published Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Hamilton County discretionary fund reports likely to be available online

The Hamilton County Courthouse.
The Hamilton County Courthouse.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
FUTURE COMMISSION BUSINESS

Commissioners will also decide next week to:

• Confirm or reject nine appointments to the Hamilton County Juvenile Court Commission.

• Accept or deny a $861,000 bid by Thomas Brothers Construction Co. to rebuild a retaining wall on the Volkswagen lead track. The county would split the cost with the city and the state.

• Accept or deny a bid from Softchoice Corp. for one-year contract pricing for wireless access points to install wireless networks in all county buildings.

Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote next week to post annual discretionary spending information online, hire two judicial commissioners and give commissioners an added layer of control over what grants the county seeks.

Commissioners Marty Haynes and Joe Graham spurred the push to have spending reports for the commissioners' combined $900,000 per year discretionary funds posted on the county's website. And Commission Chairman Fred Skillern said Tuesday during an agenda session that he expects the commission to approve the measure.

The agenda session was held Tuesday because the county is hosting the Tennessee County Service Association starting today.

Haynes said during the meeting residents would be able to check balances and expenditures for each commissioner for the current fiscal year.

Separately, Skillern said the commission office would produce more detailed reports for each commissioner.

"Our office is keeping a running tally of our expenditures, and quarterly we will post what our expenditures have been," Skillern said.

Commissioners will also decide who of 14 applicants will be the next two Judicial Commissioners, or magistrates. Commissioners will first vote to nominate candidates out of the 14, then hold votes on a ballot of those nominated. With so many applicants, that could take more than a few ballots.

"We had a very good pool of applicants this time. I think it's one of the biggest pools of applicants we've had," Haynes said.

Current Magistrates Jeffery Davis and Larry Ables have reapplied for the one-year posts.

The commission will also appoint a chief magistrate to serve until April 30. The current chief is Judicial Commissioner Randall Russell.

A vote to let commissioners direct what grants the county seeks may draw some push back from Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Graham proposed the resolution last week. The intent is to have county staff come to the commission before applying for grants, so commissioners could be apprised what matching requirements may exist. Graham says the effort is just aimed at keeping commissioners in the loop.

But Coppinger said last week the move would "hamstring the government" and called it an undo burden and an unnecessary step. He says the commission has final say over whether grants are accepted anyway.

"I would think that you are going to hamstring the government if you are going to require [department heads] to come and ask permission," Coppinger said.

Also, directing the grant process on the front end is just not the commission's job, he said.

He says the executive branch finds the grants, and the commission is only supposed to determine whether to spend money.

"It's the executive branch that asks for the grants, and then it's the legislature who decides to accept," he said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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