August 2015 Commission Report

“Just when you thought you’d seen the last straw, here comes a whole new bale.”  the late Ron McTigue, a local political activist

August marks the completion of my first year as a county commissioner.  This month did not disappoint for those use to adventures in head banging.

Commission Meeting
All commissioners were present.

Nominations – rubber stamping instead of serious discussion
As I wrote last month, the commission routinely rubber stamps the nominees with no discussion except from me.  It appears to me that if the political machine nominated Lucifer, most commissioners would vote yes without saying a word.

It has been standard practice of the Blount County Board of Commissioners to ignore the order of its own local rules.  Rule 3 governs the order of business.  Item 6 under Rule 3 is elections, appointments, and confirmations.  This is a separate agenda item from the consent calendar which is item 4 on the agenda.  The consent calendar is suppose to be noncontroversial items that cost the taxpayers nothing and require little or no discussion.

Most commission meetings have the elections, appointments and confirmation placed on the consent calendar so as to rubber stamp the important appointments without giving the public the opportunity to comment which occurs between these two items as Item 5.  See the agenda on page one of this August commission packet to see exactly what I am describing.

Elections, appointments and confirmations are far too important to place under bulk items to be rubber stamped.  I intend to stop this practice and hope that the public will provide more input on the nominations and that the commission will take their duty to see quality people serving on important bodies more seriously.

The first term commissioners would do well to look deeper into who they are approving on the consent calendar.  It is easy to blame past commissions for our problems, which are plenty, but the situation isn’t going to get any better by rubber stamping the same people already in these positions.

Commissioner Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) attended Blount County government meetings for years, prior to becoming commissioners.  We have both shaken our heads in disgust over many of the decisions made.  Only commissioners Karen Miller and I voted no on rubber stamping the consent calendar which included approving nominations to 3 important bodies.

Public Building Authority (PBA)
The commission reappointed Bob Kidd and Abbe Evans to the PBA.  To read about past iniquities in the PBA click here and here.

Board of Construction Appeals
There were two nominees to serve on the Board of Construction Appeals.  I asked if one of the nominees, who has worked on a variety of school projects, was involved in any of the many problems that we’ve had with our schools.  The Mayor said that he hadn’t received any complaints on one of the nominees and didn’t know if he had done any work on the schools.  This was alarming because I had to wonder if the Mayor had read the resume of his nominee because that’s where I read that the nominee had worked on several school projects.  See page 21 of the commission packet for the resume.  I am not aware of anything that the nominee has done that is cause for concern but wanted to ask since there have been so many problems with school construction projects and designs.

County Purchasing Agent
The Mayor decided to restructure the Purchasing Department eliminating two positions while creating a new assistant position.  The current Purchasing Agent was demoted to the assistant position.  His pick is the latest in in a series of bizarre choices.

Last year the Finance Director and Mayor were promoting an attorney to head up the Kronos IT project.  The Mayor choose someone who repeatedly didn’t pay her taxes on time to sit on the Budget Committee, which oversees spending $175 million of your money.  The Mayor recently chose a reporter, with no emergency management experience, to become the Emergency Management Director.  Now, the County will have an attorney serving as the Purchasing Agent.

The lady selected, Katie Branham, has little relevant purchasing experience.  I suggested a different use for Ms. Branham, since most of her work experience is related to the legal profession.

According to figures from the Mayor’s office, the County spent nearly $100,000, $99,872.59 to be exact, for legal services from attorney Craig Garrett during the last fiscal year.  Ms. Branham will be paid $58,000, which is more than the previous Purchasing Agent, but far less than what the County is paying Garrett.  While I am not suggesting that Ms. Branham be made the County Attorney, a position which has never been created in Blount County government, it appeared to me that we had an opportunity to reduce our legal expenses.  That idea took off like a lead balloon.

Financial advice for debt refinancing
The commission approved spending $9,000 for financial advice regarding nearly $80 million in variable rate debt that will need to be refinanced by the end of 2016.  There are several causes for concern about the matter.

