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Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap to retire

This morning I received a call telling me that Bill Dunlap will retire.  I called the Highway Department and Julie Talbott confirmed that Bill Dunlap is on vacation for two weeks and will be retiring effective February 1st.

Who will take his place?

Commissioner Jeff Headrick (5th District) has been posturing to take his place.  He is a developer and a waterboy for the Sheriff.  His wife is related to the Sheriff.  If he replaces Bill Dunlap then the Sheriff will effectively control the Highway Department, the Mayor, the Blount County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office.

Now would be a good time for Brian Downey to start campaigning.  He did well in the last election for someone with little name recognition starting out.  He will need to do more than put out signs if he intends to win.

Have you heard any other names?

Blount Partnership admits it is blocking two county commissioners

The Blount Partnership, which the CEO/President Bryan Daniels describes as an umbrella organization for the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Foundation, Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and Industrial Development Board (also referred to as the Economic Development Board), has admitted that it is blocking communication from two Blount County Commissioners.  Commissioners Jamie Daly and Tona Monroe have been blocked.

The Daily Times has a story today on the matter.
http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/busy-signal-blount-partnership-blocks-two-county-commissioners-from-communicating/article_c86c6d00-141b-58b1-b074-2002eaaefa8d.html

To read more about the economic environment created by entrusting large sums of tax dollars to the Industrial Development Board and the Smoky Mountain Tourism Authority, both part of the Blount Partnership, click here.

The Blount Partnership says, it “is the sole economic development agency for the Blount County area.”  An active citizen in the community and frequent commenter on this website, recently wrote me saying, “I think a “Blount County Industrial Guild” would work wonders for Blount.” 

What do you think?  A government subsidized monopoly has given us the results of being the only county in the region where average pay isn’t keeping up with the rate of inflation and being tied for the biggest drop in median household income. 

If you’d like to communicate with Bryan Daniels, his email address is bdaniels@blountpartnership.com.





Cowards – Men without honor

There have been well over 100 emails sent to me regarding the judicial tyranny/wrath of God resolution.  Last night a good friend who prays for me, our county and our country called to encourage me.  I read some of the emails to her.  She encouraged me to post this one.

“THE 16 COWARDS OF BLOUNT COUNTY. WHEN THE LIGHT WAS TURNED ON THE COCKROACHES HID. WHEN THE LIGHT SHONE THE RATS RAN. THE COWARDS FLED AND LET 2 WOMEN FIGHT THEIR BATTLES FOR THEM. MEN WITHOUT HONOR. ONLY WIMPS LET WOMEN FIGHT FOR THEM. DO THESE MEN HAVE ANY HONOR OR SHAME? THEIR WIVES SHOULD BE ASHAMED TO BE WITH MEN WITHOUT HONOR. REAL MEN NEVER HIDE BEHIND WOMEN AND RUN OFF AND HIDE.

WIVES BEWARE. HE WILL THROW YOU UNDER THE BUS AND RUN TO SAVE HIS HIDE. HOW CAN YOU MEN LOOK IN THE MIRROR? 2 WOMEN HAVING TO FIGHT YOUR BATTLES WHILE YOU RAN OUT THE DOOR. IF YOU WANT TO SEND THIS TO THE LOCAL RAG AND CHALLENGE THEM TO PRINT IT ON THE FRONT PAGE IF THEY HAVE THE GUTS. I AM 68 AND DO NOT CARE HOW MANY YEARS I HAVE LEFT TO LIVE AMONG THESE SPINELESS, WEAKMINDED WORSHIPPERS OF MONEY AND THE DEVIL WHO CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS WHO ARE GUTLESS AND ANYTHING BUT A REAL CHRISTIAN.”

Blount County Tax Revolt honors the six commissioners who voted against the property tax increase and budget

bctrawards2s

Former Commissioner Jim Folts presents District 7 County Commissioner Tona Monroe with two awards.

Blount County Tax Revolt presented Blount County Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe with an award for voting against the largest property tax increase in the history of Blount County government and for voting against the budget that was funded by the tax increase.

Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe were also given an additional Special Recognition Award.

Community stalwarts Jim Folts and Linda King spoke.  Richard Hutchens gave slide show presentation on the excuses used to justify wasteful spending.  Those reasons are routinely given at commission meetings.

The Daily Times covered the awards banquet, which had to be moved from the original room to a larger room because turnout was greater than expected.  http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/blount-county-tax-revolt-honors-six-for-tax-increase-opposition/article_b509ef67-08de-533d-8b37-8592d6fc56ff.html

The emails have been pouring in this morning.  Thank you to everyone for the kind remarks and thank you to the good folks of Blount County Tax Revolt for their dedication in protecting the hardworking taxpayers of Blount County.

BlountCoTaxRevoltAward1 BlountCoTaxRevoltAward2

 

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 predictable 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.

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.

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?

Those who voted for the budget caused the tax increase

There is some discussion about seven commissioners voting no on the tax rate increase and one commissioner abstaining.  While the vote on the tax rate is certainly important, two of those commissioners voted for the budget which caused the tax increase.  Thus, their no vote and abstention on the tax rate vote is contradictory.

Under the state law, the commission is required annually to vote on two separate resolutions, the appropriations (budget) resolution and the property tax rate resolution.  If the commissioner voted for the budget requiring the tax increase, they were for the tax increase regardless of whether they had the courage to vote yes on the tax rate.  There is no way to pay for the budget that just passed the commission without a property tax increase.  Thus, a no vote or abstention vote on the tax rate but a yes vote on the budget has no credibility.  There were only six commissioner who voted no on both the budget and the tax rate.  The other fifteen commissioners caused the tax increase, even if two failed to take responsibility for their actions by voting yes on the huge property tax increase.

Tax Rate Vote:
Yes- Andy Allen, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Steve Samples
No- Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe
Abstain- Tom Stinnett

Compare that to the budget vote which required a tax increase to pay for, since no effort was made to balance the budget at current revenues.

Budget Appropriations Vote:
Yes- Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jermone Moon, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett
No- Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe

Commissioner Brad Bowers’s no vote on the tax rate resolution and Tom Stinnett’s abstention vote on the tax rate resolution contradict their votes for the budget.  These two caused the tax increase with their votes for the budget that used the tax increase to fund it.  Don’t let them tell you any differently.

This is an age old tactic that some commissioners have played in the past voting for the budget that required a tax increase to fund it while voting no on the tax rate so that they can tell their constituents that they didn’t vote for a tax increase.  It’s political doublespeak.

It would be better for both resolutions to be voted on at once so that politicians can quit playing this game with their constituents.

Citizen pens open letter to county employees

An Open Letter to Blount County Employees

There seems that a large number of Blount County Employees, particular Sheriff’s employees expressing frustration about the taxpaying citizens who are opposing the 22% increase in property taxes. Let’s acknowledge that emotions are flying high and that we need a rational dialogue to satisfy both our county government employees and the citizen taxpayers.

Politicians will say and promise anything to anyone to stay in power; and one of their favorite political pawns are their employees.  This is especially true for our Mayor, County Commissioners, Circuit Court Clerk, Register of Deeds, Highway Superintendent and most notably our Sheriff. I want you to ask yourself honestly, “Is it possible that we are we being played by our bosses who are career politicians looking out for their own interests?”

Once the County Commission approves the budget for each department, department heads have “total control” of the spending within their departments.  If you took the time to see how much your “bosses” waste the taxpayer’s money, you would be shocked and disgusted. The truth is that IF your elected officials really wanted to give you a raise, all they would have to do is stop wasting so much of the taxpayers’ money.  Like magic, there is already enough money in your department budget to give you the cost of living increase in your salary.

No, your bosses would rather continue wasting hard earned tax dollars, and then chooses to use you, (his employees) as political pawns to justify burdening the taxpayer with a 22% property tax increase!

