Mayor Wamp continues with efforts to fire longtime County Attorney Rheubin Taylor

As the battle between Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp (at podium standing) and longtime County Attorney Rheubin Taylor (sitting at table directly in front of Wamp and podium) enters its third month, the ongoing power struggle carries a potential hefty legal price tag for taxpayers.
A native of Chattanooga, 73-year-old attorney and pastor Rheubin Taylor has a long record of service to the community.

Despite County Commission efforts to end the Weston Wamp/Rheubin Taylor feud, the county mayor last week filed papers vigorously pressing on with efforts to fire the longtime county attorney. 

Hamilton County Mayor Wamp is asking the court to declare that attorney Taylor’s contract is unenforceable and that the mayor has the authority to terminate Taylor. 

The Mayor’s office alleges Wamp worked for weeks in an attempt to find a resolution with both the commission and attorney Taylor that would have prevented further legal action. But attorney Taylor was uninterested in finding such a solution and was only willing to consider a resolution through the courts, Wamp said.  

On Oct. 31, attorney Taylor filed a lawsuit against Wamp asking the court to determine that the mayor lacks the unilateral authority to fire the county attorney and that Taylor’s four-year contract, which went into effect in 2021 and extends through June 2025, is valid.

Last week, Mayor Wamp filed a 29-page answer and counterclaim to Taylor’s lawsuit. In the Chancery Court documents, Wamp’s filings ask for a declaratory judgement, breach of fiduciary duty of loyalty, an injunction, and a breach of contract.

The injunction would halt Taylor from acting as county attorney. At press time, Taylor retains the position of county attorney and the privileges connected with the position.

In his court documents, Mayor Wamp contends that the county attorney is an at-will employee and “Taylor can be terminated for good cause, bad cause, or no cause or all,” and that “the County Commission lacks the authority to hire or fire anyone, including Taylor.”

A statement from the Mayor’s office said, “The County Mayor’s office had a November 30th deadline to respond to Rheubin Taylor’s ongoing legal action against Hamilton County Mayor, Weston Wamp. The Mayor’s response to Mr. Taylor’s suit asserts Mayor Wamp’s clear authority and obligation under state law to appoint all department heads, which, in this case, would include Mr. Taylor who is, unquestionably, the head of Hamilton County’s legal department. The response also substantiates the Mayor’s position that incident to the right and obligation to appoint, is the authority to terminate. It is not the Mayor’s intention to seek to remove Mr. Taylor from the office by way of an injunction prior to the conclusion of this lawsuit.

“Separately, our response and our counterclaims also summarize the extensive evidence the County Mayor’s office has identified as justification to terminate Mr. Taylor for cause. Mayor Wamp worked tirelessly for weeks to find a resolution with the commission and Mr. Taylor that would have avoided protracted litigation.  Mr. Taylor, however, was uninterested and unwilling to consider a resolution outside of court. Our primary objective is to seek an expeditious court ruling on the County Mayor’s authority before a judge outside of Hamilton County.”

Mayor Wamp alleges that attorney Taylor has been “utilizing county resources for his own private practice of law through a shadow law firm he operates out of the county attorney’s office, with the county paying the operating costs of that office, and with Taylor retaining the fees generated from this private work rather than remitting them to the county.”

Taylor’s contract states that he may “engage in any other non-conflicting activity on a professional basis.”

Mayor Wamp’s filing also says attorney Taylor “lobbied members of the County Commission to help him keep his job,” prompting the County Commission to intervene on behalf of attorney Taylor by passing a series of resolutions.

The resolutions called for Hamilton County to provide attorney Taylor with back pay on his annual salary of around $180,000–funds that he was owed since the attempted termination by Mayor Wamp on Oct. 14–as well as Taylor’s regained access to his county-issued computer and cellphone.

In June 2021, commissioners and then-Mayor Jim Coppinger approved a four-year contract with attorney Taylor lasting through June 30, 2025.

Termination, the contract states, requires “a majority of the County Commission, with concurrence from the county mayor or a two-thirds majority without concurrence from the county mayor.”

County Mayor Wamp, the 35-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, was elected to his first political office on Aug. 4. Before taking office, he earned a living as a venture capitalist and entrepreneur.

Taylor, 73, is a native of Chattanooga and has a long record of service to the community. When he returned to Chattanooga in 1973, he was the first African American licensed attorney in the city. In 1978, he and the Rev. Paul McDaniel became the first Black Hamilton County commissioners. Taylor also became the first Black Hamilton County attorney in July 1993.

Taylor has spent 29 years as county attorney and 15 years before that as a county commissioner. He has served as the senior pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Lafayette, Georgia for more than 20 years.