November 2016 Commission Report

This month there were two special called commission meetings in addition to the regular monthly meeting: one to look at architectural ideas for the high schools and the other to refinance hospital debt.  There were several interruptions making it difficult to concentrate.  The meetings were some of the worst that I’ve ever attended.

Architects suggest lavish plans for high schools
When people criticize school spending, they are often quickly attacked as being against education.  Education spending and a quality education are not synonymous and it should not be taboo to talk about wasteful spending in the schools.

The schools are the majority of the local government budget.  You can cut the rest of the budget and improve efficiency all day long but taxes will continue to go up unless school spending is responsibility restrained.

Many don’t like big government.  Big Ed, short for education, is a huge part of big government.  Some of the teachers on the commission talk about per pupil spending when they want more money while the quality of education is often left out of these discussions.  The amount of money should not be the standard measure for education.

Commissioners Grady Caskey and Tom Stinnett have made insulting statements that we either educate the kids or jail them.  I’ve known several people who don’t have a high school diploma but work hard and pay taxes to fund the generous salaries of people like these two.

There is probably nothing more worn out than saying that something is for the children but many in the education field continue to beat that drum.  It’s easy to see why when you look at the payroll.  Administrators are making about double what the average taxpayer makes and the Director of Schools is making triple what the average taxpayer makes.

It’s easy come, easy go to some of these people.  The taxpayers are treated like ATM machines.  The presentation by architects with Michael Brady Inc. shows just how out of touch some on the school board and the Blount County public school system are with the taxpayers.

Most of the presentation focused on looks.  One of the architects told us how their expensive and lavish ideas “feel” better.  The ideas include lots of open space and suggestions to make the high schools look like universities.  If some want these types of luxury improvements, then let those people pay for these updates.

Only a small portion of the presentation actually focused on improvements that may enhance the quality of education that the students receive.  The science labs were mentioned as being in need of modernization.  We weren’t given many details about this but this is something worth looking into.  Having good sciences labs is a worthy endeavor.  Next year the school board should look at using the education capital fund that it is receiving to improve the science labs.  The fund is being used to replace roofs this year.

With the internet and technology rapidly advancing, the future of education will change.  Before spending large sums of your money on brick and mortar that “feels” good, we should be looking at how to modernize education, utilizing online resources.

When I was out knocking on doors, during the campaign season, I spoke to several retired educators and school employees.  In general the retired teachers would speak openly, telling me about waste in the schools, where money does need to be spent, and shared that they don’t think we need more brick and mortar in Blount County Schools.  In comparison some of the current educators seemed fearful.  An educator shared with me that many are job scared and that administration unnecessarily promotes a fearful environment.  Teachers should be free to teach in an environment where they aren’t constantly burdened with political agendas.

Agenda Committee meeting
The chairman of the Agenda Committee, Commissioner Steve Samples, did not run the meeting as he should have.  He let newly elected Commissioner Dave Bennett interrupt me (Tona Monroe) and Jamie Daly.  Bennett continued doing this during the Commission meeting but Chairman Jerome Moon reminded Bennett that he did not have the floor.

After the commission meeting a citizen talked about the lack of control and said that he thought the bullying from Bennett (without naming Bennett by name) was inappropriate.

IT budget amendment decrease without clear answer why it was needed
The agenda included a rarity: a request to decrease the current budgets use of funds from the Information Technology (IT) capital fund.  Before anyone gets excited thinking that government is actually spending less of your money, it’s not.  This is a carryover amendment from the previous budget because the county used more of the fund last year that it anticipated, leaving less funds to spend in the current budget.

Since budget decreases are rare, I asked some questions about why it was necessary.  I asked the Finance Director if funds could be spent that aren’t there.  He said no but didn’t give a clear answer as to why the amendment was necessary.  The state Comptroller’s Office told me that the amendment isn’t required by law but it is good accounting practice to make the budget reflect actual available funds.  It would have been nice to have been given a similar, simple answer from the Finance Director.

Commission meeting – Hospital keeps risky variable rate debt
Last month the commission voted to convert all of the county’s variable rate debt to fully fixed rate financing.  The timing was excellent for the county, through no great planning on the part of any one individual.  Interest rates were historically low right before the election and the holder of the swaps had received two credit downgrading.

However, Blount Memorial Hospital (BMH) will continue on with its variable rate financing and interest rate swaps.  The hospital could have done what the county did but instead in will remain in risky financing, having missed a good opportunity.

The hospital should be embarrassed for presenting this request to the commission.  Besides missing a good opportunity to go fully fixed rate, the hospital failed to provide the commission with what it needed to make a good decision and also waited until the last minute to ask the commission to approve extending the variable rate debt.

The hospital has known for 3 years that this debt would need to be refinanced in December of 2016 but it did not present anything to the commission until a few weeks before the refinancing need to be in place.  Chairman Jerome Moon told me after the vote that he was glad the commission voted to approve an extension of the variable rate debt for the hospital because the hospital was up against a deadline for approval.  Moon should be upset that the hospital used the commission like this and that BMH has no more respect for the taxpayers than to wait until the last minute to present us with an extension of risky debt financing.

