March 21, 2020
11 AM to 4 PM
RON RAMSEY REGIONAL AGRICULTURE CENTER
140 SPURGEON LANE
BLOUNTVILLE, TN 37617
March 21, 2020
11 AM to 4 PM
RON RAMSEY REGIONAL AGRICULTURE CENTER
140 SPURGEON LANE
BLOUNTVILLE, TN 37617
Recipient of last year’s Eagle Award, then Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe, will be the speaker at the 4th annual Truth Radio Bill of Rights Banquet on Tuesday December 18th. The topic of the speech will be Proof of Authority and the Proper Role of Government: The Foundation of a Constitutional Republic.
A dinner will be held at 7 PM at RJ’s Courtyard located at 3749 Airport Hwy, Louisville, Tennessee 37777. Book your meal by calling WBCR at 984-1470.
This is a gem by Ezra Taft Benson. I encourage you to read it, but a video is included here for your convenience. The video is entitled Man, Freedon & Government.
The Proper Role of Government
Men in the public spotlight constantly are asked to express an opinion on a myriad of government proposals and projects. “What do you think of TVA?” “What is your opinion of Medicare?” How do you feel about Urban Renewal?” The list is endless. All too often, answers to these questions seem to be based, not upon any solid principle, but upon the popularity of the specific government program in question. Seldom are men willing to oppose a popular program if they, themselves, wish to be popular – especially if they seek public office.
Such an approach to vital political questions of the day can only lead to public confusion and legislative chaos. Decisions of this nature should be based upon and measured against certain basic principles regarding the proper role of government. If principles are correct, then they can be applied to any specific proposal with confidence.
“Are there not, in reality, underlying, universal principles with reference to which all issues must be resolved whether the society be simple or complex in its mechanical organization? It seems to me we could relieve ourselves of most of the bewilderment which so unsettles and distracts us by subjecting each situation to the simple test of right and wrong. Right and wrong as moral principles do not change. They are applicable and reliable determinants whether the situations with which we deal are simple or complicated. There is always a right and wrong to every question which requires our solution.” (Albert E. Bowen, Prophets, Principles and National Survival, P. 21-22)
Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity, and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just.
I should like to outline in clear, concise, and straight-forward terms the political principles to which I subscribe. These are the guidelines which determine, now and in the future, my attitudes and actions toward all domestic proposals and projects and projects of government. These are the principles which, in my opinion, proclaim the proper role of government in the domestic affairs of the nation.
“(I) believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.”
“(I) believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life…”
“(I) believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, which protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.”
It is generally agreed that the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. But, what are those right? And what is their source? Until these questions are answered there is little likelihood that we can correctly determine how government can best secure them. Thomas Paine, back in the days of the American Revolution, explained that:
“Rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class of men to another… It is impossible to discover any origin of rights otherwise than in the origin of man; it consequently follows that rights appertain to man in right of his existence, and must therefore be equal to every man.” (P.P.N.S., p. 134)
The great Thomas Jefferson asked:
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?” (Works 8:404; P.P.N.S., p.141)
Starting at the foundation of the pyramid, let us first consider the origin of those freedoms we have come to know are human rights. There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. As the French political economist, Frederick Bastiat, phrased it so succinctly, “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” (The Law, p.6)
I support the doctrine of separation of church and state as traditionally interpreted to prohibit the establishment of an official national religion. But I am opposed to the doctrine of separation of church and state as currently interpreted to divorce government from any formal recognition of God. The current trend strikes a potentially fatal blow at the concept of the divine origin of our rights, and unlocks the door for an easy entry of future tyranny. If Americans should ever come to believe that their rights and freedoms are instituted among men by politicians and bureaucrats, then they will no longer carry the proud inheritance of their forefathers, but will grovel before their masters seeking favors and dispensations – a throwback to the Feudal System of the Dark Ages. We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of Thomas Jefferson, as found in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (P.P.N. S., p.519)
Since God created man with certain unalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that man is superior to the creature which he created. Man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around. Even the non-believer can appreciate the logic of this relationship.
Leaving aside, for a moment, the question of the divine origin of rights, it is obvious that a government is nothing more or less than a relatively small group of citizens who have been hired, in a sense, by the rest of us to perform certain functions and discharge certain responsibilities which have been authorized. It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power or privilege to do anything. Its only source of authority and power is from the people who have created it. This is made clear in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, which reads: “WE THE PEOPLE… do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The important thing to keep in mind is that the people in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government.
Of course, as James Madison, sometimes called the Father of the Constitution, said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” (The Federalist, No. 51)
In a primitive state, there is no doubt that each man would be justified in using force, if necessary, to defend himself against physical harm, against theft of the fruits of his labor, and against enslavement of another. This principle was clearly explained by Bastiat:
“Each of us has a natural right – from God – to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but and extension of our faculties?” (The Law, p.6)
Indeed, the early pioneers found that a great deal of their time and energy was being spent doing all three – defending themselves, their property and their liberty – in what properly was called the “Lawless West.” In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attach and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves – nothing more. Quoting again from Bastiat:
“If every person has the right to defend – even by force – his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right -its reason for existing, its lawfulness – is based on individual right.” (The Law, p. 6)
So far so good. But now we come to the moment of truth. Suppose pioneer “A” wants another horse for his wagon, He doesn’t have the money to buy one, but since pioneer “B” has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor’s good fortune, Is he entitled to take his neighbor’s horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer “B” wishes to keep his property, pioneer “A” has no just claim to it.
If “A” has no proper power to take “B’s” property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that “B” give his extra horse to “A”, they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have. This important principle was clearly understood and explained by John Locke nearly 300 years ago:
“For nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life of property of another.” (Two Treatises of Civil Government, II, 135; P.P.N.S. p. 93)
This means, then, that the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute the wealth or force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by man. No man possesses such power to delegate. The creature cannot exceed the creator.
In general terms, therefore, the proper role of government includes such defensive activities, as maintaining national military and local police forces for protection against loss of life, loss of property, and loss of liberty at the hands of either foreign despots or domestic criminals.
It also includes those powers necessarily incidental to the protective functions such as:
(1) The maintenance of courts where those charged with crimes may be tried and where disputes between citizens may be impartially settled.
(2) The establishment of a monetary system and a standard of weights and measures so that courts may render money judgments, taxing authorities may levy taxes, and citizens may have a uniform standard to use in their business dealings.
