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November 2017 Commission Report

Commission meeting
The agenda was lengthy this month, containing 17 items under new business (one added at the last minute) as well as items under the consent calendar and elections, appointments and confirmations.  Some of the items won’t be covered in this commission report but you can ask any questions that you may have about those items in the comments section below.  Commissioners Dave Bennett and Gary Farmer were absent.

Consent calendar
The consent calendar contained a resolution titled “A RESOLUTION HONORING ALL VETERANS AND THE EMPLOYEES OF THE BLOUNT COUNTY VETERANS AFFAIRS OFFICE FOR THEIR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTIONS.”  In the September 2017 Commission Report, I explained why I frequently vote no on these resolutions honoring people.  I abstained on this vote, which is something I rarely do.  Many of our veterans are worthy of honor, which is why I abstained rather than voting no.

While the veterans are listed first in the title of the resolution, they are barely mentioned in the resolution.  The resolution is mostly about the staff of the Blount County Veterans Affairs Office.  This resolution really diminishes our veterans.  Once again politicians were using their political office to honor government employees.

Some speak highly of Veterans Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum.  That’s good that there are people who are happy with the job he is doing.  However, he is being well paid for this job.  His salary is substantially more than the average taxpayer in Blount County.  Furthermore, he works in air an conditioned building and has great fringe benefits.  He is already being rewarded by the taxpayers with the generous salary and benefits that he receives which exceed more than the majority live on.  The people of Blount County are free to honor him anytime they so chose, without the Blount County Commission telling them to.

Donation for employee recognition
Item F4 on the agenda was a resolution to approve spending $1,500 donated to pay for a recognition luncheon for Blount County Sheriff’s Office employees.  This is a much better way to honor those who people feel are doing good for the community, than the resolutions that the county commission passes.  Actions like this speak louder than the commission’s words on paper.

Highway Department employee handbook – who has authority to approve it?
The commission was asked to approve updates to the Blount County Highway Department Employee Supplement Handbook.  I questioned why the commission was voting on this when Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick has authority under TCA 5-23-103 to adopt a policy without commission approval.

TCA 5-23-103(c)(1) says:

“Any county official whose employees are governed by the base personnel policies adopted by the county legislative body shall have the right to adopt separate base personnel policies applicable to the employees of such official’s office by filing approved base personnel policies with the county legislative body in the same manner as set out in subsection (a), at the following times.”

Blount County government appears to have an authority problem.  The sheriff did not bring the federal inmates contract to the county commission for approval before signing the contract.  Yet, the commission is approving policies that state law says office holders have the authority to adopt without commission approval.  If state law says an office holder has the authority to act, then commission should leave the responsibility to the office holder.

Fireworks ban repeal request
The possession, sale, manufacture, storing and use of pyrotechnics (fireworks) was made illegal in Blount County under a 1949 private act.  Punishment can be severe, with fines ranging from $50-400 and/or jail time ranging from 30 days to 11 months and 29 days.

You can legally buy fireworks in Loudon County but you can’t bring them into Blount County legally.  People routinely do this and the law isn’t being enforced.  As such, the law either needs to enforced, repealed or amended to something more reasonable.

A letter from Blount County Sheriff James Berrong explains that the main complaint his office receives from fireworks is related to noise.  Berrong’s suggestion is for the fireworks ordinance be rewritten to prohibit the use of fireworks between the hours of 11 PM through 7 AM.

The resolution requests that the Tennessee General Assembly repeal the private act.  Chairman Moon declared that a 2/3rds majority of 14 votes was needed, and the resolution was postponed because of the uncertainty of whether a simple majority or a 2/3rds majority is required for a resolution requesting repeal of a private act.  One has to wonder why Ron French, who questioned the number of required votes, didn’t know the answer since he is in the 4th year of his 4th term as a county commissioner.

Commission Mike Caylor topped himself this month by flying off the handle and pointing at Mike Akard after Akard spoke in favor of the resolution.  Unfortunately that the commission video doesn’t zoom in close enough for the citizens to see Caylor’s disrespectful actions.

Purple Heart Highway
The commission passed a resolution supporting the designation of US Highway 321 through Blount County the Military Order Purple Heart Highway.  The title of the resolution shows how sloppy the wording of resolutions can be.

The title reads, “RESOLUTION NAMING U.S. HIGHWAY 321/LAMAR ALEXANDER PARKWAY FROM LOUDON COUNTY/BLOUNT COUNTY LINE NORTH TO BLOUNT COUNTY/SEVIER COUNTY LINE THE MILITARY ORDER PURPLE HEART HIGHWAY.”  The commission wasn’t actually renaming the 321 but rather showing support for the designation.  The title of a resolution should reflect what the commission is actually doing.  The title should have used the word requesting or supporting instead of making it read that the road would actually be given a new name.

Interlocal agreement between Blount County and the City of Friendsville
Item F14 is a resolution to approve an interlocal agreement between the county and Friendsville.  The City of Friendsville is in my commission district but no one from the City of Friendsville contacted to discuss this matter before bringing it to the commission.  I learned of the agreement when I read the Agenda Committee packet.

The agreement requires the Blount County Sheriff’s Office to enforce city ordinances that will be adjudicated in Blount County General Sessions Court.  The agreement says, “this agreement shall extend until such time as the City requests and expresses their intent pursuant to the applicable statutes that their designated municipal ordinance is no longer to be prosecuted by the Sheriff and General Sessions Court.”  This only mentions what happens if the city wants out of the agreement.

The resolution says, “this Interlocal Agreement is necessary and required by T.C.A. § 12-9-401 to provide for the appropriate court costs and costs of enforcement.”  The fines collected go to the city, according to state law.  The court costs are $177 for each city ordinance violation and are paid into the county’s general fund, except for processing fees collected by the clerk.

I inquired what would happen if the county needed to increase its costs for enforcement.  No answer was provided.  As such, I didn’t think it wise to approve something saying that the county would do something until Friendsville no longer wanted to continue, without knowing how the county could increase court costs if needed to cover its expenses.

Duty to report law
The county commission approved a resolution requesting that the Tennessee General Assembly enact legislation “to require a person to report a person in distress by calling 911 or a first responder.”  This resolution is dangerous to liberty for many reasons.

While the resolution doesn’t mention the word crime, this is a request to make anyone who doesn’t call 911 (the government) or a first responder a criminal.  A law without a penalty is usually just a suggestion.  We need to be very careful about what we allow government to require us to report or be penalized if we don’t.  If you see something, say something resulted in this family’s dog being killed by government.

Distress isn’t defined in the resolution.  Thus, the commission didn’t know precisely what it asking the state legislature to outlaw.

Without a clear definition of what constitutes distress, it’s possible to envision a scenario where you’re driving down the road one day minding your own business and harming no one, pass a car on the side of the road and find yourself charged with a crime a few days later because you didn’t report the person inside the vehicle who was distressed.  You could have been recorded with a government surveillance camera or an I-phone and you would then have to explain to a judge why you didn’t call 911.

