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Blount County isn’t getting paid for housing federal inmates during federal government shutdown

Another reason, among many, why it isn’t a good idea to house pretrial detainee inmates in the Blount County jail.  The arsenic gravy on top of the horse biscuit is that the Blount County Sheriff’s Office didn’t even know about this until the press contacted them.

https://www.wbir.com/article/news/10investigates-some-county-jails-not-getting-thousands-of-dollars-per-day-during-shutdown/51-eefbc652-247f-4653-95de-9062ec48c9f6

Tona Monroe to speak at Bill of Rights Banquet on December 18th

Recipient of last year’s Eagle Award, then Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe, will be the speaker at the 4th annual Truth Radio Bill of Rights Banquet on Tuesday December 18th.  The topic of the speech will be Proof of Authority and the Proper Role of Government: The Foundation of a Constitutional Republic.

A dinner will be held at 7 PM at RJ’s Courtyard located at 3749 Airport Hwy, Louisville, Tennessee 37777.  Book your meal by calling WBCR at 984-1470. 

2017 Bill of Rights Banquet
Eagle Award Recipients Tona Monroe, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Scott Williams 

Commissioner Tona Monroe to speak at Rural (In)Justice Conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Rural (In)Justice: Covering America’s Hidden Jail Crisis
National Conference and Fellowship Launch
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York City, NY
July 10-11, 2018

Rural Justice News Release FINAL 7-8-18

PROGRAM FINAL 7-05-18

RURAL JUSTICE SPEAKERS BIOS FINAL

RURAL JUSTICE FELLOWS BIOS

Read more here: https://thecrimereport.org/covering-americas-jail-crisis/

There will be a Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) meeting on Thursday at the Blount County Courthouse in room 430 at 5:30 PM.  The BCCP met only twice in 2017, with one of those meetings being a workshop.

The Daily Times hasn’t moved out of the Stone Age, loves big government

With the passing of Dean Stone and the retirement of penguin sex preacher and editor Buzz Trexler one would hope that The Daily Times would have moved out of the (Dean) Stone Age.   Alas that is not the case.  The stale big government, courthouse clique bias of Bob Norris remains and the new editor J. Todd Foster ran political hit pieces on Commissioner Mike Akard right before the election.  Norris does not reflect the values of many in this community but he and the editors have hidden behind their editorials and trash those who challenge the status quo.

Editors of the past and present at the paper love big government.  In a town where many are conservative, the best they can achieve is support for the establishment Republicans, just look at all the pro Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker editorials.  These big government Republicans and the big government Republicans in the courthouse clique love to tax you, spend your money and tell you how to live your lives.   Thus, the rag trashes those who try to hold the line on spending and question the authority of local government.  The four commissioners who have recently been the subject of hit pieces and an editorial are the four who have most consistently looked out for the taxpaying citizens of Blount County.

Look at the paper’s Twitter account.  The only two days, during the last year, that the paper has published a “sneak peak” of the front page of the paper are the two days where the new editor ran hit pieces on Commissioner Mike Akard.  Despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Mike Akard the new editor says he isn’t partisan, won’t publish the letter to editor I (Tona Monroe) wrote asking questions about the stories and won’t answer the questions that I raised about his stories.  https://twitter.com/DailyTimes/status/989698528195866625
https://twitter.com/DailyTimes/status/989354790714073088

The rag trashed Jim Folts, who served on the previous commission, when he was the lone ranger questioning local government spending.  Now on the eve of this local government primary election, the rag’s focus is on the three women commissioners, who have also challenged the status quo.

The rag should be focusing on important issues on the eve of the election.  However, if they did that it would make those they support, the big spending courthouse clique, look bad.  Many of these big government Republicans are in local office for selfish reasons.  Just look at the conflicts of interest that proceed commission votes.  I wonder what would happen, in this election, if the paper published a story about candidates with conflicts of interest the day before the election.

The Daily Times asked the three ladies on the commission to come be interviewed, not the other way around.  When have the courthouse clique officials sat down for an interview?  Would the paper respond by publishing an editorial the day before the election praising them for what they said?

The Daily Times did willingly publish a hate screed from Ed Mitchell telling Blount County to wake up because voters chose to replace some of the incumbent, courthouse clique commissioners in the last election.  What Ed Mitchell and the anonymous editor(s) are telling us is that they think those of us who voted for people who aren’t part of the courthouse clique need to wake up, because we aren’t smart enough to chose who governs.

The point that I made about being more effective as a citizen is misconstrued in the editorial.  The point was that an active citizenry can accomplish more than a few commissioner without an active citizenry.  When the citizens groups were active, the property tax increases were less.

To act like the three women never transitioned into being public servants is absurd.  The three women were the first three commissioners to hold public town halls after being elected.  They were asked to hold these public meetings by the now defunct Citizens for Blount County’s Future.  When have the political machine commissioners held town hall meetings?  Furthermore, three of the four commissioners that have been the recent focus of paper have worked to inform the public about Blount County government, when the paper often failed to cover issues.  This website is viewed by many and I have done several radio interviews.  Commissioner Jamie Daly has published a newsletter and Mike Akard has posted to Facebook.  These types of efforts to engage with the public are scant or non-existent with the rest of the commissioners.

Running on a platform and sticking by it is fulfilling what you said you would.  Another citizens group recognized that when it honored 6 commissioners, including the 3 women and Mike Akard, for doing what they said they would do.  Blount County Tax Revolt, and those in attendance of the awards ceremony dinner, certainly thought the former citizen activists were fulfilling their roles as public servants.

In fairness to the reporters at The Daily Times, they don’t all share the views of those who make the final decisions at the paper.  Even Joel Davis, the reporter most critical of me, wrote that he was impressed with my vigilance, when I found the secret $2 million jail plan in TCI Board of Control meeting minutes.

“Tona,

Thank you every much for the information. Your vigilance is quite impressive. This is definitely going to make an interesting story.

Best,
Joel”

The wrath of God resolution was over the top.  I doubt that it would have gotten a second but the courthouse clique shut the meeting down by voting against setting the agenda.  Commissioner Karen Miller was the only sponsor of the resolution.  Yet Jamie Daly and I are included in the editorial.  The paper talks about how embarrassing it was for Blount County, but it was The Daily Times that started the media circus surrounding the resolution.

The commission passed a resolution in 2017 after the death of Steve Samples quoting a scripture from the Bible proclaiming that he would enter into the joy thy Lord.  There was no media coverage, including the paper, on this resolution.  Does the paper think it’s OK to interject religion into a resolution by proclaiming and approving something from the Bible as long at it supports the courthouse clique?  Where’s the outrage from the editors telling us how embarrassing it is for the commission to think that it can determine who enters into the joy of the Lord?  This wasn’t a prayer proceeding the meeting.  It is a formally adopted resolution and official statement of the Blount County Commission and Mayor.  Karen Miller and I were the only two commissioners who did not sponsor this resolution.

The paper further criticizes the no votes of the women when doing routine business while praising the machine for finessing the shut down of a regularly scheduled meeting and lauding Mayor Mitchell for restoring “order”.  That kind of double speak makes clear the misguided priorities of those in the back rooms of the paper.  The courthouse clique can waste our money all day long.  That isn’t news worthy, unless you vote against it, but a non-binding resolution warrants a media circus and praise for shutting down a meeting.  Remember that it was the courthouse clique and the newspaper that made the huge deal out of the resolution.  It would have likely died for a lack of a second.

There wasn’t any mention of anything that Jamie Daly or I tried to do over the last 4 years.  Before going to vote, the anonymous editor(s) want(s) you to focus on one non-binding resolution that did not bear the names of 2 of the 3 they talked about.  What about the issues that matter?  What about the 15% property tax increase that a majority of commissioners approved shortly after the local option sales tax was raised?  The list of issues is extensive but this is what the paper choses to focus on.

The paper should have learned, from the media coverage of the most recent presidential election, to rethink their election and government coverage priorities. Whether you love or hate Trump or are somewhere in between, the relevancy of many media outlets wore thin on many people in the 2016 election because of the constant Trump bashing.  Many decided, that despite Trump’s numerous character flaws, they trusted him more than the biased barrage of media attacks.  This message was lost on those making decisions at The Daily Times.

People run for public office for a variety of reasons.  The paper is free to express what they think make good qualifications for public office but the people writing anonymous editorials at the paper need a reality check.  Their views don’t align with many in the community.  The number of subscribers has dropped because of it, while the population of Blount County is increasing.  People share their concerns about the bias when the paper solicits renewals, but even when the people trying to sell subscriptions agree and share that they hear this often, the message falls on deaf ears with the decision makers at the paper as we can see by the editorial today.

The Daily Times might increase its number of subscribers if it actually published the votes of every commissioner on every issue, rather than selectively publishing what it wants the public to see.  Of course, if it did that, then big government, courthouse clique Republicans that they support will not look so good.

Letter to the editor that self proclaimed nonpartisan editor Todd Foster won’t publish.

April 27, 2018

Dear Editor,

What I took away from the first article about Commissioner Mike Akard is that he burns wood and brush on his property, had a permit to do so and no wrong doing was found, fireworks have been let off in celebration of our nation’s independence and he had two traffic citations: one with a $50 fine and the other was dropped after driving school.

