Shelby County Commission moves forward with opioid lawsuit

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - High drama Wednesday morning as Shelby County Commission agreed to move forward with a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The action is in defiance of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, as the county has filed suit against Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer to stop it.

For a body that typically moves at a glacial pace, County Commission Chairwoman Heidi Shafer kept everyone on time Wednesday.

Commissioners, first in the committee room, agreed taxpayers should cover Shafer's legal fees in the lawsuit brought by the mayor's office.

Commissioner David Reaves was critical. "This would require Ms. Shafer to recuse herself because she would benefit."

Shafer, under advice of her attorney Allan Wade, maintained she would not benefit as she was protected by legislative immunity. Shelby County Attorney Kathryn Pascover told the commission she disagreed. Eventually commissioners signed off on moving forward with the suit in committee despite differing opinions.

"I think all of us need to stand down, we need to step back," Commissioner Walter Bailey said.

"The administration has not worked with us at all," Commissioner Terry Roland said.

The group shifted six floors down for a full special commission meeting to take a final vote. With eight yes votes, the commission signaled it will continue on with its suit.

"I'm hopeful the administration will be willing to come to the table and help us work this out," said Shafer.

Shafer and other commissioners said the mayor's office dragged its feet in doing anything to bring an opioid lawsuit. But the administration maintains it was in the process of interviewing firms. The administration doesn't believe Shafer or the commission has authority in the matter, which is why they sued her.  

"Quite frankly, we're still of the opinion the contracting responsibility belongs to the mayor," said Harvey Kennedy, County Chief Administrative Officer.

Luttrell could veto the commission's action. County Attorney Kathryn Pascover would not comment after the series of meetings Wednesday. Commissioner Terry Roland said he'd be in favor of exercising a vote of no confidence in Pascover at the commission meeting Monday.

Chairwoman Shafer and the mayor's administration are set to be back in Chancery Court in Shelby County on Tuesday to try and resolve the lawsuit over authority.

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