A seismic shift appears to be underway with regards to how experts view transportation. The new vocabulary includes words like multimodal and person-level transportation. Transportation experts want to move “people” instead of cars because most cars on the road today are single occupant vehicles or SOVs—not an efficient enough form of transportation apparently. Aren’t motorists though people too? We are not just our cars. We, the people must drive because there are no realistic alternatives and because of the inherent freedom of being able to go where we want, when we want, and how we want.
Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU) website recently issued an article called THE MORBID AND MORTAL TOLL OF SPRAWL which declared that for the past 50+ years U.S. transportation engineers have designed and built thoroughfares that allow drivers to feel comfortable driving carelessly. Wide streets and enormous intersections encouraged urban sprawl, suburbia, and complete automobile dependence. The CNU also had another short and fascinating historical article on how streets turned out this way. Experts continue to complain about congestion and sprawl but no one twisted anyone’s arm to move out to suburbia. Americans made choices and luckily we can still make those choices today.
Currently over 80% of all American adults drive a car wherever they might happen to live. Even though more people are driving more miles now than ever before, roads are safer than at any time in history based on the number of miles driven. Americans drive around 2.18 trillion miles in the current rolling 12-month period. That is 9,800 miles for every person in the country. This correlates to about 26.8 miles per day per person, about 15% more miles driven than a quarter of century ago. If Americans had multimodal transportation choices would they actually use them?
Historically, departments of transportation (local, state and federal) have made decisions based on population. More people driving meant building more roads to move people in cars more quickly. Public transportation was generally factored in as well.
Ironically, even though DOTs have always promoted the car as the primary mode of transportation, the transportation agencies have continuously implemented measures that disrupt and discourage the efficient movement of traffic. Our gas tax money continues to be used to promulgate multimodal transportation agendas which should mean less road and street congestion since less people are supposedly using the roads. This should not mean though the impediment of driving due to lack of road maintenance or the application of traffic calming measures that ultimately worsen the driving experience.
In August, the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), a trade group representing 13,000 professionals in 90 different countries, announced that departments of transportation (local, state and federal) should not focus so heavily on cars. The ITE comments were in response to the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) proposed rulemaking on “National Performance Management Measures; Assessing the Performance of the National Highway System, Freight Movement on the Interstate System, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program”. See this Streetsblog USA article about the topic. Find halfway down a PDF link that gives the ITE full letter and comments.
The ITE has particular concerns about the measure for congestion management. ITE’s International President Paula Flores Benway wrote in her letter to the Federal Highway Administration that the implementation of the delay-based measure for congestion management should be postponed until such time that a measure be based on a multimodal and person-level delay can be developed. If the FHWA would take these suggestions from the ITE to develop these additional measures what kind of impact will that really have on most of us? Very little. What a waste of time and dollars, money that could be used for improving roads now.
The Truth about Cars website recently ran a blog post on THIS IS HOW THEY’LL TAKE YOUR CAR FROM YOU. The author states that we’ll be shamed into giving up our cars. In 10 to 15 years, it might even be difficult to buy a new car that we can drive ourselves. The big automakers no longer call themselves automakers. They are now mobility companies and have invested heavily in carsharing and ridesharing startups.
The media and transportation experts keep harping on the coming carsharing/ridesharing future but doesn’t that put more cars on our streets? Los Angeles currently has a proposal to take 100,000 cars (two percent of all cars in LA) off the street in five years with the idea that they would need to increase the number of cars that are used for carsharing and ridesharing. This is of course a multimodal plan but the question remains: Will that many Angeleno motorists want to give up their cars for good?
Driverless cars have also spurred the idea that more cars will be on the streets than ever before. In some cities, driverless cars will be the de facto public transportation since buses, trams, trolleys, subways and trains are so 20th century. But how would connected and driverless cars work if we cannot even maintain the basic infrastructure that we have right now? This leap of faith that we can improve our infrastructure for the Car of the Future may be misguided.
