Loudon commission declines to settle dispute with court clerk

LOUDON — The Loudon County Commission in a special called meeting Monday declined to settle a dispute with General Sessions and Criminal Court Clerk Lisa Niles over her request for additional staffing and raises for her office.
The lack of action at the meeting, which was called specifically to discuss a settlement, came despite a recommendation of a settlement by attorney Joe Ford, who is representing the county in a lawsuit filed by Niles last year.
Niles, who was not at the meeting, has been asking for six new employees and four new part-time employees for her office at an estimated cost of $186,000, and raises for all 14 of her employees ranging from $612 to $10,200 at a total cost of $66,000. She subsequently filed suit against the county.
Ford recommended offering Niles four new employees and raises for the current employees. The cost to the county on the 2015-2016 budget would be about $88,000. If the case goes to court the county could be on the hook for the full request and court costs more than $100,000. “I think it’s a fair settlement compared to what the court will do,” he said.
Richard Truitt, a Loudon County resident, addressed the commission at the beginning of the meeting. “We don’t need elected officials suing the county when they don’t get their way,” he said.
Loudon County activist Pat Hunter told the commission she is concerned that, before the August election, Niles said she needed three new employees, but changed her request to six after she was elected.
Commissioner Van Shaver said he would not support the settlement. “I think it’s wrong for an elected official to do this to the county,” he said. Greenback commissioner Bill Satterfield said he was concerned about the effect granting Niles’ request might have on other county offices whose employees may not be receiving raises. “I don’t see anything good coming out of this,’ he said.
Commissioner Harold Duff said he was also concerned. “I have a problem with treating some county employees differently,” he said.
Chairman Steve Harrelson called for a motion to vote on the proposal but no commissioners offered a motion.
Commissioner Dave Mears said he would like Ford to go back to Niles to see if she would consider another offer.
Shaver said he’s concerned about where the money will come from to fund Niles’ request should the case be litigated and a judge orders the county to add the new clerks. “It’s going to take a property tax increase,” he said.
The commission is also facing a request from Judge Rex Dale to add another judge to his office. Niles said the increased caseload might require as many as two additional clerks for her office.
Although increased cost of adding a second judge will be supported by an increase in the litigation tax, Shaver said there is no way of knowing if the tax will generate enough revenue to pay for the second judge. There is certainly no money in the county budget to fund the increase without a tax increase, he said.
Attempts to reach Niles were not successful. A public records request by the News Sentinel asking for records of the increased caseload in Dale’s and Niles’ offices was unsuccessful, because, according to Niles, the county does not keep such records.