Spending increase rejected
The commission actually rejected a spending increase request from the schools for tennis court renovations. This is the first spending request that this commission has rejected.
State inmate revenue reported incorrectly
After the Tennessee Department of Corrections announced that it would transfer some of its state felons to state facilities, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office started providing the commission a monthly report showing the revenue that the county is receiving from the state for housing state felons. The county receives $37 a day from the state of Tennessee but the reports have been incorrectly stating that the daily per diem rate is $37.50. $37 a day is substantially less than the cost to the county for housing state sentenced felons. Blount County Sheriff James Berrong told the commission last April that the state inmates are only a good deal for the state and that he doesn’t want to keep them.
The commission was asked to approve spending $800,000 of fund balance for the Blount County Highway Department (HD) in a special called meeting. This request was deemed an emergency by Highway Superintendent (HS) Jeff Headrick, due to trucks being damaged by salt.
The request included 8 new single-axial diesel salt trucks and 4 trailers. I asked how many salt trucks the HD has. Headrick didn’t know. Assistant Superintendent Chico Messer told the commission that the HD has 15.
A common sense fleet management policy would be to replace these trucks at the rate of 1 or 2 a year. It doesn’t make sense to replace the majority of your fleet (8 of 15) in one budget year. While this seems to be poor management on the part of the former Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap, it is also poor planning on the part of the new HS. A slower, more consistent, replacement of the fleet allows for better budget planning and as well as use of the vehicles.
The HD had just purchased 2 new triple-axial trucks in December at a cost of $145,746.80 each. There was a transfer for $35,000 in January for parts.
At the regular commission meeting, the commission was asked to approve $281,000 to purchase a pug mill and asphalt patching trailer as well as $120,000 for asphalt. Commissioner Mike Akard asked if the $120,000 for asphalt was an emergency. Headrick said that it was but no explanation was given as to why it wasn’t included in the special called meeting with the equipment purchase.
Additionally, there was a $13,579.46 request to increase salaries in the Highway Department. Commissioner Dave Bennett asked for this item to be removed without providing an explanation for its removal.
The requests and purchases for equipment and parts total over $1.4M in less than 3 months. This was too much too fast.
It makes sense to approve more money for asphalt because the county hasn’t been keeping up with its paving needs. Headrick said that the $120K will pave an additional 2.25 miles of the 830 miles of local roads. Additionally, I asked him for a list of roads that will be paved in the next year. You can read that list here.
Taxpayers footed the lunch bill for the commission, the mayor and his staff and some highway employees for the special called meeting. Meals paid for by the taxpaying citizens of Blount County have become all too common of a practice.
The commission was asked to approve the use of local tax money to bail out a federally funded program. This isn’t the first time that the federal government has failed to fund one of its programs. Funding was cut and service was to be temporarily halted. This is a good example of why the federal government shouldn’t be running programs. There is no constitutional authority for the federal government to fund this program.
There were unanswered questions. A commissioner who is a part of the courthouse clique said after the meeting that this matter wasn’t explained well to the commission.
As a county commissioner, it isn’t my job to vote to bail out unconstitutional, federal government programs. Furthermore, not one person from my district called me and asked me to vote for this. I was the only commissioner to vote no.
Workers compensation (comp) settlement
The commission was asked to approve a workers comp settlement because the settlement was more than $50,000. The case had been ongoing for over 2 years. I had asked for records related to the case back in December, primarily because I wanted to know the cost of the legal fees for the case, and was provided with nothing. Since I didn’t receive anything, I called Director of General Services Don Stallions and he told me that the legal fees for the case is about $75,000.
I told Mr. Stallions that the commission should, at a minimum, be provided with an annual report on the status of lawsuits and claims against the county, but ideally it should be provided quarterly. He agreed and said that the information used to be provided in the past when the county had a committee dealing with these matters. When I mentioned this at the commission meeting, Commissioner Bennett made a statement cautioning against releasing information. Apparently the status quo of having nothing is acceptable to him, although I doubt he’d run a private business without having this information.
For almost a year, I have been trying to get records and information from Stallions regarding the status of law suits, claims and settlements. To date he has provided me with nothing. This lengthy delay is not out of sort. A former commissioner shared with me that Mr. Stallions stalled him for 2 years on a request.
Jail RFQ purchasing meeting
After I publically criticized the secrecy created by a new purchasing law, the Purchasing Department held a meeting open to the public so three companies chosen in secret could give presentations as to why their company is the best to look at jail expansion or construction of a new facility. No decisions were made at the meeting. The selection of the company was done behind closed doors, to protect the integrity of the process, according to Purchasing Agent (PA) Katie Branham Kerr. This means that the Tennessee General Assembly and the Purchasing Agent think that the public lacks the integrity to allow her to select a company openly.
