In 2006, the Johnson City Power Board voted to make a $500,000 commitment to East Tennessee State University to help establish a new pharmacy school at the university. That contribution immediately came under fire by then-Johnson City Commissioner Pete Paduch, who suggested the Power Board had violated its own charter by agreeing to contribute $50,000 annually to the project over a 10-year period.
Tom McKee, the Power Board’s attorney, argued the financial commitment to the pharmacy school was perfectly acceptable since it was not a charitable donation, but rather an investment in economic development.
He and other supporters of the donation said a pharmacy school at ETSU would allow students from the region to learn the profession while remaining close to home. They said the economic impact of the pharmacy school would benefit not only Johnson City and Washington County, but the entire Upstate region.
As Press staff writer Nathan Baker reported last month, McKee and other Power Board officials are making a similar argument today in regard to a contribution the public utility has made to ETSU’s fine and performing arts center project. They believe the $500,000 one-time contribution to the $38 million project will help drive economic development in the region.
“When you look at the growth at ETSU in the past four years, we have picked up new commercial buildings on campus,” Power Board Chairwoman Jenny Brock told her colleagues. “In looking at helping the university get this thing out of the ground and up and going, it’s good business for us, and it’s good business for the citizens in our community.
“The minute they open their doors, people are going to be in town spending their money, restaurants will be popping up, which means new customers for us, so I think this is one of those projects we look at and say, ‘Does this fit our mandate from the TVA Tennessee Valley Authority) for us to become involved in it?’ ”
We’d like to hear from you. Do you agree with the Power Board’s decision to donate $500,000 to ETSU’s performing arts center?
Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717 Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification. We will print your responses on the Opinion pages soon.