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Not everything on this website is written by me

There are some in the community who think that everything on this website is written by me (Tona Monroe).  That is not the case.  This site was never intended to be a website solely with material written by me.  I own domains with my name and could just as easily write the material there.

There are some in the community who think that I agree with everything written on this website.  That is not the case either.  My intention in creating this website was never to have complete and total agreement with every word posted here.

The litmus test for content on this website was never complete and total agreement with my views and is not the case now.  My goals are to promote freedom and transparency in government.  Those are the reasons why I started this website and why I continue publishing on this website.  Those are also the reasons that I ran for office and what I hope to achieve while in office.

The content here is intended to be thought provoking while promoting freedom and openness in government.  Everything that is posted here should no more be viewed as my opinions than letters to the editors are viewed as being the opinions of the editors at newspapers.

As I’ve said many times before and will continue saying, let freedom ring!

Is this one of the great things that Mayor Mitchell was talking about?

Last month, Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership and Industrial Development Board (IDB) assured us that great things are in store for Blount County.  Today one of the lead stories is about the increase in the number of free and reduced lunches that children are receiving in the local government schools.

This while the taxpayers saw a 22% increase in the local option sales tax in 2014 and a 16% increase in the property tax in 2015 (FY16).

Mitchell and the Finance Directors statement’s about the financial health of Blount County haven’t exactly been on target.  Here is a January 2, 2014 email where the Finance Director assures the commissioners that “Blount County is on sound financial footing.”

A year and half later, the citizens of Blount County got a huge property tax increase a year after a 22% increase in the local option sales tax.

From: Randy Vineyard
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2014 6:08 PM
To: Pat James
Subject: Fiscal year ended June 30, 2013 highlights

Commissioners,

The Mayor asked that I provide some commentary on the recent correspondence you received from the State Comptroller’s Office.

The State Comptroller’s Office completed the annual audit of last fiscal year’s financial activities. The audit report has been posted on the Blount County website for public review.

First, the County has received an unqualified opinion which is always our goal. There were no audit findings and that too is our annual goal. There is a suggestion that the County consider creating an Audit Committee and this is a recurring suggestion over the past few years. There was no exit conference this year since there were no audit findings.

The following comments pertain only to the General County Fund 101 and the numbers are rounded for simplification purposes only.

The operating results for the year ending June 30, 2013, General County net assets increased $2.97 million. The ending Fund Balance was $13.05million with $11.4million  of that being Undesignated and Unobligated.

Total General County Revenues were $44.55 million and total General County Expenditures/Transfers were $41.58 million on a final amended budget of $43.88 million. If you recall we missed the value of a penny on the tax rate and that resulted in $1.1million less in property tax revenue in Fund 101. However, that was offset by higher fee revenue collected by the various office holders and higher inmate reimbursements from the State and Federal governments.

On the appropriation side of the budget, the officeholders and department heads did an outstanding job of managing their budgets and significantly underspent their appropriations.

There will be a proposed budget amendment submitted to the Budget Committee at their meeting on January 6 to outline a plan to position the County for some matters likely to come up over the next several months.

First resolution, a recommendation to give non-recurring compensation supplement to County employees in Fund 101. This would be $1000 per full time employee and $500 per part time employee.

The total cost including benefits is approximately $539,100. Our employees contributed to the financial success the County attained last year and it is reasonable for us to show that recognition with a non-recurring increase in pay.

Second resolution, a recommendation that the Commission Designate/Obligate approximately $1.36million for Capital needs and Self Insurance funding needs. These two items are not appropriating or spending any money, but set aside and obligate for future needs. The Self Insurance needs are in the Workers Comp Fund and the General Liability Fund. Over the past few years we have not assessed premiums sufficient to cover claims experience. That has to be addressed soon to avoid an audit finding by the Comptroller’s Office. Therefore, should Commission decide to appropriate an amount less than is proposed to be designated for self-insurance purposes, it will be my recommendation that the designation be shifted to the Capital needs.

We will be providing a synopsis of the highlights of the budgeted funds to you in a few days.

I am very pleased with the results of the past fiscal year. This does not mean the upcoming FY ‘14/’15 budget will be without challenges because we are planning to use up to $3.3million in fund balance in the current budget year. This was a result of shifting 9 pennies from General County to Schools to meet the state mandated maintenance of effort (MOE).

However, this certainly gives us a better starting point and it validates the initiatives currently underway. Those being upgrading technology in our various fee offices for improved reliability and efficiency; reducing our annual variable rate debt costs on our existing long term debt; retiring two long term notes; and using common sense in spending the public’s tax dollars.

