Good reading and listening material on the subject:
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?
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 it’s own. It purchased bond insurance to be able to issue this complicated variable rate debt. The bond issuer lost it’s 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 it’s 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.
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 www.jimfolts.com.
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 are not. At the October meeting, Grady Caskey informed the HR Committee that the $25 is 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.
Kronos, stay tuned.
At the beginning of each Commission meeting an emergency evacuation notice is required to be read. It isn’t read by a person and for quite some time I’ve wondered where the voice in the sky is coming from. Someone recently told me that it’s an audio recording. It saves time and eliminates the need to make sure that you have the notice handy to read. It’s easy for the Chairmen to simply push a button and play the notice.
The Commission could save a lot of time if the three most common reasons to rush something through were recorded and played as an audio at the start of each Agenda item instead of having to recognize Commissioners and listen to them give the reasons over and over and over. There are 3 common reasons employed by Commissioners that work every time.
The three most common reasons to rush passage of Agenda items are:
1) The County is up against a deadline and chaos will ensue if the Commission doesn’t hurry and pass the item.
This reason was given twice at the October Commission meeting. When I inquired into the age of the equipment that the Commission was being asked to approve, Commission Andy Allen stated that the software reference in the resolution may be about to expire. He gave no date or supporting information. That worked because it passed 15-4.
The reason was used again to approve $60,000 for a software that will be used for open enrollment for employee benefits. The new software Kronos was suppose to fill this need and was used to rush it through (another example of the Commission allegedly having to rush something through) even though the project is behind schedule. Instead of informing the Commission on the delay, the Commission was asked to approve $60,000 as a one year “stop gap” measure for open enrollment since Kronos will be used next year.
The new HR Director told me that the former HR Director handled this, which means that it was done prior to September when the new HR Director took over. One would logically ask how the previous HR Director knew in advance that there was a need to seek software from our benefits advisor. Someone knew that Kronos was not going be implemented in time and sought this software, but never mind that important detail. The Commission just needed to pass it or chaos would ensue. This worked because it passed 16-3.
Bottom line: Office holders and Department heads leave the Commission in the dark and the Commission rubber stamps what they want.
2) This isn’t property tax or local tax money
This reason was given by Commission Steve Samples to pass the technology request from Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher because the money came from Court costs. This works every time because it passed 15-4.
Bottom line: Your money is spent without due diligence.
3) The federal or State government says we have to do this
This reason was employed twice at the October Commission meeting. Commissioner Andy Allen muddied the water when he told Commissioners that the FCC won’t allow us to turn down tower applications. No federal law was given and no examples were given as to what circumstances the County allegedly has to approve towers. He said that an attorney told this to the BZA. When I asked if there was an attorney opinion, Chairman Moon cut me off and no information was obtained. This worked because the Commission passed the resolution 11-8.
This reason was also given as an excuse to not have any oversight on reconstruction work on the Childrens Home. I asked for the federal law that said that the Drug Fund couldn’t be used for renovations. Guidelines were provided rather than the actual federal law. That worked because my amendment to require approval for spending over $1,000 failed 10-9 (11 votes are required).
Bottom line: It’s easier to blame something on federal or State governments than it is to actually do your own research.
Solution: In the interest of time, it would be simpler for the Commission to record these 3 reasons and play them at the start of each Agenda item because they always work and the Commission could adjourn quicker. Due diligence takes a back seat to these 3 reasons. On the flip side, perhaps I should start using them since they work every time.
What makes absolutely no sense to me is why voters would pass a constitutional amendment (Amendment 1) to undo what the unlawfully selected selected judges did (less restrictions on abortion), only to turn around and legalize the system of selecting judges (Amendment 2) that was used to create the need for Amendment 1.
1. The Libertarian Party supports all of your freedoms, all of the time
2. The Libertarian Party is consistent and principled
3. Voting for old party politicians tells them that you want to keep government big
4. Voting Libertarian is the only clear message you can send
5. Voting Libertarian forces the old parties to take the libertarian positions
6. Because the old parties don’t want you to
7. Voting Libertarian helps your favorite “libertarian-leaning“ old party politician
For great explanations to each of these reasons, click the link above or here.
Those are the words of Wally Kirby, executive director for the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference referring to the outright lies told by the attorneys paying political hack Fred Thompson to lie to you on the radio about “preserving your right to vote” for judges. TNReport covered a strong-arm attempt by Gov. Haslam via Bill Gibbons to leverage an endorsement on 2 from the actually elected district attorneys. They couldn’t muster a 2/3 majority without Gibbons “reminding” them of how invested the Governor is in this amendment and holding an additional vote.
So there are 10 (or more) district attorneys that still have a shred of a conscience left and know that the executive branch is acting illegally by “selecting” judges and our entire current state supreme court has been “selected” by Bredesen and Haslam.
“Quite frankly, there was strong opposition from a few,” Wally Kirby, executive director for the DA’s organization, told TNReport. “Some of them feel like all of the judges should be properly, popularly elected — like they are.” [emphasis mine]
“Kirby wouldn’t provide names of those who voted against the measure, but he related that some felt Amendment 2 is confusing, and that the campaign in favor of it has been misleading. The “Yes on 2″ commercial suggesting that the amendment protects the people’s right to vote for judges is “very deceiving,” he said.
“That is an out-and-out falsehood,” said Kirby. “It does not give you the opportunity to vote for a judge. It gives you the opportunity to vote in a retention election eight years from now.”[emphasis mine]
If I had been violating the state Constitution like Governors Bredesen and Haslam have been, the illegally “selected” judges have been….I guess I would want the buy-in of the remaining state level DA’s too. Who is left to indict you?
