Bill Killen

A vote by the Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee to recommend the full commission adopt a resolution requiring bank statements, canceled checks and other pertinent financial records of all nonprofit agencies that receive annual funding appears to be driven by alleged spending irregularities by four nonprofits named as subjects of state comptroller investigations.

Only one completed investigation has been communicated to the Office of the District Attorney General of the 3rd Judicial District, to which no action had been taken as of Dec. 15. The Comptroller’s Office declined to acknowledge or comment on any additional investigations of Hawkins County nonprofit organizations.

An official complaint was filed with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office in December regarding the misappropriation of funds by the former secretary/treasurer of the Fireman’s Association.

The proposed resolution is redundant in that condition one of Resolution No. 2020/08/11 appropriated contributions to 35 nonprofits and the resolution clearly stated “That the nonprofit charitable organization to which funds are appropriated shall file with the county mayor’s office and the county clerk a copy of an annual report of its business affairs and transactions and the proposed use of the county’s funds in accordance with rules promulgated by the Comptroller of the Treasury. Such annual report shall be prepared and certified by the chief financial officer of such nonprofit organization in accordance with T.C.A. Section 5-9-109©.”

It seems to me that an annual report on an organization’s business affairs and transactions certified by a chief financial officer should suffice and complies with the three conditions in the resolution making the appropriations. I fail to see how the Budget Committee’s proposed resolution does anything short of making more work for the volunteers.

Mayor Jim Lee asked the fire departments to provide the financial records for the past three years. The information he asked for should have been in the annual reports required by the resolution. I wonder if he asked the other 21 nonprofits for their past three years of financial records.

Can’t you just see the American Red Cross or the Chamber of Commerce providing three years of financial records to the county?

The proposed resolution is ludicrous and further burdens the underfunded, overworked volunteers who provide critical public safety services to the county. I, among many members of the volunteer fire service in this county, do not believe the county mayor or County Commission has any right of oversight or review of the financial records of the fire departments. They are not part of the county government, even though public safety is the responsibility of government.

The majority of funding of nonprofit volunteer fire departments in Hawkins County comes from bean suppers, roadblocks, bake sales, breakfasts and individual contributions.

The use of the term “annual funding” is inappropriate since there is no line item in the budget for annual funding of nonprofits.

The county’s donations are gifts to nonprofits. According to Webster’s Dictionary the act or an instance of donating, such as the making of a gift especially to a charity or public institution, is a free contribution i.e., a GIFT. A gift is defined as something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.

The County Commission never voluntarily transfers gifts to the nonprofits. They are donations. Once the county transfers the “donations” to the nonprofits, the donation at that point is none of the mayor’s or commissioners’ business.

Tony Fugate, fire chief of the Goshen Valley Volunteer Fire Department said, “I believe in transparency in our business activities. However, for over 50 years the county has trusted us to respond to their homes to protect their families when they were threatened by fire, and now they can’t trust us with a piddling donation without wanting a detailed accounting of every dime we spend.

“We furnish our financial information, income and expenditures to the state of Tennessee with a copy going to the county clerk and to the county Budget Committee. My question is, who in county government is going to disseminate, review, verify this information from the 30 or so nonprofit organizations receiving this contribution?”

Before submitting ludicrous resolutions, Hawkins County’s Budget Committee should contact the county clerk if they want to see the fire departments’ financial records and pay attention the next time a resolution is read in session, particularly to the three conditions that have been a part of every resolution for contributions over the past five years.

Bill Killen is the deputy chief for training and education at the Goshen Valley Volunteer Fire Department.