The taxpayers of Blount County are on the hook for the hospital debt if the hospital defaults on its debt.  The agreement that the commission approved is between the county and JP Morgan.  The hospital is not on the agreement.

If waiting until the last minute and putting you on the hook aren’t bad enough, the commission was also not given all the necessary paperwork to understand what is already in place.  The commission was not given a copy of the bond or the two swap agreements.

The two swaps don’t fully cover all of the $79.025 million of variable rate debt.  There is $23 million of debt that is not hedged with a swap and is exposed to variable interest rates.  The hospital debt will not be fully hedged until 2024.

We were not given the current mark to market value of the interest rate swaps, although I did obtain that from the Chief Financial Officer, Jonathan Smith, by calling the hospital and speaking with him.  Furthermore, we weren’t provided with the interest rates of the swaps.  The CFO did provide me with the interest rates that the hospital is paying on the swaps but he did not know how much the hospital was receiving in the swap agreements.

The commission voted on this matter without having this vital information.  It seems that whatever the advisor Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) puts in front of them is enough.  PFM has a conflict of interest.  They make money every time the county goes to market for financing.  It is to their advantage to continually see refinancing like this.

Chairman Moon cut my microphone off for talking about the lack of information on the swaps.  All the commission was given is a letter offering an extension of the tender date and a term sheet that expired on September 9, 2016.  The letter is dated August 26, 2016 but we were never offered either of these as a courtesy prior to the November meeting.

At the Agenda Committee meeting I asked the Finance Director Randy Vineyard why the hospital would need to go through the county to issue debt.  He said to utilize a better credit rating.  When I asked if the county had a better credit rating than BMH he said most counties do.  After speaking with the CFO of the hospital, I learned that BMH doesn’t have an active credit rating.  Thus, the commission voted to approve this without any idea of what the credit rating of the hospital actual is.  Additionally, I have to wonder if the Finance Director knew this as it would explain why he didn’t answer with a simple yes to my question about the BMH’s credit rating.

BMH is looking at building a new emergency room facility in the county.  This will necessitate taking on more debt.  Before any new debt is considered, BMH needs to be more forthcoming in what it presents to the commission.  There is no excuse for the way this was handled.  You the taxpayers deserve more respect that you received.

Commission meeting
Chairman Moon was frustrated throughout the commission meeting.  He interrupted the speakers unnecessarily several times throughout the evening.  The frustration may be coming from seeing Mike Caylor act like a hothead, Dave Bennett act like a bully and Steve Samples inability to run a meeting.

Server Grant
In the packet was an application to apply for a $5,000 grant to pay for a $58,000 server.  Commissioner Mike Akard asked where the other $53,000 will be coming from.  I asked if it would be coming from the Information Technology (IT) capital fund.  No one knew the answer or no one was willing to say.  A motion was made to postpone it for one month and another motion was made to send it to the IT Committee since it is IT related.  The application was approved by the commission.  Where the other $53,000 will come from remains to be seen.

Employee Handbook
The employee handbook came to the commission with a change to the vacation policy after being sent back.  The questions about vehicle liability were not addressed by the Human Resources (HR) Committee.  The commission voted to scrap the vacation changes and keep the vacation policy currently in place.

Vehicle Policy leaves questions about liability
There will now be a restriction on the use of concealed carry of weapons in vehicles in the employee handbook.  When I inquired about open carry, the Director of General Services said it would be a policy decision of the office holders and department heads.  He wasn’t sure if open carry is occurring now.  Commissioner Ron French made the comment that employees have to follow state law but no one was suggesting that employee handbook would be used to supersede state law.

My questions about whether the county has liability for personal use of county vehicles seemed to be yes, no and maybe.  Unfortunately there wasn’t a clear answer.  The commission should have taken its time to ensure that it is adequately protecting the taxpayers.

During the campaign season, my husband Troy spoke to a retired police chief living in our district.  He said that on court days he drove his own vehicle to work because he was reporting to work the same as anyone else.  He didn’t think the county should be providing take home vehicles for people who didn’t need the vehicles to do their jobs.

I proposed that employees using county vehicles for personal use pay a small fee of $20 a week for the privilege.  It was rejected.  Commission Caylor attacked me personally, asking me if I had ever had a job and made it sound like I don’t think that county employees should be able to eat out for lunch.  My proposal wouldn’t have prohibited any county employee from going out to eat for lunch.  It simply would have charged a small amount for the personal use of a county vehicle.

Last month during statements toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Daly made a statement about someone she knew who had implemented a program to track personal use of computers by company employees.  Commissioner Caylor became upset over her statement.

Could this be why?  This website is frequently visited by government employees.  Will the time spent on this website be prohibited under the new policy?  Or will local government employees continue surfing this website while on taxpayers’ time?

mcaylor101215

Cell phone usage
The cell phone policy for personal use limits talking but it doesn’t limit texting or use of the phone to surf the internet.  I pointed this out and tried to fix this by offering an amendment.  Discussion then turned to job performance and the amendment was defeated.  Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that if everything hinges on job performance then why have any statement about cell phone usage in the handbook.  Commissioner Caylor made a statement about the Blount County Commission becoming the phone police.

