New commissioners getting help from UT

Friday, August 27, 2010

NASHVILLE -- The University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service has been holding seminars this week at the Airport Marriott for newly elected officials so they'd have an idea of what they face in office.

Attendance was greater than expected, according to CTAS conference spokesman Brett Howell. The UT group anticipated approximately 450 people at the conference, but there were another 120 officials, not counting staffers, who attended.

"I think," David Seivers, executive director of the Tennessee County Services Association, said of the crowd, "it's just a genuine commitment by the people elected."

As many of the subjects of the seminars involved money and education, Seivers noted, "Education is the top priority for the people here."

Lynne Holliday, a consultant with UT on the BEP requirements and other financial and legislative issues, said "On average, 62 percent of a county's budget is for schools...

"It's the biggest thing you do, relative to spending on other departments," Holliday said.

Meanwhile, about 70 out of 95 counties had not passed an annual budget yet even though the fiscal year started eight weeks ago, she said.

Counties have been using a continuing resolution so spending would be at the same rate as authorized last summer. It's what Congress does frequently.

Anna Childress, who returns to the Marshall County Commission after a few years off the panel, was at the conference and indicated CTAS provided a good refresher course on what it takes to meet the responsibilities of being a county commissioner.

"I took notes," Childress said. "It was a good overview" of local governmental operations.

Denise Graham, a Bedford County commissioner-elect, said, she is the only new member elected to her commission.

That's in contrast to Marshall County's commission, which has 10 new members. In Washington County, there are 14 new commissioners on that 25-member board.

Politically, Bedford County seems stabile, Graham said, adding, "But I'm sure our time is coming."

Marshall County Commissioners-elect Jeff Taylor and Sheldon Davis paused before saying what they learned from the presentations.

"It was an overview," Taylor said.

Then, motivated to return to the lecture hall, Davis said, "Everything they taught us, we learned."