My attitude toward government is succinctly expressed by the following provision taken from the Alabama Constitution:
“That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.” (Art. 1, Sec. 35)
An important test I use in passing judgment upon an act of government is this: If it were up to me as an individual to punish my neighbor for violating a given law, would it offend my conscience to do so? Since my conscience will never permit me to physically punish my fellow man unless he has done something evil, or unless he has failed to do something which I have a moral right to require of him to do, I will never knowingly authorize my agent, the government to do this on my behalf. I realize that when I give my consent to the adoption of a law, I specifically instruct the police – the government – to take either the life, liberty, or property of anyone who disobeys that law. Furthermore, I tell them that if anyone resists the enforcement of the law, they are to use any means necessary – yes, even putting the lawbreaker to death or putting him in jail – to overcome such resistance. These are extreme measures but unless laws are enforced, anarchy results. As John Locke explained many years ago:
“The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom. For liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others, which cannot be where there is no law; and is not, as we are told, ‘a liberty for every man to do what he lists.’ For who could be free, when every other man’s humour might domineer over him? But a liberty to dispose and order freely as he lists his person, actions, possessions, and his whole property within the allowance of those laws under which he is, and therein not to be subject to the arbitrary will of another, but freely follow his own.” (Two Treatises of Civil Government, II, 57: P>P>N>S., p.101)
I believe we Americans should use extreme care before lending our support to any proposed government program. We should fully recognize that government is no plaything. As George Washington warned, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!” (The Red Carpet, p.142) It is an instrument of force and unless our conscience is clear that we would not hesitate to put a man to death, put him in jail or forcibly deprive him of his property for failing to obey a given law, we should oppose it.
Another standard I use in deterring what law is good and what is bad is the Constitution of the United States. I regard this inspired document as a solemn agreement between the citizens of this nation which every officer of government is under a sacred duty to obey. As Washington stated so clearly in his immortal Farewell Address:
“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. – But the constitution which at any time exists, until changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government.” (P.P.N.S., p. 542)
I am especially mindful that the Constitution provides that the great bulk of the legitimate activities of government are to be carried out at the state or local level. This is the only way in which the principle of “self-government” can be made effective. As James Madison said before the adoption of the Constitution, “ (We) rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” (Federalist, No.39; P.P.N.S., p. 128) Thomas Jefferson made this interesting observation: “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.” (Works 8:3; P.P.N.S., p. 128)
It is a firm principle that the smallest or lowest level that can possibly undertake the task is the one that should do so. First, the community or city. If the city cannot handle it, then the county. Next, the state; and only if no smaller unit can possible do the job should the federal government be considered. This is merely the application to the field of politics of that wise and time-tested principle of never asking a larger group to do that which can be done by a smaller group. And so far as government is concerned the smaller the unit and the closer it is to the people, the easier it is to guide it, to keep it solvent and to keep our freedom. Thomas Jefferson understood this principle very well and explained it this way:
“The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, law, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.” (Works 6:543; P.P.N.S., p. 125)
It is well to remember that the states of this republic created the Federal Government. The Federal Government did not create the states.
A category of government activity which, today, not only requires the closest scrutiny, but which also poses a grave danger to our continued freedom, is the activity NOT within the proper sphere of government. No one has the authority to grant such powers, as welfare programs, schemes for re-distributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning. There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal? If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me.
To be sure, there are times when this principle of the proper role of government is most annoying and inconvenient. If I could only FORCE the ignorant to provided for themselves, or the selfish to be generous with their wealth! But if we permit government to manufacture its own authority out of thin air, and to create self-proclaimed powers not delegated to it by the people, then the creature exceeds the creator and becomes master. Beyond that point, where shall the line be drawn? Who is to say “this far, but no farther?” What clear PRINCIPLE will stay the hand of government from reaching farther and yet farther into our daily lives? We shouldn’t forget the wise words of President Grover Cleveland that “… though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people.” (P.P.N.S., p.345) We should also remember, as Frederic Bastiat reminded us, that “Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in.” (THE LAW, p. 30; P.P.N.S., p. 350)
As Bastiat pointed out over a hundred years ago, once government steps over this clear line between the protective or negative role into the aggressive role of redistributing the wealth and providing so-called “benefits” for some of its citizens, it then becomes a means for what he accurately described as legalized plunder. It becomes a lever of unlimited power which is the sought-after prize of unscrupulous individuals and pressure groups, each seeking to control the machine to fatten his own pockets or to benefit its favorite charities – all with the other fellow’s money, of course. (THE LAW, 1850, reprinted by the Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-On-Hudson, N.Y.)
Listen to Bastiat’s explanation of this “legal plunder.” “When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it – without his consent and without compensation, and whether by force or by fraud – to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property is violated; that an act of plunder is committed!
“How is the legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime…” (THE LAW, p. 21, 26; P.P.N.S., p. 377)
As Bastiat observed, and as history has proven, each class or special interest group competes with the others to throw the lever of governmental power in their favor, or at least to immunize itself against the effects of a previous thrust. Labor gets a minimum wage, so agriculture seeks a price support. Consumers demand price controls, and industry gets protective tariffs. In the end, no one is much further ahead, and everyone suffers the burdens of a gigantic bureaucracy and a loss of personal freedom. With each group out to get its share of the spoils, such governments historically have mushroomed into total welfare states. Once the process begins, once the principle of the protective function of government gives way to the aggressive or redistribute function, then forces are set in motion that drive the nation toward totalitarianism. “It is impossible,” Bastiat correctly observed, “to introduce into society… a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder.” (THE LAW, p. 12)
Students of history know that no government in the history of mankind has ever created any wealth. People who work create wealth. James R. Evans, in his inspiring book, “The Glorious Quest” gives this simple illustration of legalized plunder:
“Assume, for example, that we were farmers, and that we received a letter from the government telling us that we were going to get a thousand dollars this year for plowed up acreage. But rather than the normal method of collection, we were to take this letter and collect $69.71 from Bill Brown, at such and such an address, and $82.47 from Henry Jones, $59.80 from a Bill Smith, and so on down the line; that these men would make up our farm subsidy. “Neither you nor I, nor would 99 percent of the farmers, walk up and ring a man’s doorbell, hold out a hand and say, ‘Give me what you’ve earned even though I have not.’ We simply wouldn’t do it because we would be facing directly the violation of a moral law, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ In short, we would be held accountable for our actions.”
