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Fireworks at County Commission Meeting Over Attempt to Rehire Financial Advisor (View Video Here)

June 29, 2021
By: Dwayne Page

Fireworks erupted during Monday night’s monthly county commission meeting over a text message by a commissioner to another soliciting a vote allegedly in violation of the state’s Sunshine or Open Meeting Law to bring back Steve Bates as the county’s fiscal agent and financial advisor. A position that was defunded by the commission almost a year ago.

Seventh District Commissioner Bruce Malone claims that “Votes were solicited for Bates (by a commissioner) and a poll of commissioners was taken Monday illegally (prior to the Monday night meeting). That commissioner who did it should resign. He violated the Sunshine Law,” said Malone.

Fifth District Commissioner and budget committee member Jerry Adcock said no one polled him.

“I had a couple of phone calls today and no one even asked me my opinion about things and they didn’t ask me how I was going to vote. I might have volunteered it but nobody asked me to vote either way. I don’t know what went on with anybody else,” he said.

A roll call taken later during the meeting to refund the position and rehire Bates fell one vote short of passage losing 7-4. (eight votes needed for passage). One member, abstained and two commissioners were absent.

After the vote First District Commissioner Julie Young expounded on Malone’s revelation saying she became alarmed after learning that a fellow commissioner and budget committee member (Scott Little) had sent another commissioner (Jenny Trapp) a text message trying to solicit her vote to join seven others committed to voting for the refunding of the position to rehire Bates. That, she said is illegal and a violation of the Tennessee Sunshine or Open Meetings Law.

Young, who left her seat to address the commission from the podium, then read from her mobile phone the text message shared to her.

“It reads Jenny I need one more vote on funding the financial director. Me (being Scott Little), Sabrina (Farler), Jeff (Barnes), Anita (Puckett), Matt (Adcock), Beth (Pafford), and Susannah (Daughtry) are all “yes” votes. Shaee (Flatt) is on vacation. Janice (Stewart) is sick. Myron (Rhody), Bruce (Malone), and Julie (Young) are “no” and who knows what the hell Jerry (Adcock) will do. Shaee and Janice were “yes” votes but they won’t be there. Can we count on your vote? Otherwise it won’t pass tonight”, said Young in reading from the text message.

Young further stated that she had forwarded her finding to the state for “further investigation” and called for the resignations of the commissioner or commissioners involved.

According to Young, a member of the county commission contacted Bates and learned that he would return for $20,000 a year, an increase of $5,000 from what the county had previously paid him.

Although he didn’t respond to Young’s comments during the meeting, Commissioner Little told WJLE after the meeting that he did nothing wrong or illegal.

For several years Bates had worked for the county as fiscal agent/financial advisor, a contracted service. He was brought in during the administration of former County Mayor Mike Foster and stayed on under County Mayor Tim Stribling. His purpose was to give financial direction to the county mayor and members of the budget committee in the preparation of the annual spending plans and they relied on the computer software Bates used to format the budgets because it was easy for them to follow showing actual and proposed budget numbers for the current and following year as well as audited financial performance numbers from the two previous years.

A year ago Bates fell out of favor with some members of the commission and although his annual salary of $15,000 had been included in the 2020-21 budget and adopted last July, the commission approved a budget amendment at the same meeting offered by Commissioner Young to remove the $15,000 line item from the budget. The vote was 8-6.

Young said the county could save that $15,000 dollars paid to Bates each year by securing the services of the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) who could do the same budget preparation work free of charge.

Since Bates’ departure and with the deadline for passage of the 2021-22 budget looming August 31, members of the budget committee have been at a loss trying to get a handle on crunching the numbers without having the benefit of Bates’ knowledge about the budget and the software format he used to prepare it.

Although the budget committee has turned to CTAS County Government Consultant Ben Rodgers for guidance, they haven’t been able to make much progress on the new budget so far.

Commissioner Young, who is a member of the budget committee, said anyone on the committee unwilling to put in the work should step down and “Let someone else who is willing to do the work do it”.

“As a member of the budget committee its time we go line by line, cent by cent with CTAS side by side this year doing the budget with the program that we pay for in the mayor’s office and using CTAS free employees to do the budget that all other counties have this year. Lets work together for the betterment of our citizens”, said Commissioner Young.

