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Hamilton County's $900,000 discretionary funds called into question

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (Times Free Press) -

With new leadership in place on the Hamilton County Commission, Commissioner Marty Haynes said he will renew his call for information to be posted online about the way he and other commissioners spend nearly $1 million annually at their discretion.

Details on how the money is spent should be more accessible to the public, Haynes said.

But a government watchdog group says increased transparency isn't enough for the combined $900,000 in discretionary funds -- the whole policy needs to be revised. And according to state consultants, Hamilton is the only county in Tennessee that allows individual commissioners to personally direct more than $5,000 in public money per year.

"It's something that's totally unique to Hamilton County. I work 12 counties in the Southeast [Tennessee], and none of them do it, and it's the only one of the four big counties," said Gary Hayes, county government consultant with the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service. "I've been doing this 30-something years and I've never had a county request to do anything like this."

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