Hamilton County Commission sets deadline for mayor to resolve matter with attorney

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / County attorney Rheubin Taylor listens as the commissioners talk during the Hamilton County Commission meeting at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday, October 19, 2022.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / County attorney Rheubin Taylor listens as the commissioners talk during the Hamilton County Commission meeting at the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday, October 19, 2022.

After meeting in closed session for about 40 minutes, Hamilton County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday that gives Mayor Weston Wamp a deadline of noon Friday to reach an agreement with County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, who the mayor attempted to fire in October.

If that deadline is not met, the panel has directed its attorney, John Konvalinka, to take appropriate action to enforce resolutions the commission passed after Wamp's announcement.

"We want everyone to work together and come up with a resolution that makes sense," Commission Chairman Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, said in an interview after the meeting. "We're a little impatient now with the impasse. The people of the county expect us to get our job done, and we have been getting the job done, but we need to do it together."

Taylor and his attorney, W. Neil Thomas, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.


On Oct. 14, Wamp announced that Taylor had been fired, citing destruction of public records, private work conducted on county time and breach of attorney-client privilege.

On Oct. 19, the County Commission unanimously reaffirmed Taylor's four-year contract, which was approved in June 2021, and reasserted the panel's authority over the county attorney's office and its contents. The commission later overrode the mayor's veto of those resolutions.

Members of the commission were frustrated last week to learn that Taylor continued to lack access to his computer and other county resources, which they said ignored action taken by the commission.

In a complaint filed in Chancery Court, Taylor said Wamp caused the information technology department to confiscate his computer, the contents of which contained information protected by attorney-client privilege. Taylor complained to the mayor's office several days later and demanded the contents be returned and his computer reconnected.

Baker said Taylor's equipment was restored Tuesday.

If a satisfactory resolution is not reached by noon Friday, Baker said, the matter could end up in Chancery Court. Taylor has not been paid since the attempted firing, but his health benefits have been restored through a temporary restraining order.

Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, introduced the resolution Wednesday and said in an interview that the confusion swirling between the mayor and commission is bad for business and turns off industries that might otherwise be interested in working with Hamilton County. He's also concerned about the cost.

"There's a contract, and it's got 2 1/2 years left," Mackey said. "A contract is a contract, and simply because a new head is over that organization, it in my opinion does not negate the contract.

"In my thinking, the attorney is going to be paid, and it's become worse now because many believe the county attorney's reputation and name has been tarnished, and there's a price to be paid for that. We've got to bring this confusion to an end."

Mackey said the commission's orders have been disregarded.

"'We are the legislative body of this county, and (the mayor) needs to respect that," Mackey said.

He also wants to see the mayor restore Taylor's pay, which totaled $180,400 per year as of Oct. 14.

Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, suggested that commissioners add a provision to the resolution that would have required any past or future legal fees stemming from the dispute come from the budget of the mayor's office, but that failed for lack of a second.

In a statement Wednesday, Wamp said his office "has been working tirelessly to come to a resolution for the past 20 days."

"I appreciate the commission's action today, which gives us a clear timeframe in our work to resolve this matter," he said.

Wamp's office introduced a resolution last week that would have removed certain exemptions for the county attorney and other high-level positions from the employee handbook.

Those positions would no longer be excluded from the handbook's rules about secondary employment, which states that regular employees cannot engage in outside work that affects their performance or creates a conflict of interest.

They would also be prohibited from using county email, internet, cellphones and other public resources for unofficial business. Baker said the mayor's office ended up pulling that item.

Wamp's spokeswoman, Mary Francis Hoots, said by text that it was pulled as a "measure of good faith."

Taylor has a provision in his contract that states the attorney can "engage in any other non-conflicting activities on a professional basis."

Although he said the contract isn't really clear, Baker said Taylor and other attorneys in his office are allowed to work privately to supplement their salary, but it's not spelled out that they can or can't use county equipment.

"Personally, I don't like the process," Baker said. "I think we would pay them to do their job and only that job, so that's a whole different discussion that needs to be worked out ... in the future."

Gerald Mason, a member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church where Taylor serves as a pastor, told commissioners he's grateful for their vote of confidence in the county attorney. He was one of multiple people who showed up to the panel's meeting Wednesday.

"Thank you for what you're doing for the community," he said. "We had some of the most distinguished members of our community here showing their support -- not only for attorney Taylor but for you."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

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