BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Board of Education's newest member, Deborah Johnson, raised concerns during Monday's meeting with the system's contract with Rodefer Moss & Co, PLLC for audits of school accounts.
Johnson said she had concerns with the contract as a possible conflict of interest, questioning what, if any, role County Commissioner Bill Moss now has with the firm.
Moss, who has been retired for more than 10 years, was a longtime former partner and is one of the persons whose name is in the name of the company.
Johnson said that her concerns come in light of state audit findings earlier this year that determined the system's contract with A&W Farms Excavating & Hauling, LLC. for sewer installation at the Chuckey-Doak High School Fieldhouse to be a conflict of interest because of County Commissioner Tim White's role as co-owner.
"I think that we should review all standard and all future contracts for potential conflicts of interest," Johnson said.
She asked that the system verify Moss' statements that there is no conflict since he is retired.
"I think that this is, at best, a gray area, and that we should avoid any appearance of impropriety," she said.
Board Chairman Roger Jones said that he researched the matter and found that Moss retired from the firm in 1996.
"It's my understanding from talking to the present majority partner that Mr. Moss sold out his interest in it to his original partner.
"Since then, there's no one presently at Rodefer Moss that's a partner that Mr. Moss has ever been connected with," Jones said.
"He doesn't receive anything. They bought him out."
Jones went on to explain that Moss does have an office at Rodefer Moss for treasurer work that he does for his church.
Although Moss is retired, Johnson still questioned if he is receiving retirement payments from the firm. This, she said, could still be a conflict of interest.
Jones then called on Curtis Morrison, managing partner of the Greeneville branch of the firm, who denied that Moss has any remaining connection to the company outside of a courtesy office space.
Moss is not receiving retirement payments from the firm, Morrison said.
"He was bought out in the mid-90's," Morrison said. "He has no ongoing interest in the company whatsoever."
Moss was not present at Monday's meeting, but did supply the system with a written response in March following Johnson's initial inquiries.
In that response, typed on Rodefer Moss letterhead and directed to Kirk, Moss stated the following:
"There seems to be some misunderstanding about my role with Rodefer Moss & Co accounting firm. I was one of the founders of the firm and was an active partner and part-owner for several years until my retirement in 1996.
"Even though the firm still bears my name, I am neither an employee nor an owner, and I perform no services for the firm's clients.
"The current owners and management of the firm do provide me office space (and secretarial services as needed) as a retirement 'perk,' for which I am grateful.
"This benefit helps me to perform my responsibilities as treasurer of my church and treasurer of the Dickson-Williams Historical Association. It also gives me a place to pursue my personal affairs.
"My part-time presence at the office probably contributes to the impression that I am still an active member of the firm, but I definitely am not, which can be confirmed by the firm's management.
"I hope this information clarifies any false perception that my connection with the firm constitutes a conflict of interest with the firm's services to its clients."
Johnson, who received a copy of Moss' letter, replied that her concern is as much with appearance as with an actual violation, noting also that Moss used Rodefer Moss letterhead and postage for his letter and has recently appeared in a commercial for the company.
"When a commissioner complies with the letter of the law, yet violates the spirit of the law, it reflects on the commission as a whole," she wrote in reply.
The Greeneville Sun offered Moss the opportunity to comment on Johnson's letter during a phone interview this morning.
"I think my letter says all that I need to say," Moss said. "I do not get any retirement pay.
"I am compensated for whatever I do as a self-employed consultant, but I'm not an employee and I have no ownership interest. The limited compensation that I get is only as a consultant for the firm and for others, as the occasion may arise.
"I do not participate in any employee benefits; I'm not an employee."
As for his appearance in the company's recent commercial, Moss said, "I think since my name is part of the firm, I think it's not inappropriate for me to appear as one of the founders of the firm."
"Mr. Moss is a great guy," Jones said at Monday's meeting.
"Ms. Johnson, I appreciate your concerns. As we go forward, we need to do exactly as you say. We need to avoid any conflicts that we can."