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Commission must vote again on commitments to animal shelter, senior center

Appropriations for a new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter and a new Jonesborough Senior Center will require another vote from the county commission due to errors found in the minutes of a meeting.
During last week’s meeting of the Legal Services Oversight Committee, County Attorney John Rambo shared a written opinion he prepared at the request of Commissioner Ethan Flynn who was absent from the April 23, 2012, commission meeting when the appropriation decisions were made.
Based on a review of all the evidence, a court would probably confirm the actions that were taken during the meeting, but his research revealed significant mistakes in the minutes, Rambo said.
According to the opinion, a court would likely determine Washington County did appropriate $250,000 in money and agree to $100,000 in paving services related to the animal shelter. In addition, a court would likely determine the county appropriated $400,000 and committed to $100,000 in paving services related to the senior center.
However, a revised resolution handed out at the meeting followed by a deviation in parliamentary procedure points to the need for strengthening the system for taking minutes, which are typically recorded by County Clerk Kathy Storey.
The original resolution proposing allocations for both projects was included in the April 2012 commission packet for consideration with a vote planned.
At that meeting, Commissioner Mark Ferguson distributed a revised version of the original resolution that increased the appropriation for the senior center by $150,000, and included additional requirements for fund distribution for both projects.
Based on the courts’ repeated observation that “boards and commissions…speak or act officially through their minutes and records made at duly called meetings,” Rambo’s review of the April 23, 2012, meeting indicates the minutes are wrong based on the structure and wording related to the three votes taken regarding the appropriations.
The minutes refer to a motion to amend the original resolution as it relates to the animal shelter, which allows only $100,000 of the cash allocation to be distributed initially. A total of $1 million in private funds must be secured in order to receive the remaining $150,000 in cash. The motion did not make changes to the $100,000 in paving services.
The minutes then indicate a vote of majority roll call approval on the motion. Because an amendment cannot exist without an underlying motion, which was not made, the action did not follow standard procedure and is the first mistake in the minutes.
The next vote was taken in response to a motion to divide the resolution into two separate issues and passed unanimously with a voice vote. This is another mistake in the minutes because a motion to divide is not in order for a matter that has already received partial approval. The motion to divide must have been made and approved prior to the vote. The minutes also do not state how the issues were to be divided.
Minutes indicate a third vote passed with majority approval in a roll call for a motion to amend the original resolution with the changes in the senior center allocation that require the first floor be completed before any of the increased cash allocation is distributed. The motion also included the addition of $100,000 in paving services.
At the May 2012 meeting, leaders approved the inaccurate minutes, making them the official voice of the commission. However, because the minutes are wrong, a court would review other evidence, such as audio recordings, to discern the commission’s intent.
The recording of the meeting indicates Ferguson distributed a revised copy of the resolution included in the packet, including significant changes. The audio recording indicates much confusion, primarily because Ferguson’s version should have been presented as a motion to adopt a substitute resolution rather than an amendment of the original.
The audio recording provided little additional clarity in the wording of the motions, Rambo said.
What is clear in the audio recording is that the votes were taken in a different order than is reflected in the minutes. According to the recording, commissioners voted to divide the issues; adopt the appropriation for the animal shelter; and adopt an appropriation for the senior center.
The recording also makes it clear a revised resolution was distributed, though there is no mention of it in the minutes.
The commission must now address both appropriations again. Only $100,000 has been released to the animal shelter, with the remaining commitments held in reserve accounts. The commission must approve the transfer of the reserve funds to the expense line items in the budget.
Eldridge said the projects are not returning to square one, and the vote is standard fiscal procedure. “At the end of the year, money that had not been spent went into reserve, and a vote is needed to take it out (for use).”