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Commission seeks Hurley resolution

Loudon County Commission opted Monday to get the help of 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson to settle a controversy over Commissioner Julia Hurley’s residency.

Van Shaver, county commissioner, at the July workshop questioned whether Hurley had moved out of the second district and into the fifth district after he was made aware of the issue through social media. Hurley repeatedly declined to comment on the matter.

Tennessee Code Annotated 8-48-101 points out a vacancy will occur if an elected official ceases to be a “resident of the state, or of the district, circuit or county for which the incumbent was elected or appointed.”

“This is not a personal issue, this is not a vendetta, this is not somebody trying to get somebody, myself or any other commissioner trying to get Commissioner Hurley,” Shaver said. “Commissioner Hurley has set rules and regulations to go by just like we all do. We all have to abide by what the constitution says, what state law says and that stuff.”

Hurley during the workshop claimed the move was temporary. She did not attend Monday’s commission meeting.

According to TCA 2-2-122, a person does not lose residency if there is intention to return, “the person leaves home and goes to another country, state or place within this state for temporary purposes, even if of one or more years duration.”

“There’s no question that she’s moved. There’s no question that her intent was not to move back to begin with,” Shaver said. “Now after the fact she was briefed and given talking points by another elected official what to say to make it sound right. ‘That was, well, temporary I’m having foundation work.’ Well, there wasn’t no truth to that because she’s done leased her house twice, at least right now.”

On Monday, Shaver noted several options for commission: a quo warranto lawsuit, seeking declaratory judgment from a judge or doing nothing, the last of which he opposed because he felt it wasn’t right to ignore.

“Citizens can take a lawsuit, the county commission can take a lawsuit, the county commission could vote and have the district attorney take a lawsuit if he chose to,” Shaver said. “We can’t make him do it, but we can only ask him to do it. You have the lawsuit options.”

Commission agreed to send information to Johnson and get his input. Commissioners Kelly Littleton-Brewster and David Meers motioned and seconded, respectively, with the vote passing 9-0.

“Send it over to him and see what he has to say,” Henry Cullen, commission chairman, said after the meeting. “The problem is it isn’t going to be resolved easy. She’s saying it’s temporary. Temporary has no limit on it, so I think it has to be somebody other than us.”

Before the vote, Shaver favored declaratory judgment because he felt it was the most neutral option. However, it would require money to retain an attorney.

“What that amounts to is through an attorney, not Bob Bowman, he can’t handle it because he’s the county commission’s attorney, and if this body chooses that way we’ll have to decide who if we want to do it we’d have to get an attorney,” Shaver said. “But an attorney would take the information to the chancellor and say, ‘Here’s our situation. This person has done X, Y and Z. What’s your position on this?’ That person would have the ability to represent and say themselves, ‘Well, I did X, Y and Z; here’s why I did it’.”

The judge would then make a decision based on the evidence, Shaver said.

Before seconding Littleton-Brewster’s motion, Meers recommended Hurley sit down with attorney Joe Ford. Meers eventually rescinded his motion.

“I don’t understand with a move that’s made on temporary basis why was the mayor or the chairman not contacted?” Meers said. “Van, you made a statement, if she has been versed by an elected official, that is totally wrong and that should not happen.”

Commissioner Adam Waller said declaratory judgment was the better option.

“We need somebody who’s a legal expert who can make a decision for us,” Waller said after the meeting. “I think a declaratory judgment’s the fairest, best way to do it versus asking Russell Johnson to look into it and having to come back and maybe going to chancery court. I just think a declaratory judgment is what we should have done. This is the cheapest way and the fastest way to let DA Johnson look at it.

“We just need some resolution because every phone call I get from a constituent ends with, ‘What’s going on with Julia Hurley’s situation?’ I just want it resolved and put behind us,” he added.

Budget changes

Commissioners approved amendments in the sheriff’s office and jail budgets for revisions in job classifications. One of the 24 jailer positions approved in July will be removed to create an additional sergeant job classification at Loudon County Sheriff’s Office.

Tracy Blair, county budget director, said the net effect is a savings of $56,243. The amendment includes a reduction in the jail budget of about $64,000 and an increase in the sheriff’s office budget of about $7,900. The increase on the LCSO side is the difference between a corporal and a sergeant.

