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Unicoi board rejects settlement offer, appoints committee to investigate breach of confidentiality

Sue Guinn Legg • Aug 20, 2018 at 10:58 PM

The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday rejected a proposed settlement of a complaint filed with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission by a former town employee and appointed a committee to look into a possible breach of confidentiality surrounding the settlement negotiations.

A resolution setting out a “confidential compromise settlement” of “all doubtful and disputed claims relating to Jennifer Gryder and her termination by the town” was discussed by the board in a private executive session held immediately prior to Monday’s meeting.

According to a resolution that was later presented to the board for approval, the settlement was reached in mediation in June and submitted to an attorney for the Tennessee Municipal League Risk Pool that represented the town in the mediation. The only monetary terms set out in the resolution was the town’s payment of a $1,000 deductible insurance payment to the TML Risk Pool.

Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch twice asked the board’s members for a motion for approval of the settlement and when none of town aldermen responded, the resolution and the settlement agreement died for a lack of a motion.

The board then moved on to the next item of business on its agenda - a review of “board conduct regarding mediation and pending litigation confidentiality.”

Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis said she requested the review be placed on the agenda for the board’s discussion and Alderman Doug Hopson suggested a committee be appointed to look into the matter.

“There are so many things out there and a lot of it is bull crap,” Hopson said. “False information has caused us a lot of problems. It caused the last resolution to die without a motion.”

Lynch said “confidentiality was broken and comments spread on Facebook and all around town,” and ask for a motion to create an investigative committee.

Hopson made the motion to the create the committee and Alderman Jeff Linville’s subsequently made a motion to appoint three committee members — Hopson, Linville and Travis Bishop, a CPA recently contracted by the town. When the motions were put up for discussion, Alderman Kathy Bullen twice asked who the investigation was directed at, and Lynch responded, “Who went on TV? It’s directed at you.”

Bullen responded by telling Lynch the investigative committee was “a continuation of your repeated attempts to shut me down,” and asserted “it was common knowledge that a suit had been filed.”

Hopson said lawyers had discussed confidentiality with the board and “cautioned us about all emails.”

Cooper said the board should be very careful as it proceeded with the investigation and when the motion to create the committee and appoint the committee members came up for vote, both motions passed by 3-2 split votes with Bullen and Cooper opposed.

Bullen said after the meeting her TV interview about the Gryder complaint came after an attorney representing Gryder had spoken to the TV reporter.

“I didn’t say anything that wasn’t already common knowledge,” she said. Bullen said her email about the settlement was never meant to be public.

Bullen also said the investigative committee was politically motivated because she challenged Lynch in the last mayor’s election. “I almost beat him and he is desperate to destroy me,” she said.

Gryder’s attorney has publicly disclosed her complaint originated with a man who had business connections to the town and wanted to date Gryder. The complaint contends the man harassed Gryder and the town failed to intervene and later retaliated against her for filing the complaint by terminating her employment.

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