VOL. 133 | NO. 157 | Thursday, August 9, 2018
Shelby County Commission Passes Ordinance To Gain More Legal Control
Special to the Daily News
Shelby County commissioners approved an ordinance Wednesday, Aug. 8, that would bar the county attorney from representing county government in civil litigation in which the county mayor or another county government entity is suing the commission.
Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer introduced the ordinance last month. Shafer argued the action was necessary and “a cure for something that has been problem.”
A lawsuit filed last November by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell against the County Commission regarding actions the county would take to combat the opioid epidemic would fall under this ordinance, Shafer said.
The ordinance also requires commission approval for the county attorney to hire outside or special counsel, unless the county attorney certifies to the commission chairman that the matter those attorneys are hired for will not go over $50,000 in hourly rates or contingent fees.
The ordinance was approved 8-1 on third and final reading during a special called commission meeting Wednesday. The third reading of the ordinance was originally scheduled for the last commission meeting Aug. 27, which is the last meeting of the current county commission and mayor. On Sept. 1, mayor-elect Lee Harris and eight new commissioners on the 13-member body will take office.
Commissioner Walter Bailey – who voted against the ordinance in a general government committee meeting earlier Wednesday morning – argued the commission should not be involved in the litigation process; that should solely be up to the executive branch. He added he felt the ordinance developed as a result of animosity between some commissioners and Luttrell regarding the opioid litigation against drug manufacturers.
“I don’t think we have any business proceeding in this fashion,” Bailey said.
Shafer objected to the idea of the ordinance being “vengeful” or a result of animosity. She said the ordinance is necessary to allow the legislative branch to have checks and balances on the executive branch to prevent it from “frustrating” the commission on matters such as control over the which branch of government controls the opioid lawsuit.
“I’ve done this on the advice of counsel – advice of extremely competent counsel,” Shafer said.
Over the past two years, the mayor and many on the commission have been at odds over the commission’s decision to hire its own legal counsel – similar to the Memphis City Council.
Luttrell has taken the commission to court over the matter, arguing the county charter is different than the city charter. The county attorney is appointed by the mayor and then confirmed by the commission. Luttrell has said the county attorney represents all of county government and not just the administration.