The take away is Blount County is on sound financial footing. We are making incremental improvements to make further operational progress in the future barring unforeseen circumstances. This could not have happened without the good leadership of our elected office holders.

I welcome your comments and encourage you to contact me with any questions.

Thanks

Randy

Randy Vineyard, IOM
Blount County Finance Director

June 2015 Commission Report

“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”  2 Peter 2:3

This month I did a lot of writing on issues prior to the monthly commission meeting.  If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read those articles prior to reading this report.  Alternatively, you can read those articles that are linked throughout this report.

Agenda Meeting
The Commission rejected my request to move the Commission meeting to a bigger venue.  A move to one of the school auditoriums would have given all people the opportunity to sit and watch the commission meeting.  Instead people who arrived early were locked out of the commission room.

As a result, people in the commission room were cold and those left standing outside the meeting room were burning up.  The request came after the Chairman, Jerome Moon, ordered standing citizens out of the room last month while allowing uniformed officers to line the wall.

Commission Meeting

The fix is in – Commission raises property tax rate before voting on budget

State law requires the commission to pass an appropriations resolution (annual budget) and a property tax rate resolution.  In the interest of protecting the taxpayers, I tried to have the budget placed ahead of the tax rate for purposes of discussion.  Putting the tax rate ahead of the budget means that the fix is in as there is no incentive to cut the budget after the property tax rate has been set.

In a poor economic environment, where the commission wants to hold the line on taxes but is handed a bloated budget from the Budget Committee recommending a tax increase, the commission could set the rate ahead of the budget and then work on the budget until it is balanced without a tax increase.  That isn’t what happened though and there are still problems with setting the tax rate first.

The tax rate isn’t just one number.  In past years the tax rate has fixed the levy for three funds, General County, General Purpose Schools and Debt Service.  This year, after a court opinion in McMinn County, a new fund for Capital Education Projects was added.  Thus, the Commission isn’t voting on just one number in the tax rate but four.  How would the commission know how much to fix for each fund without discussing the budget?  Debt service is straight forward but the rest require discussion.  It doesn’t make sense to set the rate before knowing how much you are going to spend in each fund.  Do you know any business that sets the price of the products or services before they have any idea what their expenses are?

Voting for the tax rate first and then discussing the budget allows commissioners to play political games with their constituents because some commissioners will vote no on the tax rate or abstain knowing that the increase will pass but then will vote yes on the budget which caused the increase.  Voting for the budget which caused the increase has the same effect as the vote on the tax rate increase.  It spends the same amount of your money and these commissioners are just as responsible as those who didn’t play games with their yes vote on the tax increase.

My motion to discuss the budget before the tax rate failed 3-18 with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself (Monroe) voting to discuss the budget before fixing the tax rate.  The fix was in with a tax increase approved before the commission discussed the budget.

A citizen contacted me several days before the vote and told me what the tax rate would be.  Another contacted me telling me that the tax rate had already been determined but I would not be included.

It came as no surprise when commissioners Rick Carver and Gary Farmer offered amendments that set the tax rate at what I had been told without explaining why that was the rate needed.  Somehow those of us who weren’t included were just suppose to magically know where the reductions in increases (some call these cuts) would be made when the tax rate was voted on before the appropriations resolution, without any discussion as to why the tax rate of $2.47 was the one to go with.

Consensus and stifling of debate
There seemed to be a consensus amongst the majority of commissioners.  How they would know where Rick Carver was going to amend the budget and why he felt no need to explain it to the commission or to the public why those were the changes to make is beyond me.  Debate was stifled through parliamentary procedure and the only explanation given to the citizens as to why Carver’s cuts were the only ones that should be made was the comment from the Finance Director.

Commissioner Andy Allen moved to cut off debate on all amendments and the main motion moving adoption of the budget.  Only four commissioners voted not to cut off debate on over $175 million of your money.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Tom Cole, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted to continue debate.  The rest voted to stifle debate.

Six commissioners voted no on the tax rate and the budget
A game that some commissioners play with their constituents is voting no or abstaining on the tax rate but voting yes on the budget that requires a tax increase to pay for it.  Only six commissioners voted no on both.  The contradictory votes of the one who abstained and other who voted no on the tax rate but yes on the budget should be viewed for the game and hypocrisy that it is.

The six commissioner who voted no are Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.

