Sullivan County leaders call for tourism director post to be filled by July 1

J. H. Osborne • Apr 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Last month, Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey dismissed the county’s tourism director and said he had eliminated that position.

Some county commissioners are now calling for the opening to be filled.

Sullivan County Commissioner Dennis Houser made a motion during last week’s County Commission meeting, asking the commission to go on record in favor of filling the position no later than July 1.

He said the commission created the position by resolution three years ago, and that the resolution remains valid. He also provided a page-long list of reasons he said justify keeping a full-time tourism director.

Commissioner Eddie Williams, chairman of the Commission’s Budget Committee, called for a short recess before further discussion of the issue — but several commissioners objected, citing a desire to see Houser’s proposal to a vote before breaking for lunch.

As the commission remained in session, Houser first conferred head-to-head with Williams at the latter’s desk. The two then left the room and had a hushed conversation in a rear hallway outside the commission chamber.

Inside the chamber, other commissioners talked about Houser’s proposal to fill the position by July 1.

Some questioned the need for any “hurry.” The need for some sort of measures was also brought up.

Commissioner Linda Brittenham suggested the position be keyed to receipt of grant monies — anyone hired for the job would be told they’d have to bring in at least enough grants each year to offset the $50,000 in salary and benefits the job costs the county.

The Times-News, under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, reviewed Krisna Goodwin’s county personnel file shortly after Godsey dismissed her as tourism director and said he’d eliminated the position.

Her file contained no indication she’d ever had a performance evaluation during her employment by the county. It contained no complaints against her. On the required “separation notice” confirming her removal from the county’s payroll, the appropriate box was checked to indicate her employment ended because there was no job for her to do.

Last month, Godsey said there just isn’t enough tourism-related work to justify keeping the position, which Goodwin had held for about two years.

“Sullivan County really doesn’t have enough for a full-time tourism director,” Godsey said at the time, adding he wouldn’t rule out adding back a part-time position at some future point. “There just wasn’t enough work.”

After several minutes of discussion on the issue last Monday — as county planning staff, at Godsey’s request, repeatedly attempted, without success, to show a video Godsey said was produced by the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association to promote the whole region — there were more calls for a lunch break.

But Godsey said that wasn’t possible with a motion — Houser’s, in this case — on the floor.

That led several commissioners to start asking where Houser was — and others to answer that he was in conference on the issue with Williams. Requests that he be asked to come back to the room followed.

Houser returned to say he would defer action on his motion until next month.

Afterward, Williams declined to discuss the issue in detail, but pointed out the tourism director’s position remains in the county’s current budget — and is expected to stay in the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Commissioners are set to begin the budget process this week. Budget documents distributed to commissioners last week show the tourism director’s office is indeed included among funding requests.

In a “justification” for filling the position, Houser wrote “Sullivan County is in need of a professional staff member who can develop and be responsible for promoting and marketing all the historical sites, special events, recreational areas and untapped natural resources to attract visitors” and “Sullivan County is in crucial need of the immediate hiring of a full time tourism director to continue programs and coordinate operations that would improve the quality of life in Sullivan County and secure federal/state monies for restoration of historical sites and trails, recreation, economic development and educational opportunities.”

Also according to Houser’s list, “The argument that Sullivan County does not need a full-time tourism director and that the cities can provide these services is like saying ‘The Titanic did not need life boats.’”

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