Resolution 14-10-004 (page 44) on the Commission Agenda tomorrow will shrink transparency of information available to the public and Commissioners. Currently information is required to be in the Commission packet 5 working days prior to the Commission meeting. The change will be 5 days, eliminating the word “working.” There’s no good reason for this.
Last month I established that the Agenda Committee, which is the Committee that traditionally sets the Agenda for the Commission, is optional. Additionally there is NO time requirement for anything that is placed in the Agenda Committee packet. Frequently budget items are added the day of the Agenda Committee meeting.
Who will benefit from the proposed rule change? Certainly not the public.
We need more transparency not less. Please be present at the Commission meeting on Thursday at 7 PM and make your voice heard by speaking on the Agenda.
The Blount Partnership is proudly supporting Amendment 2, which attempts to legalizes the illegal judicial selection process that has violated the Tennessee Constitution since 1972. This year the taxpayers of Blount County were forced to provide $848,021 to COST CENTER 58120: INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT for “CONTRACTS FOR DEVELOPMENT” (see page 125).
Earlier this year, I asked what the taxpayers get for this one line in the budget. When I met with the Director of Finance and Budgets, Randy Vineyard, in September, I asked for a list of contractual obligations associated with the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and/or the Blount Partnership that we are obligated to pay. To date, I haven’t received an answer. Vineyard didn’t seem to know much about the County’s relationship with the Blount Partnership or IDB.
Twice I have spoke with Brian Daniels about my desire to learn more about the Blount Partnership and IDB, but my requests have been deferred and then never materialize. I still don’t know what entity receives the $848,021 of taxpayer money.
With no transparency in this costly one line item in the County budget one can only hope that the Blount Partnership, and/or the associated entities receiving tax dollars isn’t/aren’t using any taxpayer money to promote Amendment 2. Even if taxpayer money isn’t being used to support Amendment 2, any quasi-governmental entity receiving taxpayer money should stay out elections.
Vote NO on Amendment 2 because politicians need to change, not the State Constitution.
A fair & impartial judiciary is important all of us, including many organizations that have endorsed Amendment 2. pic.twitter.com/BBmcFW6zyD
— Vote YES On 2 (@VoteYES2) October 21, 2014
Those are the words of Lenoir City revenue agent Don White. Steven Powell of WVLT covered the story of Karen Holloway of Lenoir City and her imprisonment for not keeping her yard maintained. Judge Terry Vann sentenced her to five days in prison, then after a little sunshine was shed on the story, cut it to six hours. The City is claiming this is a 12-year problem to justify their actions. The citation shown in the video is dated July 28, 2014 and it is claimed a lot of yard work has been done since then. The citation states that she was warned on June 13 that her property was in violation of “the City of Lenoir City’s Propert (sic) Maintenance Code.” Out of curiosity, I located the property to see what it looked like in recent Google street views. The picture to the left was captured in March of 2014, just three months before the citation. Not well manicured, but certainly not Sanford and Son either.
Here’s the only other image available, from September 2007. Notice the cut grass. I guess those shrubs in front of the porch are just too offensive. Where is the “12-year” ongoing problem? Notice the second news report said neighbors “never even really paid any attention to it, never really even noticed it”. So just exactly who is the ‘brother offended’ here?
The news coverage only featured revenue agent Don White, but neglects to mention the codes enforcement officer Rondel Branam who issued the citation. A little research reveals that Rondel has only been on the job with Lenoir City about a year. This was after the Mike and Debbie Johnson family sued Lenoir City and Wardley Homes LLC for $500,000 in a claim related to faulty construction that was alleged to have been concealed by the contractor and not reported by the paid code enforcement inspectors of Lenoir City:
“Beth Collins, assistant codes inspector with Lenoir City, confirmed in August 2013 that former inspector Leslie Johnson — no relation to the Johnson couple — nor the interim inspector, David Denton, had kept formal inspection records. Previous inspectors were keeping inspection notes on the back of property folders.
Lenoir City has since begun the practice of keeping inspection records and added Rondel Branam as its full-time codes enforcement inspector in September. Branam previously served in that capacity with the city of Loudon.” (emphasis mine)
Interesting. I guess the same inspectors must have kept really meticulous records of their “property maintenance code” citations though – for at least the last 12 years….right?
To add to the frustration, I tried to imagine myself being a resident of Lenoir City and wondering what else I could be imprisoned for related to landscape maintenance and tried to find this “Propert (sic) Maintenance Code”. After all, Ted Hall said “It’s interesting, you know the ordinances are there, you know the laws are there…”. I have searched the city website and tried the pages that might intuitively make sense: Codes Enforcement, City Documents, but to no avail. Only a selection of amendments are there. Has the city made a serious error here in imprisoning Mrs. Holloway and hidden their related code documents that might reveal that, or do they just inform residents of the code one citation at a time?
Bam… Ron Paul nails it in one paragraph
“The Taliban government of 2001 in Afghanistan did not attack the United States. Al-Qaeda did. But the 2003 US attack on Iraq under false pretenses removed a leader who had fought ruthlessly against al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist fighters. The result was that the al-Qaeda we were supposed to be fighting in Afghanistan flourished in post-invasion Iraq, along with other even more brutal groups. Will our government ever learn that invasion and occupation are not the solution, but rather the problem? No new status of forces agreement can change that basic fact.”