It is a shame that sincere concerns of commissioners are treated with such sarcastic statements.  Commissioners were sighing during discussion.  Commissioner Steve Samples moved to cut off debate and told the commission that he was sure that the commissioners already had their minds made up on how they would vote.  He made a similar statement regarding a matter last year.

Another question that I asked is what the policy is on using county phones for personal use.  Human Resources (HR) Director Jenny Morgan said, “I am not aware of a policy pertaining to personal use on work phones.”  This is another matter that the HR Committee should look at and a good reason that it should have been sent back to the HR Committee.

At the end of the meeting Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp, admonished the commission for trying to take the time to get the answers needed to make good policy decisions saying, “Be ready to make a decision whether is the right decision or the wrong decision.  You know in your heart when you come here that you are going to vote yes or your going to vote no.  It doesn’t matter.”

It doesn’t matter?  What is the point in having meetings if commissioners show up with their minds already made up and aren’t open to discussion or possible improvements to public policy?  While she was talking one of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputies was nodding in agreement.

Rather than take the time to get answers to the concerns of the few commissioners who look out for the taxpayers, the commission was dismissive of these concerns.  There are many problems with the handbook.  It wouldn’t have hurt to wait a month to get some answers and amend the handbook to resolve any concerns.

Conflicts of interest
A major problem in Blount County government is the huge number of conflicts of interest within the Blount County Commission.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Gary Farmer are employees of Blount County Schools.  Commissioners Brad Bowers and Tom Cole have relatives working for the schools.  Commissioner Kenneth Melton previously said that he has a relative working for the county.  Should any of these commissioners vote on the employee handbook?

The handbook was 41 pages prior to the revisions.  Some Departments/Offices have their own page employee handbooks.  The Highway Department Handbook is available online here and is 39 pages.  The handbook for the Schools is available here.

Commissioner Rick Carver works for East Tennessee Medical Group which is owned by BMH but he voted to use the credit of the county, guaranteed by you, to continue variable rate financing for BMH.  He should have abstained.

Commissioners Andy Allen and Dave Bennett work for companies owned by the same individual.  Some of these companies do work for the county.  You can read their employee handbook here.  At 94 pages, it is much more detailed than the county’s handbook which was 41 pages prior to the revisions.

Obviously the content is more important than the number of pages.  Compare what it says about storage of weapons in vehicles, liability for personal use of vehicles and use of social media.  One would think that as businessmen they would strive to have a county handbook that is as thorough as there employers handbook to protect the taxpayers of Blount County.

If you pull up the IT capital fund through the county’s account system (189-91110) you will see that the county is utilizing Cherokee Millwright this fiscal year and used Massey Construction Inc. last fiscal year.  Both of these commissioners should have abstained on the IT budget amendment.

There are plenty more conflicts in Blount County, Tennessee government.  Do these conflicts serve you the taxpayers well?  If not, in the May 2018 primary election vote for people who don’t have conflicts of interest.  All 21 of the commission races were determined in the Republican primary in May 2014 election.  Please don’t wait until the general election in August because most or all of the races will be determined in the May primary election.

After the commission meeting
After the meeting Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp told Commissioners Jamie Daly and Miller that if they were going to dish it out they should be prepared to take it.  You can watch the commission meeting to see if you think that Daly or Miller did anything to warrant a lecture from Crisp.

Up next:
As I wrote in my thanksgiving message, please consider taking a more active role in local government.  You don’t have to be a full time activist.  Do what you can, when you can.

A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate. - Thomas Jefferson

Letter to the editor by animal shelter employee Kristin Baksa is wrong

Kristin Baksa, an employee of the Blount County Animal Shelter, wrote a letter to the editor about Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and myself (Tona Monroe).  In it she says that we three ladies consistently refuse to support the animal shelter.  She gives the example of us three voting against the purchase of a commercial washer and dryer.  She’s wrong.

In the minutes of the December 18, 2014 Blount County Commission meeting (see page 3) you will find that Miller and I voted for the purchase of a commercial washer and dryer for the animal shelter.  Commissioner Daly did vote no.

You’ll also see in those minutes, that I made a motion to use donation money to pay for a bigger portion of the washer and dryer than was proposed.  The motion was rejected by the commission.

The animal shelter is sitting on $92,261.40 in donation money, yet it came to the commission for a budget increase to add more staff.  See account 101-0-346300-0.

The animal shelter did not use $21,199.34 of the money appropriated last year.  It could have held the line this year and used a small portion of the donation money to fund the difference of the $33,054 increase that it requested for 2 part time employees.  Instead it asked for more of your money.

Now for a happy story.  Meet Pepper.

Jamie and Pepper

Jamie and Pepper

My husband Troy found Pepper wondering along the side of a road with no collar or identifying information.  She was skinny and a bit timid at first but her timidity has passed and she now has a wonderful new home.

