Jim Vesper not impressed with officials honoring each other over “clean” audits

This morning I (Tona Monroe) received the following text about mine and Karen Miller’s standing apart from politicians honoring other politicians, in an election year, for receiving “clean” audits at last night’s commission meeting.

“I appreciated you standing apart with Karen last night. The self-congratulations show the other commissioners held last night was embarrassing.  Audited returns do not reflect monies well spent, or assets well managed! I wish every commissioner had your integrity and respect for their constituents wallets.  Blessings to you my friend.”

Jim Vesper – Blount County citizen and businessman

Commissioner Karen Miller and I voted against honoring elected officials and department heads for receiving clean audits.  Mr. Vesper is spot on.  These audits do not reflect the quality of spending or management of assets.  These audits are more a reflection of following accounting standards.  Money can be wasted on many things, but if it is properly accounted for it usually won’t result in an audit finding.

Keep in mind that the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office gave the sheriff and county a free pass for the sheriff signing the federal inmates contract without first obtaining commission approval possibly because its auditors hadn’t caught it the entire time (well over a decade) the contracts have been in effect.  The Comptroller’s Office also gave the mayor, finance director and county a free pass for the $2 million that the mayor and finance director claimed authority to assign.  The mayor and finance director lacked the authority to express the county’s intent with that $2 million “assignment.” Only the commission had the authority to assign those funds with the county’s intent.  The Comptroller’s Office chose not to recognize the mayor and finance director’s $2 million assignments but failed to mention their actions in the audit reports.  Even two failures to properly prove authority did not result in audit findings.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office seems to be handing clean audits out like candy.  It’s important that the citizens of Blount County, and ultimately Tennessee, understand the limited scope of these audits and that they don’t reflect the quality of spending.  Clean audits do not mean that elected officials are good stewards of your taxpayer monies.

Important questions you need to ask about the salaries of elected officials before voting in the local May 1st and state and federal August 2nd 2018 primary elections

State mandated minimum salaries and additional pay supplements for local elected officials vs what taxpayers are making

When you look at important economic indicators such as median household income and average annual income, Blount County taxpayers haven’t fared well in recent years.  When adjusted for inflation, 2014 numbers show that average pay in Blount County actually dropped and that household income averages a double digit drop.

The State of Tennessee mandates very generous salaries for elected officials that are 2, 3 and 4 times what the average Tennessee taxpayer is making.  I (Tona Monroe) have written the state legislature for a couple of years on this matter but this matter has largely fallen on deaf ears when it comes to taking action.  A few lawmakers have agreed with me that the mandated minimums are too high but none have taken action to provide reform.

You can view the state mandated minimum salaries for local elected officials here.
2018-2019  2017-2018   2016-2017  2015-2016  2014-2015  2013-2014
2012-2013   2010-2011  2009-2010  2008-2009  2007-2008  2006-2007

This figures show huge increases to the base pay for local elected officials being mandated by state law.  Despite being paid double and triple, and in the case of judges almost quadruple what the average taxpayer is making, 4 of these local elected officials are receiving pay supplements above the already large state mandated minimums.  Blount County taxpayers are paying $96,717 more than state minimum for the circuit court clerk, highway superintendent, sheriff and mayor.  It’s obvious these people don’t feel the same economic pain that many Blount Countians are feeling.

2 important primary elections will be held this year.  The local government primary election will be May 1, 2018 and the state and federal primary election will be held August 2, 2018.  All office holders elected in partisan elections are Republicans in Blount County.  There isn’t a single Democrat or independent in office in Blount County, excluding the school board which has nonpartisan elections.  Thus, it is highly likely that all upcoming offices, excluding the school board, will be decided in the primary elections.  If you wait to vote in November, you will miss your best opportunities to have an impact on who governs at the local and state levels.  There will be no county elections in November and only state and federal general elections occur in November.

The May 1 and August 2 primary elections provide opportunities for you to clean house of these state and local officials who refuse to hold the line on these outrageous salaries.  Only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and myself have voted to cut the pay of these 4 elected officials down to the state minimum, which is already much higher than it should be.

