Irwin says he’s willing to consider options
CLINTON—Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank may be the only person authorized to hire an attorney to represent county commissioners responding to subpoenas or other legal notices filed in the ouster suit against Law Director Jay Yeager, a commissioner said Monday.
That means a motion approved 13-2 by the Anderson County Commission last week might have to be repealed, said Commissioner Dusty Irwin, whose district includes Norris and Andersonville. That motion allows each commissioner to hire their own attorney and bill the county, Irwin said.
He said his recommendation this week is based on his interpretation of state law and attorney general’s opinions. He’s called for a special meeting to repeal last week’s motion by Commissioner Myron Iwanski, who represents part of Oak Ridge and is former interim county mayor, and consider a new motion that asks Frank to find and hire an attorney to replace Yeager in the case.
“Although I am no lawyer, the attached seems clear that the commission cannot authorize or hire legal counsel in the absence of a law director, and our law director (Jay Yeager) has stated to the commission that he cannot represent or advise us on the ouster suit he is currently involved in,” Irwin said in a Monday e-mail forwarded to commissioners and the media. “Also, it appears to me that only the the county mayor can perform this hiring action and that the commission may only approve the expenditure by a majority vote.”
It’s not clear if other commissioners will agree. Iwanski was unavailable for comment Tuesday morning.
The special meeting has not been called yet. Irwin said it takes nine commissioners to request one.
“We need to get together and see if we’ve erred,” Irwin said. “If we have, then we have to repeal that action.”
Frank and Yeager have been embroiled in a series of high-profile disputes. Among other things, they often rebut each other at county commission meetings, and the law director has suggested Frank is behind the ouster suit, pointing out that the attorney representing the petitioners in that case was Frank’s attorney in a salary suit filed by the sheriff last year. That attorney, Gregory Brown of Knoxville, also represents Frank in a separate legal action (a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief) filed by the county mayor against Yeager this year.
Frank has responded to Yeager’s claims by saying that it’s a disservice to the petitioners in the ouster suit to suggest that she’s behind the effort to remove the law director.
Asked if Frank might have her own conflict of interest in appointing an attorney for commissioners in the ouster suit, given her own legal action against Yeager, Irwin responded: “I believe she could do her job without discrimination. It’s just a matter of her doing her job.”
During last week’s meeting, Yeager recommended each commissioner seek their own legal counsel in the ouster suit or, alternatively, hire an attorney as a group.
Irwin was one of the two commissioners who opposed Iwanski’s motion. Among other things, there was no cap on the legal fees, Irwin said.
“I’m very opposed to having each commissioner seek their own counsel,” he said Tuesday. “I think it’s ludicrous. I think it’s a terrible waste of the citizen’s money.”
If the commissioners do meet in a special session, Irwin said he’s willing to consider other options, including seeking another county attorney to advise commissioners or hiring a lawyer for commission on this one issue. But he thinks the commission can only hire one person to represent the entire body.
The ouster suit, which was filed in Anderson County Chancery Court in May and amended since, alleges 16 grounds for ouster. Yeager filed a motion to dismiss on July 11, arguing, among other things, that the ouster statute does not apply to the law director position.
According to an amended petition filed June 13, the petitioners include Lynn Byrge, Mark DeVol, Ray Hagan, Toby Geren, Barbara Gasper Gregory, Clyde Cook, Doug Walden, Carnelon V. Terry, John E. Seiber, Larry Ownby, Hal M. Hagan, Phyllis H. Terry, Thomas T. Adams, Jason Stiltner, Dennis L. Pemberton, Virgil L. Rainey, Charles W. Jackson, Gary L. McLemore, Earl T. McLemore Jr., John Walker, Darlene Adams, and Tipton J. Garland.
More information will be added as it becomes available.