“Was financing for the doctor’s office done by a relative of a member of the town council?” The question was asked near the end of last week’s regular meeting of the Blountsville Town Council by Rhonda Hitt, a member of Citizens for Open and Honest Government of Blountsville.
The question concerned a building – the former Restoration Church on Main Street in Blountsville – purchased by the town council last November for an office for a doctor interested in leasing space in the Blountsville area.
After answering Hitt’s preliminary questions about the doctor and the open house planned later for the community to meet the new physician and learn further details of his plans, Blountsville Mayor Mike Glass referred Hitt’s final question to town attorney Brett King.
King briefly recapped the council’s process in financing the $82,500 purchase price of the building. He said two banks were contacted about financing the building and both quoted rates in the 5- to 5.5-percent range. Then the council was approached by an individual who offered to finance the loan at 4 percent.
“I believe that was Bob’s daughter,” King said, motioning toward the panel where council members sat. Cornelius appeared to confirm King’s statement.
“Bob didn’t vote (on the resolution to purchase) and is not benefitting from it,” King said. “It passed the eye test with me.”
King reported that he had contacted the League of Municipalities, describing the transaction to get an opinion on its ethical propriety, and “Ethics said it was OK.” (King had explained in more detail on another occasion that the loan had been deemed OK as long as there was a clear benefit to the town, as long as the loan was made under favorable terms compared to other possible financing, and as long as councilman Cornelius abstained from voting on the resolution to purchase.)
Following the meeting, several members of the Citizens for Open and Honest Government spoke privately with The Blount Countian. To the question, What do you as citizens want from the town council in connection with this situation? – three answers emerged.
“We want the council to go to a qualified lending institution and borrow enough money to pay the existing loan off,” was the consensus of the seven member group. To answer the same question, one member, David Blaxton, hand-wrote a personal statement on a piece of notebook paper. It reads:
“As a concerned citizen, I have always wanted our local government to be open and honest with the best interests of the town at heart. When I hear of potential wrong doings, it doesn’t reflect well on the town. If the council votes for a motion that is questionable, are they also at fault? What we need in Blountsville is open and honest government.”
The third answer was a repetition of the request made at the March 4 council meeting by Citizens for Open and Honest Government member Don Griffin. He asked that the council rescind that part of its motions passed on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5 that (1) referred to the relocation of the Blountsville Senior Center to share the church building with the doctor’s office, and (2) that stated the intent to declare the existing Senior Center as surplus property after the purchase of the church building was finalized. Mayor responds
Asked for comment on the question and answer about financing in last week’s council meeting, Blountsville Mayor Michael Glass obliged.
“We did everything legally and everybody was satisfied at the time. We did everything by the book. We had no complaints. We’ve just got a couple of people around town trying to cause trouble.” Response to Citzens for Open and Honest Government:
On refinancing and paying off the existing loan: “Well, it’d be for a higher interest rate and cost the town more money. Whole purpose of doing the loan the way we did was to save several thousand dollars. I don’t know what good refinancing would do,” Glass said.
On conducting the town’s business according to ideals of open and honest government, Glass said: “I don’t know what more we could do. The things we do, we ask our attorney for advice. That’s what the attorney’s for. We always call the League of Municipalities if we feel like we need their advice. We don’t just do things without checking things out.”
On rescinding the council’s actions affecting the Senior Center: “We don’t have to rescind those motions, because the Senior Center never moved. Those motions were made to apply IF the Senior Center moved. They didn’t want to move, and they don’t have to move, so there’s no need to rescind anything,” Glass said.
In routine business, the town council last week:
• discussed the still-incomplete lease agreement with the Blount County Board of Education concerning the use of the recreational baseball field – attorneys are still working on revisions.
• discussed the F-250 truck confiscated by the police department; finally were able to contact attorney for the other party, but no disposition yet.
• passed a motion to delay implementation of police department ride-along program.
• approved list of 10 lifeguards/concession workers and three managers as summer employees for the 2019 season.
• announced public hearing date of April 1 at 5:30 p.m. at town hall for delinquent business license report.
• announced employee meeting date for disaster relief plan: 10 a.m., March 22, at town hall.