For the here and now, driving a car will continue to be the primary transportation form that Americans use on a daily basis. Trying to change those dynamics with new vocabulary and social engineering will not change this paradigm anytime soon. The current transportation system is the one we have for better or worse.
Read Driving News every chance you get:
Check out the latest motoring news in your state + your state’s Member Forum
Check out this week’s Driving News Weekly Roundup on the NMA Blog
Interstates are some of the safest roads. It makes no sense to put the police on the safest roads, while ignoring the most dangerous roads, unless the goal is revenue. It’s a FINE time to travel through Tennessee. Buckle up, drive safely and watch out of the ticket writers.
Great propaganda piece WKRN.
Is modern traffic enforcement all about dollars instead of safety? An author says a strong yes.
Gary Megge, a lwho works in the Michigan State Police traffic services section says that speed limits need to be set based on the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic.
If speed limits are not set properly, this could pose safety issues for those drivers who are within the 85th percentile, Megge said.
“If we don’t match normal and safe driving behavior, if we try to post a speed limit that doesn’t match, we have a problem,” he said. “We make a large portion of the driving public illegal. That’s not the way we should be doing business.”
The Michigan State Police offers two publications on setting realistic speed limits.
2006 US Death rate per mile 1.42 Total Deaths 42,708 Miles Driven 3.014 Trillion
2007 US Death rate per mile 1.36 Total Deaths 41,259 Miles Driven 3.031 Trillion
2008 US Death rate per mile 1.26 Total deaths 37,423 Miles Driven 2.977 Trillion
2009 US Death rate per mile 1.15 Total deaths 33,883 Miles Driven 2.957 Trillion
2010 US Death rate per mile 1.11 Total deaths 32,999 Miles Driven 2.967 Trillion
2011 US Death rate per mile 1.10 Total deaths 32,479 Miles Driven 2.950 Trillion
2012 US Death rate per mile 1.14 Total deaths 33,782 Miles Driven 2.969 Trillion
2013 US Death rate per mile 1.10 Total deaths 32,894. Miles Driven 2.988 Trillion
2014 US Death rate per mile 1.08 Total deaths 32,675 Miles Driven 3.026 Trillion
Fatality rate is per 100 million miles traveled
by Ron Paul
Three recent stories regarding three government agencies — the IRS, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) — show why we should oppose big government for practical, as well as philosophical, reasons.
In recent months, many Americans have missed their flights because of longer-than-usual TSA security lines. In typical DC fashion, the TSA claims the delays are because of budget cuts, even though Congress regularly increases the TSA’s funding!
The TSA is also blaming the delays on the fact that few Americans have signed up for its “PreCheck” program. Under PreCheck, the TSA considers excusing some Americans from some of the screening process. Those who wish to be considered must first submit personal information to the TSA and pay a fee. Only a bureaucrat would think Americans would be eager to give the TSA more information and money on the chance that they may be approved for PreCheck.
The TSA is much better at harassing airline passengers than at providing security. TSA agents regularly fail to catch weapons hidden by federal agents testing the screening process. Sadly, Congress will likely reward the TSA’s failures with continued funding increases. Rewarding the TSA’s incompetence shouldn’t surprise us since the TSA owes its existence to the failure of government to protect airline passengers on 9/11.
If Congress truly wanted to protect airline passengers, it would shut down the TSA and let airlines determine how best to protect their passengers. Private businesses have a greater incentive than government bureaucrats to protect their customers and their property without stripping their customers of their dignity.
The head of the VA also made headlines last week when he said it is unfair to judge the VA by how long veterans have to wait for medical care, since no one judges Disney World by how long people have to wait in line. Perhaps he is unaware that no one has ever died because he waited too long to go on an amusement park ride.
For years socialized medicine supporters pointed to the VA as proof that a government bureaucracy could deliver quality health care. The stories of veterans being denied care or receiving substandard care demolish those claims.
