The commission voted 14-5 with one abstention in favor of hiring the law firm of Milligan and Coleman based in Greeneville for $150 per hour.
That firm will defend the Hawkins County Election Commission in the class-action federal lawsuit filed by Democratic election administrators across the state.
Recently fired Hawkins County Election Administrator Patricia Lumpkins is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who claim their constitutional rights were violated and their positions were treated as patronage jobs when they were fired after a Republican-majority General Assembly appointed Republican-majority election commissions across the state in 2009 and began replacing election administrators with Republicans.
Some county commissioners said they believe the legal fees should come from the Election Commission’s budget.
"None of the election commissioners are elected. They’re all appointed," County Commissioner Danny Alvis said. "I don’t think the taxpayers of Hawkins County should put one penny toward whatever they did. They don’t answer to us."
Alvis added that the Election Commission only comes before the County Commission when it needs money such as Monday, when the commission approved a $3,581 budget amendment to pay for "extra meetings for the hiring of a new administrator of elections, voter verification program and redistricting the county."
A second Election Commission budget amendment was also approved Monday in the amount of $4,250 to pay for support services for the voting machine system during the November election.
County Commissioner B.D. Cradic said he’d like to see the amount that can be spent on the lawsuit capped. County Commissioner Shane Bailey said he’d like to see the lawyer bill paid directly from the Election Commission’s budget.
County Mayor Melville Bailey said those options would be investigated. The mayor told the Times-News after the meeting there is also a question as to whether the Election Commission, which is appointed by the Tennessee General Assembly, would be considered state employees or county employees. He said that question will also be investigated to determine if the lawyer bill should be paid by the state.
Commissioners who voted against hiring the law firm for the Election Commission were Jeff Thacker, Darrell Gilliam, Bob Palmer, Lynn Short and Alvis. Commissioner Syble Vaughan-Trent abstained.