Confehr: A little bit of sunshine makes the bugaboos go away

Friday, June 4, 2010

Marshall County Commissioners Dean Delk, Scottie Poarch, Rocky Bowden, E.W. Hill and Phil Willis were having supper at Mopey's Family Restaurant on the Nashville Highway Tuesday night after the county budget workshop in the Courthouse Annex on Lewisburg's public square.

Such a gathering after a commission meeting is probably a tradition among commissioners who are hungry and have formed friendships on the public panel, although it does have a bit more than an appearance of being in conflict with state law that calls for local government officials' deliberations toward a decision to be conducted in public so the people will know what's coming next from their government.

Ultimately, the question is whether they deliberated toward a decision that is part of the public's business. While I can't say what they were talking about before I joined them, there are some highlights to share. Somebody bought hay. Dean said he got a cell phone call from an art teacher at the school where he's principal and he told her to take care of family first. Rocky spoke about being questioned before serving on a jury. Scottie said he's getting up a few hours after midnight to drive a route truck. Phil answered questions about his surgery.

None would make a prediction on the Aug. 5 elections, indicating that would be political suicide. Some think this column should be used to advocate approval of the sales tax hike referendum and there were some remarks about the budget, and here comes the bugaboo.

Since I was late to the county meeting because of a Lewisburg meeting, I asked Rocky, who also serves as chairman of the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, if commissioners might take some or all of the adequate facilities tax revenue from the water utility. It's supposed to get the first $300,000 of the tax on new construction that's charged per square foot. The recession has reduced that revenue to less than $300,000 and now it's seen by some as a potential source for general revenue instead of a dedicated stream to repay bonds sold to build 57 miles of water pipeline.

Re-channeling the money is still a possibility, says Rocky, who suggests he'll release it for a year if the commission pays it back in five equal amounts during five subsequent years.

If a political deal is struck in private between elected leaders on one panel, then there's an argument that could be made that the decision is null and void because it was done privately. Tennessee's Open Meetings Law doesn't make an exception if a reporter is present. In Smyrna, during the mid-'90s, residents objected to a decision made during a meeting without adequate public notice and that decision was, therefore, null and void.

I don't think there'll be an arrest for an open meetings law violation, but if those guys keep doing that, Rocky may prevent the commission from getting the revenue stream that's paying off debt for pipes, trenches and water. Besides, doing so would really upset bond buyers and Wall Street.