Updated 7:45 p.m.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — It’s over. At least for now.
Sullivan County Sheriff Wayne Anderson, Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, and their lawyers were in court Wednesday — just long enough to announce they’d reached an agreement to settle Anderson’s lawsuit seeking more county funding, without going to trial.
After more than a year of back and forth, it was over in about five minutes.The settlement agreement gives sheriff’s employees a 2 percent raise (retroactive to Apr. 1) and says the county will spend $15,000 for work on an electronic gate inside the county jail.
Click here to view the Letter of Agreement signed by Anderson and Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey to end the suit.
Anderson said he and Godsey agreed to the settlement on Monday night. It was announced Wednesday morning in Chancery Court in Bristol, Tenn. and Judge James E. Beckner approved a final order listing details of the settlement.
Click here to view the final order approved by Beckner and subsequently filed with the Sullivan County Circuit Court Clerk's Office.
Godsey said the Sullivan County Commission will consider extending that raise to all county employees come July 1.
Godsey said he’d talked individually with county commissioners before agreeing to the settlement.
Taxpayers also will foot the legal bills for both sides, from last August right through Wednesday morning.
Both sides said they were happy to get it over with and move the county forward. But this could just be the end of round one. Anderson’s lawsuit originally sought nearly $10 million — much of which was for additional personnel. Early on, the court ordered the sheriff to trim the request, because under state law an officeholder is allowed to file suit and seek only something officially requested in a prior budget request. Anderson’s official budget request for the current budget year did not include a request for those new employees. So that was stricken from the lawsuit.
But Anderson has since had a study conducted and a report prepared by a recognized expert in staffing levels for law enforcement agencies. Anderson has cited that report, as well as one from the state-funded County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), in submitting a funding request for the budget year that begins July 1. And he’s asking for more employees — 80 in all, according to a budget request on file with the county’s accounting department.
Anderson, however, said that budget request will be amended in the next day or so, although he did not spell out what changes would be made.
In the budget request on file, Anderson is seeking nearly $8.3 million in new funding. Because Anderson has filed the request this year, along with explanations making his case for why the funds are needed, it means if the County Commission turns him down, and he files suit again, the requested funds would not be as easily dismissed next time.
Earlier this month the County Commission rejected an offer to settle the current lawsuit — with a promise of no new lawsuit over personnel for the coming year — if the Commission would agree with: the pay raise for sheriff’s employees retroactive to April 1; consideration of a 2 percent pay raise for all county employees beginning July 1; the $15,000 for the gate; and the addition of 18 new sheriff’s deputies, who would have largely served as school resources officers (a plan estimated to cost around $1.2 million the first year, due to start up costs, and less in subsequent years.
The settlement’s 2 percent pay raise for sheriff’s employees will cost taxpayers about $38,000 until the fiscal year ends June 30 — and about four times that amount for future, full, 12-month budget cycles. Godsey, discussing the settlement afterward, said theCounty Commission will consider extending the 2 percent raise to all county employees beginning with the next budget cycle, which begins July 1. Such a move would cost county taxpayers $642,000 per year, including the 2 percent already given to sheriff’s employees under the settlement, according to the county’s payroll office.