Standoff over appointment of delinquent tax attorney for Hardin County ends
The increasingly contentious and public conflict between Hardin County Mayor Kevin Davis and Trustee Jeanie Hopper over the appointment of a county delinquent tax attorney ended Friday morning, with the mayor’s approval of local attorney Gil Parrish.
Hopper, in her first term as trustee after being sworn in on Sept. 1, previously appointed local attorneys Ben Harmon and Vance Dennis.
Both appointments were vetoed by Davis, who by state law has the authority to approve or deny the Trustee’s choice of a county delinquent tax attorney.
Hopper announced each appointment publicly, saying “I feel taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on – I believe in full transparency. When I appoint a candidate it will be public, and if the mayor decides to veto that appointment it should also be public.”
In a public comment on social media she added, “That is precisely why we have a Sunshine Law in the great state of Tennessee – citizens deserve to know what their elected officials are doing, and why.”
Davis has thus far not commented publicly about the two vetoes or his approval of Parrish as delinquent tax attorney.
Dennis, however, has been vocal about the situation.
In a social media post Thursday night referencing the mayor, Dennis said, “It appears that neither myself, Ben Harmon, nor any other attorney in Hardin County meets his standards.”
Dennis also said Davis has, behind closed doors, made it clear he wanted County Attorney Justin Reynolds appointed to the position.
Reynolds could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon.
The mayor’s “conviction to the cause is so substantial that he is willing to insult every other attorney in town, and by extension their families, friends and supporters. That’s a pretty big risk for a politician,” Dennis said.
He added, “The two million dollar question is why would Mayor Davis go so far out on a limb to get his guy in the position? It’s a two million dollar question because that’s roughly how much is currently owed to Hardin County in delinquent property taxes for the last 12 years.”
Dennis said the actual total of uncollected taxes is well above that amount, but the statute of limitations only allows the county to collect back taxes for the previous 12 years.
“Our county loses around $100,000 in collectible taxes each year because it does not collect those taxes in a timely manner. County government is supposed to collect these taxes each year by conducting a court-approved tax sale, thereby collecting the back taxes and getting the property back on the current tax rolls,” Dennis said.
Further complicating the matter, time to select a delinquent tax attorney has been running short, as the deadline to file suits against delinquent taxpayers is April 1.
The tax attorney will need time to complete documents and other legal requirements prior to the deadline.
As timeliness is a strict legal requirement, state law says if the county mayor and trustee cannot agree on the appointment of a delinquent tax attorney, the district attorney general has the duty and authority to step in and appoint one.
Having the decision taken out of the hands of county officials, who live and work in Hardin County, is something both Davis and Hopper have said they want to avoid.
Wednesday, Hopper said Davis had given her a list of three attorneys he would be willing to approve.
“Only one actually lives in Hardin County, and when I asked him if he actually wants the job, he told me he’d already told the mayor he wasn’t interested the day before,” Hopper said.
She said of the other two attorneys that one lives in McNairy County but works in Savannah, and the other is from Covington. She said she would not identify those attorneys unless and until they expressed interest in being the county delinquent tax attorney.
Thursday morning, Hopper sent an email to Davis appointing Parrish and notifying the newspaper.
Hopper said Friday morning she is “exhilarated” to have the issue resolved so she can focus on other issues.
“I am extremely excited and cannot wait for Mr. Parrish to get to work and address the delinquent tax collection needs of Hardin County,” she said.
Parrish was not immediately available for comment.
Property taxes in Hardin County are due annually by Feb. 28.