The technical issues that brought Bradley County’s Healthy Community Initiative (HCI) 2019 grant process to a halt will undergo a legal review.
The Bradley County Commission approved Monday to request County Attorney Crystal Freiberg to opine on the HCI Committee reconsidering some applications that were eliminated for technical reasons.
For the 2019 grant cycle, $114,487.75 is available to be presented as grants.
The HCI Committee met earlier this month to recap the 2019 grant cycle, including the letters of intent rejected for technical insufficiencies, and the projects invited to submit full applications. However, HCI Committee Chairperson Lisa Stanbery said a few things had come up since the last meeting on Oct. 10.
Stanbery asked HCI grant administrator Lorri Moultrie to discuss those concerns with the committee.
Moultrie said Cameron Fisher, chairman of the Cleveland/Bradley County Greenway Committee, hand-delivered that committee’s letter of intent to her office and asked if she could look it over, which she did.
Moultrie noted there was a certificate from the Tennessee Department of Revenue, declaring the organization as tax-exempt, as well as a letter from Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett “to approve them soliciting funds for a charitable purpose.”
"So when Cameron left my office, he left confident that he had submitted a letter of intent that was technically sound," Moultrie said, adding everything appeared to be in order to her.
However, that was not the case.
"I let him walk away without an EIN number," Moultrie said.
An EIN, or employer identification number, is a number assigned by the IRS. It's used to identify the tax accounts of employers and certain others who have no employees. The IRS uses the number to identify taxpayers who are required to file various business tax returns.
Moultrie told the committee she thought that because the letter of intent for the greenway request included the tax-exempt certificate and letter allowing soliciting funds, that it was complete.
Moultrie asked “that as the point of contact and since I sent him away thinking that he had a technically sound letter of intent, I respectfully ask that this committee reconsider their letter of intent and their project.”
Continuing, Moultrie said another application that was denied from continuing the current application process because of listing no EIN has previously been fully funded without including the EIN.
Moultrie said Bradley County Parks and Recreation submitted a letter of intent, but did not have the EIN. She noted Parks and Recreation’s 2017 grant request for items including a pickleball court at the Bradley County Recreation Park was funded without the EIN included on the application.
After more discussion, the committee approved a motion to ask the county commission to allow the county attorney to review the information and give an opinion on how the committee should move forward.
During Monday’s county commission meeting, Commissioner Bill Winters presented the request from the HCI Committee for a legal opinion.
Vice Chairman Thomas Crye said he has a few issues with this request, among them that previous projects have been approved for HCI grants without including an EIN in the application. He added that was the technicality this year for the Parks and Recreation and city of Charleston requests to be thrown out.
Crye made a substitute motion to send all letters of intent received to the HCI Committee for reconsideration, allowing all forms to be corrected.
Commissioner Milan Blake asked Freiberg if the substitute motion would be breaking the law by asking the committee to revisit the letters of intent. He also noted that HCI grants do not come from tax dollars, but from interest on the principal from the sale of the hospital.
Freiberg said she has not looked at this yet because the county commission hasn’t asked her to. She said under the original motion she would look at the rules put in place by the county commission and the committee, since it began.
“You all have the right to direct (the committee) as you see fit,” Freiberg said, adding there are no legal issues.
Blake recommended in the future that the county commission review the HCI Committee’s entire process. He also questioned how the county departments that receive HCI grants are using their budget money to pay for projects and then get reimbursed from HCI; he said nonprofit organizations that apply, and are approved, don’t have that opportunity.
Blake recommended that review take place after the current HCI grant cycle is done.
Commissioner Howard Thompson said the county commission is responsible for the money from the sale of the hospital. He added the county commission could take over the responsibilities of the HCI Committee.
Winters said the HCI Committee members are appointed by the county commission. He added he believes the first step is to hear from Freiberg “before we make a move to override the committee.”
Commissioner Charlotte Peak said it may be a good idea to have a work session on the HCI Committee. She also questioned if the county commission has the authority to approve the letters of intent denied due to technical issues.
Freiberg said the county commission has that authority.
Blake said he was at the recent HCI Committee meeting and said that board is working through its process, adding the county commission approved the committee calendar.
“They’re just trying to adhere to the calendar,” he said.
According to that calendar, the committee’s recommendation to the county commission was due on Nov. 11.
Blake agreed the county commission has the “final say-so,” but he doesn’t want the commissioners to be perceived as “the IRS” in this process. Blake added he believes Freiberg needs to render an opinion.
Commissioner Erica Davis said she likes having the HCI Committee and asking Freiberg for an opinion, but is concerned about setting precedent and if commissioners will be having the same discussion next year if forms aren’t filled out correctly.
Commissioner Dennis Epperson said he thinks the county commission needs to be careful, adding the commissioners don’t have details.
“I think we need more than what we have to move forward on this,” Epperson said.
Peak said she understands the issues with the denied letters of intent are “so minor and technical,” and questioned how long it will take to get Freiberg’s opinion. She also questioned how long that process might delay the HCI Committee in awarding grants.
Blake said the HCI Committee has already set a meeting to hear Freiberg’s opinion. The committee is scheduled to reconvene on Monday, Dec. 9, at 5 p.m., to consider what Freiberg has approved for the committee to review.
Crye said he feels the HCI Committee caused “this ruckus” and stood behind his substitute motion to send the issue back to that committee to correct it.
The substitute motion — to direct the HCI Committee to allow the letters of intent to be corrected — failed in a 9-5 vote.
The original motion — to request Freiberg opine on the HCI Committee reconsidering some applications that were eliminated for technical reasons — was approved unanimously.
HCI was established by the Bradley County Commission in 2007 with proceeds from the sale of Bradley Memorial Hospital. The endowment was designated to improve the health, wellness and quality of life for the residents of Bradley County. The principal cannot be spent and 15% of the interest earned each year is required to be invested in the principal so that the value of the money does not erode the principal over time.
HCI defines healthcare as programs or projects that have the purpose of serving unmet healthcare needs within the community regardless of the ability to pay. Wellness is defined as programs or projects that have the purpose of educating the community on the physical and mental aspects of maintaining and improving one’s health, and quality of life is defined as programs or services that enhance or improve the physical and mental health of the residents of Bradley County.
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