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Brakes applied on LOC dissolution

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By Damon Lawrence

The Oak Ridge City Council passed a resolution this week that directs its mayor — Tom Beehan — to not vote for the dissolution of the Oak Ridge Reservation Local Oversight Committee.
The committee’s board of directors, on which Beehan serves, is scheduled to have a special meeting today (Friday) at The Roane Alliance Building in Kingston at 3 p.m.
A resolution to dissolve the committee, a sort of watchdog on U.S. Department of Energy activities in and around Oak Ridge, is on the agenda.
“We directed him not to vote to dissolve the LOC until such time as the various things that are supposed to be in place are ready to go,” Oak Ridge City Councilwoman Ellen Smith said.
Roane County Executive Ron Woody, who also serves on the Local Oversight Committee board, said his office sent out notice of the special meeting last week.
Smith, who is chairwoman of the Local Oversight Committee, said she was surprised to see what was on the agenda.
“I had understood that the mayors were going to meet and develop a plan for a new structure and that structure would be established before the LOC was dissolved,” Smith said.
The Local Oversight Committee, which is funded through grants, was established in the early 1990s to represent the communities affected most directly by Department of Energy activities in Oak Ridge.
The committee is governed by officials from the different communities, which include the city of Oak Ridge, Anderson, Knox, Loudon, Meigs, Morgan, Rhea and Roane counties.
On Sept. 9 the Local Oversight Committee board voted 7-4 to transition the organization “from a 501(c)(3) to an entity under a government fiscal agent.”
“The new special meeting is once again to dissolve the LOC, which looks to me like it was rescinding the resolution that was passed at the Sept. 9 meeting,” Smith said.
Smith said she drafted the resolution that directs Beehan not to vote for dissolving the LOC. 
“I haven’t read the details of that one, but it sounds almost like she was asking the city of Oak Ridge not to support it,” Woody said.
Woody said he’s troubled by the LOC’s status as a nonprofit because it makes board members vulnerable to certain legal and financial liabilities.
He said he prefers to see it operate under the umbrella of a government.
Woody said other board members have also expressed displeasure that the LOC has two paid staffers in executive director Susan Gawarecki and administrative assistant Joyce Cardwell.
“It doesn’t make sense to me, either, that we would have two staff members and an office,” Woody said. “I don’t see that there’s that much they have done for us in the past that they can articulate to me.”
Gawarecki said she attends a lot of meetings on DOE issues.
“We get a lot of documents that we review for technical issues,” she said. “I also go to the monthly staff meetings for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, their oversight division. That’s where I often learn about a lot of the issues that the state’s concerned about.”
Gawarecki said she also meets with people and sends out a lot of emails.
“It’s really looking at what’s coming up with various environmental decisions is the primary focus, but
also things that are happening in the emergency management areas,” she said.
Several people spoke out in favor of the Local Oversight Committee’s current setup at last month’s meeting.
“The integrity and the credibility of LOC is like no other,” said Elizabeth Peelle, whose husband is a former Roane County commissioner. “It’s an independent group that speaks to all of us and to all our jurisdictions. I think it’s power and influence, which has been considerable, comes from that.”
Oak Ridge City Councilwoman Anne Garcia Garland also said she didn’t like the idea of changing the Local Oversight Committee.
“The proposal to distribute its responsibilities to other organizations, I believe, is shortsighted,” she said. “Most of those organizations have missions of their own and would not give the dedication that this group has given to oversight.”