The commission will be given a presentation by Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) in October.  The information that PFM will present will likely be outdated by the time that the matter goes to market.  There is great uncertainty in the market right now.  While waiting until the last minute is not a good idea, the financial advice rendered may not be relevant when the county goes to market.

The letter of engagement from PFM says that there is some subjectivity in choosing the appropriate debt refunding structure.  The final deliverable says that PFM will work the Finance Director, Randy Vineyard, to determine the ideal option and prepare a presentation to give to the commission.  Because of the subjectivity and saying that these two will determine the ideal option, I tried to amend the resolution to ensure that the commission will be presented with options rather on a single option with subjectivity.

One reason I made the motion is because last year during the previous debt presentation given by PFM, they presented 4 options but gave limited information on the 2 fixed rate options.  When I expressed my dissatisfaction with the lack of information provided on fixed rate financing options, the Finance Director told me that he told PFM not to give the information because he didn’t want the commission to have too much information.  Yes, he actually said he didn’t want to give the commission to much information.

This previous experience made me question whether the Mayor was promoting staying in variable rate debt.  What I was concerned about was confirmed when the Mayor was so hesitant on voting for the fixed rate refinancing last year during a Budget Committee meeting.  My amendment didn’t actually go far enough.  I should have requested that it included detailed information about multiple options, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  Commissioner Farmer was his usual snarky self and the commission didn’t seem too concerned about the matter.  Only commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen and I voted to amend the resolution to require multiple options.

The other cause for concern is that PFM will consider extending the length of the debt.  I am the youngest commissioner by 5 days.  Only commissioners Andy Allen and are below the age of 40.  We may be the only two below the age of 50.  Some of the commissioners will never live see the debt paid off and I will be an old woman by the time this debt is paid off.  It’s disheartening that the Finance Director would even propose consideration of kicking the can further down the road.

Only commissioners Karen Miller and I voted no to financing the possibility of extending the length of the debt.

Airshow donation with your tax dollars
The commission chose to return to the practice of using your tax dollars to fund charitable purposes.  Several years ago the commission chose to discontinue donation to charitable organizations, with the exception of the Heritage Center.

An airshow which will come to the airport next year, requested a $10,000 sponsorship from the county.  Since this was promoted as bringing tourism to the area, with the proceeds going to a charity, I moved to refer the matter to the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority (SMTDA).  The motion failed.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted to refer the matter to the SMTDA.  The rest voted not to refer.  The SMTDA gets $1.4 million in tax revenue from the hotel/motel tax.  They could have easily found $10,000 in your budget but the commission chose to make you give even more.  Only commissioners Archer, Miller and I voted no.

Audit Committee
Blount County will have an Audit Committee.  The committee will be comprised of 2 commissioners and 3 citizens.  Commissioner Mike Akard offered an amendment to expand the number of commissioners to 4 and prohibit the membership from including people serving on the Budget Committee and Purchasing Commission.  This make sense because the Audit Committee shouldn’t include the same people to Audit the results of their own decisions.  The amendment failed.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Daly, French, Miller and I voted yes.  The rest voted no.

Hopefully the Audit Committee will meet more often than the Purchasing Commission, which hasn’t met since the commission separated it from the Budget Committee in January.  Commissioners Archer, Farmer, Miller and Stinnett voted no on forming an Audit Committee.

Emergency Medical Services Board
The commission unanimously passed a resolution creating an Emergency Medical Services Board to oversee the services provided by Rural Metro under their new ambulance contract.  The original proposal was strongly resisted by commissioner Ron French who serves on the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department for failing to provide representative oversight to the rural areas of the county which have the longest response times for ambulance service.  Commissioner French’s suggestions for improvement were unanimously adopted by the commission.

Vendor changes for county insurance program
The commission unanimously approved several vendor changes to the county insurance program.  This will save some money but does not take the self insurance fund county out of the red.  The rest of the savings will have come from changes to the insurance rates charged to the employees or the taxpayers will be stuck with another property tax increase.

