Calm before the storm…
The first three committee meetings (Finance, Public Services, and Personnel) went as smooth as silk.
We discussed joint city-county Metro government. I proposed that we ask that County Mayor David Purkey meet with Morristown City Mayor Gary Johnson to get a feel for how the City might view establishing a Metro Study Committee.
I am hopeful that the City will at least be open to discussing and studying Metro. Most everyone I have heard from thinks it’s time to look at this. This proposal will go to the full Commission on July 21.
In other action, Planning Commission appointments from the Mayor are to be forwarded to the full Commission, and a change to the Personnel Handbook is planned so that exempt/salaried employees will be treated in the same way as non/exempt employees now are.
During the Audit meeting, Commissioner Maudie Briggs said that County Mayor David Purkey probably doesn’t want to come and answer audit questions because he’s afraid he might “slip up and incriminate” himself.
At the end of the meeting, Briggs added that Hamblen is just a “peon” county.
Here is what led up to those comments and that outburst. It was amazing.
Audit Chairman Edwin Osborne called the Audit meeting to order at 5:00 pm. Commissioner Maudie Briggs and I, members of the Audit Committee, were present. Jim and Mary Young, Hamblen County residents, were there to watch and took notes.
Commissioner Ricky Bruce is a member and had been present for the other meetings, but he left and didn’t attend the Audit meeting. Commissioners Herbert Harville and Joe Spoone left to attend a Planning Commission meeting. Joe Spoone came back to the Audit meeting after the Planning meeting was over, but Herbert Harville did not.
Commissioner Osborne began by pointing out that County Mayor David Purkey has refused to attend audit committee meetings and has refused to answer written questions about the 2004 audit. As a result, the role of the audit committee is unclear.
Osborne noted that Mayor Purkey maintains that the audit is the official financial “Bible” for Hamblen County. Osborne, a CPA, stated that a financial audit is a look at a very small number of financial transactions that have been taken from a very few sample areas. In Osborne’s opinion, a financial audit cannot be held up as a financial “Bible,” and he said the state auditors themselves would never call it that.
Osborne also pointed out that Enron and Worldcom had "clean" financial audits right before they collapsed.
Osborne expressed concern that Mayor Purkey and Finance Director Nicole Epps always respond to any financial questions about 2004 with a pat answer: “We’ve been audited.” He said a financial audit, which is different from a performance audit, does not mean that everything is OK.
To explain it in laymen’s terms. A financial audit is important, and the state auditors are doing an outstanding job with that. But a financial audit is a bit like a person looking only at his year-end bank statement and a few checks he wrote during the year and trying to figure out from that if everything is OK. The financial audit, like the year-end bank statement, will tell you what you have left, but it does not examine in detail how you got there or whether you have spent money properly and as intended.
I then remarked that it is very troublesome to me that financial questions about 2004 audit problems are being ignored. That’s when Briggs pounced. She said my questions were threatening. When asked to explain what was threatening about a simple financial question, she said it was my use of the word “why” in my question. That’s what made it threatening.
PS: Next time, I’ll remove the word ‘why’ at the beginning of my question and I’ll try to ask it in a way that Briggs would approve—“For what reason did you move $350,000 around from fund to fund in 2004 without authorization from County Commission. Please explain what past errors you were correcting.”
Briggs didn’t stop there. She added that in her opinion I am out to get two elected officials and hang them from the lanyard. She seemed to be longing for the good old days when nobody reviewed figures or called Nashville to check out facts. She ended by asking, “What does Nashville care about this ‘peon’ county in East Tennessee anyway?”
Whoa! Let’s calm down. First, we are not a peon county. Second, a financial question about the spending of public money is not a threat. Third, a financial question can’t ‘get’ anyone --unless there are serious problems in the handling of funds. Fourth, open and honest answers are the easiest way to get rid of financial questions.
Lastly, I certainly hope that Mrs. Briggs did not mean it when she said that County Mayor David Purkey was afraid to come to meetings and respond to financial questions because he was afraid he might “slip up and incriminate” himself.
Let’s try to stay focused on accountability. Let’s avoid the personal attacks...It's all about fiscal responsibility and taking care of tax dollars--the people's money.
My questions have always been about what has been done financially, not who’s doing it.
The answers should always be about what has been done financially, not who’s asking.