Shaver and Meers motioned and seconded, respectively, with the vote passing 8-1. Matthew Tinker was the lone opposing vote.

“A few weeks ago it was imperative that they have a certain number of jailers in the jail and then now it isn’t,” Tinker said after the meeting. “If they weren’t all needed at that time I wish we could have saved the money on the front end.”

In other action, Loudon County Commission:

• Rezoned 2.19 acres at U.S. Highway 321 and Hickory Valley Road from A-1 Agricultural-Forestry District to C-1 Rural Center District.

• Rezoned 20.18 acres at 10616 East Coast Tellico Parkway from R-1 Suburban Residential District to R-1 Suburban Residential District with planned unit development overlay of 2.5 units per acre.

• Rezoned 1.08 acres at U.S. Highway 411 South from C-2 General Commercial District to C-1 Rural Center District.

Jail overcrowding big issue

Loudon County Sheriff’s Office is having to get creative with a high inmate population until the jail expansion opens in early 2020.

As of Thursday, Capt. Jake Keener, LCSO jail administrator, noted the jail had a population of 201. Of that count, 139 were males and 62 were females.

“Now two days ago we were 215,” Keener said. “We have sessions court on Wednesdays. That’s our saving grace, and so today we’re 201. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.”

A high inmate count has been commonplace in recent years. The average this year has been 174 in a facility only certified for 91 beds, Keener said.

“For the past two years these months we’ve hit 200,” Keener said. “This is abnormally high. We don’t plan for it in our budget; we certainly don’t expect it. Our budget changes July 1. I think we’re planning probably a little better for it this year since we were hit with an unexpected last year, but it certainly hurts with our food budget, our medical expenses.

“I’ve got a hallway converted to house males, I’ve got an indoor recreation unit that I have females housed in, and so it causes problems for my officers because those units don’t have bathrooms or showers,” he added. “I have officers come in, they spend eight hours basically just moving inmates to the facilities.”

Keener has overtime budgeted for officers. When the inmate count hits 150, the standard is to have four officers on duty at one time, but Keener noted there’s no “standard to when I’m at 200 because it’s new to us.”

“So trying to keep five or six officers on shift is really the only thing I can do,” he said.

The jail expansion will increase capacity to 264 inmates, including 193 new male beds and 71 female beds. The project is scheduled to be complete in early 2020. There is also room for future expansion.

If the facility were finished today, Keener estimated the female population could be near capacity. Overall capacity is a concern, he said.

“That’s a fear, absolutely,” Keener said. “And the judges, officers, everyone’s working with us trying not to overwhelm us as we are now, but of our 201 inmates, 159 are not sentenced. We only have 42 that are sentenced at this time.”

Loudon County Commissioner Van Shaver at the July commission workshop requested 9th Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson and others be present at the August workshop to help commissioners better understand what can be done.

“If you look at our population records over the years it’s obvious to see that our jail population is being increased dramatically by those sitting in the jail waiting to go to criminal court,” Shaver said.

He shared with commissioners the jail population of the past few months.

“I’ve done a new one now that’s got for years, I think I went back 10 years, and where we used to have 25 or 30 waiting to go to criminal court, we’re now running into the 90s waiting to go to criminal court,” Shaver said. “I would like to understand why this is the case and is there anything we can do to alleviate this problem. I mean ultimately it’s going to break the county if we don’t do something. ... The bottom line is what the state’s doing is making all us local jurisdictions house their inmates is what it comes down to, whether they’ve been to court or not been to court. This is a state matter and criminal court only meets three times a year so the number can’t do anything but just get bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Shaver said he simply wants to better understand the problem.

Keener on Monday said the jail only has six state-related inmates.

In the past there have been efforts to reduce bonds and sentences for minor offenses, Sheriff Tim Guider said.

“It’s been helpful but right now we keep climbing. It’s hard to control that,” Guider said. “You want to keep the people that are doing more serious crimes in jail and that’s our job.”

Inmate population is an issue for many communities.

“Surrounding counties are holding much more than we’re holding right now, every county around us. Monroe (County), their new jail I think is pushing — I mean it’s going to be at capacity around the upper 300s is what I’m hearing, close to 400 is their new capacity, Roane County about the same,” Guider said. “Blount County, of course, is larger. I was talking to Sheriff (Tom) Spangler this morning and of course they’re running about ... 1,500-1,600 right now (in Knox County), maybe more than that. We’re just hoping to get in this facility to ease the growing pain and accommodate these inmates the way they should be. We’re not trying to treat them like royalty or anything, but the necessities have to be met.”

