Lawyer jokes aside, one of Bud Armstrong’s priorities as Knox County law director is saving taxpayers money. He described changes that have resulted in savings at last week’s Council of West Knox County Homeowners meeting.
Worker’s comp cases have been brought in-house, saving the county $200,000. The number of cases has dropped dramatically, and the county is now actuarially sound, he said.
The law director’s office no longer hires outside counsel “on a whim.” Previously, the office has spent up to $1.1 million on attorneys’ fees, but last year, it was $43,000. Some circumstances, such as a conflict between two commissioners, require outside counsel.
Taking on the tax attorney’s job allows the county to proceed with title searches, which means the condemnation of tax-delinquent property can move forward. The change brought in an additional $200,000 this year.
Lawsuits against former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe and his “ghost” staffers have already netted some money, and the county’s “not done with” the criminals yet, Armstrong said. A motion, based on fraud or false claims, could potentially result in a $1 million to $19 million judgment.
He hasn’t given up on finding the money Lowe claims to have gambled away, either.
Very few understand what the law director’s office does, he said. Much of the work revolves around interpretation of the county charter and writing ordinances and resolutions. The work is much the same as that of the state attorney general, except that the county law director deals with civil, rather than criminal cases.
Power is given to the office by the people, through the charter, and the charter mandates that the law director handle all legal affairs of Knox County government and play an advisory role for elected officials and Knox County Commission, which is regarded separately as the board of directors for the county.
Comparing the county to a corporation, its first priority is to protect the stockholders, or taxpayers. The second priority is advising elected officials.
“I think the county is getting better at taking care of the stockholders. The climate is getting better.”
Another important task is reviewing contracts − over 700 each year, he says.
“If you cover all your bases in your agreements, life is better.”
Armstrong took issue with a recent news story that made it seem that the county is footing the bill for an $800,000 judgment in favor of a former MPC employee. Knox County was named in the suit, but it isn’t the paying party, he said.
He’s also not sure that Knox County will be writing a $140,000 check for a recent decision regarding the untreated injury of a county detention facility inmate. The case has been appealed.
The county is monitoring 479 claims that could become litigation and is currently involved in 305 actual lawsuits.
The good news, he said, is that the deputy law directors and their support staff are top-notch.
“I’d put your firm up against any law firm − and do.”