Who hasn’t done such horrible things as burn wood, let off fireworks and exceed the speed limit?  That hardly warrants the following day’s headline that Akard has a criminal past.

Is The Daily Times going to refer to everyone, who has been given a traffic ticket, as having a criminal past?  No other charges or convictions were stated.  Has The Daily Times researched the driving records of all candidates or just Mike Akard?

There was no comment from Akard about the two traffic tickets.  Did The Daily Times ask Akard for a comment, like it asked his opponent for an explanation about his criminal conviction?

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe
Greenback, TN 37742

Update: I received this in an email Tuesday evening.  “I canceled my subscription after I read that editorial today. Sounded like something the president would put in Twitter. Disgusting.”

LTE: Jail expansion is empire building, not about public safety

https://www.thedailytimes.com/opinion/your_voice/jail-expansion-is-empire-building-not-about-public-safety/article_35f4f8ed-455b-5c1f-a9e5-64fed0d5caad.html

The author of this letter to the editor points out that there was a lawsuit in Knox County regarding state sentenced felons and the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) must take the TDOC felons.  Here are the court orders regarding that lawsuit.

Knox County Jail Carver Case
Knox County Jail Roberts Case

Remember that nonsense from former Chairman Jerome Moon about commissioners being  sued in federal court over the jail?  These court records should put this matter in its proper perspective.

With a new sheriff in town, jail overcrowding and expansion could go away.

All three female commissioners ending fight against Blount County ‘courthouse clique’

Blount County Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe discuss why they aren’t seeking reelection.  To tie this together, when the citizens group was active, Citizens for Blount County’s Future, there were more people fighting the courthouse clique/political machines/good ole’ boys/establishment.  These citizens were present at Blount County government meetings and spoke out on many important issues.  After the citizens group disbanded, and Blount County Tax Revolt followed suit, there were often no citizens at commission and committee meetings.  This is likely why the courthouse clique has been able to cut commissioner Monroe’s microphone off for about a year and a half.  If there had been some citizen participation these past couple of years, the three ladies may have been more effective in trying to reform local government.

https://www.thedailytimes.com/news/all-three-female-commissioners-ending-fight-against-courthouse-clique/article_f419bed3-8fac-5a09-9336-880bdb9d271f.html

Mayor Ed Mitchell begins posting to Facebook just in time for the election; What to remember before heading to the polls

Mayor Ed Mitchell started a Facebook page in 2014 and posted a few pictures but then posted nothing for nearly 3 years.  Mitchell, or someone in his office, has started posting now that it is election time and he has opponents.

Mitchell will likely win reelection because his opponents don’t have the money that it takes to win a county wide race.  One of his opponents, Harry Grothjahn, has done more in a year to keep the citizens informed about local government than Mitchell has done in his both of his terms combined.

Before you head to polls, keep in mind a few things about Ed Mitchell.

A business owner reminded me recently that Ed Mitchell has lived on the government gravy train his whole life and said that anytime Ed Mitchell wants something all he knows is go to the taxpayers and make them pay for it.  Blount County, Tennessee needs a new mayor with private sector work experience.

12 signs that a candidate might be part of the courthouse clique

Here are 12 statements that will help you identify the candidates who are swamp creatures or wanting to become part of the Blount County establishment.  Without further ado, here’s your sign.

  1. The schools need more money.  The $hool$ need more money.  The $chool$ need more money.
  2. It’s for the children.  It’s for the children.  It’s for the children.
  3. The county makes money on federal inmates.
  4. The Blount Partnership is doing a great job recruiting businesses.
  5. The county is being run efficiently because we have clean audits.
  6. We have to do this.  Federal law or state law says we have to.
  7. The sheriff should decide what inmates he keeps in the local jail.
  8. Our county employees work hard.  They deserve to make more than the average taxpaying citizen.
  9. Our teachers do such a great job that they deserve two pay raises: a step increase and a percentage increase.
  10. Blount County has a secret sauce.
  11. Blount County needs a wheel tax because it’s not fair for the property owners to have to pay all the taxes.
  12. The commissioners work so hard that they deserve an 85% pay raise.

If a candidate is saying any of these things then you’ll know you’re talking to someone who is a part of the courthouse clique or wants to be part of the courthouse clique.  You have been warned.

Commission rejects resolution requesting new auditors; Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey rules with an iron fist

The Blount County Agenda Committee is a good meeting to watch to see you local government in action.  Several of the incumbents seeking reelection must be feeling heat for their actions because Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey started the meeting by reading a statement about the role of the Agenda Committee.  He continued lecturing commissioners throughout the meeting and ruled with an iron fist.  The treatment of a citizen and a couple of commissioners made this one of the worst meetings that I’ve witnessed in the 10 years that I’ve been attending Blount County government meetings.