The current expansion leaves room for another pod if needed, which Guider believes could be recommended down the line.

“We’re spending $17 million to add a new jail, we’re adding $1 million to the sheriff’s budget for new jailers and if we can’t get these people adjudicated and get them either found guilty, sent to state penitentiaries or found innocent or whatever’s going to happen their case has to be adjudicated before they can get out of our jail,” Shaver said. “... Nobody in the world’s going to be ready to talk about another addition anytime soon, not when we have these avenues to try to eliminate our problem through quicker court proceedings.”

Safety a concern

“I mean it’s a huge concern when your officer-to-inmate ratio is certainly not what we would like it to be,” Guider said. “When we go into trying to intervene when there’s a fight or a controversy it’s always a safety concern to go in a large room when you’ve got say 50 inmates and two officers or three officers, but then the inmates’ safety is a concern due to the fact that we might not be able to get there fast enough in the event of an outbreak.”

With a high population, Keener admitted there can a greater chance of violence.

“It certainly makes it more dangerous,” he said. “We do our walk-throughs — in our misdemeanor pod when we have 32 beds and 50 inmates, we’re in there every hour on the hour. Officers are having to step over inmates sleeping on the floor. So officer presence certainly happens, but you can imagine incidents do arise. We have more fights, more problems, because when you force them in there they tend to argue and fight a lot more.”

Commissioners in July granted additional funding for more jailers.

Keener said the department has begun the process to eventually bring on more officers, which is “exciting.”

“We are in the process of testing and interviewing a few,” Guider said. “There were two I think immediate hires that we needed to make because we had a couple of vacancies and so we needed to fill those, but we’re not going to actually hire until we’re — I mean we’re doing some preliminary stuff, like I said, testing and interviews, but hiring will not take place until probably October.”

Burned courthouse in focus

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw met last week with architects and engineers willing to tackle the initial steps to stabilize and restore the historic Loudon County Courthouse following April’s fire.

The meeting kicked off with determining the two project phases for the courthouse: stabilization and restoration.

Phase one requires identification and removal of any hazardous waste exposed to the building during and after the fire and ridding the courthouse of wet materials.

“The meeting held on Wednesday was our first meeting and was intended to be an opportunity for all currently contracted services to come together and have a preliminary roundtable in an effort to begin a channel of communication among themselves and the county,” Susan Huskey, county director of purchasing, said in an email correspondence.

The county has had guidance from an insurance company that laid out the necessary steps to ensure the company can cover repair costs. One of the first steps included a site survey.

Based on a report from Seth Frost, Frost Environmental Services asbestos inspector, he collected “a total of 27 samples of suspect asbestos containing material.” Frost observed from the collected samples that 900 square feet of 4x2 ceiling tile in the basement, 2 linear feet of 2-inch pipe insulation in the basement hall, 200 linear feet of 4-inch pipe insulation in the crawlspace and the joint compound in various areas proved to be ACM.

Before construction, ACM must be removed and placed in an approved landfill, according to Tennessee state law.

Brian Brown, county facilities director, said the asbestos situation is under control and the county is using protocol to move forward.

“Everything that has been identified in this has been abated,” Brown said. “There is the potential, of course, that (there) are some things that’s there in that facility that’s unseen. Everything that’s been stated in this report has been evaluated.”

Frost’s report notes the possibility material “may have been hidden and therefore not sampled” due to the building’s extensive fire damage.

Loudon County Facilities Maintenance in a letter to the purchasing department revealed they are willing to provide Brown with a “turnkey asbestos abatement,” which will result in the removal and disposal of the accessible asbestos pipe insulation from the two basement crawl space entrances. The group also plans to “perform the removal and disposal of the sheetrock ceiling and the sheetrock on the floor of the (third) floor rear office of the courthouse.”

Sheetrock will also be removed in the upstairs law library, upstairs elevator room and the downstairs room at the left of the main entrance.

The second major task is to remove wet materials. Fire damage left a funnel at the building’s top that allows rain water to soak the interior of the courthouse. Contractors warned moist residue could be detrimental to the structure if it is not addressed soon.

