Former Discretionary Fund Foe Graham Goes Out With Spending Bang

Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Joe Graham
Joe Graham

Joe Graham, who spent much of his recent tenure on the County Commission decrying the use of discretionary spending by individual commissioners, is going out with a spending bang.

He is asking his fellow commissioners next Wednesday to approve $188,000 in county funds for a variety of causes - mainly in his home Lookout Valley.

Commissioner Graham, who lost his District 6 seat to Democrat David Sharpe, said he is taking the money from county discretionary funds as well as unused travel funds.

The items include:

- $33,274.89 for new windows for the gym at John A. Patten Recreation Center

- $25,000 to assist the town of Lookout Mountain with repairs to recreational facilities

- $20,000 to assist the town of Red Bank with repairs to recreational facilities

- $15,000 to the Honoring the Sacrifice Foundation

- $15,000 to the Medal of Honor Hall of Valor Museum of Military History Foundation

- $14,000 to assist with the construction of a new Children's Hospital at Erlanger

- $15,000 to the Public School Bible Study Committee for classes at Lookout Valley Jr. and High

- $25,852.80 to the Lookout Valley Neighborhood Association

- $25,000 to the Lookout Valley Lions Club

The board of The Public School Bible Study Committee (Bible in the Schools) released the following statement: "The board recognizes County Commissioner Joe Graham’s proposed gift of $15,000 as affirmation of the enduring confidence this community has in the 97-year-old Bible History elective program, now offered in 25 Hamilton County public schools. It is, however, the long-standing policy of the board of directors to continue to do good work with present and future private donations, without soliciting or accepting support from public tax money. For more information, visit www.bibleintheschools.com."   

Commissioner Graham earlier sided with County Mayor Jim Coppinger when he was trying to do away with the practice of letting individual commissioners have access to $100,000 each per year to spend as they saw fit.

He would routinely vote "present" when other commissioners would seek approval for their projects.

In October 2016, several members of the commission blasted Commissioner Graham as a "hypocrite" when he requested to use $32,275 of "old" discretionary funds for windows at the John A. Patten Recreation Center. The proposal was voted down. Voting no were Chairman Chester Bankston, Sabrena Smedley and Tim Boyd. Vice Chairman Randy Fairbanks voted "present" as he said "Commissioner Graham had done 50-60 times when other commissioners wanted to use their discretionary money." In favor were Commissioners Graham, Jim Fields, Greg Beck and Warren Mackey. Five yes votes were needed for approval as the District 3 seat was vacant on the nine-member panel at the time.

The $100,000 per commissioner for projects of their choosing was left out of the 2016 budget. The prior year, Commissioner Graham declined to spend his share after the county mayor fought to do away with the fund and was overruled by a majority of the commission.

Commissioner Mackey at the time of the 2016 vote said he was "a little puzzled" that Commissioner Graham was making the request, saying, "I thought he had given up his money." He said the request was "hypocritical" or at least "confusing."

Commissioner Boyd said he had a problem with using county funds on the city-owned rec center. He also said that Commissioner Graham "has been critical of us for 18 months for using discretionary money" and then was making a similar request.


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