Agenda and Commission Meetings
This was a light month for the Blount County Commission. The agenda was short. There was a zoning request that was had no objections and the commission voted to approve its minutes and receive reports.
The only thing of significance that happened was the commission moved the regular meeting time of 7 PM to 4 PM. This was likely because the Republican Party of Blount County scheduled its Lincoln Day dinner for the same night at 6 PM. Commissioner Dave Bennett had the item placed on the agenda for the Agenda Committee but he wasn’t present at the meeting to explain his request. He is the former chairman of the local Republican Party.
Would the all Republican commission change the meeting time for the Blount County Democratic or Libertarian Parties? The Information Technology Committee meeting, which was scheduled for 6 PM the same night, was also canceled. I was the only commissioner present to vote against catering to the local Republican Party.
Paper takes down a story related to jail expansion
Last month I wrote about the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) cutting me off and not letting me do the job that I was elected to do: ask questions and get answers related to jail expansion in order to make an informed decision. This month the paper removed a story from its website that it wrote related to my research and questions about this endeavor.
Blount County Tax Revolt, a local citizens group, asked me to come speak about the BCCP cutting me off and explain what I was prohibited from asking and what I had hoped to learn by asking questions. A reporter for The Daily Times was present at the meeting and a story was written. The story did not appear in the print edition but it was online with a link on the homepage of the paper’s website until the early afternoon when it was taken down.
The Daily Times has twice published that the Purchasing Department had an open meeting related to the jail RFQ. This cherry picked reporting is a disservice to this community. Most of the purchasing process related to the selection of a firm was done in secret because of a new state law. It seems that the paper is more interested in publishing the talking points of the courthouse clique than it is evaluating a new law that made what was formerly an open process largely secret. This law coupled with the actions of the BCCP have made my job more difficult than it should be.
At the March BCCP meeting, Purchasing Agent Katie Branham Kerr said that she would have to refer to her notes when I asked her who she had contacted in Loudon County when consulting references for the architectural firm Michael Brady Inc. (MBI). I requested a copy of her notes and all communications records that she had with other governmental entities related to MBI. Kerr informed me that she has no communications records related to MBI.
She says that she did contact someone at Loudon County regarding MBI but can’t remember who she spoke with or what office/department this person works in. I checked with the Loudon County Mayor’s Office to see if anyone had any recollection of speaking to Kerr or anyone from Blount County related to MBI. Anita Green with the Loudon County Mayor’s Office responded with, “I have spoken with several department heads and none have any recollection of speaking with anyone from Blount County.”
I’ll likely write more on this in the future.
Spectra Recycling Center to close
Blount County has been fortunate to enjoy having recycling services provided free of charge by a private company. Spectra will be closing its recycling center on May 1st. Spectra has provided recycling services free to city and county residents for 17 years.
While some recycling materials are profitable others are not. The demand for glass is low and many governments that provide recycling services have stopped collecting it during garbage pick up.
In 2015, I served on an ad hoc committee that looked at recycling options for Blount County. You can read the report issued by the chairman of that committee here.
If the county were to provide recycling, there will be costs associated with that service. We had a valuable service being provided by a private business. I don’t know if that service could have continued but I do wish that possibility had been fully explored before looking to provide a new county service. Do you support using your tax dollars for the county to provide recycling?
Open Records Policy
The commission will soon vote on an open records policy. Those who are interested in open government and obtaining or inspecting records will want to pay close attention to this.
The press has many important functions that can be invaluable. As such, it’s important to know the people who are doing the reporting as it can give insight into the mindsets and biases that occur in journalism.
Buzz Trexler is the pastor at Green Meadow United Methodist Church and an editor at The Daily Times. His blog/website can help readers glean information about his approach to journalism and preaching.
There you will find that he preached a sermon at the Friendsville United Methodist Church entitled, “Christian Belief Is Like Penguin Sex.”
And that folks is who is editing your daily source of written news in the Bible belt.
Written by Ron Paul
“I love Wikileaks,” candidate Donald Trump said on October 10th on the campaign trail. He praised the organization for reporting on the darker side of the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was information likely leaked by a whistleblower from within the Clinton campaign to Wikileaks.
Back then he praised Wikileaks for promoting transparency, but candidate Trump looks less like President Trump every day. The candidate praised whistleblowers and Wikileaks often on the campaign trail. In fact, candidate Trump loved Wikileaks so much he mentioned the organization more than 140 times in the final month of the campaign alone! Now, as President, it seems Trump wants Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sent to prison.
Last week CNN reported, citing anonymous “intelligence community” sources, that the Trump Administration’s Justice Department was seeking the arrest of Assange and had found a way to charge the Wikileaks founder for publishing classified information without charging other media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post for publishing the same information.
It might have been tempting to write off the CNN report as “fake news,” as is much of their reporting, but for the fact President Trump said in an interview on Friday that issuing an arrest warrant for Julian Assange would be, “OK with me.”
Trump’s condemnation of Wikileaks came just a day after his CIA Director, Michael Pompeo, attacked Wikileaks as a “hostile intelligence service.” Pompeo accused Assange of being “a fraud — a coward hiding behind a screen.”
