Mitchell merit board hearing suspended for settlement talks

In the wake of weekend rumors, Greg Reid, attorney for fired county administrator Ralph Mitchell, confirmed Monday that Blount County Merit Board hearings on Mitchell’s termination have been temporarily halted while the two sides discuss a possible settlement which would restore Mitchell to employment with the county.

According to Reid, a settlement offer made before Mitchell’s termination hearing on Sept. 6 would have restored Mitchell to a job with the county, working as a contract special projects employee with an office in the Hayden courthouse annex, under the supervision of District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong. The offer was for a specified contract period of 30 months and would have paid Mitchell $40,000 per year during the term of his contract period (about $20,000 a year less than he made as county administrator – ED). Reid said that the offer, made by the county, was not accepted, and a counter offer made by Reid on Mitchell’s behalf, was not accepted by the county.

The possibility of settlement was broached last Wednesday after about 30 minutes of testimony from Mitchell himself. Remaining to testify before the board were one or two more witnesses, including Probate Judge Chris Green, according to Reid.

“We’ve suspended merit board hearings temporarily to pursue a resolution through settlement,” Reid said. “We may reach a settlement or we may have to finish the hearing and let the board arrive at a ruling. I think a settlement benefits everyone. It brings a resolution for everyone, and puts an ugly chapter in the county’s history behind us. This prolonged battle is not appealing for either side. I really don’t know how this will play out – whether we’ll settle or whether we will resume the hearing, but I think we’ll know by the end of the week. If we go back to the merit board and they make an unfavorable ruling toward Mr. Mitchell, then it won’t end there. We’ll have something further to say about that.”

Contacted for comment on the status of the hearing, county attorney Jeff Sherrer confirmed that the hearing had been recessed when Reid approached attorneys for the county to inquire if they would entertain the idea of settling the matter without further testimony.

Sherrer said no specific settlement offers were presented or discussed. Sherrer said his client consists of the entire county commission, and that all members would have to agree for the county to even consider entering into settlement discussions. On the afternoon before Thanksgiving, at least two of the commissioners could not be reached. The decision was made to recess the hearing until all could be contacted to determine whether any discussion of a settlement should be entered into by the county.

“There were no offers on the table when we recessed,” Sherrer said. “I made no offers on behalf of the county, and I received no offers from Mr. Mitchell’s attorneys.”

The merit board hearing, scheduled by the board for Nov. 15 and 16, was in its fourth day of testimony when it recessed last Wednesday. As of yesterday, a time for hearings to resume had not been set.