Paper Will Drop Suit if Commission Reappoints Term-Limited Commissioners

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Knoxville (WVLT) - You might call it déjà vu. Knox County Commissioners may vote again on people to replace the ousted term limited commissioners.

Knox County voters may finally get a say this round in who represents them on commission.

If commissioners "re-do" appointments, the Knoxville News Sentinel newspaper will drop its lawsuit, alleging commissioners violated the sunshine law.

The Knoxville News Sentinel alleges that 12 commissioners, before and during the January 31st appointments, conducted business in secret.

In a letter to the Knox County Law Director, the newspaper's attorney says certain commissioners met without a quorum in "back room" sessions and discussed the appointees.

News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy says he's only watching out for the public's best interest.

"I don't care who gets on commission, that's not for me to say," says News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy. "I want the public to be involved, I want the public to decide and I want the public body to operate according to the law, and in the spirit of open government."

"We are likely to have serious problems with either one of these lawsuits, based on our bad behavior," Commissioner Mark Harmon favors a "re-do", which would avoid a potentially costly lawsuit.

The News Sentinel's attorney suggests in the letter that "County reconvened at a public meeting after adequate public notice and that the mandate of the Supreme Court be once again addressed."

Further, the newspaper's attorney says "However, the ultimate decision should not be made until...the public is afforded ample opportunity to know the facts and to be heard..."

The Law Director says settling out-of-court may benefit the commission.

"One, it may aid in restoring the public trust that some are quoted as shaken. Two, it does not require the commission to admit it violated the law," says Law Director John Owings.

A majority of commissioners Tuesday voted against putting the "re-do" on Monday's meeting agenda.

"Quite frankly, I don't feel like I violated the Sunshine Law," says Commissioner Craig Leuthold.

Meanwhile, Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale says the News Sentinel has a good chance of winning its lawsuit. "It's up to the county commission to determine where they want to go, do they want to try and settle those suits out of court, or do they want a judge to settle it for them."

The Knox County Law Director told commissioners Tuesday that by resolving the newspaper's lawsuit, it would also take care of a second lawsuit which was filed by attorney Herb Moncier.

Commissioners may add the settlement item to Monday's agenda, but most think it won't be heard until their March meeting.

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