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Linville chosen to replace Bennett

The Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen met for its monthly meeting on Monday, Dec. 15, at Erwin Town Hall.
Before the meeting began, a moment of silence was held for the late Dwight Bennett. With the recent passing of Alderman Bennett, the board was tasked with the point of appointing a new alderman to replace him.
Mayor Johnny Lynch announced that the board was looking to nominate Jeff Linville for the position. Linville had served on the board prior to the election and Lynch said that Linville stayed active in town matters, which led to him being nominated for the seat.
“He has been an alderman and has experience to offer,” said Lynch.
Alderman Kathy Bullen questioned the nomination, saying that she wanted to know the other candidates and wanted to table the nomination until more public notice could be given. Bullen said she wanted more notification in media outlets for an extended amount of time. With Bullen’s inquiry, several in the gallery defended the decision to nominate Linville.
“This is usually not within the normal process,” said Lois Schults-Davis on Bullen’s statements. “The provisions have been adequate.”
“We just had an election,” said Lynch. “[Linville] is the only one who has gone through the process. He has experience.”
The election to which Lynch referred took place in November. During that election, Linville came in third for the two available seats on the board. Phil Hensley won his seat on the board with 546 votes. Kathy Bullen also joined the board after receiving 451 votes. Linville received 441 votes.
Bob Sahli, Mark Ramsey and Brian Dunbar also expressed their support for the decision. Sahli is on the Unicoi County Planning Commission while Ramsey is a former alderman. Dunbar is an area developer.
“I’ve talked with Jeff,” said Dunbar. “He cares about the town and I support him for the vacancy.”
Bullen wanted to clarify her position.
“I meant absolutely nothing personal against Jeff Linville,” said Bullen. “That’s not what this is about. I am concerned about the process.”
Following the discussion, the board voted 3-1 to nominate Linville, with Bullen the only board member voting against Linville’s nomination. Linville, who was present at the meeting, was then sworn onto the board.
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In other business, the board approved an audit for the 2013 fiscal year.
One of the findings stated in the audit of the town’s financial statements, for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013, were town funds used to pay for meals for the spouses of town board members and employees when the spouses accompanied them on a retreat.
The total of the meals, which includes employees, board members and their spouses, was $1,969, the audit states. One-third of this amount, or approximately $657, was the estimated cost for the spouses’ meals.
The audit, which was prepared by Rodefer Moss & Co., PLLC of Greeneville, was sent to town officials in September 2014, according to the audit. It was voted on and unanimously approved by the BMA during Monday’s meeting.
The use of town funds to pay for spouses’ meals was one of four “material weaknesses” identified in the audit.
“A material weakness is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies in internal control such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the entity’s financial statements will not be prevented, or detected and corrected on a timely basis,” the audit states.
Regarding the use of town funds to pay for the meals of spouses, the audit states: “Meals can be provided for board members and employees on business outings, however, meals for spouses is abuse of town funds.”
The audit also describes the use of town funds to pay for spouse meals as an “abuse of governmental funds.”
The audit recommends that a per diem amount, in line with the Internal Revenue Service or other governmental amounts, should be established for business trips or retreats. The per diem “should only be paid to employees and board members,” the audit continues.
Carpooling is also recommended when it is possible in order to save the town money, according to the audit.
Monday evening, City Recorder Larry Rea said the retreat in question took place during the last week of March 2013. Rea said the retreat takes place annually and is used for strategic planning.
“All spouses that went to the retreat were town volunteers,” he added. “We felt at that time it was okay to pay for their meals because they were town volunteers.”
Rea said using town funds to pay for meals for spouses was the topic of a special audit earlier this year; however, he said the town had corrected its policy and would no longer pay for spouses’ meals prior to the beginning of the special audit, which had been requested by an unnamed citizen.
Rea also said funds used to buy the meals had been reimbursed to the town.
“We think we got it all clarified,” Mayor Johnny Lynch said.
A copy of the audit is available through the Tennessee Comptroller’s website.
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The board also presented three resolutions. The first resolution was to allow for a town employee Christmas bonus.
The second resolution recognized the East Tennessee Model A Restorers Club Hill Climb, which will take place on Apr. 24, 2015.
The final resolution was made to purchase new maintenance equipment for the town to use in a variety of purposes, such as mowing.