The free creative energy of this choice nation “created more than 50% of all the world’s products and possessions in the short span of 160 years. The only imperfection in the system is the imperfection in man himself.” The last paragraph in this remarkable Evans book – which I commend to all – reads:
“No historian of the future will ever be able to prove that the ideas of individual liberty practiced in the United States of America were a failure. He may be able to prove that we were not yet worthy of them. The choice is ours.” (Charles Hallberg and Co., 116 West Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60610)
According to Marxist doctrine, a human being is primarily an economic creature. In other words, his material well-being is all important; his privacy and his freedom are strictly secondary. The Soviet constitution reflects this philosophy in its emphasis on security: food, clothing, housing, medical care – the same things that might be considered in a jail. The basic concept is that the government has full responsibility for the welfare of the people and, in order to discharge that responsibility, must assume control of all their activities. It is significant that in actuality the Russian people have few of the rights supposedly “guaranteed” to them in their constitution, while the American people have them in abundance even though they are not guaranteed. The reason, of course, is that material gain and economic security simply cannot be guaranteed by any government. They are the result and reward of hard work and industrious production. Unless the people bake one loaf of bread for each citizen, the government cannot guarantee that each will have one loaf to eat. Constitutions can be written, laws can be passed and imperial decrees can be issued, but unless the bread is produced, it can never be distributed.
Why, then, do Americans bake more bread, manufacture more shoes and assemble more TV sets than Russians do? They do so precisely because our government does NOT guarantee these things. If it did, there would be so many accompanying taxes, controls, regulations and political manipulations that the productive genius that is America’s would soon be reduced to the floundering level of waste and inefficiency now found behind the Iron Curtain. As Henry David Thoreau explained:
“This government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. IT does not educate. THE CHARACTER INHERENT IN THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HAS DONE ALL THAT HAS BEEN ACCOMPLISHED; AND IT WOULD HAVE DONE SOMEWHAT MORE, IF THE GOVERNMENT HAD NOT SOMETIMES GO IN ITS WAY. For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.” (Quoted by Clarence B. Carson, THE AMERICAN TRADITION, p. 100; P.P.S.N., p.171)
In 1801 Thomas Jefferson, in his First Inaugural Address, said:
“With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens – a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it had earned.” (Works 8:3)
The principle behind this American philosophy can be reduced to a rather simple formula:
Economic security for all is impossible without widespread abundance. Abundance is impossible without industrious and efficient production. Such production is impossible without energetic, willing and eager labor. This is not possible without incentive.
Of all forms of incentive – the freedom to attain a reward for one’s labors is the most sustaining for most people. Sometimes called THE PROFIT MOTIVE, it is simply the right to plan and to earn and to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
This profit motive DIMINISHES as government controls, regulations and taxes INCREASE to deny the fruits of success to those who produce. Therefore, any attempt THROUGH GOVERNMENTAL INTERVENTION to redistribute the material rewards of labor can only result in the eventual destruction of the productive base of society, without which real abundance and security for more than the ruling elite is quite impossible.
We have before us currently a sad example of what happens to a nation which ignores these principles. Former FBI agent, Dan Smoot, succinctly pointed this out on his broadcast number 649, dated January 29, 1968, as follows:
“England was killed by an idea: the idea that the weak, indolent and profligate must be supported by the strong, industrious, and frugal – to the degree that tax-consumers will have a living standard comparable to that of taxpayers; the idea that government exists for the purpose of plundering those who work to give the product of their labor to those who do not work. The economic and social cannibalism produced by this communist-socialist idea will destroy any society which adopts it and clings to it as a basic principle – ANY society.”
Nearly two hundred years ago, Adam Smith, the Englishman, who understood these principles very well, published his great book, THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, which contains this statement:
“The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful a principle, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often encumbers its operations; though the effect of these obstructions is always more or less either to encroach upon its freedom, or to diminish its security.” (Vol. 2, Book 4, Chapt. 5, p. 126)
On the surface this may sound heartless and insensitive to the needs of those less fortunate individuals who are found in any society, no matter how affluent. “What about the lame, the sick and the destitute? Is an often-voice question. Most other countries in the world have attempted to use the power of government to meet this need. Yet, in every case, the improvement has been marginal at best and has resulted in the long run creating more misery, more poverty, and certainly less freedom than when government first stepped in. As Henry Grady Weaver wrote, in his excellent book, THE MAINSPRING OF HUMAN PROGRESS:
“Most of the major ills of the world have been caused by well-meaning people who ignored the principle of individual freedom, except as applied to themselves, and who were obsessed with fanatical zeal to improve the lot of mankind-in-the-mass through some pet formula of their own….THE HARM DONE BE ORDINARY CRIMINALS, MURDERERS, GANGSTERS, AND THIEVES IS NEGLIGIBLE IN COMPARISON WITH THE AGONY INFLICTED UPON HUMAN BEINGS BY THE PROFESSIONAL ‘DO-GOODERS’, who attempt to set themselves up as gods on earth and who would ruthlessly force their views on all others – with the abiding assurance that the end justifies the means.” (p. 40-1; P.P.N.S., p. 313)
By comparison, America traditionally has followed Jefferson’s advice of relying on individual action and charity. The result is that the United States has fewer cases of genuine hardship per capita than any other country in the entire world or throughout all history. Even during the depression of the 1930′s, Americans ate and lived better than most people in other countries do today.
In reply to the argument that a little bit of socialism is good so long as it doesn’t go too far, it is tempting to say that, in like fashion, just a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer is all right, too! History proves that the growth of the welfare state is difficult to check before it comes to its full flower of dictatorship. But let us hope that this time around, the trend can be reversed. If not then we will see the inevitability of complete socialism, probably within our lifetime.
Three factors may make a difference. First, there is sufficient historical knowledge of the failures of socialism and of the past mistakes of previous civilizations. Secondly, there are modern means of rapid communications to transmit these lessons of history to a large literate population. And thirdly, there is a growing number of dedicated men and women who, at great personal sacrifice, are actively working to promote a wider appreciation of these concepts. The timely joining together of these three factors may make it entirely possible for us to reverse the trend.
This brings up the next question: How is it possible to cut out the various welfare-state features of our government which have already fastened themselves like cancer cells onto the body politic? Isn’t drastic surgery already necessary, and can it be performed without endangering the patient? In answer, it is obvious that drastic measures ARE called for. No half-way or compromise actions will suffice. Like all surgery, it will not be without discomfort and perhaps even some scar tissue for a long time to come. But it must be done if the patient is to be saved, and it can be done without undue risk.
