Debate turns heated over CCT, Chamber funding

Published 11:24 am Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Carter County Commission set the county’s budget and tax rate, but the discussion became heated when it came to making a decision on funding for economic development and tourism.

When the Carter County Commission met in a special called session on Tuesday to address the county’s annual budget, the first motion on the floor was a familiar and heated attempt to put funding for Carter County Tomorrow and the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce “in reserve.”

Tuesday marked the third time in recent months funding for the economic development cooperative between the county and the city has come up for discussion. In March, the matter was referred to the budget committee after Commissioner Robert Gobble made a motion to take funding away from CCT.

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During a budget committee meeting in May, the committee voted to leave funding for CCT at the previous year’s level of $40,000.

Then, during the full Commission meeting in July, Commissioner Ray Lyons again brought the matter of CCT funding before the body, this time requesting that not only the $40,000 for CCT be reserved but also the $90,000 earmarked for tourism until what he described as “problems” with CCT and the Chamber of Commerce could be resolved. Lyons proposal was voted down by a margin of 11-11.

On Tuesday, Gobble made a motion to do away with CCT and set aside the $40,000 for CCT until another economic development agency could be decided on. When clarifying the motion, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who serves as chairman of the Commission, asked Gobble if he meant to place the $40,000 for CCT, as well as the $90,000 for tourism through the Chamber of Commerce, in reserve. After a brief moment, Gobble replied that he did mean both funds. Commissioner Ronnie Trivett provided a second to the motion.

Commissioner Al Meehan stood and said he objected to consideration of the motion.

“It was voted down at the last Commission meeting,” he said. “It’s not on the agenda and it is totally out of order.”

Under state law, during a special called meeting, only those matters advertised in the meeting’s announcement may be discussed.

An objection to consideration requires no second and does not allow for discussion under Robert’s Rules of Order. However it does require a two-thirds majority to pass. Meehan’s objection failed after receiving only a simple majority of 13-9.

Commissioner Danny Ward also questioned why the matter was being discussed again.

“This Commission keeps repeating itself,” he said. “When something gets voted down it should stay dead for a least a few months.”

“Why do we keep voting on things until someone’s way gets passed,” he asked.

When Lyons questioned progress made by CCT and suggested it was an opportunity to look at restructuring the agency, Ward said a restructuring had already been done by the CCT Board of Directors.

“I sit on that Board. So does our Mayor, but most of the time he chooses not to come to the meetings,” Ward said. “We went through a restructuring process but our great Mayor decided not to be involved in that.”

After Ward spoke, Humphrey replied that he would “overlook that personal attack” to which Ward responded “I advise you not to.”

Humphrey has been vocal in recent months in his displeasure with CCT and its performance. He recently delegated economic development duties to his administrative assistant Susan Robinson, a move which was questioned during a recent meeting of the CCT Board. Humphrey explained during the CCT meeting that Robinson is performing those duties solely for the Mayor’s office and not on a county-wide basis.

Humphrey also declared he had not talked with any commissioners or lobbied for any votes to withhold funding from CCT or the Chamber.

“I hate to use the term hidden agenda, but this agenda keeps coming up again and again,” Meehan said, adding the funding issue had previously been turned over to Carter County Attorney Joshua Hardin to be researched and he has not reported back to the Commission. “Not to slam anyone, but for a person to make a motion and have two other people whispering in his ear because he’s not sure what should be on the floor it shows that something is going on.”

Commissioner L.C. Tester questioned the legality of reserving the funds earmarked for the Chamber of Commerce.

“That $90,000 is a hotel and motel tax and there is a private act on that,” Tester said. “We cannot do this. It is illegal.”

When the proposal came to a vote, it passed the Commission on a vote of 14-8 with Commissioners Willie Campbell, Nancy Brown, Bradley Johnson, Trivett, Charles Von Cannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, Ross Garland, Timothy Holdren, John Lewis, Larry Miller, Lyons, Robert Carroll, Gobble and Cody McQueen all voting in favor. Commissioners Buford Peters, Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Meehan, Tester, Ward, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz and Sonja Culler opposed reserving those funds.

Following that debate, the Commission moved on to approve the 2015-16 budget, which is done in three parts – county departments, outside agencies and the county tax rate.

During discussion on the county departments portion of the budget, Brown challenged the budget request for the Planning Department because it included a raise for Planning Director Chris Schuettler. She made a motion to take the $5,521 raise out of the budget.

County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach informed the Commission they could take funding from a department’s bottom line but they could not remove funds from a specific line item.
Brown amended her motion to take the $5,521 from the total planning budget. The motion was seconded by Trivett but ultimately failed by a vote of 10-12.

Other portions of the budget saw little discussion. The Commission voted to approve the budgets and hold the tax rate at $2.45 per $100 of taxable property value.