He Plans To Start
In Legal Ways
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Local political activist PK Lowrey and 16 other citizens have filed a petition with 3rd Judicial District Attorney General C. Berkeley Bell that demands that Bell oust Greene County Commissioner Tim White from office because of a recently-alleged conflict of interest by White.
Yet, surprisingly, Lowrey has also explained to Attorney General Bell that White himself is not the main reason for the petition.
Lowrey stated in an Oct. 9 letter to Bell that his purpose in bringing the demand is not so much to remove White from office as to determine whether certain Tennessee laws allow citizens to remove government officials from office without the approval of other government officials.
"The issue of Tim White and conflict-of-interest," Lowrey stated in the letter to Bell, "is secondary."
Whatever the purpose of the petition may be, Attorney General Bell said in an interview with The Greeneville Sun on Tuesday, Nov. 6, that he notified Lowrey by letter on Monday, Nov. 5, that he (Bell) did not intend to comply with the demand that he attempt to oust White from office, and explained his reasons.
Efforts by the newspaper to obtain a copy of the letter to Lowrey were not successful.
Bell had said in an interview with the Sun in September, however, that, in his opinion, Commissioner White had not violated any state laws on conflict-of-interest.
The issue relating to alleged conflict-of-interest concerns construction work which A&W Farms Excavating & Hauling, LLC carried out for the Greene County School System at Chuckey-Doak High School earlier this year after winning a formal bidding process. White is a partner in the company.
Bids were opened on Feb. 16, and A&W Farms was named as the low bidder on the project. That bid was later approved during a Feb. 23 meeting of the Greene County Board of Education.
On Feb. 21 -- prior to the school board's approval of the bid but after the bid opening -- White voted as a member of the County Commission to approve letting the school system transfer money from the line item for General Purpose School Funds to the line item for Capital Projects.
The funds were transferred for the site work at the new Chuckey-Doak fieldhouse project, as well as for the sewer work that White's company would later perform in connection with that project.
White also voted in favor of allowing the system to move additional funds to cover the cost of the remainder of the fieldhouse project. His company was not involved in this portion of the work, however, according to Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk.
White has stated strongly that he does not believe he is guilty of violating any conflict-of-interest law.
The question is whether he did so, in connection with the work for the school system and the Commission vote on Feb. 21.
A separate but somewhat related issue is whether he violated the county government's own ethics code in connection with the Chuckey-Doak project that his company handled.
The petition that Lowrey and the other citizens submitted to Bell to justify the demand that he take legal action to oust White declares the following:
"We the undersigned, being residents, citizens, and registered voters of Greene County, Tennessee, having lost confidence in the management of the affairs of the county, hereby demand the state Office of Attorney General oust Commissioner Charles T. White from office in compliance with TCA [Tennessee Code Annotated] Title 8-47-101 through 111 for the following reason: violation of Tennessee law.
"Upon entering office, Commissioner White swore an oath to obey the Constitution and Laws of Tennessee. He has violated that oath by failing to comply with TCA Title 12-4-101, voting on 13 August 2012 to enact a County budget in which he had direct interest.
"Specifically, Commissioner White has ownership in a firm, A&W Farms Excavating & Hauling LLC, which has worked on multiple occasions for the Greene County School System, at times under contract.
"Commissioner White, on 13 August 2012, voted on the decision to adopt a county budget, part of which was the school system budget.
"In addition to the voting prohibition, the Tennessee Attorney General has opined, 'A county commissioner whose duty it is to provide funds for construction contracts entered into by the county school board cannot enter into a construction contract with the county board of education without violating T.C.A. §12-4-101 (a).' Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 91-31 (April 9,1991).
"Commissioner White's public, arrogant abuse of power cannot be tolerated."
In an interview in late October, White referred to the proposed ouster suit as both "frivolous" and "malicious," expressing his shock that it would come from 17 individuals whose names he has not even seen.
He said that he is, however, familiar with Lowrey.
"Mr. PK Lowrey has been unsuccessful on several attempts at [gaining] an office for himself, so he is coming after someone who is in an office," White said.
"I don't know what is driving him, but in any case, I will maintain that this is a frivolous lawsuit."
In his response, White cited both T.C.A. 8-47-121 and Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure.
According to the statute: "After final hearing on the complaint or petition, any public officer not removed from office, or if the officer has been suspended, any officer immediately restored to office, may be reimbursed reasonable attorney fees by the appropriate state, county, municipality, or other political subdivision," according to the statute.
