Talking, not court, the best approach

News Herald Editorial

While constitutional officers suing the counties they serve in an attempt to secure additional resources is not an uncommon practice, the recent lawsuit between General Sessions and Circuit Court Clerk Lisa Niles and newly elected Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw is peculiar for many reasons, not the least of which is the impeccable timing.

In her suit against the mayor, Niles has requested the addition of six new full-time deputy clerks at $31,000 apiece and salary increases for 17 currently employed full- and part-time clerks, along with a raise for a court clerk bookkeeper. This comes only a month removed from Loudon County Commission putting its stamp of approval on the 2014-15 budget, which included a total budgeted amount of $373,700 for Circuit Court and $514,540 for General Sessions Court, although Niles requested $419,030 and $697,286 for those two departments, respectively.

Perhaps more telling is that the lawsuit was filed a little more than a month after Niles officially began a new term after beating out challenger Judy Hines on the May primary ballot.

Additionally, the 2014-15 budget plan was a recommendation made by former Mayor Estelle Herron and approved by the Budget Committee before getting final passage from the full commission. Why was the commission, which was ultimately responsible for deciding whether or not to provide Niles’ office with more employees, not named as defendants in the lawsuit?

In light of current and future funding concerns that may include new jail facilities down the road and more school construction, the commission took the fiscally conservative, reasoned strategy in passing along a modest budget increase in the court offices, as it did with other county departments.

Perhaps the lawsuit was nothing more than an attention-grabber, but, if so, that would seem like a frivolous use of resources in an already overburdened office that’s requesting more resources. Frankly, all of this just doesn’t seem like the Niles we’ve come to know.

In any case, Niles’ attorney Zachary Tenry said he thought the two parties had a “good possibility” of finding a solution without going to court, and, for his part, Bradshaw seemed confident officials could work out a plan. “I think that would be the most advantageous for both parties involved,” he said in an interview late Friday.

Rather than slapping a new mayor with a lawsuit right out of the gate, couldn’t Niles and commission have continued to hold discussions to find an equitable, long-term solution to appease both sides? That would certainly have been the easiest and less obstructionistic approach.