JASPER, Tenn. — A recent lawsuit concerning the Marion County Jail's medical director revealed that the county is not in compliance with a state law.
County commissioners are trying to resolve that issue.
"We don't have a contract [with the jail's medical director]," County Mayor John Graham said. "We've never had one. In my view, we're in violation [of state law] by not having one."
Marion County Attorney Billy Gouger said the statute is "pretty clear."
"If somebody walks into the county mayor's office tomorrow and says I need a copy of the contract, we don't have one," he said. "I think technically that's where we're in violation of the statute."
Dr. Brenda Sowter, who has served as the jail's medical director for 11 years, said she was approved by the commission and has county employee status.
"I think that constitutes a contract," she said. "It's all right there. There's nothing under the table whatsoever."
The county has had an oral agreement with Sowter, but "the law requires that we have that in writing," Gouger said.
Sowter said she is concerned that a written contract suddenly is required because she never has asked for an increase in pay and doesn't charge for overtime.
"I cover it 24/7," she said. "I set the model up, and it's been effective. I think we have shown that we've stopped the exorbitant expenses that were marching on when I took over."
Gouger agreed that Sowter had done an "excellent job" and said she was instrumental in getting the lawsuit over the issue dismissed.
"I do anticipate that we are going to have other [lawsuits], potentially based on the same allegations," he said. "It has to be addressed."
The commission voted unanimously to request proposals for the position instead of negotiating a contract with Sowter. They said she could submit a proposal.
"It's our obligation [as commissioners] to try and save as much money as possible as long as we get quality service," Commissioner Mack Reeves said.
There is no guarantee the county will get a better proposal than what Sowter now is providing, Gouger said, and it will not be obligated to accept any proposals it receives.
Graham and Gouger will work out contract specifications before the requests are sent out, officials said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.