(I mean I’m still a *#$%, but anyhoo.)
However, in a rare moment of lucidity for the KNS message board, I read a post by a reader that actually made sense, wasn’t demeaning and stayed on topic.
I’ll get to that in a moment.
A lot of folks are coming down on county Law Director Joe “you ain’t from around here” Jarret. He’s taking some hits today because a legal opinion he issued – based on whether the mayor and commission can legally yank the coin from the fee offices and make the directors submit budgets to them – got reversed.
The problem here is that CTAS didn’t reverse Jarret. CTAS reversed itself.
Jarret issued his initial legal opinion only after he talked with a CTAS attorney and let them do the legwork. This was intentional. Yeah, Jarret gets paid some heavy scratch (more than $150K), but in this instance he had to step aside.
His office represents the entire county. That includes the mayor’s office (heh- I’ll get to that one in a minute, too), the commissioners, the school board and the purchasing department whenever a reporter tries to get ahold of public documents and they don’t want to provide them.
Oddly enough, Jarret’s department doesn’t represent the pension board. Nooooo. They pay three lawyers (including two former law directors who used to do it themselves when they were in office) hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though Jarret’s office could represent them.
But I digress.
Anyway, back to the issue.
Jarret’s office didn’t take this on itself because of the potential conflict of interest. And it’s not unusual to farm out work. The office does have a budget for that.
So, Jarret went to CTAS, which our wise, sage-like 1973 state Legislature formed because “county officials wanted an agency to provide prompt, accurate, technical assistance on a daily basis to Tennessee’s 95 counties."
CTAS crafted a plan, then dropped the ball. Because the plan kind of sucked.
But, there is some good news.
It got caught before the commission actually voted on it. Because if it did, we’d have some lawsuits rocking.
So, I was initially going to rag CTAS for this one. (Actually, I think I just did, but whatever.)
I deal with a lot of arrogant folks, and I put that organization right smack at the top. And when that arrogance turns to humility – like it did when I talked to a number of folks over there today – you know something is up.
Now, CTAS will say: “Well, gee there, partner, we might have reversed our decision, but we haven’t had a lawsuit over what we were basing it on in over 20 years.”
Well, yeah, because no one knew you were freaking wrong. Until now.
Oops. My bad. Sorry.
You see, Knox County isn’t the only county exempt from the state statute that CTAS miraculously discovered in the eleventh hour Wednesday afternoon that led to it reversing its own decision. No, there’s more counties. So guess what could happen?
That’s right. Bye, bye perfect record.
And by the way, how many other statutes have you forgotten about?
(One more thing: A CTAS official I talked to today said to go ahead “and rely on your county attorney” for now. Ouch.)
Here’s what the poster (named “pinhook”) wrote on the KNS message board about the issue:
CTAS is an arm of the University of Tennessee. It used to be housed in the Institute for Public Service. Its job is to provide technical assistance to the 95 county governments. It follows in longevity, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service that provides technical assistance to Tennessee towns and cities. It is funded by the state sales tax, city and county portions and by other sources.
Neither CTAS nor MTAS has any authority over cities or counties. Their staff members tend to be very good professionals - maybe a little academic oriented for some. Most have held high level positions in their specialties.
The CTAS lawyer probably did a quick and dirty search of recent law and said that he could find nothing to prevent the action. Later he may have felt uncomfortable with his research and looked in greater detail. He could have been encouraged to look further by someone.
The additional research may have turned up the new information and he called, emailed or whatever the county and informed them of the newly found law. Most good lawyers do not have the entire code memorized. I am saying that CTAS is not the villain or hero either in this case. They were doing what they do every day.
In other words, people f--- up sometimes.
Let’s be happy we caught it. Let’s not be too harsh and start playing the Blame Game.
On a side note: I’m pretty sure the further research done by CTAS was probably at the urging of some of the fee office holders who are opposed to the plan to give up their scratch. But it really doesn’t matter. Someone was going to discover the mistake sooner or later.
Now, with that said, the issue isn’t done.
Right now, county mayor Tim Burchett and his right-hand-man, Chief of Staff Dean Rice, are up there on the sixth floor of the Knox County Deathstar figuring a way out of this mess.
I mean, they don’t have enough battles to lose – I mean, fight – right now, so they’re going to continue taking this one on in the name of transparency.
It’s also not like the administration hasn’t taken two steps back and one step forward during the time they’ve spent on this issue. (And the sarcasm drips, baby. Yeah.)
They are no longer “mayor” and “chief of staff”.
They are now: Attorney Tim and Big Dean, esquire.
And they aren’t buying the legal opinions they got. So, they’re going to shop around.
And the best place? Well, if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.
So they're hitting the books, digging through codes, statutes, whatever.
They believe that the commission can still force at least three of the non-judiciary fee offices – the trustee, the register of deeds and the county clerk – into turning over the budgets. Those offices are listed in the charter. And we operate under a very confusing charter form of government. There’s this whole “Jordan Decision” thing. But let’s skip that for today.
And, they feel that it’s even possible that the judiciary offices – clerk and master, criminal court clerk, and circuit court clerk – could fall under commission control, too.
When I asked the mayor - I mean Attorney Tim - about the next step, he said: “We’ll talk to (Jarret). The story will probably be me and him not agreeing. But it will probably be up to CTAS, and when you have a law that says you can’t be transparent, then I think you have a problem with the law.”
The next time I take a “transparent” leak in the middle of the street and Sheriff Jimmy “The Man with the Badge” Jones comes after me, I’m going to tell him I have a problem with the law. I’m sure he’ll understand.
Heh. I kill myself sometimes.
But maybe the mayor is right.
Maybe Jarret – who is now researching the details between charter and state law – will find another old statute that reverses the last old statute.
And maybe they’ll all just get along.
Or maybe . . .
Oddly enough, these ramblings come right after I wrote a fairly positive piece about the mayor.
Well, I told you then that I would have to kick someone in the nads sometime soon.