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Who gets TVA funds for public image?

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By Damon Lawrence

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

TVA’s proposal to distribute $1 million in public image repair funds doesn’t have the support of the Roane County Commission.

A resolution on the Aug. 11 agenda to accept the proposal was deferred. The commission also instructed County Executive Ron Woody to research the matter and write a letter to TVA.

The funds are part of the $43 million TVA made available to Roane County and its communities to make amends for the ash spill that occurred at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant.

The Roane County Economic Development Foundation was formed to distribute the money.

During its first public meeting on Sept. 16, 2009, Leslie Henderson, then president and CEO of The Roane Alliance, asked the board to consider funding a public relations campaign for the county because its image had been damaged by the disaster.

“I would like you to consider to put at least $1 million into that,” Henderson said at the time. “I think it will take at least that, if not more.”

During a meeting two weeks later, the board voted to earmark $1 million for public image repair.

“I don’t ever remember us saying anything specific on where it was going to go to,” Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said. “Not much was ever said about it, other than they were going to use that for public image repair for the county.”

Mason, Kingston Mayor Troy Beets and Rockwood Mayor James Watts have been members of the foundation board since its inception. TVA officials also serve on the foundation board.

“It was never designated,” Mason said about the $1 million. “It was just to go for public image repair for Roane County, but what entity it went to, whether it was County Commission or Roane Alliance or a city, it was never said.”

Mike Farmer was county executive and served on the foundation board at the time the $1 million was allocated for public image repair. Woody defeated him in the 2010 election.

Woody said the research he’s done so far indicates the money was allocated to the county.

“Here’s what we discovered,” Woody said. “There was minutes from ’09 where Beets made the motion to give a million dollars to the county for image repair, and Mason seconded it,” Woody said.

At the time the money was allocated, Beets was also a county commissioner.

“TVA started giving us a budget matrix, which showed the recipient of the money, the projects that recipient would have and the amount of those projects,” Woody said. “Roane County had $32 million for the schools, $30,000 for a Boyette study with The Alliance, $450,000 for the property tax we were losing and then $1 million for image repair.”

In a July 29 letter sent to Woody and the city mayors, TVA proposes that the $1 million be divvied up with Kingston and Harriman each receiving $375,000, Roane County receiving $150,000 and Rockwood receiving $100,000.

“In my opinion, the justification for that was the county got $32 million, so they have already gotten enough, but you’d have to talk to TVA,” Mason said. “I really don’t know.”

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the foundation board asked TVA to put forth a proposal for the funds.

“The allocation was based on a review of essentially how the other $42 million was divided,” Brooks said. “This is only a proposal, and must be reviewed and approved by the foundation board whenever they convene to do so, at the discretion of the board chair.”

Mason said he doesn’t have a problem with the proposal.

“I can’t say no to $375,000,” he said. “I think we (the city of Harriman) can do a lot of good with it.”

Some commissioners are under the impression that the $1 million is supposed to go to Roane County.

“The confusion that I have is as I understood it, they were going to give Roane County $1 million,” Commissioner Ron Berry said.

Woody said he’s never heard any talk of divvying up the money during the foundation meetings.

“I’ve only been to a few meetings because that’s all they’ve had since I’ve been in office,” Woody said. “When they talked about it, they talked about it as a project, not as a division. All the discussion until TVA sent its letter out was about pulling together.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called the ash spill one of the worst environmental disasters in history.

Mason said an argument can be made that the images of Kingston and Harriman have been most damaged by the spill.

“Was it? I don’t know,” he said. “I guess you’d have to hire an economist now to go back and tell us for sure, and that would probably cost more than $1 million to do that.”

Woody said Friday that he was still in the process of crafting a letter to send to TVA on the issue.

“I represent the county,” Woody said. “The argument I have to make is in regard to the county. It appears that it’s in everyone’s best interest to have one big project, or at least the mayors, the foundation and governments come together on a decision instead of having TVA divide the money up.”

Berry said he wouldn’t mind seeing the entire $1 million in public image repair funds go to The Roane Alliance, which is the county’s economic development organization.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us as a county to use that money in a way that benefits the entire county rather than divvying it up into smaller pieces for the cities,” he said.

“I think The Roane Alliance is a perfect tool for us to use to do that with, and show once and for all this is Roane County and we need to act together as a county.”