Jamie decided to adopt Pepper since her dog had recently passed on.  Everyone loves Pepper including Jamie’s husband Bill and the grand kids.  Pepper is being spayed today.

pepperwithcheetah

Pepper playing with cheetah

We Need Our Roads-Better or Worse: NMA E-Newsletter #411

A seismic shift appears to be underway with regards to how experts view transportation. The new vocabulary includes words like multimodal and person-level transportation. Transportation experts want to move “people” instead of cars because most cars on the road today are single occupant vehicles or SOVs—not an efficient enough form of transportation apparently. Aren’t motorists though people too? We are not just our cars. We, the people must drive because there are no realistic alternatives and because of the inherent freedom of being able to go where we want, when we want, and how we want.

Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU) website recently issued an article called THE MORBID AND MORTAL TOLL OF SPRAWL which declared that for the past 50+ years U.S. transportation engineers have designed and built thoroughfares that allow drivers to feel comfortable driving carelessly. Wide streets and enormous intersections encouraged urban sprawl, suburbia, and complete automobile dependence. The CNU also had another short and fascinating historical article on how streets turned out this way. Experts continue to complain about congestion and sprawl but no one twisted anyone’s arm to move out to suburbia. Americans made choices and luckily we can still make those choices today.

Currently over 80% of all American adults drive a car wherever they might happen to live. Even though more people are driving more miles now than ever before, roads are safer than at any time in history based on the number of miles driven. Americans drive around 2.18 trillion miles in the current rolling 12-month period. That is 9,800 miles for every person in the country. This correlates to about 26.8 miles per day per person, about 15% more miles driven than a quarter of century ago. If Americans had multimodal transportation choices would they actually use them?

Historically, departments of transportation (local, state and federal) have made decisions based on population. More people driving meant building more roads to move people in cars more quickly. Public transportation was generally factored in as well.

Ironically, even though DOTs have always promoted the car as the primary mode of transportation, the transportation agencies have continuously implemented measures that disrupt and discourage the efficient movement of traffic. Our gas tax money continues to be used to promulgate multimodal transportation agendas which should mean less road and street congestion since less people are supposedly using the roads. This should not mean though the impediment of driving due to lack of road maintenance or the application of traffic calming measures that ultimately worsen the driving experience.

In August, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), a trade group representing 13,000 professionals in 90 different countries, announced that departments of transportation (local, state and federal) should not focus so heavily on cars. The ITE comments were in response to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) proposed rulemaking on “National Performance Management Measures; Assessing the Performance of the National Highway System, Freight Movement on the Interstate System, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program”.  See this Streetsblog USA article about the topic. Find halfway down a PDF link that gives the ITE full letter and comments.

The ITE has particular concerns about the measure for congestion management. ITE’s International President Paula Flores Benway wrote in her letter to the Federal Highway Administration that the implementation of the delay-based measure for congestion management should be postponed until such time that a measure be based on a multimodal and person-level delay can be developed. If the FHWA would take these suggestions from the ITE to develop these additional measures what kind of impact will that really have on most of us? Very little. What a waste of time and dollars, money that could be used for improving roads now.

The Truth about Cars website recently ran a blog post on THIS IS HOW THEY’LL TAKE YOUR CAR FROM YOU. The author states that we’ll be shamed into giving up our cars. In 10 to 15 years, it might even be difficult to buy a new car that we can drive ourselves. The big automakers no longer call themselves automakers. They are now mobility companies and have invested heavily in carsharing and ridesharing startups.

The media and transportation experts keep harping on the coming carsharing/ridesharing future but doesn’t that put more cars on our streets? Los Angeles currently has a proposal to take 100,000 cars (two percent of all cars in LA) off the street in five years with the idea that they would need to increase the number of cars that are used for carsharing and ridesharing. This is of course a multimodal plan but the question remains: Will that many Angeleno motorists want to give up their cars for good?
Driverless cars have also spurred the idea that more cars will be on the streets than ever before. In some cities, driverless cars will be the de facto public transportation since buses, trams, trolleys, subways and trains are so 20th century. But how would connected and driverless cars work if we cannot even maintain the basic infrastructure that we have right now? This leap of faith that we can improve our infrastructure for the Car of the Future may be misguided.

For the here and now, driving a car will continue to be the primary transportation form that Americans use on a daily basis. Trying to change those dynamics with new vocabulary and social engineering will not change this paradigm anytime soon. The current transportation system is the one we have for better or worse.

Source: https://www.motorists.org/alerts/need-roads-better-worse-nma-e-newsletter-411/
_______________________________________________________________
Read Driving News every chance you get:
https://www.motorists.org/news/

Check out the latest motoring news in your state + your state’s Member Forum
https://www.motorists.org/chapters/

Check out this week’s Driving News Weekly Roundup on the NMA Blog
https://www.motorists.org/blog/driving-news-roundup-november-25-2016/

To Really ‘Make America Great Again,’ End the Fed!

