COOKEVILLE – It took some time, but 26 applicants have been whittled down to 11 by a selection committee searching for the next Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency (UCHRA) executive director.
One of the candidates under consideration is Cannon County Executive Mike Gannon.
Gannon said he submitted himself for consideration at the urging of other board member.
"I studied the situation carefully and decided to send in my resume," Gannon said. "I am happy serving as Cannon County Exexutive but this agency has been experiencing some difficult times lately, and if the board feels I am the best person available to get it back on the right course, I would give the offer consideration if it is presented to me."
A number of public officials submitted resumes for the non-profit agency’s top job – and were granted interviews by the committee - including Rep. Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap), Putnam County Executive Kim Blaylock, Cannon County Executive Gannon, Smith County Commissioner Billy M. Woodard of Hickman and Putnam County Commissioner Mike Atwood of Algood.
Also granted interviews were Donna York of Cookeville, the executive director of NHC Healthcare; Dennis D. Tennant of Cookeville, an associate director at Tennessee Tech and the former director of Nashville State’s Cookeville campus; Lee Webb, current community services director at UCHRA; Mark Houser of Livingston, regional manager with the Tennessee Department of Health; Burlinda Wright of Grimsley, a Tennessee Department of Human Services employee since 2001; and Earl Don Rigsby of Smithville, an ECD regional jobs development specialist.
Interviews will begin Wednesday, Feb. 22. Afterward, the search committee hopes to recommend its pick – or picks, if more than one – to the UCHRA policy counsel, which, by statue, appoints senior staff positions. The appointment would then be ratified by the full board.
But there’s at least one lingering question committee members hope to have answered before interviews even begin.
Since Blaylock and Gannon are both UCHRA board members, per their roles as county executives, they cannot be employees of the agency - if one is selected as UCHRA executive director, they’d have to resign their current elected post. But up for interpretation is whether or not that resignation needs to come before or after a vote is taken by the policy counsel. If a resignation is needed before, there’s no guarantee the vote would fall in their favor, if multiple candidates are considered. If the resignation can come after, it would simply be contingent on their stepping down from their current post.
Members of the selection committee talked at length about the issue, garnered a handful of legal opinions, but still want to expedite a Tennessee Attorney General ruling on the matter; it could influence whether Blaylock and Gannon stay in the running, they say, if a resignation is required before a vote. Hopes are that a ruling will come in the next few days, although it typically takes longer.
“We need to get this right,” said Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick.
UCHRA committee members voted in December to open up the search for a permanent executive director. Ruth Ann Woolbright has been serving on an interim basis since long-term administrator Phyllis Bennett took an extended leave of absence because of an illness. Bennett was released from her position late last year but was later re-hired as a consultant.
UCHRA’s executive director would direct programs, supervise personnel, develop and present a program budget and pursue funding opportunities, among other duties. Recommended qualifications for the job included a B.S. degree in social work, business, public administration or related field. Ten years of administrative experience could be substituted for those educational requirements.
The committee received 26 applications total; a number were eliminated from contention because of lack of adequate leadership or management experience.
Those included Susan Copley of Jamestown, an assistant store manager at Walgreens; Donna Shirah, an assistant controller at Hollingsworth Richards Automotive Group from 2005-11; Dora Brewer of Hilham, who spent 35-plus years as a federal civilian employee for the U.S. Airforce; Lisa Stevens of Jamestown, a LBJ&C Head Start employee; Garry Randall Short of Cookeville, owner of Volunteer Cash Advance; Lisa Luck of Cookeville, the current executive director of the Putnam County Clean Commission; Jeffrey K. Neal of Doyle, an Averitt Express employee; Marcie St. John of Elmwood, a human resources worker at Woodbury Clinical Laboratory of Lebanon; Steven Dwight Fuston of Columbia, a self employed rental property management owner; Christina J. Foster of Crossville, a case manager at Milestone Inc.; Regina Price, a patient advocate at Cumberland Medical Center; Leslie Pullins of Grimsely, the Fentress County Public Library director; Melissa Parks of Cookeville, a University of Phoenix adjunct faculty member; Kathryn Flatt of Sparta, a plant accountant with Federal Mogul; and Billy K. Robbins, former Byrdstown mayor.
Robbins was eliminated, committee members said, because he submitted an out-of-date resume that still said he serves in his elected position, although his last year in office was 2010.