Your Department heads successfully work you up into a tizzy, getting you all upset at those citizens who are against a 22% property tax increase.  Your bosses want you to equate citizens being against the property tax increase as the same thing as being “against county government employees.”  And you fall for it every time; never realizing that it is your boss who is using your low pay to increase his wasteful budget.

Citizen activist Linda King has repeatedly been accused of “being against the county employees.”  Don’t fall for that.  You can watch her speak in favor of pay raises for the deputies.

Four years ago, Commissioner Jim Folts was the only Commissioner on the board who tried to get the other Commissioners to start properly setting aside sufficient funding the county employees promised retirement benefits.  Commissioner Folts was attacked by those with the biggest salaries for trying to get the other 20 “promise anything” (commissioners / politicians) to stop wasting the county’s budget and start properly funding Blount Count’s long term retirement liability.

Sure the other 20 County Commissioners smugly sat up “pretending to care” about your retirement, but actions means more than the shallow promises of career politicians.  In 10 or 20 years, when you are expecting to retire on your government pension, you shouldn’t be surprised that they did nothing to live up to the promises they were making to you, in order to get your support.  The truth is, Commissioner Folts was the only true friend you had up there on the board fighting for your retirement.  Your future is dependent upon more than your annual cost of living raises.

Four years later, your department heads are using you again.  There are a some new commissioners like Mike Akard, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe who are trying to prepare for the County’s future (your retirement benefits) by controlling spending. Instead of blaming these fiscally responsible commissioners as being ‘against the county employees’, I ask you to rethink the situation.

The question is not whether or not you should get a pay raise.  The real question is: “Is it fair to ask the citizen taxpayer to have to subsidize waste, fraud and abuse in your department heads budget, when your bosses have total discretion to streamline their budgets and give you a pay raise that ‘they say’ they want to give you?” Your bosses play you like Lucy plays Charlie Brown.

Let me ask you one last question.  Do you think your bosses really care about you when they make 3-4 times what you do and gave themselves big pay raises last year while giving you nothing?

If you think they do care, consider the following: state law mandates that the Mayor Ed Mitchell be paid $93,732 but he is making $123,727.  State law mandates that Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher be paid $81,153 but he is making $89,269.  State law mandates that the Sheriff be paid $89,269 but he is making $117,835.

The bottom line

Your bosses always make sure to take care of themselves and their cronies but all you ever hear them talk about are the crumbs that they give you.  Don’t be Charlie Brown.  You the employees and the citizens who pay your salaries deserve better.

Richard Hutchens

Email from citizen Dorthy Cooper

Commissioner,
As many recent articles in the Daily Times have indicated, the Blount County mayor and certain commissioners seem to have decided that Blount County needs a property tax increase. The extra tax is needed, among other things, to make it possible to increase the pay for county employees. Before this tax increase is passed I would like for you to consider the following questions.
1. Why do the people of Blount County need to cut their spending in order pay for a tax increase so that you can increase your spending?
2. How do you suggest people living on a fixed income come up with the extra money to pay this extra tax? People who are retired or disabled certainly can’t work an extra shift at work to make up for the extra cost. What do you suggest we cut from out budget? food, prescription medication, heat and air, a doctor visit?
I would love for all of Blount County employees to receive a pay raise. Please open your eyes to the hardships that the people of this county are going through. During the economic downturn many of them lost their jobs and are now working two part time jobs just to make ends meet. Some did not lose their jobs but took pay cuts in order to keep their jobs and as of today they are not back to the pay scale that they were at before the downturn. Lots of people have not had pay raises yet you insist on robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you want to give them a raise, do what you are expecting us to do—CUT YOUR SPENDING. After all this is what you are asking us to do in order to come up with the extra to pay this tax increase.
Recently when Mayor Mitchell nominated Sharon Hannum for the financial board it was brought to his attention that her property taxes had not been paid. The mayor made the comment that she was retired and living on a fixed income and it was hard to come up with the money to pay your taxes on time. I personally have nothing against Sharon but I know she is blessed to receive a pension from her former employer. This is something a lot of people do not have. Now the mayor not only thinks we can come up with that money but thinks we can afford to pay more. A considerable amount more!
If you are going to raise our taxes, please tell the citizens of Blount County who are trying to raise their families, pay their medical insurance and buy groceries (which has increased in cost) where they get the extra to pay for the tax increase.
When you think the people of this county have recovered from its economic problems think again. Blount Memorial has just notified some of its employees that they will be outsourcing their jobs. Some of these employees have been employed with them for 25 and 30 years. They are not old enough to retire and receive social security. Their lives have been turned upside down. Where do you suggest they get the extra to money for your tax increase? I am sure they would forgo any raise just to keep their job.
DON’T INCREASE TAXES—-CUT YOUR SPENDING—-VOTES DO COUNT—LISTEN TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS!!!!!!!!!