"I will be seeking attorney fees, which is provided for under this statute," he said. "My attorney fees, when they file this lawsuit, will be paid by the county."
White added that this will mean the county taxpayers are not only paying for the attorney who is serving in County Attorney Roger Woolsey's place but are also paying for an attorney to defend him (White).
(County Attorney Roger Woolsey notified County Mayor Alan Broyles when the allegations came up about Commissioner White in August that he, Woolsey, would not be able to be involved in the matter since he is a neighbor of White.)
"We're already spending county tax dollars to try to get me in trouble and now we're going to have to spend county tax dollars to try to get me out of trouble," White said.
He later noted that his bid to complete the sewer installation at the Chuckey-Doak High School fieldhouse was nearly $10,000 under the nearest competitor.
"I saved the county $10,000," he said, noting that it was the school system he intended to aid.
"But, here's where we are now. When there's a lawsuit against me by these 17 'relators,' then the county will be paying my attorney's fees."
'WON'T STAND BY'
White passionately maintains that he did not violate any state statutes in performing the work.
"I'm tired of my reputation being thrown around for saving the school system $10,000," he said.
"They can look at it however they want to. But I'm not going to stand around any longer and have my reputation and good standing with this community and this county thrown around, especially by some 17 individuals....
"I'm not standing by any longer and letting people kick me around," he concluded. "I'm going to start fighting back in legal manners that I'm entitled to."
This, he said, includes Rule 11 of the civil procedure, which issues sanctions against improper filings to the court.
"I'll also be seeking damages due to me for malicious prosecution," he said.
"What that means is, I'm coming after those 17 people when this thing gets thrown out of court -- and it will be thrown out of court.
"It is malicious; it will be dropped."
In Lowrey's Oct. 9 letter, he explained to Bell his reasoning about why White should be ousted and how he (Lowrey) sees the petition as a legally binding document that requires Bell to act.
"The ouster petition that I submitted to you has importance as a means by which the people can remove government officials without the approval of other government officials," Lowrey wrote.
Lowrey then quotes two sections of state law, with his own added emphasis at areas he believes to be pertinent, including:
* Petition in name of state -- Filing by ten (10) relators. T.C.A. §8-47-110:
"The petition or complaint shall be in the name of the state and may be filed upon the relation of the attorney general and reporter, or the district attorney general for the state, or the county attorney in the case of county officers, and of the city attorney, or the district attorney general, in the case of municipal officers; and in all cases it may be filed, without the concurrence of any of such officers, upon the relation of ten (10) or more citizens and freeholders of the state, county, or city, as the case may be, upon their giving the usual security for costs."
* Assistance to prosecution by relators. T.C.A. §8-47-111:
"It is the duty of the attorney general and reporter, upon request of relator citizens and freeholders, to aid and assist in the prosecution of such proceedings against state officers, and of district attorneys general and county attorneys, upon like request, to aid and assist in the prosecution of such proceedings against county officers, and of city attorneys or the district attorneys general for the state, upon like request, to aid and assist in the prosecution of such proceedings against municipal officers other than themselves."
Lowrey notes that his petition should be heard not by a judge, whom he describes as "another government official," but by a jury.
However, he indicates in his letter that Bell has made some indication in an earlier conversation that "such procedure is problematic."
The letter continues on to quote T.C.A. §12-4-101, the state law dealing with conflicts of interest by government officials.
The portions that Lowrey has highlighted, indicating his belief that they apply in White's situation, are as follows:
"It is unlawful for any officer, committee member, director, or other person whose duty it is to vote ... to be directly interested in any such contract. ... The provisions of this subdivision shall not be construed to prohibit ... from voting ... unless the vote is on ... a specific appropriation or resolution in which such person is directly interested."
Lowrey concludes the letter with the following statement:
"The signers of the ouster petition view White's vote on the county budget as a vote on the specific appropriation to the school board.
"In addition, White's vote on the specific amendment (of his introduction) appears to be a violation."
In a September interview in which Bell gave his opinion that White had not broken state law, the attorney general described the statute cited by Lowrey as "not very clear."
"It's been interpreted in exactly opposite ways," he said. "The [Tennessee] Attorney General gave his opinion several years ago that it would apply in this type of situation.
"However, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in 2000 held that it would not apply in this type of situation because Commissioner White has no direct supervision over the expenditure of [county school] funds.
"The funds are expended by the Board of Education, over which he has no supervisory authority," Bell stated in September.