Obviously, not all welfare-state programs currently in force can be dropped simultaneously without causing tremendous economic and social upheaval. To try to do so would be like finding oneself at the controls of a hijacked airplane and attempting to return it by simply cutting off the engines in flight. It must be flown back, lowered in altitude, gradually reduced in speed and brought in for a smooth landing. Translated into practical terms, this means that the first step toward restoring the limited concept of government should be to freeze all welfare-state programs at their present level, making sure that no new ones are added. The next step would be to allow all present programs to run out their term with absolutely no renewal. The third step would involve the gradual phasing-out of those programs which are indefinite in their term. In my opinion, the bulk of the transition could be accomplished within a ten-year period and virtually completed within twenty years. Congress would serve as the initiator of this phase-out program, and the President would act as the executive in accordance with traditional constitutional procedures.
As I summarize what I have attempted to cover, try to visualize the structural relationship between the six vital concepts that have made America the envy of the world. I have reference to the foundation of the Divine Origin of Rights; Limited Government; the pillars of economic Freedom and Personal Freedom, which result in Abundance; followed by Security and the Pursuit of Happiness.
America was built upon a firm foundation and created over many years from the bottom up. Other nations, impatient to acquire equal abundance, security and pursuit of happiness, rush headlong into that final phase of construction without building adequate foundations or supporting pillars. Their efforts are futile. And, even in our country, there are those who think that, because we now have the good things in life, we can afford to dispense with the foundations which have made them possible. They want to remove any recognition of God from governmental institutions, They want to expand the scope and reach of government which will undermine and erode our economic and personal freedoms. The abundance which is ours, the carefree existence which we have come to accept as a matter of course, CAN BE TOPPLED BY THESE FOOLISH EXPERIMENTERS AND POWER SEEKERS. By the grace of God, and with His help, we shall fence them off from the foundations of our liberty, and then begin our task of repair and construction.
As a conclusion to this discussion, I present a declaration of principles which have recently been prepared by a few American patriots, and to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.
As an Independent American for constitutional government I declare that:
We have strayed far afield. We must return to basic concepts and principles – to eternal verities. There is no other way. The storm signals are up. They are clear and ominous.
As Americans – citizens of the greatest nation under Heaven – we face difficult days. Never since the days of the Civil War – 100 years ago – has this choice nation faced such a crisis.
In closing I wish to refer you to the words of the patriot Thomas Paine, whose writings helped so much to stir into a flaming spirit the smoldering embers of patriotism during the days of the American Revolution:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ‘tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.” (THE POLITICAL WORKS OF THOMAS PAINE, p.55.)
I intend to keep fighting. My personal attitude is one of resolution – not resignation.
I have faith in the American people. I pray that we will never do anything that will jeopardize in any manner our priceless heritage. If we live and work so as to enjoy the approbation of a Divine Providence, we cannot fail. Without that help we cannot long endure.
So I urge all Americans to put their courage to the test. Be firm in our conviction that our cause is just. Reaffirm our faith in all things for which true Americans have always stood.
I urge all Americans to arouse themselves and stay aroused. We must not make any further concessions to communism at home or abroad. We do not need to. We should oppose communism from our position of strength for we are not weak.
There is much work to be done. The time is short. Let us begin – in earnest – now and may God bless our efforts, I humbly pray.
(Source: by The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson, Former Secretary of Agriculture. The Eisenhower Administration – ed. Published in 1968)
by Horatio Bunce
Will Bill Lee also join the ranks of Washington DC corporation Achieve Inc. like Haslam and Bredesen upon assuming office? Do they have all the board members and national co-chairs they need or is there any pimping of our children left to do?
by Horatio Bunce
Just remember this the next time someone touts themselves as a “Reagan Republican” or uses him in an Appeal to Authority*. Then ask them when is the Republican super-duper majority in Tennessee going to address the largest sanctuary business in Tennessee: the public school system.
Open Borders/Amnesty Ronnie vs. CIA director/NAFTA George
*Appeal to Authority refers to the logical fallacy in which a claimed authority’s support is used as evidence for an argument’s conclusion.
Here are 12 statements that will help you identify the candidates who are swamp creatures or wanting to become part of the Blount County establishment. Without further ado, here’s your sign.
If a candidate is saying any of these things then you’ll know you’re talking to someone who is a part of the courthouse clique or wants to be part of the courthouse clique. You have been warned.
The Blount County Agenda Committee is a good meeting to watch to see you local government in action. Several of the incumbents seeking reelection must be feeling heat for their actions because Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey started the meeting by reading a statement about the role of the Agenda Committee. He continued lecturing commissioners throughout the meeting and ruled with an iron fist. The treatment of a citizen and a couple of commissioners made this one of the worst meetings that I’ve witnessed in the 10 years that I’ve been attending Blount County government meetings.
For years, courthouse clique commissioners have defended their yes votes at the Agenda Committee meeting by saying that their voting to move something forward doesn’t mean that they’re actually for what they move forward. At the very meeting where Chairman Caskey chose to lecture the commissioners on the role of the Agenda Committee, the courthouse clique/political machine/good ole’ boys/establishment/swamp creature/status quo commissioners voted against even moving forward a resolution requesting that the county be assigned new auditors after having the same auditors for over a decade.
Harry Grothjahn spoke in favor of the resolution requesting new auditors. Commissioner Ron French objected to Grothjahn sharing a conversation he had with the Comptroller’s Office about the purpose of audits. Commissioner French’s objection was the Grothjahn’s sharing of that conversation was hearsay. The first amendment includes the petitioning of government for a redress of grievances. When a citizen has a grievance with their government, it is right for them to share that grievance and ask the government redress it. Apparently Commissioner French doesn’t even want a citizen mentioning their grievances with government.
Furthermore, the practice of cutting my microphone off returned this month. This meeting is a great examples of a chairman’s abuse of authority. Chairman Caskey cut my microphone off for discussing the hypocrisy in the resolution of wanting more local control but asking for the state to “significantly increase funding.” Caskey lectured the commissioners about what they were voting on. Does Caskey think that commissioners, with only have 5 months left in their 4 year term, don’t understand the makeup of a resolution and what they’re voting on?
Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that Caskey had a conflict of interest, when he cut my microphone off, because he is a sponsor to the resolution. Caskey lacks the objectivity to be a chairperson. Unfortunately Caskey isn’t the only chairman to prohibit me from speaking. Rick Carver, Chairman of the Blount County Corrections Partnership, and former Commission Chairman Jerome Moon have also cut me off. These men have all used their positions of authority to stifle those they disagree with. Some of this resulted from the repeated objections from Andy Allen, Dave Bennett, Mike Caylor and Ron French.