For years, courthouse clique commissioners have defended their yes votes at the Agenda Committee meeting by saying that their voting to move something forward doesn’t mean that they’re actually for what they move forward.  At the very meeting where Chairman Caskey chose to lecture the commissioners on the role of the Agenda Committee, the courthouse clique/political machine/good ole’ boys/establishment/swamp creature/status quo commissioners voted against even moving forward a resolution requesting that the county be assigned new auditors after having the same auditors for over a decade.

Harry Grothjahn spoke in favor of the resolution requesting new auditors.  Commissioner Ron French objected to Grothjahn sharing a conversation he had with the Comptroller’s Office about the purpose of audits.  Commissioner French’s objection was the Grothjahn’s sharing of that conversation was hearsay.  The first amendment includes the petitioning of government for a redress of grievances.  When a citizen has a grievance with their government, it is right for them to share that grievance and ask the government redress it.  Apparently Commissioner French doesn’t even want a citizen mentioning their grievances with government.

Furthermore, the practice of cutting my microphone off returned this month.  This meeting is a great examples of a chairman’s abuse of authority.  Chairman Caskey cut my microphone off for discussing the hypocrisy in the resolution of wanting more local control but asking for the state to “significantly increase funding.”  Caskey lectured the commissioners about what they were voting on.  Does Caskey think that commissioners, with only have 5 months left in their 4 year term, don’t understand the makeup of a resolution and what they’re voting on?

Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that Caskey had a conflict of interest, when he cut my microphone off, because he is a sponsor to the resolution.  Caskey lacks the objectivity to be a chairperson.  Unfortunately Caskey isn’t the only chairman to prohibit me from speaking.  Rick Carver, Chairman of the Blount County Corrections Partnership, and former Commission Chairman Jerome Moon have also cut me off.  These men have all used their positions of authority to stifle those they disagree with.  Some of this resulted from the repeated objections from Andy Allen, Dave Bennett, Mike Caylor and Ron French.

What else is to be expected from Caskeu who insulted people by saying that peopole need to either be educated or jailed.  He obviously doesn’t think much of all the hard working people who did finish high school but have paid the taxes for him to live on the government funded gravy train.  He is the former President of the Blount County Education Association (BCEA) commonly called the teachers union.  He has spent much of his life advocating taking more of your money.  He was elected four years ago because his opponent died during the election and his name was the only name on the ballot.

I apologize to the citizens of Blount County for not making a statement at the end of the meeting about the treatment of the citizen sharing his experience with government.  I had intended to make a statement but this and Caskey’s poor treatment of his fellow commissioners left me drained at the end of meeting and it slipped my mind.

If Commissioner French isn’t willing to listen to what the citizens have to say and Commissioner Caskey isn’t willing to listen to what the commissioners have to say, neither have any business being Blount County Commissioners.  Both have challengers.  Those living in district 8 can vote for Jeff Jopling for Blount County Commissioner and those living in district 9 can vote for Tracie Livesay for Blount County Commissioner.

Commissioners voting against asking for new auditor on regular basis include Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Brian Robbins and Tom Stinnett

Blount Lifestyle PAC identifies and funds the local swamp creatures

People have been asking for a list of who to vote for and there are several posts on this website providing information about the good candidates.  Blount Lifestyles PAC identifies who the swamp creatures of Blount County are.  If a candidate appears on this list, then don’t vote for them.  These are the courthouse clique/good ole’ boys/establishment/political machine/swamp creatures being funded by the swamp creatures.

These are the people who will drain your wallet.  Let’s drain the swamp instead.

TN Comptroller’s Office has been using same auditors for over a decade in Blount and Polk counties; Revolving door between auditors and local government finance directors

Some have been touting how wonderful Blount County government is because of receiving three “clean” audits in row.  That does sound good but as was recently pointed out here, audits don’t reflect assets well managed or monies well spent.

After discussion with a Polk County Commissioner, who shared with me that the state Comptroller’s Office has been using the same auditors for several years in Polk County, I reviewed Blount County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) and found that the same thing has occurred with Blount County’s audits.

Utilizing the same auditors for more than a decade is unacceptable.  Familiarity between auditors and those being audited is not in the best interest of the taxpayers.  Relationships can develop and those being audited learn what specific auditors are looking for and possibly more importantly what the auditors aren’t looking for.

To address that matter, I (Tona Monroe) have filed a resolution requesting new auditors for Blount County’s fiscal year 2018 audit.  Audit reports for Blount County are available on the Comptroller’s website here.

A review of the audit reports from 2004 through 2017 shows that one auditor has participated in all 14 years of audits, another 13 out of 14 and another 9 out of 14 years.  The situation in Polk County is similar to Blount County.  2 of the auditors have participated in all of the audits for the past 13 years.

Furthermore, the state legislature passed a law making the job performance evaluations of Comptroller’s Office employees confidential.  The job performances of those tasked with looking out the taxpayers are secret.  You aren’t allowed to know the quality of work they are doing.  This open records exemption needs to be repealed.

Revolving door
Another problem that needs to be addressed is allowing Comptroller’s Office auditors to become local finance directors.  Former Blount County Finance Director Dave Bennett worked for the Comptroller’s Office before working for the county.  The same thing happened in Hamblen County with Joey Barnard.  It’s not in the best interest of the taxpaying citizens to allow someone to be in charge of keeping your local government’s books when they could be friends with the state’s auditors, because they’ve worked with them in past.  The positions of county finance directors and state auditors should not be a revolving door.

These issues involving auditors, finance directors are the Comptroller’s Office are ripe for reform to protect the people of Tennessee.  Instead the Tennessee General Assembly went the other way by adding more secrecy when it sealed the performance evaluations from public view. One of Blount County’s state lawmakers, Representative Bob Ramsey, was the House sponsor of the legislation.  Senator Ken Yager was the Senate sponsor.  These two are waterboys for the Comptroller’s Office.  It looks like we the people need to reform our state legislature by sending better lawmakers to Nashville.

Employees in higher pay grades are receiving higher percentage pay increase under Evergreen compensation pay scale

After 7 weeks of emails, I received answers to questions related to the annual pay increases that Blount County government employees are receiving under the Evergreen employee classification and compensation pay scale.  The top pay grade employees are eligible for a higher annual percentage step increase, with a satisfactory job performance, than the lower pay grades.  With the same percentage increase, those in higher pay grades would receive a bigger pay raise than those in lower pay grades because 1.84% of a larger number is more than 1.84% of a smaller.

It turns out that the people at the top of the pay scale are getting bigger pay raises.  The commission should not fund two different pay raise rates when the higher rate is for the best paid employees.  This pay scale applies to all county departments/offices except for the schools.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2018 8:27am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Please see my answers below in red.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
397 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804

On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 12:45 PM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

—–Original Message—–
From: tona@breezeair.net
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2018 1:43pm
To: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Dear Mrs. Morgan,

2 follow up questions:

The step increases of 1.84% and 2.11% have been the same annually since the Evergreen pay scale was adopted?

Yes

Why are people in positions with higher pay grades being given a larger percentage increase than those with lower pay grades?

​ Typically, in compensation programs, the higher grades have wider ranges and larger grade progressions. Or said another way, it is common that top salary grades have a wider range and that the lowest salary grades often have the most narrow range.  There are approximately 20 positions in pay grades 113-120.

Sincerely,

Tona

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2018 2:17pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner,
We have used these percentages since we implemented the compensation system that was adopted by Commission in 2015.  The steps are built into the budget but only given if the employee has a favorable performance evaluation.  As it pertains to total budget increases, that information is provided annually as part of the Budget Committee’s work papers and is available online.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

On Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 11:14 AM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

Hi Jenny,

Thank you for the information.  However, this doesn’t tell me what year you are referring to.  Are these numbers for the current FY or what will be proposed in the budget in the upcoming year?  Furthermore, I am wanting to know the percentage of increase for each FY since Evergreen was adopted.  Please provide that.

Thanks,
Tona

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2018 2:47pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Each employee who is in a position in pay grades 101-112, is eligible for a 1.84% step increase.  Those employees who are in positions in pay grades 113-120 are eligible for a 2.11% step increase.  They receive the step increase provided that we have a positive performance evaluation on file in the HR office.  This is consistent with the compensation plan adopted by County Commission.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

On Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 9:11 AM, Randy Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org> wrote:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: <tona@breezeair.net>
Date: Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 2:58 PM
Subject: RE: Evergreen pay raises
To: Randy Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org>

—–Original Message—–
From: tona@breezeair.net
Sent: Monday, February 5, 2018 11:30am
To: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Subject: Evergreen pay raises

Dear Finance Director Vineyard,

Please provide me with the base percentage increases that have been provided as pay raises since the Evergreen Solutions pay scale was adopted.  I realize that there is some flexibility within the pay ranges.  What I am requesting is the amount budgeted each year for percentage increases.

Sincerely,
Tona

 

Randy

 

Randy Vineyard, IOM

Blount County Finance Director

341 Court Street

Maryville, TN 37804

865-273-5719 (office)

rvineyard@blounttn.org

Update: I confirmed that the approximately 20 positions in pay grades 113-120 do not include office holders whose salaries are set by state law.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 10:46am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>, “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Yes, the positions where the salaries are set by state law (elected officials, administrator of elections and clerk & master) are excluded from the pay grades.
The state set salaries are on the Accounting website under Budget Reports in the March 23rd workshop file.
Thank you,
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
397 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804
865-273-5781

On Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 2:10 PM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

Dear Ms. Morgan,

Do the approximately 20 employees in pay grads 113-120 exclude office holders and those whose salaries are set by state law?
Sincerely,
Tona

It’s a good idea to know what the Tennessee Open Records Act says before making a records request

Tennessee state law required all state and local governments/agencies/public entities to adopt open records policies by July 1, 2017.  The Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and Industrial Development Board of Blount County (IDB) adopted policies that are separate from the general policy adopted by the commission which covers the rest of county government.

My first two records requests made under these new local policies shows some compliance issues, lack of understanding of the opens records law and difficulty in being able to view records.

Request for copies of meeting minutes
I made a request to Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/SMTDA/IDB and the Cities of Alcoa & Maryville, Tennessee (IDB) for copies of SMTDA and IDB meeting minutes.  These are typed records; therefore, one would reasonably think that the meeting minutes should be made available electronically.  In the 21st century these meeting minutes should be available online at no cost.  The Blount County Commission makes its meeting minutes readily available online for free.

Daniels responded, writing that copies of the meeting minutes would be provided in paper form and told me that I (Tona Monroe) could be charged up to $100 for the copies.  With such a large potential cost estimate, I modified my request asking instead for copies of the newly adopted open records policies for the SMTDA and the IDB.  You can read the new policies by clicking the links.

Open records policies not provided willfully
Daniels did not respond to my request and follow up emails pertaining to the open records policies.  I had to write the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) in the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, requesting their assistance in obtaining the policies.  Daniels never did provide the open records policies directly.  The OORC sent me the open records policies.  These policies should also be available online.

Think about Daniel’s response to an elected official tasked with the fiduciary responsibility of looking out for you, the taxpaying citizens of Blount County.  He wanted up to $100 to provide copies of meeting minutes and denied providing the open records policies.  Failure to respond constitutes denial under state law.

10-7-503 (3) Failure to respond to the request as described in subdivision (a)(2) shall constitute a denial and the person making the request shall have the right to bring an action as provided in § 10-7-505.

This isn’t the first time that he has treated county commissioners less than professionally.

Request to inspect meeting minutes
With such an absurdly high monetary amount estimate and with Daniels’ failure to respond to my simple request for the open records policies, I went to Blount Partnership (BP)/Chamber of Commerce building to request to inspect the meeting meetings for the IDB and SMTDA. I had already emailed Daniels the time frames for the meeting minutes that I wanted to see but I was made to fill out a form and had to schedule a time to come back and see the records.

Tennessee law: No form required to inspect records
State law prohibits governmental entities from requiring you to fill out a form to inspect public records, yet that is what I required to do in order to see the meeting minutes of the SMTDA and IDB.

TCA 10-7-503 (7)  (A)  (i) A governmental entity shall not require a written request or assess a charge to view a public record unless otherwise required by law.

Viewing open records policies and meeting minutes should be easy but this process was not.

County’s Public Records Request Coordinator (PRRC) denied my request
PRRC Jackie Glenn denied my records request to look at the records of information technology (IT) firms and recycling records in the Purchasing Office, saying it wasn’t detailed enough.  After a couple of back and forth emails letting her know that my request wasn’t broad, she then made me schedule a time to inspect the records.  That became an issue as well.

I was finally able to see the records, with all of 40 minutes notice for the appointment, when I emailed the PRRC the state law on records being available for inspection.

TCA 10-7-503.  Records open to public inspection — Schedule of reasonable charges — Costs.

   (2)  (A) All state, county and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.

      (B) The custodian of a public record or the custodian’s designee shall promptly make available for inspection any public record not specifically exempt from disclosure. In the event it is not practicable for the record to be promptly available for inspection, the custodian shall, within seven (7) business days:

         (i) Make the information available to the requestor;

When I actually was able to view the records, there was only one IT firm file folder and one recycling folder in the Purchasing Office, along with some purchase orders, showing that it wasn’t a large request.

If you’re going to do a records request, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the open records act and insist the local officials comply with the law.

Records Policies:
Blount County Public Records Policy
IDB
SMTDA

Jim Vesper not impressed with officials honoring each other over “clean” audits

This morning I (Tona Monroe) received the following text about mine and Karen Miller’s standing apart from politicians honoring other politicians, in an election year, for receiving “clean” audits at last night’s commission meeting.

“I appreciated you standing apart with Karen last night. The self-congratulations show the other commissioners held last night was embarrassing.  Audited returns do not reflect monies well spent, or assets well managed! I wish every commissioner had your integrity and respect for their constituents wallets.  Blessings to you my friend.”

