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Tennessee Comptroller’s Office says it can find no statutory authority for a sheriff to sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval

Dear Blount County Citizens,

For several months, I have been trying to find a state law that authorizes a sheriff to sign a contract to house federal inmates in the local jail without county commission approval.  All those that I have spoken with involved in state government have told me that a sheriff does not have the authority but nothing was put in writing until today.

The response from Jim Arnette, the Director of Local Government Audit, in the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury is below.

Only commissioners Mike Akard, Karen Miller and I have not tacitly approved housing federal inmates, according to the Comptroller’s Office, by voting for an annual budget which includes revenue from this contract.  Karen Miller and I voted no on the budget this year.  Commissioner Mike Akard voted no on the budget at the Agenda Committee but was absent for the final vote at the June Commission meeting.

Let freedom ring!
Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner
District 7 Seat B

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jim Arnette” <Jim.Arnette@cot.tn.gov>
Sent: Monday, July 25, 2016 9:32am
To: “tona@breezeair.net” <tona@breezeair.net>
Cc: “Justin Wilson” <Justin.Wilson@cot.tn.gov>
Subject: RE: Does a sheriff have authority to sign a contract without commission approval?

Ms. Monroe,

We have discussed your inquiry with our legal staff…

We can find no specific statutory authority for the Sheriff to enter into the contract for housing Federal detainees.  Generally, the board of county commissioners holds the contracting authority in Tennessee county governments.

Section 41-8-106, Tennessee Code Annotated, contains guidance on contracting to house state prisoners, and provides for the county “through the authority of its county legislative body”, “to contract with the department of correction for the purpose of housing certain felons.” Although there is no reference to federal prisoners in this statute, the Commission’s general power to enter into/authorize contracts, would seem to allow them to approve a contract to house federal prisoners.

If the revenues generated from housing federal prisoners has been included in the general fund budget which was approved by the Blount County Commission, it seems reasonable that the Commission was aware of the boarding of federal prisoners. If this is in fact the case, it could be construed as tacit approval of the contract.

Jim Arnette, CGFM, CISA

Director

Comptroller of the Treasury

Division of Local Government Audit

1500 James K. Polk Building

Nashville, Tennessee  37243-1402

615.401.7841

 

From: tona@breezeair.net [mailto:tona@breezeair.net]
Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2016 5:34 PM
To: Justin Wilson <Justin.Wilson@cot.tn.gov>; Jim Arnette <Jim.Arnette@cot.tn.gov>
Subject: Does a sheriff have authority to sign a contract without commission approval?

Dear Comptroller Wilson and Mr. Arnette,

Does a sheriff have the authority under state law to sign a contract without commission approval?  Blount County Sheriff James Lee Berrong signed a contract with the US Marshals Service to house inmates in the Blount County Adult Detention Facility.  This contract was not approved by the Blount County Commission.  It is attached for your review.

Sincerely,

Tona Monroe

Claiborne County voters to determine jail expansion bond issue

ClaiborneCoNoJailExpansion

Sign in Claiborne County

Voters in Claiborne County will determine whether the county should issue bonds for jail expansion in this August 4th election.  A Circuit judge, acting in his private capacity as a citizen, is opposing jail expansion saying the county losses money on its inmates, just as I (Tona Monroe) have been saying here in Blount County.

There has been confusion about the role of the Tennessee Correction Institute (TCI) and the TCI Board of Control.  The TCI inspects local jails.  The TCI Board of Control votes to certify a jail as being in compliance or not in compliance with jail standards.  The TCI and its Board of Control can not shut down a jail for not being in compliance with state standards.

The Blount County Purchasing Agent finally issued the RFQ for jail expansion last week, 12 weeks after the commission authorized it.  With the state inmates being removed, the only thing the county should look at expanding is programs.  If the Blount County Commission pushes for an unnecessary jail expansion, then the citizens of Blount County should be able to weigh in on the issue through a referendum.

Pay supplements aren’t required

At the June Blount County Board of Commissioners meeting, I (Tona Monroe) tried to cut the salaries of Mayor Ed Mitchell, Sheriff James Berrong, Highway Superintended Jeff Headrick and Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher to the minimum salaries required by state law.  Only Commissioner Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted to cut the salaries to the state minimum.  Commissioner Mike Akard was absent.  Last year, it was just the 3 ladies and Mike Akard who voted to cut the salaries to the state minimum.  All the rest supported these 4 being paid substantially more than we are required to pay them.

