It’s a ‘fine’ day and night in Blount County and throughout Tennessee

Well the Tennessee General Assembly just voted to raise the seatbelt fine from $10 to $25.  This is a great way for Republicans to enrich public treasuries without ‘raising taxes’.  It’s no surprise that Blount County’s 3 nanny $tati$t $upported the tax… err fine.  Good Ole’ Big Government Bob Ramsey, Art Swann and Doug Overbey.

Here in Blount County the Commi$$ion just took an unconstitutional grant for nighttime $eatbelt demo.  Buckle up, or you will find out what a ‘fine’ place Blount County is to live, especially since the federal government and the Tenne$$ee General A$$embly made $ure that you’ll be adding more to the public trea$ury if you don’t.

To hear or not to hear: Failure to move forward

Eight Commissioners decided it was time to move forward on the jail overcrowding situation by hearing from the jail consultant and looking to see what we can do in the community to reduce the jail population and get people back to work as productive members of society.  Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership is always talking about moving “forward” an being “positive”.  Eight Commissioners voted to do that.

One Commissioner lacked the guts to even vote on the matter.

To hear Not to hear Abstained
Mike Akard Andy Allen Jerome Moon
Archie Archer Brad Bowers
Sean Carter Rick Carver
Tom Cole Grady Caskey
Jamie Daly Mike Caylor
Karen Miller Dodd Crowe
Tona Monroe Gary Farmer
Tom Stinnett Ron French
Jeff Headrick
Mike Lewis
Kenneth Melton
Steve Samples

Aiming at the wrong target

The Mayor’s response to the jail consultant pointing out that the criminal justice system assessment report has been ignored shows that the Mayor is aiming at the wrong target.  The goal is to do what is best for society, which includes everyone: the taxpayers, the jail employees and the inmates.  Instead of working toward solutions the Mayor is using the age old tactic of attacking the messenger by threatening to sue.

It is good to see Joel Davis at The Daily Times be factually correct in his reporting.  Craig Garrett is the attorney for the mayor, not the county attorney.  Blount County doesn’t have a county attorney, despite the mayor referring to him as the county attorney.

The drama should stop.  As elected officials it is our responsibility to now work together to implement solutions that are productive for all of society.  The taxpayer funded study provides several solutions.  Let’s get started putting those solutions to work.

March 2015 Commission Report

March was a busy month because I made it a priority to attend several meetings to learn as much as I can about how local government operates.  In order to avoid writing a book, I will hit the highlights.

I attended 11 of the 13 meetings that I planned for and toured the county jail.  One meeting was canceled due to inclement weather and the other, the Blount County Corrections Partnership, received a lot of media attention for being canceled.

Public Building Authority (PBA)
The PBA met to select a company to do its annual audit.  Ingrahm, Overhalt and Bean is the current auditor.  There were 6 audit findings, due to the way the information was reported and not substantive in terms of discrepancies in money.  The State felt that there were 6 areas the audit accounting standards could be improved.  Cheri Huffman Jones, PBA member, suggested that the Board select a new company because of the audit findings and because the state recommends changing auditors periodically.  However, Jerry Cunningham made the motion to keep the current auditor because they offered the lowest price.  Ingrahm, Overhalt and Bean was approved.

Solid Waste Authority
The Solid Waste Authority held its annual meeting but lacked a quorum to conduct business.  As a result, those present were able to have discussions about recycling, litter, state regulation and to hear a presentation from Enerdyne.  Landfill gas is about 50% methane.  Enerdyne has set up operations at the county dump to collect this methane and it is being used to power about 1,000 home.

Budget Workshops
The Budget Committee conducted its annual budget workshops for fiscal year 2016.  The frustrating part of these meetings is seeing how few questions are asked concerning the proposed budgets.

Planning Commission
One of the complaints that I received about the Planning Commission was that it didn’t allow for public input at its meetings.  Commissioner Brad Bowers made a motion to make public input a regular part of each meeting.  The Planning Commission will now be open for public comments.

County Commission
District 2 School Board Member Selected
The commission chose a replacement for District 2, Blount County School Board member Chris Cantrell who resigned from the seat.  Retired teacher Bill Padget was selected.  Prior to the nomination, a majority of the school board (4 of 7) were retired employees of the schools or relatives of employees of the schools.  With Padget, five of the seven School Board members will be retired school employees or relatives of school employees.  The School Board has so many conflicts of interest that it revised its nepotism policy to make the meetings run faster.

Additionally, School Board member Scott Helton retired from the county.  Six of the seven School Board members worked for the county or are related to people working for the county.  Thus, I didn’t think it wise to vote for another retired school employee.  My vote was cast for Sam Duck a local activist who has spoken out against Common Core.