Jim Vesper – Blount County citizen and businessman

Commissioner Karen Miller and I voted against honoring elected officials and department heads for receiving clean audits.  Mr. Vesper is spot on.  These audits do not reflect the quality of spending or management of assets.  These audits are more a reflection of following accounting standards.  Money can be wasted on many things, but if it is properly accounted for it usually won’t result in an audit finding.

Keep in mind that the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office gave the sheriff and county a free pass for the sheriff signing the federal inmates contract without first obtaining commission approval possibly because its auditors hadn’t caught it the entire time (well over a decade) the contracts have been in effect.  The Comptroller’s Office also gave the mayor, finance director and county a free pass for the $2 million that the mayor and finance director claimed authority to assign.  The mayor and finance director lacked the authority to express the county’s intent with that $2 million “assignment.” Only the commission had the authority to assign those funds with the county’s intent.  The Comptroller’s Office chose not to recognize the mayor and finance director’s $2 million assignments but failed to mention their actions in the audit reports.  Even two failures to properly prove authority did not result in audit findings.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office seems to be handing clean audits out like candy.  It’s important that the citizens of Blount County, and ultimately Tennessee, understand the limited scope of these audits and that they don’t reflect the quality of spending.  Clean audits do not mean that elected officials are good stewards of your taxpayer monies.

Important questions you need to ask about the salaries of elected officials before voting in the local May 1st and state and federal August 2nd 2018 primary elections

State mandated minimum salaries and additional pay supplements for local elected officials vs what taxpayers are making

When you look at important economic indicators such as median household income and average annual income, Blount County taxpayers haven’t fared well in recent years.  When adjusted for inflation, 2014 numbers show that average pay in Blount County actually dropped and that household income averages a double digit drop.

The State of Tennessee mandates very generous salaries for elected officials that are 2, 3 and 4 times what the average Tennessee taxpayer is making.  I (Tona Monroe) have written the state legislature for a couple of years on this matter but this matter has largely fallen on deaf ears when it comes to taking action.  A few lawmakers have agreed with me that the mandated minimums are too high but none have taken action to provide reform.

You can view the state mandated minimum salaries for local elected officials here.
2018-2019  2017-2018   2016-2017  2015-2016  2014-2015  2013-2014
2012-2013   2010-2011  2009-2010  2008-2009  2007-2008  2006-2007

This figures show huge increases to the base pay for local elected officials being mandated by state law.  Despite being paid double and triple, and in the case of judges almost quadruple what the average taxpayer is making, 4 of these local elected officials are receiving pay supplements above the already large state mandated minimums.  Blount County taxpayers are paying $96,717 more than state minimum for the circuit court clerk, highway superintendent, sheriff and mayor.  It’s obvious these people don’t feel the same economic pain that many Blount Countians are feeling.

2 important primary elections will be held this year.  The local government primary election will be May 1, 2018 and the state and federal primary election will be held August 2, 2018.  All office holders elected in partisan elections are Republicans in Blount County.  There isn’t a single Democrat or independent in office in Blount County, excluding the school board which has nonpartisan elections.  Thus, it is highly likely that all upcoming offices, excluding the school board, will be decided in the primary elections.  If you wait to vote in November, you will miss your best opportunities to have an impact on who governs at the local and state levels.  There will be no county elections in November and only state and federal general elections occur in November.

The May 1 and August 2 primary elections provide opportunities for you to clean house of these state and local officials who refuse to hold the line on these outrageous salaries.  Only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and myself have voted to cut the pay of these 4 elected officials down to the state minimum, which is already much higher than it should be.

Questions to ask before heading to the polls on May 1 and August 2:
1) Why have local elected officials refused to cut the pay of these officials to the state mandated minimums?
2) Why have the state legislators continued funding huge increases for elected officials?
3) Why did Jerome Moon try to lead the commission to believe that these pay supplements weren’t optional?

Please consider these questions before casting your votes in the May 1 and August 2 elections.

East Tennessee Index 2014 figures for median household income:

What does this measure?
Median household income, adjusted for inflation. Half of households earn below the median, and half are above.

Why is this important?
Median household income is a gauge of overall economic health of the region and the financial resources of households.

How is our region performing?
In 2010-14, median household income in the region was $45,100, slightly higher than the state ($44,600) but lower than the nation ($53,500). Among local counties, median household income was highest in Loudon ($50,600) and Knox ($47,500) and lowest in Union ($36,000) and Monroe ($37,200). The region, state, and nation all saw their median income fall by double digits from 2000 to 2010-14 (down 12% in the region, 14% in the state, and 10% in the nation). Median income fell much faster in the region from 2005-09 to 2010-14 than in the nation and state (16% decrease in the region compared to a 6% decrease for the state and the nation). Among the counties, median household incomes decreased most from 2000 to 2010-14 in Sevier, Monroe and Blount (all 14%). Union experienced the smallest rate of decline (7%), but still has the lowest median household income in the region.