At the meeting, Chairman Jerome Moon lead the commission to believe that we had to pay the sheriff an additional pay supplement.  This pay supplement would trigger the mayor being paid more because the mayor is required to be paid 5% above the next highest paid official, which is the sheriff.  I had read the laws governing salaries and didn’t think we were required to pay more.  However, I could of missed something and inquired which law.  Moon didn’t know what law required us to give a pay supplement.  Neither did the sheriff or Commissioner Steve Samples, the longest serving commissioner.

I asked the County Technical Assistance Service for clarification on salary laws because minimum and maximum salaries are referenced.  CTAS failed to respond.  Thus, I sent the same questions to the Tennessee County Commissioners Association and received a response.  We (the county) are not required to pay these additional supplements.  Cutting these discretionary pay supplements would save the taxpayers $91,713 this budget year.

Below is his response and the attachment received is available here.

—–Original Message—–
From: Charlie Curtiss
Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 11:27am
To: Tona
Subject: RE: Minimum and maximum salaries for elected officials

Tona,

There is not a maximum salary listed in the Tennessee Code, there are a few references but the law they reference was deleted in 1990. The legislature sets the minimum salary based upon a county’s classification. If the county commission wants to pay above the minimum salary that is their choice.

Tennessee code allows that a county commission can pay a sheriff additional salary to administer a workhouse. The law does not require a the county to provide an additional amount, it just allows a county commission to pay more if they chose to do so.

The fact that Tennessee law at one time set a maximum  salary, there is language in several parts of the law that give authority to go above the maximum salary. As I mentioned above, that language in not in the law today but there references are still there and it becomes confusing.

The state law says the county legislative body may pay additional compensation to a sheriff to administer a workhouse but it is not required.

I have attached a word document that has some support information.

Thanks,

Charlie

 

From: Tona
Sent: Sunday, July 17, 2016 5:32 PM
To: Charlie Curtiss
Subject: Minimum and maximum salaries for elected officials

Dear Charlie,

Wesley at CTAS has failed to respond to this email, like so many.
Do you know the answer to these questions? Thanks,

Tona

 

—–Original Message—–
From: Tona

Sent: Thursday, June 30, 2016 11:06pm
To: “Robertson, Wesley Ross” <
wrober25@mail.tennessee.edu>, “Robertson, Wesley Ross” <wrober25@utk.edu>
Cc: “Roberts, Robin A” <
robin.roberts@tennessee.edu>
Subject: Minimum and maximum salaries for elected officials

Hi Wesley,

State statute 8-24-102 governs minimum salaries for elected officials.  CTAS publishes those minimum salaries, which I have a copy of. 

 

State statute 8-24-103 references a maximum salary for the sheriff. 

 

(3) No sheriff shall claim, hold, or have any interest in such funds for services performed under § 8-24-102, fees paid the sheriff as a witness for appearing in court, the boarding of prisoners at the county jail, ex officio services, or fees from any other source whatsoever, except that this provision and the provisions of subdivision (a)(2) are not intended to prevent the county legislative body from paying the sheriff in such county an amount in addition to the maximum salary allowed by § 8-24-102 for ex officio services as superintendent of the workhouse, if the workhouse in such county is combined with the jail as provided for by title 41, chapter 2.

 

Questions:

1) What is the maximum salary in 103 that references 102?

2) Can a supplement be given for a workhouse if the county does not have a workhouse?

3) For purposes of 8-24-11 and/or any other statute, is the jail considered an ex officio service?

4) Is the commission required to give the sheriff any pay supplement above the minimum (excluding the Court Clerk supplement that requires an additional 10%)?

 

Sincerely,

Tona

‘Jail’ expansion RFQ issued 12 weeks after commission approved it

Do you remember that great sense of urgency when Jerome Moon told commissioners that they had to pass the jail RFQ resolution or they would have to sit through deposition in federal court?  Do you remember that great sense of urgency when the Detention Facility Specialists from the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) told the Blount County Corrections Partnership in March that we needed to look into architectural costs to appease the TCI Board of Control to keep our certification?

Well the RFQ was just issued last week.  This is 12 weeks after Mayor Ed Mitchell called a special commission meeting (they’re not so special anymore because the mayor has been calling a lot of meetings) to pass the ‘jail’ resolution.  It took the purchasing agent 12 weeks to issue the paperwork.  Where was that sense of urgency in issuing the paperwork?

