published Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Controversial grant policy voted down by Hamilton County Commission

District 6 Commissioner Joe Graham
District 6 Commissioner Joe Graham
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

HOW THEY VOTED

Below were the votes for magistrates from commissioners. Votes in parentheses were ruled out in preliminary voting. Votes marked by an “*” are votes for chief magistrate

For Judicial Commission posts

Chester Bankston - Ron Powers, Robert Davis, Randy Russell*

Greg Beck - Ron Powers, Robert Davis, Sheretta Smith*

Tim Boyd - Ron Powers, Robert Davis, Randy Russell*

Jim Fields - Nathaniel Goggans, Richard Pettit, Randy Russell*

Joe Graham - Nathaniel Goggans, Ron Powers, Randy Russell*

Marty Haynes - (Jeffery Davis), Ron Powers, Nathaniel Goggans, Randy Russell*

Larry Henry - Ron Powers, (Justin Woodward), Nathaniel Goggans, Randy Russell*

Warren Mackey - Ron Powers, Robert Davis, Randy Russell*

Fred Skillern - Nathaniel Goggans, Ron Powers, Randy Russell*

IN OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, county commissioners:

• Accepted an $861,000 bid from Thomas Brothers Construction Co. to build a concrete retaining wall on the Volkswagen lead track. The county will split the cost with Chattanooga and the state.

• Approved a $98,858 Governor’s Highway Safety Office grant for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office for education on properly restraining children in automobiles. The grant required no matching funds.

• Accepted a one-year contract pricing bid from Softchoice Corp. for routers, access points and projectors to provide wireless Internet access in county buildings.

Sheriff Jim Hammond breathed a quiet sigh of relief after Hamilton County commissioners met Wednesday.

That’s because a resolution that Hammond says would have seriously hindered his ability to bring federal and state grant money to his department got shot down.

In a 5-4 split, commissioners voted down a measure that would have required constitutional officers to get prior approval from the commission before applying for grants that require a county match. The commission already has final say over what grants ultimately are accepted.

The measure was proposed by Commissioner Joe Graham. He said the effort was aimed at getting commissioners “in the loop” when it comes to grants that obligate county funds.

After the meeting, Graham said he still supports the idea.

“I’m not afraid to throw something out there, even if it gets shot down,” he said. “I just think the commission should be made aware when constitutional officers are applying for grants that are going to obligate us.”

Hammond said his department would have been hamstrung by the measure, because he relies heavily on grants.

“Well, I would have been the most impacted, because we have the most needs and have to buy expensive stuff. And we are dependent on these grants to pay for those types of things,” Hammond said.

But he added that he already comes to the commission before applying for high-dollar grants that require big investments.

“I understand their concerns, but I also understand that I run a big department that has to be able to move at a moment’s notice when the grants pop up,” he said.

Commissioner Warren Mackey seconded Graham’s motion, but then he voted against it.

He said his mind didn’t change, he just wanted the issue dealt with. Mackey says he doesn’t want constitutional officers to have to come to the commission for preapproval, because the grant world is a competitive one.

“If we were to go ahead and publicize that we were going to get a grant, these other communities around us … they hear about it, apply for it and then they become competitors,” Mackey said. “You do need a certain amount of discretion in this.”

Commissioners also elected Ron Powers and Nathaniel Goggans to be the next judicial commissioners, or magistrates, for Hamilton County. And current Chief Magistrate Randy Russell was re-elected to lead the group.

Judicial commissioners sign warrants for searches and felony arrests, appoint attorneys for defendants who can’t afford legal aid, set bonds and assist Hamilton County courts.

The pay is $61,143 with benefits, and magistrates must be willing to work full time, all hours of the day. Chief magistrates earn an extra $5,000 per year.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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