Commission discusses plans for Hale property

They had a 10-day rule, until they didn’t.

The Hamblen County Commission Thursday night voted to keep a 10-day rule in effect that gives commissioners time to read over contracts before voting on them, but 15 minutes later voted to suspend the rule to vote on a contract.

“Do you know how hypocritical that’s going to look for us?” asked County Commissioner Thomas Doty.

The Hamblen County Commission met Thursday. The large courtroom in the Hamblen County Courthouse was packed with people protesting the commission’s move to rescind the 10-day rule.

The commission voted 12-2 to keep the 10-day rule, which states that when a contract is presented to the commission they must have 10 days to be able to read over it before a vote is taken. Howard Shipley and Jim Stepp voted to rescind it. But, then the commission voted 8-6 just a little while later to approve a contract for contracting services for the new jail and suspend the rule.

Voting no on the resolution were Commissioners Jeff Akard, Eileen Arnwine, Doty, Joe Hunstman, Wayne NeSmith and Taylor Ward.

Tony Petit, of BurWil Construction Co. and project manager for the jail construction project, told commissioners there was some urgency in getting the contract approved since the designs were being drawn up.

Petit and Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain explained to the commission that the contracting services would be for a person or firm that had expertise in mechanical and electrical engineering in order to provide quality control in those areas.

Petit said he did not have that kind of expertise and if they hire someone now that person would be able to provide expertise to specifications on the front end in order to make sure the right and proper equipment is being put in place.

He said he had selected HEA Engineering LLP, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the provider with a contract of $53,794.

A question came up, also, if HEA had a license to work in Tennessee. Petit said they did not, but were in the process of working on acquiring one. Petit said they had until work started to get a license, if they did not then their contract would be ruled void.

As commissioners debated the proposal, Brittain told them that they had selected the project manager for his expertise and he had selected the service provider for their expertise. He said, in the long run, it would save the county money making sure everything is correct.

“We’re trying to get this right before it ever hits the street,” he said.

The commission narrowly approved the contract, but just minutes before had held a debate on the 10-day rule for contracts and whether it was useless.

The commission had previously suspended the 10-day rule last month in order to award a contract to the jail project manager. Several citizens spoke to the commission for half an hour before voting, telling them they should keep the rule intact.

Hunstman said he had been on the commission for six years and during that time he had seen no issues with the rule.

“I don’t see any sense in stopping it,” he said.

But Stepp said he had many of his constituents tell him that the 10-day rule should be rescinded. He also said there were plenty of other rules in place to protect citizens and commissioners. Stepp pointed out if there was a problem with a contract, all they had to do was table the motion to another meeting.

He then said he will not “listen to the ones who bark the loudest or complain the loudest.”

Holding up his phone, he said most of those who got their information was from social media and were misinformed.

“This is 10% truth, 10% pictures and 80% lies,” he said.

The County Commission also voted 12-0 to set aside $180,000 to take over animal control operations. The county will be hiring two animal control officers to take over the service from the Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society.

Part of the money will also go to the humane society in order for them to provide shelter for the animals the officers pick up.

The commission also unanimously voted to keep Shipley as chairman of the commission and Commissioner Tim Goins as vice chairman.