What else is to be expected from Caskeu who insulted people by saying that peopole need to either be educated or jailed. He obviously doesn’t think much of all the hard working people who did finish high school but have paid the taxes for him to live on the government funded gravy train. He is the former President of the Blount County Education Association (BCEA) commonly called the teachers union. He has spent much of his life advocating taking more of your money. He was elected four years ago because his opponent died during the election and his name was the only name on the ballot.
I apologize to the citizens of Blount County for not making a statement at the end of the meeting about the treatment of the citizen sharing his experience with government. I had intended to make a statement but this and Caskey’s poor treatment of his fellow commissioners left me drained at the end of meeting and it slipped my mind.
If Commissioner French isn’t willing to listen to what the citizens have to say and Commissioner Caskey isn’t willing to listen to what the commissioners have to say, neither have any business being Blount County Commissioners. Both have challengers. Those living in district 8 can vote for Jeff Jopling for Blount County Commissioner and those living in district 9 can vote for Tracie Livesay for Blount County Commissioner.
Commissioners voting against asking for new auditor on regular basis include Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Brian Robbins and Tom Stinnett
Today award-winning author Nancy Fessenden McEntee, PhD and Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe shared a table at Friendsville’s Christmas in the City. McEntee signed her books and Monroe sold hand-made candles and soaps.
McEntee’s works include history books from the colonial and early days of the constitutional republic and the civil war era. Molsey Blount The Colonial First Lady of Tennessee: From North Carolina to the frontier of Tennessee, Her Legacy Continues covers the life of the lady we call Mary Blount. Haversacks, Hardtack, and Unserviceable Mules explores over 6,000 civil war era documents of the civil war journey of a union quartermaster in Tennessee.
Signed copies of the books are available directly from the author. For a copy of Molsey Blount send $16 by check or money order and for a copy of Haversacks, Hardtack, and Unserviceable Mules send a check or money order for $21 to:
1655 Maple Lane
Greenback, TN 37742
by Horatio Bunce
Common Core “state” standards performance numbers for high school students are in. Commissioner McQueen had a press conference and bar graph to declare success as reported by the always- government-school-sympathetic Chalkbeat. Chalkbeat had set up the press conference the day before with another article stating that Tennessee students were struggling with the testing on the “UtahReady” tests because of the “rigorous” Common Core “State” Standards that students have only been using for two years. Convenient excuse isn’t it?
Remember how when back in 2014 (that’s 3 whole years ago for you Common Core Math students) when Stacey Campfield introduced a bill to stop implementing more Common Core “State” Standards, it was too late to turn back and lose all that ground? Apparently none of that counts, nor does the instruction happening between then and 2015 when we started paying millions of dollars to “lease” Utah Sage Assessment questions for TNReady tests. So the setup was that if we didn’t see improvement, it would be really bad news, therefore telegraphing that flat or any improvement at all is “success”. So, Candice makes up a bar graph that is really exaggerated to show improvement from 2016 to 2017.
I felt it necessary to edit her bogus graph to include the rest of the data set and illustrate how statistically insignificant the difference in the two years’ scores are. The educrats have changed the federally-driven testing language from the old “below basic, basic, proficient and advanced” terms to now only show us two terms called “on track” and “mastered”. There is a very significant data set (added by me in red) that does not fall in these categories. Not sure what that is called, since it is not “on track” or “mastered”. Maybe “obscured”, “obfuscated”, “ignored in press releases” or something similar would work?
The Beacon Center created a tool to examine school spending and growth rates from 2004-2014.
According to the reported generated by the tool, the Blount County School District saw a 71% increase in administrative costs, an 11% increase in teachers and a 21% increase in administrators from 2004-2014 but the number of students dropped 0.2% during this time.
Are your tax dollars being used wisely?
For comparison during the same time period, Alcoa and Maryville School Districts both had a decrease in administrators while the rest of the data provided, including students, increased.
The debt amount in this report does not accurately reflect the full debt costs of the schools because most of the debt for the schools is paid for out of the Debt Service Fund and not the General Purpose Schools Fund.
Page 57 of the recently released audit for fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015-June 30, 2016) says that Blount County Commission has the authority to assign the General Fund and that the School Board has the authority to assign the General Purpose Schools Funds Fund. There is no mention of the Director of Accounts and Budgets, commonly referred to as the Finance Director, or the Fiscal Administrator for Blount County Schools having or sharing the authority to assign fund balance.
“Assigned Fund Balance – includes amounts that are constrained by the county’s intent to be used for specific purposes, but are neither restricted nor committed (excluding stabilization arrangements). The County Commission and the Board of Education are authorized bodies to make assignments for the primary government and the School Department, respectively. Assigned fund balance in the General Fund and the General Purpose School Fund consists of amounts assigned for encumbrances at June 30, 2016.”
This month there were two special called commission meetings in addition to the regular monthly meeting: one to look at architectural ideas for the high schools and the other to refinance hospital debt. There were several interruptions making it difficult to concentrate. The meetings were some of the worst that I’ve ever attended.
Architects suggest lavish plans for high schools
When people criticize school spending, they are often quickly attacked as being against education. Education spending and a quality education are not synonymous and it should not be taboo to talk about wasteful spending in the schools.
The schools are the majority of the local government budget. You can cut the rest of the budget and improve efficiency all day long but taxes will continue to go up unless school spending is responsibility restrained.
Many don’t like big government. Big Ed, short for education, is a huge part of big government. Some of the teachers on the commission talk about per pupil spending when they want more money while the quality of education is often left out of these discussions. The amount of money should not be the standard measure for education.
Commissioners Grady Caskey and Tom Stinnett have made insulting statements that we either educate the kids or jail them. I’ve known several people who don’t have a high school diploma but work hard and pay taxes to fund the generous salaries of people like these two, who both taught in government public schools.
There is probably nothing more worn out than saying that something is for the children but many in the education field continue to beat that drum. It’s easy to see why when you look at the payroll. Administrators are making about double what the average taxpayer makes and the Director of Schools is making triple what the average taxpayer makes.
It’s easy come, easy go to some of these people. The taxpayers are treated like ATM machines. The presentation by architects with Michael Brady Inc. shows just how out of touch some on the school board and the Blount County public school system are with the taxpayers.
Most of the presentation focused on looks. One of the architects told us how their expensive and lavish ideas “feel” better. The ideas include lots of open space and suggestions to make the high schools look like universities. If some want these types of luxury improvements, then let those people pay for these updates.
