News

Springfield City Employee Files Federal Discrimination Lawsuit

An employee of the Springfield Water and Wastewater Department has filed a federal lawsuit against the city for racial discrimination, the Tennessean reports. Jordan Dickerson said co-workers racially harassed him on multiple occasions, including once when co-workers put a rope around his neck. The city disputes the rope incident occurred, but admitted that another incident involving a racist text message was true. Dickerson is asking for $500,000 and punitive damages.
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Nashville Police Oversight Board Holds First Meeting

Nashville’s new Community Oversight Board held its first meeting at the Metro courthouse last week to discuss leadership and staffing needs, The Tennessean reports. The board includes diverse members of the community, along with former police officers tasked with examining claims of racial bias and police misconduct in the city. Among the board members are former Davidson County Circuit Court Judge and Baker Donelson attorney Matt Sweeney and former Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper, who was elected secretary of the group. Voters overwhelmingly approved the establishment of the board in November 2018 despite opposition from Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson and the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police who expressed concerns that it may create a divide between law enforcement and the public. Chattanooga is also considering the adoption of a similar committee to oversee its police force.

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TBA to Introduce Legal Document Generation

The TBA will soon launch a new subscription-based product for Tennessee lawyers — automated legal forms. The initiative will use HotDocs, a custom documentation generator that creates form templates and speeds up the preparation process based on client and case data. In order to provide this valuable resource to our members, we hope to obtain your comments and ideas on forms you deem beneficial for replication. With across-the-board participation, we can comprise a substantive, comprehensive database where subscribers will have access to forms submitted by all TBA sections. Please send suggestions and comments to TBA Membership Director Mindy Fulks.

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Nashville Mayor's Order Recognizes LGBT-Owned Businesses

Nashville Mayor David Briley recently signed an executive order that recognizes LGBT-owned businesses as a category for Metro procurement and contracting, The Nashville Business Journal reports. Briley’s order aligns with recent changes announced by the Nashville Metro Council, which intends to address complaints that minority-owned businesses are not equally benefitting from the city’s economic growth. “It’s my job as mayor to make sure that everyone in our city, regardless of who they are or where they come from, has equal access to economic opportunities,” said Briley. “Today, we’ve taken an important step towards better equity for LGBT-owned businesses in Nashville.” Nashville will be the first city in the South to instill such a policy.
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Marshall Project, Journalist Sue Shelby Crime Commission Over Access to Records

The Marshall Project and Memphis journalist Wendi C. Thomas have filed a lawsuit against the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission over access to the agency’s records, The Daily Memphian reports. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Shelby County Chancery Court under the Tennessee public records act. The lawsuit states that after requesting multiple records from the Crime Commission, journalists repeatedly were denied access to the information by the organization.
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Nashville Court Clerk Accused of Sexual Assault

Davidson County Circuit Court Clerk Richard Rooker is being sued by an employee who says he repeatedly sexually assaulted her over a 12-year period beginning in 2006, the Tennessean reports today. The suit, which seeks at least $1.5 million in damages, says that Rooker forced her to have oral sex with him and also sexual intercourse. Rooker declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, Hal Hardin.
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House Republicans File Legislation to Limit Nashville Police Oversight Board

A newly created civilian board tasked with overseeing the Metro Nashville Police Department could lose its subpoena powers, a move that would significantly hinder the panel's ability to investigate alleged officer misconduct, The Tennessean reports. Tennessee House Republican leaders announced yesterday that they have filed legislation to limit citizen boards' authority to compel witness testimony or issue subpoenas for documents, among other restrictions that would apply to any similar board around the state. The Metro Nashville Council last month elected its 11-member community oversight board, which voters approved by referendum in November through an amendment to the city charter.
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Lee: State Agencies Must Improve Serving Rural Tennessee

In his first executive order issued last week, Gov. Bill Lee is requiring all 22 executive departments in the state to submit a statement by May 31 explaining how they serve rural Tennesseans. NewsChannel 5 reports that the order also asks the agencies to submit recommendations to improve that service by June 30.
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Chattanooga Council to Vote on $46.5 Million Sewage Project

The Chattanooga City Council will vote Feb. 5 on whether to award a construction contract in what will be the costliest component of its ongoing sewage treatment cleanup, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The $46.5 million project calls for three 10-million-gallon storage tanks near the Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant, which has released millions of gallons of sewage into the Tennessee River. In 2013, Chattanooga leaders signed an agreement with federal and state environmental regulators to have the site — known as the West Bank Outfall — contained by July 2020 in order to comply with the Clean Water Act. The city has budgeted a total of $264 million to fix and upgrade its sewer infrastructures, which service around 400,000 customers in the area.

