Harris exploring retirement, benefit options, attorney says

Brad Hicks • Feb 15, 2012 at 11:41 PM

Bruce Shine, Kingsport-based labor attorney for Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris, confirmed Harris has been exploring available options regarding retirement and workman’s compensation benefits, but said there is no official word on whether Harris plans to announce retirement.

Earlier this week, Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System and Tennessee Department of Labor had requested information for Harris. However, Lynch said the county has not received any word indicating Harris plans to retire.

“We’re exploring a number of options available to the sheriff,” Shine said Wednesday.

Shine said he and Harris have been in discussion with the county’s workman’s compensation insurance carrier regarding a resolution to a claim. However, Shine said that claim has not been resolved and, because of this, said he feels it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.

Shine said retirement through the TCRS has always been an option, and it is necessary to consult the agency about available options and the manner in which to carry them out.

“So yes, we have been in touch with the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Systems, and yes, we have been in contact with the workman’s compensation insurance carrier for Unicoi County to resolve that issue,” Shine said. “Anything else would be premature at this point, although we hope to be able to resolve things in the near future.”

There are two types of retirement under TCRS — straight retirement and accidental disability retirement, which Harris would qualify for, Shine said. Harris continues to receive treatment for injuries suffered in an August 2010 fall from the roof the Unicoi County Jail.

In a text message sent Tuesday, Harris said he is still under medical care at the Shepherd’s Center in Atlanta.

For Harris to receive benefits from TCRS, he could no longer draw a salary or work for the county, Shine said.

Blake Fontenay, communications director for the Tennessee Department of the Treasury, said Harris has applied for retirement benefits with the TCRS. On that application, Harris marked the effective date of his retirement as Feb. 29.

Shine said this is not an indication that Harris plans to retire on this date. He said when an employee files an application for retirement benefits through TCRS to determine their eligibility, they can mark a projected date of retirement up to five months in advance. Shine said the application process began some time ago, and this date was used for the purpose of determining eligibility.

Fontenay said Harris has not been paid TCRS retirement benefits through TCRS because he is still an active employee of Unicoi County. Employees may also void retirement benefit applications up until they receive their first retirement payment, Fontenay said.

In October, a Unicoi County grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault. He pleaded not guilty to these charges last week in Unicoi County Criminal Court and is scheduled to begin trial on the theft over $1,000 and criminal simulation charges July 30.

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