Conflicts of interest
Several commissioners read conflict of interest statements prior to voting on the budget.  Sadly there are more who should have read statements but didn’t.  Since debate on the budget was stifled through parliamentary procedure, the commission spent more time reading conflict of interest statements than it did voting on the main motion adopting the annual budget.

Obtaining information
The public should know how difficult it can be at times to obtain information to make informed decisions.  Some are quick to provide information while others are not.

During the budget process I met with the Finance Director Randy Vineyard.  While I have been critical of his withholding information and not giving me a straight answer in the past, he actually was quite accommodating during the budget process.  He hired a new lady, Angelie Shankle, who took my questions and got answers to me promptly.  There is another lady in Accounting named Susan Gennoe who quickly works to get answers.  Both of these ladies have pleasant demeanors and based on my experiences with them appear to be doing their jobs well.

Troy Logan, Finance Director for the Schools, has always given me straight answers.  I met with him and he provided me with everything that I asked for.

Last year when I asked for information about the jail John Adams and Jeff French were quick to provide me with information.  The budget process with the Sheriff’s Office was not a pleasant experience.  Marian O’Briant, the PR person for the Sheriff’s Office attacked me multiple times, was slow to respond and told me that she was getting paid overtime to write me a short email that didn’t answer my questions.  The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need a PR person.  Upper management is paid well and could answer media questions.

I never received the complete breakdown of the compensation from the Evergreen study that I asked for.  The study was incomplete, inadequate and it was a hasty decision for the commission to act on the study.  It was my intention to propose an alternative pay option for deputies in the Sheriff’s Office instead of using an unfinished study to base pay raises on.  15 minutes prior to the start of the Commission meeting, I was given a tiny portion of the information that I had asked for.  It was not broken down into the categories necessary to propose the alternative pay option making it impossible for me to propose an alternate solution.

Employees to be paid above average wages based on unfinished study

The pay recommendations of the Evergreen study are not based on merit.  Furthermore, county employees will be paid above average wages.

The story told me about the need for the study is that county officials got together and decided that they wanted to pay “competitive” wages.  An economist friend of mine pointed out that many positions in government aren’t competitive because they don’t compete in a free market, with the only competition being between surrounding governments.  He said that the more accurate description is that that the study would look at paying similar or better wages.

The officials looked at paying better wages that are above average.  Officials didn’t look to bring wages to average based on the 50th percentile.  The study was based on a pay scale of the 60th percentile of pay.  That would be reasonable if Blount County had a robust economy but it doesn’t.

The ET Index shows that Blount County is the only county in the eight county region where pay has actually dropped .5% after inflation.  Blount County is tied for the biggest drop in median household income at 15%, and is about $7,000 less than it was in 2000.  This type of economic environment is not conducive to a big tax increase.  The people of Blount County are living on substantially less and will now be forced to live on even less thanks to the big property tax increase.  Office holders should have looked harder to control spending and make pay more equitable.  Pay raises based on the 50th percentile or my alternative proposal that I wasn’t able to make because of the lack of information provided would have been more reasonable.  Government often lacks reason in the way it approaches problems.

The Evergreen study still has the word draft stamped on it but the FY 16 budget was built around the draft which only contained 3 of the 5 chapters that will be available in the final report.  No one would run a business this way if they wanted to stay in business and it is embarrassing to see the county run this way.

Fear mongering and Sheriff’s political playbook
Several people wrote me about their displeasure with the head of the library using their email addresses to solicit support for the tax increase.  The fear mongering worked on some because I got a few emails telling me to support raising taxes because of the library.  Overall, people saw through it and weren’t happy about the situation.

Every couple of years the Sheriff drags out his playbook and we go through the same procedure of hearing about the lowest paid deputies.  This tugs on heart strings causing some to be willing to support a tax increase without knowing how much of a pay gap exists within government departments and offices.  The state sets minimum salaries for office holders, which are much higher than they should be but the county is compelled by law to pay those salaries.

This commission can raise the salaries above the state minimum for some office holders and it did that in FY15.  The Sheriff makes about the cost of an entire deputy salary above the state minimum.  He has no credibility talking about how much he cares about the deputies.  Actions speak louder than words.  He could have given this money to his employees but chose not to.  The same is true for Tom Hatcher, Bill Dunlap and Ed Mitchell.

My motion to the cut the salaries of these elected officials failed 4-16-1.  Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I voted to cut their salaries.  Shawn Carter abstained.  The rest voted no.

Probation Services is projected to lose money in the new budget year
The political machine has bragged for several years that Probation Services makes money for the county.  It’s not a lot of money but Probation has usually been revenue positive, leaving more in the general fund than was spent administer the service.  However, that seems to coming to an end.  The approved budget for FY 16 projects that Probation Services will actually lose about $2,200.

Notice the budgeted increase in pay for the Administrator position.  More on that later.

Fund/Cost Center Title FY 14 FY 15 FY 16
105 Administrator $57,250 $65,000 $65,462
53910 Probation Services $504,783 $606,563 $624,482
43393 Fees Probation $607,026 $657,245 $622,250

Schools get a big increase in local revenue
Blount County Schools will see a huge increase in local revenue.  The sales tax increase last year will result in $2 million in increased revenue.  The creation of a Capital Educations Projects fund will result in about a $1.27 million increase funded by a 4 cent property tax increase.  State funding for the schools will be about the same as it was last year because the school population is up only slightly.

The sales tax increase was promoted to the public to be used to fund the purchase of textbooks, technology and infrastructure improvements.  The schools will getting about $1.27 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements.  A recent article in the paper shows that the majority of the $2 million from the sales tax increase will go to increased compensation rather than textbooks and technology.  Thus, we may hear the same old stories next year about there being no money for textbooks and computers.

I recently learned about a book keeper who has been with the schools for over 40 years.  She makes less than the part time PR person employed by the schools.  It was upsetting to read in the paper that the increase will be used to make a part time PR position full time.  This is definitely not a priority item over textbooks and computers.  I’ve asked for a breakdown of the school budget to see exactly how much is going to be spent on technology and textbooks and waiting for that response.

Several teachers voted no on giving the schools a million dollars.  A motion was made to cut $1 million from the economic development budget leaving it with about $62,000 since there is little accountability to the taxpayers.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted yes.  Commissioners Cole and Farmer abstained.  The rest voted yes.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Tom Stinnett, all teachers, voted no on giving the schools the money and allowing the unaccountability of this taxpayer money to continue.

The Blount Partnership is a private entity and Bryan Daniels denied my request for their budget.  However, it consists of many of the same people involved with the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and the Chamber of Commerce.  Apparently the IDB can go out and make promises to private business and hand the taxpayers the bill.  The commission doesn’t vote on these deals/promises made to private business and we are often not even informed what type of deals/promises are made.  It is absolutely wrong to allow a board to go out and promise taxpayer money to private businesses and then levy a tax on your home to pay for it.  Furthermore, some of these same people are involved with the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority which is another unaccountable use of taxpayer money.

Budget
There is much more to say about the budget but I will stop here because this report is approaching a treatise.

Grant policy routinely violated
Office holders and department heads have repeatedly shown that the authority of the commission means nothing to them.  The commission is expected to rubber stamp grants and not ask questions.  The Chairman, Jerome Moon, tried to stop me from asking questions at the Commission meeting because I had asked questions at the Agenda meeting.  After the Agenda meeting, I did some homework and came prepared with questions to ask at the Commission meeting.  Apparently the Chairman doesn’t think you should actually do your job as a County Commissioner by researching matters and coming prepared with questions. What’s the point of having a meeting if you aren’t going to do your homework and come prepared to discuss the items on the agenda?

The deadline to apply for nearly every grant that the commission is asked to vote on has already passed before being brought to the commission.  Explanations are never given unless I ask why.  The Budget Committee never asks why the grants aren’t presented in a timely manner.  When I asked Jeff French why the deadline for the grant request from the Sheriff’s Office had already passed, he told me he didn’t know.  His name is listed as the reporting person.  See page 48.

The grant from the Facilities Coordinator, under the Mayor, didn’t even have a grant worksheet with the request in the Budget Committee and Agenda Committee meetings.  It only appeared in the Commission meeting packet after I pointed this out at the Agenda meeting.

While I was begrudgingly allowed to ask some questions about the energy efficiency grant for court house building improvements, I wasn’t able to ask everything.  When my questioning revealed that the county had already received the grant, without any commission oversight, knowledge or inclusion on the matter, the Chairman asked Commissioner Farmer to amend his motion to ratify the grant rather than to approve the worksheet to apply for the grant.  I had my light on to be recognized to speak to ask further questions but the Chairman turned it off.  I then asked if we were only voting on the amendment.  Chairman Moon shook his head yes in answer to my question.  After voting on the amendment, the Chairman proceeded on to the next Agenda item when we hadn’t even voted on the main motion, just the amendment.

I still had questions about how the county would benefit from energy efficiency in replacing the windows when the grant application said it would take over 179 years for the energy cost savings to be more than the cost of the windows.  See page 62 for the payback period.