By Ron Paul
November 27, 2016

Former Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher recently gave a speech identifying the Federal Reserve’s easy money/low interest rate policies as a source of the public anger that propelled Donald Trump into the White House. Mr. Fisher is certainly correct that the Fed’s policies have “skewered” the middle class. However, the problem is not specific Fed policies, but the very system of fiat currency managed by a secretive central bank.

Federal Reserve-generated increases in money supply cause economic inequality. This is because, when the Fed acts to increase the money supply, well-to-do investors and other crony capitalists are the first recipients of the new money. These economic elites enjoy an increase in purchasing power before the Fed’s inflationary policies lead to mass price increases. This gives them a boost in their standard of living.

By the time the increased money supply trickles down to middle- and working-class Americans, the economy is already beset by inflation. So most average Americans see their standard of living decline as a result of Fed-engendered money supply increases.

Some Fed defenders claim that inflation doesn’t negatively affect anyone’s standard of living because price increases are matched by wage increases. This claim ignores the fact that the effects of the Fed’s actions depend on how individuals react to the Fed’s actions.

Historically, an increase in money supply does not just cause a general rise in prices. It also causes money to flow into specific sectors, creating a bubble that provides investors and workers in those areas a (temporary) increase in their incomes. Meanwhile, workers and investors in sectors not affected by the Fed-generated boom will still see a decline in their purchasing power and thus their standard of living.

Adoption of a “rules-based” monetary policy will not eliminate the problem of Fed-created bubbles, booms, and busts, since Congress cannot set a rule dictating how individuals react to Fed policies. The only way to eliminate the boom-and-bust cycle is to remove the Fed’s power to increase the money supply and manipulate interest rates.

Because the Fed’s actions distort the view of economic conditions among investors, businesses, and workers, the booms created by the Fed are unsustainable. Eventually reality sets in, the bubble bursts, and the economy falls into recession.

When the crash occurs the best thing for Congress and the Fed to do is allow the recession to run its course. Recessions are the economy’s way of cleaning out the Fed-created distortions. Of course, Congress and the Fed refuse to do that. Instead, they begin the whole business cycle over again with another round of money creation, increased stimulus spending, and corporate bailouts.

Some progressive economists acknowledge how the Fed causes economic inequality and harms average Americans. These progressives support perpetual low interest rates and money creation. These so-called working class champions ignore how the very act of money creation causes economic inequality. Longer periods of easy money also mean longer, and more painful, recessions.

President-elect Donald Trump has acknowledged that, while his business benefits from lower interest rates, the Fed’s policies hurt most Americans. During the campaign, Mr. Trump also promised to make audit the fed part of his first 100 days agenda. Unfortunately, since the election, President-elect Trump has not made any statements regarding monetary policy or the audit the fed legislation. Those of us who understand that changing monetary policy is the key to making America great again must redouble our efforts to convince Congress and the new president to audit, then end, the Federal Reserve.

http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2016/november/27/to-really-make-america-great-again-end-the-fed/

Give the gift of American history for Christmas

With the renewed sense of nationalism and the call to put America first, here’s a great Christmas idea.  If you’re tried of giving made in China widgets or the same stuff you always give, check out Liberty Classroom.  Plus you don’t have to fight the rush with long lines and heavy traffic.

Tom Woods is a brilliant author and historian.  He is one of several libertarian historians that has challenged me to not accept what I was taught to be true but to think deeper and learn what is actually true.

There’s a lot more to history than President George Washington couldn’t tell a lie and Abraham Lincoln saved the union.  You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn and how much of what you thought was true is actually vastly different.

Disclosure: This is a plug to earn a few Federal Reserve Notes, commonly known as dollars.

Check out some free stuff here:
http://www.libertyclassroom.com/dap/a/?a=5769&p=www.libertyclassroom.com/free/

Indispensable Liberty Book List:
http://www.libertyclassroom.com/dap/a/?a=5769&p=www.libertyclassroom.com/topbooks/

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Troy and I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  We have much to be grateful for.

One thing that I am thankful for is the opportunity to call out government officials for wrong doing and advocate for reform.  In some parts of the world people face severe repercussions for rebuking their government “leaders”.  Sadly I too often hear from people who are afraid of retaliation if they challenge that courthouse clique that exists in local government.  Good people who initiate no harm should not live in fear of their governments.

I encourage everyone during this time of thanksgiving to give serious consideration to your knowledge and involvement in state and local governments.  In general people are too focused on federal politics.  The main stream media bombards us with drama and endless controversy in Washington DC.

Give some consideration to taking a break from media sources that focus solely or mostly on national politics and put some time and energy into learning what your local and state governments are doing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of people can’t even name their local and state officials.

While I stood in a very long line to vote in the November election, I noticed someone willing to wait in the long line to vote in the Presidential race who hadn’t voted in the local government primary election held in May of 2014.  The reason this stood out to me is because this person had my sign in their yard but they didn’t actual take the time to vote in the local election.

If you voted in the presidential race this year, your vote was one in over 120 million votes.  If you voted in a county commission race in the local government election in May of 2014, your vote was about 1 in a thousand.  Some districts had more than 1,000 votes and some had less.  Many people don’t vote because they don’t feel that their votes matter.  Where does your vote have the most impact, a race with over 120 million votes or a race with about 1,000 votes?

