is included in the motion to dismiss filed by the City of Johnson City, and having the county onboard as a plaintiff would increase the chance of receiving a decision made by the court.
Logan also compared the cost of adding the county to the suit for $250 versus the $5,000-$7,000 required for an appeal.
A motion to table the issue passed 15-10, based largely on County Attorney Tom Seeley’s being unable to provide counsel because his firm is representing the Town of Jonesborough in the same case.
Commissioner Joe Wise said his concern is the county’s joining the suit so close to the May 5 hearing could cause a new problem of coming in after the deadline, and undermine the schools’ effort.
“We should have anticipated that Tom Seeley would not be able to advise us, but I think there could have been someone (available) who could have,” he said. “The meeting played out in a strange way.”
A second motion referred the issue to the Health, Education and Welfare Committee whose members took up the topic during their April 8 meeting. Logan was unable to attend at the last minute, but Josh Hardin, attorney for Carter County, was present to provide counsel.
Mayor Dan Eldridge requested permission to provide clarity on the issue, which he says boils down to one question: Are you in favor of the county commission joining the lawsuit to prevent the lawsuit from being thrown out of court on a technicality?
Committee Chair Katie Baker asked Hardin to explain what potential consequences the county would be taking on as a nominal party.
“Because opposing counsel is in the audience, I would recommend going into executive session,” Hardin said, referring to Erick Herrin who is representing the City of Johnson City.
Commissioner Lynn Hodge, who was also present, asked to speak before the committee recessed.
“Many of the commissioners were surprised during the last meeting and felt rushed into referring to a committee,” he said. “Because this is litigation, I’m not sure the committee has the authority. So the only question that needs to be answered is whether to allow the judge to decide.”
Commissioner Skip Oldham agreed in part. “As the person who made the motion to table, I said until the next commission meeting.”
Baker noted the commission did not have the advice of counsel, but Eldridge said he engaged Logan to represent the county in making a decision on whether to join the lawsuit.
As head of the executive branch of county government, the mayor has the authority to engage counsel without approval from the county commission.
Health, Education and Welfare Committee members then recessed for a brief executive session with Hardin.
Upon reconvening, Commissioner Gary McAllister made a motion to return the issue with no recommendation to the full board for discussion in executive session. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Todd Hensley and passed with unanimous approval. The committee requested Hardin be present to answer questions.