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Officials still hush hush about lawsuit
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It is still unknown if any agreement was reached when county and city officials and legal counsel met Oct. 11 in Cookeville in a mediation meeting directed by Judge John Maddux to discuss the city’s lawsuit against the county over local option sales tax revenue.The veil of secrecy generated by the gag order placed by Maddux prevents officials from giving out any information, under penalty of contempt of court, which could conceivably result in jail time for those who ignore it.Since the Warren County Commission was the first of the two governmental bodies to meet subsequent to mediation, at its meeting Oct. 17, there was speculation the county and its legal counsel, all of which were present, would discuss the issue and possibly initiate a vote to approve any agreement which was reached, thus ending the litigation and the gag order.It was not to be. Instead, at the end of the meeting, County Executive John Pelham announced there would be an executive session” and everyone other than commissioners, necessary county employees, and legal counsel would be required to exit the courtroom.Under open meeting laws, this can only happen in cases where sensitive information is involved, such as a lawsuit, where officials need to consult with their legal counsel in private. However, if the public body does meet in executive session, they must still vote on any decision reached at the meeting in public.Both the city and county have reportedly held executive sessions.Since the first mediation between the two governmental bodies ended with Maddux rejecting both the city’s and the county’s arguments, it has been generally accepted the second attempt at mediation would end with one of two results – a compromise agreement between the two parties, or another stalemate, in which case the lawsuit would go to trial, which would require a trial date to be set.Though officials are still under the gag order and can’t reveal any information about the mediation or the results, one thing is evident – no trial date has been announced.But with the gag order still in place, officials are reluctant to address even that issue, since the lack of a court date might be interpreted to mean an agreement was reached in mediation.“I can’t answer that,” Pelham said, when asked if the case would be going to court or if an agreement had been reached.