If Congress truly wanted to ensure that veterans receive quality health care, it would stop forcing veterans to seek health care from a federal bureaucracy. Instead, government would give veterans health-care vouchers or health savings accounts and allow them to manage their own health care. Congress should also dramatically reduce the costs of providing veterans care by ending our militaristic foreign policy.
Another story last week highlights the one thing government does do well: violate our rights. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on impeaching IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over his role in the IRS’s persecution of conservative organizations.
Those who value liberty and constitutional government should support impeaching Koskinen. However, truly protecting Americans from IRS tyranny requires eliminating the income tax. Despite the claims of some, a flat tax system would still require a federal bureaucracy to ensure Americans are accurately reporting their income. Since the income tax is one of the foundations of the welfare-warfare state, it is folly to think we can eliminate the income tax without first dramatically reducing the size and scope of government.
The TSA, VA, and IRS are just three examples of how government cannot effectively provide any good or service except authoritarianism. Individuals acting in the free market are more than capable of providing for their own needs, including the need to protect themselves, their families, and their property, if the government gets out of the way.
2 special called commission meetings
The Mayor called two commission meetings this month. Mayor Ed Mitchell has decided that his role is to cut ribbons and attend every breakfast and dinner that he can rather than running the courthouse. He has entrusted too many things to his Finance Director, Randy Vineyard, who is not even a good finance person, let alone qualified to run the courthouse. This has lead to poor management decisions, which have been costly to the taxpayers.
1st meeting to offer a new insurance plan
The first called meeting was to offer a new health care plan to county employees because the state deemed the current plan to be inferior to the state plan. The state provides some funding for health insurance for teachers. The local plan has to be as good or better than the state plan or the county can lose those funds.
The problem is that the state offers several plans while the local government offers only one plan. The comparison wasn’t done to all state plans, which I was told would have likely showed that the single plan overall is just as good as the state plan and costs substantially less. The broker shared that the state has miscalculated its costs and is actually going to have to significantly raise employee costs next year.
The new plan isn’t much different than the old plan. You can see them both on page 2 here. This situation was bureaucratic red tape and the people who went to Nashville seemed hopeful that the state won’t require unnecessary hoops to jump through next year.
I took the opportunity to ask the Finance Director, Randy Vineyard, to provide the commission with a monthly report on the financial status of the self insurance fund. He wasn’t happy about that and told the commission we could look the numbers up in the general ledger if we wanted them. The Finance Director didn’t realize why the fund was losing large sums of money until state auditors pointed it out to him. A good quality financial person would be tracking this and providing regular updates on the fund to the board.
2nd meeting to hire an IT consultant
Commissioners Archie Archer and Gary Farmer were absent.
A meeting was called in December, after the commission canceled its scheduled meeting, to ram through the creation of a $1.3M Information Technology (IT) capital fund. This month an IT consulting firm was rushed through in a called meeting.
Blount County has several IT needs. It is why I sought to be added to the IT Committee. However, after serving on the IT Committee for over a year, I am left wondering why we have an IT Committee. The Mayor and his Finance Director have no respect for the authority of the IT Committee. They have bypassed the IT Committee for all major IT decisions.
The Mayor’s Finance Director got the cart before the horse. He pushed for Kronos before upgrading the county’s IT infrastructure. A good analogy is that the Mayor and Finance Director went out and bought the most expensive wheels that they could find and put them on a car with engine problems.
The Kronos software project is likely the largest and most costly IT project in county history. Read more about that project here. It has been mismanaged and is behind schedule. It is generally not a good idea to start more IT projects when your current project is behind, but that doesn’t seem to concern the mayor and finance director who are proceeding full steam ahead with your money.
When the Kronos project was first presented to the commission in 2014, then commissioner Jim Folts warned of the problems that would happen if Vineyard was allowed to proceed with the Kronos project as planned. One of his biggest concerns was that a volunteer from the Sheriff’s Office, an attorney, would be in charge of the project. The attorney quit the project, early into it. Folts’ concerns have been realized.
Vineyard realized that attempting a major IT project without a dedicated manager/director was a big mistake but has failed to acknowledge that he was forewarned of the problem. His solution for upcoming IT projects is to hire expensive consultants to manage the projects. However, there are problems with this approach as well.