Only a small portion of the presentation actually focused on improvements that may enhance the quality of education that the students receive. The science labs were mentioned as being in need of modernization. We weren’t given many details about this but this is something worth looking into. Having good sciences labs is a worthy endeavor. Next year the school board should look at using the education capital fund that it is receiving to improve the science labs. The fund is being used to replace roofs this year.
With the internet and technology rapidly advancing, the future of education will change. Before spending large sums of your money on brick and mortar that “feels” good, we should be looking at how to modernize education, utilizing online resources.
When I was out knocking on doors, during the campaign season, I spoke to several retired educators and school employees. In general the retired teachers would speak openly, telling me about waste in the schools, where money does need to be spent, and shared that they don’t think we need more brick and mortar in Blount County Schools. In comparison some of the current educators seemed fearful. An educator shared with me that many are job scared and that administration unnecessarily promotes a fearful environment. Teachers should be free to teach in an environment where they aren’t constantly burdened with political agendas.
Agenda Committee meeting
The chairman of the Agenda Committee, Commissioner Steve Samples, did not run the meeting as he should have. He let newly elected Commissioner Dave Bennett interrupt me (Tona Monroe) and Jamie Daly. Bennett continued doing this during the Commission meeting but Chairman Jerome Moon reminded Bennett that he did not have the floor.
After the commission meeting a citizen talked about the lack of control and said that he thought the bullying from Bennett (without naming Bennett by name) was inappropriate.
IT budget amendment decrease without clear answer why it was needed
The agenda included a rarity: a request to decrease the current budgets use of funds from the Information Technology (IT) capital fund. Before anyone gets excited thinking that government is actually spending less of your money, it’s not. This is a carryover amendment from the previous budget because the county used more of the fund last year that it anticipated, leaving less funds to spend in the current budget.
Since budget decreases are rare, I asked some questions about why it was necessary. I asked the Finance Director if funds could be spent that aren’t there. He said no but didn’t give a clear answer as to why the amendment was necessary. The state Comptroller’s Office told me that the amendment isn’t required by law but it is good accounting practice to make the budget reflect actual available funds. It would have been nice to have been given a similar, simple answer from the Finance Director.
Commission meeting – Hospital keeps risky variable rate debt
Last month the commission voted to convert all of the county’s variable rate debt to fully fixed rate financing. The timing was excellent for the county, through no great planning on the part of any one individual. Interest rates were historically low right before the election and the holder of the swaps had received two credit downgrading.
However, Blount Memorial Hospital (BMH) will continue on with its variable rate financing and interest rate swaps. The hospital could have done what the county did but instead it will remain in risky financing, having missed a good opportunity.
The hospital should be embarrassed for presenting this request to the commission. Besides missing a good opportunity to go fully fixed rate, the hospital failed to provide the commission with what it needed to make a good decision and also waited until the last minute to ask the commission to approve extending the variable rate debt.
The hospital has known for 3 years that this debt would need to be refinanced in December of 2016 but it did not present anything to the commission until a few weeks before the refinancing needed to be in place. Chairman Jerome Moon told me after the vote that he was glad the commission voted to approve an extension of the variable rate debt for the hospital because the hospital was up against a deadline for approval. Moon should be upset that the hospital used the commission like this and that BMH has no more respect for the taxpayers than to wait until the last minute to present us with an extension of risky debt financing.
The taxpayers of Blount County are on the hook for the hospital debt if the hospital defaults on its debt. The agreement that the commission approved is between the county and JP Morgan. The hospital is not on the agreement.
If waiting until the last minute and putting you on the hook aren’t bad enough, the commission was also not given all the necessary paperwork to understand what is already in place. The commission was not given a copy of the bond or the two swap agreements.
The two swaps don’t fully cover all of the $79.025 million of variable rate debt. There is $23 million of debt that is not hedged with a swap and is exposed to variable interest rates. The hospital debt will not be fully hedged until 2024.
We were not given the current mark to market value of the interest rate swaps, although I did obtain that from the Chief Financial Officer, Jonathan Smith, by calling the hospital and speaking with him. Furthermore, we weren’t provided with the interest rates of the swaps. The CFO did provide me with the interest rates that the hospital is paying on the swaps but he did not know how much the hospital was receiving in the swap agreements.
The commission voted on this matter without having this vital information. It seems that whatever the advisor Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) puts in front of them is enough. PFM makes money every time the county goes to market for financing. It is to their advantage to continually see refinancing like this.
Chairman Moon cut my microphone off for talking about the lack of information on the swaps. All the commission was given is a letter offering an extension of the tender date and a term sheet that expired on September 9, 2016. The letter is dated August 26, 2016 but we were never offered either of these as a courtesy prior to the November meeting.
At the Agenda Committee meeting I asked the Finance Director Randy Vineyard why the hospital would need to go through the county to issue debt. He said to utilize a better credit rating. When I asked if the county had a better credit rating than BMH he said most counties do. After speaking with the CFO of the hospital, I learned that BMH doesn’t have an active credit rating. Thus, the commission voted to approve this without any idea of what the credit rating of the hospital actual is. Additionally, I have to wonder if the Finance Director knew this as it would explain why he didn’t answer with a simple yes to my question about the BMH’s credit rating.
BMH is looking at building a new emergency room facility in the county. This will necessitate taking on more debt. Before any new debt is considered, BMH needs to be more forthcoming in what it presents to the commission. There is no excuse for the way this was handled. You the taxpayers deserve more respect that you received.
Chairman Moon was frustrated throughout the commission meeting. He interrupted the speakers unnecessarily several times throughout the evening. The frustration may be coming from seeing Mike Caylor act like a hothead, Dave Bennett act like a bully and Steve Samples inability to run a meeting.
In the packet was an application to apply for a $5,000 grant to pay for a $58,000 server. Commissioner Mike Akard asked where the other $53,000 will be coming from. I asked if it would be coming from the Information Technology (IT) capital fund. No one knew the answer or no one was willing to say. A motion was made to postpone it for one month and another motion was made to send it to the IT Committee since it is IT related. The application was approved by the commission. Where the other $53,000 will come from remains to be seen.
The employee handbook came to the commission with a change to the vacation policy after being sent back. The questions about vehicle liability were not addressed by the Human Resources (HR) Committee. The commission voted to scrap the vacation changes and keep the vacation policy currently in place.
Vehicle Policy leaves questions about liability
There will now be a restriction on the use of concealed carry of weapons in vehicles in the employee handbook. When I inquired about open carry, the Director of General Services said it would be a policy decision of the office holders and department heads. He wasn’t sure if open carry is occurring now. Commissioner Ron French made the comment that employees have to follow state law but no one was suggesting that employee handbook would be used to supersede state law.
