Former Unicoi recorder retains attorney to address request for repayment

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 15, 2018 at 10:44 PM

UNICOI - The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s efforts to recoup approximately $14,000 in health insurance premium payments from former Town Recorder Mike Housewright remain on hold.

Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis told the board Monday that since its last meeting, Housewright responded to the town’s repeated communications on the issue by referring the matter to an attorney.

The problem now, Shuts-Davis said, is Housewright’s attorney is not responding to the town’s requests for a meeting.

“Will we keep trying to set up that meeting?” she said.

In an related amendment of the town’s personnel policy, the board voted to remove to eliminate a two-month wait time for newly hired employees to enroll in the town’s health insurance plan.

The plan continues the town’s previously codified payment of the cost of individual health insurance premiums for all employees and employees’ payment of any additional premiums for spousal or family coverage.

The town contends that during his nearly year-and-a-half tenure as town recorder, Housewright improperly used town funding to pay health insurance premiums for his spouse.

Mayor Johnny Lynch has characterized the payments a mistake and said the same mistake led Housewright to offer town payment of spousal insurance premiums for Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning.

The board voted in August to continue paying the premiums for Manning’s spouse through Jan. 1.

In an update on the kitchen, Manning told the board Mountain Harvest completed its first year of operation in September and exceeded several first-year goals.

She said the kitchen reached more than 7,000 people in its first 12 months through tours, classes and exhibits, and assisted in the start of 12 businesses, the creation of 13 jobs and the private business investment of more than $88,000. First -year kitchen revenues were $18,449, not including $106,000 in grant funding.

In addition to getting the kitchen up and running and establishing its policies and procedures, Manning said first-year accomplishments included the initiation of partnerships that will be important to growing future revenues from the kitchen.

She said interest in classes at the kitchen was clearly shown during the first year and development of a curriculum for business entrepreneurs will be a primary focus during the kitchen’s second year.

In other business Monday, Alderman Jeff Linville, chairman of a committee appointed to explore the city of Johnson City’s intended used of the former Buffalo Valley Golf Course property, reported that the committee will meet with Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson on Friday.

Town Recorder Michael Borders told the board the city has received both state and town permits to remove about an acre of topsoil from the golf course property but has not yet begun work on the project.

In an update on the town’s grant-funded capital projects, Borders said engineers have begun work on the design of a multi-use trail to connect the Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail to the Maple Grove shopping center and a site plan for the farmers market pavilion at Mountain Harvest Kitchen. Plans for both projects are expected to be completed in about 60 days.

According to Borders, the nearly $429,000 trail project is being funded with a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and approximately $129,000 in grant match funding from the town.

The farmers market pavilion is being funded through a $85,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Health that also includes funding for healthy food choices and outdoor activity programming at the kitchen.

Borders said construction of an amphitheater on a town-owned tract of property between the kitchen and town’s tourist information and visitor center will not begin for at least six months due to training requirements attached to a $248,000 ARC grant for the project. The town will be allowed to use the $248,000 value of the property as a match for the amphitheater grant.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.


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