One shouldn’t expect anything different from a purchasing agent who writes a resolution about a jail and fails to mention the word jail in the resolved portion of the resolution.  The project overview in the RFQ is clear though saying, “Blount County Government is soliciting Requests for Qualifications from licensed Architectural and/or Engineering firms for professional services necessary to plan and design a jail expansion for Blount County, Tennessee.”  See page 9 for the quote.  Under Proposal Award it says, “Once an agreement is reached, the Purchasing Agent will then request that the full Blount County Commission approve a multi-year contract.”  See page 16 for that quote.

June 2016 Commission Report

When I (Tona Monroe) envisioned writing monthly reports on county government, I thought that the reports would be published within a few days of the monthly commission meetings, which are held on the 3rd Thursday of each month.  However, I quickly realized that it was better to wait until the end of the month to more fully report on your local government.  This is because there are important meetings after the monthly commission meeting and the meetings can create more questions than answers.  Thus, I usually follow up after these meetings by seeking answers.

Sometimes I get answers and sometimes it is difficult to get answers.  As such, these monthly reports are intended to provide a review of the monthly activities of your local government.  If you desire to learn about important matters before the commission votes on them, please be sure to visit this site at least a couple of times a month because I write about issues throughout the month.  Additionally, I also have an email list that you can subscribe to which will keep you informed.  If you’d like to join the email list, please send me an email.  tona@breezeair.net

Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting
On June 1, I drove to Nashville to attend the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control meeting.  Commissioners Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also attended the meeting.

My reasons for attending are manifold.  Please search this website, if you are new to the site, to learn those reasons.  My statement to the board is available here.

A county should strive to meet minimum standards and be certified by the TCI.  However, after reading prior Board of Control minutes and watching the process in action, I’ve concluded that obtaining certification can be political rather than an objective recognition of compliance with standards.

I had intended to write about the meeting before now but haven’t been able to obtain all the documents that I wanted to review before writing about the meeting.  This may be something that I will write about in the future.

Agenda Committee
Commissioners Tom Cole, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett were absent.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I offered two taxpayer protection amendments.  Both were rejected.

One amendment would have amended the annual budget resolution to prohibit the mayor and finance director from assigning fund balance money without commission approval.  My intention was to ensure that there would be no more secret plans for your tax money as there has been in the past.

The other amendment was intended to ensure that no monies appropriated for pay raises would be expended for any other purpose without commission approval.  The budget funds 1.8% pay raises for all county employees, excluding the Highway Department and schools that set their own raises, and office holders who receive raises based on state mandates.  However, not all the amounts budgeted for pay raises will be expended for that purpose.

Raises are suppose to be awarded based on satisfactory job performance.  This will leave money in funds that won’t be awarded as pay raises.  This means that office holders can transfer money not awarded for pay raises for use elsewhere in their budgets.  This is a misuse of the public trust.  Office holders should not be requesting money that isn’t needed and no office holder should use the funds for any other purpose.

Pay raises are not uniform throughout local government.  Office holders will receive state mandated pay raises.  Some school employees will receive 5% pay raises.  General county employees will receive 1.8% pay raises.  I don’t know what the Highway Department employees will receive.

Only commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted to protect the taxpayers with these two amendments.

Commission meeting
Commissioner Mike Akard was absent.

Tax rate is set for $2.47
The property tax rate will remain at $2.47.  The powers that be are patting themselves on the back for a job well done because they’ve put together a budget where they get nice pay raises and much of what they want, without increasing the property tax rate.  However, that doesn’t mean that local government held the line on spending.

The budget is up $6,789,571 million over the previous year’s original adopted budget.  The adopted budget for fiscal year (FY) 15-16 is $174,477,835 while the adopted budget for FY 16-17 is $181,267,406.  Not all of this is local money.  The schools will receive a sizeable increase from the state and $1,250,000 of this money came from fund balance that was approved as a budget increase in December for the IT fund that was rushed through.  It is money that hasn’t yet been spent and has to be budgeted in the new year.

More of your money is projected to be collected due to tax revenue growth but pay has not keeping up with inflation.  The local government hasn’t done you any favors by keeping the tax rate that is 15% higher than it was 2 years ago.

Only commissioners Miller and I voted no.  That means that there are only 3 commissioners left who haven’t supported a tax rate that is higher than when they took office, or in the case of Peggy Lambert, left office.   The commissioners who voted no on the tax increase last year, among other things, have now supported it and everything in the budget a year later.

What good is it to oppose something for one year and then rubber stamp it a year later?  The property tax rate was $2.15 when I took my oath of office.  When I ran for office, many people told me that they didn’t want another property tax increase.  I made a campaign promise not to raise property taxes and I will stick by that.  I will never vote for a budget that requires a tax rate that is higher than when I took office.