Before the text revelation Monday night by Malone and Young, Second District Commissioner Farler moved that the funding for Bates’ position be restored with a $5,000 increase in pay to $20,000 for the year and that he be rehired. Sixth district member Jeff Barnes offered a second to the motion.

“We have had four budget meetings already as we prepare for our budget that needs to be done by August 31 and in the last budget meeting on June 17 I asked about a financial person to help us with our budget. At this time I am making a motion under 51100 County Commission line 325 Fiscal Agent Charges in our budget that we add $20,000 to employ Mr. Bates as financial advisor for DeKalb County. He is knowledgable about DeKalb County and can help us move forward,” said Commissioner Farler.

“I want to know about the scope of the service Mr. Bates provides at a fee as opposed to the service we could get elsewhere at no charge. Is his format more digestable. Is it his advice” asked Third District Commissioner Susannah Cripps Daughtry.

“Mr. Bates is a fiscal agent, financial advisor and he has been doing this for the county many years. I feel like he gives good advice and has more advanced software than what CTAS has to offer. Mr. Bates came to our meetings and did the entire budget and put in audited figures. Mr. Rogers does a great job and he is a CTAS representative but he is not a fiscal agent. We are also one of the few counties around without a finance or budget office. Smith County has a budget office and director with three people. White County has a financial office. Warren County has one and Cannon County has centralized accounting,” said County Mayor Tim Stribling.

Commissioner Malone then questioned Stribling about Bates’ credentials as a financial advisor other than his being qualified to sell bonds. “Who says he is a financial advisor other than him”, asked Malone.

“I don’t know what qualifications he has to be a financial advisor,” answered Stribling.

Commissioner Jerry Adcock defended Bates.

“I have been on the budget committee for eight years and every night right now we are scratching our heads. We don’t know where the money is going or coming from. When he (Bates) was here he would tell us where every penny was going. We knew what was going on when he was here,” said Commissioner Adcock.

After Young called for the commissioner responsible for the text message to admit to breaking the Sunshine Law, Commissioner Little called for the question (vote on the motion to rehire Bates) and County Mayor Stribling directed the roll call vote be taken.

Commissioners voting for restoring funding and rehiring Bates were Sabrina Farler, Janice Fish-Stewart, Scott Little, Anita Puckett, Jerry Adcock, Jeff Barnes, and Matt Adcock. Commissioners Julie Young, Jenny Trapp, Beth Pafford, and Bruce Malone voted no. Commissioner Susannah Cripps Daughtry abstained and Commissioners Shaee Flatt and Myron Rhody were absent.

State Certifies Jail and Annex Based on County’s Plan of Action for Addressing Structural Deficiencies

June 28, 2021
By: Dwayne Page

Although the county will have to continue pursuing a long term plan of action for addressing structural deficiencies, the state has given state certification approval for the DeKalb County Jail and Annex again this year.

In a letter to Sheriff Patrick Ray and County Mayor Tim Stribling earlier this month, William Wall, Executive Director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) wrote that “the Tennessee Corrections Institute’s Board of Control voted on June 9 to approve the certification of your facility with the Plan of Action submitted by your attorney. Please remember to send in your monthly status and numbers”.

As part of that plan of action, the county must have a needs assessment or “feasibility” study done by CTAS (County Technical Assistance Service) as recommended by Bob Bass, TCI Deputy Director , who met with members of the county commission on March 31.

Sheriff Ray plans to ask the commission Monday night to authorize the study at no cost to the county. “CTAS will do the study of the jail and as Mr. Bass has told us without them (CTAS) going in and looking they can’t give us definite answers. I have talked to Jim Hart of CTAS and he has agreed to come and do a feasibility study but CTAS wants the county commission to go on record to allow that study to happen as part of our plan of action,” said Sheriff Ray during a committee of the whole county commission meeting Thursday night, June 24.

In the fall of 2019, the county entered into a partnership with TCI and CTAS to develop a plan of action to show measurable progress in rectifying deficiencies to keep the jail and annex certified.

Although no measurable progress has to be shown this year to maintain jail certification due to continuing COVID 19 concerns, Bass said the problems will eventually have to be solved.

