UCHRA attorney: Per diem payments 'proper, valid'

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In response to a Nashville TV station's report on expenses paid to county and city mayors who serve on the board of the Upper Cumberland Human Resources Agency, the agency's attorney has issued the following opinion:

Mayor Curtis Hayes, Chairman
Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency
580 S. Jefferson Ave.
Cookeville, TN 38501

Dear Chairman Hayes:

As the attorney for Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, I write to you today to address the question of the per diem payment by the Agency relating to attendance at UCHRA meetings. It has been the long-standing UCHRA practice to provide Agency board members per diem (per day) payments in connection with their attendance at UCHRA meetings. It is my understanding that this has been the practice at UCHRA for many years, and was the practice under both Executive Director Luke Collins and his predecessor Phyllis Bennett. In fact, it is my understanding that the Agency staff actually overtly encourages board members to complete the paperwork to request the reimbursements at each meeting.

Of course, when UCHRA conducts board meetings at the central office in Cookeville, it is often disruptive to most of the board members, who live and have important responsibilities in other counties. It is my understanding that UCHRA has always been extremely appreciative of board members attending meetings, including particularly those special-called meetings that are set with limited notice. There have been several instances where UCHRA has had trouble obtaining a quorum to conduct business, and the Agency's executive leadership has had to plead with members to adjust their schedule to attend meetings. Certainly the per diem payment is no great incentive for a board member to attend an inconvenient meeting, but it is a reasonable expression of gratitude for same. UCHRA does not pay board members for their service, and for many of the officials it is a disruptive responsibility forced on them by statute. However, the Agency appreciates the service, and the Agency has always provided the small per diem payments to board members consistent with this past practice.

Further, this practice is specifically contemplated by the UCHRA Bylaws. In Article V of the Bylaws, each member of the board is entitled to a per diem reimbursement when attending to UCHRA business. Payment of an appropriate per diem directly to board members is a proper and valid practice. Should you have any questions concerning the foregoing, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours very truly,
Daniel H. Radar IV

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