Rockwood may settle King suit

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Utilities head accuses trio of violating meetings law

By Cheryl Duncan, Assistant Editor

A lawsuit that has been the source of friction between Rockwood officials may be close to a settlement.
Rockwood City Council will discuss and possibly take action Tuesday to settle the lawsuit filed by Rod King, general manager of Rockwood Water, Sewer and Natural Gas, against council members Peggy Evans, Ray Collett and Bill Thompson individually and Rockwood City Council.
The called meeting will start at 5 p.m. in Rockwood City Hall.
King filed the lawsuit in early May, alleging the three council members had violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Law by meeting in secret to discuss actions that would lead to his ouster. The court in September scheduled the jury-demanded trial for May 19-20, 2011.
The suit, filed on King’s behalf by Knoxville attorney Herbert Moncier, seeks a court-ordered mandate to stop Evans and Thompson individually “from their attempts to induce the breach of” King’s contract of employment with the Rockwood Water, Wastewater and Natural Gas board of directors.
In the suit, King accuses Collett and Evans of meeting in secret to discuss action that would lead to his termination and alleges the two then met secretly with Thompson to win him over to their side.  He also accuses all three of attempting to coerce board members.
He requested that the court make the three individually named council members responsible for all litigation costs incurred by the city and reimbursement for time all city employees are required to take off for matters dealing with the lawsuit. He also asked that the trio be ordered to reimburse his attorney’s fees and costs.
King also requested the Rockwood City Council as an entity be ordered to cease any such action that would lead toward violation of the Open Meetings Law, commonly referred to as the “sunshine law.”
A Tennessee Municipal League attorney is defending Collett, Evans and Thompson against the charges.
The lawsuit has been a source of contention in the months following its filing. Council member Dudley Evans has made it publicly known that he wants the matter settled as soon as possible, and at one point he approached King in a water board meeting about its status.
The lawsuit is just one of the adversities that have strained relations between the council and officials running the city-operated utilities. Three water board members abruptly tendered their resignations in April, and meetings of the governmental body ground to a halt until new appointments were in place.
Glen McCuiston, one of the newly appointed board members, vehemently opposed a proposed water-rate increase aimed at generating revenue for the troubled utility. He instead suggested a 10-percent cut in expenses.
McCuiston also voiced his concerns about interdepartmental loans in which the more-profitable gas department was subsidizing the water and sewer operations. The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office confirmed in September that such action without prior approval is a violation of state law, and it demanded a plan of repayment within a 60-day timeframe.
Submitting that plan to the state was one of the last actions of the appointed water board. The council dissolved the board last month and took on its responsibilities. McCuiston is among those the council appointed to a committee that advises the council in its capacity governing the utilities.
Other members of the advisory committee are Loren Bone, Arvel McNelly, Steve Scarborough and Dean Woodall. Woodall was one of the three board members who resigned in April.
City Council members will meet at 2 p.m. Wednesday with representatives of Municipal Technical Advisory Service about their duties, responsibilities and oversight of the three utilities.
Another called council meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8. At that meeting, the council will consider and possibly take action on an ordinance establishing Rockwood’s budget and property-tax rate for 2010-11.
Also on the agenda are matters related to sewer plant upgrades. The council will consider and possibly take action on a $697,000 loan resolution and $253,000 grant resolution to fund those upgrades.