Notes about the data
Figures are presented in 2014 dollars. The multiyear figures are from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The bureau combined five years of responses to the survey to provide estimates for smaller geographic areas and increase the precision of its estimates. The survey provides data on characteristics of the population that used to be collected only during the decennial census.

ETIndex.org 2014 figures for average annual salary:

What does this measure?
The average annual salary in a region in a given year, adjusted for inflation.

Why is this important?
Salaries are a gauge of overall economic health and a measure of the degree to which employees are sharing in the prosperity of a community. They also indicate the vitality of a region and its ability to compete and attract workers.

How is our region performing?
In 2014, the region’s average salary was $43,000, below the average for the state ($45,200) and the nation ($51,400). Since 2000, the region’s average salary increased by 6%, on par with growth nationally and but below statewide (7%). Roane County’s average annual pay grew by 26% over the same time period, more than any other county, while average salary fell in Blount and Sevier counties over that period (both less than 1% respectively). Between 2013 and 2014, the region’s average annual salary increased by 1%, on par with the state increase.

Notes about the data
Data presented in 2014 dollars.

Blount Memorial Hospital Transparency

With all the recent discussions about the hospital’s nonprofit embezzlement scandal and today’s coverage of the taxpayers being on the hook for hospital debt, it is worth taking a look at what I (Tona Monroe) wrote about the debt and lack of information provided by Blount Memorial Hospital in November 2016.  Some of you may recall that then Chairman Jerome Moon, who was appointed state representative by 16 yes men on the commission, cut me off for discussing information that the hospital should have been forthcoming with prior to asking the commission to approve refinancing its debt.

Mayor Ed Mitchell and Commissioner Dave Bennett are acting indignant now, but these two and most of the commissioners didn’t seem to be concerned about the taxpayers when they reauthorized Blount County citizens being on the hook for variable rate debt that have swaps attached.  You can listen to the meeting here and will hear Bennett objecting to my pointing out that approving the hospital’s variable debt means that the county will still be responsible for variable rate debt.

Furthermore, when two hospital board appointments came before the commission in January 2016, I moved to postpone it for a month so that we could learn more about the nominees’ plans for the hospital debt and vision for the future. (See page 3.)  The majority of commissioners didn’t seem to care enough to think we should discuss future plans for the hospital.

Thus, there are some who are acting indignant now but where was this concern when I tried to shed light on how the hospital was/is operating?

Those voting to approve the Blount Memorial Hospital Board nominees in January 2016
Allen – yes  Archer – yes  Bowers – yes  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – yes  Caylor – yes  Cole – yes  Crowe – yes  Farmer – yes  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – yes  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Those voting not to approve the nominees in January 2016
Akard – no  Daly – no  Miller – no  Monroe – no

French was absent. There were 16 voting yes, 4 voting no, 0 abstaining, and 1 absent. Chairman Moon declared the appointments approved.

Those who voted to approve renewing the variable rate debt with interests rate swaps
Allen, Bennett, Carver, Caskey, Caylor, Cole, Crowe, Farmer, French, Lewis, Melton, Moon, Samples, Stinnett

Those who voted not to approve renewing the variable rate debt with interests rate swaps
Archer, Daly, Miller, Monroe

Those who were absent
Akard, Bowers, Carter

There were 14 voting yes, 4 voting no, 0 abstain, and 3 absent.  Chairman Moon declared the motion to have passed and the resolution adopted.

Local debt
The next time you hear that the county’s debt is finally fully fixed rate keep in mind that much of the hospital debt is variable, with swaps attached, and that you’re on the hook for it if the hospital defaults, thanks to a lackadaisical commission majority and mayor who didn’t demand more accountability and transparency from the hospital.

Rick Carver has a conflict of interest
Commissioner Rick Carver works for East Tennessee Medical Group, which is owned by Blount Memorial Hospital.  He has a conflict of interest and should have abstained on both of these votes.  He did not declare that he has a conflict of interest and voted yes on both.

Let freedom ring!
Tona

May 1, 2018 Local Election Issues

Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio AM 1470 invited me to speak on his Sunday morning radio show to discuss important issues that you need to know about before voting in the upcoming May 1, 2018 local government primary election.  The interview was recorded so that you can listen to it and the slide show presentation is attached for your information and review.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of important local issues.  This is a good starting point in becoming informed for the upcoming May 1st primary election.

Let freedom ring!
Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner

May 1, 2017 local government primary election issues slides

http://tncitylinktv.com/archive/commissioner-monroes-most-important-blount-county-commission-issues-in-the-last-4-years/