Sullivan County commissioners to take up budget proposal Monday

J. H. Osborne • Aug 17, 2013 at 10:01 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County commissioners are expected to get their first look Monday at a proposed county budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The document hasn’t been seen publicly.

Accounting staff could be seen feeding reams of paper into a copy machine Friday afternoon at the historic Sullivan County Courthouse, running off copies of the budget proposal.

And Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey’s office announced Friday afternoon that a special called session of the Sullivan County Commission has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 3 for a final vote on the budget.

State law requires a public hearing be advertised and held at some point before that final vote on the budget.

Any of the commission’s 24 members may suggest changes to the budget proposal at any point between its unveiling Monday and the final vote.

Longtime Budget Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said last week that the budget proposal likely would be handed out and declared on “first reading” during the meeting Monday.

“First reading” does not require any discussion by the commission, but it is allowed.

Other things that could be up for a commission vote on Monday include resolutions dealing with guns in the courthouse and barring convicted felons from county employment.

A resolution introduced a few months ago asks the county commission to declare itself the authority over the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

It does not mention weapons possession in the building, but its original lead sponsor, Commissioner John Gardner, said early on that it would ultimately leave the commission firmly in charge of making the decision whether or not to make the building a weapons-free zone.

Commissioner Baxter Hood had been listed as co-sponsor ... until the full commission’s meeting last month.

When the resolution’s turn came on the commission’s agenda, Gardner said he wanted to withdraw it from consideration.

Hood asked if he, as co-sponsor, had any options to keep it alive.

County Mayor Steve Godsey and County Attorney Dan Street each indicated Hood could express a willingness to become the lead sponsor, seek a co-sponsor, and leave the resolution on the agenda.

Hood said he wanted to become the lead sponsor, but needed a co-sponsor. Commissioner Ed Marsh agreed to co-sponsor.

Hood then said he would defer action on the resolution, meaning a commission vote wouldn’t come until at least this month.

Gardner said he wanted to withdraw the resolution, in part, because of a letter he’d received in answer to questions he submitted to a lawyer working for the Tennessee General Assembly.

Gardner said the letter indicated state law would support parts of the resolution, but left a lot of gray areas.

Earlier this month at a committee meeting, Commissioner Kit McGlothlin asked Hood exactly what a “yes” vote on the resolution indicates someone would be supporting.

Hood said a “yes” vote means “take those signs off the door” and also “this is no longer a courthouse.”

“Those signs” are warnings that all weapons, including guns, are prohibited from the building, which houses several county government offices frequented by the public.

Williams is seeking to have the commission go on record that “individuals convicted of a felony are not to be hired in any capacity as a Sullivan County employee.”

Some commissioners have said they question the proposal’s legality, while others have said they wonder if it’s just too unforgiving.

Williams, however, said he is concerned about potential negative impacts to the county if it welcomes felons to the payroll — and pointed out the county’s employee handbook lists arrest and conviction on a felony charge as one of 21 things that could lead to immediate termination of employment.

Williams said if it is good policy on the back end, it should be policy from the get-go.

Commissioner Robert White said the resolution to prohibit employing felons reflects the intent of the handbook and “makes it crystal clear.”

Williams said hiring felons is difficult for businesses.

“I can’t get them on my insurance,” Williams said. “Most of us in business, we can’t do that.”

Instituting a policy to not hire felons “is fairly customary” and “is not out of the ordinary” for businesses throughout the region, Williams said.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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