The second whereas clause says, “a person who knows that another person is exposed to great physical harm and in need of assistance, and can give assistance without danger or peril to himself, should report the person in distress by calling 911 or a first responder.”  This doesn’t appear to address those instances where the person rending aid is successful in resolving the problem.  Why should someone who is rendering assistance be required to report their own help if it successful without further medical intervention?

What if someone is fearful of the government or medical practitioners?  Is it right to report someone’s problem to 911, government or emergency responders if they don’t want their situation reported?  What if the person being required to report is fearful of those they would be required to report to?  Not everyone views assistance from the police, government and allopathic medicine practitioners as being productive or amicable.  What if someone doesn’t think that reporting a distressed person to 911, government or emergency responders is the best course of action?  This appears to request that individual judgement be criminalized.

This matter stems from the disappearance of Eric Ashby, a former Tennessee resident who moved to Colorado to hunt for a “chest containing treasure fit for a pirate,” that is thought to be buried in New Mexico.  It is bizarre that the Blount County Commission was being asked to vote on a resolution asking for state law in Tennessee because someone from Tennessee moved to Colorado to hunt for a modern day pirate’s treasure that may be in the state of New Mexico.

Ashby disappeared after his raft capsized in the Arkansas River.  Those with Ashby on the treasure hunting trip made it safely back to land but Ashby did not.  None of those who returned safely reported Ashby’s emergency.  Thus, the commission was asked to support the enactment of a new law because those with Ashby didn’t call police for help.

However that isn’t the whole story.  It turns out that a bystander who witnessed the incident did report it to the police.  Thus, it seems likely that the law Ashby’s family and friends are requesting would not have saved his life, unfortunately.  I offer condolences to Ashby’s family and friends for his tragic loss of life but we don’t need to pass another law that could make criminals out of Tennesseans when it likely wouldn’t have saved Ashby’s life if it had been the law in Colorado.

Up next:
The commission will be filling the Tennessee Senate seat vacated by Doug Overbey who was appointed the U.S. attorney for East Tennessee.

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

http://tncitylinktv.com/archive/commissioner-monroes-most-important-blount-county-commission-issues-in-the-last-4-years/

September 2017 Commission Report

Commissioner Steve Samples passes – Scott King appointed as replacement
After the death of Steve Samples, a meeting was called to appoint a replacement to Seat A of the 3rd district.  Scott King was appointed to fill vacancy.

Commission meeting
Commissioner Dave Bennett and Mike Lewis were absent.

Consent Calendar – no standards for resolutions honoring people
I (Tona Monroe) frequently vote against the Consent Calendar.  It’s possible that I’ve voted no on the consent calendar more than any other commissioner in Blount County history.  It’s certainly true in the 10 years that I’ve been attending commission meetings, with 3 of those years as a commissioner and 7 years as a citizen activist.  My reasons for voting no have never been thoroughly explained.

The commission approved a resolution honoring Steve Samples.  I was the only no vote at the commission meeting.  I did not intend for the resolution honoring Steve Samples to be resolution that resulted in an explanation of why I frequently vote no but the circumstances surrounding and within the resolution warrant discussion.

There is no standard for honoring someone with a resolution in Blount County, other than a commissioner deciding to sponsor it and a majority of commissioners voting to approve the resolution.  Any commissioner can file a resolution honoring anyone that they want to, for any reason they want to.  I don’t recall seeing any resolution honoring anyone being voted down during the decade that I’ve been attending commission meetings.

There has been recent controversy at the state level with who Tennessee should honor.  This country is struggling with who the USA should honor. Considering the lack of standards, it is understandable why people would get upset over some of the people that politicians chose to honor.

A free society doesn’t need the government making decisions about who to honor.  People should be free to honor whomever they want.  Some of the last people we need telling us who and what to honor are politicians.

The proper role of government is to assist in protecting your life, liberty and property while you pursue happiness.  A position of trust should be used for that reason, not to honor your friends, relatives, coworkers and those you deem worthy of praise and honor.  We have the right to peacefully assembly in this country.  Politicians who want to honor people should exercise that right, like any other citizen.

Perhaps governments’ role in honoring people should be limited to naming land marks, roads, bridges, buildings, and governments after people.  Governments and roads do need to be named.

At the very least, governments should develop standards to determine those who are worthy of honor if governments are going to continue honoring people.  This of course opens up a can of worms and is why decisions of honor are best left for people to make up their own minds.

         Debt
Some would say that Steve Samples is worthy of honor and give their reasons.  I’ll give a major reason why I chose not to honor him with a public resolution proclaiming how wonderful he is: debt.  Like so many politicians, Steve Samples voted to indebt future generations.

When he died, the county had debt extending into 2037.  He left a future generation to pay for the decisions that he made.  He was not a good fiscal steward who made sure that the county paid its way as it went.  The resolution says Samples “leaves behind a legacy of compassion, loyalty, and dedication to his fellowman,” but it fails to mention the debt he leaves behind.  Leaving future generations to pay for what you do today is inexcusable and certainly not honorable.

          Commission claims authority to proclaim that people enter into the joy of the Lord
My name was placed on the resolution honoring Steve Samples, without asking me if I wanted to sponsor the resolution.  This had never happened before.  I had my name removed for the reasons described and because of what was contained in the resolution.  The last WHEREAS clause of the resolution says:

“As the scripture says in St. Matthew 25:21, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Let me start by saying that I am in no way making the case that any mention of religion should be completely prohibited in or around government buildings.  The founders did not intend for the 1st amendment to the federal Constitution to prohibit people from praying before a government meeting.

This scripture is included in the whereas section of the resolution as though it is a statement of fact.  When did the Blount County Commission decide that it has the authority to proclaim who is entering into the joy of the Lord?  What’s next?  Will the commission claim the authority to sell indulgences?

Some of these same commissioners voted against even setting the agenda containing a resolution in 2015 that mentioned the wrath of God, among other things.  Now, as sponsors of the resolution, 19 commissioners and Mayor Ed Mitchell are claiming authority to determine who enters into the joy of the Lord.

During the statement portion of the meeting, Commissioner Mike Caylor berated Commissioner Karen Miller and me because we chose not stand with them during their honoring ceremony.  Miller and I stood but we chose to remain at our commission seats.  I stood out of respect for the people who elected to me to this position of trust and to be respectful of the proceeding but I did not participate in the ceremony portion for the reasons described.  Does Caylor’s boorish behavior show a lack of respect for the process?  Or is his boorish behavior the way he treats those that he disagrees with?

Vocational career equipment for schools
The commission approved spending money provided by the state to purchase welding equipment and a robot that is similar to what Denso uses at its training facility.  It is good to see funds being used for career training.  There has been far too much emphasis on going to college.

Teachers union lawsuit settled
The commission approved spending the funds to settle a lawsuit brought against the Blount County Board of Education (School Board) by the Blount County Education Association (commonly called the teachers union).  The budget was increased $417,657 to pay for salaries that had been in dispute.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Gary Farmer abstained because they are school employees.  Caskey was the President of the BCEA at the time the lawsuit was filed.  You can read what he wrote about the funding of education during that time here.  One has to wonder who exactly Caskey is representing in his capacity as a Blount County Commissioner.  Caskey was unopposed in the May 2014 primary election because the incumbent died shortly before the election.

Smart meter opt-out resolution
Excluding those absent, the commission unanimously approved a resolution thanking local utilities that allow their customers to opt-out of smart meters.  Privacy, health and safety concerns have been raised by many who do not want to be forced to have a smart meter as a condition of electric service.  Commissioner Akard stated that he hoped the City of Alcoa would allow its electric customers to opt-out of smart meters.

Commission pay raise pulled
Commissioner Ron French pulled his resolution to increase pay for county commissioners from the agenda.  This was French’s second attempt this year to increase the pay of commissioners.

The first attempt failed in the Agenda Committee.  The second attempt made it out of the Agenda Committee.  No reason was given for why Commissioner French pulled the resolution.  Commissioners Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Dave Bennett, Brad Bowers, Rick Carver, Shawn Carter, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Tom Stinnett voted yes at the Agenda Committee meeting to send the pay raise to the commission.  Commissioners Mike Akard, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted no.

August 2017 Commission Report

Commission meeting
Commissioners Gary Farmer, Kenneth Melton and Steve Samples were absent.

Last month, the commission approved a contract for architectural services with Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) without also approving a budget amendment to pay for the contract.  This month the commission approved the funding for the contract with the architectural firm as well as funding for public relations and a project manager.

Yes, Blount County government thinks that it needs a Ministry of Propaganda to tell you why they’ve hired an architect for the jail.  Unless you’ve been living in the forest you know that Blount County, like any other county in this nation, has a drug problem stemming from the use of pain pills and street drugs.  It’s really a shame that the taxpayers are having to pay to be told that there is an opioid and drug problem in the community.

The memo in the commission packet from the Blount County Purchasing Department, Human Resources and Finance Department says that the contract was approved by the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP).  However, it was not approved by the BCCP.

The last time that the BCCP met was in March to discuss the purchasing agent’s selection of MBI.  The agenda for the meeting says, “Discussion and possible action regarding presentation regarding the solicitation and request for qualifications for architectural planning and/or design services and/or programming services for Blount County.”  There is no mention of a contract in the agenda or the unofficial meeting minutes of this BCCP meeting.  The minutes are unofficial because the BCCP has not met since this March 28, 2017 meeting and therefore has not taken any vote to approve the meeting minutes.

The contract with MBI is time stamped on the bottom with a date of May 24, 2017, which is almost two months after the BCCP March 28 meeting.  Why would the purchasing agent, human resources director and director of accounts and budgets (finance director) sign a memo with a false statement?  Why would their boss Mayor Ed Mitchell let them?

The cost to the taxpayers is $244,723 which includes $188,000 for the MBI contract.  Only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted against this.

The resolution says that the monies came from funds “Assigned for Public Safety.”  Many remember when I found that Sheriff James Lee Berrong and Mayor Ed Mitchell had a $2 million jail plan in Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting minutes.  The commission is the body who has the authority to express the county’s intent by assigning monies in the general fund.  The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office did not recognize the assignments of $2 million for public safety.

The bigger and potentially more expensive picture is that “Blount County has not set a specific scope or budget for this project,” as stated under Article 1.12 of the MBI contract.

Grant process dysfunctional
The commission was asked to approve five grants.  The deadline for two of these grants, one for juvenile court and the other for the animal shelter, had already passed.  While these two grants had already been written, neither provided the commission with copies of the actual grants.  The juvenile court grant worksheet included a memo about the grant while the animal shelter only provided the grant worksheet.  It seems reasonable that any department/office wanting the commission to approve a grant after the deadline would include a copy of the grant along with the worksheet.

Road projects
The commission approved a $360,791 increase to the state aid account of the highway department budget.  According to a memo from Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick, Tennessee Department of Transport (TDOT) provided the funds for replacement of tiles/culverts on state highways.  The state aid account is now $1,082,000 for fiscal year 2018.

The commission approved TDOT’s proposal for the relocated Alcoa Highway.  While there was a public meeting in the City of Alcoa about this proposal in May, this was the first time that this commission was provided anything on the proposal.  It would have been nice to have been given more time to study the matter and to hear from the citizens on something this important.  Most seemed to be unaware that the commission was considering this matter.  I voted against this because of the short time frame to study the matter and because of the lack of information about other possibilities for Alcoa Highway.  Commissioners Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also voted no while the rest of the commissioners present voted yes.

A meeting was called to approve applying for federal funds to make improvements to Morganton Road.  This road has long been in need of repair.  People in the 1st, 6th and 7th districts have expressed their concerns about the road to me.  This has been one of the top 10 issues that I hear the most about from those in the community.

This a good start but more work is needed.  Some are upset that this project does not come further into the county.  There have been concerns expressed about the City of Maryville annexing part of Morganton Road.

According to the mayor, the commission approved $4 million for improvements to Morganton Road in 2006 but those funds were never spent for that purpose.  No one that I’ve spoken with seems to know why this money was never spent.

This project runs into 2023.  You can read more about it here.

Accounting and financial software
The commission approved a 7 year, $2.334M contract for a Financial Management Information System (FMIS).  This Services as a Software (SaaS) agreement is with Tyler Technologies.  The estimated cost for implementation is $293,470.50 and the annual recurring fees are $299,945.00 throughout the 7 year contract.

When the Kronos time keeping, payroll and HR software system was presented to the commission, a business case was made for savings through staff reductions.  Those projected savings never materialized.  According to a June 22, 2017 email from Finance Director Randy Vineyard, “there have been no retirements or departures since implementation in General County.”  He did write that there could be possible staff reductions in the future as “as staff retirements arise.”

No business case for savings was made for the purchase of Tyler Technologies software.  The commission was told that the current financial system was antiquated, unsecure, needed to be replaced with a modern system and that Tyler Technologies is the best fit for the county.  The commission not given anything to support the assertion that this company’s software is the best fit for Blount County.

The commission is often asked to vote on what the bureaucrats want without being given any information on comparable products.  With an annual reoccurring expense of nearly $300K, it would have been helpful to have seen what other companies had to offer.  Other companies might offer a bit less than a competitor but at a much lower price while still providing what the county needs.  I don’t know if there were any better deals or fits for the county because I wasn’t given any information on any other products.

The memo to the commission is from the county’s program manager for IT Abhijit Verekar of Avèro Advisors.  He is being sued in federal court by a previous employer.

Considering the lack of information about comparable products, I thought it best to vote no to this long term costly commitment.  Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also voted no.

Up next:  The end of August marks the end of the 3rd year of this four year commission term.  What would you like to see me focus on during the next year?

It’s also time to give serious consideration to running for local office.  In November, candidates can begin picking up petitions to run in the May 1, 2018 primary election.  That will be here before you know it.  Don’t let the opportunity slip past you.