If you still aren’t convinced that your vote matters tremendously in local elections, let me put it another way for you.  3 of the 21 county commission races were decided by less than 25 votes in the May primary election in 2014.  Jamie Daly won her race by 21 votes.  Archie Archer won his race by 12 votes.  Kenneth Melton won reelection to the Blount County Commission by receiving 6 more vote than his challenger.

These local races are often very close.  Do you vote in the local elections?  If not, why?

The unofficial results on the county’s website show 53,260 votes in the November election while only 12,061 voted in the August election.  If you are one of the many people who voted in November but not in August, please reflect upon why you didn’t vote in August.

Yesterday and today I posted several articles about the difficulties and unresponsiveness that I deal with on a regular basis as an elected official serving the community through local government.  Contact information for the appropriate people is provided in these posts if you feel so inclined to provide input on any of these matters.

It has been said that serving as a county commissioner is a thankless job.  Actually its not.  I receive several thanks on a fairly regular basis.  What is more accurate is to describe it as a helpless job because there are so few willing to help promote better government locally.

What would make me even more thankful this Thanksgiving Day would be to see more people take an active role in what is happening right here in our county.

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner

Tennessee General Assembly often nonresponsive to needed and responsible reforms

In my quest for better government, I have written the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on several issues that are ripe for reform.  The legislators have been largely unresponsive.

One such matter is the salaries of government officials and employees.  Tennessee judges enjoy being the best paid judges in the nation, after a cost of living adjustment.  Many elected officials make 2, 3 and 4 times what the average taxpayer makes.  The salaries of some UT officials are outrageous.

Only 2 state legislators have responded to my request for salary reform: Representative Roger Kane and Senator Richard Briggs.  Both have realized that the salaries are excessive but neither has been willing to take the lead to reform how government officials are compensated.  Representative Susan Lynn responded to a friend who sent an email on the matter.  Lynn said she struggled with the salaries but justified them as being necessary to attract good people.

Another matter that I have written about is the supposed 30 year emergency that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is operating under.  State sentenced felons are clogging local jails throughout the state and the legislature has done little to address it.  As such, several local governments have gone deeply in debt to deal with the crisis that the state won’t fix.

Tennessee has the financial resources.  It had a roughly $1 billion surplus in extra tax money that could have been used to fix criminal justice problems and crumbling roads.  Instead it went to teachers salaries and an expensive museum, among other things.  Part of the surplus did go to roads but the legislature did not even fully restore what was taken from transportation funding in the previous decade.

Not one state legislator responded when I sent an email to them with a link to the news article where TDOC says that it has been operating under an emergency declaration since 1985.  How can an emergency exist for 30 years?  This is reprehensible.

When I hear a state legislator brag about Tennessee being one of the lowest indebted nation in the state I cringe.  When do these legislators talk about the debt burden of local governments resulting from state inactions?  The state looks good because it can dump its problems on the back of local governments as it is doing with state sentenced prisoners.

Furthermore, state legislators brag about cutting taxes at the state level.  That sounds good but what about the impact on local tax rates from salary mandates and housing state sentenced felons?

These legislators should be thoroughly rebuked for allowing the problem to burden local governments with debt to pay for housing state inmates.  The Tennessee General Assembly needs to be more responsive to the problems within local government and society, particularly the criminal justice system.  Ignoring criminal justice problems and salary mandates means that local taxpayers will continue to pay for the inactions of the state legislature.

Tennessee General Assembly Emails:

sen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.rusty.crowe@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.todd.gardenshire@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.dolores.gresham@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.ferrell.haile@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.thelma.harper@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.lee.harris@captitol.tn.gov,
sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.kerry.roberts@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.john.stevens@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.reginald.tate@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.jim.tracy@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.jeff.yarbro@capitol.tn.gov,
“Becky Massey” <sen.becky.massey@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Bill Ketron” <sen.bill.ketron@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Brian Kelsey” <sen.brian.kelsey@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Doug Overbey” <sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Ed Jackson” <sen.ed.jackson@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Frank Niceley” <sen.frank.niceley@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Jack Johnson” <sen.jack.johnson@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Janice Bowling” <sen.janice.bowling@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Mae Beavers” <sen.mae.beavers@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Mark Green” <sen.mark.green@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Mark Norris” <sen.mark.norris@capitol.tn.gov>,
lt.gov.ron.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov,
“Steven Dickerson” <sen.steven.dickerson@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Steve Southerland” <sen.steve.southerland@capitol.tn.gov>,
sen.sara.kyle@capitol.tn.gov,
“Richard Briggs” <sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Ken Yager” <sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov>,
rep.raumesh.akbari@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.alexander@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.armstrong@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.beck@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harry.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sheila.butt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kent.calfee@capitol.tn.gov, rep.karen.camper@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dale.carr@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.carter@capitol.tn.gov, rep.glen.casada@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.ray.clemmons@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov, rep.barbara.cooper@capitol.tn.gov, rep.martin.daniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.barry.doss@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.dunlap@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jimmy.eldridge@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jeremy.faison@capitol.tn.gov, rep.andrew.farmer@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joanne.favors@capitol.tn.gov, rep.craig.fitzhugh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.forgety@capitol.tn.gov, rep.brenda.gilmore@capitol.tn.gov, rep.tilman.goins@capitol.tn.gov, rep.marc.gravitt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.curtis.halford@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ga.hardaway@capitol.tn.gov, speaker.beth.harwell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.hawk@capitol.tn.gov, rep.patsy.hazlewood@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gary.hicks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.timothy.hill@capitol.tn.gov, rep.matthew.hill@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov, rep.andy.holt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bud.hulsey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jamie.jenkins@capitol.tn.gov, rep.darren.jernigan@capitol.tn.gov, rep.curtis.johnson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sherry.jones@capitol.tn.gov, rep.roger.kane@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kelly.keisling@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sabi.kumar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.william.lamberth@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mary.littleton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.lollar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov, rep.susan.lynn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.pat.marsh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.judd.matheny@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jimmy.matlock@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gerald.mccormick@capitol.tn.gov, rep.steve.mcdaniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.steve.mcmanus@capitol.tn.gov, rep.larry.miller@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bo.mitchell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.debra.moody@capitol.tn.gov, rep.antonio.parkinson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.pitts@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mark.pody@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jason.powell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dennis.powers@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.ragan@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jay.reedy@capitol.tn.gov, rep.courtney.rogers@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.sanderson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.charles.sargent@capitol.tn.gov, rep.cameron.sexton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnny.shaw@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.shepard@capitol.tn.gov, rep.eddie.smith@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.sparks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.billy.spivey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.stewart@capitol.tn.gov, rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bryan.terry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.towns@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.travis@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnnie.turner@capitol.tn.gov, rep.micah.vanhuss@capitol.tn.gov, rep.terri.lynn.weaver@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.windle@capitol.tn.gov, rep.tim.wirgau@capitol.tn.gov, rep.rick.womick@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jason.zachary@capitol.tn.gov

PBA Secretary-Treasurer Cheri Huffman Jones hasn’t provide the minutes of the June 8, 2011 PBA meeting

It has now been a year since I submitted an open records request to Cheri Huffman Jones, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Public Building Authority of Blount County, Tennessee (PBA), for copies of the PBA meeting minutes for 2011-2015.  Ms. Jones did provide me with minutes from most of the meetings.  However, to this day she has not provided me with a copy of the minutes of the June 8, 2011 PBA meeting.

It appears that the PBA didn’t keep minutes for the meeting.  The minutes of the June 15, 2011 meeting do not show approval of meeting minutes from the prior meeting held on June 8, 2011.  Approval of minutes are in the minutes of subsequent meeting minutes.  You can listen to the June 15, 2011 meeting in the videos below.  No meeting minutes were approved during that meeting.

In the video, you’ll hear just how little the members of the PBA know about its operation and the way bonds work.  The biggest concern of PBA member John Lambert, husband of former Blount County Commissioner Peggy Lambert, is that the PBA obtain an insurance policy that protects him from lawsuits.

If there are no meeting minutes for the June 8, 2011 PBA meeting, why doesn’t Mrs. Jones just say so?

Senator Doug Overbey and Representative Art Swann are nonresponsive

Some years back, prior to be elected to serve as a county commissioner, I (Tona Monroe) asked Senator Doug Overbey to obtain an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General.  He declined saying that that he felt that AG’s opinions should be used to answer questions that local government officials have.  His response told me that he doesn’t give a flip what the people he is elected to serve want but I had hoped that after my election to local government that Overbey would be responsive to my requests for information and ideas for reform.  He isn’t.

I can’t recall him responding to anything that I have sent him since taking office in September 2014.  He did find the time to send me a letter during his campaign for reelection saying he hoped that he had earned my support.

Overbey spends his time catering to his wealthy donors and attending social events.  He represents the elite.  He is a career politician floating in the swamp of Nashville.

The people of Tennessee failed to drain the swap in Nashville during the primary elections in August.  Voter turnout was very low.  The election was lost in the drama and media coverage of federal politics.  I encourage everyone to pay more attention to state and local politics.

Representative Art Swann doesn’t respond either.  Rep. Bob Ramsey does respond to some things but never offers to work toward any reform that will improve local government.

Senator Doug Overbey: sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov  850-9411
Representative Bob Ramsey: rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov  984-8124
Representative Art Swann: rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov  982-6811

CTAS: another brick in the wall

headbashwallPerhaps one of the worst bricks in the wall of bureaucracy in local government is the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS).  On the front page of its website CTAS boldly proclaims to be “Promoting better county government through direct assistance to county officials and their associations.”  This is laughable and should be removed from the website because its not true.

Wesley Robertson, the County Government Consultant for Region 2 which includes Blount County, routinely ignores my (Tona Monroe) emails.  When he isn’t ignoring my emails, he is busy calling Blount County Commission Chairman Jerome Moon to give him the answers to my questions, rather than providing them to me.  So much for direct assistance.  CTAS is very cliquey.  Picking favorites is something they do.

