Burke tenders immediate resignation in wake of Finance Department confusion

Published 1:40 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2021

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR STAFF
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com    
As the regular August meeting of the Carter County Commission opened its session, many knew what weighed heavily on the minds of everyone in attendance and if the Commission could come to a resolution in regards to the local animal shelter and its funding.
However, the animal control issue took a back seat to the sudden resignation of Brad Burke as Finance Director and his work status as far as closing out the books and training new personnel.
One of the major concerns was what capacity Burke was serving in since Carolyn Watson had been hired to replace him.
During the Financial Management Committee report to the Commission, Chairwoman Ginger Holdren explained to the Commission that “Mr. Burke had resigned but also had asked the committee to stay on. The Financial Committee took his request into consideration and with other elected officials in the room, the committee voted to accept his resignation and moved forward.”
“We told Mr. Burke that we expected him to train the new person but he failed to train anybody in that department. So there is nobody really ready to step in. However these ladies (new Finance Director Carolyn Watson and Deputy Director Audra Gerty) are ready to step into the tasks,” Holdren said.
Holdren further explained that no records or computers had been shared with anyone by Burke. When departments were asked if their books had been closed for the previous year of 2020-2021, the answer by some was “no,” while others said they didn’t know.
“People have questions that have not been answered,” added Holdren. “There are reasons to be scared and I don’t know the answer.”
The Chairwoman asked the Commission to have patience as Watson and Gerty work through the process of learning and encouraged commissioners not to take it out on them because mistakes will be made and there will be a lot of “I don’t knows.”
“Carolyn, hopefully,  will have one, two, or three trained to take her job when she retires,” Holdren commented.
There was a lot of discussion between commissioners on ways to handle the issue with questions concerning everything from a recent problem with employees’ paychecks to whether Burke should be considered a contracted employee.
County Attorney Josh Hardin added that there had been nothing illegal or inappropriate to his knowledge even though there are fears of that.
Commissioner Brad Johnson shared his thoughts by saying, “We are operating a multi-million dollar business and we just went through a budgeting process. We have a new director and as a committee, we asked him if he could train. We are ending up a year and starting a new year.
“I passed through the office and find my financial director filing stuff and he is saying I think we can get it done and arrogantly refused to turn anything over to the director or deputy director. You have top talented people here willing to work and I guarantee that by the end of the month he won’t be done,” said Johnson in regard to Burke getting the books closed.
Attorney Hardin advised that something needed to be decided Monday night and that the Financial Management Committee is responsible for hiring and firing the financial director and anyone in that office.
Due to time constraints in being able to move forward without the committee meeting, Commissioner Austin Jaynes made a motion to suspend the rules which was approved. The meeting was recessed at that time.
Dr. Tracy McAbee wasn’t present and was called to be made aware of the situation and arrived to take part in the meeting as well.
While the meeting was occurring, Burke apparently watching via a Facebook stream emailed Commission Chairman Travis Hill to say he was resigning with the email arriving at 10:45 p.m.
Jaynes made the motion to accept the resignation, which was seconded by Roger Colbaugh. The vote was unanimous to accept Burke’s resignation.
Jaynes asked that Burke be restricted to information technology and have his keys and all equipment returned. The committee voted to have his equipment and keys returned by Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at 9 a.m. due to Burke reportedly being under COVID protocol due to exposure.
Mayor Patty Woodby advised the Commission that all of the information technology had been shut down.
Watson said that all resources would be pulled in to get the books closed on the fiscal year 2020-2021. The Commission asked for someone to check and see if there could be a request for an extension with the issues at hand facing the Finance Department.
Other mayors have offered to help Watson with help in training as well as other finance directors.
Prior to the Commission meeting, local resident Roy Livingston spoke his full allotted time during public comments about concerns that there needed to be closer detail to what was happening in the Finance Office stating that the commissioners were employed by the taxpayers to take care of their finances.