BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey ordered members of the public, some county officials and employees, and journalists out of a public meeting Tuesday, over the objection of County Attorney Dan Street, some of the public and the Times-News.
After several minutes — during which Godsey, county commissioners and two attorneys hired by Godsey were alone in the Commission room, apparently with no official minutes being kept — one of the attorneys retrieved the Times-News reporter from a hallway, saying the other attorney said it was OK to return.
When the reporter asked about the public, the attorney said he had been sent to find the reporter because the other attorney said there was no reason the media couldn’t hear what was being discussed. County officials who were standing nearby also re-entered the room.
The two attorneys — James Logan, of Cleveland, leading Godsey’s defense in a lawsuit filed by Sheriff Wayne Anderson, and Johnson City-based Steve Darden, assisting Logan — apparently told the full commission about potentially mediating the case rather than letting it go to trial in March.
Logan took care to describe the meeting as “an informational session” in which no deliberations took place.
The whole episode of Godsey ordering non-commissioners from the room occurred moments after the commission voted to take no action on Godsey’s relatively sudden request for commission approval of his choice to be the county’s new budget director.
The county has not had a permanent budget director since last April, operating in the months since under an interim appointment of an accounting department employee.
In the past two weeks, multiple county commissioners have expressed off-the-record concern to the Times-News that Godsey had hired someone and planned to introduce that person at the end of January’s monthly meeting on Tuesday.
At the end of what was the day’s agenda, Godsey did begin to speak of the budget director situation.
Commissioner Bill Kilgore suggested Godsey should temporarily step down as commission chairman, as that discussion would fall under Godsey’s role as mayor.
Godsey did so, but made clear he wasn’t pleased.
He went on to say he was recommending Bristol-based CPA David Warren be confirmed as budget director.
“I’ve know him and his family for some time,” Godsey said.
Godsey said he had interviewed several people for the job and settled on Warren after “much soul-searching.”
In answer to questions from commissioners, Warren said he has no government accounting experience, but he would welcome that as a challenge. Warren said Godsey approached him about taking the position and he’d submitted an application and resume.
There was a groundswell of commissioners asking to see those things — and to have more time to consider the issue. Godsey went to his office to get the resume and application, but the commission had voted to defer consideration of the matter until next month.
Godsey complained that the commission was leaving him, and Warren, in limbo. He also asked if the commissioners didn’t think he would do his best in picking a candidate and asked why they couldn’t just give him the benefit of supporting his choice.