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TBA Weekly Legislative Update

The Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives are back in session and are referring newly introduced bills to the appropriate committees, which are primarily holding organizational meetings this week. The deadline for filing all legislation is Feb. 6, so there will be a flood of bills introduced over the next two weeks. The TBA Governmental Affairs Team will be reviewing all bills and begin the process of forwarding the legislation affecting the practice of law to the appropriate Section Executive Councils for review and feedback. Stay tuned for more info.
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Defendants Ask for Dismissal of Lawsuit Involving Stalking by Dickson Police

Defendants in a lawsuit in which two former Dickson Police Officers sued the city, alleging that they were “routinely followed and stalked” after being fired, are asking that the case be thrown out, The Tennessean reports. The dispute stems from the dismissal of Robert Peeler and Justin Walton, former officers with the department who were sacked for their handling of an altercation outside of a local restaurant and evidence tampering — for which they were ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor. The defendants, Dickson Police Assistant Chief Seth Lyles and Capt. Todd Christian, maintain that any observations of Peeler and Walton took place in public places and that no constitutional violation occurred because there was no “search,” therefore the plaintiff's claim of invasion of privacy is unsubstantiated. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and District Attorney's office in the 17th Judicial District investigated the allegations made by Peeler and Walton, and determined that there was no reason to pursue charges on the matter.
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U.S. Supreme Court Considers Case Involving Tennessee Liquor Laws

The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Blair, considering whether states can pass laws with resident restrictions regarding the issuance of liquor licenses, Forbes reports. The dispute involves a family that owns a mom-and-pop liquor store, who moved to Tennessee from Utah and attempted to bring their business with them. Current Tennessee law requires license applicants to live in the state for at least two years. Additionally, the license expires in one year, and renewal requires residency of 10 consecutive years, effectively barring new Tennesseans from opening these types of businesses, which detractors claim stifles new business in favor of existing competitors. The Tennessee Alcohol and Beverage Commission recommended approving the license and declined to enforce the rule, leading the association to sue. The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision sometime this spring.

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Shelby County Takes Steps to Address Disproportionate Minority Contact Issues in Juvenile Court

Shelby County leaders are spearheading an initiative to study and analyze data from its Juvenile Court regarding a disparity in contact with minority children, The Commercial Appeal reports. Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and county Mayor Lee Harris have hired a national expert from the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) to assist in determining problem areas of inequality in hopes to address and overcome these obstacles. Harris lauded the move as "another step in creating more local oversight of these very important juvenile justice issues." According to its website, the NCJJ — a research division of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges — is the oldest juvenile justice research group in the United States. 

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Nashville Police Officer Charged with First Degree Murder

A Nashville grand jury has indicted police officer Andrew Delke on a first-degree murder charge in the fatal shooting of Daniel Hambrick, the Tennessean reports. The Nashville district attorney's office announced the move this afternoon. Delke is the first Nashville officer ever to be charged after an on-duty shooting. His defense says he will plead not guilty in the death of Hambrick, who was shot three times in the back during a foot chase in July.
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Metro Council Approves Infrastructure Funding for Nashville Yards Development

The Metro Nashville Council recently voted to grant preliminary approval for $15.2 million earmarked towards road, sewer and other infrastructure needs around the Nashville Yards project which will be home to Amazon’s HQ2, The Tennessean reports. The move also approves participation, easement and license agreements between Metro and Uptown Property Holdings, the building group in charge of development. Council member Kathleen Murphy — one of only three detractors — denounced the city’s interest in the infrastructure plan, saying that it was just "another incentive" for Amazon and that the money would be better spent on other projects throughout the city. The council will make its final decision regarding the infrastructure reimbursement on Feb. 5.

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Oak Ridge Intends to Break Ground on Regional Airport Within Next Couple of Years

The much-anticipated Oak Ridge airport moves closer to reality, with city leaders hoping to break ground on the project within the next couple of years, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Since 2009, the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority has maintained the need for a general aviation airport in the city because of population growth in the area, and increased business travel needs from places like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Coqui Pharmaceuticals Corp. Though Oak Ridge has seen plans for an airport come and go over the years, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said that this plan "has legs.” It calls for a 5,000-foot runway, a partial parallel taxiway and approximately 40 hangars on the 171 acres of land acquired from the U.S. Department of Energy on the former K-25 uranium enrichment facility site.

