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Director for Mountain Harvest Kitchen hired

By Brad Hicks

The Town of Unicoi has found the person who will be responsible for the management of its Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

Lee Carella Manning officially accepted the position of Mountain Harvest Kitchen director on Monday, April 17. Town of Unicoi Recorder Mike Housewright announced Manning’s hire during Monday evening’s meeting of the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Manning will begin her work with the town one month from now, Housewright said. Manning earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science from Florida State University and her Master’s degree in Food Science from the University of Georgia. She has prior experience as a research assistant and instructor, served as a search and development flavor lab manager for Bell Flavors & Fragrances from 2015-16, and is presently employed as packaged foods coordinator for Home.Made from Scratch.

“We’re very excited to have her onboard,” Housewright said following Monday’s meeting.

Housewright said Manning will be paid an annual salary of $60,000. He also said Manning and her husband, who currently live in Georgia, are looking to purchase a home in the Unicoi area.

Alderman Roger Cooper asked if Manning had visited the Mountain Harvest Kitchen facility. Housewright responded that she had, adding that Manning was impressed by what she saw.

“She was extremely impressed, enough so that she was willing to pack up her family and move up here,” Housewright said.

Housewright also provided the board with an update on the Mountain Harvest Kitchen project. He said construction of the facility is expected to be complete within the next two to three weeks. A bid previously let out for equipment for the facility was recently awarded to the Asheville-based FRS, a company offering commercial kitchen equipment and restaurant supplies. This equipment, Housewright said, will allow the kitchen to become operational.

The Mountain Harvest Kitchen project was first envisioned around a decade ago. Town of Unicoi officials have viewed the project as a business incubator, as users will be able to sell the food prepared or produce canned within the facility. The kitchen, once complete, is set to include a dry storage area, walk-in freezer and office space along with food processing areas with commercial-sized equipment, a research and development lab, and a receiving area.

Entrepreneurial training opportunities, as well as demonstrations and other classes, will also be offered to kitchen users.

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In other business, the board on Monday approved its audit for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The audit, completed by Rodefer Moss & Co., noted two findings. The first finding stated that accounting entries at the end of the fiscal year were not properly recorded. In his response to the finding, which was noted in the audit report, Housewright acknowledged the material finding. Housewright wrote the town began a software conversion after the end of the year and had to close the books before additional accruals could be made.

“The town did not have all the necessary information at the time the books were closed to properly record all accruals,” the response states. “For future years, the Town will ensure all transactions are properly recorded and all accruals have been recorded before the year is closed.”

The second finding – one also noted in the prior fiscal year’s audit – pertained to segregation of duties in the municipality’s accounting. In his response, Housewright acknowledged the finding and attributed it to the town’s small staff size.

The board also voted unanimously to award its annual interstate mowing contract to former alderman Mark Ramsey. The board, in 2014 awarded a mowing contract with Ramsey, and that contract allows the board to approve year-to-year renewals.

The one-year contract will take effect on July 1. Per the contract, Ramsey is to complete six mowings and 12 trash pickups along Unicoi’s portion of Interstate 26 during the year.

According to the contract, the town is to pay Ramsey $49,000 for his services. Housewright said the agreement will be funded with pass-through money the town receives each year from the Tennessee Department of Transportation.