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March 4, 2020

City Commission to hold executive session, public comment period Thursday

Meeting agenda available here:

The Johnson City Board of Commissioners soon will consider acceptance of an Inter-Local agreement with Washington County regarding school funding. Recognizing the desire of the Johnson City Board of Education not to accept the agreement and potentially enter into litigation, the two boards will meet with attorneys in an executive session during Thursday’s regularly scheduled Commission meeting. The executive session will be informational only; deliberations are not permitted. Also during that night’s Commission meeting, the public will be given the opportunity to offer input on the matter. Those who wish to speak must sign in and limit comments to 3 minutes. In advance of this public input session, Staff Attorney Sunny Sandos has provided the following information:

Washington County has approved a funding mechanism for a Jonesborough school that does not provide the proportionate funding for Johnson City Schools that a traditional bond model would allow. This funding mechanism is not illegal under current statutory language, as there are no state laws that force a county to borrow funds in any particular way. While this mechanism entitles the City to zero dollars, negotiations to create the Inter-Local Agreement have led to the City securing $12.5 million over 25 years.

The potential legal causes of action the City has explored include circumvention of the intent of the law. The Tennessee Appellate Court has already addressed this in City of Athens Board of Education v. McMinn County, 467 S.W.3d 458 (2014), in which the Court ruled in favor of the county. As such, the City Commission must decide if the likelihood of success in a potential lawsuit is high enough to outweigh the guaranteed funds the Inter-Local Agreement provides for the students of Johnson City.

The Inter-Local Agreement includes a covenant that the City will not sue Washington County ONLY regarding this particular Jonesborough school situation for so long as the County continues to make the annual payments to the City. Any future potential litigation involving any other matter, including but not limited to school funding, is not prohibited.

“At the end of the day, the City must weigh its chances of getting nothing versus some guaranteed funding,” Sandos said. “We stand to lose far more than $12.5 million in the form of financial impact to our taxpayers if we litigate.”