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CTAS gives opinion on Mayor’s responsibilities under 1981 Act

Who is required to sign off on purchasing contracts under the 1981 financial management act?

The Finance Director or the Mayor?

This was a question the Anderson County Finance Committee recently posed to the County Technical Assistance Service.

County officials are still seeking clarification regarding the changes to county government operations under the 1981 financial law since the county switched financial management systems last year.

The question concerning who in the county government is responsible for signing purchasing contracts arose in a county finance committee meeting in March when Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank asked the finance committee to incorporate in the county’s policies and procedures governing the 1981 law a legal opinion defining who signs purchasing contracts under this law.

“Under the 1981 Act, who is required to execute contracts has changed, but to date I don’t have an official policy or opinion as to what I should sign and/or are required to sign,” explained Frank to fellow finance committee members in a March 9th email.

“For instance, do all contracts require the purchasing agent’s signature? Does the mayor have to sign school contracts?” Frank asked.

Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager contacted CTAS Chief Legal Consultant Libby McCroskey to inquire about the county mayor’s responsibilities under the 81 law, and was told by McCroskey that under the 1981 act, “the mayor would have approval authority only as a member of the committee, and only if the committee determines the committee’s approval is necessary.”

According to McCroskey, under the 81 act, it is the county purchasing agent that handles the bidding, reviews the bids, and issues purchase orders and contracts, and that the finance committee has the option to require bids be submitted to them for approval, but if no requirement is made it is the responsibility of the purchasing agent to approve the contracts, not the mayor.

If there is no “optional” purchasing department set up, the responsibility goes to the county finance director, McCroskey stated.

In response to Frank’s request for clarification, Yeager also included in his emailed statement from McCroskey a legal opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General outlining the scope of the county executive’s authority over a finance office in a county that operates under the 81 act that clarified how the county executive’s role as “chief executive officer” and “chief finance officer” is affected by the 81 act in regards to “day-to-day operations of the finance office.”

The Tennessee Attorney General opinion made clear that the county finance director has authority over the daily operations of the county finance department in counties operating under the 81 act. The county executive does not have oversight of day-to-day operations.

Under the 81 Act, the only scope of authority the county executive has in this regard is “the extent that the county executive serves as a member of the financial management committee.”

“It is our further opinion that a full reading of the Act shows an intent that the day-to-day operations of the finance department are for the finance director to determine, not the county executive, except to the extent the county executive is a member of the financial management committee to which the finance director is accountable,” the legal opinion further states.