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Forward Progress

Updated: Mar 29

Information in this newsletter is from Graham Stowe, Giles County Executive.

This newsletter will summarize a few business items that are important elements in moving Giles County forward. 

“Progress” means different things to different people; everybody wants progress but too often that word goes undefined.

I get it - sometimes the “progress” many clamor for might include a new retail business or restaurant.

But sometimes, particularly in government, a simple policy statement may be required to make progress, other times it could be a grant, or improved accountability of elected officials, or a meaningful resolution through the commission. 

I’ll provide a number of examples that will hopefully explain the point - I’m glad to report that we’re making step-by-step progress every week.  

First I’ll address how good policy can help ensure progress. 

The latest example is the complete rewrite of the Giles County Ethics Policy.  You may be asking yourself, what progress can be found in an ethics policy? Well, a powerfully articulated ethics policy is the bedrock of institutional trust and integrity.

Our previous ethics policy was essentially boilerplate - a bare-bones template handed down to us from CTAS, the County Technical Assistance Service. It wasn't terrible but it had no rules of procedure and hadn't been updated since 2007.

A number of ethics issues had been brought to my attention, but when I reviewed that boilerplate ethics policy it became obvious that we had no code of professional conduct, which was a glaring omission. 

Every time I'm drafting county policy I'll have folks reminding me “if it ain't broke don't fix it.” Well, I wouldn't say the old policy was broken, but if professing conservatives want institutional integrity and accountability then the ethics policy is where integrity starts.

My sense was that we needed to set a higher bar.

One of the greatest concerns with today's America is the lack of institutional trust from top to bottom, and how public cynicism - rightly deserved cynicism - has affected the military, the education establishment, and most of all every layer of government.

So anyone in government who cares about institutional trust should want to publicize a high ethical standard, which is why I went to work on a new Giles County Ethics Policy. 

After several months of drafts, meetings, re-drafting, deliberations, disagreements, and answering the array of procedural questions, we finally got our ethics policy passed through the Commission by a vote of 16 to 4.

So now we’ve got a policy that clearly explains the prohibitions on elected officials in accepting gifts and favors.  We added a nepotism policy.  We added whisteblower protection.  We added a section to address the misappropriation of county funds and property.  We added a professional code of conduct. And since the old policy didn’t include any details on processing ethics complaints, there’s now very clear Rules of Procedure to properly, promptly and fairly adjudicate ethical allegations.

I went into the Ethics Policy revision thinking to myself, “Nobody could possibly be against this.” 

But I guess I’m still politically naive, because this took nearly three months of pile driving; it certainly wasn’t the slam dunk it should’ve been. 

Of course it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a couple of those who agitated against the new policy were the selfsame folks who have instigated complaints of unprofessional conduct.

And again an interesting paradox was proven true, which is that those who most loudly pound the drum for transparency and accountability are often the worst offenders against transparency and accountability. 

Of the roughly 20,000 or so voters in Giles County, I'm pretty confident that about 19,900 of them are in favor of basic ethical guidelines such as making sure elected officials aren't:  #1) covertly working against the county in litigation, or #2) verbally abusing colleagues or members of the public, or #3) misusing their official position to secure privileges, or #4 - intentionally providing false or misleading information regarding county business.

Yes, those were issues that some wanted to gut out of this policy. 

Something I learned as a young junior officer, and I’m reminded of it again in public service, is that everybody likes to be respected.

But holding oneself to high ethics is how one earns respect, and that’s what this policy is about.

Thankfully the policy is now approved and in effect for all Giles County employees and elected officials. And that's progress.

Another aspect of progress I've been working on is an update to our website.

And while that is still a work in progress I'm aiming to go “live” this week - it's a goal I hope to make happen.

One challenge of our existing website is it's challenging to navigate and difficult to find the information you're looking for, but based on the draft I'm working on I think it's going to be much more user-friendly.

I'm looking forward to uploading agendas, policy documents, and a number of other things unavailable on the current website.

Please keep an eye on for updates. I think you’ll find the ability to find meeting schedules, agendas and minutes much easier than in the past.  

Another aspect of progress is economic development, and Phil Reese has been diligent in his efforts on behalf of the EDC - the Economic Development Commission.

He briefed the commission recently, and updated us on his efforts to pursue a site development grant from the state that will allow us to construct a spec building and entice industry into Giles County.

This is potentially a $5 million grant, and I'm pleased that the commission gave 19 to 1 support in favor of pursuing that project.

So thanks to solid EDC leadership, we’re seeing great progress on that front.

Yet another element of progress is that we successfully scored an excellent bond rating as we recently secured an $8.7 million bond, which will allow the School Board to pursue the Bridgeforth Middle School renovation project. This may need explanation because I don't consider going into debt to be progress.

But the School Board has the funding to service that debt, and the Commission provided wholehearted support to back the Board’s plan to expedite a long overdue project. 

Because Giles County had not been in debt for many many years, we didn't have a bond rating like most counties. 

As a result, Beth Moore-Summers - our Finance Director - along with Reese and I, were interviewed by Moody Investor Services for about 45 minutes on our financial position, our strategic planning and economic development. And thankfully, based on the careful groundwork that's been accomplished over the last 18 months, including a fund balance policy and setting ourselves up with a capital projects fund, Giles County was assigned an excellent AA2 bond rating. This puts us in the top 25% of all Tennessee counties based on our having healthy financial reserves and liquidity, along with very modest, long-term liabilities. So even though we did find ourselves needing to borrow to expedite the Bridgeforth renovation, we were able to do so on very good financial terms.

On the grant-front, I’m pleased to report that the county is partnering with the city of Lynnville to apply for a CDBG grant to assist them in upgrading their water meters.  As with all grants we’ll now have to play the waiting game but I’m glad for the opportunity to assist with this long overdue project.

I’ll wrap up with another bright spot from last week: We had a gathering with county agriculture leaders to recognize the vital role of farmers and agriculture in sustaining our economy, ensuring food security, and preserving our cultural heritage.

We’re setting aside the week of Aug. 5 as Ag Week in Giles County, which is also when we're going to celebrate our Here's the Beef festival. 

It was great to see all these leaders together, tightly packed into the courthouse rotunda, working together to brainstorm and organize Giles County Ag Week. 

Aug. 5 might sound like a long way off, but good folks are already working to ensure we have a great series of events to celebrate Ag Week.

Thanks for reading. If you have an issue or question that you’d like addressed in a newsletter or podcast please forward to

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