Someone said to me what good does it do to focus on a tax increase when the entire tax amount is being wasted.  That’s a valid point.  People often get upset about a tax increase, but that is often just a small amount of what you are paying.  The entire amount is important, not just the increase.  We should look at every penny the government wants and spends.

Capital fund amendment failed
I offered an amendment to the tax rate that would have moved one penny of the schools general fund to the schools capital fund.  This amendment would have saved county taxpayers about $127,500 because capital fund money doesn’t have to be split with Alcoa and Maryville schools.

Blount County Schools teacher and County Commissioner Dodd Crowe spoke against the amendment although he didn’t actually give a precise reason why he opposed the amendment.  Fiscal Administrator for the schools, Troy Logan, said the amendment wouldn’t align with the school board’s goals.  Ask your school board member if he or she thinks that one of their goals should include giving $127,500 in tax money to Maryville and Alcoa, when the county doesn’t have to.

The School Board is planning on spending over $2 million to fix roofs this budget year.  This will consume the entire capital fund and the rest will be paid for with fund balance in the schools general purpose fund.  The shift in the penny would have given the schools additional funds, thereby reducing use of fund balance, without increasing the county property tax rate.

Commissioners and teachers Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe voted against the amendment, as did Commissioner Tom Cole whose wife works for the schools.  These three gave about $127,500 to the cities when they didn’t have to.  Commissioner and school employee Gary Farmer abstained.  Only commissioners Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I thought it makes good fiscal sense to use the money to fix the roofs instead of giving it to the two cities.

I don’t like using the term penny to describe the tax rate because it makes the amount you are paying sound so much smaller than it really is.  A penny on the tax rate is estimated to be worth $327,500 in property tax money.  Because of split dollars, the amount given to the schools for each penny is about $200,000 according to fiscal administrator Troy Logan.  The schools capital fund receives the entire amount of $327,500 per penny, excluding the Trustee’s Fees that are deducted from property taxes.

Budget Committee’s recommended budget is rubber stamped
The commission rubber stamped the budget recommended by the Budget Committee without any changes.  Only commissioners Karen Miller and I offered amendments to the budget.

Commissioner Miller offered an amendment to gut the budget given to the Industrial Development Board, which is used to dole out corporate welfare.  The IDB receives over $1 million.  Miller’s amendment would have cut the IDB budget to $1 and given the money to the Highway Department.

The finance director said that Miller’s amendment would have required the commission to amend the tax rate resolution.  This is a good example of why it doesn’t make sense to set the tax rate in advance of setting the budget.  How can the commission properly budget the rate when it hasn’t determined the amounts that will be spent from each fund?

Commissioner Miller requested permission of the body to read her prepared remarks on the amendment.  The commission rejected allowing her to read her statement.  This is appalling.  Commissioners are given the power to be heard and the duty to look out for taxpayers.  Apparently the majority of commissioners don’t want a commissioner to come prepared with the facts and their reasons for advocating positions.  The commission rejected allowing me to read a statement last month.

Miller did speak briefly without reading her statement.  She said she didn’t think tax money should be given for corporate welfare, that she was upset with the way Bryan Daniels and the Blount Partnership had blocked commissioner Jamie Daly and me and that the money should be used to fix the pot holes in the road.  I seconded Miller’s amendment but it was rejected by the commission with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself supporting it.

4 officials are paid above the state mandated minimum
State law mandates minimum salaries for elected officials.  The salaries range from being nearly double to near quadruple the average salary in Blount County.

State law allows the commission to pay elected officials more than the state mandated minimums.  With the salaries already being so much more than what the majority of households live on, I moved to cut the salaries of the court clerk, highway superintendent, sheriff and mayor to the state mandated minimums.

The cut would have saved the taxpayers $91,713 but it was rejected with only commissioners Daly, Miller and myself voting for it.  Chairman Jerome Moon gave one of the typical reasons to rubber stamp the matter and move on.  He said that state law requires us to give the sheriff a pay supplement above his base pay.   However, when I asked what state law said we have to give the sheriff more than the state minimum, he couldn’t name the law.  The sheriff couldn’t state the law either.  Moon them passed the buck to Commissioner Steve Samples, because he is the longest serving commissioner.  Samples didn’t know the law either.

I am researching the matter to see exactly what the county is required to pay the sheriff.

