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(Possibly not) bad planner behavior: county planning director has not returned unauthorized bonus three months later

JNA

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The county commission repeatedly rejected a bonus for Schuettler during the budget process, but Planning Commission Chair Jerry Pearman wrote a letter to Finance Director Brad Burke asking for the money. Burke signed off on a direct deposit even though the full commission never approved it.

"Pretty cut and dry," Burke said. "I approved the check to be issued and realized later on that I shouldn't have."


Schuettler has been asked by county leaders to give the bonus back, but three months later, he hasn't returned the money.
 

AG74683

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There's got to be some sides of this story that we aren't hearing. My guess is that the bonus was promised, probably some sort of handshake agreement or some back door thing. Why would a Planning Director for a county like Carter be receiving a 15k bonus in the first place? Carter isn't a particularly large county, and a significant portion of it is within the Cherokee National Forest.

Frankly I'd have immediately fired the Finance Director and removed the Planning Commission Chair. Clearly the ethics violation resides with the Chair, and the Finance Director should have verified with his superior before cutting a check for freaking 15k, especially since his involvement in the budget would probably be fairly substantial. He should have known the bonus was denied.
 

JNA

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Previous article
Carter County Commission rescinds planning director's bonus

another in a series of defeats for the Planning Commission in an attempt to gain compensation for work done outside the normal scope of planning and zoning duties.

Although the County Commission had previously appointed Schuettler as a project manager, there had not been an agreement on compensation for the additional work.
 

Dan

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I never heard of bonuses for any planner working in the public sector. Maybe a small holiday or longevity bonus of the kind that every employee at an organization would get, but not the kind of performance bonus you see in the private sector.
 

AG74683

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I never heard of bonuses for any planner working in the public sector. Maybe a small holiday or longevity bonus of the kind that every employee at an organization would get, but not the kind of performance bonus you see in the private sector.
Yeah that's exactly what I was getting at. It seems weird and probably not completely on the up and up. That second article sheds a little more light on it, but it's still an odd thing. That whole system of government there seems weird though. I don't quite understand what all is going on. At the end of the day, it seems like the ethics issue lies with both the Commission and the Planning Commission Chair, not so much the planner. Yes, he was foolish not to get a written contract regarding payment for that outside work that was given to him. Basically the Commission seems to have scammed him into an additional workload with the empty promise of a bonus that they never really intended to give. The PC Chair tried to make it right, but he did it fraudulently knowing full well he had no authority to go to the Finance Director that way.

Either way, I can add Carter County to my list of places to never work.
 
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Dan

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Just Googledriving thrugh Elizabethtown and checking out the sights. The place has more than its fair share of dollar stores, closeout stores, and gas stations. So, so many gas stations.

Looks like a standard small town downtown that's seen better days. The main street looks like a one-way speedway. Clean, but uninspiring, with lots of "Grandma's Attic"-type stores like this ...

Fine dining.

Like I said, fine dining.

Welcome hunters.

Retail fronting the sidewalk!

The entire building is a sign. As the rest of the world says, that's a violation.

Kunstler's head would explode at the sight of this.

I'll give them some credit for the (relative) lack of billboards. Pole signs are unnecessarily tall, though.

Where the Walmart used to be.

The place should be rolling in money, since this place is getting half of the paychecks of every auto mechanic in the US.

Lots of classic planning mistakes. The hospital and high school campus on the outskirts of town. A beautiful river that's hiden away from the public realm. 3/10.
 

DVD

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I personally like the guy taking off his shirt across the street and the guy checking him out. (first link)
 

dw914er

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It personally reads as if the bonus was compensation for an out-of-classification role the person was doing. That said, why a Planning Commission is voting on salaries and issuing a request for payment for an employee is crazy.
 

Dan

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It personally reads as if the bonus was compensation for an out-of-classification role the person was doing. That said, why a Planning Commission is voting on salaries and issuing a request for payment for an employee is crazy.
I wonder if Tennessee is similar to Ohio, where a "planning commission" isn't just a review and decision-making body, but a full-blown agency. The "commission" includes elected officials (or altenates) and appointees. From ORC:

"The county planning commission may employ engineers, accountants, consultants, and employees as are necessary, and make purchases as may be needed to the furtherance of its operation.

