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Commission creates audit committee, approves land purchase

Commissioners approved the establishment of a Washington County Audit Committee and the appointment of its first members during their Dec. 20 meeting.
Washington County is one of the first to comply with the state comptroller’s urging to form an independent audit committee for oversight of the county’s budget, finances and fiscal controls.
The comptroller reportedly believes an audit committee will serve as an effective tool to improve governmental operations during an economic environment that demands increased accountability.
The resolution was recommended by a unanimous vote of the county’s Budget Committee, but much discussion took place before commissioners gave it final approval.
Commmissioner Joe Corso wanted to know why commissioners from the Budget Committee were recommended appointees when their current role would already give them oversight of the Audit Committee.
“It seems like a duplication of functions,” Corso said.
Commissioner Mitch Meredith, who provided an overview of the Budget Committee’s recommendation during the November meeting, said the two committees are not likely to interact.
“The Audit Committee will report straight to the Commission,” Meredith said.
County Attorney John Rambo said the resolution to establish an audit committee has been approved by the state comptroller’s office.
When Commissioner David Shanks asked if the committee would perform any pre-audit work, Rambo said the need would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“This committee is broader than that because it can accept complaints,” Rambo said.
The Audit Committee, members of which will not be paid, will follow up on the findings and recommendations of the annual audit, in addition to serving as a body that employees, taxpayers and other citizens could approach confidentially to express concerns regarding non-compliance with laws, regulations and ethics.
Corso said he is opposed to having commissioners as members because of the missed opportunity to involve others.
Commissioner Sam Humphreys expressed concern about undue pressure on a commissioner that may result depending on the subject of the complaint.
Meredith said the two functions of the Audit Committee are to monitor internal controls and accept complaints, and much of the research recommends all members be elected.
“We tried to strike a balance,” Meredith said.
With Corso being the only no, commissioners approved the following appointees: serving two-year terms will be Paige Carter, an internal auditor with Mountain States Health Alliance; Odie Major, retired regional president of SunTrust Bank; and Meredith. Serving one-year terms will be Edwina Greer, East Tennessee State University director of internal audit; and Commissioner Pat Wolfe.
Mayor Dan Eldridge commended commissioners for establishing the Audit Committee.
“We are giving the citizens of Washington County a level of transparency from county government they have never had before, and I applaud your action,” he said.
On another recommendation from the Budget Committee, commissioners approved the purchase of 5.6 acres in the industrial park that were sold to Bush Hog.
Eldridge said the tract was carved out of the 21 acres Washington County owns, giving the property an irregular shape.
The Johnson City/Jonesborough/Washington County Economic Development Board will provide funds to purchase the property, at $8,500 per acre, from CC Industries, which owns Bush Hog and currently leases to Alo Tennessee.
“This would give us a marketable site, which we don’t have now,” Commissioner Mark Larkey said. The motion to approve was made by Commissioner Ken Lyon and seconded by Commissioner Alpha Bridger.
Bids requested from the two north Johnson City buildings that may serve as the new location for the County Clerk and the County Trustee offices when they are moved from the Downtown Centre will be received by Jan 3, 2011.
One building is on Sunset Drive near Mahoney’s and the other is on Marketplace Boulevard behind Fuddruckers restaurant. The buildings are finalists narrowed from a list of potential sites that were visited.
Larkey asked if the county is constitutionally required to provide a location in Johnson City.
“I don’t think it’s fair to make 65,000 people come to Jonesborough to renew their tags and pay their taxes,” Commissioner Doyle Cloyd said.