RAC2 district created
The Commission voted to create what will eventually be a special new zone.  The wording is tricky saying that it isn’t creating a zone but it allows for it in the future and the effect is to allow special development privileges for a handful of properties.

“This section does not amend the Zoning Map, nor zone nor rezone any land to RAC2, but only identifies limits to location for any land that may in the future be zoned RAC2.”

This request morphed into nothing more than a crony deal for an office holder to develop his land when the rest of us can’t.  The matter has been the subject of discussion since 2013 in the Planning Commission.  It would have been quicker and simpler to have just sent the commission the crony deal to start with since the good ole’ boys get what they wanted.

Why do we have zoning regulations when anyone who is politically connected can get them amended to do what they want?  Zoning has become a tool of the politically connected to develop their land while squashing competition.  Unfortunately, some “conservationists” go along with this as those it’s a good thing for our community to create laws and regulations with special favors for the politically connected few while discriminating against everyone else.

Only Commissioners Akard, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted against this crony deal.  The rest took care of a political office holder while discriminating against you.

Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Corrections Partnership heard from Bob Bass of the Tennessee Corrections Institute.  He previously asked to speak to the Partnership about what he does in other counties, leading me to believe that he was going to offer solutions to reduce jail overcrowding.  He offered none.  His presentation was on the role of the jail and did not address how to reduce the overcrowding problem.

The only person to ask any questions was me.  I asked him what the TCI’s position was on keeping federal inmates when the jail is overcrowded.  He said the TCI doesn’t have a position.

After the meeting, it became apparent to me after further discussion with the people from the TCI that they want the county to build a new jail pod.  The inspector told me that work programs don’t work and the ILPP report didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.  Actually the jail the report told me several disturbing things about our criminal justice system that I didn’t know.  It was the TCI presentation that didn’t tell me anything that I don’t already know.

A member of the community shared with me that the Sheriff didn’t get what he wanted in the jail study so he is trying to get what he wants out of the state, which is a position that the jail should be expanded.  Unfortunately I am afraid that this person is right.

There are people who need to be in jail.  However, I have heard from people in a variety of situations who should not be in jail.  There are numerous factors to the jail overcrowding.  The jail study addresses several of those factors.

One factor that would quickly reduce the number of inmates is to stop taking federal prisoners.  The ILPP study that the Mayor and Sheriff don’t want to talk about in public says that we lose money on federal prisoners.  The Mayor went so far as to threaten filing a frivolous lawsuit.  Where is that lawsuit Mayor?

There is genuine fear in the community about speaking out about the Sheriff, the judges and the condition of the jail.  People share their stories with me but won’t go public for fear of retaliation against them or their loved ones.  It makes my job of advocating for meaningful reform more difficult because people won’t share their stories with the public.  Couple the fear with a Sheriff who wants to expand political power with a bigger jail, and Mayor who has bowed to the Sheriff and some judges who can’t handle criticism and you have a mess.

The jail overcrowding is a multilayered problem.  One big layer of the problem that can be peeled off is the optional practice of keeping federal inmates.  For those of you who aren’t afraid of the Sheriff, tell him that you don’t want the county to keep federal inmates any longer.  His email address is jlb@bcso.com and his phone number is 273-5000.

Role of government
One thing that emerged during budget discussions with the people of my district is what the role of government should be.  I had several people telling me that they are tired of paying taxes for services that they don’t use.  People are tired of paying for the schools, library and parks when they don’t use them.  Others told me that they are tired of having to pay fees to use these three, when they are already paying taxes on them.  Theselegitament points are frequently buried and not fully vetted in debate about taxes.

People complained to me about the schools always saying that they never get enough money.  Others expressed to me that they aren’t happy with upper management making big salaries.  Others homeschooling or sending their kids to private school feel that they shouldn’t pay taxes for public education when they pay for their kids education.

People complained to me about having to pay for the library when they don’t use it.  Others told me that they love the library and would pay more taxes for it.  Others said that they find the fees that the library charges to use meeting rooms ridiculous when they pay taxes for the library.

People complained to me that they are tried of paying taxes for Parks and Rec when they charges big fees for summer time activities.

These are all legitimate points worthy of discussion, not suppression and emotional, libelous branding of the people who make them.  Should people pay taxes for services that they don’t use?  Some County Offices are fee offices like the County Clerk’s Office and the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.  They are funded by fees rather than taxes.  Should services like the library and Parks and Rec be funded by fees from the people who use them, rather than taxing the homes of people who don’t use them?  Some people certainly think so.