The county planning commission may accept, receive, and expend funds, grants, and services from the federal government or its agencies, from departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of this state or any adjoining state, from one or more counties of this state or any adjoining state, from any municipal corporation or political subdivision of this or any adjoining state, including a county, regional, and municipal planning commission of this or any adjoining state, or from civic sources, may contract with respect thereto, either separately, jointly, or cooperatively, and may provide information and reports as may be necessary to secure such financial aid."
 

WSU MUP Student

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Previous article
Carter County Commission rescinds planning director's bonus
This just leaves me with even more questions!

• Why would the county "hire" an existing employee to also work as a project manager on some construction projects?
• Is this kind of thing common in some area? It would never fly here and I'm pretty sure I'd have a call from corporation counsel would laugh you out of their offices if you even suggested it.
• If the planning director was promised this much money, why would he take on this responsibility without a written contract?
• Plus all the other questions everybody else has raised...
 

Doohickie

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• Why would the county "hire" an existing employee to also work as a project manager on some construction projects?
I think a parallel situation might be to hire someone has a history teacher at a high school, then ask him to be the baseball coach. And if the agreement was that he would do it for $15k, that sounds like a lot more efficient use of public money than hiring another fulltime employee.

• If the planning director was promised this much money, why would he take on this responsibility without a written contract?
If he's been there a while there could be a level of trust he was comfortable with. It only takes one or two people on the county commission to upset that apple cart.


My impression is that, minus the paper trail, this was a case of the guy was asked to assume additional duties and he agreed to it, but it wasn't adequately documented. Now that the public spotlight is on it, people like the finance director are backing away from their actions because they're worried about possible criminal charges or other repercussions. And maybe there was a case of they had a project coming up that required a manager and after exhausting other possibilities, asked him to take it, possibly with the best intentions of compensating him for it, but the project was starting, they needed a commitment from him, he agreed, with the assumption that all the proper traps would be run to approve his compensation for it. Then the commission didn't approve it and the commissioner realized the dollar value was within his authority so he just did it on his own. Probably would not have been an issue if he just did that, but having already been rejected by the commission didn't leave a good look.

Sprinkle in some big personalities and it makes for interesting news.
 

Planit

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I've driven through Elizabethton & its as the pictures show. Nothing overly special.

I was recently appointed project manager for the big project downtown, but did not receive extra compensation. I was just told to do it as part of my responsibilities. It never occurred to me to ask for additional compensation. I guess I'm not a stable genius.
 

mendelman

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I wonder if Tennessee is similar to Ohio, where a "planning commission" isn't just a review and decision-making body, but a full-blown agency. The "commission" includes elected officials (or altenates) and appointees. From ORC:

"The county planning commission may employ engineers, accountants, consultants, and employees as are necessary, and make purchases as may be needed to the furtherance of its operation.

The county planning commission may accept, receive, and expend funds, grants, and services from the federal government or its agencies, from departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of this state or any adjoining state, from one or more counties of this state or any adjoining state, from any municipal corporation or political subdivision of this or any adjoining state, including a county, regional, and municipal planning commission of this or any adjoining state, or from civic sources, may contract with respect thereto, either separately, jointly, or cooperatively, and may provide information and reports as may be necessary to secure such financial aid."
Likely a separate agency with hiring and compensation decision making. I actually interviewed with a County Planning Commission in OH years ago that was setup this way. And my current County used to have such a Commission until about 8-10 years ago when it stopped functioning 'correctly' and was turned into an appointed Commission under the County Commissioners' administrative umbrella.
 

Whose Yur Planner

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In my native state, the Planning Commission was a separate entity. Technically they did the hiring, firing, etc. My staff and I were were employees of the Planning Commission. We were also employees of the two counties I worked for. The County handled the paychecks, retirement, etc.
 