Roof Repairs and Rules Loophole
The commission voted unanimously to replace the roofs on Middlesettlements and Montvale Elementary Schools.  These roofs were needed but the commission packet lacked information about the bid process and the companies chosen to install the roofs.  There was only 2 pages in the commission packet about the installation of the roofs (see pages 39-40), the resolution and the budget amendment request.  If I hadn’t checked the paper’s website to learn about the bid process I wouldn’t have known that it took place.  After the meeting Troy Logan, the budget director for the schools, apologized to me about the lack of information and said he would do better in the future at providing information.

This budget request did not go through the Agenda Committee before coming to the commission for a vote because Commission Rule 9B allows budget request to go directly to the full commission without first going through the Agenda Committee.  The Agenda Committee meeting was optional until January of this year when the commission passed my resolution to amend the Commission Rules to require the meeting.  Additionally, a resolution was passed requiring  a 2/3’s vote of the commission (14 votes) to add an agenda item directly to the commission meeting agenda.  However, budget items remain exempt under current commission rules.  This should be fixed.  The commission should have to vote to add budget items to the commission agenda.  I will work to fix this.

Judical Commissioners – Hard to get a straight answer from the Director of Budgets and Finance
There was a $6,000 transfer request to move money from the Circuit Court Clerk budget to the Judicial Commissioner budget.  In the past the budget for judicial commissioners has been under the Circuit Court Clerk.  It was separated out this year.  This was a good move because in the past resolutions were presented to the commission stating that judicial commissioners were to be paid $1 for their services when they were paid substantially more.

When I tried to find out who presented the annual budget for judicial commissioners, I couldn’t get a straight answer from the budget director Randy Vineyard.  He is back to his bad habits of dancing around an issue without giving a straight answer.  His behavior is uncalled for.  The county would benefit from having a Director of Budgets and Finance who can give straight answers with a pleasant demeanor.

Stormwater Buffers
Stormwater regulations have been the subject of repeated controversy, with debate centered around property rights and what is mandated by the EPA and TDEC and what isn’t.  My motion to postpone this matter until the April meeting passed, giving commissioners time to do their homework to understand what is mandated and what isn’t.

Ad hoc Recycling Committee
An ad hoc committee to study recycling was created.  Members will be chosen at the April commission meeting.

Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP)
The BCCP meeting this month was canceled.  The jail consultant for the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) was scheduled to discuss the ILPP report on the criminal justice system in Blount County.  The report was issued last May but the full commission hasn’t been given a presentation on the report.

The agenda for the April Agenda Committee meeting contains an item under unfinished business to schedule a hearing from the jail consultant.  It is my sincere hope that all finger pointing will cease and that Blount County government officials can come together and work toward solutions.  The jail overcrowding is a serious problem in need of productive solutions.  Great leaders are those who rise to the occasion during difficult times.  Our community will benefit from people rising to the occasion.

Up next:
I’ve filed a resolution urging federal legislators to repeal EPA stormwater regulations restoring rights back to the people and power to the states and the people per the 9th and 10th amendments.  The people of Blount County are smart enough to manage water quality without the federal government dictating unconstitutional policy.

Open meetings law don’t apply to Tenn. transparency panel

Oh the irony… Open meetings law don’t apply to Tenn. transparency panel

“A panel of experts assembled to offer advice on transparency issues is not subject to the state’s open meetings law. At least that’s the opinion of Ann Butterworth, who heads the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel.”

Read more:

Ann Butterworth can’t hold a candle to her predecessor.  The availability of the Office of Open Records Counsel has nearly ceased since Butterworth took over.  The office has become another useless government bureaucracy.

NMA E-Newsletter #321: Radar Fails Under Scientific Scrutiny … Again

NMA E-Newsletter #321: Radar Fails Under Scientific Scrutiny … Again

Most longtime NMA members understand the weaknesses of using radar to measure vehicle speeds. However, less experienced drivers and even the courts regard radar as foolproof. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we have fresh evidence that further erodes radar’s patina of infallibility.

A member of the NMA Board recently attended a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and was kind enough to forward us this description of one of the research presentations titled “Testing of Police Radar”. The research was conducted by two professional engineers, one of whom previously worked for one of the radar manufacturers.

The gist of the presentation is that, despite 30 years of technological innovations, radar still suffers from the same reliability and performance issues that have made it unacceptable as evidence in a court of law. The researchers state that radar cannot meet the requirements of the Daubert test, which is a set of standards trial judges use to determine whether or not expert testimony is based on valid scientific reasoning and methodology:

The reality of police radar is that it fails when subjected to the Daubert test. In this regard, police radar operation should be repeatable—this research demonstrates that it is not a repeatable technique and is, in fact, subject to operator interpretation when multiple targets are present.

