County initially votes no on LCS bonuses, discovers motion actually passed

During the regular meeting of the Lincoln County Commission that took place last Tuesday, a motion was made to authorize a one-time bonus of $500 to all regular employees of the Lincoln County School system. This bonus would apply to all full-time and part-time employees; however, it would not apply to irregular employees such as substitute teachers. The motion appeared to fail, falling one vote short of the required 13 for passing; however, upon review of the regulations concerning voting procedure, it was discovered that a number of abstentions had actually lowered the vote threshold to 12, meaning that the motion granted to authorize the LCS bonuses actually passed.

The motion to authorize these bonuses was passed on to the commission from the budget committee and was recorded in the minutes from that meeting as a “$500 one-time bonus to school employees.” These bonuses were approved by the Lincoln County Board of education on November 2, 2020; however, the motion had to be approved by both the county budget committee and the County Commission to become actionable.

Once brought to the attention of the commission, Commissioner Taylor made a motion for acceptance which was seconded by Commissioner Dangerfield.

Prior to the vote, the commission was prompted by Mayor Newman for questions or comments, whereupon Commissioner Thorpe inquired into what instigated the idea to provide LCS employees with the proposed bonuses, specifically citing the stress of COVID-19 as a potential reason. County Finance Director Cole Bradford was then called upon to answer this question, to which he said the following: “What the board did, what they asked me to do, is evaluate how we ended FY 20. We all expected sales tax to drop; that did not happen. So, as of FY 19-20, sales tax came in around $221,000 better than expected on the school side. And then the other side [of the Board’s reasoning] – since school shut down in April, [the school system] had utilities and diesel fuel for buses that we didn’t have [in operation], so those costs combined… came in about $262,000 better than expected. The Board didn’t want to do a cost of living or a recurring cost, but they did want to do a one-time bonus because we did have revenues come in better than expected.”

Following Bradford’s explanation, Commissioners Bryant and Guntherburg then abstained from the vote, Guntherburg explicitly citing a conflict of interest due to his presence on the Lincoln County School Board.

The vote was then taken, resulting in a vote that consisted of 4 abstentions, 4 absent, 4 votes of no, and 12 votes of yes. As the required number of affirmative votes for the motion to pass was understood to be 13, the motion failed due to a lack of a majority.

Following the meeting, however, a review was conducted by The Elk Valley Times, Mayor Bill Newman, and a number of County Commissioners into the TCA laws governing such a vote, discovering the following text under TCA 5-5-102 (c)(3)(B): “If, however, a member abstains from voting because of a statutory conflict of interest, that member is not counted for purposes of determining the number necessary for a majority.” Since for members of the commission abstained on the grounds of a conflict of interest, the requisite number of votes for a majority was thus 12, which happened to be exactly how many affirmative votes the motion received.

Following this discovery, the Times spoke to Mayor Bill Newman about rectifying this error, whereupon he said, “The bottom line – it did pass with twelve. It was declared that the motion failed based on the advice given by the County Attorney/Parliamentarian.” Mayor Newman then clarified further that the regular employees of Lincoln County Schools will, in fact, receive the proposed bonus.

Each regular LCS employee will be getting an extra $500 this year, just in time for Christmas.