Questions to ask before heading to the polls on May 1 and August 2:
1) Why have local elected officials refused to cut the pay of these officials to the state mandated minimums?
2) Why have the state legislators continued funding huge increases for elected officials?
3) Why did Jerome Moon try to lead the commission to believe that these pay supplements weren’t optional?

Please consider these questions before casting your votes in the May 1 and August 2 elections.

East Tennessee Index 2014 figures for median household income:

What does this measure?
Median household income, adjusted for inflation. Half of households earn below the median, and half are above.

Why is this important?
Median household income is a gauge of overall economic health of the region and the financial resources of households.

How is our region performing?
In 2010-14, median household income in the region was $45,100, slightly higher than the state ($44,600) but lower than the nation ($53,500). Among local counties, median household income was highest in Loudon ($50,600) and Knox ($47,500) and lowest in Union ($36,000) and Monroe ($37,200). The region, state, and nation all saw their median income fall by double digits from 2000 to 2010-14 (down 12% in the region, 14% in the state, and 10% in the nation). Median income fell much faster in the region from 2005-09 to 2010-14 than in the nation and state (16% decrease in the region compared to a 6% decrease for the state and the nation). Among the counties, median household incomes decreased most from 2000 to 2010-14 in Sevier, Monroe and Blount (all 14%). Union experienced the smallest rate of decline (7%), but still has the lowest median household income in the region.

Notes about the data
Figures are presented in 2014 dollars. The multiyear figures are from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The bureau combined five years of responses to the survey to provide estimates for smaller geographic areas and increase the precision of its estimates. The survey provides data on characteristics of the population that used to be collected only during the decennial census. 2014 figures for average annual salary:

What does this measure?
The average annual salary in a region in a given year, adjusted for inflation.

Why is this important?
Salaries are a gauge of overall economic health and a measure of the degree to which employees are sharing in the prosperity of a community. They also indicate the vitality of a region and its ability to compete and attract workers.

How is our region performing?
In 2014, the region’s average salary was $43,000, below the average for the state ($45,200) and the nation ($51,400). Since 2000, the region’s average salary increased by 6%, on par with growth nationally and but below statewide (7%). Roane County’s average annual pay grew by 26% over the same time period, more than any other county, while average salary fell in Blount and Sevier counties over that period (both less than 1% respectively). Between 2013 and 2014, the region’s average annual salary increased by 1%, on par with the state increase.

Notes about the data
Data presented in 2014 dollars.

Blount Memorial Hospital Transparency

With all the recent discussions about the hospital’s nonprofit embezzlement scandal and today’s coverage of the taxpayers being on the hook for hospital debt, it is worth taking a look at what I (Tona Monroe) wrote about the debt and lack of information provided by Blount Memorial Hospital in November 2016.  Some of you may recall that then Chairman Jerome Moon, who was appointed state representative by 16 yes men on the commission, cut me off for discussing information that the hospital should have been forthcoming with prior to asking the commission to approve refinancing its debt.

Mayor Ed Mitchell and Commissioner Dave Bennett are acting indignant now, but these two and most of the commissioners didn’t seem to be concerned about the taxpayers when they reauthorized putting the citizens on the hook for variable rate debt that have swaps attached.  You can listen to the meeting here and will hear Bennett objecting to my pointing out that approving the hospital’s variable debt means that the county will still be responsible for variable rate debt.

Furthermore, when two hospital board appointments came before the commission in January 2016, I moved to postpone it for a month so that we could learn more about the nominees’ plans for the hospital debt and vision for the future. (See page 3.)  The majority of commissioners didn’t seem to care enough to think we should discuss future plans for the hospital.

Thus, there are some who are acting indignant now but where was this concern when I tried to shed light on how the hospital was/is operating?