My questions about whether the county has liability for personal use of county vehicles seemed to be yes, no and maybe. Unfortunately there wasn’t a clear answer. The commission should have taken its time to ensure that it is adequately protecting the taxpayers.
During the campaign season, my husband Troy spoke to a retired police chief living in our district. He said that on court days he drove his own vehicle to work because he was reporting to work the same as anyone else. He didn’t think the county should be providing take home vehicles for people who didn’t need the vehicles to do their jobs.
I proposed that employees using county vehicles for personal use pay a small fee of $20 a week for the privilege. It was rejected. Commission Caylor attacked me personally, asking me if I had ever had a job and made it sound like I don’t think that county employees should be able to eat out for lunch. My proposal wouldn’t have prohibited any county employee from going out to eat for lunch. It simply would have charged a small amount for the personal use of a county vehicle.
Last month during statements toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Daly made a statement about someone she knew who had implemented a program to track personal use of computers by company employees. Commissioner Caylor became upset over her statement.
Could this be why?
This website is frequently visited by government employees. Will the time spent on this website be prohibited under the new policy? Or will local government employees continue surfing this website while on taxpayers’ time?
Cell phone usage
The cell phone policy for personal use limits talking but it doesn’t limit texting or use of the phone to surf the internet. I pointed this out and tried to fix this by offering an amendment. Discussion then turned to job performance and the amendment was defeated. Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that if everything hinges on job performance then why have any statement about cell phone usage in the handbook. Commissioner Caylor made a statement about the Blount County Commission becoming the phone police.
It is a shame that sincere concerns of commissioners are treated with such sarcastic statements. Commissioners were sighing during discussion. Commissioner Steve Samples moved to cut off debate and told the commission that he was sure that the commissioners already had their minds made up on how they would vote. He made a similar statement regarding a matter last year.
Another question that I asked is what the policy is on using county phones for personal use. Human Resources (HR) Director Jenny Morgan said, “I am not aware of a policy pertaining to personal use on work phones.” This is another matter that the HR Committee should look at and a good reason that it should have been sent back to the HR Committee.
At the end of the meeting Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp, admonished the commission for trying to take the time to get the answers needed to make good policy decisions saying, “Be ready to make a decision whether is the right decision or the wrong decision. You know in your heart when you come here that you are going to vote yes or your going to vote no. It doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter? What is the point in having meetings if commissioners show up with their minds already made up and aren’t open to discussion or possible improvements to public policy? While she was talking one of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputies was nodding in agreement.
Rather than take the time to get answers to the concerns of the few commissioners who look out for the taxpayers, the majority of commissioner were dismissive of these concerns. There are many problems with the handbook. It wouldn’t have hurt to wait a month to get some answers and amend the handbook to resolve any concerns.
Conflicts of interest
A major problem in Blount County government is the huge number of conflicts of interest within the Blount County Commission. Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Gary Farmer are employees of Blount County Schools. Commissioners Brad Bowers and Tom Cole have relatives working for the schools. Commissioner Kenneth Melton previously said that he has a relative working for the county. Should any of these commissioners vote on the employee handbook?
The handbook was 41 pages prior to the revisions. Some Departments/Offices have their own page employee handbooks. The Highway Department Handbook is available online here and is 39 pages. The handbook for the Schools is available here.
Commissioner Rick Carver works for East Tennessee Medical Group which is owned by BMH but he voted to use the credit of the county, guaranteed by you, to continue variable rate financing for BMH. He should have abstained.
Commissioners Andy Allen and Dave Bennett work for companies owned by the same individual. Some of these companies do work for the county. You can read their employee handbook here. At 94 pages, it is much more detailed than the county’s handbook which was 41 pages prior to the revisions.
Obviously the content is more important than the number of pages. Compare what it says about storage of weapons in vehicles, liability for personal use of vehicles and use of social media. One would think that as businessmen they would strive to have a county handbook that is as thorough as there employers handbook to protect the taxpayers of Blount County.
If you pull up the IT capital fund through the county’s account system (189-91110) you will see that the county is utilizing Cherokee Millwright this fiscal year and used Massey Construction Inc. last fiscal year. Both of these commissioners should have abstained on the IT budget amendment.
There are plenty more conflicts in Blount County, Tennessee government. Do these conflicts serve you the taxpayers well? If not, in the May 2018 primary election vote for people who don’t have conflicts of interest. All 21 of the commission races were determined in the Republican primary in May 2014 election. Please don’t wait until the general election in August because most or all of the races will be determined in the May primary election.
After the commission meeting
After the meeting Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp told Commissioners Jamie Daly and Miller that if they were going to dish it out they should be prepared to take it. You can watch the commission meeting to see if you think that Daly or Miller did anything to warrant a lecture from Crisp.
As I wrote in my Thanksgiving message, please consider taking a more active role in local government. You don’t have to be a full time activist. Do what you can, when you can.
This is so disgusting. It’s salaries like this that make government elite so out of touch with the working folks. http://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/education/2016/11/21/university-tennessee-name-davenport-next-chancellor/94233352/
Seriously? $585K? Why stop there? Why not make it $10 million? The state legislature can just tax the people more to pay for anything the elite want. Never mind what they make.
The median household income in Tennessee is was $47,275 in 2015. That’s an entire household, not one salary. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/income/tennessee/
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“The real destroyers of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations, and benefits.” Plutarch
Plutarch’s statement could be rewritten to more accurately reflect our society and the politics of today by saying, “The real destroyers of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them government services, government approved education, and benefits.”
There were seven commissioners absent from the agenda meeting. This is one third of the twenty one members commission. Since this meeting ran smoothly without one third of its membership now is a good time to ask how many commissioners you think Blount County should have. State law requires a minimum of nine and a maximum of twenty four.
Commissioner Brad Bowers was absent from the commission meeting.
Transfer turned into political theater
On the agenda was a transfer in the Sherriff’s Office that Finance Director (FD) Randy Vineyard described as being an accounting change to simply recording of employees’ pay in the new Kronos payroll system. Commissioner Dave Bennett used this transfer as an opportunity for political theater with the jail.
There was no resolution for the matter. All that was in the packet is a budget amendment form with the transfer box checked with a one sentence explanation. See Item F1 on page 16.
Dave Bennett made the motion to require the FD to provide the commission with an update on the loss of revenue for housing state inmates. In the packet you will find that the Sheriff’s Office has been providing the FD, who then forwards to the commission, a letter stating how much revenue the county is receiving for state inmates compared to the monthly average last year. See page 92 of the commission packet for the letter from Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps to the FD.
