Merit board hearing resumes; no dice on settlement

The Blount County Merit Board hearing in the matter of the firing of county administrator Ralph Mitchell remains in abeyance this week as the merit board struggles to find a hearing date that meets the schedules of all parties. The board had proposed continuing the hearing on Friday, Dec. 7, according to merit board chairman Bill Newman, but all parties could not be available.

The hearing had been suspended last Wednesday for the two sides to consider whether to pursue a settlement agreement, a prospect raised by Mitchell’s attorney Greg Reid shortly after Mitchell’s testimony began. The hearing was temporarily adjourned for county attorneys to consult with their client, the Blount County Commission, to determine whether to enter settlement discussions.

County attorney Jeff Sherrer said he notified the merit board Friday afternoon that the county commission was not interested in entering settlement talks with Mitchell and requested that the hearing resume until its conclusion.

Newman said he hopes to be able to conclude testimony soon, so as to be able to render a decision before the holidays. When the board next meets, it will be the fifth day of hearings, originally begun on Nov. 15. The merit board has 10 days following the last day of testimony to issue a ruling on its findings.