The Evaluation Team/Screening Committee consisted of 4 of the 5 people that I named here. Laurie Bell did not participate at the meeting. Commissioner Mike Caylor missed two of the three presentations.
Presenters for Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) said that Blount County has a better jail that most in the state and that Monroe County would love to have what we have today.
When asked what the county needs a presenter for Barber McMurry (BMA) said he didn’t know. This affirms what I have been saying, that Blount County got the cart before the horse. The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) and the commission never identified what the county needed.
A presenter for Cope Architecture said he suggested a jail committee that would meet weekly during planning and construction. His suggestion for the makeup of the committee is essentially what exists now with the BCCP.
Upon request, PA Branham Kerr informed me that MBI was chosen. This is the same company that the schools are using that came back with a $66M proposal after originally estimating $40M. The public wasn’t allowed to express concerns about a company that went way over what was originally estimated. We’re told that your comments would have corrupted the integrity of the process.
It’s not surprising that MBI was chosen. They’ve been watching this for years. Roy Latham, an employee of MBI, has been attending commission meetings for years. Commissioners receive a chocolate bar for Christmas from MBI. Allowing them to be chosen in secret makes me wonder if MBI was a shoo-in all along.
Up next: “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” Indian Proverb
Blount County is facing two big renovation/building project: the 2 high schools and the jail. These two matters could become very expensive, quickly. Pay close attention to these matters.
The Purchasing Agent will make her recommendation for MBI to the BCCP on March 28th at 5:30 in room 430 at the courthouse.
This report gives many good ideas for much needed open records reforms. I’ve long said that there need to be penalties for the people who violate open records laws. Taxpayers are footing the bill for legal fees.
Last night the Blount County Commission voted to create an ad hoc committee to write an open records policy for Blount County government. The committee will consist of 5 members: 3 appointed by Commission Chairman Jerome Moon and 2 appointed by Mayor Ed Mitchell.
Jerome Moon has chosen himself and Commissioners Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor. Both Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor are local government employees. Grady Caskey works for Blount County Schools and Mike Caylor works for the City of Maryville. The 5 member committee will have at least 2 members who may have a tendency to favor the government over the citizenry.
This legislation would make it harder on local government employees, their friends and relatives, sitting on the Blount County Commission to raise your property tax rate. This could offer some protection to taxpayers who are plagued with numerous conflicts of interest in local government. The legislature should prohibit county employees and their relatives from holding office.
Here is the list of Tennessee legislators who signed the Americans for Tax Reform State pledge. Some of these legislators have indicated that they support the gas tax increase. They need to remember their pledge to the taxpayers of the state of Tennessee.
Tennessee State House
State House District: 1 Jon Lundberg (now a State Senator)
State House District: 7 Matthew Hill
State House District: 11 Jeremy Faison
State House District: 16 Bill Dunn
State House District: 19 Harry Brooks
State House District: 22 Dan Howell
State House District: 24 Kevin Brooks
State House District: 36 Dennis Powers
State House District: 38 Kelly Keisling
State House District: 40 Terri Lynn Weaver
State House District: 45 Courtney Rogers
State House District: 49 Mike Sparks
State House District: 56 Beth Harwell
State House District: 57 Susan Lynn
State House District: 61 Charles Sargent
State House District: 63 Glen Casada
State House District: 66 Joshua Evans
State House District: 68 Curtis Johnson
State House District: 71 David Byrd
State House District: 72 Steve McDaniel
State House District: 89 Roger Kane
State House District: 96 Steve McManus
Search results URL: http://www.atr.org/pledge-database?sort=&order=&office=11&state=TN&district_number=&name=&incumbent=0
Tennessee State Senate
State Senate District: 1 Steve Southerland
State Senate District: 5 Randy McNally
State Senate District: 13 Bill Ketron
State Senate District: 14 Jim Tracy
State Senate District: 16 Janice Bowling
State Senate District: 17 Mae Beavers
State Senate District: 22 Mark E Green
State Senate District: 23 Jack Johnson
State Senate District: 24 John Stevens
State Senate District: 26 Dolores Gresham
State Senate District: 27 Ed Jackson
The county recently purchased a new software system called Granicus to organize local government meetings. Meeting packets use to be available on the county’s website as one file, for each meeting, that was indexed by individual items. The new system divides documentation by agenda item and breaks the information down even further by document type. However, it’s still possible to download the entire commission packet for those desiring the simplicity of the structure of the old system.
To access an entire commission meeting packet:
Click on Meeting Details for Board of Commissioners.
