Burke offers immediate resignation following Finance Department confusion – www.elizabethton.com
BY IVAN SANDERS
As the Carter County Commission’s regular August meeting opened its session, many knew what was weighing heavily on the minds of all in attendance and whether the Commission could come to a resolution regarding the local animal shelter and its funding.
However, the issue of animal control took precedence over the sudden resignation of Brad Burke as CFO and his job status in terms of closing the books and training new staff.
One of the main concerns was what capacity Burke had been serving in since Carolyn Watson had been hired to replace him.
During the Financial Management Committee’s report to the Commission, Chairperson Ginger Holdren explained to the Commission that “Mr. Burke had resigned but also asked the committee to stay. The finance committee took his request into consideration and along with other elected officials in the room, the committee voted in favor of his resignation and moved forward.
“We told Mr. Burke that we expected him to train the new person, but he didn’t train anyone in that department. So there is no one really ready to intervene. However, these ladies (new Chief Financial Officer Carolyn Watson and Deputy Chief Financial Officer Audra Gerty) are ready to take on the duties,” Holdren said.
Holdren further explained that no records or computers were shared with anyone by Burke. When ministries were asked if their books had been closed for the previous year of 2020-21, some answered “no”, while others said they did not know.
“People have questions that haven’t been answered,” Holdren added. “There are reasons to be afraid and I don’t know the answer.”
The Chair asked the Commission to be patient as Watson and Gerty work through the learning process and encouraged Commissioners not to pick on them as mistakes will be made and there will be many of “I don’t know”.
“Hopefully Carolyn will have one, two or three trained to fill her position when she retires,” commented Holdren.
There has been a lot of talk among the commissioners about ways to handle the issue with questions about everything from a recent issue with employee paychecks to whether Burke should be considered a contract employee.
County Attorney Josh Hardin added there was nothing illegal or inappropriate that he knew of, although there are concerns about it.
Commissioner Brad Johnson shared his thoughts saying, “We are running a multi-million dollar business and we just went through a budgeting process. We have a new director and as a committee we asked him if he could train. We end a year and start a new year.
“I walked by the office and found my finance manager filing paperwork and he says I think we can do it and arrogantly refused to hand anything over to the manager or deputy manager. You have some very talented people here ready to work and I guarantee you that at the end of the month it won’t be over,” Johnson said of Burke closing the books.
Attorney Hardin said something had to be decided Monday night and that the financial management committee is responsible for hiring and firing the chief financial officer and anyone in that office.
Due to time constraints to be able to move forward without the committee meeting, Commissioner Austin Jaynes brought a motion to suspend the rules which was approved. The meeting was suspended at that time.
Dr. Tracy McAbee was not present and was called to be updated on the situation and also arrived to participate in the meeting.
As the meeting unfolded, Burke, apparently watching via a Facebook feed, emailed Commission Chairman Travis Hill to tell him he was stepping down, the email arriving at 10:45 p.m.
Jaynes made the motion to accept the resignation, which was seconded by Roger Colbaugh. The vote was unanimous to accept Burke’s resignation.
Jaynes demanded that Burke be restricted to information technology and that his keys and all equipment be returned to him. The committee voted to have his gear and keys returned by Friday, September 3, 2021 at 9 a.m., as Burke would have been under COVID protocol due to exposure.
Mayor Patty Woodby informed the Commission that all information technology has been shut down.
Watson said all resources would be mobilized to close the books on the 2020-2021 financial year. The Commission asked someone to check and see if there could be a request for an extension with the problems the Ministry of Finance was facing.
Other mayors have offered to help Watson with training assistance as well as other CFOs.
Ahead of the Commission meeting, local resident Roy Livingston spoke of all the time given to him during public comments over concerns that more detail was needed on what was happening in the finance office, indicating that commissioners were employed by taxpayers to look after their finances. .