From public to private

Assistant County Mayor Dave Bennett to leave county government for CEO position

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham talks during a press conference to announce that Assistant County Mayor Dave Bennett is leaving in January to become CEO of a company in the private sector.

Photo by Leslie Karnowski

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham talks during a press conference to announce that Assistant County Mayor Dave Bennett is leaving in January to become CEO of a company in the private sector.

Dear Jerry,

First let me say that is has been one of the finest joys of my life to work with you the past 3 ½ years. You have been a great teacher and mentor, and you are a terrific example for all about what a public servant truly is. I have been in public service for the past 19 ½ years and have truly enjoyed every minute of it. From my first 9 years with the State Comptroller’s office to my last 10 ½ years with Blount County, it has been a true honor to serve the public. I cherish every minute of that service.

With the above said, and as you know, six months ago I was presented a possible opportunity to move into the private sector. This opportunity came to fruition recently and I just cannot pass it up. To do so would not be fair to my family. My first thoughts are always what is best for them. The time has come for me to focus on my family, both in the giving of my time and financially. I am accepting a position with a private business. This opportunity will allow me to stay a part of this community where I have worked so hard for the past several years, while also giving me the chance to work in a locally-owned business. The opportunity for me to take my entrepreneurial spirit and put it to use this close to home is just wonderful. I want to thank you for your understanding the past several months as I have explored this opportunity and also for your willingness to allow this company to speak to me, as they sought your permission before even speaking with me.

On a side note, I am so proud for all Blount County citizens that you have decided to run for a second term as County Mayor. As I have told you many times and, as I stated above, you are the epitome of what a public servant should be. I wish you the best and please do not ever hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance to you.

Please consider this as my formal resignation effective January 15, 2010. I wish Blount County Government and all the hard-working employees who work tirelessly every day the very best. There is truly no better managed nor well represented local government that I have ever come across. God bless you and God bless this wonderful County.

Sincerely,

David R. Bennett, CPA, CGFM

David Bennett, 41, Blount County’s finance director and assistant county mayor, is leaving government to become CEO of an unnamed company in the private sector.

Bennett’s departure was announced Wednesday at a news briefing in the office of County Mayor Jerry Cunningham.

Bennett will leave his government position Jan. 15 and will be supervising about double the 70 people he now oversees as assistant county mayor.

The new opportunity, Bennett said, will allow him to “provide like I have never been able to” for his family.

“I have loved what we have done here,” he said. In the past 3 ½ years - during Cunningham’s first term - the county has been placed on a much firmer financial footing, with its fund balance having grown from $800,000 to about $11 million.

He credited the improvement in Blount’s financial position to teamwork among the branches of county government in holding the line on costs and being frugal with taxpayer funds.

Bennett manages the county’s debt package and has told Cunningham he will remain “available” for consultation even after a new finance director is brought on board.

Cunningham, calling Bennett’s departure “bittersweet,” said the search for a new finance director will begin immediately. He said he will be seeking a CPA with at least 10 years’ government experience.

Effusive in his praise for Bennett, the mayor called the finance director’s prospects “a golden opportunity. There’s no choice if you love your family.”

Bennett and his wife, Fran, have three children, Micah Trentham, 22, Hunter Bennett, 19, and Lexi Bennett, 9.

Bennett’s new position will allow him to remain in Blount County, he said. The company remains unnamed because it is not ready to announce its change at the top. But Wednesday’s announcement by Cunningham was, he said, a pre-emptive move to head off rumors and speculation.

Bennett has served on many boards and committees in the county and also has headed up the Blount Republican Party.

He said he has no political aspirations “at this point” and said his new job is like a dream come true.

Bennett makes $87,000 a year plus benefits in his county position.

He said he and Cunningham have developed a close relationship during their 3 ½ years in government.

“Jerry is like family,” he said. In his resignation letter, Bennett called Cunningham “a great teacher and mentor.”

Bennett said Blount County’s financial future is bright.

“There are tough times coming,” he said, “and it will take innovative thinking. We have prioritized how we spend county money, with education at the top.”

And he lauded how county elected officials, department heads and County Commission have worked together to bring finances under control.

Commissioner Ron French, who was present at Wednesday’s announcement, said he has always felt he could walk into Bennett’s office and ask tough questions and that Bennett would be truthful.

“The main reason the county is in great shape is because of Dave Bennett,” French said.

Cunningham said an announcement would come soon on where Bennett is going in private industry.

He said Bennett’s replacement will have to have “talent and dedication and tough skin.

“We’ll never be able to replace Dave Bennett.”

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