Those voting to approve the Blount Memorial Hospital Board nominees in January 2016
Allen – yes  Archer – yes  Bowers – yes  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – yes  Caylor – yes  Cole – yes  Crowe – yes  Farmer – yes  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – yes  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Those voting not to approve the nominees in January 2016
Akard – no  Daly – no  Miller – no  Monroe – no

French was absent. There were 16 voting yes, 4 voting no, 0 abstaining, and 1 absent. Chairman Moon declared the appointments approved.

Those who voted to approve renewing the variable rate debt with interests rate swaps
Allen, Bennett, Carver, Caskey, Caylor, Cole, Crowe, Farmer, French, Lewis, Melton, Moon, Samples, Stinnett

Those who voted not to approve renewing the variable rate debt with interests rate swaps
Archer, Daly, Miller, Monroe

Those who were absent
Akard, Bowers, Carter

There were 14 voting yes, 4 voting no, 0 abstain, and 3 absent.  Chairman Moon declared the motion to have passed and the resolution adopted.

Local debt
The next time you hear that the county’s debt is finally fully fixed rate keep in mind that much of the hospital debt is variable, with swaps attached, and that you’re on the hook for it if the hospital defaults, thanks to a lackadaisical commission majority and mayor who didn’t demand more accountability and transparency from the hospital.

Rick Carver has a conflict of interest
Commissioner Rick Carver works for East Tennessee Medical Group, which is owned by Blount Memorial Hospital.  He has a conflict of interest and should have abstained on both of these votes.  He did not declare that he has a conflict of interest and voted yes on both.

Let freedom ring!

May 1, 2018 Local Election Issues

Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio AM 1470 invited me to speak on his Sunday morning radio show to discuss important issues that you need to know about before voting in the upcoming May 1, 2018 local government primary election.  The interview was recorded so that you can listen to it and the slide show presentation is attached for your information and review.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of important local issues.  This is a good starting point in becoming informed for the upcoming May 1st primary election.

Let freedom ring!
Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner

May 1, 2017 local government primary election issues slides

Despite Setbacks, Liberty Will Prevail in 2018

by Ron Paul MD   Monday January 1, 2018

Happy New Year! We always approach a new year with anticipation, hope, and also some worries. Last year was one of the strangest political years I have seen in some time. A new Republican president spent his first year pursuing more or less the same foreign policy as his Democratic predecessor and the Democratic Party spent the year looking under every rock in the US for a “Russian connection” or any other reason to see him impeached over it.

The neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment on both the Left and Right were so furious that candidate Trump dared suggest we could get along with our “enemies” overseas that they jumped on the impeachment bandwagon — even though once he became president Donald Trump filled his Administration with neocons and began dropping bombs.

Like “peace candidate” Obama, Donald Trump quickly dropped his “get along with others” rhetoric to become just another aggressive, interventionist US president. He slammed missiles into Syria over unproven claims of a chemical attack, he built US military bases on Syrian soil, he dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan, he continued helping Saudi Arabia destroy Yemen, he expanded the US military occupation of Africa, he put NATO troops on the border of Russia, did his best to tear up the Iran nuclear agreement and in fact may have just launched a “color revolution” on Iran, and continued rattling sabers over China’s presence in the South China Sea.

That tells us quite a bit about what’s wrong with American political life these days. The “opposition party” doesn’t really oppose the other party’s policies. They are just angry that other the party is in power. With no real philosophical or policy differences, politics is essentially pointless. It is a game of spoils for the well-connected and little more than a sporting event for the rest of the country. Everyone wants to see his team come out on top.

Still, I have much hope for 2018. I know we are continuing to make steady progress waking up the American people to the idea that ideas do matter! Our interventionist foreign policy, responsible for so much misery around the world, is not inevitable. Our destructive economic and monetary policies, which enrich the well-connected while impoverishing the rest of us, are not inevitable. The further destruction of our right to privacy, to live our lives as we see fit, to pursue our own happiness without the government looking over our shoulder, is not inevitable. We can turn this around!

In 2018 I strongly believe more Americans will wake up to the seriousness of the total debt the US is facing and will begin blaming Washington for pumping up the warfare-welfare state. I believe more Americans will understand the role of the Federal Reserve in facilitating this ocean of debt. We will continue to make progress toward ending the Fed!

