NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Legal Newsline) - Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, in an opinion released Tuesday, said that the hiring of the head of Clarksville's Department of Electricity was legal.
In December, the department's power board decided to hire Johnny Piper as the new superintendent.
However, state lawmakers -- including Sen. Tim Barnes, Rep. Phillip Johnson, Rep. Curtis Johnson and Rep. Joe Pitts -- requested the attorney general's opinion in January on behalf of the city's new mayor, Kim McMillan.
Piper previously served as Clarksville's mayor. The city has an ordinance that restricts it from hiring elected officials as departments heads for a year after they leave office.
An attorney for the power board has said the law doesn't apply because the department is governed by the state Municipal Power Plant Law of 1935.
The Clarksville City Council also took issue with Piper's hiring and just last week passed two resolutions -- one expressing its disapproval of Piper's hiring by the department and the other asking for the resignation of both Piper and the power board members who approved his hiring.
Cooper agreed with the power board's attorney, saying that the board cannot be regulated by local law because it is set up by the 1935 law.
According to the law, "a city governing body is not authorized to impose other criteria for the qualifications of the superintendent of a board."
Also, "the board is not generally subject to the authority of the city governing body when the board exercises its powers to manage the electric plant."
The law, the attorney general wrote, also explicity provides that the superintendent "is appointed by the board and subject to removal by the board." Cooper wrote that he was "unaware of any general law that would override this specific provision."
Piper told the Clarksville Online that he wasn't surprised by the attorney general's opinion, but that he was "relieved."
"The integrity of me, my family, the power board members and (Clarksville Department of Electric) employees has been questioned during this time," he told the news site.
"This opinion says what we have been saying all along. This entire process was above board. If we thought for any reason that my hiring was wrong or illegal, I wouldn't have made the decisions I have."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.