The efforts of Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell to postpone appointing two new members to the Public Building Authority (PBA) have paid off.
Those appointments have been delayed until the March meeting of the Coffee County Commission.
Cordell convinced the Coffee County Rural Caucus and most members of the county commission that approving new candidates for PBA seats now would rock the relationship between the county and Manchester City and be detrimental to joint projects, such as improving the infrastructure at I-24’s Exit 105.
While putting an application process in place was cited as the main reason for the delay during the county commission’s meeting, Cordell said the main motivation for the county’s delay was to keep a good relationship with the city.
The seven-member PBA owns and operates the financially troubled Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center.
The county commission was expected to vote for two new PBA members after the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) issued an opinion in November, stating the county commission is the only governing body authorized to appoint members to the PBA.
According to CTAS, which provides technical consulting to assist county government operations, the appointments of Jewell Noblitt and Richard Dix to the PBA by Manchester City without the approval of the county commission are not valid. That leaves only five lawful board directors until the county commission votes for new members.
The City of Manchester, the City of Tullahoma and rural Coffee County are each represented by two board members on PBA and the seventh member is designated at-large.
The Manchester, Tullahoma and Rural caucuses discuss the candidates, the county mayor makes nominations, and the county commission has the final vote on board members.
On Monday, two candidates – Zach Lowry and Richard Brooks – expressed interest in the rural seat on PBA and made presentations to the rural caucus.
Lowry works for QuantiTech at Arnold Engineering Development Complex.
“I have lived in Coffee County most of my life,” Lowry said. “I graduated from MTSU with a master’s degree in computer science and mathematics. I have been reading the statutes and attended PBA meetings. The biggest problem I see is the obvious budget overruns and the lack of progress toward trying to meet their budget. I want to serve and make fiscally responsible decisions.”
Member of the caucus Emily Howes told Lowry it had been brought to her attention that “you don’t like the Frenches,” referring to the General Manager of the Center Rebecca French and her husband, Manchester City Alderman Ryan French.
“I don’t know the Frenches,” Ryan said. “The only interaction I had was on social media. I responded to something as a constituent and he [Ryan French] blocked me.”
Richard Brooks also expressed interest in serving on the PBA.
“I am the owner of Templar Shooting Sports in Tullahoma,” Brooks said. “I grew up all over the country and I am a military veteran so I have travelled all over the country and the world.”
Brooks said he has extensive business experience and is ready to serve.
“I have been involved with business and I have a successful small business,” Brooks said. “This is our tax dollars. You on the county commission have the final say on how those dollars are spent.
“The conference center was sold to the county as something that was supposed to make money or, at least, break even,” Brooks continued. “Here we are 17 years later, and it’s still draining the county’s coffers. There are problems there that have been identified, we have to approach these problems from a business standpoint.
“If we can get the conference center supporting itself, we can give the sheriff some money to pay his folks a decent wage, so he can keep retention at the sheriff’s office. I know how to find business solutions, I know how to cut expenditures. I know spending has to be done in some places in order to profit from others.”
Cordell asked the caucus to delay recommending prospective PBA board member to the county commission, which was set to meet the following day, but at that point caucus members didn’t agree with him and decided to support the candidates.
Four caucus members supported Lowry and four supported Brooks, but all agreed either candidate would be a good choice.
Cordell changed his mind before the end of the caucus meeting and also supported Brooks.
All members agreed to recommend both candidates to the county commission, which was set to make the final decision on Tuesday.
The full commission decided to delay any appointments and instead implement an application process for candidates who wish to serve on the PBA and on other county committees.
Commissioner Missy Deford was the only one who did not agree with postponing PBA appointments.
While commissioners chose to wait for an application process to be in place before appointing members to the PBA, they did vote for new members of several other county committees.
Commissioner Dennis Hunt said having an application process for PBA is particularly important.
“The PBA oversees the conference center,” Hunt said. “The conference center is one of the few government entities in this county that is expected to make a profit. Every other entity in this county is spending money. We attempt for that business there to be in the black, not the red.”
An application process would ensure the selected individual will have management skills to help the conference center operate in the black, said Hunt.
Elena Cawley can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.