On a couple of occasions I’ve sent questions that I had to someone who is part of the clique and this person submits the questions to CTAS.  CTAS responds promptly when this person forwards the questions to CTAS.

Furthermore, after failing to get answers from Robertson to important questions, I asked Robin Roberts the Executive Director of CTAS to allow me to consult with a CTAS attorney directly.  He responded saying:

“We discontinued having our attorneys field direct questions from officials due to the number of officials and the volume of calls. We experienced many problems with the process of officials calling the attorneys directly and it reduced the level and quality of our overall service. This is a management decision and falls ultimately on my shoulders and I have very strong beliefs on the best utilization of our limited legal staff time and the large number of customers. Hopefully you can understand the limits of four attorneys trying to serve over 3,000 county officials and department heads, many state departments and other stakeholders.

If you have questions you do not believe to be resolved by Wesley, you can email or call me after your contact with Wesley.  We are trying to serve Blount County to our best ability.”

Thus, the attorneys aren’t directly available to provide assistance.  You can see that the email address for the attorneys aren’t available online.

Of course the statement about contacting Robin Roberts when Wesley Robertson doesn’t responded sounds good but it doesn’t mean anything either.  Notice that Roberts said I could email or call him after contacting Wesley but he didn’t say anything about actually responding.  Despite the initial anomalous response, Roberts doesn’t respond either.

A more accurate statement would read, “Promoting the status quo in county government through communication with those who are a part of our clique.”

ctasdirectassistance

Robin Roberts: (615) 306-3221 robin.roberts@tennessee.edu
Wesley Robertson: (931) 797-6474 wesley.robertson@tennessee.edu

It has been 8 months and Director of General Services has provided nothing on lawsuits against the county

You’ve probably noticed that there have been several lawsuits brought against the county.  People have been asking me about the status of several lawsuits against the county.  In order to be informed and answer their questions, I wrote Mr. Don Stallions, the Director of General Services, in March of this year to learn about the lawsuits.  To date, 8 months later, I have been provided nothing on the lawsuits.

Don Stallions: 865-273-5772 dstallions@blounttn.org
Mayor Ed Mitchell:  (865) 273-5700 emitchell@blounttn.org
Administration Assistant Amy Cowden:  (865) 273-5703 acowden@blounttn.org

A response to a nonresponse: Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have form used to determine inmate costs

headbashwallIn the inane world of government, here’s another story to share that leaves me wondering why I continue to bang my head against the wall of local government.

Back in early May of this year I sent an email to Jeff French, the Chief Deputy of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), asking for a copy of the Intergovernmental Agreement between the BCSO and the United States Marshals Service which establishes the daily inmate per diem amount and travel rate and for the paperwork that was used to determine those rates.   About a week later, Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps emailed me the Intergovernmental Agreement but I never received anything related to the paperwork that was used to determine the federal per diem rate.

The specific form that the federal government requires is the Form USM-243.  My request was broader than just this form because I wasn’t sure if anything else related to the rate had been submitted.  Thus, my request was for all of the paperwork related to the determination of the per diem and travel rates.  Remember that the county paid a company 3.5 times more than the low bid to submit the paperwork for a new rate.

Several months passed without receiving a response from French or the paperwork determining the rates.  As such, I contacted the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) in the Comptroller’s Office to obtain their help.  About a month passed when Ann Butterworth in the OORC emailed me saying that Chief French told her that the BCSO did not have the Form USM-243 and that a nonresponse constitutes denial under the Open Records Act of Tennessee.

I thought that was the end of my open records request.  You can’t get blood out of a turnip.  If the BCSO doesn’t have the Form USM-243 then my only option to obtain the paperwork it is to do a Freedom of Information Act request with the federal government.

About a week later, I got an email from attorney Craig Garrett’s office with this attached letter denying that the BCSO had failed to respond to an open records request.  His contention is that my original request wasn’t a valid request under the Open Records Act; therefore, the BCSO didn’t have to respond.

Really?  Why do people go to such great lengths in responding to explain why they didn’t respond in the first place?  If French had taken 1 minute to email me to explain that the BCSO didn’t have the records that I was requesting, there would have been no need to contact an attorney at taxpayer expense to provide a response.  If people would just do their jobs the taxpayers would be better served and no one have to lawyer up for failing to respond to a request.

Perhaps the most alarming thing is the discovery that the BCSO doesn’t have the Form USM-243.  The BCSO has long maintained that the county makes money housing federal inmates.  How can that statement be made with a straight face when the BCSO isn’t even in possession of the paperwork used to determine the per diem rate?   Has the BCSO done its own analysis on the cost of housing inmates?  If so, why pay a company to do it for you?  If not, there is little if any reason to believe that the county benefits financially by keeping federal inmates in the Blount County Adult Detention Center.

Jeff French:  (865) 273-5000  jfrench@bcso.com
Sheriff James Berrong:  (865) 273-5000 jlb@bcso.com