Political machine voting block
The political machine of Blount County appears to be firmly in place one year into this commission term.  Commissioners and Blount County Schools teachers Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe weren’t backed by the local good ole’ boys in the last election but they appear to amalgamated with the machine.  These two got what they wanted, a huge increase in local revenue to the schools and pay raises out of the increase budget.  Thus, it’s not surprising that they vote with the machine on nearly everything.  Grady Caskey started out with a bit more independence but that appears to be a thing of the past.

Here are the wage increase given to Blount County Schools employees who are commissioners or relatives of commissioners.  Betsy Cunningham is not a relative of a commissioner but I inquired about her pay because she is now the full time PR person for the Schools.

Grady Caskey   53,080 50,520
Dodd Crowe   64,380 62,718
Gary Farmer   68,792 66,783
Betsy Cunningham 1 44,440 30,000
Becky Cole   11,056 10,505
Kristi Yates 2 50,582 41,539

1 – moved from part time to full time in FY 15-16
2 – added office manger job responsibilities in FY 15-16

Up next:
Changes to the employee insurance rates.

All hail King Daniels!

“All hail King Daniels!”  That was the subject line of an email in my inbox today.  The body of the email went on to say “and his royal court- crazy Phyllis, Alexander, Haslam and others!”

Last week I received an email with the subject line “Pure Nonsense” and the body said “National Enquire material…”.  Attached to the email was the article on Bryan Daniels being given the 2015 Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executive of the Year award.

An email from earlier this month contained this link TeamHealth to acquire IPC for $1.6B and said, “All cash deal after the Blount Partnership bragged about giving them $200,000 for employee training.  Why did they need it?”

Someone recently said to me, “anyone can give the farm away.”  It sounds like the people of Blount County see through these “deals.”

It is good to see Denzo expand.  They are a valuable asset to the community.

The paper talks about the donations that Denzo makes to the community.  What about the “donations” that the taxpayers give to Denzo?  It should concern us that the state and the local governments have to give them things to get them to expand where they already exist and operate.

Bryan Daniels talks about the “secret” to successful recruitment of business being cooperative community leaders.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone at CTAS regarding the Industrial Development Board and business recruitment.  He said, these people who do the recruiting act like there is a magic formula but there isn’t.  They just start giving them stuff until they say yes.

That’s right, they give them stuff.  Your stuff.  You get to pay for it through increased property taxes on your house.  You may never get one of these jobs but you get to pay for the stuff given to these companies to get those jobs here.  The tax money given to the IDB and the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority, both a part of the private Blount Partnership, keeps going up not down.

Earlier in the year, after one of these Blount Partnership press conferences I received a message complaining about the mediocre pay the employees will receive from the company that was given a special tax deal.  It reminded me of what Bryan Daniels told members of the community in January, “A lot of companies that, a lot of those manufacturers that are coming in, they’re looking for (sigh) kind of a little bit cheaper labor force at times.”

There you have it folks.  Bryan Daniels, the Blount Partnership and your elected officials are giving the farm away to get a little bit cheaper labor force here.  The results speak for themselves.  Blount County has the highest drop in median household income in the region and Blount County is the only county in the region where pay isn’t keeping up with the rate of inflation.  Those are really results worth writing weekly puff pieces on.

Anyone in for throwing in another million (the IDB gets about $1 million of your tax money) in the IDB/Blount Partnership pot for more of these results?

Here’s a recruitment tip for Byran Daniels.  Bring in a vomit bag manufacturer so that the people have something to catch the projections that result from the plethora of nauseating articles coming from the paper telling us how great these secretive deals are that provide jobs that can’t even keep the pay in Blount County growing at the rate of inflation.

Scott Walker (R) uses Millions of taxpayer dollars for NBA Stadium subsidy

By Jay Polk

From the article: “This one involves Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who’s running on his tough-as-nails budget-cutting credentials. Come tomorrow, Walker will commit no less than $400 million of taxpayer money to a stadium deal to keep the NBA Bucks in Milwaukee:

The state would put $250 million toward the arena, with interest adding up over decades. The subsidy, approved last month with bipartisan support in Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature, wasn’t addressed in the first presidential debate Thursday. That might change in future forums—or attack ads.

