Unicoi board settles request for repayment with former town recorder

Sue Guinn Legg • Dec 19, 2018 at 6:57 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Alderman on Monday approved a $5,000 settlement of the town’s request for the repayment of $14,000 in insurance premiums improperly paid by former Town Recorder Mike Housewright for medical coverage for his spouse.

Earlier this year, the town sent multiple requests for Housewright to repay the funds prior to the board’s September decision to send one more request before taking further action against its former top administrator. Housewright subsequently responded by referring the matter to his attorney.

On Monday, Town Attorney Shults Davis said the $5,000 settlement offer was presented to the board in an executive session, then placed on its agenda for a vote.

Alderman Doug Hopson made the motion to accept the offer, calling the matter “an honest mistake” with no fraudulent intent, and Alderwoman Wanda Radford seconded the motion.

Alderwoman Kathy Bullen said she felt it was in the town’s best interest to accept the offer and avoid litigation but added, the settlement “will not interfere with any action by the state comptroller’s office, whatever they decide to do.”

Shults Davis responded the comptroller’s office has indicated “they are willing to look at” the matter.

In other business on Monday, the board approved a resolution to make Shults Davis’ newly approved status as part-time town employee retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018, by a 4 to 1 vote.

Bullen cast the only vote in opposition to the measure, saying the retroactive date would cost the town approximately $7,500 in employee withholdings that were not included in the town budget.

Shults Davis called the sum the “the cost” of allegations of fraud levied at her by a former alderman who brought her employment status and inclusion in the town’s state retirement play to the attention of the state.

“There was a time I would have been OK with me paying all this withholding, but my reputation was called into question. I was accused of fraud,” Shults Davis said.

Shults Davis also noted the state has given the town a $14,000 credit for retirement premiums she paid with no matching funds from town. Shults Davis began paying into the town in 2014 after the board passed a resolution that a former town recorder Larry Rea said would allow her to take part in the retirement plan. 

Earlier this year, the state found the resolution did not entitle Shults Davis to be included in the retirement plan and set out the a course of several actions the town would have to take to include her in the plan, beginning with the part-time employment approved by the board in November.