Whether or to pay for Rutherford County’s Election Commission’s legal fees comes up before the Budget Committee at its regular meeting Thursday night.
Last week the election commission voted to settled a legal dispute with Elections Administrator Hooper Penuel at a special-called meeting.
The election commission also voted to pay legal fees associated with the defense of the Republican members – Chairman Tom Walker, Doris Jones and Oscar Gardner – for nearly $25,000.
Walker proposed using $100,000 saved by the local Democratic and Republican parties by holding caucuses instead of primaries for the County General Election in August.
In the days since, the Rutherford County Democratic Party and Tennessee State Democratic Party have voiced their opposition to using taxpayer dollars to pay for the legal fees.
Walker said the Republicans were not sued personally, but in their professional capacity as election commissioners, meaning the county should pay the legal fees. The group also tried to work to lessen the cost to county taxpayers by hammering out an agreement with Penuel outside of a courtroom, he added.
“I did talk to the mayor (Ernest Burgess) about what they thought was the cleanest approach was and this is what they came up with,” Walker said.
But there is still one outstanding lawsuit that could affect who finally foots the bill for the lawsuit.
In Putnam County, a suit similar to Penuel’s also asks if the county or state is responsible for legal fees because state law is unclear on the matter.
Walker said the county reserves the right to bill the state for the legal fees, depending on how the Putnam County case plays out.
Last year, Penuel filed suit against the Republican members of the Rutherford County Elections Commission for allegedly breaking state and federal law by attempting to replace him.
The suit resulted in an injunction against the commission preventing them from appointing a new administrator.
In the settlement Penuel agrees to retire Dec. 31 with all pensions and benefits due and will receive $7,500 to pay his legal fees.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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