That’s bad enough, of course. But what makes the situation even worse is that Walker is actually trying to sell it as something other [than] politically motivated corporate welfare of the basest sort:

Walker, 47, argues that the subsidy is a “good deal,” partly because Wisconsin would lose revenue if the Bucks leave, as they had threatened. The owners of the Bucks, a team whose value Forbes pegged at $600 million, will pick up half the cost of the $500 million arena.

You got that? A business worth $600 million doesn’t have the cash or the credit to build its own…palace (despite covering just half of costs, the Bucks will get virtually all revenue generated by venue forever and ever amen).”

And so it goes that Republicans are just as bad as Democrats on wasting your hard-earned money. Why do fiscal conservatives support Republicans again?

A critique of recent economic evaluations of community water fluoridation

When is the Mayor going to be true to his word to the Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots (SMTPP) and appoint new people to the water board?  He told the SMTPP that he knew water fluoridation is harmful, because Linda King kept him informed on the latest research.

If the Mayor knows that water fluoridation is harmful why does he reappoint the same people and allow the practice to continue?

Not everything on this website is written by me

There are some in the community who think that everything on this website is written by me (Tona Monroe).  That is not the case.  This site was never intended to be a website solely with material written by me.  I own domains with my name and could just as easily write the material there.

There are some in the community who think that I agree with everything written on this website.  That is not the case either.  My intention in creating this website was never to have complete and total agreement with every word posted here.

The litmus test for content on this website was never complete and total agreement with my views and is not the case now.  My goals are to promote freedom and transparency in government.  Those are the reasons why I started this website and why I continue publishing on this website.  Those are also the reasons that I ran for office and what I hope to achieve while in office.

The content here is intended to be thought provoking while promoting freedom and openness in government.  Everything that is posted here should no more be viewed as my opinions than letters to the editors are viewed as being the opinions of the editors at newspapers.

As I’ve said many times before and will continue saying, let freedom ring!

Dear Tennessee government, you do not have my consent

by Eric Holcombe

Tennessee State Constitution Article 1 Section 3:  That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience; that no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any minister against his consent; that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or
mode of worship.

I am tired of paying for the worshippers of Molech and their child sacrifices.

Achieve Inc. board member Haslam should stop chasing Forrest’s pre-conversion ghost and put an end to the current Negro Project we are being forced to fund.



Does the School Board have any idea what the economic reality is in Blount County?

The Blount County Director of Schools, Rob Britt, will now be the highest paid official on the Blount County government payroll, excluding the General Sessions Court Judges.  He will now make $124,954.83 while the Mayor, Ed Mitchell, makes $123,727.  Britt’s raise is 4.5%.

How many of you got a 4.5% raise this year?  How many of you make $100,000 or more?

From The Daily Times:

“He (Compton) stated that most certified employees received between $2,600 and $2,700.”

How many of you got a $2,600 raise this year?  How many of you have a gravy train health care plan for $25 or a family plan for $125-175?

Do your public servants listen to you?
Are they serving your or their own interests and the interests of their friends and family?
Are you public servants aware that Blount County is the only county in the region where pay hasn’t kept up with the rate of inflation?
If they know, do they care?
If they care, how to they explain these pay raises when the taxpayers aren’t keeping up with the rate of inflation?
If they don’t care, what are you going to do about it?
If we can’t even clean up our own back yard, how are we ever going to clean the mess in Washington DC up?

Suggestions: The next time you have the opportunity to vote these people out, seize that opportunity.  Please get involved in the campaigns of good candidates.  If there is no good candidate in your district, pick up a petition and run for office.

How Overcrowding Has Forced Alabama to Confront Its Prison Problem

A Daily Signal article takes a look at criminal justice reform in Alabama, a state with severe overcrowding problems.