While the media loves to tell us all about how the millennials are attracted to discredited ideas like Bernie Sanders’ socialism and the dead-end of cultural Marxism, I believe 2018 will demonstrate that young people are actually attracted to the ideas of liberty more than ever. Liberty is a new idea and a winning idea, while the twin tyrannies of socialism and cultural Marxism should remain in same dustbin of history they were tossed into more than 25 years ago.

In 2018 my Institute for Peace and Prosperity will be reaching more people than ever with plenty of new projects, events, and of course our daily Liberty Report! Yes, we will turn this around. Liberty will prevail!


2017 Pork Report is Here!!

The Beacon Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee. Every year they publish what’s called “The Pork Report” detailing all the waste of taxpayer funds on the state and local level here in Tennessee. To see the report for 2017, Click Here.

As a side note: The state government has been under Republican control since 2011. You think it might be time to try Libertarians?

Friendsville Christmas in the City December 2, 2017

Today award-winning author Nancy Fessenden McEntee, PhD and Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe shared a table at Friendsville’s Christmas in the City.  McEntee signed her books and Monroe sold hand-made candles and soaps.

McEntee’s works include history books from the colonial and early days of the constitutional republic and the civil war era.  Molsey Blount The Colonial First Lady of Tennessee: From North Carolina to the frontier of Tennessee, Her Legacy Continues covers the life of the lady we call Mary Blount.  Haversacks, Hardtack, and Unserviceable Mules explores over 6,000 civil war era documents of the civil war journey of a union quartermaster in Tennessee.

Signed copies of the books are available directly from the author.  For a copy of Molsey Blount send $16 by check or money order and for a copy of Haversacks, Hardtack, and Unserviceable Mules send a check or money order for $21 to:

Nancy McEntee
1655 Maple Lane
Greenback, TN 37742

Award-winning author Nancy McEntee and Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe

GOP Tax Plan Increases the Most Insidious Tax

Written by former Congressman Ron Paul, MD
Monday November 6, 2017

Last Thursday, congressional Republicans unveiled their tax reform legislation. On the same day, President Trump nominated current Federal Reserve Board Governor Jerome Powell to succeed Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chair. While the tax plan dominated the headlines, the Powell appointment will have much greater long-term impact. Federal Reserve policies affect every aspect of the economy, including whether the Republican tax plan will produce long-term economic growth.

President Obama made history by appointing the first female Fed chair. President Trump is also making history: If confirmed, Powell would be the first former investment banker to serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Powell’s background suggests he will continue Janet Yellen’s Wall Street-friendly low interest rates and easy money policies.

Powell is an outspoken opponent of the Audit the Fed legislation. In 2015, Powell delivered an address at Catholic University devoted to attacking Audit the Fed. Like most Fed apologists, Powell claims the audit would compromise the Fed’s independence and allow Congress to control monetary policy. However, like all who make this claim, Powell cannot point to anything in the text of the audit bill giving Congress any power over the Federal Reserve. Powell’s concerns about protecting the Fed’s independence are misplaced, as the Fed has never been free of political influence. The Fed has a long history of bowing to presidential pressure to tailor monetary policy to help advance the president’s political and policy agenda.

The Republican tax cut plan has some positive elements, such as increasing the standard deduction, creating a new family tax credit, eliminating the death tax, reducing the corporate tax rate, and lowering taxes on small businesses. It also has some flaws, such as the “millionaire surcharge” imposed on upper-income taxpayers. This provision reflects a belief that upper-income taxpayers only “deserve” a tax break if reducing their taxes serves the interest of government by increasing economic growth.

The worst part of the tax plan is that it adopts the chained consumer price index (chained CPI). Chained CPI is a way of measuring CPI that understates inflation’s effects on our standard of living. It does this by assuming inflation has not reduced Americans’ standard of living if, for example, people can buy hamburgers when they can no longer afford steak. This so-called full substitution ignores the fact that if individuals viewed hamburgers as a full substitute for steak they would have bought hamburgers before Fed-created inflation made steak unaffordable.

