Budget officer hired through secret ranking

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Marshall County has hired a Columbia resident with bank experience to be assistant budget director with the anticipation that she might become the director when the current director retires in about a year.

While that hiring decision was the responsibility of Budget Director Freda Terry, she pointed out that because she is going to retire, county commissioners should participate in the decision because they must work with her successor.

They did, but their individual positions are not clearly indicated by a public record.

Ultimately, Catherine C. Brooks of Columbia was hired. She worked for Regions Bank before becoming an accountant at Teledyne here. While it's not a foregone conclusion that Brooks will succeed Terry, Brooks was hired with the idea that the position of assistant budget director was created to have an experienced successor.

The selection process included a ranking system that allowed commissioners, Terry and a state employee (Doug Bodary) to rank the applicants without being named. As a result it's difficult, if not impossible, to tell which commissioner ranked Brooks better than the other two applicants.

The other two were: Teresa Moses of Keith Cove, Lewisburg, a former school board accountant here; and Jimmy Lee Tidwell of Lawrenceburg who has experience in government accounting including assignments in Washington, D.C. and in a combat zone at Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Moses has been hired by Terry to fill a budget office position, vacated by Crystal Powell who went to work for Amedisys Home Health Care in Spring Hill. Powell's office career move is in line with her education. She said the pay is "good," she's working 40 hours a week instead of 35 for the county, and the health insurance is "better."

Powell was being paid $14.41 an hour, the same rate to be paid Moses as she moves to that position.

Brooks' pay as assistant budget director is $40,000.

The decision to hire Brooks developed from decisions by members of the county Budget Committee led by Commissioner Barry Spivey, who on Jan. 9 was asked for a record of the committee's decision that would show how each commissioner on the committee ranked the applicants.

The record released on Friday does not include the names of commissioners, except to say that Commissioner Tom Sumners "was running a fever and could not attend" the Jan. 9 meeting when the three finalists were interviewed. As a result, Sumners did not participate in the ranking of the three applicants. He did, however, understand the selection process.

"The decision was made before the interviews to hire the applicant who scored the highest from the interviews," Sumners said Friday, the day after other budget committee members, Terry and Bodary ranked Moses, Tidwell and Brooks.

"Brooks got one point more than the veteran from Kandahar," Afghanistan, Sumners said, referring to Tidwell.

"Moses was last, but there's still a possibility that she'll land a job in that office because there is already an opening," he said of Moses' then-pending employment as Powell's successor in an office to be run by Brooks.

Powell's last day in the second floor office of the Marshall County Courthouse Annex was last month.

County commissioners on the budget committee participating in the ranking of the three applicants were Chairman Barry Spivey, Sheldon Davis, Phil Willis and Mickey King.

"We didn't hire her," Spivey said while discussing the selection process. "Freda (Terry, the soon to be retired budget director) did. That's the way I see it.

"There was never actually a vote," Spivey said. "We never had a vote."

Committeemen decided to let the cumulative score be the advice, or recommendation, to Terry on who she should hire.

"We were trying to take the politics out of it," Spivey said. "There is no record of a vote... We voted on a method."

Asked if he thought the scoring method removed the politics, Spivey replied, "It helped."

Spivey was not aware that Moses was to be hired for the position Powell left, the budget committee chairman said. He didn't know there was an opening.

King took a similar position on the way Brooks got the nod for the job.

"We didn't vote," said King, a former budget committee chairman. "We did a point system."

Asked if he was surprised by the results, King replied, "Yeah, I mean I could have gone with any of the candidates. They were all good candidates."

King apparently knew Powell left the budget office.

"I think Freda has talked to her (Moses) about that job," King said. "Actually, this one will be for Freda to decide, but with her retiring, she wanted to include the budget committee (in on the decision about who should be her assistant until the end of this year when she retires.)

"Both job openings were up to Freda, but she wanted it to go to the budget committee," King said. Terry wanted her successor to be someone who "we were OK with."

Asked about the ranking of applicants by commissioners, King said, "Look at any other (county) office. They hire their own, too."

As for Brooks' experience with government budgeting instead of business accounting, King said, "She had done several mock budgets and setting up what the state is doing..."

Brooks is educated in accounting systems the state will require of counties and that was, in King's mind, advantageous for her.

Spivey said if Brooks "works out well ... the budget committee should recommend her to the county commission" to succeed Terry. The commission hires its budget directors.