“Criminal justice reform in Alabama is incredibly complex,” says Bennet Wright, executive director of the Alabama Sentencing Commission, an agency created by the legislature in 2000 to study sentencing policies with an eye toward reducing the prison population.

“If you want to move the needle on criminal justice reform in Alabama, you have to touch a variety of policy areas, and at the same time you have to be cognizant that it touches all three branches of government,” Wright says, adding:

You can’t just change sentencing to change the whole system. At the actual sentencing phase, that’s a judicial function. However, you have an executive branch function in the parole board that can make the decision whether to actually let the inmate out. This reform bill is the first attempt to wrap its hand around the entire criminal justice problem.

Further in the article:

“It’s not about changing this or that—it’s changing everything you do once somebody comes in the system,” Wright says:

Blount County would do well to follow the advice of the criminal justice system assessment (jail study) that it paid for and begin working on the things that it can address locally.  Instead only 8 of the 21 commissioners even wanted to hear from the consultant on the matter.


Politics Is Not the Path to Pro-Life Victory

by Ron Paul

During my time in Congress, I regularly introduced legislation forbidding organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal funding. The US Government should not force taxpayers to subsidize an activity they believe is murder. Thus, while I was horrified by the recently released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing selling the organs of aborted babies, I am glad that the reaction to these videos has renewed efforts to end federal funding of abortion.

My experience in Congress does not leave me optimistic that federal funding of Planned Parenthood will be ended this year, however. This is not just because the current US president is pro-abortion. When I started my efforts to end taxpayer support of abortion, I was shocked to find out how many Republicans, including some self-described “pro-life” leaders, were unsupportive of, and sometimes hostile to, my efforts.

Most pro-life politicians preferred to add language to funding bills prohibiting federal funds from being used for abortions, rather than denying federal funds to abortion providers. This approach does not stop US taxpayers from subsidizing abortions. The reason is that money is fungible. Giving Planned Parenthood $100 to use for non-abortion activities allows it to spend an additional $100 of its non-government funds on abortion.

Foreign interventionists in both parties were particularly hostile to my efforts to eliminate federal funding for international organizations that performed or promoted abortions. This is a foolish policy that gives people around the globe another reason to resent the US government.

Planned Parenthood may have abandoned the explicitly racist and eugenic views of its founder Margaret Sanger, but the majority of its abortion “services” are still provided to lower-income and minority women. Every day nearly 2,000 African-American babies lose their lives to abortion, a rate five times higher than the Caucasian abortion rates.

I support the black lives matter movement. I have long advocated an end to the drug war, police militarization, and other threats to liberty that disproportionately victimize African-Americans. However, I wish some of the black lives matter movement’s passion and energy was directed to ending abortion. Unborn black lives also matter.

The federal government has no constitutional authority to permit, fund, or even outlaw abortion. Therefore, efforts to make abortion a federal crime are just as unconstitutional as efforts to prohibit states from outlawing abortion. A Congress that truly cared about the Constitution would end all federal funding for abortion and pass legislation restricting federal jurisdiction over abortion, thus returning the issue to the states.

While passing legislation may help limit abortion, the pro-life movement will never succeed unless it changes people’s attitudes toward the unborn. This is why crisis pregnancy centers, which provide care and compassion to women facing unplanned pregnancies, have done more to advance the pro-life cause then any politician. By showing women they have viable alternatives to abortion, these centers have saved many lives.

One factor hindering the anti-abortion movement’s ability to change people’s minds is that too many abortion opponents also support a militaristic foreign policy. These pro-lifers undercut their moral credibility as advocates for unborn American lives when they display a callous indifference to the lives of Iraqi, Iranian, and Afghan children.

Libertarians who support abortion should ask themselves how they can expect a government that does not respect the unborn’s right to life to respect their property rights. Therefore, all those who wish to create a society of liberty, peace, and prosperity should join me in advocating for a consistent ethic of life and liberty that respects the rights of all persons, born and unborn.