Chained CPI increases the inflation tax. The inflation tax may be the worst of all taxes because it is hidden and regressive. The inflation tax is not even a tax on real wages. Instead it is a tax on the illusionary gains in income caused by inflation. The use of chained CPI to adjust tax brackets pushes individuals into higher tax brackets over time.

Politicians love the inflation tax because it allows them to increase taxes without having to vote for higher rates. Instead, the Fed does the dirty work. Since their creation in 1913, the Federal Reserve and the income tax have both enabled the growth of the welfare-warfare state and the erosion of our freedom and economic well-being. The key to restoring our liberty and prosperity, as well as avoiding a major economic crisis, is reversing the great mistakes of 1913 by repealing the 16th Amendment and auditing and ending the Federal Reserve.


Neocons Hijack Trump’s Syria Policy

Written by Ron Paul MD and former congressman
Monday October 30, 2017

Does anyone in the Trump Administration have a clue about our Syria policy? In March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to be finally pulling back from President Obama’s disastrous “Assad must go” position that has done nothing but prolong the misery in Syria. At the time, Tillerson said, the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Those of us who believe in national sovereignty would say that is pointing out the obvious. Nevertheless it was a good sign that US involvement in Syria – illegal as it is – would no longer seek regime change but would stick to fighting ISIS.

Then out of the blue this past week, Tillerson did another 180 degree policy turn, telling a UN audience in Geneva that, “[t]he reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about.”

The obvious question is why is it any of our business who runs Syria, but perhaps that’s too obvious. Washington’s interventionists have long believed that they have the unilateral right to determine who is allowed to head up foreign countries. Their track record in placing “our guy” in power overseas is abysmal, but that doesn’t seem to stop them. We were promised that getting rid of people like Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi would light the fire of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Instead it has produced nothing but death and misery – and spectacular profits for the weapons manufacturers who fund neocon think tanks.

In Syria, Assad has been seen as a protector of Christians and other minorities against the onslaught of in many cases US-backed jihadists seeking his overthrow. While the Syrian system is obviously not a Switzerland-like democracy, unlike our great “ally” Saudi Arabia they do at least have elections contested by different political parties, and religious and other minorities are fully integrated into society.

Why has the Trump Administration shifted back to “Assad must go”? One reason may be that, one-by-one, the neocons who opposed Trump most vociferously during the campaign have found themselves and their friends in positions of power in his Administration. The neocons are great at winning while losing.

The real story behind Washington’s ongoing determination to overthrow the Syrian government is even more disturbing. In a bombshell interview last week, a former Qatari Prime Minister confessed that his country, along with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States, began shipping weapons to jihadists from the very moment Syrian unrest began in 2011. The well-connected Qatari former minister was trying to point out that his country was not alone in backing al-Qaeda and even ISIS in Syria. In the course of defending his country against terrorism charges leveled by Saudi Arabia he has spilled the beans about US involvement with the very groups claimed to be our arch-enemies. As they did in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the CIA supported radical Islamic terrorism in Syria.

Haven’t we done enough damage in Syria? Do we really need to go back to 2011 and destroy the country all over again? The neocons never admit a mistake and never change course, but I do not believe that the majority of Americans support their hijacking of President Trump’s Syria policy. It is long past time for the US to leave Syria alone. No bases, no special forces, no CIA assassination teams, no manipulating their electoral system. We need to just come home.


Government ‘Aid’ Makes Disasters Worse

By Ron Paul

Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey, including my family and me, appreciate the outpouring of support from across the country. President Donald Trump has even pledged to donate one million dollars to relief efforts. These private donations will be much more valuable than the as much as 100 billion dollars the federal government is expected to spend on relief and recovery. Federal disaster assistance hinders effective recovery efforts, while federal insurance subsidies increase the damage caused by natural disasters.