In the words of a great American:

“We are not weak, if we make proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power… The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” Patrick Henry

Even if you don’t want to run, you can begin talking to others about running and support good candidates who do run.

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” — Edmund Burke

July 2017 Commission Report

Information Technology (IT) Committee meeting
The IT Committee heard from Abhijit Verekar (AV) on the status of Blount County’s ongoing IT project updates.  AV has served as the project manger for the multiyear IT project.  However, this time he was the project manager from his own newly started company Avero Advisors, rather than Mindboard Inc (Mindboard).  If you’re thinking this seems odd, you may be right.

AV and Mindboard Inc. were embroiled in a lawsuit with AV’s previous employer RNR Consulting when the county commission approved a contract with Mindboard Inc.  Some serious allegations were made in that lawsuit.  If you aren’t familiar with the situation please click on these links and read about the matter before proceeding with the rest of this report.

New company not brought to the commission for approval
Only one of the references listed in response to the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) provided by Mindboard had a budget over $60,000 while the county’s IT budget was more than 22 times that amount.  It didn’t make good sense to hire Mindboard because of these serious allegations and too much uncertainty about Mindboard handling such a large budget.

Purchasing Agent Katie Branham-Kerr defended her choice in early 2016 by saying that the rates that Mindboard offered the county were 20% lower than other contract rates but nothing was provided to the commission to support this statement.  When I (Commissioner Tona Monroe) asked Branham-Kerr why the county was switching from Mindboard to Avero Advisors, she said the county would save about 30% from what it was paying Mindboard.  It makes one wonder why Mindboard was chosen when she could find another firm to do the work cheaper the following year.  The county’s purchasing process leaves much to be desired.

The county hasn’t actually terminated its contract with Mindboard.  Both Mindboard. and AV’s company Avero Advisors are providing IT services to Blount County government.  The contract with Avero is set up on a yearly basis, renewing annually at the start of each fiscal year.  The arrangement means that the Avero contract doesn’t have to be brought to the commission for a vote on the matter because it doesn’t extend beyond the current fiscal year.  However, a contract that annually renews automatically, unless being canceled, should be required to be approved by the county commission.  This is a reform needed at the state level.

I asked Branham-Kerr if AV was working for both companies and she said no.  She said that the county had received a signed agreement from Mindboard Inc., releasing AV from contract with Mindboard.  You can read the Change of Relationship Agreement here.

Under Terms and Conditions it says:

“1. Contract Termination.
The parties hereby agree that the Agreement has been and is hereby terminated in all respects, provided however that the provisions of Sections 5 shall survive with the exception that Employee is permitted to contract with Blount County, TN and Mindboard will not seek to enforce Section 5 with respect to Employee contracting with Blount County, TN.”

Section 5 is not stated in the agreement but it appears to refer to a non-compete clause in the terminated employment contract between Mindboard and AV.  Thus, it appears that Mindboard allowed AV to contract with Blount County but not any other customer that Mindboard may have.  If so, why?

Despite this large sum of money, people are expressing their dissatisfaction with the county’s new website and software system used for commission and committee meetings.  The new Granicus program isn’t as user friendly as the older, simpler system.

The IT Committee had no say in the selection of the new software system or website.  I have and continue to wonder why there is even an IT Committee since the Mayor’s Office along with the purchasing agent and these IT firms are making the decisions how to spend your money.

Over $3 million has been budgeted in recent years for Mayor Ed Mitchell, Mindboard Inc. and Avero Advisors to manage.  It is really a shame that there is so much dissatisfaction with the use of millions of your tax dollars.

Commission Meeting
Commissioners Mike Akard and Steve Samples were absent.  Once again, I was prohibited from asking questions at the monthly commission meeting.

Recycling convenience center – Failed leadership of Mayor Ed Mitchell
There is perhaps no greater example of the failure of Mayor Ed Mitchell’s leadership than with the way he has handled recycling in Blount County.  For those who are cheering the opening of a convenience center in the county, I encourage you to consider the history of recycling in Blount County because we now have less recycling sites with the county providing recycling than before the county decided to provide recycling.

Spectra recycling announced that in May it would be closing its recycling location on Robert C Jackson that was open to the public.  After learning about this, I called the owner Mr. Steve Dixon.  He told me that I was the only elected official to call him to find out why he had closed the recycling convenience center.  After I shared this with the Big Springs Community Club at its monthly meeting, the other commissioner from the 7th district went and met with Mr. Dixon after he had already voted to spend taxpayer money for a convenience center.

Mr. Dixon shared with me how previous mayors had met with him and were appreciative of his free recycling services that he provided to the citizens of Blount County.  He shared that this changed with the Mitchell administration and the new Purchasing Agent Katie Branham-Kerr.

In 2015, the Purchasing Department issued Request for Proposal (RFP) 2015-2372 to provide recycling services for county buildings.  Spectra had been providing free recycling to the county government, in addition to free recycling convenience centers throughout the county.  Spectra was the only one to bid that RFP.

Spectra had provided free recycling to the county government up to that point but the recycling market is dynamic and hadn’t been profitable; therefore, it had asked for a small trip fee to cover expenses.  The cost would have been a few thousand dollars annually.

Then Purchasing Agent Theresa Johnson, who was later demoted to assistant purchasing agent, told Mr. Dixon that she would have to take the matter to Mayor Ed Mitchell.  Mr. Dixon waited about a year thinking that Spectra would be awarded a contract but when he called the new Purchasing Agent Katie Branham-Kerr he was told that the county would not been awarding a contract for RFP 2015-2372.  During this year Spectra continued providing free recycling services to the county government.

When I tried to inquire why this RFP was not awarded, Commissioner Ron French declared a point of order saying that it was 2017 not 2015 and Chairman Jerome Moon declared me out of order.  This prohibited me from making the point that perhaps this matter had something to do with why Spectra was no longer offering recycling and inquiring why Spectra didn’t respond to the current RFP 2016-2456 (issued in 2017).  The 2017 RFP only had 2 responses.  Commissioners looking out for the taxpayers should want to know why Spectra, a local business, did not respond to a recycling RFP.

Mr. Dixon shared with me that he did not know that a new RFP had been issued.  This is alarming because I reviewed the 2015 RFP and found that the county reached out to potential bidders but did not appear to make the same effort with the 2017 RFP.  I asked the purchasing agent who the county reached out to on the 2017 RFP and received this response:

—–Original Message—–
From: “Katie Branham-Kerr” <kbranham@blounttn.org>
Sent: Friday, September 8, 2017 4:24pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Jackie Cooper” <jcooper@blounttn.org>
Subject: Fwd: Question about Recycling

Mrs. Monroe,

       Please see attached.
       Regards,
 
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Lauri Bell <lbell@blounttn.org>
Date: Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 8:48 AM
Subject: Re: Question about Recycling
To: Katie Branham-Kerr <kbranham@blounttn.org>

On 6/7/17 the invitation to bid (ITB) for Blount County’s recycling collection center was issued on Purchasing’s website via IonWave with registered suppliers being automatically notified of the posting via the website, a Legal Notice was posted in the The Daily Times, as well as on the bulletin board outside of the Purchasing Department.  I am only aware of verbal communication with Waste Connections of Tennessee and West Rock.
Finally, attached is the email string with Avero regarding pricing.

On Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 8:07 AM, Katie Branham-Kerr <kbranham@blounttn.org> wrote:

Please review Mrs. Monroe’s email and let me know who we reached out to individually regarding the recycling bid.
 
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: <tona@breezeair.net>
Date: Mon, Sep 4, 2017 at 10:31 AM
Subject: Question about Recycling
To: Katie Branham-Kerr <kbranham@blounttn.org>
Dear Katie,
In reviewing the recycling records, the purchasing office reached out to potential bidders, by email, in 2015 for recycling needs.  There wasn’t any record of that occurring this year.  Did your office reach out, by email or any other form of communication, to potential companies that might provide recycling services?
Also, I received 3 records from Jackie but didn’t receive the email that I asked be forwarded related to the hourly rates that you negotiated with AV.  Please forward that email to me.
Sincerely,
Tona

I have repeatedly asked the purchasing agent and Mayor’s Office why the 2015 recycling RFP was not awarded.  No explanation has been given.

At one time, Spectra was providing 12 free recycling sites throughout Blount County, not including the schools that it was providing free recycling services for.  Some of these recycling centers were open to the public 24/7/365.  The county’s convenience center will only be open 3 days a week.  Furthermore, recycling at the library will stop as well.

At one time Spectra was providing free recycling for the county at the location on McArthur Road where the new convenience center will be located.  Now the taxpayers will pay for part time recycling at this location and the 12 free recycling centers that the county once had are gone.  After speaking with Mr. Dixon at Spectra, I am firmly convinced that the county could have many more recycling centers throughout the county with more hours of operation for less money than the 3 day a week county operation that will be at McArthur Road.  This great loss to the community falls squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Ed Mitchell.  Blount County needs a mayor with private sector experience who can get things done without going to taxpayers for everything.

To make matters worse, the commission wasn’t provided with all the documentation pertaining to the contract.  The contract instrument says that the contract consists of 7 documents including: the Request for Proposal, the Instructions to Proponents, the Contractor’s Proposal, the General Specifications, the resolution of Blount County ordering or authorizing, the work and services contemplated herein, this instrument and any addenda or changes to the foregoing documents agreed to by the parties hereto.  The commission was only provided with the instrument and the authorizing resolution.  It’s possible that there were no amendments but the commission should have been told that no amendments exists if there were none.

I moved to postpone the matter until the next month so that the commission could be provided with all of the documentation.  The motion failed with only Commissioners Archie Archer, Shawn Carter, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voting to wait one month to be given all of the documentation prior to voting on the matter.  The commissioners who sponsored the resolution approving the contract have egg on their faces.  You should watch the commission meeting to see how some of them try defending why they brought a contract to the commission without having the entirety of the contract.  The purchasing agent said that the reason that some of the documents were not provided is because they weren’t yet finished.  However, that does not explain the failure to provide the RFP to the commission.

Commissioner Mike Caylor asked the mayor if he had done his due diligence on this matter.  Mitchell said he had.  Apparently Caylor was OK with not doing his due diligence as a county commissioner, to protect the taxpayers.

Most of the commissioners present took the Nancy Pelosi approach to government when they voted for something only to learn later what is in it.  Only Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted against approving a contract without having all of the documents available.

Jail architect contract approved without a budget amendment – discussion process seriously flawed
The commission approved a contract with Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) for jail expansion/renovation (?) without knowing the full costs of what is being called the Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI).  Jerome Moon and the commissioners who follow his lead made hypocrites out of themselves with this issue because there was no budget amendment in the packet to pay for the contract.  Moon has insisted in the past that the commission appropriate money to pay for something prior to discuss what the money is actually being appropriated for.  Remember when I tried to move discussion of the budget ahead of setting the tax rate in 2015 and only the three women commissioners voted to discuss the budget first?

On this same agenda the commission voted to appropriate the money for the recycling contract before voting on the actual contract, which was not provided in its entirety.  Moon didn’t even want me discussing the recycling contract during the discussion time of the budget amendment that funded it.  The commission is expected to approve the money without first discussing the substance of the matter, the actual legal documents and impact those documents will have.  Doesn’t it make sense to discuss the substance of the matter before you spend the money to do it?  The discussion process is seriously flawed.

Commissioner Andy Allen pointed out that the contract was specific in the cost for this project.  It’s true that the cost of the architectural firm is in the contract.  However, the costs of the project are more than the MBI contract.  The commissioners weren’t told what the actual total costs of the CJI project would be.  Only commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted against approving the contract.

Not satisfied due to the lack of information provided, I wrote Director of Accounts and Budgets Randy Vineyard for an explanation of the costs.  It turns out that he didn’t know either and wrote that due diligence for the CJI was not finished when the contract was presented to the commission.

“—–Original Message—–
From: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Sent: Monday, July 24, 2017 11:05am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Marvin Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>, “James Berrong” <jberrong@bcso.com>, “Jarrod Millsaps” <jmillsaps@bcso.com>
Subject: Re: Funding for MBI contract

Commissioner,
The amendment has not been finalized because there are items likely to be recommended along with the MBI fees. Our due diligence is not yet completed.
That should be concluded in time for the August Budget Committee meeting.

Randy
Randy Vineyard, IOM
Blount County Finance Director

Support for the federal government’s war on poverty
The commission approved a resolution supporting federal government programs that were created as a part of the war on poverty.  Nearly everything that the federal government declares war on turns into an expensive failure.  The war on poverty may be the costliest “war” disaster of all.

All 21 Blount County Commissioners were elected and are in office as Republicans.  Only Commissioner Karen Miller and I voted against this, showing that most Republicans aren’t serious about cutting wasteful spending or eliminating failed government programs.  Furthermore, most of the commissioners do not seem to honor their oaths of office because there is no authority for the federal government’s war of poverty authorized in the United States Constitution.

Federal COPS grant approved after deadline
The commission was presented with a USDOJ Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) grant application after the grant deadline had already passed.  The grant will pay for 75% of the salaries and benefits for 6 officers for 3 years.  The grant does not pay for equipping the officers with laptops, uniforms, weapons, or cars.  The commission was told that the county would be required to keep these positions, after the grant money runs out.

Commissioner Caylor seemed indigent that Commissioner Daly would even inquire about the county having to pay for the officers after the grant money ran out.  He said it was a savings but there is no savings.  Federal money is taxpayer money.  At the rate that the federal government is borrowing money, your children and grandchildren may be forced to pay interest to foreign investors in China and Saudi Arabia on these officers because the federal government is not paying its (our) bills now.

While the program goal and objectives were including in the grant application guide, the commission was provided no data to show that six more officers will actually improve safety in the community.  Only commissioners Daly, Miller and I voted no this grant.

Up next:
July was a doozie.  The lackadaisical attitude of several on the commission should give pause to those concerned about their community.  If you want to see better government, then seriously considering becoming that better government by either running for local office or supporting good candidates who will ensure that due diligence is done prior to each vote of the commission.

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!

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2018/january/01/despite-setbacks-liberty-will-prevail-in-2018/

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.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/november/06/gop-tax-plan-increases-the-most-insidious-tax/

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.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/september/04/government-aid-makes-disasters-worse/

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.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/august/07/jeff-sessions-endorses-theft/

#TNaintReady 2.0

by Horatio Bunce

Common Core “state” standards performance numbers for high school students are in. Commissioner McQueen had a press conference and bar graph to declare success as reported by the always- government-school-sympathetic Chalkbeat. Chalkbeat had set up the press conference the day before with another article stating that Tennessee students were struggling with the testing on the “UtahReady” tests because of the “rigorous” Common Core “State” Standards that students have only been using for two years. Convenient excuse isn’t it?

Remember how when back in 2014 (that’s 3 whole years ago for you Common Core Math students) when Stacey Campfield introduced a bill to stop implementing more Common Core “State” Standards, it was too late to turn back and lose all that ground? Apparently none of that counts, nor does the instruction happening between then and 2015 when we started paying millions of dollars to “lease” Utah Sage Assessment questions for TNReady tests. So the setup was that if we didn’t see improvement, it would be really bad news, therefore telegraphing that flat or any improvement at all is “success”. So, Candice makes up a bar graph that is really exaggerated to show improvement from 2016 to 2017.

I felt it necessary to edit her bogus graph to include the rest of the data set and illustrate how statistically insignificant the difference in the two years’ scores are. The educrats have changed the federally-driven testing language from the old “below basic, basic, proficient and advanced” terms to now only show us two terms called “on track” and “mastered”. There is a very significant data set (added by me in red) that does not fall in these categories. Not sure what that is called, since it is not “on track” or “mastered”. Maybe “obscured”, “obfuscated”, “ignored in press releases” or something similar would work?

 

 

 

June 2017 Commission Report

“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.”  Will Rogers

Annual Budget
Traditionally, each June, the Blount County Commission adopts an annual budget and sets the property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year (FY).  A fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30th, which is why the commission usually adopts the budget in June.  A fiscal year is denoted by the calendar year in which the fiscal year ends.  For example FY 2017 ran July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017.  Accordingly FY 2018 runs July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

The Blount County Commission approved an annual budget in June of 2016 for FY17 that was $181,267,406 (see pages 105-107).  In June of this year, the commission adopted a budget for FY18 that is $195,958,364 (see pages 534-536).

Not all of this was an actual increase.  According to the county’s Finance Director (FD), Randy Vineyard, governmental accounting standards require some expenditures to be recorded twice.  Troy Logan, the fiscal administrator for Blount County School District told me that he couldn’t think of any expenditures that were recorded twice in the school’s budget.  Upon my request, FD Vineyard provided this spread sheet outlining the use of fund balance and the monies that are being accounted for twice.

According to the numbers provided by FD Vineyard, $5,381,930 is accounted for twice.  Based on these figures, that means that the commission adopted a budget that is $9,309,028 more than what it initially approved for the previous year, when the double accounting amounts are removed.  This is a huge increase for local government that will not be sustainable in the future without either growth in tax revenues or more tax increases.

The spreadsheet shows the county using $7,087,000 of fund balances from the various funds.  Some of the increase is for nonrecurring capital expenditures.  You can read my questions and FD Vineyard’s responses related to the use of fund balances here.  Please take the time to read this as it shows that $1.1M of fund balance may be used for corporate welfare for one company.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked Mayor Ed Mitchell how much this secret company would receive from local governments (City of Maryville and Blount County) and the state of Tennessee.  He only knew what the county’s contribution will be.  Thus, local elected officials walk into these types of “deals” without knowing how much public money will actually be spent.

According to FD Vineyard the county’s General Fund grew to about $15M at the end of FY16 and an estimate for the end of FY17 had not been calculated in early June.  Property tax and federal inmate revenues may have been sandbagged in FY16.  Both came in higher than projected, and you were slammed with a higher property tax rate than necessary.  Some local elected officials may feel good about having accumulated such a large General Fund, but it came about as a result of two large tax increases (sales tax and property tax) not from being good stewards with your tax dollars.

$1.85M of fund balance will be used for Information Technology (IT) updates.  This is addition to the $4.1M that has already been spent for IT improvements and huge software purchases since 2014.  This new budget brings the total to nearly $6M that has or will be spent from 2014 through the end of June in 2018.

One would think that with such large expenditures that the IT Committee would be keeping a close watch on the various IT projects but it is not.  From June 2016 through June 2017 the IT Committee only met twice and during one of those meetings it lacked a quorum.  The Mayor canceled the other two meetings that were scheduled.

Blount County taxpayers will be forced to pay $96,717 in additional salaries and benefits to four office holders beyond the state mandated minimums.  These office holders are already some of the highest paid employees in county government and have been paid nearly double or triple the average salary of a Blount County citizen.

Chromebooks lease
The commission approved a 3 year lease agreement for Chromebooks for the schools.  I voted against this because the county will be paying interest when it does not have to.  The funds are available to purchase the computers without wasting any money on interest.

$1,272,000 loan to the schools
The commission, through the Agenda Committee, actually rejected a spending request from the schools in February.  This month the schools requested this money, for tennis courts renovations, once again along with more money for 3 additional capital projects.  The commission was asked to approve capital outlay notes that would be funded by using monies from debt service that will be loaned to the schools.  The county should be using the debt service fund to pay down debt rather than loaning it to be paid back at 2% interest.  Furthermore, the county has to pay a financial advisor and bond counsel to loan money to itself.  The better option would be to increase the amount of property tax going to the schools capital fund rather than a complicated loan transaction with fees and interest.

Medical plan changes
The commission voted to reduce the out of pocket maximum from $4,000 to $3,000 for health care and to charge $5 for the employee only dental plan.  The dental plan for the employee only is currently free.  The cost of the dental family plan is currently the difference between the price of the premium of the employee only plan and the family plan.  The dental family plan was also increases $5 and will become the difference between the employee only premium and the family premium, plus $5.  The county will be paying $22.14 a month for employees that are enrolled in either the employee only or family dental plans. These changes will take effect January 1, 2018.  The health care plans run the calendar year, rather than the fiscal year.

Interruptions continue
Commissioner Mike Caylor continued interrupting commissioners by twice declaring a point of order.  He appears to be abusing the power to raise a point of order to stifle discussion that challenges the status quo.

Up next:
The commission will look at hiring an architectural firm to renovate and/or expand the jail.

Just How many Motorists are stopped and ticketed in America?: NMA E-Newsletter #446

From guest writer Joe Cadillic who writes the MassPrivatel Blog

According to The Stanford Open Policing Project which looked at over 100 million police traffic stops in the United States,  “Police pull over more than 50,000 drivers on a typical day, more than 20 million motorists every year.”

Does that mean 50,000 people are breaking the law every day? Is there an epidemic of lawbreakers on our streets? Of course not, so why are police stopping 20 million motorists every year? Police across the country don’t just ticket millions of Americans every year, they’re also questioning them.

Unfortunately the Open Policing Project doesn’t mention how many passengers are stopped and questioned by police every year. Many motorists travel with someone so the amount of people being stopped & questioned might be double than the estimated 20 million. The numbers become even more disturbing when the estimated 50,000 motorists stopped each day turns into a conservative estimate of 80,000 or more motorists plus passengers stopped each day.

In a recent Reason.com editorial, Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman wrote in Curbing Traffic Stops would Save Lives that traffic stops are often an excuse for cops to search a car for drugs and guns. He added,Curtailing police reliance on this pretext would free motorists from being dragooned to ‘consent’ to searches for which the cops lack probable cause.” Chapman continued, “True, the change would let criminals operate at less risk. But hassling the innocent to catch the guilty is an abuse of our constitutional principles. In Illinois last year, police conducted 2.17 million traffic stops. Just 8,938 yielded contraband—one bust for every 242 stops.”

Unfortunately, Chapman goes on in the editorial to extol the virtues of automatic traffic enforcement, a major step in the wrong direction, which most of the online commenters were quick to point out.

On top of traffic stops, did you know that law enforcement use at least fifteen different types of checkpoints to stop and question motorists?

In what country would it be acceptable to stop and question millions of people?

Certainly not America the land of the free, right?

For years, police have had to meet ticket quotas during their shifts. A Google search for “do police have quotas” returned over five million hits, and a Google search for “police ticket quotas 2017” returned close to six million hits.

In 2015, a Boston.com story said Traffic Ticket Quotas are Real. “Officers were told to issue more revenue-generating tickets. Officer Tom Delaney said that officers who didn’t operate under the system wouldn’t get overtime assignments and other perks.”

It’s the same story across the country.

Police departments send text messages to officers on the road reminding them to reach their quotas during their shifts. In 2015, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer claimed he was texted about not meeting ticket quotas and denied a night off.

In 2017, the NYPD agreed to pay $56.5 million to people written bogus tickets by police.

If the public knew how much money is being made off of motorists each year from taxes, fines and arrests there would be a public outcry.

The Stanford Open Policing Project points out that police don’t want the public to know how many people are stopped each year. “Some states don’t collect demographics of who police pull over. States that do collect the information don’t always release the data.”

Why do we know how many people are arrested for drunk driving each year but have no data about how many motorists have been ticketed by police?

According to Stanford, “The most common police interaction — the traffic stop — has not been tracked, at least not in any systematic way.”

It’s 2017 and we still don’t know how many motorists are being stopped and ticketed in America! 

States like California and Texas have stopped 24-32 million motorists from 2009-2015, while states like Rhode Island and Montana have stopped approximately 500,000-825,000 motorists.

Secrecy is a cop’s number one priority.

The Open Policing Project found that police require less suspicion to search black and hispanic drivers than whites and they’re two or three times more likely to be searched: “After accounting for age, gender, and location, we find that officers ticket, search, and arrest black and hispanic drivers more often than whites… when pulled over for speeding, black drivers are 20% more likely to get a ticket (rather than a warning) than white drivers, and hispanic drivers are 30% more likely to be ticketed than white drivers. Black and hispanic motorists are about twice as likely to be searched compared to white drivers.”

“When we applied the threshold test to our traffic stop data, we find police require less suspicion to search black and hispanic drivers than whites. This double standard is evidence of discrimination,” the findings noted.

This is the first study that shows police are stopping and questioning thousands of motorists every day and millions of passengers every year.

The next time you’re stopped by the police, exercise your right not to speak. To travel freely in America is not a privilege, it is one of our constitutional rights.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this newsletter are those of the author. For the NMA’s list of Traffic Stop Do’s and Don’ts, click here.

Source: https://www.motorists.org/alerts/just-many-motorists-stopped-ticketed-america-nma-e-newsletter-446/

Trump Should Veto Congress’ Foolish New Sanctions Bill

by Ron Paul

This week’s expected House vote to add more sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea is a prime example of how little thought goes into US foreign policy. Sanctions have become kind of an automatic action the US government takes when it simply doesn’t know what else to do.

No matter what the problem, no matter where on earth it occurs, the answer from Washington is always sanctions. Sanctions are supposed to force governments to change policies and do what Washington tells them or face the wrath of their people. So the goal of sanctions is to make life as miserable as possible for civilians so they will try to overthrow their governments. Foreign leaders and the elites do not suffer under sanctions. This policy would be immoral even if it did work, but it does not.

Why is Congress so eager for more sanctions on Russia? The neocons and the media have designated Russia as the official enemy and the military industrial complex and other special interests want to continue getting rich terrifying Americans into believing the propaganda.

Why, just weeks after the White House affirmed that Iran is abiding by its obligations under the nuclear treaty, does Congress pass additional sanctions anyway? Washington blames Iran for “destabilizing” Syria and Iraq by helping them fight ISIS and al-Qaeda. Does this make any sense at all?

When is the last time Iran committed a terrorist act on our soil? It hasn’t. Yet we learned from the declassified 28 pages of the Congressional 9/11 report that Saudi Arabia was deeply involved in the 2001 attacks against Washington and New York. Who has funded al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria for years? Saudi Arabia. Yet no one is talking about sanctions against that country. This is because sanctions are not about our security. They are about politics and special interests.

Why is Congress poised to add yet more sanctions on North Korea? Do they want the North Korean people to suffer more than they are already suffering? North Korea’s GDP is half that of Vermont – the US state with the lowest GDP! Does anyone believe they are about to invade us? There is much talk about North Korea’s ballistic missile program, but little talk about 30,000 US troops and weapons on North Korea’s border. For Washington, it’s never a threat if we do it to the other guy.

Here’s an alternative to doing the same thing over and over: Let’s take US troops out of North Korea after 70 years. The new South Korean president has proposed military talks with North Korea to try and reduce tensions. We should get out of the way and let them solve their own problems. If Iran and Russia want to fight ISIS and al-Qaeda at the invitation of their ally, Syria, why stand in the way? We can’t run the world. We are out of money.

President Trump was elected to pursue a new kind of foreign policy. If he means what he said on the campaign trail, he will veto this foolish sanctions bill and begin dismantling neocon control of his Administration.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/july/24/trump-should-veto-congress-foolish-new-sanctions-bill/

Big Military Spending Boost Threatens Our Economy and Security

By Ron Paul

On Friday the House overwhelmingly approved a massive increase in military spending, passing a $696 billion National Defense Authorization bill for 2018. President Trump’s request already included a huge fifty or so billion dollar spending increase, but the Republican-led House found even that to be far too small. They added another $30 billion to the bill for good measure. Even President Trump, in his official statement, expressed some concern over spending in the House-passed bill.

According to the already weak limitations on military spending increases in the 2011 “sequestration” law, the base military budget for 2018 would be $72 billion more than allowed.

Don’t worry, they’ll find a way to get around that!

The big explosion in military spending comes as the US is planning to dramatically increase its military actions overseas. The president is expected to send thousands more troops back to Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. After nearly 16 years, the Taliban controls more territory than at anytime since the initial US invasion and ISIS is seeping into the cracks created by constant US military action in the country.

The Pentagon and Defense Secretary James Mattis are already telling us that even when ISIS is finally defeated in Iraq, the US military doesn’t dare end its occupation of the country again. Look for a very expensive array of permanent US military bases throughout the country. So much for our 2003 invasion creating a stable democracy, as the neocons promised.

In Syria, the United States has currently established at least eight military bases even though it has no permission to do so from the Syrian government nor does it have a UN resolution authorizing the US military presence there. Pentagon officials have made it clear they will continue to occupy Syrian territory even after ISIS is defeated, to “stabilize” the region.

And let’s not forget that Washington is planning to send the US military back to Libya, another US intervention we were promised would be stabilizing but that turned out to be a disaster.

Also, the drone wars continue in Somalia and elsewhere, as does the US participation in Saudi Arabia’s horrific two year war on impoverished Yemen.

President Trump often makes encouraging statements suggesting that he shares some of our non-interventionist views. For example while Congress was shoveling billions into an already bloated military budget last week, President Trump said that he did not want to spent trillions more dollars in the Middle East where we get “nothing” for our efforts. He’d rather fix roads here in the US, he said. The only reason we are there, he said, was to “get rid of terrorists,” after which we can focus on our problems at home.

Unfortunately President Trump seems to be incapable of understanding that it is US intervention and occupation of foreign countries that creates instability and feeds terrorism. Continuing to do the same thing for more than 17 years – more US bombs to “stabilize” the Middle East – and expecting different results is hardly a sensible foreign policy. It is insanity. Until he realizes that our military empire is the source of rather than the solution to our problems, we will continue to wildly spend on our military empire until the dollar collapses and we are brought to our knees. Then what?

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/july/17/big-military-spending-boost-threatens-our-economy-and-security/

GOD AND COUNTRY PETITION NEWSLETTER EXPRESS – THE HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL

Good evening my friends,

I know it has been a long time since a newsletter has gone out. For all purposes the “God and Country Petition” is a dead issue and will NOT continue. We gave it a good try but in could not come to fruition. However, a lot of what was in my petition, President Trump is trying to accomplish, such as the repeal of Obamacare, the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Bill, illegal immigration, building our military & defenses and more.

The proposed health care bill has been a major issue and confusing to say the least. I have been following the house version of the bill and now the proposed senate version of the bill, which may come to a vote and passage as early as this week. Personally I hope it does not, I feel it is being rushed and there are problems within the proposed Republican senate version!

Below are two attachments, the first attachment is the proposed Republican Party senate version of the bill, broken out section by section in a summary fashion, in short, this is not the garbled up actual proposed bill! This is a summery that was prepared by a US senators committee on health care for their constituents, it contains 142 pages. As simplified as it was mad in comparison to the actual bill, it is still confusing.

The second attachment is a proposal I created, with the help of many of you reading this newsletter, my version is only 6 pages long!

My feelings partially are as follows on the proposed Republican Party version before the senate to be voted on. I must say, there was not only a lot of reading in what is in the proposed Republican Party version in the first attachment above but dissecting it and understanding it was even more of a challenge for me, it may not be for many of you reading it!

I understood some of what I read but did not understand other parts of it as well. Section 102 I have many problems with, I feel it is discriminatory in many ways. I also feel the formula proposed will come back to haunt us many times over!

I felt this from the beginning as evidenced in my proposal in the second attachment above, the formula for calculating premiums, in my opinion, needed to be a blended actuary table based on the entire population of the American people.

By banding those in the senior age brackets or pre-existing conditions, or segregating other segments of the population is a bad thing. However, income brackets are an entirely different issue in itself. My proposal has subsidies based on income brackets. I feel very strongly that section 102 needs a lot of soul searching by each member of the senate as well as realizing the consequences that will go along with it!

Section 103 – 105, I don’t see any glaring problems. Please don’t take me wrong, this is an improvement over the house version and as far as Obamacare, that is not even on the table for discussion!

Section 106, good in some ways, bad in others. I feel the dollar amounts need to be higher, especially spread amongst 50 states.

The new subsection (I), which would establish a Long-Term State Stability and Innovation Program is good. It appears to make funding available to all 50 states and the District of Columbia from CY2019 through CY2026.

If I am reading this right, a state would be required to submit an application to the CMS Administrator to receive any federal funding to carry-out specified activities in the state, which were outlined in those 3 activities listed. That I felt was good.

Sections 107 through 119, I saw no problems with. Section 120, I am not sure of, too vague for me at this time, I need to research. Section 121 through 124 more in detail. If anyone reading this can help me out on it, I would appreciate it!

Sections 125 and 126 there are a lot of problems with it, in my opinion. I feel our senators need to go back to the drawing board and get their heads together on these issues. Hear again, I feel there are many discriminatory areas in these two sections that will come back to haunt us. These two sections need to be clarified re-worked and put in plain English for all to understand!

Section 133 in my opinion could cause more problems than it is worth. Hear again, we are using actuary tables based on individual states in many areas, rather than the aggregate of all 50 states and the entire US population. Section A however, does use aggregate and Federal averages of medical assistance matching percentages.

I also see threw out this proposal there are many areas that a state can opt out of participating in certain things that could take away benefits from its residents that other states may have. In short, I see a lack of a lot of uniformity with this proposal. In my opinion, it lacks the all for one, one for all approach!

I may be all wrong in my analysis, this is why I included my proposal above for all of you to view. This is a very complex issue facing this nation and the American people. We may not be able to push this through as fast as some would like it to be. It just seems like a lot of work needs to be done with this proposal to make it as palatable as possible for the American people.

I will say this in closing and I am not saying this because I am a senior but the elderly, especially the 50 to 65 year old, will have many pains to face with this proposal, as I read it, which I am the first that will say I am open to be corrected!

As I had said, these are my opinions as I see it, you may see it differently and I am open to be corrected on anything I have stated in this newsletter. I do not like it in its present form! I hope and pray, the Republican Party senators do what is right for all the American people, equally, with this so critical bill before us all!

I ask each of you to please take an interest in reading my e-mail and the senate version of the proposed bill and my proposal, both attachments are above! If any of you feel what I am proposing has merit, will you please send out my newsletter and the attachments to everyone you know as well as posting it on Facebook, U-Tube or any other social media you may belong to, if you do, I will be beholding to you. This repeal and replacement of Obamacare is so critical to all of us, please don’t ignore this!!

God speed to all of you and thank you,

JS
John A. Smaldone
God and Country petition
http://www.usa-godandcountry-petition.com/

 

Attachment 1     Attachment 2