Read online:

July 2015 Commission Report

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.   Isaiah 40:31   King James Version (KJV)

Agenda Committee

County Revenue Commissioners
Thirteen commissioners voted against implementing a state transparency law governing county receipts.  It was a sight to see commissioners Jerome Moon, Grady Caskey and Ron French fall all over themselves making excuses for why the county doesn’t need to follow a state law that allows for three citizens to inspect the county books and issue a report on their findings.  Basically their arguments were that the law was outdated, that the information is already online and that we should have an Audit Committee.

Commissioner Moon’s feeble attempt at excusing the county from following the state law included reading a statement from the Comptroller’s Office which revealed that Blount County is one of only two counties in the state to not have an Audit Committee.  The success of an Audit Committee will be dependent of the quality of the people serving on it.  If the Commission puts the same people on the Budget Committee, the H.R. Committee or their friends on the Audit Committee to audit their results of their own rubber stamping and decisions, don’t expect much from any such Audit Committee.

The Comptroller’s Office wants the County Revenue Commissioners statute repealed and wants the county to go with an Audit Committee.  A commissioner from another county shared her frustrations with me on how worthless she feels their Audit Committee is and how worthless the state Comptroller’s Office is in resolving audit findings and accounting problems in their county.  She would know.  Her husband is a CPA and a Certified Fraud Examiner.  She has shared the numerous problems that she and her husband have experienced with transparency and accountability in their local government and getting the state to address the matters.

The County does have an annual audit, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), performed by the state Comptroller’s Office.  The audit is useful information providing a snapshot of the county books at the end of the fiscal year but it is not a detailed audit of everything the county does.

We should have an Audit Committee.  Hopefully it will do more than our non-functioning Purchasing Commission.

Commission meeting
Commissioner Karen Miller was absent from the meeting.  The rest were present.

The Commission routinely appoints people to important bodies without any discussion on the nominees.  This month the Commission rubber stamped appointments to the Emergency Communications District Board and the Ocoee River Regional Library Board.

Several people have shared with me their concerns about one of the nominees having a history involving alcohol.  The Ocoee River Regional Library Board nominee approved the Library Director sending out an email in support of the tax increase.

Blount County has a population of around 125,000 people.  The commission should take its time and not rubber stamp every name submitted to it.

Budget increases
Even though the commission just passed a budget that includes a 16.7% property tax increase, there were several budget increases.

Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher had a technology increase request.  As usual he was not present to answer questions.  I voted no on the request because I didn’t receive answers to my questions.  It is amazing how little information the commission actually wants to know about voting to spend large sums of money.  Only commissioners Akard and Monroe voted no.  After the meeting, I received a call from a citizen telling me that Hatcher had time to eat dinner with several commissioners, after the Commission meeting.

The Schools received a huge increase in local revenue this budget year but were back for more with the new budget being only a few weeks old.  The School Board had already approved spending the increase and wanted the commission to approve using fund balance.  The School Board has failed to prioritize for a long time.  Only commissioners Mike Akard and Tona Monroe voted no.

Attacks on commissioners Mike Akard and Tona Monroe
Since taking office, I have been attacked several times.  In July commissioner Mike Akard was attacked by a fellow commissioner and then called out off the agenda.  If you live in the Alcoa area know that commissioner Mike Akard is standing up for you, as I have been for the citizens of the Big Springs, Carpenters Elementary, Friendsville, Happy Valley and Lanier, as evidenced by the attacks occurring against us.

Recycling Committee
County residents don’t have a lot of options available for glass recycling.  The reason is because it costs more to process and haul glass to companies willing to reuse it than they are paid for the product.

A company that manufacturers table tops using recycled glass is moving to Blount County.  While this won’t use all of the glass available for recycling, it is exciting to see this manufacturer locating here.

State of county fiscal health
The Mayor assured us that great things are coming to Blount County.  Today increases in the number of free and reduced lunches were reported.  Ask your commissioner(s) why he felt it was a good idea to increase taxes in this economic environment.

Up next:
Emergency Services Medical Board and Audit Committee