By Jim Young
Even though the matter had been covered during the Crossville City Council's work session last week, it came back up during the regular council meeting and led to some strong words back and forth between the city attorney and one councilman.
The matter is the issue of a lawsuit filed by former city manager Jack Miller against Boyd Wyatt after Wyatt had made comments about Miller during a city council meeting following Miller's firing at an earlier council meeting.
The lawsuit was filed personally against Wyatt and not against him as a councilman or against the city, but because the details of the lawsuit indicate the comments were made during a meeting and could be considered as being made as a councilman, the Tennessee Municipal League (TML) chose to defend the lawsuit.
The question from councilmen Jesse Kerley and Pete Souza is how did the lawsuit get to TML without council action?
The city has a liability policy with the TML and according to city attorney Ken Chadwell, all lawsuits that involve the city, employees or officers must be sent to TML for their review. Following that review, TML opted to defend Wyatt in the suit though Chadwell pointed out, depending on the outcome of the lawsuit they could seek payment from Wyatt for the defense.
The issue was brought up Tuesday by councilman Kerley who asked city manager Bruce Wyatt for “a report for next month's meeting disclosing how the lawsuit concerning former councilman Boyd Wyatt Sr. was brought before the city of Crossville to turn into their insurance at TML and update the public on how much that's costing the taxpayers in insurance premiums.”
City manager Wyatt asked attorney Chadwell if there were any legal issues there and Kerley quickly responded, “I don't feel there are any legal issues just to inform the public that their taxes are going to pay for a private lawsuit and that it was never discussed before a council meeting. I want to know how that originated.”
Chadwell explained that the decision was TML's and the city was required by contract to report the suit to them. Chadwell added that TML would do the same thing for any of the current sitting council members.
Kerley said he had read depositions of the lawsuit and commented that Boyd Wyatt wouldn't answer questions about who was paying for the defense of the lawsuit. Kerley said that had raised his concern.
Councilman Pete Souza joined the discussion saying, “TML wasn't out there waiting to represent Mr. Boyd Wyatt or anyone else for that matter so there had to be some procedure to contact TML.”
Attorney Chadwell interjected strongly, “And under that procedure Mr. Souza, every suit that comes in here is tendered to TML. That's our contract with them.” Chadwell continued, explaining the matter for a third time in a week, “There's nobody sitting around deciding who gets defended and who doesn’t get defended and I think that's very important because anymore discussion about that is really wasting our time. We have to honor our contract obligations and they (TML) make a decision about who picks up a defense.”
Souza commented, “Maybe you answered the question.”
Chadwell shot back, “I think I did answer the question councilman Souza.”
Souza then added, “But whether we're wasting your time or not is not relevant, because we pay you for your time, quite well.”
Councilman Kerley also requested that the manager put together a report on all the city customers who currently pay for sewer but are not actually connected to the sewer line. An early Environmental Protection Agency grant the city received for improvements to the waste water treatment plant mandated that the city require that all customers who are within a certain distance of the sewer line pay a sewer bill whether they are hooked to the line or not. This has been required by the city since the 1980s.