“The particular standards you are in trouble with are physical plant. How the jail was built. It has nothing to do with what the sheriff’s department has done or the staff when it comes to operation. In fact its one of the cleanest jails I have been in. Even the part you shouldn’t be operating (the oldest building) is clean and well organized. You are not overcrowded. You just don’t meet TCI standards in some areas,” he said.

The oldest building, which has been in operation since 1959 and houses prisoners in its basement, poses perhaps the greatest concern.

“That basement has no natural light. You must have skylight. Windows that produce natural light. You must have an 8 foot ceiling height. Your basement ceiling is 7 feet, 6 inches. Its not sprinkled. Sprinklers are not part of our standards unless you are building a new facility but old facilities like yours are not grandfathered in and you have a cage down there which serves as a makeshift cell for trustees with a 12 inch gap on top of it. That is unauthorized housing. An inmate could come over that gap and have access to appliances, water heater, chemicals, etc,” said Bass.

The basement cells each have 10 beds but the square footage only exists for six inmates and while the cells have porcelain sinks and toilets the state requires they be stainless steel. The cells also have no floor drains and conduit is exposed.

Cells for females in another part of the jail have similar issues.

As for the jail annex, which has been in operation since 2001, there are 46 beds with adequate space for only 32 inmates.

According to Bass new and existing facilities must have at least a minimum size multiple-occupancy cell for 2-64 occupants with twenty-five (25) square feet of clear floor space for each occupant in the sleeping areas, and a ceiling elevation of not less than eight (8) feet. At least thirty-five (35) square feet of clear floor space must be provided for each occupant when the occupant is confined for more than ten (10) hours per day.

Bass suggested that the county authorize a needs assessment study as the next step in the process of bringing the jail and annex up to standards.

“We have identified what our problems are and must now figure out a way to come up with a solution. You don’t have to be in a hurry. We’re here to help and we will get you through this. My suggestion is to reconvene and start strategizing about what options you have. You can’t do anything about the basement in the old jail building. You will have to come out of that basement. It could be used for storage but not for housing inmates. A needs assessment needs to be performed. Take a look at your growth and see how many beds you need. We want to help you fix the problems but until we get them fixed I am going to fight to keep you certified. That’s my job. I will go in front of the board and plead your case,” said Bass.

DeKalb County Fire Department Awarded Rural Development Community Facility Services Grant

June 28, 2021

DeKalb County Mayor Tim Stribling was contacted by Dan Beasley, Acting State Director for Tennessee Rural Development, recently and informed that DeKalb County Fire Department has been awarded a Community Facility Services Grant in the amount of $137,500. This grant award, coupled with the county’s obligated 45% matching share, will total $250,000 and will be used to purchase a 2021 fire engine and equipment.

In January, Mayor Stribling was contacted by Rural Development and made aware that a census tract in the western portion of the county met the programs priorities for funds set aside to improve community facilities and safety initiatives. The grant application was filed and will be administered by the Upper Cumberland Development District (UCDD).

The new fire engine purchase will begin with specification development and then will be released for competitive bidding. Once the fire engine is delivered, it will be stationed at the Department’s Liberty Station.

Chief Donny Green says he wants to commend County Mayor Stribling and the DeKalb County Commission for understanding the benefit of taking advantage of this grant opportunity. “This is the first new fire engine that we have purchased since 2012 and we must manage the age of our 15 fire apparatuses in our county-wide fleet so that we do not get to a point where all of our fire engines reach the end of their useful service life at once. I think we have communicated effectively with our county leaders that we must have a proactive initiative to implement a plan that allows us to periodically update our fleet age, and that will have to include occasionally purchasing a new fire engine to blend in with the used fire engines we have purchased over the last few years. This grant was a huge bonus for the county in allowing us purchase a new fire engine for 45% of the cost instead of 100% of the cost to our county,” said Chief Green.

Mayor Stribling said that he is proud of our county fire department and the commitment they show every day for protecting and serving our county’s citizens and visitors. “These men and women volunteer to provide professional emergency services and we need to make sure we are doing what we can do provide them with safe equipment,” said Mayor Stribling.

Mayor Stribling, the DeKalb County Commission, and the DeKalb County Fire Department wishes to express their sincere thanks to the staff at Rural Development and UCDD guidance and support in the application and administration of this grant.

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