Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel said late Wednesday afternoon both parties signed confidentiality agreements, so she could not discuss negotiations that took place in the Police Service Center. The talks lasted from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“It did not go well,” she said. “I can tell you it was not successful and that’s the way I need to leave it.”
Bradley County Commission Chair Louie Alford also said he could not talk about the mediation.
Though no one has said specifically, there are hints the disagreement over the sales tax could potentially derail any plans to consolidate the Cleveland Fire Department, Bradley County Fire Rescue, and Bradley County Emergency Medical Services into a single agency.
The city was represented in the mediation by Mayor Tom Rowland, City Manager Janice Casteel, City Clerk Mike Keith, City Attorney John Kimball, and attorneys Doug Johnston and Scott Tift with the Nashville law firm of Barrett Johnston LLC.
The county was represented by Alford, Commission Legislative Assistant Amy Moore, attorney James Logan and associate, David Hicks, and Howard Vogel, of the Knoxville law firm of O’Neil, Parker & Williamson PLLC.
Logan said mediation requires confidentiality in order for a candid expression of positions. But, he said, it is important the public knows the county is trying to settle the issue and asked for mediation instead of proceeding to court.
“But the county was left with no option but to obtain a judicial decision,” Logan said.
The lawsuit stems from a 1/2-cent sales tax increase passed by city voters March 10, 2009, to raise the sales tax from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent. County commissioners declined to participate in that referendum with the city. After the tax measure passed in the city, commissioners put it to popular vote in the rest of the county on May 14. That measure also passed.
On June 8, 2009, Bradley County sued Cleveland in Chancery Court, asking that a 1967 sales tax distribution agreement between the city and county be enforced.
So far, the tax has been collected, but the disputed amount of $745,000 has been set aside by Bradley County Trustee Mike Smith until the suit is settled.
Logan said filing the lawsuit preserved the money that is in dispute.
“The county wishes to cooperate with the city of Cleveland, which is in the best interests of residents in the city of Cleveland and Bradley County in its entirety,” he said. “However, the county is prepared to present its position to the legal forum that decides these issues.”
City Council members rejected a compromise offered by Bradley County commissioners during the March 28 Council meeting.
The commissioners offered to drop the lawsuit in Bradley County Chancery Court in exchange for placing the disputed amount in a joint trust to be used to fund joint capital improvement projects beneficial to both the city and county.