Commissioners speak out on delinquent tax attorney selection

Anderson County Trustee Regina Copeland reported her choice for delinquent tax attorney to the Anderson County Commission Monday night.

That was the simple part.

Copeland told the body that after researching her options, after multiple consultations with other counties, the County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS), auditors, and many others she will be keeping the same delinquent tax attorney for at least one more year — Doyle “Trippy” Teno.

Copeland said she needed to have the tax attorney in place by April 1. “I’m not making any changes in the position that is there,” she said. The Anderson County Delinquent Tax Attorney will begin working on 2017 delinquent taxes and will be in place for one year.

The Anderson County Delinquent Tax Attorney is appointed by the Anderson County Trustee and approved (or not approved) by the County Mayor.

However, some commissioners questioned the appointment.

In the end, however, it was “much ado about nothing.”

District One Commissioner Chuck Fritts said the decision to retain Teno, “Cost the county tax payers a lot of money. We’re looking at a 30-plus cents tax increase on our citizens. We don’t need to pay an outside attorney a whopping salary by not using (Anderson County Attorney) Jay Yeager,” he said.

Fritts was referring to a $150 title search fee that is levied on delinquent property tax payers — a fee that theoretically is paid to the delinquent tax attorney for the title search to compensate said attorney for his time, work, etc.

And that became a sticking point in the ensuing conversation.

District Seven Commissioner Jerry Creasey said when the Anderson County Private Act creating the delinquent tax attorney was made, it called for the County Attorney to serve as the Delinquent Tax Attorney.

Meaning that $150 title search fee would go into the county’s coffers.

“We have respect for what you are doing,” Creasey told Copeland. “Hopefully you will have enough evaluations next year.”

District Six Commissioner Catherine Denenberg said County Commission is, “Working really, really hard to find any revenue for additional funds.

“We need every penny we can get back in the general fund.”

Copeland, in just six months, has brought in more than $600,000 in delinquent property taxes by making, “Simple courtesy calls,” she told Commission.

“I assure you I don’t want any money going anywhere that doesn’t benefit the county.”

Steve Meade, Commissioner from District Six, told the Trustee, “You still have the opportunity to do what’s right.” He stated that if the County Mayor did not approve of the Trustee’s pick for delinquent tax attorney the matter went to the District Attorney General, who in similar circumstances in the past had always picked the Anderson County Attorney to serve in that role.

District Seven Commissioner Theresa Scott asked how much the Trustee paid the Delinquent Tax Attorney (Teno). Copeland said Teno is paid $36,000 for his services to the county.

She would not elaborate on any funds he may or may not receive for title search fees, explaining she wasn’t sure if she could legally do so.

Copeland did say there are between 1,100 – 1,200 delinquent property tax cases annually.

“So, if you multiply $150 times by 1,100, that’s $165,000?” she asked.

While conversation still centered on the $150 title search fee and the choice of delinquent tax attorney, District Two Commissioner Rick Meredith tried to squelch the criticism of using Teno.

“We’ve all said that we respect what Regina (Copeland) is doing,” Meredith said. “What a good job she’s doing. This is her recommendation, why don’t we just accept it?’

District Five Commissioner Robert McKamey took it a step further and made a motion for Commission to “move on.”

McKamey reminded the body it has no say-so in the selection of the Anderson County Delinquent Tax Attorney, that the Trustee was, in fact, just reporting to them her decision.

“Why don’t we just move on?” he asked, then made it in to a motion.

It took votes, but Commission did not move on.

“I know we have no say so about this, but Commission will be heard,” Chairman and First District Commissioner Tracy Wandell said.

Commissioner Denenberg tried to introduce a measure to require the $150 title search fee somehow go to the county and not the Tax Delinquent Attorney — at some point in this discussion Yeager informed County Commission his office “did not see one penny” of the $150 title search fee when his office was used.

Wandell quickly reeled in that discussion, however, saying that was not Commission’s role, nor could Commission do that. He did, however, entertain a motion from Creasey saying Commission urged Copeland to reconsider her selection. That motion passed 8 – 4, with Waddell and McKamey absent and Mead and Second District Commissioner Robert Jameson abstaining.

Voting yes for the measure were Fritts, Wandell, Dale Isbel, Jerry White, Denenberg, Creasey, Scott, and Bob Smallridge. Voting no against the recommendation were Meredith, Josh Anderson, Shain Vowell, and Phil Yager.