Sullivan County highway post back up in air

J. H. Osborne • Feb 5, 2014 at 4:21 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — You might need a road map to try and figure out who is, or has been, or will be commissioner of highways — temporary, interim, or otherwise — and put into or removed from office.

But if that’s changed this week, it probably won’t necessarily change anything — legally — for the seven employees terminated last week, County Attorney Dan Street said Tuesday afternoon.

The Sullivan County Commission might have to reconsider its decision, last month, to delay until next month its appointment of an interim highway commissioner.

On Tuesday, Sullivan County Register of Deeds Bart Long officially notified County Mayor Steve Godsey, Street, all 24 members of the county commission, and other elected officials that Bobby Manning had not yet filed proof of a $100,000 security bond — a requirement, under state law, for serving as the county’s highway commissioner.

Manning has been serving as temporary acting highway commissioner since Jan. 21.

That’s the day Godsey, after being questioned publicly, opened a letter dated a month earlier naming Manning as the temporary successor to Terry Shaffer — who retired Dec. 23 amid an investigation of the highway department by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Immediately after Shaffer’s retirement, Godsey said he’d asked longtime highway department employee Jim Montgomery to keep the department running until the county commission made an appointment.

By the time the full commission next met, on Jan. 21, Manning’s name was added to Montgomery’s and the commission voted to leave the two in charge until the body votes on an interim highway commissioner in March.

It was only after that vote that County Commissioner Michael Surgenor called Godsey out on whether or not a letter of succession — something required by state law to be on file — existed. Godsey said yes, he had the letter given to him by Shaffer, but didn’t know what it said because he’d forgotten to open it. Godsey went to his office and returned with the letter — which named Manning as temporary successor.

And that’s where the security bond comes into play. State law requires elected officials to be bonded. For highway commissioner, the bond is $100,000.

The county pays the bond fee for all the county officials who are required to be bonded — and Sullivan County has historically negotiated with bond companies to find the necessary bonds for officeholders.

Nobody looked for a bond for Manning until that letter was opened two weeks ago.

For an expanded version of this article, please see Wednesday's print edition or our expanded electronic edition.

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