Meeting minutes missing wording of a motion
The meeting minutes for the May commission meeting did not include the wording of a motion that I made.  I moved to amend the minutes to include the wording of the amendment that I had offered but the commission rejected the amendment.  The minutes should reflect any change that a commissioner tries to make to public policy and government documents.

Highway Grant
There was a reimbursement grant for highway funds expended during an emergency with begin and end dates that spans five years.  The new Highway Superintendent (HS) Jeff Headrick couldn’t explain these dates.  He said it was handled before he became HS but his name is on the budget amendment request.  I often wonder if anyone in local government understands what they are signing up for, with state and federal grants.

IT Meeting
A special Information Technology (IT) Committee was called by the mayor, to have the new IT consulting firm Mindboard give a presentation on its IT assessment of the county.  A previous assessment was done.  The Mindboard consultant referred to it as the 10,000 foot view.  He referred to his assessment as the 3,000 foot view.  The county is in need of some IT improvements but we need to tread carefully.

Kronos, the $2.3M time keeping, payroll and HR IT software project, is several months behind schedule.  This was rushed through without fully examining whether the county was ready for the project.

The estimated capital costs of about $2.5M, in the Mindboard presentation, are nearly double what the commission approved last year for the updates.  Furthermore, the annual costs to maintain these updates will greatly increase the IT budget.  The committee was given a figure that was over $600,000.

These aren’t exact numbers.  The costs for computers was listed as zero.  The former IT Director John Herron, who now works for the schools, pointed out that this wasn’t realistic.

I wondered why this was listed as zero and I may have learned why.  In the commission packet, there are budget transfers to purchase computers in both the Finance and Accounting and Data Processing (IT) budgets. (See pages 330 and 334)  Finance Director Vineyard told me that all IT needs would come out of the IT fund but apparently both had money left over at the end of the year to use to buy new computers.

It is amazing how much money is moved around (transferred) at the end of the year.  I may write more about the subject in the future.

The IT Committee took no action on the presentation.  However, the mayor and finance director usually proceed with their big spending plans without a recommendation from the IT Committee.

State to remove 99 felons from jail
The best news of the month is that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is going to remove 99 felons to state facilities.  This reduces the chance of a tax increase for jail expansion.  However, we should be ever vigilant of the matter.  We need to ensure that TDOC and the sheriff actively work to move felons, with a continuous sentence of more than a year, to state facilities in the future.

The sheriff stated that I have “offered no realistic or legal solutions.”  That’s false.  One realistic and legal solution that I offered was to have the state sentenced felons moved to state facilities.  It’s good to see this solution will happen.

Up next
The commission will consider reforming the Human Resources and Insurance Committee.

Happy Independence Day!

Claiborne Co. judge cares about community: Opposes jail expansion

Circuit Court Judge John D. McAfee cares about his community.  He is doing what he can, as a private citizen, to stop what may be an unnecessary jail expansion in his local community by pointing out that the Claiborne County does not have to house felons sentenced to more than a year.

Compare that to the actions of local judges Tammy Harrington and Mike Gallegos, who are non-voting ex-officio members of the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP), who never said anything about the county not being required to house felons.  Additionally, neither mentioned that trial judges have the authority, under state law, to order inmates to be moved to a state facility before the expiration of the normal time frame for removal.

Furthermore, McAfee obtained a letter from legal counsel for the Tennessee Corrections Institute saying that the TCI has no authority to shut down jails or enforce TCI guidelines.  This is the point that I (Tona Monroe) made when Bob Bass and Detention Facility Specialist William Robert Kane appeared to try to bully the BCCP into seeking architectural services to expand the jail.  Tough talk is about all the TCI employees can do.  Why didn’t these TCI employees mention that the county is under no obligation to keep state felons, with a sentence of more than a year, and suggest that the county work with the Tennessee Department of Corrections to have the felons moved to state facilities?

It appears that the jail RFQ resolution, that fails to mention the jail in the be it resolved portion of the resolution, was passed under false pretenses.  I am elated that the state is finally going to do its job by taking its felons.  This may have stopped an unnecessary tax increase.  Additionally, I am happy to learn that a judge cares enough about his community to make the facts known and not indebt future generations to house discretionary state prisoners.

Commissioner Tona Monroe calls for immediate meeting of Blount County Corrections Partnership to discuss removing discretionary inmates after AG’s opinion on state sentenced felons.

The Tennessee Attorney General (AG) has now opined that jails aren’t required to house state felons sentenced to more than one year of continuous confinement.  It is no longer just my (Tona Monroe) interpretation, as the local paper reported.  It’s also the interpretation of the AG.

