Session Date: November 1, 2016
from the Chancery Court for Maury County No. 15-544 David L.
the interim city manager for the City of Mount Pleasant,
Tennessee, filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the
votes of two commissioners to terminate his employment were
void due to a conflict of interest. He contends their votes
were void because ethics complaints filed by Petitioner
against the two commissioners were pending at the time of the
vote. The trial court dismissed the petition for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to
Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), upon the finding that the petition
failed to allege facts which would show that the
commissioners had a personal financial interest in the
outcome of the vote on Petitioner's employment.
Petitioner appealed; we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Henderson, Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, Pro Se.
H. Rader IV and Daniel H. Rader III, Cookeville, Tennessee,
for the appellees, City of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee; Delores
Blankenship; Mike Davis; Ricky Frazier; and Michael Hay.
D. Burleson and Matthew R. Courtner, Jackson, Tennessee, for
the appellees Robert Shackelford and George Vestal.
G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Richard H. Dinkins and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ.,
G. CLEMENT, JR., P.J., M.S.
21, 2015, the City of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, through its
five member board of commissioners, hired Mark Henderson
("Petitioner") as interim city manager. Over the
following months, two city commissioners grew dissatisfied
with Petitioner's job performance, and at a meeting on
October 2, 2015, Commissioners Ricky Frazier and Delores
Blankenship moved to terminate Petitioner's employment.
However, this motion failed by a vote of 2-3.
Petitioner filed ethics complaints against Commissioners
Frazier and Blankenship with the city attorney, Quinn Brandon
Stewart. Ms. Stewart notified the commissioners of the
complaints and began an investigation into the allegations.
November 3, 2015, the board of commissioners held a special
meeting "to discuss and act upon the interim city
manager's position." At the beginning of this
meeting, Ms. Stewart advised the Commission that, in her
legal opinion, it would be a conflict of interest for
Commissioners Frazier and Blankenship to vote on any issue
involving Petitioner given that the ethics complaints he
filed against them were pending. Thereafter, a motion was
made to appoint Petitioner as permanent city manager under
the same contractual terms as the previous city manager for a
term of one year. Despite Ms. Stewart's opinion,
Commissioners Frazier and Blankenship participated in the
vote on this motion, which resulted in the motion's
failure by a 2-3 vote. Commissioner Frazier then moved to
terminate Petitioner. This motion passed 3-2, with
Commissioners Frazier and Blankenship once again
participating in the vote. Commissioners Frazier and
Blankenship subsequently moved to hire a new interim city
manager, which motion also passed 3-2.
following day, Petitioner notified Ms. Stewart that it was
his position that he had been elected permanent city manager
at the November 3, 2015, meeting. Petitioner argued that the
votes of Commissioners Frazier and Blankenship were void as a
result of their conflict of interest; therefore, the initial
motion to make Petitioner permanent city manager passed by a
then filed a petition with the Maury County Chancery Court
under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-14-103, naming the City of
Mount Pleasant, Commissioner Frazier, and Commissioner
Blankenship as respondents. The petition sought a declaratory
judgment that the votes of Commissioners Frazier and
Blankenship on November 3, 2015, were a nullity due to the
ethics complaints pending against them and that the motion to
make Petitioner permanent city manager be declared to have
passed. Further, the petition requested that the court order
specific performance of Petitioner's contract for
employment with the city for one year. Petitioner also
requested a temporary restraining order preventing the board
of commissioners from hiring a permanent city manager pending
a final resolution of the matter.
December 2, 2015, the respondents filed a joint motion to
dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted and a response in opposition to
Petitioner's request for a restraining order. This motion
argued that, although Tennessee conflict of interest law
prevents an elected official from voting on a measure in
which they have a personal financial interest, the vote in
question did not involve a monetary interest for any of the
commissioners and, therefore, did not constitute a conflict
of interest as a matter of law. Thus, the respondents argued
that the petition failed to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted.
a hearing on this motion but before the court ruled,
Petitioner filed a motion to amend his petition. The proposed
amendment sought to add, inter alia, language to the
petition relating to the financial interests of Commissioners