The county had a good IT Director who ran the county’s IT Department on a shoe string budget while using old technology. John Herron had managed the IT Department for 30 years. He left last year to work for Blount County Schools.
The county has been operating with an Interim IT Director since August. I was stunned when the Interim Director told me that the mayor isn’t looking to hire an IT Director. Instead the mayor (and finance director) sought to employ an IT consulting firm to manage the county’s IT projects.
Mindboard Inc. was presented to the commission. The Purchasing Agent, Katie Branham, chose this company based on the scores of a team that she chose to evaluate prospective companies and because of their references.
The evaluation team consisted of select members of the IT Committee. I am on the IT Committee and she never told me that she was going to choose member of the IT Committee. She did not invite me to listen to the interviews either. It would have taken her about 1 minute to send me an invitation by email. She smugly told me that the meeting was advertised in the paper. Apparently she thinks that county commissioners should have to subscribe to the newspaper to know what their government is doing. One of the people she chose was Jimmy Cox from the Highway Department. I asked her what his IT experience is. She told me that she didn’t know.
In Mindboard’s response to the Request for Qualifications (RFQ), they give 5 references. Only one of those lists a project budget over $60,000. The capital fund (budget) is over 22 times this amount. With a capital fund containing over $1.3 million, having only one project with a budget anywhere close to this is not very assuring.
This company, and some of its employees, are currently being sued. The representative (Principal) for the company said the suit is frivolous. I hope for the sake of the taxpayers that none of the allegations are true.
The company has applied for several H1B visas to employ foreign workers. These are good paying jobs that could be going to workers who are not US citizens. Blount County government should not be taxing citizens making minimum wage or living on social security checks to pay foreign workers far more than the taxpayers are making and living on.
The agreement (contract) looked like a boiler plate document that hadn’t been reviewed by an attorney because of obvious mistakes that should have been fixed. However, the agreement was actually reviewed by two attorneys, who apparently don’t pay close attention to details.
The agreement lists Blount County government as a company rather than a county. The principal office line in the first paragraph was blank in our packets. These two items are what made me think it was a boiler plate document. It turns out that it is. The Purchasing Agent told me that the agreement was written by Mindboard with input from the county. Apparently the county gave so little input that it didn’t even request to be called a county or have its address typed into the document.
There is no mention of software in the agreement. Article 5 defines work product but does not mention software.
Perhaps the most alarming thing is the blank page in the contract. Page 13 is blank. Usually pages that are blank say they are intentionally left blank. Frankly, the taxpayers should ask for their money back from attorney Craig Garrett who supposedly reviewed the agreement for form.
The resolution refers to him as the County Attorney but there is no official position of County Attorney. That office/position has never been created. Commissioner Karen Miller made a motion to correct the description of Craig Garrett but her motion failed. Apparently the commission is OK with someone misrepresenting who they are.
The Purchasing Agent should not be given a pass for these errors either. She is an attorney. This agreement was reviewed by two people who are attorneys. There is no excuse for such poor quality work.
The agreement does not give actual project expenses. All it gives are hourly rates. The Finance Director said that we don’t have the actual costs because we don’t know how much these projects will cost. We’re suppose to turn these consultants lose at hourly rates exceeding $100 so that they can provide us with the costs. The Purchasing Agent told us that Mindboard thinks it will take about 2 months for them to analyze the county’s IT needs.
In the private sector, if a financial person came to a board and said we don’t know what this will cost, give us some time with some expensive consultants and we’ll figure it out, he/she would be laughed out of the room and possibly offered a mental health evaluation on the way out. I felt like I had entered the land of Oz with Vineyard as the man behind the curtain, listening to this nonsense.
The former IT Director had actually provided a list of capital needs in 2014 but it was not acted upon. The county paid an IT consulting firm to examine the county’s IT needs last year. The Mayor’s Finance Director described that study as the 10,000 foot view. What was the point of that study, if we’re going to have to pay consultants big hourly rates to study the situation again?
The contract manager said he will be moving to Blount County for a couple of years. He will be one of the $100+ an hour consultants. If he works full time at 40 hours a week, that one position could cost over $450,000 over a 2 year period. There are too many unknown variable with this agreement and capital fund.
Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted no. These are the commissioners watching out for you the taxpayers. It’s a short list but an important list. Share these names with the people you know because these are the commissioners worth reelecting.
Commissioner Archie Archer voted no on the creation of the capital fund in December but he was absent for this vote.
The better approach – hire an IT Director
The better approach for the county would be to hire a top notch IT Director. I suggested to the commission that an IT Director be hired on a salary and that he/she be given a bonus, along with the staff, for successful completion of IT projects that are on time and under budget.
Some of the IT projects will still need to be outsourced. However, an IT Director who plans to stay with the county for several years would be motivated to see that things are done correctly. Additionally, outside consultants may end up doing things that an IT Director may not find useful for the county. It boggles the mind that Blount County has embarked upon over $4 million in IT projects without an IT Director to lead the way.
Commissioners Archie Archer and Gary Farmer were absent.
Nominations finally where they should be
At the January commission meeting, I spoke against the practice of putting important nominations under the consent calendar to rush the process through with little discussion. The consent calendar is suppose to be for non-controversial items that require no discussion. The commission has been doing a great disservice by putting these names on the consent calendar and offering no discussion. This practice has allowed the commission to vote on the people being nominated, appointed or elected before public input is allowed. You can see the order of the agenda here.
For several months I have been trying to get Agenda Committee Chairman Steve Samples and Commission Chairman Jerome Moon to place appointments and confirmations to important boards under the correct agenda item where they belong. I am pleased to announce that the appointments were on the agenda in the correct place this month, under Elections, Appointments and Confirmations. The public can now offer comments and concerns about elections, appointments and confirmations during the time for public input on the agenda.
I attended commission meetings for several years before being elected to office. While I was aware that the county applied for and received many federal grants, I didn’t realize just how many grants the county received until I took office.
The first thing that I did was raise my right hand and take an oath to support the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States of America. The subject matters of most of the grants are not found in the delegated powers given to the federal government in the constitution. Congress does not have authority to spend money on most of these projects and programs. Therefore, in order to remain true to my oath of office I have and will continue to vote no on these unconstitutional grants.
Furthermore, many grants have strings attached. The commission is given little, if any, information about the conditions that come with these grants. While many talk about the 10th amendment and the power of the states, that talk quickly goes out the window when federal money is involved.
Cost of feeding inmates is higher than the numbers the sheriff gives
One of the selling points for keeping federal prisoners is the low cost of feeding the inmates. The Sheriff told the Blount County Corrections Partnership at its November meeting that it costs $2.50-3 a day to feed an inmate.
The adopted food budget for the jail is $430,000. The Sheriff’s Office requested a $250,000 increase which would bring the food budget total to $680,000.
The average daily inmate total for 2015 was 528. At $2.50 a day, with an extra day for the leap year the cost of feeding 528 inmates a day would be $483,120. The cost at $3 a day is $579,744.
Both of these numbers are less than $680,000. At 528 inmates per day, the cost would be about $3.52 a day. Food costs are rising. $3.52 is not an unreasonable price but it should no longer be said that the inmates are being fed for $2.50-3 a day.
Budget amendments form updated
Last month, there was some confusion about the actual impact that budget amendments had on the budget. Each time a budget request is made throughout the year, after the annual budget is adopted, a form has to be filled out explaining the amendment. The form had two boxes to check, one for transfers and one for increases and decreases.
A new form was presented providing four options: transfer, decrease, increase and adjustment. The example that the Finance Director gave for an adjustment was actually an increase because it would spend more of you local tax money. The description given, on the new form, for an adjustment says, “(correction to adopted budget due to “grant award” or “budgetary adjustment”).” An increase, using local tax money, should not be recorded as an adjustment; therefore, I moved to strike the words budgetary adjustment and replace them with the word reimbursements. An example of a reimbursement is the money that the county received from CSX for work done during the train derailment. It is technically an increase to the budget, but it is not an increase in the use of tax dollars. My amendment failed.
Commissioner Mike Akard said the changes still leave the water muddy. I agree. Allowing increases in spending of your local tax money should not be classified as adjustments. The commission could have fixed this but didn’t when it rejected my amendment. Commissioners Mike Akard, Brad Bowers, Karen Miller and I voted no.
Chairman Moon allows return to old, bad ways
In the past, it was common for commissioners to blurt out call the question, without being recognized, in order to shut debate down. Commissioner Steve Samples did that this month. Chairman Moon told him that he would recognize him if he would turn his light on. Samples turned his light on and Chairman Moon recognized him, even though there was a commissioner who was had been waiting to speak. This is a dangerous practice to return to, allowing a commissioner to blurt out call the question to end discussion and ignore those who have been patiently waiting their turns.
A meeting has been called for the commission to appointment a replacement for Roy Crawford who recently passed away. Roy was the only elected official in the courthouse who did a good job, would give you a straight answer and actually deserved to be reelected so many times, like he was. Richard Hutchens gave him the first Statesmen Award. He will be missed.
The commission will also be tasked with finding a replacement for Bill Dunlap who retired at the end of January.
Record numbers of Americans are expected to hit the road this holiday season. Couple that with the inevitable bad weather and overbearing traffic enforcement, and we thought it made sense to provide this holiday travel checklist—NMA style.
Be Prepared: Pack a roadside safety kit in case you find yourself stranded, especially in bad weather. Pick one up premade or put together your own with a few basic hand tools, jumper cables, flashlight, tire inflator, blankets, first aid kit, etc. Check here for a full list of recommended items.
Plan Ahead Part 1: Staying safe means anticipating road hazards. Check www.speedtrap.org and www.roadblock.org before you leave to see where to expect stepped-up enforcement along your journey. Beyond speeding, police will be working overtime (thanks to federal grants) looking for things like seat belt violations, DUI and distracted driving infractions.
Plan Ahead Part 2: Speaking of distracted driving, cell phone and texting laws vary widely. What is permissible in one state will result in an expensive ticket in another. Check here to get an idea of the laws in the states you plan to visit.
Weather the Storm: Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy and ready for the conditions. Check things like the battery, tires, fluid levels, wiper blades, etc. Here’s a full list.
Take a Deep Breath: Heavy traffic, bad weather and the stresses of the holidays bring out the worst in drivers. Be patient on the road, leave plenty of space between your vehicle and others and …
Spread Some Holiday Cheer: Practice Lane Courtesy and make everyone’s trip a little more enjoyable.
Have a Contingency Plan: Despite your planning and diligence, you still find yourself along the side of the road with a cop looking to fill his federal grant-driven holiday enforcement quota (oops … performance measure). What do you do? Look here for some great tips on how to minimize the damage and get back on your way as soon as possible.
Speak Up: Using the phrases “Am I free to leave now?” and “Am I being detained?” during a traffic stop or roadblock could extract you from further harassment. Also, by exercising your civil rights you can protect yourself should the situation turn more serious and lead to future court proceedings.
Hide the Presents: If you’ve got presents in your vehicle, keep them out of sight. You don’t want any Grinches stealing your Christmas, especially if you’re traveling to New Haven, Connecticut, where police have been stealing valuables from unlocked cars, just to teach their owners a lesson. No kidding.
Go Cashless: Civil forfeiture is always a danger, and the cops will look for any excuse to pick your pocket, even if you’re only carrying a few hundred bucks. Carry as little cash as possible.
Give Back: Consider a year-end donation to the NMA Foundation, which may be tax deductible.
Finish up your Holiday Shopping: Giving a NMA gift membership to someone on your list is easy, inexpensive and always appreciated. Call us at 1-800-882-2785.