Mayor takes issue with cell phone comment in budget talks

Published 6:35 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Following a Budget Committee workshop session where members of the committee discussed ways to cut expenses for the county, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said he is taking exception to one of the comments made during the meeting which he said is erroneous and made to “inflame the public.”

During the Budget Committee workshop session on Monday evening, members of the committee questioned some of the rising costs in the budget requests and looked at areas where cuts may be possible.

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Commissioner Dr. Robert Acuff noted that several departments listed an increase under the “communications” line item and asked if the county is supplying cell phones for employees.

Carter County Finance Director Brad Burke said there are approximately 80 or 90 cell phones paid for by the county. The Carter County Sheriff’s Office uses the majority of those phones, according to Burke but other offices have them as well. He stated the Mayor’s Office budget includes one cell phone.

During the discussion on the cell phones, Acuff said: “Nothing against the Mayor, but if you are making $100,000 a year, you can afford a cell phone without the county having to pay for it.”

According to budget documents obtained by the Elizabethton Star from the Carter County Finance Department, the budget request from Humphrey includes a $300 increase in the “Communication” line item.

The budget worksheet shows the actual expenditure in that line item for the 2015-16 fiscal year was $110.29. The following fiscal year, 2016-17, the actual expenses in that particular line item was $530.88. The exact numbers are not in for the 2017-18 fiscal year as it will not conclude until June 30, but the budgeted amount in the Communication line item was $250. For the 2018-19 fiscal year, Humphrey allocated $550 for that line item in his budget request.

On Wednesday morning, Humphrey contacted the Elizabethton Star and said several individuals had contacted him regarding the STAR’s story on the meeting and the comment made by Acuff. Humphrey said he wanted “to set the record straight” regarding his cell phone.

“At no point in time has the county ever paid for my cell phone,” Humphrey said. “When I first took office, I was issued Johnny Holder’s cell phone, and I immediately turned it back in and told them to cancel it.”

Turning the county cell phone back in and using his cell phone resulted in a $50 per month savings for the county, Humphrey said.

Humphrey said his budget does include an allocation for a cell phone, but it is not his.

“It’s an ECD phone that is used by the Director of Economic and Community Development. It’s not the guy making $100,000,” Humphrey said. “They need to do their homework before they make these types of erroneous statements.”

“This misleading the public has got to stop,” Humphrey continued. “It’s just a bunch of damn lies, and I’ve had about all I’m going to take.”

When looking at the communications line item, Humphrey said he asks the committee to consider “all of the rewards” that the cell phone for Economic and Community Development Director Susan Robinson has brought in for the county. Humphrey noted the work by Robinson to secure several grants for the county bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“This county can be penny wise and dollar foolish,” Humphrey said, adding taking away from the Office of Economic and Community Development would “set this county back 10 years.”