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Oak Ridge oversight group may be nuked

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Fate to be determined at Friday meeting

By Damon Lawrence

Susan Gawarecki holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, a master’s from Lehigh University and a doctorate from the University of South Carolina.

Despite those lofty credentials, Gawarecki, executive director of the Oak Ridge Reservation Local Oversight Committee, could soon find herself out of a job.

The committee’s purpose is to ensure that communities adjacent to and downstream of the Oak Ridge Reservation are protected during cleanup and continued operation of the facilities, many of which deal with nuclear materials.

The committee’s Board of Directors will have a special-called meeting on Friday at The Roane Alliance building in Kingston at 3 p.m.

Agenda items include a resolution to dissolve the local oversight committee and to appoint a legal representative to prepare such documents as are necessary and other transition issues.

Gawarecki has served as executive director of the committee for nearly 15 years. The move to dissolve it could mean the end of her employment. 

“I think it would probably be terminated immediately unless the board then turned around and said, ‘OK, we’re going to hire you under this other organization for a period of time,’” Board Member and Roane County Executive Ron Woody said.

Gawarecki said she was surprised by Friday’s agenda.

“No one had consulted with staff prior to us seeing this special notice,” she said.

The board voted 7-4 last month to transition the nonprofit organization “from a 501(c)(3) to an entity under a government fiscal agent.”

There is some confusion about exactly what that meant.\

“My understanding is it was dissolved, but it was going to transition out,” Woody said of the resolution approved in September. “In other words, the decision was made that it’s going to be over, but it’s going to take us a few months to finally wrap everything up.”

Gawarecki said she doubts an orderly change can happen if the board approves the items on Friday’s agenda. 

“There’s a great deal of uncertainty associated with this step,” she said. “It’s going to make the transition difficult if the current organization is dissolved.”

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 and Anderson, Knox, Loudon, Meigs, Morgan, Rhea and Roane counties.

Woody said the committee’s status as a 501(c)(3) exposed board members to certain legal liabilities.
He expressed those concerns when the board met on Sept. 9.

“The exposure we have may be minor,” Woody said. “Do we have some? We do. We have outstanding liabilities now of $20,000. If the state or DOE were to come through and say we’re not going to pay any more, folks, we have to ante up personally.”

Gawarecki broached the idea of obtaining director’s insurance to try and alleviate some of the concerns about liability.

“I’m a little surprised that that option was never explored,” she said.

Woody said governments offer certain securities, such as insurance, that could protect board members. 

“We have to protect the individuals that are serving in these capacities,” he said. “One way to do it is to put it under an umbrella, at least from the financial arrangements, of a government.”

Woody said the resolution filed with the board asks that Roane County act as the fiscal agent.

“Our county commission would have to approve the interlocal agreement,” he said. “They’d have to approve the interlocal agreement and the interlocal agreement sets us (Roane County) up as fiscal agent.”