Ousting Owens? Process starts to replace finance director

The newly reformed Claiborne Finance Committee met in special session on Oct. 30 primarily to hash out whether to kick-start a move to oust Claiborne Finance Director Sam Owens.

Six of the seven committee members voted in favor of handing the issue to the full Claiborne Commission during its next regular monthly meeting. Road superintendent Ronnie Pittman was the lone ‘no’ vote.

Claiborne county Mayor Joe Brooks said he had called the committee meeting as a result of several comments he received about county officeholders, during his campaign.

“It has been brought up to me on multiple occasions that the county was ready for some change in all the offices, and the county finance director was one of those. For me, personally, it’s nothing against who we have as director. But, I feel that somebody in that position needs to have a better grip on some of the county finances,” said Brooks.

He referred to the recent raid by the Tennessee and Federal Bureaus of Investigation concerning alleged criminal activities within the Claiborne Sheriff’s Office.

Wayne Lee, who is the former CCSO chief deputy, asked to speak.

“The TBI and FBI investigations have absolutely nothing to do with the finance director or the office of county mayor. It was an investigation solely against the sheriff of the county. The only reason that they went to the office of the mayor, and the only reason that they went to the finance director, was because that was where official records were held. That investigation had nothing to do with the finance director’s performance,” said Lee.

Brooks said he was glad Lee had brought the issue into the record.

“There have been many instances from the Comptroller’s Office (about) E-cigarettes – that the money hasn’t gone into the right account. There have been other instances from the Comptroller’s Office that monies have not been put into the right account. Those, I would think, would be something that the finance director could catch, and not be caught in Nashville,” said Brooks.

Owens then spoke.

“The investigation of the sheriff involved about $25 million-plus for five years and ten months. And, there was not a finding in his indictments relating to anybody in county finance. It was all on his (former CCSO sheriff David Ray) personal records,” said Owens.

Lee said that every record maintained personally by him over the last 12 years had been scrutinized by the FBI/TBI when the CCSO was raided earlier this year.

He said the two agencies confiscated every record going back six years.

“These records were examined minutely by the Comptroller’s Office for the last 12 years. And, there was not one finding of the financial dealings of the Sheriff’s Office. Not one. None of these indictments resulted in any financial transaction of a county nature. These indictments were purely the personal actions of the sheriff,” said Lee.

Commissioner Steve Brogan asked Owens to explain the apparent discrepancies between the totals shown on two documents having to do with the 101fund balance.

Brogan said the minutes from the last meeting of the old Finance Committee showed a balance of $534,000.

“You all who are on the commission will remember that our first meeting, we were handed the paper that had fund balances – it had a little (notation) on it that they didn’t have it, at the time,” said Brogan.

The fund balance document handed out during the October Commission meeting had another notation that indicated the balance was to be penciled in, according to Brogan.

“It was $364,000 for the fund balance in 101. Where’s the difference,” said Brogan.

Owens said the computer system at the Trustee’s Office was down the day he attempted to tally the total.

The two men spent a few moments disagreeing on whether the balance was actually on the document handed out during the commission meeting.

Owens was asked what the current balance was, as of Oct. 30. He said he didn’t know.

“We’re over the hump for this year, until the (end) of the year. I’m not checking it every day. I was, in September,” said Owens.

Brogan then asked Owens for the monthly billing total for Fund 101.

“It varies between $3million and $4 million, depending on what bills you pay,” said Owens.

Brogan questioned the amount, asking whether Owens’ estimate was per month for just the 101 balance.

Owens seemed momentarily confused.

Committee chairman Whitt Shuford stopped the questioning at that moment, and called for the vote.

Just prior to the roll call, Pittman asked to clarify that the vote would simply approve the issue for consideration by the full commission. He was assured that it was the case.

Committee member Mike Campbell and vice-chairman Anthony Rowe said during the roll call that they were voting in favor by the request of their constituents.

Directly after adjournment Campbell, and then Rowe, walked over to where Owens was sitting. Both men spent a moment, appearing to apologize for their votes.

The next regular monthly meeting of the full Claiborne Commission will occur at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 19, inside the large courtroom of the Claiborne Courthouse. The public is encouraged to attend these monthly meetings.