If you think so, let your state legislators know.

Senator Doug Overbey sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov 850-9411
Representative Art Swann rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov 982-6811
Representative Bob Ramsey rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov 984-8124

Media coverage
People regularly send me emails asking why the media doesn’t cover more local government issues.  They also complain to me about media bias favoring the good ole’ boys.

One person commented about the paper in Knox County offering a more balanced approach to the coverage of deputy pay while the local paper ran several puff pieces in support of the Sheriff’s Office.  Others have complained to me about the editorials always supporting Senators Doug Overbey, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

The best place to address these concerns are with local media sources although I did publish some of what was sent to me here.

Up next
County Revenue Commissioners.  This is an old statute still on the books that I found that could bring some transparency and accountability to a local government that lacks an Audit Committee.  Newly elected Commissioners in multiple counties are trying to revive the positions since Audit Committees are optional unless the Comptroller requires one and even then an Audit Committee may do nothing.  The Comptroller is talking about having it repealed since they enjoy being in charge.  Tell your state elected officials that a fully functioning Audit Committee should be required or the County Revenue Commissioners law should stay.

Senator Doug Overbey sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov 850-9411
Representative Art Swann rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov 982-6811
Representative Bob Ramsey rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov 984-8124

Question for the people of Blount County
Each month I spend a great deal of time writing lengthy detailed commission reports.  One of my campaign promises included writing commission reports and I will continue to keep that promise.  Do you want the reports to continue to be as detailed as they are now?  Or would shorter reports suffice?

Capital Fund should be put back into school budget

Sharing Education Capital Project Funds:
A Lesson from McMinn County

In 2011, the cities of Athens and Etowah sued McMinn County because the county had put money into an education capital projects fund and used those funds for renovations and additions to county schools, and the cities believed that those funds should have been shared with their school systems. McMinn County responded that they were not obligated to share these capital project funds with the city. The trial court agreed and entered judgment for the county.

The trial court stated, “When a county makes a tax assessment for future capital outlay projects, such an assessment is not subject to proration among all LEAs in the county.” The trial court found that the relevant statute is clear and unambiguous — it requires sharing only of funds for current operation and maintenance purposes, and funds collected for future capital projects are not for current operation and maintenance.

Predictably, the cities appealed. In December 2014, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision for the county. The cities attempted a further appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, but that Court declined to hear the case in May 2015. There can be no other appeals. The trial court’s decision is now final.

Under this case, counties in which there are multiple school systems may make appropriations to an education capital projects fund and expend that money for school capital projects without being required to share those funds with any city or special school districts in the county. These funds can only be used for capital projects.

This case only affects money appropriated and set aside for capital expenditures for education. Any money used for current operation or maintenance purposes, as well as funds borrowed for education capital expenditures, must be shared with the other school systems in the county.

To read the case, please click HERE to view a PDF.

Source: CTAS Newsletter

 

The BS Gap Continues to Grow

snake-oil-salesman475by Eric Holcombe

Dad Gone Wild has a new post about the Achievement School District (ASD) in TN directed by Teach For America (TFA) alum Chris Barbic. Remember that Chris was tagged for the position by Kevin Huffman, the former executive v.p. of public relations for TFA (and board member of PARCC of no-bid, testing contract fame) who was appointed by Achieve Inc. board member Bill Haslam. Somebody had to spend the $90 million Bill Gates grant given to Memphis to start up charter schools. The ASD was created by Jamie SCORE Woodson’s special session First To The Top bill in January 2010 at the same time the Common Core “state” Standards were being committed to (before they existed) in the fraudulent Race To The Top federal grant application that claimed unanimous support and signatures from every director of schools, school board chair and teacher union representative in the state. Shortly after passage, she quit her Senate seat to start collecting Bill Gates’ checks at TNSCORE along with Bill Frist (nearly $6M now and counting).

So, what was the ASD supposed to do? Well, frankly an impossible task – take the bottom 5% of schools academically and move them to the top 25% academically, in just five years. Okay, anyone paying attention to achievement scores knows this is not realistic and would expect some shall we say, creative accounting, was involved if this proved to be true. Well, Chris and Co. have already done some of that, creating a new “school” out of thin air when reporting scores to report year-over-year “improvement” that was at best an apples-to-oranges comparison. Now that the 5-year goal deadline is approaching, the Gates money is running thin, well something has to give to keep the dream alive:

From the post,

“…Barbic says,

“We could say tomorrow we are changing the goal. The only blowback we would probably get is from you guys (media). But there is nothing stopping us. I could wake up tomorrow and decide I want to do something different.

