The first major item on the agenda for the October 17th meeting of the Board of Commissioners was concerning a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Industrial Loan for BekZon, a company looking to open operations here in Cumberland County. The CDBG Industrial Loan is in the amount of $600,000 and is to be used to assist in purchasing equipment. The resolution comes with a promise of 100 jobs from BekZon that would mostly be light assembly in nature. The loan is an 80/20 loan, meaning that BekZon would have to provide a 20 percent match. BekZon is the same company that recently requested a $300,000 loan from the City of Crossville to help cover their operating expenses as well as a significant loan from TVA to get started on facilities. There is also a request for $20,000 each from the County and City to cover the rent for the Cumberland Business Incubator for one year while BekZon builds a permanent facility.
I support bringing in new industry and jobs to Cumberland County and I understand that certain financial incentives must be provided to create new jobs, but I did have some questions concerning this resolution. Before the County recommends this CDBG loan to the State, I believe it would be prudent for the Commission to review the BekZon business plan and financials. In my opinion, a resolution of this magnitude should have gone through the committee structure or a work session of the full Commission for thorough vetting. Other Commissioners had similar questions, and a motion was made by Commissioner Lynch and seconded by Commissioner Rimmer to postpone the vote on the resolution for a few days until a work session and special called meeting could be set up. This work session would have in no way jeopardized the deal with BekZon. After much discussion, the motion failed in a vote of 6 – 12. Commissioners Sabine, McNeil, Allen, Rimmer, Lynch and I voted to postpone. Commissioners Houston, Hyder, Safdie, Hassler, Presley, Seiber, Koester, Carter, Harvel, Turner, Brown and Cramer voted against. A motion to approve the resolution was then voted on after Commissioner Brown added a clause stating that Cumberland County would have no liability for repayment of the loan in the case of default by BekZon. While I still believe the County was unnecessarily rushing to give approval for authorizing the filing of the application for the loan, I voted for this motion. I did so because the State of Tennessee will vet the application before approval. I still believe the County should study this issue in significantly more detail before moving forward with any other action concerning BekZon. A motion was unanimously approved that would require BekZon to provide their business plan to Cumberland County, but this will be of little value without the accompanying financials. I will continue to monitor this situation and keep you updated.
Approval was granted for a memorial site to be created using an artifact from the World Trade Center. The site will be in the area between the County Fire Department and the Senior Citizen’s Building and will be done at no cost to the County. The sale of some properties owned by Cumberland County due to delinquent property taxes was also approved. Several routine appointments and budget amendments were approved during the meeting, but the other item garnering considerable discussion was concerning the Health and Safety Standards Board (HSSB). You may recall this issue from last month’s edition of CC Notes. To recap, the HSSB was created and authorized to deal with vacant and dilapidated properties that pose a health or safety hazard to the community. The County Commission created this board some years back, and it was again authorized this year with the passage of the county budget. According to all accounts I have heard of the last HSSB meeting, a few County Commissioners were questioning the HSSB and a “heated debate” ensued. At some point at least one of the Commissioners mentioned that they would do whatever they could to get rid of the board, and soon after the citizen members of the HSSB all resigned.
As I stated last month, the Board of Commissioners is a corporate body that only has authority when in session. Disagreements about the usefulness of a board or committee that is duly authorized by the full Commission should be held at a meeting of the County Commission, not during the meeting of the board in question. Due to the disruption of the meeting, Commissioner Jan McNeil submitted a resolution that would have required the Chairman of the Commission to send a letter of apology on behalf of the Board of Commissioners to the former committee members of the HSSB. The letter would also have asked them to reconsider their resignations. When the motion was presented, Commissioner Lynch asked two questions of Commissioner Hyder, the only Commissioner on the HSSB. He asked if multiple Commissioners were involved in the incident, and if their behavior was disrespectful and/or harassing. Commissioner Hyder spoke to the incident in detail, and answered yes to both questions. During the ensuing discussion, multiple Commissioners stated that they were just speaking for the people in their districts in fighting against the HSSB. While that may be true, the venue of an HSSB meeting could not have been a more inappropriate place to do so.
In the end, Commissioners Sabine, Hyder, Safdie, Koester, McNeil, Brown, Rimmer, Lynch and I voted in favor of the resolution. Commissioners Houston, Hassler, Presley, Seiber, Allen, Carter, Harvel, Turner and Cramer voted against. This created a 9 – 9 tie. Mayor Carey used his statutory authority to break a tie and cast his vote against the motion causing it to fail 9 – 10. As this is a duly authorized committee created by the Commission, he was asked to bring nominations for the board to the next full Commission meeting in November.
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