Rejecting a measure to change the role of the legal counsel it employs, the Bradley County Board of Education discussed on Thursday the possibility of there being conflicts of interest between the board and its attorney.
During a previous meeting, board member Chris Turner questioned whether Chuck Cagle of Knoxville-based Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg & Waldrop PC had some conflicts of interest because he serves on the board of some education-related organizations.
Cagle said he wanted to clear up some misconceptions about his service to the school board.
Addressing concerns that $40,000 was being spent per year on legal fees, Cagle pointed out that was the total amount allocated for legal fees in the school system’s most recent budget.
He said he has charged the school system a one-time retainer fee of $5,000 and only charges for the counsel that is given.
“My job is to give you advice, to give you options, when you need it,” Cagle said.
However, Turner proposed a motion that would have changed his role as an attorney with the school system.
“I make the motion to engage a new attorney for the board with an engagement letter specifically calling out exclusive representation free of conflicts of interest of the board of education in Bradley County for all contracts, initiation of litigation to protect the interests of Bradley County Schools and its Board of Education and defense of Bradley County Schools and its board of education,” he read from the written motion he proposed. “Due to Mr. Cagle’s competency and knowledge of education law in Tennessee, I also move to relegate our engagement of Mr. Cagle’s firm to one solely of consultancy on matters [pursuant] to interpretation of the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated.”
Turner said he was concerned about the other organizations that Cagle represents, including the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education and the Pearson textbook publishing company.
Turner said his concern stemmed from the possibility of those organizations’ missions being in conflict with the interests of the local school board.
“This is not a personal issue,” Turner said. “This board has to determine its own definition of conflicts of interest.”
Weathers said it was important to have legal representation by someone who was experienced and had good knowledge of the law, adding that some situations require split-second decisions.
“We can’t get rid of good counsel when we have it,” Weathers said.
Turner also pointed out that during a recent meeting to discuss the school system’s budget, the board had to recess to seek legal counsel over the phone, whereas he was aware of some school boards that had attorneys attend every meeting.
Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said not having Cagle or one of his colleagues at the law firm attend every meeting was a choice he had made to save money, and an attorney has attended the board’s meetings when the presence of one had been requested.
“It’s expensive to have someone at every meeting,” McDaniel said.
Turner and Nicholas Lillios voted “yes” to Turner’s proposed motion, while Weathers, Christy Critchfield, Charlie Rose and Vicki Beaty voted “no.” Rodney Dillard was absent.