ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / State Sen. Mike Bell speaks at the Volkswagen campus on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, has asked attorneys for the Bradley County Board of Education and Tennessee School Board Association to come before his panel Wednesday to explain advice they gave to two school board members that they could continue serving on the panel despite their having moved out of their districts.

"In light of the recently published reports stating that Bradley County School Board members Troy Weathers and Rodney Dillard relied on your legal advice to continue to serve on the school board in violation of state law, your presence is requested," Bell wrote in separate April 8 letters to Bradley County's school board attorney Scott Bennett and Tennessee School Board Association attorney Benjamin Torres.

Efforts to reach both Bennett and Torres by phone Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Bennett told the Times Free Press last week he was going by two sections of state law he said allowed school board members no longer living in the district they were elected to represent to remain on the board if they continued to live within the county.

But Bell says a later 1992 law supersedes that and has cited a 2021 legal opinion issued by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery to support that.

Bell had previously introduced a resolution directing District Attorney General Steve Crump of Cleveland to bring a "quo warranto" action to remove Weathers and Dillard. A quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies.

Both men said that while they thought they had done nothing wrong, they would resign after attending this Thursday's school board meeting.

In a text to the Times Free Press on Tuesday, Bell said he will present the resolution in committee, ask members to approve it, then hold it in reserve to see if Weathers and Dillard step down. If not, it can proceed to the Senate floor, he said.

"I've received a reply letter from Scott Bennett stating he will not be appearing but then goes on to defend his advice to the board members. In his explanation, he says the [attorney general's] opinion 14-21 is just wrong," Bell told the Times Free Press.

Bell added "there appears to be a sharp difference in opinions between the [attorney general] and Mr. Bennett."

The chairman said Torres plans to attend the committee hearing.

Weathers, who is now school board chairman, moved from the 4th District he represented to the 3rd District about two months ago. He is running in the state House District 24 GOP primary in August.

Dillard, meanwhile, moved from his 5th District to the 6th District about 18 months ago.

Both told the Times Free Press by phone last week they thought they had the legal authority to move within the county, having received information to that effect from Bennett, the school board's attorney.

In a subsequent Times Free Press phone interview, Weathers said he called Bell and told him he would resign his school board seat.

"I don't need the controversy," Weathers said. "I want to serve the people of Bradley County. I don't want to have to fight to serve them, OK? So I have decided I will step down from the school board next Thursday at our next meeting. There's just no reason to cause controversy."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT