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Native Blount Countian takes the Mayor, School Officials and DA to task over political meetings

This is the off the agenda statement of Susie Bowman at the July 17, 2014 Blount County Commission meeting.

I am Susie Myers Bowman, 70 year old NATIVE of Townsend, TN. 44yr resident, same address in District 2, Alcoa.

MANY NATIVE Blount Countians….as well as the “transplants” mentioned in the July 4th article in The Daily Times are indeed AWAKENING to the travesties perpetrated against Blount County taxpayers.

The Mayor attacked newcomers. Mayor, don’t you understand, many of those newcomers come here and buy houses providing badly needed work for our unemployed construction workers. Several of my relatives make their living in construction. They were born here. They like newcomers. They don’t like you driving people away.

The Mayor & other Blount County officials called “faculty meetings” at 21 schools prior to the May 6 Primary Election. These political discussion meetings were NOT voluntary attendance (a violation). By their own admission in recorded evidence, they clearly violated more than one TCA law by using their official positions (a violation) in attempting to “educate the staff on the sales tax referendum” as well as addressing other political topics such as refuting “nearly a quarter billion dollars in debt” and inappropriate statements concerning more than one candidate for County Commissioner without providing an equal opportunity for opposing candidate(s) or position(s) to present their case as prescribed by Tennessee state law!

When the Mayor addressed the allegations in the media, he stated that the County Attorney had determined that no laws were violated! Blatantly false! There is no such official position as County Attorney in the Blount County Government!

It is entirely clear the Mayor and other “public servants” involved in these (& other horrific abuses of their oath of office that have recently come to light) cannot effectively cope with the stress levels incurred when confronted with actual FACTS concerning their actions. If there was anything resembling JUSTICE regarding the political machine in Blount County, significant prosecutorial action would be currently underway and in the obvious absence of such, if the Mayor & other involved parties had any sense of scruples they would resign their respective offices IMMEDIATELY!

The RESPONSE:

Well, as one might have expected—

The people who have been witnessing the abuses by the board were glad to see some of it addressed. Of course, there were a lot of government employees in attendance, those wanting the Kronos 2.2 million total computer overall which will end up being likely 2-3 times that initial estimate. They had the Kronos ‘salesman’ there and Jim Folts made everyone aware that that is all he was. They had NO ONE designated to head up the major project, could not answer specific pertinent questions regarding design for the roll-out or anything one would NEED to KNOW prior to embarking upon such an expensive major project. Jim Folts (made his living with his expertise of computer technology) suggested that choosing to upgrade one department at a time would be the wise thing to do rather than attempting a complete upgrade all at one time. Only about 3 voted against the expenditure (Burchfield, Folts & Murrell). It actually sounds like another ‘ObamaCare’ fiasco.

Monica Murrell voted against it. She is not going to be on the commission next term, having chosen NOT to serve again. She came up to me as I was going out of the building following the meeting and said she was glad I had spoken and that I did a fine job with my delivery. On occasion, over this past term, she would vote with Jim Folts to TRY to bring some restraint to the SPENDING and curtail the obvious deceptive violations of actual Tennessee law. No doubt, the corrupt ‘machine’ gave her a rough time for not consistently ‘toeing their line’.

Doug and Abby came as moral support for me. Mike had invited several of his friends who also came. The room was packed with mostly county employees who LIKE getting a BONUS. The Mayor’s secretary (who makes around 52 grand/year) of course stood to deny there is a ‘political machine’ in our county and government is being run by fine people. Phyllis Crisp (who had also received a hefty pay raise) voiced her commendation of our fine mayor and commission. What would one expect them to say?

Commissioner French got up attempting to refute my assertions that TCA had been violated, but he only read a portion of the law that was NOT the part that clearly states otherwise. Mike raised his hand (wanting to quote the entire law) but they would not call him up to speak.

Several rose to speak nice supportive commendations for the dedicated service of Jim Folts. One man (a machine reporter) said he was ‘glad to see Jim Folts go and good riddance’. Some applause from county workers upon hearing that very RUDE remark about such a fine wise man who has always said and done what would be in the best interest of the TAX PAYING citizens.

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Read more about the meetings here.

Commission in violation of State budget law

The Budget Committee failed to have a public hearing on the annual budget as required by State law.  Commissioner Jim Folts pointed this out at the Agenda meeting on Tuesday.  Rather than taking his advice of sending it back to the Budget Committee, the Commission choose to enrich attorney Craig Garrett’s wallet by getting his opinion and then sending the budget back to the Budget Committee.  Another example of waste.

A new Budget Committee public hearing is set for Monday the 23rd at 6:30 and the Commission will be meeting on June 30th at 6 PM to discuss the budget.  The regular monthly Commission meeting will occur on the 19th, without the annual budget.

The Mayor is responsible for this problem.  He chooses the Budget Committee.  His Budget Committee sent the unbalanced budget to the Commission without a recommendation.  He failed to have the public hearing and he failed to put a legible public notice with important required numbers in the paper.  Despite his multiple failures to comply with the law, he is proposing giving himself a $14,914 pay raise this year after taking a $4,473 pay raise last year.  That’s a 18.6% increase in two years, bring his annual salary to $123,727.  His Budget Director and “Assistant” Mayor will make $90,511 if the Commission approves the proposed budget, which is a 7.37% increase over the past 2 years.

Did Mayor Ed Mitchell and Director of Schools Rob Britt break State election laws?

Jim Folts asks some hard hitting, important questions about meetings that took place at each Blount County School before the recent May 6th primary election.  The Chairman of the Education Committee, Commissioner Ron French, said that some Commissioners were present at the meetings of the Schools in their districts, if they were called.  Jim Folts serves on the Education Committee, yet he was not invited to these meetings.

Election Laws that may have been broken: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4i9IFqGDcTKNVBmZFQ0ZkpVcVE/edit?pli=1

Audio of Education Committee meeting where Jim Folts questions Director of Schools Rob Britt.  https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4i9IFqGDcTKZkY2akdSWFMwZXc/edit?pli=1

According to Rob Britt, Mayor Ed Mitchell called him to have a meeting at each school.  Rob Britt says the purpose of the meetings was, “Real simple, it’s just to educate our faculty and staff on the sales tax referendum.”

Tennessee Code Annotated 2-19-134

(a) It is unlawful for any person to coerce or direct any employee to vote for any measure, party or person who may be a candidate for any office, or for any person who may be a candidate for nomination for any office, to threaten the discharge of such employee if the employee votes or does not vote for any such candidate for nomination or for office, or for any particular policy or measure.

Were these meetings mandatory?  Were employees told what the funds from the sales tax referendum would be used for?  Were certain Commissioners, facing opponents, invited when others weren’t?  A yes answer to these questions would likely mean that one or more of these law(s) was/were broken.

An investigation should be conducted by the DA.  If any of these laws were broken, then Rob Britt should be demoted and the Mayor should resign.

Commission approves a contract without knowing cost

Last night the Commission approved a contract with Blount Memorial Hospital to provide health care to employees without knowing how much it would cost.  No amount was stated in the resolution.  That didn’t matter though, because it passed 15-2 with only Commissioners Burchfield and Folts voting against it.  Commissioners Lambert, Lewis, Melton and Murrell were absent.

Commissioner Wright brought to light that the copier contract isn’t a flat cost like the Commission has always been lead to believe.  There is a 5 cent per click cost for color copies.  Wright works in the industry and said he could negotiate a better rate.  The Commission chose not to pursue a better rate since some were afraid that Departments would be without copiers for a brief time if the final contract wasn’t approved prior to the old one expiring on June 30th.  Theresa Johnson sounded more like a cheer leader for Canon Solutions American Inc., than the purchasing agent for Blount County.  The length of the contract, 5 years, puts the matter out of reach for the incoming Commission where 6 incumbents will be gone.

Budget Modifications a new term

Old Agendas would specify budget increases and decreases.  Now, thanks to Randy Vineyard the Finance Director, these transactions are listed as Budget Modifications.  It sounds nicer than calling these for what they are, increases in spending your money.

The Commission also approved a Blount County employee dental plan without having much information.  Currently the employees pay nothing and taxpayers pay $23.51 per month for each employee.  Employees have the option of purchasing a family plan for $49.24 a month.  The family plan costs $72.75 and the County pays the $23.51 it would pay if they just had the employee plan.  Dental coverage was previously self insured by the County, but the current plans are offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield.