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LTE: Jail expansion is empire building, not about public safety

https://www.thedailytimes.com/opinion/your_voice/jail-expansion-is-empire-building-not-about-public-safety/article_35f4f8ed-455b-5c1f-a9e5-64fed0d5caad.html

The author of this letter to the editor points out that there was a lawsuit in Knox County regarding state sentenced felons and the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) must take the TDOC felons.  Here are the court orders regarding that lawsuit.

Knox County Jail Carver Case
Knox County Jail Roberts Case

Remember that nonsense from former Chairman Jerome Moon about commissioners being  sued in federal court over the jail?  These court records should put this matter in its proper perspective.

With a new sheriff in town, jail overcrowding and expansion could go away.

Elections do matter: Jail expansion and overcrowding could go away

This is a 2015 email from a friend in Greene County:
 
“For years, Greene County had an overcrowding problem. The long-time Sheriff played upon decertification, for-pay prisoners, and insurance against lawsuits, in his unrelenting, but unsuccessful, pursuit for a new jail complex.
 
I sent out a brief study nine months before the last election, a challenger was elected, and the overcrowding went away shortly after the election.”

Here are two examples of Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe being cut off by the courthouse clique

At the April 10th, 2018 Agenda Committee meeting, Chairman Grady Caskey turned Commissioner Tona Monroe’s microphone off for discussing what is in the resolution that the body was considering and getting ready to vote on.  10 commissioners voted to uphold Caskey’s decision to cut her microphone off.  Three abstained including Caskey.

Do you want commissioners who will cut other commissioner’s microphones off or are too cowardly to even cast vote for or against the decision?  If these people don’t even want to listen to their fellow commissioners, will they listen to you the citizens?

Voting to uphold Caskey’s decision cut Commissioner Monroe’s microphone off:
Commissioners Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Scott King, Kenneth Melton, Mike Lewis and Tom Stinnett
Voting to abstain:
Commissioner Grady Caskey (Chair), Tom Cole and Brian Robbins
Commissioners voting not to uphold Caskey’s decision to cut Commissioner Monroe’s microphone off:
Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Ron French, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe
Commissioners who were absent:
Commissioners Dave Bennett and Gary Farmer

The commission would not let Commissioner Karen Miller read her prepared statement at the June 2016 commission meeting.  You can read more about this in the June 2016 Commission Report.

From page 4 of the July 2016 commission packet containing the June 2016 meeting minutes:

“Commissioner Miller then made a motion that she be allowed to read her statement.  Commissioner Monroe seconded the motion.  An electronic vote was taken on the motion by Commissioner Miller to read her statement.
Akard -Absent, Caylor -No, Lewis -No,
Allen -No, Cole -Yes, Melton -No,
Archer -Yes, Crowe -No, Miller -Abstain,
Bowers -No, Daly -Yes, Monroe -Yes,
Carter -Yes, Farmer -No, Moon -No
Carver -No, French -No, Samples -No
Caskey -No, Lambert -No, Stinnett -No
There were 5 voting yes, 14 voting no, 1 abstaining and 1 absent.  Chairman Moon declared the motion to have failed.”

These are just two examples.  There are many more.  You can read the monthly commission reports on this website, read commission meeting minutes and watch commission videos to find many more instances of the courthouse clique silencing those who dared to ask questions.

The only way to stop this to raise awareness of it and elect better people.  Please vote in the May 1st, local government primary election.

All three female commissioners ending fight against Blount County ‘courthouse clique’

Blount County Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe discuss why they aren’t seeking reelection.  To tie this together, when the citizens group was active, Citizens for Blount County’s Future, there were more people fighting the courthouse clique/political machines/good ole’ boys/establishment.  These citizens were present at Blount County government meetings and spoke out on many important issues.  After the citizens group disbanded, and Blount County Tax Revolt followed suit, there were often no citizens at commission and committee meetings.  This is likely why the courthouse clique has been able to cut commissioner Monroe’s microphone off for about a year and a half.  If there had been some citizen participation these past couple of years, the three ladies may have been more effective in trying to reform local government.

https://www.thedailytimes.com/news/all-three-female-commissioners-ending-fight-against-courthouse-clique/article_f419bed3-8fac-5a09-9336-880bdb9d271f.html

12 signs that a candidate might be part of the courthouse clique

Here are 12 statements that will help you identify the candidates who are swamp creatures or wanting to become part of the Blount County establishment.  Without further ado, here’s your sign.

  1. The schools need more money.  The $hool$ need more money.  The $chool$ need more money.
  2. It’s for the children.  It’s for the children.  It’s for the children.
  3. The county makes money on federal inmates.
  4. The Blount Partnership is doing a great job recruiting businesses.
  5. The county is being run efficiently because we have clean audits.
  6. We have to do this.  Federal law or state law says we have to.
  7. The sheriff should decide what inmates he keeps in the local jail.
  8. Our county employees work hard.  They deserve to make more than the average taxpaying citizen.
  9. Our teachers do such a great job that they deserve two pay raises: a step increase and a percentage increase.
  10. Blount County has a secret sauce.
  11. Blount County needs a wheel tax because it’s not fair for the property owners to have to pay all the taxes.
  12. The commissioners work so hard that they deserve an 85% pay raise.

If a candidate is saying any of these things then you’ll know you’re talking to someone who is a part of the courthouse clique or wants to be part of the courthouse clique.  You have been warned.

Commission rejects resolution requesting new auditors; Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey rules with an iron fist

The Blount County Agenda Committee is a good meeting to watch to see you local government in action.  Several of the incumbents seeking reelection must be feeling heat for their actions because Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey started the meeting by reading a statement about the role of the Agenda Committee.  He continued lecturing commissioners throughout the meeting and ruled with an iron fist.  The treatment of a citizen and a couple of commissioners made this one of the worst meetings that I’ve witnessed in the 10 years that I’ve been attending Blount County government meetings.

For years, courthouse clique commissioners have defended their yes votes at the Agenda Committee meeting by saying that their voting to move something forward doesn’t mean that they’re actually for what they move forward.  At the very meeting where Chairman Caskey chose to lecture the commissioners on the role of the Agenda Committee, the courthouse clique/political machine/good ole’ boys/establishment/swamp creature/status quo commissioners voted against even moving forward a resolution requesting that the county be assigned new auditors after having the same auditors for over a decade.

Harry Grothjahn spoke in favor of the resolution requesting new auditors.  Commissioner Ron French objected to Grothjahn sharing a conversation he had with the Comptroller’s Office about the purpose of audits.  Commissioner French’s objection was the Grothjahn’s sharing of that conversation was hearsay.  The first amendment includes the petitioning of government for a redress of grievances.  When a citizen has a grievance with their government, it is right for them to share that grievance and ask the government redress it.  Apparently Commissioner French doesn’t even want a citizen mentioning their grievances with government.

Furthermore, the practice of cutting my microphone off returned this month.  This meeting is a great examples of a chairman’s abuse of authority.  Chairman Caskey cut my microphone off for discussing the hypocrisy in the resolution of wanting more local control but asking for the state to “significantly increase funding.”  Caskey lectured the commissioners about what they were voting on.  Does Caskey think that commissioners, with only have 5 months left in their 4 year term, don’t understand the makeup of a resolution and what they’re voting on?

Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that Caskey had a conflict of interest, when he cut my microphone off, because he is a sponsor to the resolution.  Caskey lacks the objectivity to be a chairperson.  Unfortunately Caskey isn’t the only chairman to prohibit me from speaking.  Rick Carver, Chairman of the Blount County Corrections Partnership, and former Commission Chairman Jerome Moon have also cut me off.  These men have all used their positions of authority to stifle those they disagree with.  Some of this resulted from the repeated objections from Andy Allen, Dave Bennett, Mike Caylor and Ron French.

What else is to be expected from Caskeu who insulted people by saying that peopole need to either be educated or jailed.  He obviously doesn’t think much of all the hard working people who did finish high school but have paid the taxes for him to live on the government funded gravy train.  He is the former President of the Blount County Education Association (BCEA) commonly called the teachers union.  He has spent much of his life advocating taking more of your money.  He was elected four years ago because his opponent died during the election and his name was the only name on the ballot.

I apologize to the citizens of Blount County for not making a statement at the end of the meeting about the treatment of the citizen sharing his experience with government.  I had intended to make a statement but this and Caskey’s poor treatment of his fellow commissioners left me drained at the end of meeting and it slipped my mind.

If Commissioner French isn’t willing to listen to what the citizens have to say and Commissioner Caskey isn’t willing to listen to what the commissioners have to say, neither have any business being Blount County Commissioners.  Both have challengers.  Those living in district 8 can vote for Jeff Jopling for Blount County Commissioner and those living in district 9 can vote for Tracie Livesay for Blount County Commissioner.

Commissioners voting against asking for new auditor on regular basis include Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Brian Robbins and Tom Stinnett

Ray Moore runs for Blount County Commission

To the great people of Blount County:
I have been employed for 28 years by a retail company where I am in charge of millions of dollars of merchandise each year. This has given me the experience to carefully watch the resources of the taxpayers and to represent the people as a county commissioner. I have two beautiful daughters that are my life. I have lived in Tennessee my entire life and have been in Blount County for more than 20 years now. I do not like the direction our governments have been going: local, state and federal.

When my opponent wouldn’t give me straight answers about important issues that the county is dealing with, I could not sit on the side line and not do my part to change the direction of our local government. My opponent has voted for 3 budgets funded by the same 16% property tax rate increase from 2015. He also voted to restrict private property rights back in 2015 with the water buffer resolution. My opponent is against transparency. After the November 2014 Human Resources Committee meeting, my opponent told another commissioner to hide benefits information from public view. Please ask yourself: Is this the person you wish to have representing you as the citizen taxpayer?

Our county government owes over $214 million dollars in debt and total liabilities (see page 25). Some elected officials can not control their spending. We have schools that are in disrepair, yet over the past 3 years the county mayor and finance director set aside two-million dollars for jail expansion. The commission just approved spending $118,000 on a condemned bridge instead of repairing our schools. As both a voter and taxpayer, I do not think this is the way things should be done. I will prioritize the county’s spending.

I stand for the Constitution, and I will vote to insure that the money of each taxpayer will be spent wisely and not wasted on non-priority items like bridges to nowhere. I promise to vote against new taxes of any kind. We as a county do not have a funding problem; what we have is a spending problem. We need to prioritize spending and pay down our debt and in turn keep our government running efficiently. I support a transparent government that conducts its business openly rather than working behind closed doors and hiding things from the public. I humbly ask for your vote come May 1, 2018.

Thank you for considering me for Blount County Commissioner in the 7th district.

Sincerely,
Ray Moore

Employees in higher pay grades are receiving higher percentage pay increase under Evergreen compensation pay scale

After 7 weeks of emails, I received answers to questions related to the annual pay increases that Blount County government employees are receiving under the Evergreen employee classification and compensation pay scale.  The top pay grade employees are eligible for a higher annual percentage step increase, with a satisfactory job performance, than the lower pay grades.  With the same percentage increase, those in higher pay grades would receive a bigger pay raise than those in lower pay grades because 1.84% of a larger number is more than 1.84% of a smaller.

It turns out that the people at the top of the pay scale are getting bigger pay raises.  The commission should not fund two different pay raise rates when the higher rate is for the best paid employees.  This pay scale applies to all county departments/offices except for the schools.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2018 8:27am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Please see my answers below in red.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
397 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804

On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 12:45 PM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

—–Original Message—–
From: tona@breezeair.net
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2018 1:43pm
To: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Dear Mrs. Morgan,

2 follow up questions:

The step increases of 1.84% and 2.11% have been the same annually since the Evergreen pay scale was adopted?

Yes

Why are people in positions with higher pay grades being given a larger percentage increase than those with lower pay grades?

​ Typically, in compensation programs, the higher grades have wider ranges and larger grade progressions. Or said another way, it is common that top salary grades have a wider range and that the lowest salary grades often have the most narrow range.  There are approximately 20 positions in pay grades 113-120.

Sincerely,

Tona

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2018 2:17pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner,
We have used these percentages since we implemented the compensation system that was adopted by Commission in 2015.  The steps are built into the budget but only given if the employee has a favorable performance evaluation.  As it pertains to total budget increases, that information is provided annually as part of the Budget Committee’s work papers and is available online.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

On Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 11:14 AM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

Hi Jenny,

Thank you for the information.  However, this doesn’t tell me what year you are referring to.  Are these numbers for the current FY or what will be proposed in the budget in the upcoming year?  Furthermore, I am wanting to know the percentage of increase for each FY since Evergreen was adopted.  Please provide that.

Thanks,
Tona

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2018 2:47pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Each employee who is in a position in pay grades 101-112, is eligible for a 1.84% step increase.  Those employees who are in positions in pay grades 113-120 are eligible for a 2.11% step increase.  They receive the step increase provided that we have a positive performance evaluation on file in the HR office.  This is consistent with the compensation plan adopted by County Commission.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

On Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 9:11 AM, Randy Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org> wrote:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: <tona@breezeair.net>
Date: Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 2:58 PM
Subject: RE: Evergreen pay raises
To: Randy Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org>

—–Original Message—–
From: tona@breezeair.net
Sent: Monday, February 5, 2018 11:30am
To: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Subject: Evergreen pay raises

Dear Finance Director Vineyard,

Please provide me with the base percentage increases that have been provided as pay raises since the Evergreen Solutions pay scale was adopted.  I realize that there is some flexibility within the pay ranges.  What I am requesting is the amount budgeted each year for percentage increases.

Sincerely,
Tona

 

Randy

 

Randy Vineyard, IOM

Blount County Finance Director

341 Court Street

Maryville, TN 37804

865-273-5719 (office)

rvineyard@blounttn.org

Update: I confirmed that the approximately 20 positions in pay grades 113-120 do not include office holders whose salaries are set by state law.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 10:46am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>, “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Yes, the positions where the salaries are set by state law (elected officials, administrator of elections and clerk & master) are excluded from the pay grades.
The state set salaries are on the Accounting website under Budget Reports in the March 23rd workshop file.
Thank you,
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
397 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804
865-273-5781

On Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 2:10 PM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

Dear Ms. Morgan,

Do the approximately 20 employees in pay grads 113-120 exclude office holders and those whose salaries are set by state law?
Sincerely,
Tona

Joe McCulley runs for Blount County Commission

Joe McCulley has announced as a candidate for Blount County Commission, District 1, Seat B in the Republican Party Primary Election to be held on May 1.

He has extensive experience in business and finance having been the owner/ broker of a real estate, insurance and investment company. He has also served as the treasurer and Board of Directors member of Alcoa Tenn Federal Credit Union.

McCulley is a disabled Vietnam veteran who is active in serving veterans in the community. He is a member of the Blount County Veterans Affairs Committee, The Disabled American Veterans Chapter 76, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10855, AMVETS Post 22, American Legion Post 13 and the United Veterans of Blount County. The veterans of Blount County have honored him with their two highest awards, the Veteran of the Year and the Andy Chandler Lifetime Achievement Award, for his dedication in assisting veterans.

McCulley issued the following statement: “I served from 2006 to 2010 on the Blount County Commission. I voted against the property tax increase of 2007, voted against the wheel tax when it was on the ballot and seconded the motion to reduce the commissioners’ pay 10%. I questioned numerous spending proposals and was the first commissioner to speak against the dangerous swap and variable rate bonds. I supported that the debt be placed in a fixed rate with regular payments on both the interest and principal. The county went years only paying interest and nothing on the principal. I am a conservative and will not vote for an increase in the property tax or for a wheel tax. Neither will I support over a 60% increase in the commissioners’ pay. The records of my opponent, Shawn Carter, and I are totally different during our time on the county commission. He voted for a 16% increase in the property tax which was one of the highest increases in the history of Blount County and for the wheel tax proposal. He actively supported and voted for over a 60% increase in his pay to be paid for by the taxpayers. The voters have a clear choice in this race. They can support more spending and higher taxes by voting for Carter or fiscal responsibility concerning spending with no tax increases by voting for McCulley.”

Patrick England announces candidacy for Blount County Sheriff

Patrick England issued the following statement about his candidacy for Blount County Sheriff.

“When my football career came to an end due to an injury my senior* year, I went from being a team player on the field to being a team player in the community serving the citizens of Blount County as an officer with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.

As a life long Blount Countian, with 23 years of law enforcement experience, I understand what servant leadership means to the citizens of Blount County. With an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice and Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership, I am well suited to provide the improvements in public safety  that this community is looking for. As your sheriff, I will put an end to jail expansion that could turn our beautiful mountain community in the next Brushy Mountain prison and save the taxpayers the burden of paying for an expensive, unnecessary jail expansion.

Blount County has been a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family but many have expressed concern about the direction this county is headed. I look forward to restoring confidence in the servant leadership that a sheriff offers the community. That is why I am offering myself as a candidate who will limit himself to two terms against a 28 year incumbent career politician.”

###

*Update – Correction: The original press release stated that Mr. England was injured during his senior year but a correction was issued stating that he was injured during his junior year.

England’s campaign website is https://england4sheriff.com/

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.

ETIndex.org 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 Blount County citizens being 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!
Tona