Stacy Vaughan

Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Stacy Vaughan, left, asked the county commission’s Public Safety Committee Thursday to research if there is any Tennessee law that gives Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee the authority to withhold contribution funding approved by the commission.

ROGERSVILLE — Dawson Fields, who chairs the Hawkins County Commission’s Public Safety Committee, said Thursday that the county’s Emergency Response Team (Hazmat) had turned in financial records as required by Mayor Jim Lee.

Fields stated that Hazmat will now presumably receive its county contribution, averting the February shutdown that commissioners were warned of two weeks ago.

On Nov. 28, Emergency Response Team Chief Tony Robinson issued a letter to commissioners stating that the agency would likely be shutting down in February if the $21,100 contribution approved by the county commission in August wasn’t paid by January.

In September, Lee sent registered letters to all nonprofit organizations on the commission’s contribution list stating that they would be required to turn over financial records, including bank statements dating back three years, before they received funding.

That decision came after four nonprofit organizations came under the scrutiny of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office this year for alleged financial irregularities.

As of Nov. 28, Hazmat was one of a handful of holdouts that hadn’t turned in those records to Lee.

Another that hadn’t submitted records at that time was the Stanley Valley Volunteer Fire Department, whose chief, Stacy Vaughan, attended Thursday’s meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

Vaughan told the committee he planned on turning in his department’s financial records Thursday, although he didn’t believe Lee had the legal authority to withhold commission-approved funding.

“The mayor has the right to audit the county offices, and basically anybody who receives tax dollars from the county for operations,” Vaughan told the committee. “There’s also a TCA (state statute) that states it’s the duty of the county legislative body to adopt a budget and to appropriate the funds for the ensuing fiscal year for all county departments. What I’m finding by law, in talking to CTAS and the head of the Tennessee County Commission Association, the county legislative body dictates where the money goes when you approve your budget and appropriations for nonprofits.”

Vaughan added, “If you don’t turn it over, it’s going to look like you’re guilty of something. But that being said within the TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) I can’t find any law that gives the mayor the authority to withhold funding.”

Vaughan asked the committee to research what authority the mayor has to withhold funds. Vaughan told the panel, however, he believes that once a resolution is approved by the commission, the mayor has 10 days to veto it. After that 10 days passes, the resolution is finalized.

“I’m a county employee, and if you vote me in a raise that he doesn’t agree with, does he have the authority to withhold my raise and not give it to me — any more than he would have the authority to withhold nonprofits’ money and not give it to them?” Vaughan asked the committee. “... I don’t think he can hold a donation ransom.”

Fields said he’d asked that question of County Attorney Jim Phillips.

“Regardless of whether you showed (financial records) or not, according to the county attorney the money has to be given after we as a commission approve to give it,” Fields said.

Vaughan suggested making the submission of financial records part of the county commission resolution when county contributions are approved in the budget.

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