On the new screen click, next to Attachments, click on Information for Commission Meeting Scheduled for (date)
Right now, the commission meeting is the only meeting that has an entire packet available without having to click on each agenda item separately. Hopefully more committees will make entire meeting packets available in the future. In the meantime, you can read the information available for each agenda item by clicking on the individual links.
At the February Commission meeting, I requested a list of roads that will be paved. This is what I received today.
Rhonda, Please send this information out today to all of the county commissioners. Thanks, JH
We intend to pave the following roads as soon as the asphalt plants begin making hot mix asphalt.
Martin Valley Rd
Bales Hollow Rd
Frog Pond Rd
Ellejoy Rd at the county line
Six Mile Cemetery Rd
Elmer Lambert Rd
The roads listed above will be paved with funds from this FY year’s budget (including the amount transferred in February commission meeting.)
FY 2017-18 Projected Paving Schedule
State Aid Roads:
Laws Chapel Rd
Big Springs Rd – strip pave roughest sections
Carpenter’s Campground Rd
E Miller’s Cove Rd
Butterfly Gap Loop Rd
Happy Vallery Loop Rd
Bell Branch Rd
Abram Creek Rd
Paul Boone Rd
Peppermint Rd – strip pave roughest sections
I C King Rd
Clover Hill Mill Rd
While this is not a full list of every road in the county that is in need of attention, it is our best effort to correct the worst problem areas.
Also, this is a very ambitious list for one paving season and we commit to do everything possible to finish these roads within the next FY as long as the weather cooperates.
We are currently creating a five year planning calendar where paving is concerned, but do not have that ready at this time.
Highway Department Superintendent
1227 McArthur Drive
Maryville, TN 37804
From the man who should have been President the last 8 years.
By Ron Paul
It can be a challenge to follow the pronouncements of President Trump, as he often seems to change his position on any number of items from week to week, or from day to day, or even from minute to minute. Consider his speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It was reported as “fiery” and “blistering,” but it was also full of contradictions.
In the speech, President Trump correctly pointed out that the last 15 years of US military action in the Middle East has been an almost incomprehensible waste of money – six trillion dollars, he said – and that after all that US war and meddling the region was actually in worse shape than before we started.
It would have been better for US Presidents to have spent the last 15 years at the beach than to have pursued its Middle East war policy, he added, stating that the US infrastructure could have been rebuilt several times over with the money wasted on such militarism.
All good points from the President.
But then minutes later in the same speech he seemed to forget what he just said about wasting money on militarism. He promised he would be “upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything,” in what would be “one of the greatest military buildups in American history.”
This “greatest” military buildup is in addition to the trillions he plans on spending to make sure the US nuclear arsenal is at the “top of the pack” in the world, as he told the press last Thursday. And that is in addition to the trillion dollar nuclear “modernization” program that is carrying over from the Obama Administration.
Of course when it comes to nuclear weapons, the United States already is at the “top of the pack,” having nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads. How many times do we need to be able to blow up the world?
At CPAC, President Trump is worried about needlessly spending money on military misadventures, but then in the same speech he promised even more military misadventures in the Middle East.
Where is the money going to come from for all this? Is the President going to raise taxes to pay for it? Is he going to make massive cuts in domestic spending?
In the same CPAC speech, President Trump reiterated his vow to “massively lower taxes on the middle class, reduce taxes on American business, and make our tax code more simple and much more fair for everyone.” And that’s all good. So it’s not coming from there.
Will he cut domestic spending? The President has indicated that he also wants a massive infrastructure modernization program launched in the near future. The plan will likely cost far in excess of the trillion dollars the President has suggested.
That leaves only one solution: printing money out of thin air. It has been the favorite trick of his predecessors. While he correctly condemns the $20 trillion national debt passed down from previous Administrations, his policies promise to add to that number in a massive way. Printing money out of thin air destroys the currency, hastening a US economic collapse and placing a very cruel tax on the working and middle classes as well.
Following the President’s constantly changing policies can make you dizzy. That’s a shame because the solution is very simple: end the US military empire overseas, cut taxes and regulations at home, end the welfare magnet for illegal immigration, and end the drug war. And then get out of the way.
The jail evaluations will meet in the commission room on February 23rd at 8:30 AM to interview the 3 architectural firms that were chosen based on scoring of written qualifications. These written qualifications and scores are currently secret due to a change in Tennessee purchasing law last year. The public will still not be able to comment on the firms. Purchasing Agent Katie Branham wrote of the interviews, “They are open to the public for observation only.”
Local author Dr. Nancy McEntee was recently interviewed on her book Molsey Blount, which documents the life of Mary “Molsey” Blount, the wife of Governor William Blount. The interview will air this Sunday (February 18, 2017) at 5 PM on the show Tennessee Life on PBS, Channel 15.