For Immediate Release: Commissioner Tona Monroe requests immediate meeting of Blount County Corrections Partnership to discuss removing discretionary inmates after AG’s opinion on state sentenced felons.

Contact Tona Monroe
(865) 856-0814
tona@breezeair.net

June 21, 2016

Commissioner Monroe issued the following statement on Tennessee AG opinion 16-21.

The sheriff, mayor and some commissioners have been pushing to spend what could be tens of millions of Blount County taxpayer dollars on jail expansion because the current facility is “overcrowded”. Commissioner Tona Monroe has repeatedly pointed out that the facility is only “overcrowded” because the sheriff insists on keeping a large number of federal inmates that the county is under no legal obligation to take. In addition, the sheriff is housing a large number of state prisoners. It has been shown that both arrangements are a loss to the taxpayers of Blount County. Now a new opinion by the Tennessee Attorney General makes it clear that the county is not obligated to house the state prisoners either.

This eliminates any need to spend huge amounts of money to expand the Blount County Adult Detention Facility (jail). Based on the most recent month’s jail population statistics, if the federal and state prisoners were removed, the Blount County jail would be well under capacity.

Commissioner Tona Monroe is calling for an immediate meeting of the Blount County Corrections Partnership to discuss removing the discretionary state and federal inmates from the jail, in order to save tens of millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

###

Previous jail summary reports are available here: https://www.tn.gov/correction/article/tdoc-jail-summary-reports

Trial judges can order immediate removal of inmates to penitentiary or branch prison

From LexisNexis         

Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-23-107

TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED
© 2016 by The State of Tennessee
All rights reserved

*** Current through the 2015 Regular Session ***

Title 40  Criminal Procedure  
Chapter 23  Execution of Judgment

Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-23-107  (2016)

40-23-107.  Safekeeping of inmates — Transfers to penitentiary.

  (a) In counties where, because of the insufficiency of the county jail, or for any other cause, the court may be of opinion that the safekeeping of the inmates may require it, the court may order the immediate removal of inmates to the penitentiary or to the nearest branch prison, at the cost of the state, before the expiration of the time allowed to remove the inmates.

(b) The inmates shall, as soon as possible after conviction, be safely removed and conveyed by the person appointed by the commissioner of correction for that purpose, to the penitentiary, or to one (1) of the branch prisons.

HISTORY: Acts 1883, ch. 171, § 28; impl. am. Acts 1895 (Ex. Sess.), ch. 7, § 10; impl. am. Acts 1915, ch. 20, §§ 2, 9; Shan., §§ 7240, 7241; impl. am. Acts 1919, ch. 39, § 2; impl. am. Acts 1923, ch. 7, § 42; Code 1932, §§ 11846, 11847; impl. am. Acts 1955, ch. 102, § 1; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), §§ 40-3108, 40-3109.

Tensions and an insufficient jail

Shortly after Sheriff James Lee Berrong told the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control about $1 million being earmarked with a plan for another million, he began sending letters to Mayor Ed Mitchell about tensions in the jail.  Copies of the letters were also provided to Craig Garrett, County Attorney (the office of County Attorney has never been created by a private act of the Tennessee General Assembly) and Blount County Commissioners.

When I say letters, I received copies of two letters, one dated September 9, 2015 and the other dated October 28, 2015.  You can read those letters and the additional info that was included with each here.  Shortly after these letter, I began asking questions about federal inmates and discovered the secret plan for money to expand the jail.

Both letters contain the same statement from Sheriff Berrong.  “As you know, if the problem persists, which we expect it will, the repercussions could be detrimental to not only the Sheriff’s Office, but to Blount County also. We are seeing increased tensions in the facility.”

If this is true, why doesn’t the sheriff have the federal inmates and the state sentenced felons, with a sentence of more than a year, removed?  The county is under no obligation to keep either.  State law says counties do not have to house felons with sentences longer than one year in their local jails.  The sheriff himself, signed a contract with the US Marshals Service, without commission approval to house federal inmates in the local jail.  I’ve never been shown what law gives the sheriff authority to sign the contract instead of the mayor.

State law authorizes the sheriff to have the inmates removed to another jail, if the jail is insufficient.  There is an Attorney General opinion on the matter.  See answers to questions 5 and 6.  Considering that the sheriff is voluntarily housing inmates, then he should be taking action to move inmates out of the jail if he thinks the repercussions of his actions, to house discretionary inmates, could be detrimental to the Sheriff’s Office and Blount County.