Federal disaster aid has existed since the early years of the republic. In fact, it was a payment to disaster victims that inspired Davy Crockett’s “Not Yours to Give” speech. However, the early federal role was largely limited to sending checks. The federal government did not become involved in managing disaster relief and recovery until the 20th century. America did not even have a federal agency dedicated solely to disaster relief until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by executive order. Yet, Americans somehow managed to rebuild after natural disasters before 1979. For example, the people of Galveston, Texas successfully rebuilt the city following a major hurricane that destroyed the city in 1900.

FEMA’s well-documented inefficiencies are the inevitable result of centralizing control over something as complex as disaster recovery in a federal bureaucracy. When I served in Congress, I regularly voted against federal disaster aid for my district. After the votes, I would hear from angry constituents, many of whom would later tell me that after dealing with FEMA they agreed that Texas would be better off without federal “help.”

Following natural disasters, individuals who attempt to return to their own property — much less try to repair the damage — without government permission can be arrested and thrown in jail. Federal, state, and local officials often hinder or even stop voluntary rescue and relief efforts.

FEMA is not the only counterproductive disaster assistance program. The National Flood Insurance Program was created to provide government-backed insurance for properties that could not obtain private insurance on their own. By overruling the market’s verdict that these properties should not be insured, federal flood insurance encourages construction in flood-prone areas, thus increasing the damage caused by flooding.

Just as payroll taxes are unable to fully fund Social Security and Medicare, flood insurance premiums are unable to fund the costs of flood insurance. Federal flood insurance was almost $25 billion in the red before Hurricane Harvey. Congress will no doubt appropriate funding to pay all flood insurance claims, thus increasing the national debt. This in turn will cause the Federal Reserve to print more money to monetize that debt, thus hastening the arrival of the fiscal hurricane that will devastate the US economy. Yet, there is little talk of offsetting any of the costs of hurricane relief with spending cuts!

Congress should start phasing out the federal flood insurance program by forbidding the issuance of new flood insurance policies. It should also begin reducing federal spending on disaster assistance. Instead, costs associated with disaster recovery should be made 100-percent tax-deductible. Those who suffered the worst should be completely exempted from all federal tax liability for at least two years. Tax-free savings accounts could also help individuals save money to help them bear the costs of a natural disaster.

The outpouring of private giving and volunteer relief efforts we have witnessed over the past week shows that the American people can effectively respond to natural disasters if the government would get out of their way.


Jeff Sessions Endorses Theft

By Ron Paul

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, thus once again endorsing an unconstitutional, authoritarian, and increasingly unpopular policy.

Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property.

Police can even use civil asset theft to steal from people whose property was used in criminal activity without the owners’ knowledge. Some have even lost their homes because a renter or houseguest was dealing drugs on the premises behind the owners’ backs.

Civil asset theft is a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker for all levels of government. Police and prosecutors receive more than their “fair share” of the loot. According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Justice, 43 states allow police and prosecutors to keep at least half of the loot they got from civil asset theft.

Obviously, this gives police an incentive to aggressively use civil asset theft, even against those who are not even tangentially involved in a crime. For example, police in Tenaha, Texas literally engaged in highway robbery — seizing cash and other items from innocent motorists — while police in Detroit once seized every car in an art institute’s parking lot. The official justification for that seizure was that the cars belonged to attendees at an event for which the institute had failed to get a liquor license.

The Tenaha police are not the only ones targeting those carrying large sums of cash. Anyone traveling with “too much” cash runs the risk of having it stolen by a police officer, since carrying large amounts of cash is treated as evidence of involvement in criminal activity.

Civil asset theft also provides an easy way for the IRS to squeeze more money from the American taxpayer. As the growing federal debt increases the pressure to increase tax collections without raising tax rates, the IRS will likely ramp up its use of civil asset forfeiture.

Growing opposition to the legalized theft called civil asset forfeiture has led 24 states to pass laws limiting its use. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out of step with this growing consensus. After all, Sessions is a cheerleader for the drug war, and civil asset theft came into common usage as a tool in the drug war.

President Trump could do the American people a favor by naming a new attorney general who opposes police state policies like the drug war and police state tactics like civil asset theft.