The Decherd Board of Mayor and Aldermen did not violate the open meetings act when it voted to replace the city attorney at the Nov. 11 meeting, according to aldermen who voted in favor of the change.
The board opted to replace Tullahoma attorney Gerald L. Ewell Jr. as the city’s legal counsel with Winchester attorney Jerre M. Hood in a 3-1 vote.
Those in favor of the change were Vice Mayor Richard Gulley and Aldermen Jimmy Wayne Sanders and Pam Arnold. Alderman Tammy Holt voted in opposition to the move. Mayor Michael Gillespie only votes in tie-breaking situations.
Questions later surfaced about whether the replacement issue had been discussed outside council chambers, potentially violating the state’s open meetings act, also referred to as the “sunshine law.”
Gulley and Sanders mutually agreed they had not discussed the issue with each other outside of an official meeting.
Sanders said he made the recommendation during a meeting to have City Administrator Rex Clark begin a search to determine what additional legal counsel options might be available.
Gulley said at the Nov. 11 meeting that the reason he wanted the change is that it would be much more convenient to have a local attorney handle the city’s legal matters. He said something as simple as signing a document involves a trip to Tullahoma which takes time, and having local legal counsel would make the process much easier.
Gulley said he would have preferred to have an attorney from Decherd, making the venture all the more local. However, he added it didn’t work out, so an attorney from Winchester who resides in Franklin County was the next best option.
Gillespie said on Nov. 11 that Ewell has done a good job, and he would have no problem with him continuing on as the city attorney.
“I commend Mr. Ewell for his service,” he said. “He’s provided really good service to the city.”