Image Credit: HamiltonCountyTN / YouTube
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
On Wednesday, the Hamilton County Commission voted 6-4 to cease the coverage of legal costs for County Mayor Weston Wamp in his court battle against County Attorney Rheubin Taylor.
Chairman Chip Baker, Mike Chauncey, Lee Helton, and Gene-o Shipley voted against the measure. The commission, however, did decide to continue paying John Konvalinka, the commission’s attorney in the case, as well as former Judge Neil Thomas, who is representing County Attorney Taylor, with a unanimous vote.
Those who voted to not continue to pay the Wamp attorney stated they did not want to spend any more money on the legal issues.
Mr. Konvalinka had previously been paid $10,000. Judge Thomas says the comprehensive charges, dating back to October, are $32,600. Barret Albritton, the attorney for Mayor Wamp, was paid $24,500.
According to Chairman Baker, the county has already spent close to $71,000 on the case. Konvalinka said they could expect to spend another $25,000 to summarize the case and an additional $200,000 if the case goes to trial.
Mayor Wamp was asked twice by Commissioner Sharpe if he would withdraw Taylor’s termination, but Wamp refused both times. Wamp contends that Taylor’s contract as county attorney should have ended when former mayor Jim Coppinger left office.
Wamp said it is crucial to determine whether the current county attorney setup is valid. He claims different counties approach the legal department differently and “sometimes it is best to get things sorted out. I think the community would like to see clarity.”
He also claims that the predicted costs of the case “are greatly exaggerated.”
County Finance Director Lee Brouner voiced concern about the “open-ended” arrangement with Konvalinka, saying, “We do not know if it is legal for a local government to do a budget based on a ‘moving target.’”
Konvalinka agreed to submit a bill each month along with an update on the case.
Commissioner Sharpe called it “a total abuse of taxpayer funds” for “a witch hunt.” He also noted that every allegation Wamp had made against Taylor “has been disproven.”
Commissioner Graham stated that he thought it was over several Fridays ago, noting, “You, your attorney, everybody stood there and agreed to honor the resolutions that we passed.”
Wamp continued to argue as the commission called for a vote, “We’re without legal counsel that we can trust.”
A hearing is set for the case on Monday before Chancellor Jeff Atherton.
Following the meeting, the following statement was released by Mayor Wamp’s office, as reported by The Chattanoogan:
“Candidly, the lawsuit Rheubin Taylor filed against me has not been a distraction to my office. From funding a new Tyner Academy to negotiating large-scale economic development deals, we continue to work with commissioners to serve Hamilton County. It is important that we clarify the ambiguity around the contract my predecessor entered into with Mr. Taylor, which only a court of law can provide. We expect this matter to be resolved in the near future and maintain that it is in the best interest of Hamilton County to reform and modernize the County Attorney’s office.
“And to be clear, today the County Commission voted 6-4 to use taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit brought against county government by a private citizen.”