County, Niles headed to court
Jeremy Nash
With only a few weeks left before the December court date between General Sessions and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, the two sides remain no closer to reaching a resolution.
The hearing is scheduled Dec. 10-11, and both parties will go before Chancellor Frank V. Williams III at Loudon County Courthouse.
“At this point in time I think we’re pretty definitely going to court over it,” Bradshaw said. “It is what it is. Ideally we could have gotten it settled before it went to court, but that’s just the way these things go at times. ...”
Niles filed the lawsuit in September 2014 asking for six additional deputy clerks at a base salary of $31,000 for the fiscal year 2014-15, and pay increases for all 17 full- and part-time employees.
In May, Loudon County Commission rejected a settlement that would have allocated four new positions and a budget increase of $88,000 in the current fiscal year. Per the arrangement, Niles’ new employees would have started out at a base salary of about $24,000.
In a previous interview, attorney Joe Ford, representing Bradshaw in the lawsuit, said Niles’ lawsuit had requested $210,000 in additional funding for the offices she oversees.
“I guess it’s kind of sad that we weren’t able to come up with some type of agreement,” Commission Chairman Steve Harrelson said. “I know we had several meetings with Lisa early on in the process and tried to negotiate and give and take a little bit what we felt like we could and just wasn’t able to come up with the resolution, and I just hate to see that we’re having to go to court with this issue.”
Harrelson said reaching an agreement prior to going to court would not be in the county’s best interest. “So, at this point in time, I don’t know what the dollar value Lisa Niles’ attorney is up to but it’s going to be astronomical, and I think at this point in time as much money as she’s spent on her attorney and then the county’s having to spend on our attorney to hear this case, I just think it’d really be money wasted if we give in now and try to settle this right before the court date,” Harrelson said. “I think it’s just gone way too far as far as total cost for Loudon County to try to settle at this point.”
County Commissioner Van Shaver said attorney fees and court costs could be steep. In a previous interview, Ford said had both parties reached an agreement, the county could have saved more than $100,000 in attorney fees and court costs.
“I would certainly hate to think that’s the case, but in these particular cases the attorneys, especially the plaintiff’s attorneys, always try to, oh, just stick it to the counties, stick it to the taxpayers,” Shaver said.
Niles’ attorney, Zachary Tenry, said he could not determine how much costs could potentially be for the lawsuit. “Any estimation as to the final expenses related to this litigation would be speculation at this point, as the case is still ongoing and I have no way of knowing what all has been incurred by the mayor by way of his two attorneys’ fees and other costs,” Tenry said in an email correspondence. “However, prior estimates are probably relatively accurate.”
The opportunity for an agreement prior to court is still on the table, Tenry said. “Settlement is always an option in any litigation.”
Shaver said if Niles wins the lawsuit, a tax increase will likely be in line to help pay for her requests.
“There’s no additional revenue to pay any more for her staffing issues,” Shaver said. “So it’ll just be another burden on the citizens.”
Niles could not be reached for comment.