JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – In light of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s concerns that Johnson City’s taxpayer-funded country club membership is questionable, city commissioners are now committing to ask more questions.
The state started asking questions after our Community Watchdog investigation discovered the long-time membership, which is in the city’s name and is used by City Manager Pete Peterson and his family.
“I think we need to take a look at that,” Vice Mayor Jenny Brock said. “We as a commission, now that it’s kind of been brought to our attention, need to reevaluate that and see if there’s value in that today and make a decision on it.”
The intended purpose of the full membership to the Johnson City County Club, according to the city, is economic development, business relations and business growth and retention. Not only did a spokesperson tell us the city doesn’t know with certainty the last time it used the country club for that purpose, the city manager also did not dispute he uses it with his family too.
“There’s no doubt a part of our city manager’s time is spent in economic development and so it is a place he could take potential business people into town for dinner, entertainment purposes,” Brock said. “That’s existed for a long, long period of time. We just have to see if it’s being used that way and if not, we’ll reassess it.”
The city’s finance director said the membership costs taxpayers $385 a month, including a $50 minimum required food and beverage charge. She said anything over that is reimbursed by the city manager.
Commissioner Todd Fowler said he just found out about the membership this week.
“(The city manager) pays for anything not business related,” Fowler said. “I know we as a commission will be talking about it…Others have used the dining area for business discussions. Again, I just found out about it and want to discuss it more.”
Fowler said the city manager never asked for the membership. At the time former Mayor Steve Darden negotiated his contract in 2005, which gave Peterson access to the membership, Darden said Peterson would’ve preferred a higher salary over the membership.
Commissioner Joe Wise said he will keep the state’s concerns in mind.
“I was not part of the original decision back in 2005, and don’t believe I have anything further to add to the conversation,” Wise said. “We will certainly be mindful of this question as we move forward.”
A spokesperson for the state previously told us, to the agency’s knowledge, no other city manager in Tennessee has access to a taxpayer-funded country club membership.
“It may work out better to instead provide him with an additional salary supplement that he could then use to pay for a city country club membership and that way that income would be taxed,” John Dunn said.
Even though the membership is used by the city manager, a city spokesperson told us since the membership is in the city’s name, “no taxes are due.”
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