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Proposed Rule Requires Additional Support for Ethics Complaints Against Elected Officials

A new policy proposed by Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, would require lawmakers to take an additional step when filing an ethical complaint, NPR reports. The prospective rule change makes it necessary to obtain signatures from at least two representatives — one with firsthand knowledge or evidence of the alleged violation — in order to file a complaint against another elected official. "If there’s not corroboration, if there’s not evidence that is presented, then we are working off hearsay, we are working off gossip," Hill said in a House meeting last Thursday. The rule, according to Hill, is modeled on a biblical requirement that allegations must be corroborated. 

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Hamilton County Considers New Program for Mentally Ill Offenders

A new program in Hamilton County intends to address the way courts deal with the mentally ill, offering treatment in lieu of incarceration for certain cases, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The initiative — Frequent Users Systems Engagement (FUSE) — is a collaboration between the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, mental health and medical providers, insurers and Chattanooga's housing agency to help defendants with mental health issues find treatment for their illness or addiction and stable housing, a move that proponents believe will reduce jail populations, ultimately saving the county money. FUSE has already raised $120,000 from outside donors, and county commissioners will vote next week on whether they will accept those donations.

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Local Government Section to Host Reception at Tennessee State Museum

The TBA Local Government Section will host a reception at the newly opened Tennessee State Museum following its annual forum on April 11. Attendees of the reception will meet with museum curators and receive a staff-guided tour of the brand-new facility. This event is open to all Local Government Section members and those interested in learning more about the section; forum attendance is not required. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to learn Tennessee history while engaging with TBA leadership. You can RSVP for this event here.
 
When: Thursday, March 28, 5 p.m., CST
Where: Tennessee State Museum, 1000 Rosa Parks Blvd., Nashville
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General Assembly Re-elects Comptroller Wilson, Treasurer Lillard Jr.

The Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday re-elected Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson, and Tennessee State Treasurer David Lillard Jr., who will continue to serve in those positions for at least two more years, The Commercial Appeal reports. The legislature will resume today to elect members of the fiscal review committee, then the House will recess until Jan. 23, and the Senate until Jan. 28.

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Nashville Airbnb Host Sues Metro Government After Permit Revocation

An Airbnb host who had her permit revoked after Metro Codes found that it errantly issued more than 100 to property owners who did not meet certain requirements for short-term rentals is now suing the Metro Nashville government, The Tennessean reports. The rule in question stipulates that residential property owners in two-family units must live in one of the units and own both properties in order to operate as a short-term rental. Barbara Culligan argues that the revocation "will cause irreparable harm, damage to goodwill, and harm for which money damage cannot fully and adequately compensate." Her attorney is seeking a temporary injunction to halt the cancellation.

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UT Studies How Municipalities Address Changing Street Names that Honor Controversial Figures

Two University of Tennessee researchers are studying how local governments treat requests involving name changes for streets termed after controversial historical figures, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. Geography professor Derek Alderman and geography Ph.D. candidate Jordan Brasher, using Tulsa, Okla., as a study model, found that cities "don't want to inconvenience or disrupt business," which could delay the renaming process, and contend that "cities tend to put economic development and convenience and practicality over really repairing the wounds and really trying to do justice." Alderman said he feels that more public participation when selecting street names could help alleviate some of these issues. 

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Unicoi County Man Threatens to Sue Municipality Over Ambulance Contract

A Unicoi County resident said that he will take legal action to halt the county’s contract proposal with MedicOne Medical Response regarding its bid for ambulance services in the county, the Johnson City Press reports. Johnny Day contends that although the county’s solicitation through a newspaper ad technically meets the legal requirement for bids of this nature, the advertisement was limited to just one day of publication and that several other companies were not given a fair shake in consideration. Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely told Day, along with other concerned residents, that they can present their concerns to the county’s Ambulance Committee at its next meeting, which is Thursday at 4 p.m., EST in the Unicoi County Mayor's Conference Room — Unicoi County Courthouse.

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Video Arraignments Coming Soon to Greene County

Video teleconferencing arraignments at the Greene County Detention Center could begin in late February or March, The Citizen Tribune reports. A $15,000 Court Security grant was recently approved by the state Administrative Office of the Courts and the Tennessee Supreme Court. Circuit Court Clerk Chris Shepard and a team plan to travel next week to the Jefferson County Detention Center in Dandridge to see how the video arraignment system works there. 

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Mayor Asks Shelby Commission to OK Money for Juvenile Detention Center

In his first request of the new year, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is asking the county’s commission to take the first step toward building a new juvenile detention facility, The Commercial Appeal reports. The current facility “is not a suitable place to put kids on the path to rehabilitation,” Harris said. Harris is asking for $1.3 million to be approved for design of the new facility, which is being called the Juvenile Justice and Education Center. The $1.3 million would be transferred from funds set aside for a now discontinued plan for a Shelby County sewer system.
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