The Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) has advised Manchester City officials that Coffee County is the only governing body with authority to appoint members of the Public Building Authority (PBA), the board that oversees the operations of the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center.
MTAS provides assistance related to legal, financial and human resources issues to municipal governments. Its opinion echoes that of the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS), an organization advising county governments.
After the controversial Sept. 14 PBA decision to change its own bylaws to increase Manchester’s representation on its board, Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell asked CTAS to review the situation and determine which governing body has the authority to appoint PBA members.
CTAS issued its opinion in November, stating that only the county commission is authorized to appoint members to the PBA.
According to CTAS, the Manchester City appointments of Jewell Noblitt and Richard Dix to the PBA without the approval of the county commission are not valid.
The decision left the board with only five lawful directors as it awaits a county commission vote for new members.
After CTAS’s ruling, Manchester decided to seek a legal advice on its own and asked MTAS if Manchester City has the right to appoint PBA members.
Manchester City Attorney Gerald Ewell received the MTAS response Feb. 1.
In that response, MTAS Legal Consultant Elisha Hodge stated that Manchester City is not entitled to representation on the PBA board of directors.
According to Hodge, the PBA was not created pursuant to the approval of two or more municipalities acting jointly “as the City of Manchester does not appear to have adhered to the statutory requirements necessary to have jointly formed the Coffee County PBA with Coffee County.”
“As such, I do not believe the city is entitled to representation on the Coffee County PBA board of directors,” Hodge said.
In the last several years, the conference center has routinely exceeded its approved operational deficit.
Coffee County and Manchester City split the losses, but county officials say they do not equally share the benefits, as Manchester receives the bulk of them through sales and hotel taxes.
The only control the two entities have over the operations of the conference center is through the decisions made by PBA members representing their interests.
No new members yet
Noblitt and Dix, who have not been approved by the county commission, have not yet been replaced. In fact, despite the November CTAS opinion that their appointments were not valid, both Noblitt and Dix were present during the PBA’s January meeting and listed on the official minutes as members of the authority.
In the meantime, the county commission has voted to delay selecting any new board directors and to implement an application process.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Coffee County Budget and Finance Committee, Commissioner Lynn Sebourn said he expects operations at the conference center to improve.
“We are appointing new PBA members with the expectation they are trying to make things better,” Sebourn said. “I don’t think we should assume they are going to fail.”
Sebourn added he expects PBA members to start presenting metrics to show the improvements at the center.
The center has to “get a lot better a lot faster,” he said.
Elena Cawley may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.