Clerk sues over budget
Jeremy Styron
Weeks after Loudon County Commission finalized its funding plan for fiscal year 2014-15, General Sessions and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles has filed a lawsuit against new Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw requesting the addition of six new deputy clerks to assist at court and salary increases for currently employed full-time and part-time clerks and staff.

Niles has requested the six new clerks be hired at a base salary of $31,000 each — two for Loudon County Circuit Court and six for General Sessions Court.

According to the lawsuit, the Loudon County court system currently has 13 full-time clerks and four part-timers. Niles has asked for pay raises for all 17 clerks, and she requested that two full-time deputy clerks receive a pay increase that would put their salaries at more than $39,000 per year.

She also asked for a pay raise of $31,251 for a tenured bookkeeper.

“The prerequisite or the protocol is for the circuit court clerk to request from the county an increase in the budget basically, and she did go through that process, and then ultimately the budget that was passed did not provide for the amount of salary and staff that she feels that she needs,” Niles’ attorney Zachary Tenry in Knoxville said.

Tenry said Niles was seeking additional resources to meet an increased volume of criminal and civil cases in Loudon County and to keep salaries competitive with the market.

“You have to have salaries that are at least comparable to what they can get paid somewhere else, otherwise you lose folks,” Tenry said. “And it behooves both Lisa within her capacity as the clerk of court, but the people of Loudon County, to have seasoned staff within those offices so that they can efficiently go about their daily tasks.”

Loudon-based attorney Joe Ford said Wednesday that he would likely be representing Bradshaw in the case, as he was scheduled to meet with the mayor late Thursday afternoon.

Ford could not be reached for a follow-up interview Friday.

Bradshaw said both sides would sit down and work to find a solution.

“I think that would be the most advantageous for both parties involved,” Bradshaw said late Friday.

Tenry said while most lawsuits carried a 30-day response for defendants, the nature of this suit necessitated a five-day timeframe as stipulated in Tennessee Code Annotated. Tenry said he and Ford mutually agreed to provide an additional week.

“It (the law) effectively shortens the time in which a defendant, which in this case is the mayor, would normally have to respond to a lawsuit, and I don’t want to speak for the legislature, but I can understand why they did that is because you’re dealing with budgets and time constraints, and the idea is to get this matter before the court and resolved in as timely a fashion as possible,” Tenry said.

Tenry said he thought the parties involved had a “good possibility” of coming to an agreement without going to trial.

When asked how the two sides would move forward if Loudon County did not have the resources to hire the new deputy clerks and pass along the requested pay raises, he said the plaintiff and defendant would have to explore different options.

“The candid answer is I’m not exactly sure what is or is not available in that respect, and that’s part of why this process is contemplated by the law is so that we can kind of explore that further and see what options are out there,” Tenry said. “This is not something that I anticipate being a highly contentious matter. Each office is doing the best that they can within what they have available, and the parameters that they have to act within.”