Pompeo’s word choice was no accident. By accusing Wikileaks of being a “hostile intelligence service” rather than a publisher of information on illegal and abusive government practices leaked by whistleblowers, he signaled that the organization has no First Amendment rights. Like many in Washington, he does not understand that the First Amendment is a limitation on government rather than a granting of rights to citizens. Pompeo was declaring war on Wikileaks.
But not that long ago Pompeo also cited Wikileaks as an important source of information. In July he drew attention to the Wikileaks release of information damaging to the Clinton campaign, writing, “Need further proof that the fix was in from President Obama on down?”
There is a word for this sudden about-face on Wikileaks and the transparency it provides us into the operations of the prominent and powerful: hypocrisy.
The Trump Administration’s declaration of war on whistleblowers and Wikileaks is one of the greatest disappointments in these first 100 days. Donald Trump rode into the White House with promises that he would “drain the swamp,” meaning that he would overturn the apple carts of Washington’s vested interests. By unleashing those same vested interests on those who hold them in check – the whistleblowers and those who publish their revelations – he has turned his back on those who elected him.
Julian Assange, along with the whistleblowers who reveal to us the evil that is being done in our name, are heroes. They deserve our respect and admiration, not a prison cell. If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.
The article in today’s paper (Feb. 15, 2017) fails to mention that the Comptroller’s Office doesn’t recognize the assignments totaling $2 million related to the jail. One would think that the paper would want the public to know this considering last year on September 7, 2016 the paper reported on the front page that the funds were assigned and not committed, trying to distinguish accounting terms.
From that story,
“’Assigned — not committed,’ Commissioner Chairman Jerome Moon said.”
“Vineyard said during Tuesday’s Blount County Budget Committee meeting. ‘I have assigned $1 million to public safety for the commission and this body to address whatever they need to address toward jail overcrowding.’”
The mayor and “management” don’t have the authority to express the county’s intent in assigning funds. The paper should distinguish who has authority to express the county’s intent through assignments in the General Fund.
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: email@example.com 850-9411
Representative Bob Ramsey: firstname.lastname@example.org 984-8124
Representative Art Swann: email@example.com 982-6811
Interstates are some of the safest roads. It makes no sense to put the police on the safest roads, while ignoring the most dangerous roads, unless the goal is revenue. It’s a FINE time to travel through Tennessee. Buckle up, drive safely and watch out of the ticket writers.
Great propaganda piece WKRN.
Yesterday I posted a comment that I received that the typical response from government related to a reduction in inmates in the jail is to allege how harmful this will be to Blount County’s budget and how the media will be right there with these government officials publishing a series of articles. Predictably there is another article today and we are seeing the situation described in the comment come to fruition.
A TV station also did a story. The story didn’t include any of the actual figures and solutions that I provided to the TV station.
Mark Twain is credited with saying “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” This same is true for other news sources.
I gave several figures and solutions to resolve the issues related to state inmates being removed from the local jail but the TV station didn’t publish that and instead published the two sentences that sounded the most sensational. Americans have grow distrustful of media. I can see why.
This is another comment and view of the media coverage of the jail situation that was sent to me last week. “All that sheriff does is talk about you in the articles. He doesn’t address the topic at hand, he just passively says he’s doing his job and then goes on a tirade about you. That writer Joel in all these articles needs to go back to journalism school and learn how to focus his writing on the topics at hand. He’s just spewing gossip at this point, with very little substance in his pieces. He’s not writing for the national enquirer about celebrities here, but that seems to be his writing style. Journalists are now held in similar regards/disdain as lawyers in this country.”
I recommend the book Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkinson. Attkinson, a reporter, talks about obstruction, intimidation and harassment tactics from the federal government and the media’s willingness to go along to get along and repeated failures to accurately cover the news. The situation is similar in Blount County.
Proverbs 23: 1When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: 2 And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. 3 Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat. 4 Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
Commissioners Mike Akard, Mike Caylor, Peggy Lambert and Tona Monroe were absent.
Commissioner Jamie Daly put forward a resolution to say that citizens aren’t out of order for citing sources and should be allowed to speak rather than being declared out of order. This came as a result of Commission Chairman Jerome Moon shutting down citizens during public input at the special called commission meeting in April. Commissioner Mike Caylor objected to me citing the Institute for Law and Policy Planning study. Moon declared me out of order as well as the citizens when the study was referenced. Daly’s resolution said “the Commission Chairman and the Blount County Legislative Body will not prohibit citizens from citing supporting references during public input.” You can read the resolution here on page 108.
The commission voted to table this. Only commissioners Archie Archer, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller voted against the motion to table the resolution. I would have voted for the resolution had I been present. The majority of commissioners are now on record saying that they don’t want you to come to commission meetings prepared with references that support your positions.
Commissioner Peggy Lambert was absent.
Zoning request for storage units was voted down
The commission rejected a request to rezone a parcel of land from residential to commercial. I have to wonder if the request would have been approved if the man making it had been politically connected.
