911 board meets with attorney over overtime lawsuit

Brad Hicks • Jan 19, 2012 at 10:53 PM

ERWIN — Members of the Unicoi County 911 Service Board met with Unicoi County attorney Doug Shults in a closed client/attorney meeting following the adjournment of the board’s Thursday meeting to discuss pending litigation filed against the county’s Emergency Communications District.

The Unicoi County Emergency Communications District and Unicoi County were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed last Thursday in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in which eight former and current 911 dispatchers are seeking overtime pay they believe they are owed.

The matter was addressed at a Dec. 5 meeting of the 911 Service Board. At that meeting, Unicoi County Commission Chairwoman Sue Jean Wilson said that when the county’s emergency dispatchers were switched from working eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts in July 2010, more than $33,000 in overtime was accumulated.

Unicoi County 911 Director Patsy Ledford previously said Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris made the shift change in an effort to save the county money by placing dispatchers on shifts similar to those of county deputies. Officials later advised county officials that the pay cycle that applies to deputies does not apply to dispatchers and the overtime accumulated would need to be paid.

The county’s emergency dispatch employees have since returned to working eight-hour shifts.

The 911 Service Board previously voted to pay half of the overtime owed to the dispatchers, with the county to pay the other half. At its Dec. 19 meeting, the Unicoi County Commission rejected the measure, with several commissioners citing the need for more information on the matter. The commission also tabled a budget amendment related to the 911 Service Board’s previous vote.

The complaint filed last Thursday alleges that the county and the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District “intentionally and repeatedly” under-reported hours and required the plaintiffs in the case and others to only report eight hours of work per day despite working more than eight hours a day and 40 hours per week.

Robert L. Bowman, an attorney with Knoxville-based Kramer Rayson LLP who is representing the plaintiffs, previously said the county did not act in “good faith” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The plaintiffs are seeking unpaid compensation, an equal amount of liquidated damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.

Due to the nature of the suit, Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch, who also serves on the county’s 911 board, said he could not discuss the specifics of what was addressed in the client/attorney meeting. However, Lynch said no decision was made on the issue. Any decision, he said, will be made in an open meeting.

“We just listened to our attorney and asked him questions and, at some point, it will be brought up in a public meeting,” Lynch said.

The members of the Unicoi County Commission are scheduled to have their own client/attorney meeting with Shults following the adjournment of Monday’s commission meeting.

The board also tabled accepting a proposed funding formula for a proposed 911 inter-local agreement between Unicoi County and the towns of Erwin and Unicoi. The 911 Service Board previously held off on voting on the inter-local agreement until a funding formula for the county’s 911 service was developed.

Three possible funding formulas were presented at Thursday’s meeting. The first example would see the 911 service’s expenditures and total revenues divided between the three municipalities based on population numbers from the 2010 Census. Under this proposal, the county would pay 65.29 percent of the difference, the town of Erwin would pay 21.42 percent and the town of Unicoi would pay 13.29 percent of the difference.

Under the second proposal, the difference between expenditures and revenues would be divided equally among the three municipalities. The third proposed funding formula would see the service’s funding left as it currently is — with the county paying half of the dispatchers’ salaries and the 911 board paying the other half, plus the director’s salary and costs associated with mapping.

911 Board member Doris Hensley said Chairman Jim Pate, who was not present at Thursday’s meeting, had suggested the board form a committee to look at the funding formulas. The vote to table the matter was unanimous among board members present.

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