From LexisNexis

Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-4-121

TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED
© 2016 by The State of Tennessee
All rights reserved

*** Current through the 2015 Regular Session ***

Title 41  Correctional Institutions and Inmates  
Chapter 4  Jails and Jailers

Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-4-121  (2016)

41-4-121.  Safekeeping of prisoners — Sufficient jails. 

 (a) The sheriff has the authority, when the jail of the county is insufficient for the safekeeping of a prisoner, to convey the prisoner to the nearest sufficient jail in the state.

(b) In all cases where it is shown to the committing magistrate, judge or court that the jail of the county in which the commitment should be made is insufficient for the safekeeping of the prisoner, the commitment shall be by mittimus or warrant stating the fact to the nearest sufficient county jail.

(c) In all cases where the jail in which a prisoner is confined becomes insufficient from any cause, any circuit or criminal judge, upon the application of the sheriff and proof of the fact, may order the prisoner, by mittimus or warrant, to be removed to the nearest sufficient jail.

HISTORY: Code 1858, §§ 5402-5404 (deriv. Acts 1809 (Sept.), ch. 126, § 4; 1817, ch. 17, § 1); Shan., §§ 7380-7382; Code 1932, §§ 11989-11991; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), §§ 41-1123 — 41-1125.

It’s down to 3: Only Commissioners Akard, Miller and Monroe have not supported increased tax rate

The Blount County Commission consists entirely of Republicans who claim to espouse positions of low tax and small government but actions speak louder than words.  There are now only 3 commissioners who have not voted for a property tax rate that is 15% higher than when they took office in September of 2014, or in the case of Peggy Lambert, left office.

The tax rate for fiscal year (FY) 2015 (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015) was $2.15.  In FY 16 the commission raised the tax rate to $2.47.  The tax rate approved for FY 17 is also $2.47.

Last year (FY 16) commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted no on both the tax rate (increase) and the annual budget resolutions.  Commissioner Brad Bowers pulled a Steve Hargis by voting for the budget resolution while voting no on the tax rate resolution.  Commissioner Tom Stinnett took the courageous position of abstaining on the tax rate resolution while voting for the budget resolution.  Neither Bowers or Stinnett should be taken seriously by voters in the future because you can’t vote for most, or all, of the spending without voting for the taxes to pay for the spending.

This year leaves no doubt on their tax and spend ways.  Commissioner Mike Akard was absent from the Commission meeting but he voted no on the tax rate and budget resolutions at the Agenda Committee meeting.  Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted no on both the tax rate resolution and budget resolutions at both the Agenda Committee meeting and Commission meeting.

Commissioners Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Peggy Lambert and Tom Stinnett all joined the tax and spend crowd this year by voting yes to both the $2.47 tax rate resolution and the annual budget resolution that is partially funded by the $2.47 property tax rate.

Commissioners Archer, Cole and Daly showed the people that they lack firm principles by voting against the tax rate last year and then turning the other way and voting for it this year.  Commissioners Bowers and Stinnett showed last year that they have no principles by their contradictory and cowardly votes last year, respectively.  Peggy Lambert recently wrote that she never voted a tax increase in comments on BC Public Record’s website but a few days later voted for a tax rate that was 15% higher than when she left office in 2014.  Her hypocrisy is clear.  The rest of the commissioners reaffirmed their tax and spend ways.  These commissioners include Andy Allen, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Steve Samples.

Is the ‘Jail’ RFQ resolution ambiguous?

At the April 18, 2016 special called Blount County Commission meeting, a citizen named Fred Anderson spoke during public input saying that the wording of the public notice is ambiguous and that he didn’t think it complied with state law.  You can read the public notice and the resolution that the commission voted on here.  The meeting was called to rush through a resolution to look at expanding the jail and/or programs to appease the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control.  No solution Commissioner Mike Caylor called it buying time.

Anderson’s comments motivated me to reread the public notice and resolution.  After reading both, I noticed that neither the title nor the be it resolved portion of the resolution mention the jail.

The title of the resolution reads:

“RESOLUTION OF THE BLOUNT COUNTY LEGISLATIVE BODY AUTHORIZING THE PURCHASING AGENT TO SOLICIT A REQUEST FOR QUALIFICATIONS FOR ARCHITECTURAL PLANNING AND/OR DESIGN SERVICES AND/OR PROGRAMMING SERVICES FOR BLOUNT COUNTY, TN”

The resolved statements of the resolution read:

“Now therefore be it resolved by the Blount County Legislative Body assembled in special session on the 18th day of April 2016, to authorize the Purchasing Agent to solicit a Request for Qualifications for architectural planning and/or design services and/or program services.

