Sullivan mayor seeks dismissal of sheriff's suit

J. H. Osborne • Sep 5, 2012 at 11:44 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Lawyers for Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey have filed two motions in court seeking dismissal of a $9.9 million lawsuit filed last week by Sheriff Wayne Anderson.

The suit named Godsey as defendant in his official capacity as county mayor, not personally, and that’s how he responded with paperwork filed late Tuesday afternoon in Sullivan County Circuit Court.

The first motion to dismiss argues “insufficient process,” stating the lawsuit’s filing states a summons was served on Godsey “through” County Attorney Dan Street’s receipt of the summons and complaint — but that Godsey “has not waived service of process and has not authorized (Street) to accept service of process for him in this type of action.”

The motion says state law provides that such a summons and complaint may be served on a county by delivery of a copy to the county mayor or, if absent from the county, to the county attorney if no one else is designated — and if not, by delivery of copies to “the County Court Clerk.” On the day Street was served the summons and complaint, the motion states, Godsey was not absent from the county.

The second motion to dismiss basically argues Anderson does not have standing because his suit seeks departmental funding which he did not specifically request from the Sullivan County Commission during the budget development process earlier this year.

In addition to the two motions seeking dismissal of Anderson’s lawsuit, Godsey’s attorneys — Cleveland, Tenn.-based James F. Logan Jr. of Logan-Thompson and Johnson City-based Stephen M. Darden of Hunter, Smith & Davis — also filed a “restricted response” from Godsey to specifics of the lawsuit.

That response not only denies claims made by the sheriff’s lawsuit — namely, that he can’t provide the services he is required to provide under state law on what money the County Commission approved in the county’s budget for this fiscal year — but seems to call into question Anderson’s fiscal responsibility in past budget cycles.

“This sheriff has failed in the past to abide the budget and has failed to conform to the expenditures of the sheriff of Sullivan County to those which are reasonable for the performance of his duties,” the response states, in part. “This has been done at the great detriment of Sullivan County and its citizens and businesses. It is believed that further investigation is called for as in the original complaint will result in substantial and significant findings of expenditures which may be unnecessary in the operation of the sheriff’s department and certainly unauthorized expenditures. Such may show that the failure to follow the budgeting mandates of prior years requires that the sheriff upon determination by the County Commission to bring such action may be liable for his failing to have abided the previous budget of Sullivan County.”

Sullivan County’s financial records, including those for accounts covering the sheriff’s office and jail, are audited by the state each year.

County accounting staff confirmed to the Times-News Wednesday that those state audits have not indicated any wrongdoing by the sheriff’s office.

“It is with deep regret that I have to do this, but after a lot of consideration and soul searching, I feel I have no other choice,” Anderson said in a written statement released to media outlets Aug. 27. “In 1998 as I was being sworn in as sheriff, I took an oath to protect the citizens of this county. I take that oath very seriously and know that we cannot continue on the same path, and adequately protect our citizens, with the amount of funding we currently have.”

The release indicated no further interviews of any kind would be granted concerning this matter, under advisement of the attorney representing the sheriff in the lawsuit.

State law allows officeholders like Anderson to seek court relief if they can show county funding isn’t sufficient to provide the services they are required, by law, to provide.

Anderson told county commissioners earlier this year that he would consider such a lawsuit if funding wasn’t increased for his department — which under state law is includes patrol, investigation, crime prevention, courtroom security, and operation of the county jail (which locally includes multiple facilities).

The Sullivan County Commission ultimately voted to increase the county’s property tax rate by 20 cents per $100 of assessed value for the fiscal year that began July — but did not provide any new funding for the sheriff’s office or jail. The increase instead went largely to schools, the county highway department, and to try and build up the county’s surplus.

Anderson said his budget hasn’t increased in six years, despite rising costs for staple supplies like fuel, medical treatment and food costs for jail inmates.

In addition, Anderson and his staff have pointed out increases in call volume and the number of inmates in the county jail.

In 2005, the sheriff’s department dealt with 39,047 calls, Anderson’s staff said, and by 2011 that number had grown to 60,028.

In 2006, county jail facilities averaged 435 inmates per day, Anderson’s staff have said, while during the first two months of 2012 the daily average had increased to 742.

Recommended for You