The letter does not show how much the Sherriff’s Office projected in revenue for the year compared to what the county is actually receiving. However, you can obtain that information by looking at the monthly financial report that the FD is required to prepare for the commission. See page 158, line item 101 00000 46915 00000 CONTRACTED PRISONER BOARD.
Chairman Jerome Moon declared Bennett’s motion out of order. Commissioner Steve Samples immediately challenged the rule of the chair. The commission chose to override the chair, forcing a vote on the matter.
From the draft minutes of the meeting:
Commissioner Samples appealed the ruling of the Chair. Commissioner Carter seconded the motion. Chairman Moon instructed the members to vote yes if they agree with the ruling of the Chair, and to vote no if they disagree with the ruling of the Chair. An electronic vote was taken on the appeal.
French- Yes, Mike Lewis‐No
There were 9 voting yes, 10 voting no, 1 abstain, and 1 absent.
Chairman Moon declared the ruling of the Chair was not upheld.
Commission Mike Akard moved to require the reduction in expenses, related to housing less state inmates, be included in the report. The courthouse clique didn’t want the whole truth, just the distorted, incomplete statement on revenue. Only commissioners Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted to be given the whole truth on housing state inmates.
Dave Bennett, the maker of the motion, Andy Allen, quick to provide a second to the motion, and Steve Samples, the commissioner challenging the rule of the chair should be embarrassed. All 3 are business men. Good business people always take a look at expenses, and not just revenue, when examining the financial statements of any situation. However, keep in mind that Dave Bennett and Andy Allen are both in businesses that profit from building and/or renovations.
Bennett’s motion failed, even though there were not enough votes to uphold the rule of the chair.
Retirement benefit – Taxpayers to contribute 4 times what employees contribute
Sometimes I wonder if commissioners read their packets before voting, or if they read their packets if they actually fully consider the ramifications of what they are doing to the taxpayers before voting. A resolution regarding retirement benefits for Parks and Recreation Commission employees that the FD referred to as a housekeeping measure makes me questions the quality and fitness of most of our commissioners.
A letter from FD Randy Vineyard tells the Budget Committee that the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Services is requiring the cities of Maryville and Alcoa and Blount County to separate Parks and Rec employees into their own employee group. The letter further states that there are no changes to plan design and benefits. That sounds all well and good but there are still several causes for concern.
1. The resolution calls for an employer (taxpayers) contribution of 20.16% starting 2017 while the employees contribute 5%.
How many people in the private sector have a retirement benefits package where the employer, in this case you the taxpayers, contribute more than four times the amount of the employees? Private sector business typical budget around 20% of salaries for benefits. This resolution budgets what the private sector typically budgets for all benefits, solely for retirement benefits. Furthermore, there is no limit to the percentage.
2. The taxpayer funded portion of benefits “shall be subject to change based on subsequent annual actuarial valuations.”
The taxpayers will be on the hook for future increases if actuarial valuations show the need. Alarmingly there is no cap or limit placed on the percentage amount that you could be required to pay for retirement benefits.
3. “The unfunded accrued liability that remains at the effective date of participation, following the transfer of assets within TCRS to the Joint Venture’s account approved by the City of Maryville by separate resolution, is $1,327,251.”
Could this large unfunded liability be why the contribution from taxpayers is so high? The FD should have explained this and what the plan is to fully fund this liability before bringing this resolution to the commission.
4. The county’s portion/share is 38%.
There is no logic given for the amount of 38% but the resolution guarantees that the county will fund this amount. Commissioner Jamie Daly pointed out that most of the parks are in the cities. Many of the rural county residence don’t use the parks or rarely use them. Most are convenient for city residents but not for county residents. Parks are an optional service that should be paid for by those using the service rather than being subsidized by people don’t use or want the services.
For these reasons I voted no on the resolution. Only commissioner Karen Miller joined me. The rest voted yes.
There were many revisions proposed to the employee handbook. The Human Resources (HR) Director was not present at the Agenda Committee meeting and she can be very hard to get ahold of by phone and email. Thus, the only reliable opportunity to ask her questions was at the commission meeting.
I had several questions, many pertaining to the use of county vehicles. The HR Director said she didn’t know the answers to my questions related to the use of county vehicles and that I would need to direct my questions to Risk Management (RM). Since no one from RM was present to answer my questions, I moved to postpone discussion and action on the handbook until November so that RM could be present to answer questions. The commission voted this down.
Alarmingly, Commissioner Tom Stinnett told the body that he had just spent two days on the handbook. This invites the question of why he didn’t do this before he voted for the revisions in the HR Committee, a committee that he serves on. Would you vote to forward something to the commission for approval, that requires two days of research, without asking any questions? This clearly wasn’t well thought out.
Commissioner Ron French was quick to dismiss my concern but this isn’t in the best interest of the public. The commission should take the time to thoroughly examine the handbook because there are many glaring holes/deficiencies in the employee handbook. A lawyer could pick it apart easily. Commissioners are elected to set public policy. Answers should be provided before policies are adopted.
The commission actually did vote to give more time to the handbook by sending it back to the HR Committee to look at how to award vacation time after the first 6 months of employment. However, the HR Committee rubber stamped what was presented to it at its last meeting. The HR Committee spent less time on the changes to the handbook than the commission. You can watch the meeting online here. Hopefully the HR Committee will examine all the policy revisions and work through the entire handbook this time.
Information Technology (IT) Committee
The agenda for the IT Committee was sent by email 2 hours and 20 minutes before the state of the meeting with no supporting documentation. The committee lacked a quorum so there was no official action taken but their rarely is anyway.
The committee heard from its $100+ hour IT consultant about the IT projects currently under way. I was the only member to ask any questions. AV, as he is known, with Mindboard Inc. told the committee that the county’s websites will cost $20,000 annually. It sounds steep and I have to wonder if the county could be doing some of these projects for substantially less in-house. The government is rarely, if ever, more efficient than the private sector but the county has benefited from in-house software. The county is doing away with most, or all, of its in-house software and purchasing software and services that have lots of renewal and license fees.
The list of IT projects contained in the presentation given a couple of months ago has still not been provided and I continue to wonder what the point of having an IT Committee is.
A joint meeting of the Blount County Commission and Board of Education has been called to look at $40 million in updates to the two high schools. The meeting will be held in the Heritage High School Theater on Thursday at 6:30 PM.
The Agenda Committee meeting has been moved up a day and will held on Monday November 7th at 6:30 in room 430 at the courthouse.