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Unicoi board takes 1st step to restore town attorney to state retirement plan

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 17, 2018 at 10:37 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday voted to initiate a cost study for inclusion of all of the town’s part-time employees in its state retirement plan.

The study is the first of several steps recently set out for the town by the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Systems in order to include Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis in the town’s TCRS plan.

The study, which is expected to cost approximately $1,100, was approved by a split 3-to-2 vote with Aldermen Kathy Bullen and Roger Cooper opposed.

Cooper, who recently requested the state take action against the town for what he alleges was a fraudulent scheme that improperly included Shults-Davis in the plan for a four-year period beginning in 2014, told the board on Monday most of the fault lies with the town and not with Shults-Davis.

Shults-Davis took issues with Cooper’s allegations of “fraud, schemes and conspiracy” by her, by a previous town clerk and others in Unicoi government.

She said TCRS definitions of employment status and requirements for inclusion in the state retirement plan had changed over the years in question and presented records showing the board discussed her inclusion in the TCRS on four occasions prior to voting to take that action and the town also amended its employee policies to support the action. 

“I told you this multiple times and as of Aug. 6 you continue writing to Nashville telling them I committed fraud,” Shults-Davis said to Cooper. “Through all of this I have been accused of fraud. I did not commit fraud. I paid more than I was required. And Nashville has determined that I am eligible to be covered (by TCRS). Also there is the argument that I was supposed to be covered under Social Security through the town.

”What was done was a far cry from fraud. What (the former town clerk) was a far cry from fraud,” she said.

Cooper argued a 2013 resolution passed by the board to include Shults-Davis in TCRS was only for elected officials. Shults-Davis responded that her name was included in the resolution. And Cooper countered her name was not included correctly.

Alderman Doug Hopson said Cooper’s allegations were continuation of “a lot of time and money wasted over the past couple years” as a result of allegations of wrongdoing by the town forwarded to the state. “I have talked to the comptroller’s office and they said it’s ridiculous how you all have gone on about things.”

In other business on Monday, the board voted to table Cooper’s motion to renew the town’s offer to purchase Buffalo Valley Golf from the city of Johnson City and to double the the town’s previous offer from $400,000 to $800,000.

The board instead voted to form a committee to open communications with the city about the golf course, to determine if the city is still interested in selling the property and if the city is opposed to the property being used as golf course.

Town Recorder Michael Borders said the city has not yet completed its application for a town permit to remove approximately 1.5 acres of topsoil from the property, to remediate changes in the slope of the property caused by topsoil removal and to alter creek banks in order to establish a wetlands area to replace wetlands development in other areas.

Steve Williams, a member of a newly formed Buffalo Valley Property Owners Association, told the board the group has retained legal counsel to determine their rights in regard to the golf course property and appointed a representative to establish communications between the group and the city.

Williams said the group interests and concerns include the return of a golf course to the Buffalo Valley property to maintain their property values, the impact others uses may have on their property values and stipulations included in their deeds regarding the use of their property by golfers.

The board also voted Monday to repeat its request for former Unicoi Town Recorder Mike Housewright to remit approximately $1,400 in health insurance premiums improperly paid by the town for Housewright’s spouse during his tenure as the town’s administrator.

The board agreed to send Housewright “one more letter” and give him a chance to begin repaying the money before taking any further action.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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