Wow. If we were making porn movies, that would be what they call the money shot. The hubris is appalling. I guess he forgot that part about kid’s lives being at stake. Hey, when you’re building a franchise, it’s hard to keep track of the players. It’s interesting that this line appeared in the original story in the Commercial Appeal but by mid-afternoon the next day it and two other paragraphs had oddly disappeared only to be replaced by more flattering paragraphs like below,”

Click here to read the rest of the post at Dad Gone Wild

Then remind yourself of how many years the Tennessee Virtual Academy was allowed to exist before being shut down by the state amidst enrollment caps instituted by Achieve Inc. board member Haslam, while parents with a choice still wanted to escape there with their children.

 

Commie Core repeal and replace – more GOP smoke and mirrors

by Eric Holcombe

http://rockytoppolitics.com/2015/04/28/part-three-barbarians-at-the-gate/
wolf_in_sheeps_clothing12This is the only realistic positive spin on the rebranded TN Commie Core that I have seen. Unfortunately, it also is one of the first pieces from RTP that makes them look like controlled opposition. Lipsticking the pig is not a victory no matter how you slice it. Republicans getting more say in the crooked “Tennessee Standards” review committee that shouldn’t even exist isn’t much of a win. Kind of like how we can no longer elect the judicial branch because they are better at picking them than us. Because they took the federal Race To The Top bribe and then Haslam took the NCLB waiver (which requires adherence to Commie Core), we are still shackled to following the fed direction on standards copywritten by two Washington DC corporations and Pearson “aligned” testing (and therefore “aligned” curriculum). They will not do anything to jeopardize the flow of their federal sugar daddy dollars.

There were real, actual, stick-a-fork-in-the-pig bills available for “conservative Republicans” to pass this session regarding Commie Core  – and they wimped out. Lots of conflicts with those bills, like Achieve Inc. board member Haslam couldn’t be a member of Achieve Inc. and (continue to) get paid by Bill Gates. Education Commissioner and illegal, no-bid-contract PARCC liaison, Candice McQueen would have to sever that relationship. The Commie Core whores at TNSCORE would be out of business, etc. Any future actions by state level actors of this sort would be prohibited. That means B. Fielding Rolston and the state board signing promissory notes to implement Commie Core before they can even read it (again).

I still am not convinced the state legislators who really understand the state’s rights issue here is much more than a handful. Anybody that has the mindset they will just do a better job of handpicking the oligarchs than Haslam doesn’t get the fundamentals of self-governance and liberty, or true diversity of thought across the state’s communities. They still believe we all are to be whitewashed widgets, they just want to choose the bucket of whitewash. The state has already shown it cannot be trusted. Rather than going to prison for accepting federal bribes in exchange for testing & curriculum contracts, personal data sales to foreign companies and standards adoption, they are put in charge of making the new standards. What could possibly go wrong?

But it isn’t just education, though that is a major financial chunk of business – about 45% of all state spending last I checked. You could look at the failure to repeal the Hall Income Tax (again) – even with the Republican “super” majority.

Or the failure to reinstate true 2nd Amendment rights according to the US Constitution (which appears to apply some of the time when they want it to: for overriding state laws). What did the “super” majority do with Constitutional Carry?

Or maybe “school choice” vouchers? Another failure. I only see Teach For America still in business under the Commie Core formed ISD – and the other public school choice parents had, Tennessee Virtual Academy, being closed. However Shelby and Davidson counties remain open at more than twice the cost with the same poor academics.

In case you have forgotten, this was all stuff that was promised when Republicans were in the minority. And just like Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, they haven’t delivered a bit of it. Like Newt, I suspect they would use the excuse he did: “we only said we’d bring it to a vote – not that we would actually vote for it”.

They are still clinging to the same political club that just made Pigeon Forge liquor referendum king Ryan Haynes (not a Representative of Sevier County) their chairman. This is like some kind of battered wife syndrome. If there really are 50+ “conservatives” in TN legislature why are you still with this club?

You don’t need them.

Most federal grants are unconstitutional

Tonight the Blount County Commission is being asked to vote on six federal grants, one for equipment for a school and five traffic grants.  All six grants are unconstitutional; therefore, I will be voting no on all six even though the equipment is for a school in my district.

The first thing that I did when taking office was raise my right hand and affirm that I would obey the federal and state constitutions.  Thus even though we might need equipment for schools, I am constrained by my oath of office and must vote no.  I would support a constitutionally authorized source of funding for food equipment for schools but not a funding source that violates my oath of office and the supreme law of the land.

