Torture and Blowback

From Downsize DC

Libertarians have long argued that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy results in blowback — acts of terrorism designed to avenge real or perceived assaults by the U.S.

The political class has long sneered at this argument. Your friends may even have accused you of hating America whenever you’ve used this line of reasoning. But now, the tables are turning.

Politicians are responding to the recent CIA torture report in ways that justify the blowback theory. This gives you a powerful new argument to defend your position. The article below explains this development. Read it, and if you like it, do three things…

Do politicians now agree that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy causes blowback?

By Jim Babka

The recently released CIA torture report has caused the WARfare statists to contradict themselves.

In the previous decade, if you said that blowback explained 911, then you were accused of justifying or even siding with terrorists. Here’s Rudy Guiliani, in 2007, so-accusing Ron Paul and garnering wild applause:


After the release of the CIA torture memo, we learn that blowback is very REAL. Dick Cheney and his pals are claiming that these reports increase the danger of a response by al Qaeda or ISIS or whoever the fear-based flavor of the week may be. In other words…


The torture report also informed us that the CIA torture architects didn’t even read their own agency history on this subject. So this might come as a surprise to them and their fans…

The CIA actually coined the term blowback.

Blowback means an unintended consequence rebounding from a covert act. It’s simply a fancy word for revenge. But…

Because so many of the acts that lead to blowback are covert, U.S. citizens are often confused about why the U.S. has been targeted. Here’s an example…

When Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in 1979, most Americans had no idea why our embassy had been targeted. But every Iranian citizen knew. Our embassy had been used to stage a CIA coup against Iran’s democratic government in 1953. The infamous Iranian hostage crisis was simply blowback for that previous act of covert aggression by U.S. agents.

This is the kind of history that most libertarians know, but most other Americans don’t know. Now…

It must become widely known that the idea of blowback was NOT invented by libertarians. It was a word coined by the CIA itself, to name a very REAL problem.

And the risk of blowback is growing! That’s what happens when you torture people. Their allies and loved ones tend to want revenge. And the warfare statists, like Dick Cheney, are now making it clear that they understand this too. You can further judge this by the CIA’s own actions…

If torture actually protected America, if it brought no risk of blowback, then the CIA should be PROUD of its work. It should be willing to trumpet what it did and what was gained from it. They should use it as a “deterrent” to would-be terrorists. Instead…

Jose Rodriguez, the former Chief of the CIA’s Clandestine Service — the man who created the torture program — destroyed the video tapes of the torture proceedings, rather than share them with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Why? Wasn’t he proud of his work? Didn’t he want Congress to see what he had done to protect America?

Rodriguez explained his action to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday (12/14). He destroyed the videos because…

“My intention… was to protect the people who work for me and whose faces were shown all over those tapes. I was concerned for their safety. I knew the tapes would leak some day and I was concerned that al Qaeda would try to go after them and their families. That was the reason that I destroyed the tapes.”

BLOWBACK! Then, he went on to say…

“There was a second reason, and that was that I was concerned about the survivability of the clandestine service because I knew that once the tapes leaked, the mainstream media would not make a distinction between a legal program as the one that we had, and programs like Abu Ghraib.”

In other words, there was nothing to celebrate. Rodriquez is admitting that his work wouldn’t survive the scrutiny of natural human empathy. Nearly all of us recognize each other’s humanity. It might take a bit of time, but eventually, we even recognize the humanity of our enemies. Rodriquez clearly understood what would happen if you and your neighbors had a chance to see his work. You would’ve been revolted. You would have wanted a more American approach.

Worse, in a slap to so-called “representative government,” Rodriguez looked at the Senate Intelligence Committee and did his best Colonel Jessup imitation, “You can’t handle the truth!”

It would be more appropriate to say that Mr. Rodrigues can’t handle YOU knowing the truth.

And now the warfare establishment, which claimed NOT to believe in blowback before, is telling us that we risk blowback. Why? Because the torture report was shared with the American people.

In other words, the warfare establishment is admitting that blowback is real, and that our aggressive actions do lead to retaliation. Well…

We libertarians knew that all along.  And we’ve long promoted the proper solution to this problem…

  • If you don’t want people to tread on you, then don’t tread on others.
  • Don’t initiate force against people.
  • Reserve force for defensive purposes only, but even then, don’t defend yourself in a way that creates new enemies.

So here’s the takeaway…

  • The CIA invented the term blowback and Dick Cheney now admits blowback is a real danger.
  • That means, when we do bad things to others, others do bad things to us.
  • Specifically, in this case, when our so-called “government” tortures non-Americans, those non-Americans may someday return the favor or gain revenge in some other way. As we judge, so shall we be judged.
  • Encourage a Golden Rule foreign policy, where we treat others the way we want to be treated.

If you like these arguments, do the following…


Petty Politicians

Several of the Blount County Commissioners demonstrated that they are nothing more than petty politicians at December 9th Agenda Committee meeting.  In October there were proposed rules changes that would have shrunk transparency.  The proposed rules resolution had passed the Agenda Committee 11-5 and appeared ready to pass at the full Commission meeting.  Thankfully it was defeated.

I decided to try to get something good out the proposed rules changes.  As it stands now there is no requirement to publish anything prior to the meeting.  In October I attended my first meetings of both of my Committee assignments.  In both meetings, the Information Technology (IT) Committee and the Blount County Corrections Partnership, I was given an information packet when I arrived at the Committee meetings.  Thus, I put forth an amendment at the October Commission meeting that would have required Committee information packets to be published 5 days prior to the Committee meetings.

After listening to the concerns of Commissioners my amendment was amended and passed 13-6.  Akard – yes  Allen – yes  Archer – yes  Bowers – yes  Carter – no  Carver – no  Caskey – yes  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – no  Miller – yes  Monroe – yes  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – no

It read:

16 E All committee chairman shall furnish the members of each respective committee with the tentative agenda and a meeting packet containing relevant supporting documentation no less than five days prior to the meeting date. All members shall have all revenant information to the chairman seven days prior to the committee meeting, and the Agenda Committee and the Budget Committee are exempt.

After the amendment was added to the rules resolution, Commissioner Gary Farmer got angry that it was amended and said he no longer supported the resolution as amended.  It’s as though some of the Commissioners take orders from him, because the resolution was killed 6-13.  I voted no because, despite my amendment, the original resolution would still shrink transparency.

Akard – no  Allen – yes  Archer – yes  Bowers – no  Carter – yes  Carver – no  Caskey – yes  Caylor – absent  Cole – no  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – no  Melton – no  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – no  Samples – no  Stinnett – no

This month I put forth a similar change to the rules as a stand alone resolution.  It was not identical, but was similar to the amendment that received 13 votes in October.  The rules amendment read (see page 117):

16E. Excepting the Agenda Committee, the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission, all Committee Chairmen shall furnish the members of each respective Committee with the tentative agenda and an information meeting packet containing relevant documentation not less than five days prior to the meeting day. Members shall have all relevant documentation to the Chairmen seven days prior to Committee meetings. For agenda items meeting the five day requirement, Chairmen may allow relevant information to be added to the information meeting packet for legitimate reasons of time constraints, no less than three days prior to the meeting.

Commissioner Andy Allen stated that the resolution this month was identical to what had failed in October.  You can see that it’s not identical.  Furthermore, the amendment didn’t fail on it’s own.  The amended resolution failed, which did kill my amendment along with.  The advice of the Parliamentarian, Commissioner Mike Lewis was sought.  Lewis doesn’t know the rules or Parliamentary procedure very well.  He tried to say it was against the rules, but I pointed out that he would need to name a rule that the resolution violated and he did not name anything.

Pettiness prevailed.  The resolution failed 7-12.  Akard – yes  Allen – no  Archer – yes  Bowers – absent  Carter – yes  Carver – no  Caskey – no  Caylor – no  Cole – yes  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – no  Headrick – no  Lewis – no  Melton – no  Miller – yes  Monroe – yes  Moon – no  Samples – absent  Stinnett – no

Compare the votes from October to December.
Commissioners flip-flopping for and then against: Andy Allen, Grady Caskey, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis, Jerome Moon
Commissioners flip-flopping against and then for: Shawn Carter
Commissioner against Committee transparency: Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Kenneth Melton, Tom Stinnett
Commissioners for transparency: Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers*, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe, Steve Samples*

Commissioner Tom Stinnett chastised the people at the Big Springs Community Club this month and attacked me.  Part of his attack included a rant about Commission rules saying that we both had proposed rule changes on the Agenda this month, that we were trying to do the same thing and that he had a hard time supporting me.  He obviously doesn’t make much sense when he votes against something yet says we’re trying to do the same thing.  I voted for his resolution to improve transparency and accountability in our Commission rules.  He felt it necessary to be a petty politician and vote against something, even though he said we were trying to do the same thing.

*Brad Bowers and Steve Samples were absent during the December Agenda meeting.

Blount County Will Never Get Out Of Debt

There have been a couple of letters to the editor about the 3 women being the only Commissioners who consistently say no to the wasteful spending.  Nancy McEntee had a wonderful letter to the editor in The Daily Times on December 1st.  Larry Henry also submitted one to The Daily Times, but the Publisher didn’t respond to his requests to have his letter printed.  He went around The Daily Times, as several others have also done this year, sending it to the Knoxville News Sentinel.  It was published December 10th. The letter is published here with Henry’s permission.

Thank you to everyone paying attention.  Let freedom ring!

Blount County Will Never Get Out Of Debt

“Au contraire,” cry the dilettantes of the Blount County Commission. “We serve the People!”

So say the majority on the Commission who march in lockstep with Finance Director Randy Vineyard, Mayor Ed Mitchell, Barrister Craig Garrett, and Sheriff James Berrong. The only ones who consistently buck the Yes Men are the women, Tona Monroe, Karen Miller, and Jamie Daly.

Blount County currently owes $240,000,000 in debts and liabilities. That’s $1,920 for every man, woman, and child in a population of 125,000. For a family of four that’s about eight thousand bucks. $46,000 is the median income which is tough in today’s political quicksand.

Kronos is the latest waste of $$$ that might have been used to pay down the debt.

$1,000,000 was tossed in the pot recently to purchase a fancy new computer system for doing the Blount County payroll. Kronos is the name of that system. Projected costs over the next 5 years are $2,300,000. For those familiar with government projections, you know they’re always wrong and they’re always low.

Ten bids were originally taken, the most expensive start-up option being chosen by Randy Vineyard. This purchase was never properly debated because it never went through the Information Technology Committee. It was rammed through by the Mayor and a handful of political drones. A full explanation of expenses and responsibilities has never been presented to the Blount County Commission.

Incumbent commissioners who consistently rubber stamp whatever’s coming down the pike: Carver, Caylor, Farmer, French, Lewis, Melton, and Moon. New commissioners who are consistently wrong: Akard, Allen, Bowers, Carter, Caskey, Cole, Crowe, Headrick, and Stinnett.

Larry Henry

Stinnett responds to Hutchens letter by showing up at his house: Response is symptom of deeper problems

Richard Hutchens sent an open letter to the Mayor and Blount County Commissioners in the evening on November 9th.  Commissioner Tom Stinnett was waiting for Richard Hutchens at his duplex the next day when he arrived home from work.  Stinnett told Hutchens that he had researched the first issue that Hutchens addressed in his letter, gave his card to Hutchens and told Hutchens he would appreciate it if he would call him directly in the future to discuss issues.

Stinnett told Hutchens not to rely on hearsay, referring to the Stinnett quotes in Hutchens’ letter.  Hutchens informed Stinnett that the quotes were not hearsay and that there is a recording of Stinnett’s conversation with Grady Caskey.  Blount County (BC) Public Record is in possession of a recording where Tom Stinnett says both of the quotes that Hutchens included in his letter.  The person who overheard the conversation also recorded it.  BC Public Record respects the anonymity of it’s sources and has confirmed that Commissioner Tom Stinnett did make both of those statements to Commissioner Grady Caskey.

As alarming as Tom Stinnett’s statements are, it touches upon the need to address two important issues affecting the taxpayers of Blount County.  The first is the makeup of the Human Resources (HR) Committee.  9 of the 10 members are either County employees or City of Maryville employees.  Only one member, Commissioner Mike Lewis, does not work for a government within Blount County.  Lewis also had a conflict of interest in the past, having worked for a Bank that had business dealings with the County.  His previous employment was the subject of an Attorney General opinion.  The makeup of the HR Committee only makes sense if you work for government.  The HR Committee makes important decisions regarding benefits for County employees.  The current makeup allows for foxes to guard the hen house, which leads to the second important issue affecting taxpayers.

County employees currently receive employee health care benefits for $25 a month.  This is the lowest cost that I know of anywhere right now.  Businesses are not providing premium plans at such low costs anymore.  Furthermore, what the employees receive for their $25 a month is routinely referred to as a “rich” plan by the County broker, Trinity Benefits Advisors.

School employees received their plan for free until August 1st.  I asked Troy Logan to explain the matter to me and received this response:

“As of August 1, 2014, all School employees with health insurance coverage are paying $25 per month out-of-pocket.  And yes, the BOE did reimburse all School employees with health insurance coverage $25 per month from January 1, 2014 – July 31, 2014.  For teachers, this was based on an agreement through the collaborative conferencing process.  For non-teachers, the BOE agreed to “effect” them in the same manner as teachers.  For all employees, this benefit stopped July 31, 2014.  Let me know if you need additional information.”

The free coverage is what led to the conversation between Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Grady Caskey.  Sheriff James Berrong heard that School employees were paying nothing for their rich coverage and said he wanted to look further into this at the July HR meeting.  Caskey was not on the Commission in July, but addressed the Sheriff’s remarks at the October HR meeting.  After the meeting, Stinnett admonished Caskey for talking about the matter in public.  You can read his alarming remarks in my monthly October Commission report.

The conversation between Commissioners Stinnett and Caskey leaves me wondering if there’s an effort afoot to eliminate the $25 cost for health insurance coverage.  At the end of the October HR meeting, Sheriff James Berrong and Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap commented about employee health care coverage costs.  Berrong responded to Caskey by saying, “I was the one that brought up the difference (referring to School employees being reimbursed the $25 monthly cost)… my purpose of that… I was going to make a motion to rescind General County having to pay the $25 when Education didn’t and that was my purpose for that.”   Dunlap said, “That Uniform Road law gives me the right to set the salaries for all the employees of the Highway Department.  This coming Budget year, I will adjust that.”  Dunlap was referring to the health insurance premiums.

Perhaps Tom Stinnett’s request for secrecy will have the opposite effect and finally shed some light on a huge problem.  The last figures that I saw showed health benefits costing approximately $900 per month per employee.  What do you think are reasonable costs for County employee health and dental benefit premiums?

November 2014 Commission Report

Some Fiscal Sanity Prevails

The best thing to happen this month was the unanimous 20-0 vote to secure fixed rate refinancing for $20,165,000 of variable rate Series E-3-B County debt that I wrote about last month.  The outcome was a step toward better debt management, but there was a last minute attempt by Commissioner Mike Lewis to dismantle the effort.  His proposal was one of the most ludicrous that I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard a lot of crazy idea from government officials.

Lewis proposed postponing the refinancing for a month to study whether the County could internally amortize the cost of terminating the swap attached to the debt, which has ranged in value from $5-6 million in recent months.  He proposed setting aside the additional amount that would be paid toward fixed rate financing, restricting it, allegedly to keep from having to pay the swap termination fee.  You may be asking what’s wrong with that, well this is government we’re talking about.  The proposed “restricted” money would be blown before we could count to three.  Furthermore, it would have kept the variable rate debt in place leaving us with all the risks of variable rate financing, the need to obtain a letter of credit ever couple of years and the principle balloon payments would be left in place for 2030 and 2031.  You can read more about that Series of debt in my October Commission Report.

8 Commissioners voted to explore Lewis’ idea.  A Allen, B Bowers, M Caylor, D Crowe, G Farmer, R French, M Lewis, K Melton voted yes and Moon was absent.  Thankfully rational heads prevailed and the motion failed.  The Commission chose to bite the bullet and move forward.  Debt is painful, and I am delighted that the Commission chose the most fiscally responsible path for this Series of debt.  The County still has over 1/3 of it’s debt in variable rate financing that will need to be addressed in about a year and a half.

Starting next year, the County will spend more to service the debt as it begins paying principle on this fixed rate debt.  The increased expenditure is already being used as an excuse to start talking about increasing the property tax rate next year.  Keep these important facts in mind when you encounter the propaganda.  The debt service fund was actually projected to have a surplus this year, but the previous Commission took part of it and allocated it to fund General County government.  Next year the debt service fund will receive increased revenue from the sales tax from the recently enacted increase in the County sales tax.  It’s nonsense to use fiscally sound refinancing to condition people into accepting an unneeded tax increase.

Top Secret Kronos IT Project Approved

Nothing in recent memory has been more top secret in Blount County government, with the possible exception of Commissioner Tom Stinnett telling Commissioner Grady Caskey to hide benefits information from the public, than the Kronos information technology (IT) project.  Last month I wrote about the subject, but the matter deserves more through coverage and discussion.  The NSA scandals have demonstrated the need for better accountability and open transparent government.  The secrecy of Kronos IT project is of a scandalous nature, but in the end only Commissioner Karen Miller and I said no to rubber stamping the top secret project.  Commissioner Jamie Daly said at the end of the meeting that she meant to vote no.  She had trouble with her remote working throughout the meeting.  Once again the women were the only ones willing to stand up to the bureaucrats.

No transparency on funding the project

Twice this year, the Mayor and Director of Budgets and Finance (commonly called Finance Director) asked the previous Commission to designate large amounts of money to Capital Projects, allegedly for future capital project expenditures, without providing any information detailing what the money would be spent on.  7 of the 8 incumbents on the current Commission rubber stamped both: Carver, Caylor, Farmer, French, Lewis, Melton and Moon.  Commissioner Samples voted for the first request and against the second request to transfer money.

In February then Commissioner Jim Folts reported:

“Mayor and Commission take Nancy Pelosi approach to government
The Mayor proposed, and the Commission approved, spending $545,000 on “capital projects”. The only problem is that Mayor Mitchell did not bother to tell anyone what would be purchased with this money. He seems to be taking the Nancy Pelosi approach to government. Pass the resolution and we’ll tell you where we’ll spend it – later. Only Commissioner Murrell and myself voted against this blank check.”

In June then Commissioner Jim Folts reported:

“Throwing another $442,000 into a pot for unknown projects
Since the budget process had to be redone, there was very little on the agenda of the official Commission meeting. The major item was another sign of the sloppy way in which the County is being operated. As a result of some accounting changes in accounting for self insurance funds, an additional $442,000 became available in the current budget. Instead of just using this money to make an extra payment of the huge county debt ($240 million per the last audit report), the Mayor recommended adding this money to a mysterious “capital projects” fund he created several months ago. This would bring the total amount in the fund to nearly $1 million. In the real world, if capital projects are anticipated, a capital expenditures plan is prepared, and money is put aside in a capital fund to meet those needs. When several Commissioners asked the Mayor where the plan was for the use of the money, the reply was that his office had not had time to come up with a plan. The Mayor has been in office nearly four years. That would seem to be adequate time to come up with a list of capital projects.

In government, throwing $1 million of your money into a pot without a clear plan for the use of the money, almost guarantees waste and abuse. But, this seemed OK with the Mayor and many Commissioners. Only Commissioners Murrell, Samples, Wright and myself voted against this nonsense.”

At the June 10, 2014 Agenda Committee meeting when the Commission considered the $442,507 capital projects request, Finance Director Vineyard said, “There is no list of capital (projects).  It’s merely is a statement by this body that you’re setting aside money that in the future if there are capital needs that arise you would have available at your disposable (sic) $982,000 and change to address those capital needs, whatever they may be.”  Folts followed up on that statement asking if the County had a long term capital projects plan.  Vineyard responded, “The simple answer to that is no. We are starting one, but we are not where I’d like to see us, nor where I think this body would like to be.”  Commissioner Steve Samples said “I just have a problem with putting that much money in there, when we don’t have a list, simply because if we put that much money in there the list (capital projects) will magically appear.”

Lo and behold, Mayor Mitchell and the Finance Director sprang on the scene in July with a resolution to spend the money, just one month after the second transfer.  They admitted that they had been planning this project before either of the two Capital Projects fund requests. But, as you see above, they failed to mention this very large capital project, even in response to direct questions from Commissioners.

The Kronos IT project consists of an HR component, a payroll component and time-keeping component.  At a 5 years cost of around $2.3 million, this may be the biggest and most expensive IT project in the County’s history but alarmingly it did not go through the IT Committee.  The Mayor and Finance Director bypassed this Committee and formed their own Committee without telling the Commission.  Worse, they proposed putting a lawyer in charge of the IT project, instead of an IT professional.  Can you imagine walking into a Courtroom with an IT man as your lead counsel?  Why would anyone put a lawyer in charge of an expensive IT project?

In response to Samples statement about a list magically appearing at the June Agenda meeting Vineyard said, “You’re going to get a list because I am committed to get you one, of the needs that we’re aware of.”  If that’s the case, then why didn’t he give the Commission a heads-up at the June meeting with regards to his plan for use of the nearly $1 million?  Vineyard, an unelected official, has been allowed to tell the Commission what he wants them to know, when he wants them to know it, because the Commission puts up with it.  Many of the Commissioners are simply too lazy to fully research matters and chose to rely on him, rather than demanding more accountability and transparency.

After Commissioners Folts and Samples objections made the proposal look ill-thought-out, Commissioner Moon attempted to save the June recommitment of fund balance by implying that the County needed a capital fund to appease rating agencies.  If that’s the case, it begs the question of why Commissioner Moon, along with most of the Commission, is willing to drain the fund knowing that the County is going to the market to refinance debt.

At the July Commission meeting, the Kronos Project Manager, Bill Rahner a lawyer, presented a slide-show presentation to the Commission about the project and included a chart of proposed savings.  It’s worth watching the meeting to see Commissioner Folts rip the alleged savings to shreds.  After he torched the shreds, the only thing left of the alleged savings was the smoke to fill the back rooms of the Kronos project.

New Commission arrives – Project over half a million more than originally projected – No job cuts planned

The Kronos IT project required two votes from the Commission, although that wasn’t explained well to anyone.  The first vote appropriated $1,361,506.00, for the first year of the project, draining the entire $987,507.00 committed to capital outlay.  The vote this month authorized a five year contract costing approximately $2.3 million.  In July, the paper published an article saying the 5-year cost would be $1,646,712.  The Commission was given no explanation why the 5 -year cost was over half a million more than originally projected.

Please read the Open Enrollment Software and Kronos Suspension sections of my October Commission Report if you haven’t already done so, before proceeding with the rest of this report.  You will see that I validated a portion of Commissioner Folts’ statements about the lack of alleged savings.  Notice also that the Commission was urged to rush through committing about $1.3 million in July, supposedly to save the cost of open enrollment software for 2015, but instead the Commission spent $60,000 on open enrollment software anyway.

The sales pitch to the Commission in July said that software could do the work of 10.75 full time jobs, implying there would be staff reductions (page 49).  At the time, I asked the Finance Director when he planned to make the first staff reduction.  He told me possibly 2017.  There was/is no plan to cut jobs, just to spend your money.

New HR Director

The County has not needed a stand alone Human Resources Director for about 3 years.  The Mayor found a way to save money by having Don Stallions serve as Risk Manager and HR Director.  However, that changed in late August.  The Mayor hired a new HR Director.  It turns out that the new HR Director has Kronos software experience and can train employees on its use.  This shows the Kronos system is already costing money, not saving it.

Finally a meeting to answer questions

After voting to suspend the Kronos IT project in October, I received a call from the Mayor’s office asking me to meet with the Finance Director and the officials who would be in charge of the project.  I went to the meeting with an open mind about the HR software thinking that it may be best to start with that portion of the software project and then proceed with the payroll and time-keeping if the HR portion was successful.  I asked for a break down of the alleged savings, to determine what is attributed to the HR portion and what is attributed to the payroll and time-keeping portion.  Additionally I asked for the costs of just the HR portion of the Kronos software.

I came away from the meeting uneasy about the HR portion of the software.  When the responses to my questions arrived, I could not support the HR portion of the software.  You can read the Project Managers response here.  The most important part is his statement, “In my judgment, the business case for implementing just the HR piece is not supportable and I could not recommend the County proceed with just that component.”  If the Project Manger doesn’t recommend that the County implement the HR portion, then why would we do it?  I read this statement to the Commission at the November meeting but it didn’t matter. Facts often don’t matter and the bureaucrats usually get what the bureaucrats want.

At the Commission meeting, I asked the Information Technology Manger (ITM) John Herron if anyone had looked into low cost open source software.  He said no.  Thus, without exploring open source solutions and the Project Manager saying that he wouldn’t recommend that the County proceed with just the HR portion, it didn’t make rational sense to proceed with the HR software.

The Finance Director did agree to place the Kronos Project Manger under the County’s IT Manager, per Commissioner Tom Cole’s request.  This was the only potentially meaningful concession the Commission got before approving the roughly $2.3 million expenditure of your money.  This does little to ease my mind thought because it was a last minute change, likely to get votes, and I don’t know how much oversight Herron will actually have.

The Commission packet says the County will be purchasing 250 management and 3,000 employee time keeping licenses.  But the County says only the hourly employees who will be clocking in (Page 43).  That means that there will be roughly 250 managers for 1,500 employees (Page 78).  That’s a 1:6 ratio.  Surely the managers can handle tracking the hours of 6 employees on average.  Taxpayers will be paying for the licenses for the salaried employees to make the lives of the mangers easier to track time off and vacations.

Former Commissioner Folts would frequently say that something didn’t pass the common sense test.  This IT project doesn’t pass the common sense test or the smell test.  The Tennessean had a good article on the subject of IT project failures.  The Commission should have done a better job thinking this through.  $2.3 million of your tax money was just spent when we have outstanding debt of over $200,000,000.

The worst thing about this top secret IT project is the fact that I had to spend so much unnecessary time on it, trying to obtain information that should have been readily available.  I’ve spent far more time dealing with the endless excuses, white washing, obfuscating and falsities of bureaucrats who consider the Commission a trite formality to their endless wasteful agendas than I’ve ever spent listening to the concern of the citizens.  Not one person in my district, or the whole County for that matter, came to me and asked me to support this project.  The people didn’t want this, the bureaucrats did.  My job as a Commissioner is to represent you, not to give the bureaucrats everything they want.  I will continue saying no to the nonsense.

Utilities use of right-of-ways

The Commission considered a sloppily worded resolution to govern utilities use of right-of-ways.  The resolution did not define the word work and said that all work required a permit to obtained from the Highway Superintendent and a million dollar insurance policy.  This meant that someone volunteering their work to pick up trash or dig a hole for a mailbox could be required to obtain a permit and a million dollar insurance policy.  Thankfully my amendment defining the word work passed, specifically limiting it to the work done by utilities, correcting the problem.

Up next – Commission Rules

In previous Commission reports, I’ve written about the Commission not following it’s rules.  This month was even worse for rule breaking.  Board rules require the Agenda to be published 5 days prior to the meeting day and documentation has to be included with the resolutions, but that was violated multiple times.  There were 6 versions of our Commission packet, with the latest revisions appearing in the packet the day of the Commission meeting.  The Commission needs to ensure that the people of Blount County have time to thoroughly review everything.  I will insist on better adherence to the rules governing our agenda and it’s supporting documentation at future meetings.  Next month I will be offering a resolution to amend our rules to achieve better transparency for our Committee meetings and may offer further resolutions in the future as the need arises.


$300,000 of your money for politicans to hand out recognition and honor

It would be better for politicians to get their hands out of wallets instead of using using our wallets to hand out congratulatory plaques.  Donna Rowland should have voted no instead of present not voting.

Richard Hutchens addresses 2 important issues in open letter to Mayor and Commissioners

Richard Hutchens has for years appealed to the Board of Commissioners to rise above petty politics and make decisions that are in the best interest of all citizens, not a connected few.  Last year he gave Roy Crawford the First Blount County Statesmen Award.  His shame, shame, shame speech delivered during Melton’s reign of tyranny, a month before the Commission raised the property tax rate, will go down as one for the ages in Blount County politics.

Last night he sent an open letter to the Mayor and Commissioners addressing two important issues.  Both deserve serious consideration.  Please read the letter.  How do you think the Commission should address these issues?

Click here to contact your Commissioners.

Open Letter from Richard Hutchens Page 1

Open Letter from Richard Hutchens Page 2

October 2014 Commission Report

October was a really busy month for the County Commission.  I had 6 meetings to attend this month, the Agenda Committee, the Commission Board meeting, 2 special called meetings dealing with the refinancing of County debt, an IT Committee meeting and a Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting.  There is much to report, so please take the time to read this, send it to your friends, family and neighbors and ask any questions that you have.

Debt Refinancing – A Major Step in the Right Direction
One of the best things to happen was the Commission’s decision to seek fixed rate financing for $20,165,000 of variable rate debt and the swap attached to it.  This debt was originally issued on 05/17/01 as the A-1-A bond for $20,000,000 with a variable rate.  The County paid $238,532 in fees to issue this debt.  The County signed a swap contract on 1/17/02 against the bond to synthetically fix the nominal interest rate at 4.31%.  Synthetically fixed doesn’t mean that the interest rate is actually a flat fixed rate.  The rate varied from about 4%-7% until the bond deal blew up in July of 2008.

The County’s credit rating wasn’t good enough to issue variable rate debt on its own.  It purchased bond insurance to be able to issue this complicated variable rate debt.  The bond issuer lost its AAA credit rating, causing the County to have to refinance the debt.  On July 31, 2008 the bond was re-issued as the series E-3-B debt for $20,165,000.  The debt principle increased because the County had to refinance multiple series of debt at once and lacked the funds to pay the refinancing fees.   Alarmingly the County still owes $20,165,000 after 13 years of paying on the debt.  Not one penny has been paid on the principle because is was financed as a balloon payment with the principle being paid only during the last two years of payments.   This situation is worse still because a swap is attached to the debt.  The amount it costs to terminate the swap changes frequently and has been running over $5 million.  In a nutshell the County financed $20 million in debt in May 2001, has been paying on it for 13 years and actually owes nearly $26 million on this debt, including the swap.  It’s insanity and I am happy the Commission decided to put the County on a more fiscally sound path by seeking fixed rate financing.

Information Technology (IT) Committee – Working to improve transparency
Several people have told me that they experience problems with the live streaming and the Google hangout live session recording of County meetings.  I sought membership on this Committee to address these concerns.  John Herron, the County’s IT manager said that it would cost around $30,000 to improve the live streaming.  Mayor Mitchell said that the matter may be presented to the Budget Committee in January.  Herron said that with purchase of some better cameras he could burn a disk and give to the cable access channel, putting the Commission meetings back on cable.  Spending your money is not something that I like doing, but I think this is a wise investment for the citizens.

County Corrections Partnership - Tackling Serious Correction Measures
(formerly Ad hoc Committee to Study Jail Overcrowding)
The former Chairman of the Committee, Tab Burkhalter, spoke about the presentation given on the final report of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) study to provide solutions on the jail overcrowding.  You can read the study online here.  The Study says “The County needs …to completely rethink the use of its jail” and offers several solutions to reduce overcrowding.

Burkhalter told the Committee that the Jail has a higher than average number of women and that many of them are in the jail for drug problems.  A few months ago I listened to Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington talk about the Drug Court.  She said that the County now has a facility for men, to help them get off drugs and back into society.  There is no facility for women.  In the back of the study there is a list of 118 County properties.  Thus, I made the motion that the Agenda of the next meeting be to look at the empty County buildings and meet with community people who have experience putting together and operating a facility to help women inmates get rehab and return to society.  In December the Committee will discuss this matter.

Agenda and Commission Meetings
Technology Request by Circuit Court Clerk
There was a letter from the Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher requesting that the Commission approve $30,500 for data processing services, maintenance agreements and hardware. (See pages 16-18)  Commissioner Karen Miller asked why the data services and maintenance portions was $26,500 and the equipment was only $4,000.  She was not given an answer explaining why the services and maintenance was over 6 times that of the equipment.

The information provided was vague, with the explanation reading “For purchase of replacement monitors, printers and software support.”  Thus, I inquired into the age of the equipment that the Commission was asked to replace.  The Director of Budgets and Finance gave me a flippant answer saying if it was anything like the rest of the County it was old.  I made a motion to postpone this item until the November meeting so that the Commission could be provided with a detailed list of equipment and software that was being replaced and updated.

The motion failed 6-13.  Akard – yes  Allen – no  Archer – yes  Bowers – no  Carter – no  Carver – no  Caskey – no  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – absent  Headrick – no  Lewis – no  Melton – no  Miller – yes  Monroe – yes  Moon – no  Samples – no  Stinnett – no

Commissioner Samples stated that the money was coming from Court fees not tax money.  My response was that we (the Commission) still have the fiduciary responsibility to see that the money is spent wisely.  Commissioner Allen then stated that the software could be in danger of expiring, but gave no date or a single example.  Those excuses work every time.

The resolution passed 15-4.  Akard – yes  Allen – yes  Archer – no  Bowers – yes  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – yes  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – yes  Daly – no  Farmer – yes  French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – yes  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Towers in Residential Areas
The Commission passed a resolution to decrease the minimum tower separation requirements in residential areas from 200 feet to 85 feet from your property line.  Commissioner Archer and I both felt that the public simply wasn’t aware of the matter or there would be more discussion from the community.  Commissioner Archie Archer made a motion to send it back to the Planning Commission for further study.  The referral motion failed 10-9.    Akard – yes  Allen – no  Archer – yes  Bowers – no  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – no  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – absent  Headrick – no  Lewis – yes  Melton – no  Miller – yes  Monroe – yes  Moon – no  Samples – yes  Stinnett – no

The final vote total was 11-8.   Akard – no  Allen – yes  Archer – no  Bowers – yes  Carter – no  Carver – yes  Caskey – no  Caylor – absent  Cole – no  Crowe – yes  Daly – no  Farmer – yes  French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – yes  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Open Enrollment Software
The Commission voted to spend $60,000 on a “stop gap” measure for a one year use of a software system that performs open enrollment benefits for County employees.  The County has paid nothing for this service in the past but the Commission was told that we had to pass this because the County changed its benefits administrator who would no longer perform the service for the County.

I asked the new HR Director Jenny Morgan if this $60,000 software had been put out for a bid.  She told the Commission that it had not been put out for a bid.  I then ask if there was any documentation to show that they County was getting the best price for it’s money.  She told me that the documentation that she had was a letter from our benefits adviser.  You can view the one page letter on page 20 here.  Notice there is no supporting documentation in the Commission packet, the information provided to Commissioners.

In July the Commission was encouraged to authorize implementation of an HR software system from Kronos.  Former Commissioner Jim Folts tried to delay the resolution one month so that the Commissioners could study the matter further.  That motion failed after being told that if they rushed the Kronos software system through, they would be able to use it for open enrollment for employee benefits.  That did not materialize.  Furthermore, the savings given in the slide show presentation for the annual open enrollments cost was listed as $117,600 (see page 53).  When I asked why the Commission was given that number in July when the County could buy it for $60,000, nearly half, I wasn’t given an answer.

At the Agenda meeting the voted failed 10-5, with one abstention Grady Caskey.  11 votes are required to send items to the Commission meeting.  After Chairman Steve Samples declared the motion to have failed, Grady Caskey spoke up saying he had intended to vote yes.  Votes can’t be changed after the Chairman announces the results.

