published Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Hamilton County briefed on 'threatened or pending' litigation

Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Commission members met in a closed legal meeting on Wednesday to discuss "threatened or pending" litigation, according to the commission's attorney.

While Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor did not provide details what the executive session involved, Commissioner Fred Skillern said the meeting strictly involved a "personnel problem, which involves solely County Commission personnel."

The personnel the commission oversees includes administrative employees and the magistrates program.

Questions have recently arisen about whether to pay Magistrate Larry Ables about $2,000 of leave time Ables says he is owed. The commission voted last month against paying Ables the sum until they had clearer verification from Human Resources about what he is owed.

Taylor did not confirm or deny that the meeting concerned possible Ables' claim.

On Wednesday, Ables said he had not threatened to take any legal action against the commission, and said that he considered the payment issue an "unresolved personnel issue."

"I have not heard anything about what the commission may be planning to do," said Ables.

Closed executive sessions must fall under particular parameters in order for them to be closed, according to Tennessee's Sunshine Law.

"The important part is that the meeting must somehow be tied to threatened or pending litigation," Elisha Hodge, the Tennessee Comptroller's Open Records Counsel, said Wednesday.

During such meetings, commissioners may only be informed about legal matters, and may not deliberate towards any action.

The commission is currently battling a lawsuit filed in federal court against the commission's regular practice of holding prayers in Jesus' name before meetings.

Commissioners said that Wednesday's executive session did not involve the prayer suit.

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