Lee Ingram, architect with Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects Inc., believes a temporary roof could be a solution to help dry the interior before reconstruction begins.

“The temporary roof, it could take quite some time to reconstruct and redesign and rebuild the old structure and cupola and everything,” Ingram said. “We’ve got to get this building dry fast. To exclude the idea of a temporary roof might — we might need to talk about that.”

Though the insurance company has advised the county to dry the building’s interior, Huskey admitted the cost could be a concern.

“We don’t want to be pennywise,” Ingram said. “You may end up having more damage occur if you leave the building open longer and longer.”

Ingram also noted it could take months for the bricks to dry.

Huskey said she was in the process of sending out the last report to the insurance company. Once reports are complete, the county will have a better idea of the costs attached to revamping the structure.

Bradshaw expressed his desire to maintain the original look.

“The court itself and the offices, we’re still going to have our standard offices and everything, still the same set-up, just the use is going to be different, so I don’t know if that affects anything as far as putting everything back the way it were,” he said. “Just the uses are going to be different. I don’t know, we’ve not really had a hard conversation of what exactly we’re going to put in, either a venue or a library’s been discussed, or a VSO office. There’s been about half a dozen discussions, all of them different ideas. Even though the use will be different, the layout will be the same.”

Bradshaw feels recreating the classic courthouse look is something the community deserves.

“I think from a community standpoint, that’s what the community’s after — especially the front of the building,” he said. “As long as they can have weddings and get prom pictures and stuff made right there at the front, that’s the big one. As far as the interior goes, I guarantee you, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people have never been inside that building. Most, especially this generation coming up and a lot of my generation as well, they couldn’t tell you what it was like beforehand unless they had court in there. I think putting it back the way it was — I think that’s what insurance was talking about, too, they want it back to how it was. They didn’t want anything above and beyond.”

A timeline for starting the stabilization process has not been established, but a public hearing is expected once plans are in place.

Bus routes ensure student safety

The ongoing construction on U.S. Highway 321 has forced Lenoir City Schools to reconsider bus routes that typically trek up the highway.

The trio of city schools are near the heart of the nonstop highway construction, but only a few changes were made to bus routes, Mike Sims, Lenoir City Schools supporting supervisor, said.

“We only have two out of our 12 buses that run any on 321, and one goes from the elementary school would go towards the dam, and the other comes out of the elementary school,” Sims said. “That comes the back way. We don’t use 321 until we have to there.”

The transportation department has re-routed a couple of buses to ensure student safety, and Sims said the change can tack on extra miles.

“Because we have to back track so much trying to miss all that construction, and when it gets finished, we’ll go back to running our normal routes,” he said. “No, it isn’t (a big deal) for us, but still, it’s hard to maneuver there sometimes.”

Lenoir City Police Department has worked with schools to determine the best routes. Don White, Lenoir City police chief, said the department feels it is necessary to keep schools abreast of construction projects to ensure students arrive safely and on time.

“We fortunately have a great relationship with the school system and Dr. (Jeanne) Barker and Mike Sims,” White said. “On an annual basis, we’ll discuss any issues that have come up to do with our construction projects, and, of course, currently we have a huge project going on with the 321 corridor from Simpson Road down to 321 and 11. We just want to make sure the school system’s aware of any issues that would cause them to have to do a detour and to make sure that we’ve got the best routes and safest routes possible throughout each school year.”

LCPD determined median construction could prove difficult for buses crossing the highway.

“Probably the biggest thing that we deal with right now is because of the median work that’s being done currently and the amount of construction equipment that’s working in the middle of 321,” White said. “The crossovers, several are shut down currently. We just wanted to make sure — and there’s a lot of congestion — we just wanted to make sure that we’re able to get the children back to their residence as quickly as possible when school is released and so we just wanted to make sure all the routes were looked at to see what would be the best options.”

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, was grateful that the school system received help from both Sims and LCPD.

Though the new routes help ensure student safety, Sims, like many in the county, shares the feeling of anticipation for construction to come to a close so buses can return to regular routes.

“I just hope it goes good,” Sims said. “I’ll be glad when they finish.”

The Loudon County Schools transportation office was unavailable for comment by News-Herald presstime.