AG74683

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I wonder if Tennessee is similar to Ohio, where a "planning commission" isn't just a review and decision-making body, but a full-blown agency. The "commission" includes elected officials (or altenates) and appointees. From ORC:

"The county planning commission may employ engineers, accountants, consultants, and employees as are necessary, and make purchases as may be needed to the furtherance of its operation.

The county planning commission may accept, receive, and expend funds, grants, and services from the federal government or its agencies, from departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of this state or any adjoining state, from one or more counties of this state or any adjoining state, from any municipal corporation or political subdivision of this or any adjoining state, including a county, regional, and municipal planning commission of this or any adjoining state, or from civic sources, may contract with respect thereto, either separately, jointly, or cooperatively, and may provide information and reports as may be necessary to secure such financial aid."
It looks to be that way, and appears to be set up legislatively at the state level. The second article alludes to that, and looks like there has been a significant rub between the county commission and the planning commission.
 

dw914er

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I wonder if Tennessee is similar to Ohio, where a "planning commission" isn't just a review and decision-making body, but a full-blown agency. The "commission" includes elected officials (or altenates) and appointees. From ORC:

"The county planning commission may employ engineers, accountants, consultants, and employees as are necessary, and make purchases as may be needed to the furtherance of its operation.

The county planning commission may accept, receive, and expend funds, grants, and services from the federal government or its agencies, from departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of this state or any adjoining state, from one or more counties of this state or any adjoining state, from any municipal corporation or political subdivision of this or any adjoining state, including a county, regional, and municipal planning commission of this or any adjoining state, or from civic sources, may contract with respect thereto, either separately, jointly, or cooperatively, and may provide information and reports as may be necessary to secure such financial aid."
Thanks for the clarification, Dan; that explains how the commission could direct the issuance of the check. In this case, it does sound as if the director was hired to do that work, but was never officially memorialized.
 

Dan

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Thanks for the clarification, Dan; that explains how the commission could direct the issuance of the check. In this case, it does sound as if the director was hired to do that work, but was never officially memorialized.
Just to clarify - I quoted from Ohio statutes. Tennessee law seem similar.

13-3-103. Organization of regional planning commissions

Each regional planning commission shall elect its chair from among its appointed members. The term of the chair shall be one (1) year with eligibility for reelection. The commission may create and fill such other offices as it may determine. It has the power to appoint and fix the compensation of an executive engineer secretary, who shall preferably be qualified by training and experience in city, regional or state planning; provided, that any such appointment shall be subject to the approval of the (state) department of economic and community development. It has the power and authority to appoint and fix the compensation of such other employees and staff as it may deem necessary for its work, and may contract with planners and other experts for such service as it may require. ...


Basically, like Ohio, a "county planning commission" is a quasi-independent body headed by elected officials and appointed members, more so than a county government agency or department.
 

AG74683

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How would the Planning Commission chair have the authority to take money from the general fund of the county when it seems like that's a totally separate entity? For us NC people, I few it similarly to a sanitary district.
 

Maister

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How would the COUNTY Planning Commission chair have the authority to take money from the general fund of the county when it seems like that's a totally separate entity?
Fixed that for you.
 

Dan

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How would the Planning Commission chair have the authority to take money from the general fund of the county when it seems like that's a totally separate entity? For us NC people, I few it similarly to a sanitary district.
It's "quasi-separate", in a way. The budget may still come from the county, and planning commission employees have the same benefits, rules, etc as other county employees.

It's hard to describe, but it's as if an Ohio/Tennessee county planning commission is the direct governing body of county planning-related functions, with some executive- and legislative-level functions; not just an advisory and decision-making arm of a legislative body. The Planning Commission is sldo more of a planning governing body than just an implementation body. Maybe someone else can explain it better.
 

DVD

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County departments seem to run independent of each other. They rely on the commission to set a budget, but after that the commission has no say on what they spend it on. The county I worked at, each elected official was an empire to themselves to the point that they didn't even need to follow all the county adopted policies. They did for the most part unless it was one they specifically disagreed with.
 
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