Vote total 10-5  Akard – no  Allen – yes  Archer – no  Bowers – absent  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – abstain  Caylor – yes  Cole – absent  Crowe – absent  Daly – no  Farmer – yes   French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – absent  Melton – yes  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Chairman Samples announced that the Commission would vote again.  I raised a point of order and told the Chairman that he couldn’t move the body, per the rules.

Commissioner Jerome Moon then proceeded to violate the rules by making a motion to reconsider.  The motion was out of order, per Roberts Rules of Order because only Commissioners who voted with the prevailing side, the Commissioners who voted no, may make the motion to reconsider.  In this case only the 5 who voted no, Commissioners Akard, Archer, Daly, Miller and I would be in order to make this motion.  I didn’t catch that fast enough and it slipped through the Agenda meeting, passing 11-5 in violation of the rules.

At the Commission meeting, I moved to have it removed from the Commission Agenda since it was sent in violation of the rules, but the motion failed.  Only Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Caskey, Daly, Miller and I voted to follow the rules.  Commissioners Caylor and French were absent.  The rest voted to continue on after a rule was broken.  My motion to send it back to the Budget Committee to go through a bid process also failed.

There was supposedly some bid paperwork being passed around the Commission during the meeting.  The bid process according to Commissioner Stinnett went through the broker Trinity Benefit Advisors.  Chairman Moon called down Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Mike Akard for discussing it during the meeting.  I still haven’t been given any bid paperwork.

The Commission was fed the typical line that we have to do this or chaos will ensue.  That line works every time, so the resolution passed 16-3 with Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself voting no.  The 3 ladies on the Commission are quickly proving to be the most fiscally conservative Commissioners.

Kronos suspension
For the most part, the County Commission has been left in the dark about the pending implementation of a costly HR and payroll software system service.  The Commission is now (in November) being asked to spend $2.3 million over 5 years, but has only been given what the Director of Budgets and Finance wants the Commission to have, when he wants the Commission to have it.  In November, I plan to go into greater detail about the problems, but want to give a brief summary about why I sponsored a resolution to suspend implementation of the Kronos software system.

In July the Commission authorized over $1.3 million to what most believed to be first year implementation costs and licenses fees.  After taking office in September, I met with Mr. Vineyard and asked for an Kronos implementation schedule and was told it would be in the October Budget packet.  It was not.  At the Agenda meeting, I asked Mr. Vineyard why it was not in the packet.  He refused to answer my question.  At the end of the meeting, I requested that it be added to the Commission packet in November.  Mr. Vineyard gave me a hostile look and refused to say anything at that time.  He wasn’t the only one giving dirty looks.  Citizens in the audience commented to me after the meeting that the laughing and behavior of some HR people and a handful of County employees was disrespectful and unprofessional.

Since a response to my request wasn’t forthcoming, Commissioners Akard, Miller and I sponsored a resolution to suspend the Kronos project until the Commission was provided with detailed information.  Lo and behold the information is in the November Agenda packet, with a request to sign a 5 year contract at a cost of approximately $2.3 million.

There was also a letter added to the October Commission packet 2 days prior to the Commission meeting stating that the delay was due to Mr. Vineyard experiencing health problems.  I do not understand why he didn’t convey that during the October Commission meeting.  Technology can be a good thing, but the secrecy surrounding this project is in no way in the best interest of the public.

Former Commissioner Jim Folts wrote about some of the problems with the proposal after the July Commission meeting.  You can read his report at

Human Resources (HR) Committee – Shocking Comments
Tension was apparent as a result of statements made by Commissioner Grady Caskey, a Blount County teacher and former President of the Blount County Education Association (commonly referred to as the teachers union), off the Agenda about a request made by Sheriff James Berrong at the July HR meeting.  Until this year County employees paid nothing for their health care plan, a plan that the County benefits adviser Drew Mann routinely calls “rich” because it’s so generous.  The policy was changed to $25 a month this year, which is still well below nearly everything I’ve seen in both the public and private sectors.

The Sheriff asked, at the July meeting, to look into whether teachers are paying the $25 like general government County employees.  They did receive this benefit for free until August 1, when they began paying $25.  At the October meeting, Grady Caskey informed the HR Committee that the $25 was paid for them as a result of teacher negotiations with the School Board.

After the meeting, Commissioner Tom Stinnett, a retired Maryville City School teacher, admonished Caskey for talking in public about the teachers paying nothing for their health care benefits, saying “You can’t do that. You can’t do that in public. It pisses…. it pisses the public off. They don’t give a crap about us in this room, trying to tell them why we deserve it.”  After Caskey responded, Stinnett went on to say, “That’s why they hate us, ok. We have to do everything to hide this from people in the public because they will crucify us and they will all line up at the beginning of the Commission, … line up against us.”  It is shocking that a Commissioner would make such statements, wanting another Commissioner to hide benefits information from the public and belittle the public by saying they would crucify teachers for having transparency.  I’ve never met anyone in Blount County who wants to crucify our teachers.  Citizens deserve better from elected officials.

In November
Kronos, stay tuned.

Read more on the October Commission meeting here.

Update: The article has been updated to reflect the fact that School employees began paying $25 for health care benefits in August.