Tempers flare in County Commission meeting

Posted on Friday, August 22, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Sparks flew at the August Hamblen County Commission meeting Thursday night as two commissioners had a testy exchange with Morristown Hamblen Humane Society President Christine Coley and another appeared close to starting a physical confrontation with a fellow commissioner.

The discussion concerning a contract between the county, city and MHHS began with county attorney Chris Capps asking the commissioners to consider adding one sentence that was inadvertently left out of the final draft that was written this week.

“Despite the best efforts of both the city attorney and myself, we neglected one particular issue and it has to do with what will happen upon the termination of the contract with the Humane Society by the city and the county,” Capps said. “There is a provision that provides for transition of the assets at the end of the contract, but there is no provision for the transition of the assets if the contract is terminated. In looking at it one last time, I have a sentence I would like to add to the contract for the commissioner’s consideration.”

The sentence, which commissioners agreed to, reads, “Upon termination of this agreement by the city and county, the asset transfer provision of paragraph (n) shall apply.”

In other words, should the city and county not renew the contract beyond next June, MHHS must hand over all MHHS-owned assets, including equipment, fixtures and vehicles used in its daily operations.

The heated discussions included the MHHS Board of Directors election ballots, which drew the ire of some.

“The only issue I had was the way the ballots were done, and I felt that was in very, very, very poor taste,” said Commissioner Louis “Doe” Jarvis. “And if their attorney prepared that ballot, then I don’t think you should pay for it because I think that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

“Where it said listed is the list of candidates, oh, by the way, these ones with asterisks are not eligible to run, and that is so petty. That really, really bothered me.”

Commissioner Paul LeBel then asked if Coley was present to answer the questions.

“At the meeting where the membership had called for a special meeting it was told to them that based on our by-laws, that in order to be eligible to sit on the board, that person had to be a member for one year, of the Morristown Hamblen Humane Society,” Coley said.

LeBel asked if they handed out a list of eligible members at the meeting.

Coley replied no.

“The membership list was available to them at the Humane Society and they had copies of that. They also requested copies of the by-laws, we provided copies of those at the shelter for them to pick up as well,” Coley said.

LeBel said he had copies of receipts that had been sent to him by Susan Allen, who was among those nominated by MHHS members and was on the ballot as being ineligible.

“That shows that she’s paid, she’s got receipts and you claimed she was ineligible,” LeBel said. “So we’re cooking the books, I guess, is what we’re doing? Why is she ineligible?”

“It’s to my knowledge that she was not a member for a year, according to records,” Coley replied.

Jarvis said he understood that but again questioned why Allen was ineligible if she had the receipts.

“She has not brought them forward to the board,” Coley said.

“Why should she?” Jarvis replied. “What are you going to do? The ballot went out.”

“This is how they handle elections in third world countries with dictators,” LeBel said. “You don’t hand out lists. You cook the books to be in your favor for your board. All the members you put up were perfect. They’re golden. But everyone else is not golden. This is a sham election is what this is.”

When Coley was questioned about one of the board’s nominations being kicked off the board or asked to resign, she explained that the member’s term had ended.

“My question to you is if we don’t approve this contract what happens to the assets?” LeBel asked.

“The assets belong to the Morristown Hamblen Humane Society,” Coley answered.

When LeBel asked if they would take the assets if the contract was not approved, Coley replied that was a membership decision.

The resolution to move forward with the contract passed by a vote of 11 to 2 with commissioners LeBel and Rick Eldridge voting no.

The contract will now go to city council for approval and then to MHHS. MHHS will hold its monthly meeting for members on Aug. 26 at noon at county courthouse.

Elements of the contract have been in the works between the city and county mayors through their respective legislative bodies for several months and the finalized contract was drafted this week and presented to commissioners.

Currently, the only MHHS contract is with the city, which by state law is required to fund the county’s animal shelter. The county has also been giving funds for the shelter, although there is no contract requiring them to do so.

For the 2014-2015 fiscal year, the city paid MHHS $137,890. The county agreed to fund MHHS with $133,500. The funds are broken down in the new contract with the city paying MHHS $11,490.83 and the county paying $11,125 per month.

The new contract states that MHHS was created to “provide the city with enforcement of animal control ordinances, operate the city pound as the Morristown-Hamblen Animal Shelter, conduct cruelty investigations, present annual budget requests to the city and county and employ a humane officer and other necessary shelter personnel with volunteers assisting in the day-today operations.”

The contract is dated from Sept. 3 through June 30, 2015 for MHHS to continue to operate the animal shelter, shelter services and operations if MHHS approves.

The contract goes on to state that the MHHS board will consist of “14 members; eight of whom shall be selected by MHHS; and the city mayor, or his designee; the county mayor, or his designee; a Hamblen County citizen who may reside in the city, appointed by the city mayor, a Hamblen County citizen who may reside in the city, appointed by the county mayor, a Hamblen County veterinarian who may reside in the city, appointed by the city and county mayors; and a citizen appointed by the city council who may not be an employee or officer of the city or county.”

The contract also states that if there is any conflict between the contract and MHHS by-laws, “MHHS shall amend its by-laws to conform with this agreement.”

In another heated exchange, commissioner Wayne NeSmith stood and approached Jarvis during a separate discussion.

Commission Chairman Stancil Ford pounded the gavel before NeSmith sat down.

-By Aletheia Davidson, Tribune Staff Writer

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