On Thursday night, Blount County commissioners accepted a letter from Hatcher in which he took responsibility for not fully investigating Columbus University before paying them for classes to complete a bachelors and masters degree. Hatcher said in his letter to County Mayor Jerry Cunningham he had hired Maryville attorney Craig Garrett with his own funds and was pursuing the college for reimbursement. Press reports from earlier this week showed that the college was unaccredited, often sat empty and had its mail delivered to a massage parlor across the street from the school in Picayune, Miss.
A complete transcript of Hatchers letter is found at www. BlountToday.com under Breaking News.
Cunningham told the commission that Hatcher met him in his office prior to the commission meeting and gave him the letter and check for $3,910. The mayor gave the check to finance director Dave Bennett to be deposited Friday.
Lively discussion on a motion made by commissioners Bob Proffitt and Monica Murrell to ask Tennessee Department of Transportation to complete a fiscal impact study for the Pellissippi Parkway Extension. Murrell said that the state would cover the entire cost of the study and that the study wouldnt slow down or stop the extension project.
"It is not a delaying tactic," Murrell said. "The purpose is to find out what fiscal impact of the parkway is on the public (infrastructure), such as the highways, schools and sheriffs office. We have to ask TDOT. They wont do it out of the goodness of their heart. The tools are out there, its not going to cost anything, and its not a delay."
After departments heads and representatives from the Blount County
Schools, Blount County Sheriffs office and the Blount County
Highway Department spoke, commissioners debated the need for the
Commissioner Steve Hargis questioned if the resolution was meant to stop the Pellissippi extension.
"This procedure is meant to stop Pellissippi," Hargis said. "Thats what it is. Nobody has a crystal ball."
According to Hargis, the research and development park at Pellissippi Parkway and Old Knoxville Highway was approved with the assumption that the extension would be completed.
Commissioner Scott Helton said the sooner the extension was completed, the better. "I feel the sooner we get the project completed, the less problem well have with traffic affecting back roads," he said.
Kenneth Melton said regarding growth issues and roads that the
county was leaving federal money "on the table" because it
couldnt give the highway department enough to qualify for
matching federal grants. If the county could generate $1 million just
for the highway department, the county would qualify for $4 million, he
"Thats $4 million that could go towards roads to improve them tremendously," he said. "Were going to have to do something to get money for roads."
Nina Gregg with the group Citizens Against the Pellissippi Parkway Extension addressed the commission and said that according to Brian Daniels with the Industrial Development Board, the research and development park was planned with or without the completion of the extension. When Commissioner Keeble asked her if she had any idea how many millions of dollars had been wasted because of her groups efforts, Gregg said that the state tax dollars were used to fight what the state was supposed to be doing in the first place, such as the environmental impact studies.
Mark Hasty said the county would grow, regardless of whether or not they had information about the fiscal impact of the extension. After Murrell pleaded with the commissioners a final time, they voted 13 to eight against requesting the fiscal impact study for the extension.
Also at the meeting:
- Linda King with Citizens for Blount Countys Future questioned the priorities of county spending. She said that in a financial management committee meeting, while the members declined to give $15,000 to help Mobile Meals on Wheels, the sheriffs office had spent $17,000 on a hostage phone. "We need to have policies that we not allow frivolous spending," she said. "Its our money, even after it is given to department heads."
King questioned the need to give money to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center when they also charge admission and called for an audit of all county employees getting tuition reimbursement. She praised Hatcher for reimbursing the funds spent from his department on the Columbus University classes.
- Forest Harrison took the commission to task for their resolution in the October meeting supporting the state referendum affirming that marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman. "Your resolution is wrong because you can not always tell if a person is a man or a woman," he said.
- Jim Folts also questioned the need for the hostage phone purchased by the sheriffs office and told commissioners he learned the phone was only $5,000, but that the additional expense included "all the bells and whistles". Folts said that when the expenditure was questioned, Bennett said it was too late, the item had already been bought. Folts said that purchases should be reviewed before theyre made. "One thing is for sure, if we do not set standards, anything goes," he said.
Blount Today contacted the sheriffs office afterward the
meeting for more information about the new hostage phone. According to
public information officer Marion OBriant, the $17,000 for the
phone came out of the sheriffs office own budget. The purchase
was necessary to replace a phone had been purchased in the mid-1990s
and was outdated. "There are other advances that have outdated the
phone," OBriant said. "It wont interface with any cell
- The commissioners spent several minutes debating what to do about
animal control when their current six-month contract extension with the
City of Maryville expires at the end of this calendar year.
Several commissioners differed on how to approach the matter. Since 70 percent of the animals the city of Maryville picks up are in the county, they wanted in excess of $200,000 annually from the county to continue the service. The county has only budgeted $135,000, and the county mayor has approached the city about creating a working relationship similar to what the City of Alcoa does. Alcoa police animal control get strays and brings them to the Maryville animal shelter. According to Cunningham, if this happens, then the county would be charged about $38 a day per animal and each animal would have three days from the time it came in before it was put down.
Animal advocates groups have approached the county about setting up a no-kill shelter and adoption service in conjunction with a spay/neutering program. County officials have questioned the cost of such a program.
Commission Kenneth Melton said what needed to happen was a decision. "What we need to come up with is money," he said. "I dont see we need a committee."
Commissioner Gary Farmer said the commissioners were going to have to make a decision. He made a motion to have the item referred to the financial management committee to determine the costs.
Commissioner John Keeble said that the city of Maryville wanted more to take care of an animal per day than the state pays to take care of a prisoner for one day.
Commissioner Mike Walker disagreed with postponing a decision on an issue that had been brewing for several months. "Putting it off another month, I dont know how that is beneficial," he said.
The commission appointed a five member committee to study the situation and return with recommendations at the December commission meeting.