Be it further resolved that this resolution take effect from and after its passage, and that any proper resolution to the contrary is hereby declared null and void, the public welfare requiring.”

There isn’t a word about the jail or what type of design and/or programs services are to be solicited in either the title or the resolved statements of the resolution.  The only place that the jail is mentioned in the resolution is in the whereas statements.  While the whereas statements describe the situation and show intent and reasons for taking action, it is the resolved statements where the commission takes formal action.

The action(s) should be precise in what the commission is attempting to do.  Without any mention of the jail, the resolved statements in the resolution appear to be so broadly written as to authorize the purchasing to solicit a RFQ for architectural planning, and/or design services and/or program services for anything.

Was the resolution even necessary?
The Purchasing Agent, Katie Branham, told the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) that under the Purchasing Act of 1957, a state law, that she could issue the RFQ if the BCCP wanted her to, without commission approval.  Tough talking bully Bob Bass, of the TCI, pushed the BCCP to do it as did William Robert Kane, who puts false statements in the note section of the TCI inspection reports.

Who wrote the resolution?
Here’s the real kicker.  It turns out that the Purchasing Agent wrote this resolution.  She is an attorney, turned Purchasing Agent.  To make matters worse she wrote that the mayor’s attorney (she called him the County Attorney) reviewed the resolution.  Two attorneys reviewed this resolution.  Yet, the resolved action statements don’t mention a jail or program services related to the jail and criminal justice system.  Scary, but par for the course from the court house clique.

This makes me wonder why the Purchasing Agent has been so slow to issue the RFQ.  How hard is it to write a resolution pertaining to the jail and programs for the criminal justice system?  How hard is to the issue the RFQ?  Is there something more going on here?  I don’t know, but I sure am wondering about the competency of the people running the courthouse and justice center.

“There is no such thing as secret money” but there are secret plans for your money

Some of the people who have contributed to Blount County’s fiscal woes are in a tizzy because I dared to mention the secret actions taken to assign $1.5 million for possible jail expansion.  The paper has been doing what it can to excuse the political machine (misnamed good ole’ boys, when there is little good that they do) with repeated stories downplaying the actions taken by Mayor Ed Mitchell and Finance Director Randy Vineyard.

At the Agenda Committee meeting on June 7th, I put forward an amendment to the annual budget resolution that the would prohibit any monies collected by the county that exceeds projected revenues from being designated for any purpose without commission approval.  The sheriff referred to the $1 million that was set aside as an earmark and told the TCI Board of Control, last year, about a plan for another million.  At the June TCI Board of Control meeting that there would be about another half a million this year, which is half a million less that what he told the Board last year.

The accounting term for this $1.5 million is that it is assigned.

From the Governmental Accounting Standards Board:

Assigned Fund Balance

13. Amounts that are constrained by the government‘s intent to be used for specific purposes, but are neither restricted nor committed, should be reported as assigned fund balance, except for stabilization arrangements, as discussed in paragraph 21. Intent should be expressed by (a) the governing body itself or (b) a body (a budget or finance committee, for example) or official to which the governing body has delegated the authority to assign amounts to be used for specific purposes.

Notice the intent for the use of this fund balance for a specific purpose.  The Blount County Corrections Partnership was not told about this assignment even though it is the body charged with making recommendations on the jail and criminal justice system.  The commission and public weren’t told about this assignment.  The public learned about the matter shortly after I did, after I read about the secret plan in the minutes of a state body.

Gary Farmer said, “There is no such thing as secret money.”  The money itself may not be a secret but there was a secret plan with intended use of this money.

No solution Mike Caylor asked if the money could be spent without commission approval.  It can’t.  Any commissioner who doesn’t know that shouldn’t be a commissioner.  This was his attempt to cover for the Mayor, Finance Director and Sheriff who would rather plan their actions in secret rather than discuss the matter in public with the Blount County Corrections Partnership.

The jail has been and remains an important issue in Blount County.  Local government officials should be working diligent to address the needs of our criminal justice system, for the betterment of society.  Instead the Blount County Corrections Partnership only meets a few times a year, information is withheld, meeting minutes don’t fully reflect motions that are made, the Commission Chairman cuts citizens off for referencing the jail study, Mike Caylor calls a point of order when I try to discuss ways to avoid jail expansion and money is assigned in secret.  The public trust has been broken by these actions.