Judge rules for Niles

Jeremy Nash News Herald

Chancellor Frank V. Williams III has ruled in favor of General Sessions Court and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles’ attempt to get additional deputy clerks and more funding for existing and future employees.

A memorandum opinion was issued Dec. 29 by Williams. The judge stated evidence ruled in Niles’ favor for four new employees, including one deputy clerk/bookkeeper at a salary of $32,000, along with three deputy clerks at $25,500.

Retroactive pay covering the annual 2 percent raise over the past two previous fiscal years will also be required. Niles will be entitled to recover any legal fees issued during the case, according to the document. Costs are taxed to the county. Per the memorandum opinion, Niles can start new employees at a lower pay and then make “graduated increases” in their salary based upon ability and performance for improvement, so that the county would not actually incur entire costs for these salaries on any given year.
“The 2 percent raises, we knew that the whole time,” Commissioner Van Shaver said. “The only reason her employees haven’t gotten their 2 percent raises is because she wouldn’t sign the salary agreement. So you’ve got two budget cycles now where her employees haven’t received any raises.”
Shaver said the previous Loudon County Commission offered Niles two additional employees, which she rejected.
“If you remember the previous commission before we got in had given her two,” Commissioner Henry Cullen said. “So she’s got a net gain of two people. She doesn’t have to start them at $32,000 or $25,500 the way I read it. They may start new employees at a lower pay and make gradual increases in salary based upon their performance and ability as an incentive for further improvement. ... I think that’s more than fair.”
Williams’ ruling did not allow Niles to receive a blanket raise for all her employees.
“I can’t argue with the Chancellor Williams’ ruling,” Cullen said. “I think he was more than fair to the county, and she didn’t get the blanket raises for all her employees.”Williams heard both parties representing Niles and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw on Dec. 10. Niles was represented by Knoxville-based attorney Zachary Tenry, and Bradshaw was represented by Loudon attorney Joe Ford.
“It’s how they go,” Bradshaw said. “I met with Joe Ford this morning and we’ll meet with him again, and, of course, I’ll start talking to commissioners and plan on meeting with chairman (Steve) Harrelson this afternoon or tomorrow and we’ll just move forward.”
Bradshaw said the next step will be to meet with Budget Director Tracy Blair to start “putting some numbers together” and then go before Loudon County Commission.
“I’ll probably just bring it up and see what questions we have and hope to hammer some of those out,” Bradshaw said. “It may even end up in a special called (meeting) if there’s any specific questions we need to address.”
Bradshaw said it was too early to say whether Williams’ ruling would require a property tax increase. One possible solution could be to go through the budget to see if any other changes could be made, he said.
“That’s one of the things we’re going to have to look at, and we’ll have to get a good look at the fee increase, which was actually enacted last year to kind of get a rough estimate of where it’s going as well,” Bradshaw said.
The ruling is effective during this fiscal year, he said, and plans are to get the ruling “worked out” sometime in January. “That’ll give us time to get our numbers together and just see where we’re at exactly,” Bradshaw said.
Shaver said even though Williams did not rule 100 percent in the county’s favor, he considered “this was about as much as in our favor as we could have gotten.”
“That’s going to be a real problem for me the fact that we’ve got to pay her legal fees for her to have gotten what she could have gotten without going to court,” Shaver said.
Niles declined comment until given the go-ahead by her attorney. Tenry and Ford could not be reached for comment.