With a potential hit to taxpayers of $250,000 — or more — at stake, the Cannon County Commission voted during a Special Session Friday night to approve the funding needed to settle a lawsuit against the county and Sheriff Darrell Young.
The Plaintiff, Loretta Bailey, is claiming in a federal lawsuit that her civil rights were violated when Sheriff Young dismissed Bailey from her position as a receptionist for the sheriff's department on his first day on the job on Sept. 1, 2010.
Bailey is asserting that she was fired because she actively campaign for former Sheriff Billy Nichols, including place a sign supporting Nichols in her yard.
Bailey is suing Sheriff Young for $150,000 and the county for $250,000.
On the advice of County Attorney Mike Corley and attorney Mickey Schmitt, who represents the county's insurance company, Sheriff Young and County Executive Mike Gannon are agreeing to settle the lawsuit for the amount of $45,000.
The insurance company has agreed to pay $20,000 of the amount if the county is willing to pay $25,000.
Because the county commission must approve any expenditure of county funds, commissioners had to give their OK before the lawsuit could be settled. They were facing a Monday deadline when they met Friday night.
While each of the nine commissioners present expressed displeasure in taking the action, they approved a motion made by Commissioner Kevin George and seconded by Commissioner Kevin Mooneyham to OK the $25,000 expenditure, and taking the money out of the county's general fund.
Jim Bush was the only commissioner to cast a no vote. In addition to George and Mooneyham, commissioners Mark Barker, Jimmy Mingle, Russell Reed, Todd Hollandsworth, Clint Higgins and Bob Stoetzel voted in favor. Six votes were needed to pass. Commissioner Tony Neal was not present for the meeting.
According to Schmitt, the terms of the settlement will not admit any fault or wrongdoing on the part of the county or Sheriff Young.
"We are here for one reason only and that is money," Schmitt told the commissioners. "I am one hundred percent convinced that he (Sheriff Young) did not do it (fire Bailey) because of a sign in her yard. It has taken him some time to get comfortable with the idea of giving Miss Bailey money."
Schmitt said it would be in the best interest of the county to settle the suit out-of-court instead of running the risk of having a jury decide the case.
"You are basically gambling on all or nothing. You can pay $25,000 now or risk spending a lot more in the future," he said.
While opposed in principle to agreeing to fund the settlement, Commissioner Higgins said it would be too much of a gamble to put the case before a jury.
"It's in our hands now," Commissioner Higgins said to his fellow commissioners. "It's out of our hands if it goes to (trial) in Nashville."
(See next week's print edition of the Cannon Courier for additional coverage of Friday's meeting)