Conservatives like to talk about the federal government having no role in education and some will even campaign on abolishing the federal Department of Education but that quickly becomes empty campaign rhetoric after the election.  Having read the constitution many times, finding nothing in it to authorize these grants and having made a solemn affirmation to uphold the constitution, I will be voting no.

Additionally, there has been some talk about the DUI road blocks being unconstitutional.  They are but that misses the greater point for the county funding body.  The funding for all 5 five traffic grants is unconstitutional.  There is no authority in the federal constitution for the feds to tax us (gas tax) and use the money to fund a police state.  Thus, voting no on one or two and voting yes on the rest is inconsistent with the supreme law of the land, the constitution.

In case anyone has any doubt, I will leave you with a letter that President James Madison wrote when he vetoed a public works bill (think roads and water ways, what we are dealing with tonight).  He said he was constrained by the constitution to veto the legislation because there is no authority for it in the constitution.  He should know, since he was the primary author of the constitution.

Let freedom ring!
Tona

March 3, 1817

To the House of Representatives of the United States:

Having considered the bill this day presented to me entitled “An act to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements,” and which sets apart and pledges funds “for constructing roads and canals, and improving the navigation of water courses, in order to facilitate, promote, and give security to internal commerce among the several States, and to render more easy and less expensive the means and provisions for the common defense,” I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection to the House of Representatives, in which it originated.

The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified and enumerated in the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution, and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation with the power to make laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution those or other powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States.

“The power to regulate commerce among the several States” can not include a power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses in order to facilitate, promote, and secure such commerce without a latitude of construction departing from the ordinary import of the terms strengthened by the known inconveniences which doubtless led to the grant of this remedial power to Congress.

To refer the power in question to the clause “to provide for common defense and general welfare” would be contrary to the established and consistent rules of interpretation, as rendering the special and careful enumeration of powers which follow the clause nugatory and improper. Such a view of the Constitution would have the effect of giving to Congress a general power of legislation instead of the defined and limited one hitherto understood to belong to them, the terms “common defense and general welfare” embracing every object and act within the purview of a legislative trust. It would have the effect of subjecting both the Constitution and laws of the several States in all cases not specifically exempted to be superseded by laws of Congress, it being expressly declared “that the Constitution of the United States and laws made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” Such a view of the Constitution, finally, would have the effect of excluding the judicial authority of the United States from its participation in guarding the boundary between the legislative powers of the General and the State Governments, inasmuch as questions relating to the general welfare, being questions of policy and expediency, are unsusceptible of judicial cognizance and decision.

A restriction of the power “to provide for the common defense and general welfare” to cases which are to be provided for by the expenditure of money would still leave within the legislative power of Congress all the great and most important measures of Government, money being the ordinary and necessary means of carrying them into execution.

If a general power to construct roads and canals, and to improve the navigation of water courses, with the train of powers incident thereto, be not possessed by Congress, the assent of the States in the mode provided in the bill can not confer the power. The only cases in which the consent and cession of particular States can extend the power of Congress are those specified and provided for in the Constitution.

I am not unaware of the great importance of roads and canals and the improved navigation of water courses, and that a power in the National Legislature to provide for them might be exercised with signal advantage to the general prosperity. But seeing that such a power is not expressly given by the Constitution, and believing that it can not be deduced from any part of it without an inadmissible latitude of construction and reliance on insufficient precedents; believing also that the permanent success of the Constitution depends on a definite partition of powers between the General and the State Governments, and that no adequate landmarks would be left by the constructive extension of the powers of Congress as proposed in the bill, I have no option but to withhold my signature from it, and to cherishing the hope that its beneficial objects may be attained by a resort for the necessary powers to the same wisdom and virtue in the nation which established the Constitution in its actual form and providently marked out in the instrument itself a safe and practicable mode of improving it as experience might suggest.

President James Madison

Source: http://www.constitution.org/jm/18170303_veto.htm

 

Seven Reasons to Vote for the Libertarian Party

From Reason:

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.

 

Why Partyism Is Wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/opinion/david-brooks-why-partyism-is-wrong.html?_r=0

I don’t agree with every statement in this op-ed, but it raises a good point.  There’s too much emphasis on party politics.  This may be a consequence of big government.  A couple of years ago I read an article about political views being more important in the success of a marriage than religion.  Society needs to take a hard look at classifying people based on party labels, because not everyone fits in the right-left paradigm.