Sunday, September 06, 2009

September 5, 2009 County Commission Stops Unauthorized Car Allowances in Order to (Finally) Comply with State Law

At its August 20 meeting of the full commission, the Hamblen County Commission voted 12-1 to stop three of the four car allowances that have been paid for several years in violation of state law. [Commissioner Tommy Massey was absent.]

This was a total reversal of what the Finance Committee had recommended on August 10. See my post on the August 10 Finance Committee meeting here.

At the August 10 Finance Committee meeting, I had asked the committee to stop payment of unauthorized car allowances. The Committee refused to stop these unauthorized payments and, instead, voted to study the issue again in September. The payments were going to continue despite state law that does not allow Hamblen County to pay car allowances, despite an April 2009 state attorney general's opinion on county car allowances, and despite the county attorney's May 2009 opinion (which was just a review of the state attorney general's opinion noting that Hamblen County is not among those counties authorized to provide car allowances).

After years of paying unauthorized car allowances and with the prospect of these payments continuing for still more months, I spoke to the full commission during the public comments forum on August 20 and, as I had done on August 10, I again asked that these unauthorized car allowances stop now and that Hamblen County come into compliance with state law now. Why continue to violate state law and pay out thousands of taxpayer dollars on unauthorized car allowances?

Despite state law and my request that the commission comply with state law immediately, Finance Chairman Joe Spoone made a motion to postpone any decision and to "study" the car allowance situation in September. Thankfully, one commissioner was listening and had the courage to question what was going on and to stand up for the taxpayers.

Commissioner Dana Wampler noted that Hamblen County is out of compliance---as I had stated---and Wampler then amended Spoone's resolution to stop three of the car allowances now (Ely, Hopkins, Young) and to pay mileage to those individuals if they use their car on county business. The situation is still set for review in September, but unauthorized car allowances will stop.

During discussion of the amendment, Wampler turned to county attorney Rusty Cantwell and asked about the unauthorized car allowances and when the county should come into compliance. Rusty said that there are three car allowances (the fourth car allowance is that of the County Mayor but Rusty doesn't think that the Mayor's $600/month car allowance is really a car allowance). As far as when the county should come into compliance with state law, Rusty said that was "up to you (the commission)." That response from the county attorney was a bit of a surprise.

Thankfully, Commissioner Wampler stuck to his guns and decided that the county should come into compliance with state law right away. The motion to stop unauthorized car allowances passed 12-1. Guy Collins voted no. I'm not sure if Collins' "no" vote meant that he wanted to keep paying unauthorized car allowances or if he just didn't understand what was going on. Tommy Massey was absent.

I appreciate Commissioner Wampler for doing the right thing. I'm guessing that he took some flak for that after the meeting. Stancil Ford doesn't really like for the public to have any input. He doesn't like a lot of discussion by commissioners at the full commission meetings, and he doesn't like to have changes from the original script.

When you watch the tape of the meeting, Ford turns to County Mayor David Purkey and to County Attorney Rusty Cantwell. Ford is not really happy with the question and comments and amendment by Commissioner Wampler, but in the end he can't stop the amendment and he himself votes for the amendment. Why? Because the amendment brings Hamblen County into compliance with state law and saves taxpayer money, too. How could you oppose that?

The real question is, why did it take four months to get a vote on coming into compliance with state law on the floor at a county commission meeting? Many thanks to Commissioner Wampler for doing "the right thing." Commissioner Wampler showed that one commissioner can make a difference when he or she just does "the right thing" and puts it out for a vote.

Joe Powell tapes the meetings for the county and they are shown on Charter Ch 7 (goverment/education channel) at 9:00 PM on Tuesday? and Saturday nights. [I watch on Saturdays, and I think Tuesday is the other day that the tape is shown.] You can call the county mayor's office (586-1931) to find out what other day the tape is aired.

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