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Alderman Cooper questions use of kitchen

By Kendal Groner

During the reports of officers and committees held at the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Monday, Dec. 18, there was a concern raised by Alderman Roger Cooper regarding the finances and community use of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. Cooper said he was informed that there had only been three users since the kitchen was opened in August of this year.

During the meeting Cooper asked for a financial report on the kitchen, and acting City Recorder Larry Rea said that he did not have one available at this time.

“I think in January we need to revisit the kitchen policy, and make it a little more attractive to people, at least for a month or two, just to get people in to use it,” Cooper said. “Because right now it seems like it’s not being utilized at all, and if we need to let people use it for free then so be it.”

In addition to hosting classes or educational events, the facility at Mountain Harvest Kitchen is a certified commercial kitchen that can be rented by individuals or businesses to use for food processing.

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen rates include an application and initial consultation fee of $80, a $200 refundable deposit to cover potential equipment damages, and also hourly fees for use of the facility.

For a regular user, defined as using the kitchen for 0-50 hours during the first month, the charge is $25 per hour, and for high frequency users, after 50 hours of use in a month, the fee is $20 per hour.

Additional fees can be incurred in the amount of $25 for the use of a dehydrator in a 24 hour period, a $25 per month fee for the use of a cooler shelf, and a $25 per month fee for the use of a freezer shelf.

Mayor Johnny Lynch said that the Director of Mountain Harvest Kitchen Lee Manning has been marketing the kitchen to various clubs in the area as well as at East Tennessee State University.

“Actually Roger, this thing has been in the making for 10 years and everyone knew that when the kitchen got started it’s not just going to jump off and get full,” Lynch told Cooper.

Lynch also stated that he believed they had around $1,000 in revenue from classes held at Mountain Harvest Kitchen this past month.

“By the way, when you need information on the kitchen, you are not supposed to go up there to the employees,” continued Lynch. “You’re supposed to come down here and give a written request for information on the kitchen.”

Cooper replied in saying that he has asked several times for an update on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen and has not yet received anything.

Lynch pointed out that with the recent loss of the full-time city recorder, acting City Recorder Larry Rea has only been working a few days a week and has not had time to prepare as many reports.

Have a little patience,” Lynch told Cooper.

However, Alderwoman Kathy Bullen pointed out that they had issues receiving reports and adequate information on the kitchen prior to the full-time city recorder’s departure, and felt it was more of an organizational issue.

“As an outsider … we’re paying a large salary of $60,000 a year to our kitchen manager, and if she is not capable of answering our questions when we ask them about the kitchen, then what are we paying her for,” asked Bullen.

Cooper made a motion to have outside auditors come in a few days a week to allow Rea to produce a detailed financial report for the kitchen. Bullen seconded the motion.

“It’s shameful because when you leave this community and you talk about the kitchen everyone is excited about it,” Lynch told the board. “Everyone seems to be excited except for people in this community, and it’s because people are exaggerating this and spreading poison.”

Cooper replied that he was in full support of the kitchen, but felt it needed to be made more attractive to users in order for it to be successful. Cooper’s motion failed in a 2-3 vote, with he and Bullen voting in favor and Lynch, Vice Mayor Doug Hopson and Alderman Jeff Linville voting against it.

Rea agreed to have a financial report on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen prepared by the January meeting for the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

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The Town of Unicoi is still in the process of determining who will fill two of the town’s top administrative posts since last month’s departure of City Recorder Mike Housewright and Parks and Recreation and Community Relations Director Sarah Jennings.

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen discussed the applications received thus far and the interview process for the two positions. According to acting City Recorder Larry Rea, they have received 19 applications for the city recorder position.

The interview questions and rating rubric for the applicant have been created by Pat Hardy, a municipal management consultant with the University of Tennessee. The interviews of the top rated applicants have been set for the dates of Jan. 9, 10 and 11.

“There’s five people that rated quite a bit better than the rest of the group, and that’s who we’re planning on interviewing during the first round,” Rea said.

There have been 27 applications received for the Parks and Recreation and Community Relations position. The deadline to turn in an application is Dec. 22, and interested applicants can send a resume and cover letter to [email protected]

• • •

In other business, the board also passed a 2017 resolution for a $100 Christmas bonus for the Town of Unicoi Employees.

The following winners of the annual Christmas Decorating Contest were announced:

• Overall Appearance Award – Collins family located at 107 Beechbrook Drive in Unicoi;

• Best Use of Lights – Roberts family located at 110 Beechbrook Drive in Unicoi;

• Best Christmas Theme – Bridges family located at 118 Meadowstone Drive in Unicoi.