By Jonathan Pleasant
Johnson County Road Superintendent Tony Jennings made a surprising announcement at this months county commission meeting, formally submitting a letter of resignation in light of his imminent retirement effective May 31st. Under normal circumstances such a vacancy would have been filled through a nomination and appointment process conducted by the county commission. However, with the county general election less than 90 days away, Jennings submitted documentation from the Tennessee County Highway Officials Association that indicated responsibilities for the office would fall to interim successor Jim Moody.
According to the state statute passed in 2008, when such a vacancy arises until such time as a qualified successor is chosen, the duties of the chief administrative officer shall be performed by the assistant superintendent of highways, chief foreman, administrative assistant or other highest ranking member of the office of the chief administrative officer who shall be designated as an interim successor. Jennings had Moody formally designated in June of 2008, giving him full authority during an absence.
With the election so close and Moody as a candidate there were concerns raised both by the commission and from the audience. Ron Kalus, in particular, voiced his opinion that the interim designation seemed very unfair to the other candidates in the race. The commission did look at all the options, however County Attorney Bill Cockett pointed out several factors that affected the decision to accept Jenningss resignation, especially the timing.
The commission could, in theory, appoint another qualified candidate to fill the vacancy, but considering the period of time required to post the position, as well as the departments annual week long shutdown, this would leave the newly appointed superintendent holding office for just a matter of weeks. Further, only qualified candidates could actually be nominated and appointed in the first place, leaving the pool largely limited to those who are already running in the election.
Regardless of any action taken Moody would still be operating as the interim superintendent over the course of the next month in Jennings absence. Questions were raised about the interims salary and limitations of his responsibilities. According to Cockett, Moody would retain his current pay but would have the same duties and authority as an elected superintendent. Having discussed the issue at length, Chairman Freddy Phipps called for a decision to be made concerning Jennings resignation. A motion was made to approve, passing by a show of hands 13-2 with one commissioner voting no and another abstaining.
Accounts and Budgets Director Russell Robinson brought several items to the commissions attention, presenting numerous budget amendments this month to help clean up and pave the way for end of the fiscal year. A key part of this early planning was the approval of two continuing resolutions for the county general fund and the county board of education to allow Robinson to continue operations beyond the official deadline of June 30th. Lengthening the window of time to the end of September, the resolutions are an annual part of the budgeting process and were both approved unanimously.
Robinson also discussed a proposal to begin allowing county employees the option of direct deposit rather than the traditional paper checks that have been used for years. The county school system already uses direct deposit, but interest among the more than 140 employees in the courthouse, highway department, sheriffs department, and other county positions has been high. Robinson conducted an informal survey to gauge how many employees might be willing to make the switch and found that there was nearly 70 percent support.
Providing direct deposit would mean utilizing the services of a feeder bank and would involve charges of approximately $15 month per payroll upload. In all Robinson estimated that offering the services would cost the county around $700, but would actually save money in the long run compared to the costs associated with writing and printing a paper check. Accounting for around 150 less checks written each pay period and an estimated cost of $1.50 per check, the county would see savings of several thousand dollars over the course of the next few years.
When adopted, Robinson indicated the new policy would take effect on July 1st and although direct deposit would be optional for current employees, all new employees would be required to use the service from the beginning. This would also apply for newly elected officials, and Robinson cautioned that even current employees who do choose direct deposit would essentially be locked in once they made the switch. Citing no real issues with the decision, the commission voted unanimously to support the new policy.
Addressing county policies, the Solid Waste Committee confirmed that executive aide Sally Tugman was able to locate one county in the state that utilizes their own policy to set up and regulate credit accounts within their solid waste system. Copies of Maury Countys procedures are currently being reviewed by the Solid Waste Committee and the county attorney to see if it could be reworked and applied here. Once this review is completed, the issue will come to the full commission for discussion, hopefully at next months meeting.
911 Director Jerry Jordan was present later in the evening to clear up a few more name changes in the county road list. An ongoing process, Jordan has been working very effectively to bring the Postal Service, 911, and County Highway Department into consistency with the highway system. Hoping to keep from changing the actual addresses, Jordan pointed out three road-naming issues that are currently different from those listed by the Post Office and 911. All three roads dealt with issues concerning initials, including the need for C. Lewis Road to be fully listed as Carly Lewis Road and N. Dugger to be lengthened to Norman Dugger. The final change was to shorten D. Main Lane in Shady Valley to simply Main Lane.
Jordan explained that these may not be the last discrepancies to correct, but as they come up he would bring them to the countys attention. While slight, making sure the road lists are all congruent will eventually go a long way toward not only meeting federal requirements but also to improving the accuracy of local GPS services and other programs.
The last announcement of the evening came from Mayor Larry Potter who was pleased to inform the commission that the county will be receiving a $16,000 grant from the USDA to purchase Ipads for the school system.
By Jonathan Pleasant