Dorthy Cooper

Citizen activist Linda King speaks in favor of pay raises for Blount County Sheriff’s deputies

With all the false information and statements floating around regarding the pay raises and upcoming budget vote, it’s a good time to bust a myth.

Myth Buster 1

Assertion by the political machine: Linda King and the people in “her group” are against the county employees.  One author said that she never made any recommendation to that effect.

Fact: At the June 21, 2007 Blount County Commission meeting, Linda King spoke in favor of deputy pay raises and said that the people of Citizens for Blount County’s Future supported the pay raises.  What she pointed out in her speech was that the Sheriff had turnback money in the budget that could have been used to give pay raises to deputies.

Some of the people in “her group” are the people that the same false statements are being made about today, namely Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.  Commissioner Mike Akard was not an active member of “her group” but the same false statements are being spread about him.  These three commissioners voted against the unfinished, inadequate Evergreen Study.  That doesn’t mean that they are against employee pay raises.

June 2007 could be June 2015.  The story is the same.  We hear about deputy pay but never hear about cuts.  Turnback is only discussed if the citizens bring it up and they are branded as “naysayers” and being against the county employees for daring to mention that there be some accountability to the taxpayers.  The Sheriff didn’t show much interest in his deputies when he had the money left over in his budget that could have been used to give raises.

The questions that the taxpayers should be asking are why do we not see the same routine out of other offices and departments?  Why are the deputies always the ones being demagogued?

Interview on upcoming budget

This interview took place on The Rude Awakening on Thursday June 4th at 8 AM.  There was one place were I corrected myself saying 3 years but it is actually 4 years.

http://www.bcpublicrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Rude Awakening060415.mp3

 

Keith Miller and Troy Ball take Mayor Mitchell to task over EPA resolution veto

Keith Miller’s Comment on Items on the Agenda
Regular Commission Meeting
May 21, 2015

I would like to voice my support for the passage of item F-2. This is the vote to override the Mayor’s veto of the will of the people of Blount County. That will having been expressed by the elected representatives of the people and not by fat cats who seek to suppress the will of the people for personal gain.

During the last election cycle I recall the county establishment asserting that Blount County politics and Washington politics were not the same. I beg to differ. Washington politics is characterized by an arrogant chief executive who is happy to by-pass the legislature to bring hoards of illegals over the border. Washington politics is also characterized by a legislature that refuses bring the chief executive to heel by cutting off the funding for this alien invasion.

So what have we here in Blount County? Our County Mayor attempts to overturn the results of the 94 thousand dollar jail study with an absurd lawsuit, he appointed a committee to change ambulance companies which had meetings that were for all practical purposes secret, he and his finance director fast tracked a total of 900 thousand dollars in capital fund expenditures through a predominately lapdog commission…money which morphed into the problematic Kronos project. Not only that but he seconded a motion to send to the commission the infamous Evergreen compensation study which embodies all the ridiculous nature of Obamacare in that you must vote on it before you can read it since it is not yet finished.

By the way, still on the subject of skull duggery through secrecy, I spoke to Lamar Alexanders office today and they confirmed that a reading of the Trans Pacific Partnership Treaty, now before the Senate, is only available by appointment and if notes are taken they may not be shared with anyone.

