This guest post is written by Carol Ross. On January 10th she spoke to the Commission about some of the questions she had regarding this proposed Authority and the Agenda Committee voted 18-0 (3 Commissioners were absent) to send it to the full Commission for a vote. This issue doesn’t need to be glossed over so quickly because it places tax dollars into the hands of another bureacracy which may need more accountablity than what is proposed. Thank you Carol for raising these important questions, that our Commissioners appeared to gloss over.
Smoky Mountain Tourism Authority Questions
by Carol Ross
On this month’s Commission agenda is proposed legislation to establish a Tourism Authority inBlountCounty. It also amends and rewords a previous act. Since the current act is not included in the online packet, I have no idea what the current legislation says. I do have several concerns/questions about the proposed Tourism Authority legislation. I addressed these at the Agenda meeting, but the Commission saw no reason to address them or to even discuss the proposed legislation. Some of these concerns/questions are as follows:
- This authority is a public-private partnership; the authority is a non-profit, tax exempt entity that appears to be able to act like a government entity; it is established by government, funded by a government established tax, BUT there is NO government oversight provision in the proposed legislation that I can find. They would be able to apply for Federal and State grants which would help with funding. They are not required to get permission from anyone to do this. Would the acceptance of these grants bring with it requirements for Blount County to comply with?
- This authority can take out loans and issue bonds. Where would BC or any of the cities stand if this “authority” defaulted on the loans that it can take out or the bonds it can issue? Section 29 says that none of the municipalities can be held liable for the payment of principal or interest – but there is a severability clause and this Section could be thrown out without impacting the others
- In an interview with the Daily Times Bryan Daniels stated, “Members of the board are still appointed by the (three) governments as oversight. The entity has to not only answer to three governments for its spending but also to the state comptroller.” Yes, the funding for the spending comes from Blount County because they collect it, but if I understand the legislation correctly, actions taken by this authority do not need to be approved by any of the governments. If anyone locates the Section that provides for government oversight in their actions, I would appreciate being told.
- Appointed member’s terms are for 6 years or until a successor is appointed; the member’s term is renewable, and I can find no limit on the number of terms that can be served. I think that 6 years is too long for one term, and it appears any person could serve for life.
- I wonder why it is worded so that the Blount County Commission gets to choose if the person on the Board will be the Mayor or a Commission member. Why is the Mayor even mentioned if the Commission is going to choose the representative? (Is this one of the word changes being made in this legislation?)
- It sounds like this authority will be able to condemn land and use eminent domain procedures if they need land for a project and the owner does not want to sell; it does not sound like the authority would be required to go though any of the local governments, but would rather be able to take the actions of a government entity.
- Since the members of this board are appointed by various entities, how responsive would they be to “the people”? Why would they need to be?