Loss of budget director, buildings manager will hurt next Hawkins administration

Jeff Bobo • Apr 24, 2018 at 7:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — When the next Hawkins County mayor takes office on Sept. 1, he will be without the services of two crucial members of the current mayor’s staff.

Buildings Manager Alana Roberts announced earlier this year that she will be retiring as of Sept. 1, when the new administration takes office.

And Monday morning County Mayor Melville Bailey announced to the commission that Budget Director Nicole Buchanan is stepping down next month to accept a position in Hamblen County.

Finance Director Nicole Buchanan

Buchanan became budget director about three years ago when her predecessor, Melissa Farmer, was hired to be the finance director of the Hawkins County school system.

Bailey said there is no one at this time who understands the complexities of Hawkins County’s budget better than Buchanan.

“If there was, I’d be trying to hire them,” Bailey said.

Buchanan’s departure is a serious blow, Bailey noted, not only to the current administration as it tries to complete a 2018-19 budget, but to the future commission and mayor who will be very lucky to find someone of her caliber willing to come work for Hawkins County.

One of her strongest assets may have been her ability to explain complex budget issues in a way that laypersons could understand.

“Nicole came in under dire circumstances,” Bailey noted. “We were facing a $2 million deficit, and she helped get things together and has worked diligently with the county commission, the officeholders and with me. I think she had a calming effect on some of them, and she built trust while she was here. I wanted her to stay on, but she got a much better offer in Hamblen County where she lives.”

Buchanan is leaving at a critical time. The commission holds its first round of 2018-19 budget hearings on May 7, 8 and 11, and Buchanan’s last day is May 11.

Buildings Manager Alana Roberts

If there’s one person in the mayor’s office who is truly irreplaceable, it’s Roberts. Her official title is buildings manager, but it should be “the person who actually knows what’s going on.”

Roberts previously worked in Heiskell Winstead’s law office, and she came to work at the county mayor’s office when Winstead was elected mayor in 1998.

She advises nearly every county commission committee on what they legally can do, what they legally can’t do and what they legally better do if they want to stay out of trouble.

Committees are flying blind without her, Bailey noted.

Bailey added, “(Committees) will start to do something and she’ll interrupt and say, ‘However’ — which is her favorite word — and then she’ll pull the history up and say, ‘You cannot do that.’ She knows the ins and outs, and she also manages the service contracts, the maintenance department, housekeeping, phone contracts — there’s so much Alana does you can’t even keep up with it.”

What’s the plan to replace them?

Bailey said he is hesitant to hire replacements for either Buchanan or Roberts because the new mayor who takes office Sept. 1 might want to hire his own people.

Farmer’s predecessor was longtime budget director Evelyn Gladsen, who has consulted for the mayor’s office since her retirement.

Bailey said Gladsen will be asked to consult on the 2018-19 budget.

Bailey is also recommending that the commission include funds in the 2018-19 budget to hire Roberts as a part-time consultant to train her replacement as well as to bring the new county mayor up to speed on pending projects.

“The new mayor may want to bring in his own people, but I inherited most of my people, and I can tell you without hesitation they are all invaluable,” Bailey said. “I’ve been here eight years and I’m still learning every day. There are so many legal issues and things we can and can’t do. (Losing Buchanan and Roberts) is going to be tough on the county, it’s going to get tough on the new mayor and it could be tough on the other elected officials adapting to different personalities.

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