Commissioners, this is your chance, in this little microcosmic equivalent of Washington DC to symbolically reject the attitudes of the boot-lickers in the US Congress, to raise a righteous fist against an out-of -control executive, to stand up for the people of Blount County and strike down the mayor’s veto by voting yes on item F-2.

Troy Ball’s Comment on Items on the Agenda
Regular Commission Meeting
May 21, 2015

I will be speaking on Item F-2.

I want to thank the eleven statesmen on this commission who voted to communicate with our legislators the longstanding problem of heavy handed mandate.  You stood for the property owners of Blount County and I thank you.

For those of you who have been told that this resolution somehow jeopardizes recruitment, consider what the costs to businesses already in operation are by allowing the EPA to continue expanding.  The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates that complying with EPA regulations costs the U.S. economy $353 billion per year.  We need regulatory relief for existing businesses.

Problems with the EPA mandating control over local and state waters doesn’t stop with stormwater regulations.  Currently the EPA is trying to expand its control to virtually all water through rulemaking authority without congressional authorization.  If the EPA succeeds in circumventing congress, it will make the unfunded stormwater regulations look like cupcakes and rainbows.

While the Mayor vetoed the resolution asking congress to stop EPA expansion, our Republican representatives in the US House of Representatives have been busy working to stop EPA expansion over water under state, local and private ownership.  All of Tennessee’s 7 Republican Representative have cosponsored H.R. 594.  The House of Representatives just passed legislation, that according to John Duncan’s office goes further than H.R. 594.  The legislation mandates the EPA to include state and local election officials in the discussion of EPA rulemaking authority regarding what constitutes waters of the United States.

You may be wondering why it is necessary to override the Mayor’s veto if congress is acting on the matter.  According to Duncan’s office there is no companion bill in the United States Senate.  We need to ask our federal Senators to get busy in the Senate protecting against a rogue agency.

Frankly the Mayor looks foolish having vetoed something that all of Tennessee’s Republican Representatives are taking very seriously.  Congress knows the EPA is a problem.  You know the EPA is a problem.  Apparently the Mayor doesn’t.

11 of you stood strong as statesmen.  You can do it again by overriding the Mayor’s veto.  The rest of you have the opportunity to be statesmen by joining the 11 in saying enough to bureaucratic over reach.

Who are the Blount County good ole’ boys?

There is a letter to the editor today talking about the good ole’ boys of Blount County.  In case you are wondering who the elected officials in county government are that comprises the good ole’ boys, a political PAC Blount Lifestyles has made this easy for you.

The political machine isn’t just the local elected officials.  There are several people who helped finance these races.  These are the local elected officials that comprise the good ole’ boy network.

To learn who is not a part of the  good ole’ boy network, look at the 8 county commissioners and one General Sessions judge who are not on this list.

Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.  Juvenile Court (General Sessions) Judge Kenlyn Foster is not on this list.  These 9 elected local officials were not supported by the political machine/good ole’ boy network in the 2014 election.

Interestly 6 of the 8 commissioners voted no on the resolution saying that the commission intends to raise the property tax rate.  The two who voted yes, Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe are Blount County teachers.

Wheel Tax killed

The wheel tax failed to make it out of the Agenda Committee on Tuesday by one vote.  Two commissioners actually abstained on the vote.  Why did these two not vote on implementing a new tax?

One commissioner, Jerome Moon, had voted to send it from the Budget Committee to the Agenda Committee the day before.  What a difference a day makes.

Voting Yes to move forward a wheel tax: Commissioners Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Ron French, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis and Kenneth Melton

Voting No to a wheel tax: Commissioners Mike Akard, Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett

Abstaining on a wheel tax vote: Commissioners Gary Farmer and Moon

 

A year ago: Thank You!

This time a year ago today I was roasting in the sun.  I was so burnt that I was almost a purple color at the end of the day.

Thank you to the people of Big Springs, Carpenters, Friendsville, Happy Valley and Lanier for electing me to serve as your County Commissioner.  I will carry on ringing the liberty bell throughout Blount County.

ElectionDayMay6