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Erwin BMA discusses holiday dinner

By Brad Hicks | Erwin Bureau Chief | Johnson City Press
A controversial pre-Christmas dinner held for town of Erwin officials and employees, and that included the spouses of some of these officials and employees, was the main course of discussion at the Monday, Jan. 12, meeting of the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said the dinner was held on Dec. 22 at Johnson City's Bonefish Grill as a way for the town to show its appreciation for departmental leaders and officials, some of whom serve without pay. She said such dinners are traditionally held by the town one to two times per year.
Hensley also said having the town cover the dinner expenses of the spouses of town employees and officials has also been a traditional part of such dinners, as they, too, are deserving of appreciation, as they allow their spouses to serve and be pulled away in situations in which weekend work and overtime is required.
“Spouses have been included in the appreciation dinner just for that, so that we're able to look them in the eyes and say, 'We appreciate you. We appreciate you sharing your spouse with us,'” Hensley said.
The cost of the dinner was approximately $1,000, which was to be paid with municipal funds. Following the dinner, Alderman Michael Baker, who was elected in November, questioned whether the dining costs of spouses present should be covered by the taxpayer money that would be used to cover the meal.
As of Monday's meeting, Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff had paid for the cost of the dinner out of his pocket and had not yet received reimbursement from the town for the dinner. Hensley said the dining costs of spouses have since been covered with the help of donations provided by private citizens.
Baker wrote a letter to fellow aldermen, which he said was written prior to finding out that Rosenoff had paid for the dinner himself, questioning whether covering the spousal dining costs was a misuse of taxpayer money. After the dinner, Baker said he researched the matter and found that it was unlawful for a municipality to pick up the tab for spouses.
Baker also said he ran for aldermen to “be a good steward of the people's money and do what is right,” which led him to bring the matter of the dinner to the public's attention. At Monday's meeting, he presented Hensley with a $50 check to cover the cost of his fiancee's dinner.
But one town official took exception to some of Baker's statements and his approach to the issue. Betty Chandler, who serves on the town's planning commission, addressed Baker at Monday's meeting.
“You have an agenda, sir,” Chandler said to Baker. “I don't know what it is.”
After questions about the dinner were raised, Erwin Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff asked Town Attorney Thomas Seeley III to seek the advice of auditors with Rodefer Moss, the firm that handles such duties for the town. Seeley told members of the board that an auditor with the firm advised that while there is no specific law regarding the dinner of spouses, the auditor said it would be difficult to show that having the town cover these expenses is a benefit to the town.
Seeley said he could make a “compelling argument” that there is a value in the town showing its appreciation to the spouses of employees and officials, but he said the auditor recommended that the town only cover the dining costs of its employees and officials. Seeley said he would make the same recommendation.
A motion to have the town cover the dining costs of only members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the heads of the town's department, and members of the town's planning commission/board of zoning appeals was made by Alderman Gary Chandler and seconded by Virgil Moore. This motion was unanimously approved.
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The board also approved a resolution to authorize Hensley to make and sign an application for Community Transportation Planning Grant funds. This grant is offered by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and this marks the first year the agency has offered the grant.
This grant would be for up to $250,000 and would require a 10 percent match from the town. The funding would be used to conduct a corridor study from Jackson Love Highway to Harris Hollow Road, which would help the town look at ways to improve traffic flow, efficiency and safety in the area, as well as develop transportation plans. The grant application is due in to the state later this month.
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In other business, the board:
• Approved a resolution to recommend that state legislators name the under-construction railroad overpass in honor of the late Pat E. Brown. Brown, who passed away in 1996, owned three tracts of property along Second Street which the overpass crosses over. Brown operated his business, Erwin Salvage, Inc., on the property from 1956 to 1990. A similar resolution was approved by the Unicoi County Commission in October.
• Approved the reappointment of Connie Brewer to the Erwin Public Housing Authority for a five-year term.
• Set the date of its next workshop to discuss the town's liquor by the drink and retail package store regulations. This workshop was scheduled for Jan. 21 at 3:30 p.m. and will be held at Erwin Town Hall. Referendums to allow for liquor by the drink and the establishment of retail package stores within Erwin's limits both passed by a majority vote in the November election.