County Commission looks for way out of pension stalemate

Betty BeanFeature

Knox County Commission is scheduled to meet in special session at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, to consider a joint proposal from Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Sheriff Tom Spangler to settle the long-running pension board lawsuit.

But due to a scheduling conflict, it’s unclear who will attend, because most commissioners are booked to attend the Tennessee County Services Association’s annual Fall Conference & Trade Show in Chattanooga, which runs Tuesday through Friday.

Jacobs and Spangler have asked the commission to endorse a compromise offered by the county’s pension board to end a lawsuit brought by Law Director Bud Armstrong, who said he’s trying to save over $1 million a year. Jacobs said it is “lunacy” for the county law director to sue his own client, and said the county has a moral obligation to accept the proposal to add 43 days of accrued annual leave time to the deputies’ pension formula. Armstrong and those who support his position say the charter mandates that pension calculations be based on salary alone.

Read the mayor’s statement here:

2018-10-02 Mayor Sheriff Statement Release

Commission Chair Hugh Nystrom says he will be back for the special session. Commissioner John Schoonmaker says he won’t, and he’s not happy about being asked to leave the conference.

“During that 4 o’clock (Thursday) time period, we’re having a training class about BEP funding,” Schoonmaker said. “The mayor’s made a decision that his little deal is much more important, and I think that’s wrong. He should be there to be learning about the BEP (the state’s Basic Education Plan, which is the funding formula for K-12 education). This was arranged a year ago. The hotel rooms have already been paid for. Why would you do that? It’s like a big bully’s come in and taken over.”

A simple majority of the 11-member commission will be needed to constitute a quorum for the Oct. 25 meeting, i.e. six members, the same number who voted at last Monday’s work session to add the question to the Oct. 22 agenda. The measure failed because eight votes were required.

Feelings ran high at the work session. Carson Dailey, who voted no, said he was tired of being thrown “under the bus” and suggested putting the pension issue to a referendum vote.

Brad Anders said he was ashamed and embarrassed that his fellow commissioners “wouldn’t even bring this up for a vote to represent the citizens of this county.”

Until he resigned last week, Schoonmaker served on the pension board. He said that he will not discuss his resignation until he has a chance to explain his action to his colleagues, presumably at the Oct. 22 commission meeting.

Prediction: Jacobs, Spangler and the six commissioners who supported adding the compromise question to the agenda will show up for the meeting Thursday. So will attorney Herb Moncier, who represents still-employed deputies who will be affected by this litigation. He spoke at the work session and urged the commissioners to accept the compromise prior to Nov. 12, when the question is set to go to trial. He said there are nine attorneys involved in the case, which has cost the county $600,000 already.

As the court date looms, he said, “the little mouse in the wheel runs a lot faster and works a lot harder to get the cheese.

“(Legal) bills are going to shoot out of sight.”

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