LCUB hires attorney in response to
Author: Brandon L. Jones
Though there may be no lawsuit pressing them now, Lenoir
City Utility Board (LCUB) is nevertheless preparing for one.
City Attorney Shannon Littleton, who is also the assistant general
manager of the utility board, was deemed by the board at Monday night’s
meeting to be essentially too close to the situation to handle potential
legal action related to threats from the Wampler family to withdraw
their company from LCUB-provided services. According to Family Brands
International, LLC President John Edd Wampler, LCUB is charging
far-too-high water and sewer rates for two of his family’s businesses —
Elm Hill and Wampler’s Sausage Company — and the family is considering
moving out of town in general to avoid paying 82 percent higher water
rates and 88 percent higher sewer rates.
Out of 19 attorneys, nine of which had cheaper hourly rates, a motion
was approved to obtain legal assistance — at a cost of $200 per hour
($400 per hour with an assistant, said board member Tony Aikens) — from
C. Coulter “Bud” Gilbert of the legal firm Kennerly, Montgomery &
Finley, P.C. “I feel that we just need to have a legal representative,”
said LCUB General Manager Freddie Nelson.
Aikens noted Gilbert has worked with the utility board before, as well
as the city — and that he has also stood in opposition of each.
According to Aikens, Gilbert represented Dixie Lee Utilities and then
sometime later represented the Solid Waste Committee in suits against
the city or LCUB. “If you’re going to hire somebody,” he said, “hire
somebody that doesn’t have a conflict.” He later questioned why money,
if it has to be spent, isn’t spent on finding a solution to the problem,
not additional legal advice.
Aikens also said he wondered why Littleton, being the city attorney,
couldn’t represent the board versus “throwing money down the drain” on
outside help. Littleton’s role as LCUB’s second-in-command appeared to
be the main conflict.
Board member Eddie Simpson asked what the problem was with postponing
the decision to hire legal assistance since the Wamplers currently have
only used an attorney (Jim Wright of the Knoxville-based legal firm
Butler, Vines & Babb) to acquire documentation and information from LCUB.
According to John Edd Wampler, “First, we are not lawyers and therefore
are not familiar with law as it relates to their actions. Second, we do
not have the time to dedicate to this issue while simultaneously having
to evaluate all of our other options.
“Apparently they must think that the information they will be providing
would prompt a lawsuit?”
Simpson went on to ask Nelson, “Is there anything else we can do here. .
The only thing that could be done, according to Nelson, is to take the
rate increases off LCUB's two largest industrial customers and place it
on the city’s commercial and residential customers, something he said he
simply did not want to do.
Nelson pointed out the Family Brands companies have several violations
against them, such as biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), among other
things. As stated in a letter from Littleton to the board back in
January, these violations are “the major cause of the $13.5-million
sewer plant expansion” and has caused LCUB to violate its “National
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit due to the BOD
John Edd Wampler admitted Elm Hill went over the permit allowance. He
said the BODs were at 1,217 pounds with a limit of 600 pounds in July
and the company pays $1,000 or $2,000 a month in fines to clear it up
However, he made it clear his family recently purchased a water plant to
begin treating its own water by relocating the materials from the plant
to their site in Lenoir City, a measure the companies are undergoing
while further decisions are made as to the future of the Wamplers in
this area, not to mention the money saved treating their own water in
the mean time.