Commissioner Ron French led an effort to amend the zoning regulations so that a politically connected office holder could have his land rezoned to commercial to put in a commercial business. The regulations were written such that one of the few intersections that could be rezoned belonged to an office holder. Would you and I be able to get the zoning regulations amended to put a commercial development on our property? Why would commissioner French work so hard for one of the good ole’ boys but vote against this request?
After serving nearly two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that zoning has destroyed the private property rights of the people of Blount County and is nothing more than a tool of the political machine to limit competition. Unfortunately, there are some in the community who play right into the hands of the political machine, thinking that they are keeping Blount County safe from developers while preserving the scenic beauty. However, the machine gets what they want, competition is limited and property rights are nothing more than property privileges granted by government.
I’ve been asked what I like best about being a county commissioner and what I like least about being a county commissioner. What I enjoy best is advocating for the liberty of the people that I represent. Government should be limited and justice should be blind. The most disappointing thing is the lack of citizen participation in government. I’d love to see more involvement from the people. What I dislike the most about being a county commissioner is voting on zoning regulations and requests for rezoning. 21 people sit as a board of overlords and micromanage land use regulations. We’re suppose to protect property rights, not eliminate your rights and grant special privileges to a select few.
It is ridiculous that we don’t have more small businesses such as restaurants out in the county. People shouldn’t be forced to drive into the cities for small businesses that could be readily available in the county without destroying the scenic beauty. We should stop to think about the pollution created by people driving into cities for simple household items and a meal that could easily be obtained in the county. Small businesses aren’t going to destroy the scenic beauty of Blount County anymore than new subdivisions, yet subdivisions have been placed all around the county. Have you noticed that it is usually the large chain that can work through this complicated, political process?
We’re always told that the roads can’t handle any more traffic. It is true that we have some roads that are in bad shape and some that are in need of expansion. However, we need to ask if private property rights are dependent upon which road you live on. We’re told that roads are too narrow for trucks to travel through. If that is the case then then trucks should be prohibited from traveling on these narrow roads, but this is often not the case. Rather than talking about how bad roads are to limit development, we should work to fix the roads that are dangerous.
Furthermore, the economic consequences of zoning has resulted in the cities getting the lion’s share of sales tax because the county’s zoning regulations are so restrictive toward development. The last time I inquired, I was told that roughly 85% of businesses were in the cities
Zoning was started 100 years ago in New York City to deal with skyscrapers. The County doesn’t have skyscrapers. The only building that might fit that definition is in the City of Maryville. However, zoning regulations have been expanded through the last century to impact nearly all development.
What we have in place with zoning is a system that is suppose to protect property rights but it doesn’t. Connected people get what they want and those who aren’t connected don’t get what they want. No one that I talk with thinks the system is fair, even if they strongly support having zoning. It’s just a system and not a very good one at that.
Some land use regulations are good, such as setbacks from roads and flowing water. However, I think it is time for Blount County to have a discussion on whether zoning is serving us well. For reasons stated here and many more, I conclude that the county is not well served by the system in place and that we should look at taking a different approach to land use regulations.
Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP)
The BCCP met and did nothing other than approve the meeting minutes of the last meeting and receive and briefly discuss some paperwork that is submitted monthly to the Tennessee Corrections Institute as a part of the Plan of Action to address issues related to overcrowding. The updated Plan of Action was not included in the paperwork provided to the BCCP. I had to request that.
The resolution that I introduced in May to request that the sheriff stop housing federal inmates in the local jail was sent by the Agenda Committee to the BCCP after the courthouse clique failed to kill the resolution through parliamentary procedure. None of the sheriff’s employees, friends and relatives would second my motion; therefore it died for a lack of a second.
I wasn’t able to offer discussion on the matter. If I had been able, I would have referenced the response that I received from the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury that says their legal staff could find no specific law that says the sheriff can sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval.
Commission Secretary Rhonda Pitts continued her failure to accurately record the meeting minutes. The minutes of the April 7, 2016 BCCP meeting say, “Tona Monroe made a motion to amend the motion. There was no second.” The minutes do not reflect what my motion would have done to the recommendation that the BCCP sent to the commission. However, I made the same motion at the commission meeting that the mayor called to authorize the purchasing agent to issue an RFQ related to the jail. That motion is reflected in the commission minutes. Why was my motion fully recorded in the minutes of one meeting and not the other?
The one good thing that is happening is the Sheriff’s Office request for guidance in establishing a reentry program for those who are incarcerated to integrate back into society. This is something that I would have liked to have seen several years ago. Furthermore, this is something that I would have tried to get the BCCP to look into if the BCCP had been meeting regularly and without interference from people like Commissioner Rick Carver. The BCCP and County Commission should have listened to the findings and conclusions of the author of the jail study. A reentry program would have been a logical step forward after hearing from the author who could have helped us get started on this process much sooner.
Information Technology (IT) Committee
The IT Committee meeting was canceled with no explanation given for the cancellation. With $1.3M having been put into a fund in a rush last year, these meetings should not be canceled.
The Agenda Committee meeting will be held at the courthouse at 6:30 PM in room 430 on Tuesday the 9th. The commission meeting will be held in the same room at 7 PM in the same room on Thursday the 18th.