published Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Attorneys support Murray commissioner

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A special election for Murray County sole commissioner is set for Tuesday. Because 15 people are on the ballot, no candidate is expected to receive the required 50 percent plus one vote. A run-off election would be held in July.

DALTON, Ga.—Two attorneys defending Murray County against a federal sexual harassment lawsuit say County Manager and interim Commissioner Tom Starnes did the right thing when he hired a private investigator to investigate the harassment claim.

Ben Mathis and Greg Kinnamon issued a news release in defense of Starnes on Friday, four days before a special election in which 15 people, including Starnes, are seeking to become Murray County’s sole commissioner.

“It was the prudent thing to do and the right business decision,” said Mathis, an Atlanta lawyer hired by Murray County’s insurance agency. “Mr. Starnes and the county should be commended for taking prompt action to get to the bottom of this situation and find out the truth.”

Murray County attorney Kinnamon said Starnes’ “reputation has been tarnished needlessly by the media’s portrayal of him” after Starnes came under fire for using county funds to hire an investigator.

“[Starnes] always places the county first in any decision he makes. He has always exemplified the highest degree of ethics and professionalism,” Kinnamon added.

Starnes announced last week that he hired Chuck Bachman, an employment law attorney, to investigate a county employee’s allegations against former sole commissioner David Ridley.

Bachman will be paid $225 an hour by the county, plus expenses and actual administrative costs. He will continue the investigation until his findings are complete or his services are terminated by the county, Starnes said.

The plaintiff in the federal sexual harassment lawsuit, who has been a county employee for 29 years, first filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in March. Ridley resigned soon after the EEOC complaint was filed.

In her lawsuit, the woman says Starnes was aware of the alleged harassment from Ridley but did nothing to stop it. Starnes has denied any “direct knowledge” of the harassment before the woman hired an attorney.

In the news release, Mathis said it was necessary to hire an investigator who was not a county employee and who had no prior direct knowledge of the situation so his investigation would be objective. Starnes’ decision was made in the best interests of the county, he said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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$225.00 an hour plus expenses is a disgrace. No attorney is worth that type of money. Can't they settle this among themselves. Folks, we are in a recession. Starnes' reputation would not be tarnished had he kept his trousers zipped.

June 18, 2011 at 9:54 p.m.
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