The researchers tested several radar unit brands and units. With only one target, the units were pretty consistent in their speed measurements. However with multiple targets, there was no guarantee as to which vehicle’s speed was displayed. They observe that “the radar units can well read different speeds … the decision to issue a citation is highly dependent upon the operator, relative to the instrument.” This refers to one of radar’s biggest downfalls: it can’t distinguish one vehicle from another.

The researchers further explain that radar can pick out either the strongest signal or the fastest signal, depending on road conditions and the mix of vehicles on the road. It cannot, however, pick out the speed of the nearest vehicle. They point out that radar “gun sights” intended to aid target acquisition are useless. They also note that one radar manufacturer allows the officer to black out the displayed speed of the police vehicle in moving mode to conceal from the motorist that the officer was exceeding the speed limit.

Even though the researchers come from a technical/scientific background, they have the presence of mind to point out that radar speed enforcement encourages policing for profit. The NMA has been making this argument for years, but we have seen few other observers make the same connection between shoddy speed enforcement and revenue generation. The researchers further warn that using unreliable radar readings as an excuse to conduct a traffic stop and execute a questionable vehicle search raises Fourth Amendment questions:

But some jurisdictions use strict traffic enforcement as the basis of presumptive traffic stops—they will issue a warning for the traffic violation and instead are looking for a reason to search a vehicle for contraband.

Can anyone say civil forfeiture?

Overall, the study further supports the conclusion that radar speed measurement is unreliable, easily misused and often abused for revenue purposes. In the NMA’s “Fight That Ticket!” e-book, we show you how to use the many kinds of radar error to undermine the officer’s scripted testimony. When you prove to the court that what the officer has testified to is physically impossible or technically violates proper radar procedures, the prosecution’s case will be seriously compromised.

Supporting members can download “Fight That Ticket!” at no charge from the members’ area at Non-members can download it here for only $9.95.

Traffic court is a dysfunctional money making scam

“Ferguson does not even rank among the top 20 municipalities in St. Louis County in the percentage of its budget drawn from court fines and fees.”

It’s not just Ferguson, Missouri that is the problem.  Frequently traffic courts are dysfunctional scams designed to enhance public treasuries while shirking due process and failing to teach people how to improve driving habits in ways that actually improve public safety.


Discrimination against the women on the commission

Judy Rollins wrote a letter to the editor about the discrimination against the women serving on the commission.  Here are links where you can read more on the subject.

February 2015 Commission Report

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”  Judge Gideon John Tucker wrote this statement in the decision of a will case.  It is often attributed to Mark Twain as well.

Commission meeting canceled
The Blount County Commission meeting, along with several committee meetings, was canceled this month due to inclement weather.  The focus on safety this month has been, and still is, ensuring that people have the basic needs of life: food, clothing and shelter.  Hopefully you and your family are faring well through this winter weather.

No final decisions were made on public policy this month because the commission meeting was canceled.  The unfinished business will be conducted at the March commission meeting.

Recycling Committee
The agenda included the formation of an ad hoc committee to study recycling.  It creates three citizens seats.  If you are interested in being nominated to serve on a committee to study recycling, please contact your commissioners to express your desire to serve.

Information Technology Committee
The IT Committee meet on Monday to discuss updating the video technology in the commission room.  The matter was tabled because the Mayor said that there is a new employee in the Sheriff’s Department who may be able to provide insight to the matter and update the technology for substantially less money.

RAC2 Zoning
The only controversy this month surrounded a resolution that creates a new rural arterial commercial zone (RAC2).  Several years ago, the commission severely restricted commercial development in the rural areas of the county.  The county is growing, necessitating the need for commercial development.  The question is how to achieve responsible development.

Here’s some basic information about the commercial development regulations in the proposed RAC2 zone:

  • Development is limited to four roads: 411 North (Sevierville Road), Hwy 129 (Calderwood Highway), Hwy 72 and Hwy 321
  • Building size is limited to 10,000 square feet
  • Uses are limited  (see page 20)
  • There are no special exceptions
  • External lighting must be directed away from the right-of-way and land zoned residential
  • A noise mitigation barrier may be required as part of the site plan

I’ve read every letter and email sent to me on the subject.  If you tried calling and couldn’t reach me please know that I had very limited phone service for several days following the ice storm.

It’s been brought to my attention that the Planning Commission makes public input difficult by not having it as an agenda on the item.  I will work to correct that, making it easier for citizens to comment.

Bundle up and stay safe during this weather.  If you are feeling burdened from mother nature, you can enjoy the safety she provided you by prohibiting the legislative body of Blount County from meeting in regular session.