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

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

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

Jim Vesper – Blount County citizen and businessman

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

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

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

Even people from other counties find Register of Deed Phyllis Crisp’s behavior disturbing

Today I (Tona Monroe) received the following email related to the March Commission meeting in which Phyllis Crisp, Blount County Register of Deeds, spoke during public input on items not on the agenda about an item on the agenda.  The author resides in another Tennessee county.  Even people living in other counties are appalled by her behavior.

“Just watched the March meeting for Blount County.  That register of deeds is a real piece of work.

I also watched your presentation that you did in January and you’ve really got me interested in the discretionary inmates piece.  Is there still no data on how many or what rough % of inmates at county jails are from state or federal?  I’m interested in this issue here as well.

As always, thanks for everything you do.  You’re a real inspiration to me.  I’m hoping I can be as good a commissioner as you are.”

Phyllis Crisp praised newly appointed 4th district Commissioner Brian Robbins.  When she finished speaking Robbins stood up and clapped.  Afterwards someone said to me Robbins was clapping for himself, since Crisp was praising him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East Tennessee Index 2014 figures for median household income:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes about the data
Data presented in 2014 dollars.

Blount Memorial Hospital Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who were absent
Akard, Bowers, Carter

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

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

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

Let freedom ring!

May 1, 2018 Local Election Issues

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

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

Let freedom ring!
Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner

May 1, 2017 local government primary election issues slides

Speaking Freely with Tona Monroe

Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe was a guest speaker on Speaking Freely on 92.3 FM this evening.  She discussed her recent nomination of Scott Williams to replace Doug Overbey in the state senate, her political philosophy, the secrecy in purchasing that occurred with a state law passed last year and scamera and speeding tickets.

Nathan Keeble, Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe, Joshua Eakle and Sherry “Voluntary” Clark

County Commissioners Daly, Miller and Monroe given Blount Patriot Eagle Awards at Bill of Rights dinner

Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio AM 1470 hosted the 3rd annual Bill of Rights dinner in Alcoa today.  State Senate candidate Scott Williams was the keynote speaker, speaking about the history of states holding conventions to address problems.

Grothjahn presented the three ladies on the Blount County Commission, Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe, with the Blount Patriot Eagle Award.  Grothjahn told the Blount County Commission last month that only the women on the commission are standing for righteousness in government.  The plaques feature an eagle and are engraved with a scripture from the book of Isiah.

Yet those who wait on the LORD will gain new strength: They will mount up with wings like eagles.  They will run and not get tired.  They will walk and not become weary.  -Isaiah 40:31

Commissioner Jamie Daly, Harry Grothjahn, Commissioner Karen Miller and Commissioner Tona Monroe

Blount County Commissioners Tona Monroe, Jamie Daly & Karen Miller  and state Senate candidate Scott William


16 yes men make yes man Jerome Moon 8th district TN state representative

16 yes men on the Blount County Commission voted yesterday to make Jerome Moon, a yes man, the 8th district Tennessee state representative.  Moon joins Bob Ramsey and Art Swann, who were also Blount County Commissioners, in the state legislature.

Swamp creature and former Blount County Director of Accounts and Budgets (Finance Director), Commissioner Dave Bennett nominated Jerome Moon.  Commissioners Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Dave Bennett, Brad Bowers, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Shawn Carter, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton and Tom Stinnett voted for Moon.

Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted for James (Jim) Hammontree.  Hammontree was nominated by Commissioner Monroe.

Commissioner Mike Akard was absent.

Moon was asked less than 2 weeks ago by the local paper if he was interested in being considered for the house seat.  It appeared based on his response that he wouldn’t give a yes or no answer.  One has to wonder whether someone refusing to even tell the public and/or press, that close to the meeting, whether he wants to be considered for a position of authority will ever give a straight answer on the important issues that impact life, liberty and property.

Realizing that for the second time this month that the fix is in, Jim Hammontree is now focusing his efforts on replacing Mike Lewis on the commission who is currently a commissioner in the second commission district in Alcoa.  The district includes the Alcoa, Mentor, Oak Street and Pellissippi voting precincts.

Jerome Moon makes the 3rd commissioner out of the original 21 commissioners elected in 2014 (Caskey*, French and Moon were unopposed) who is no longer a member of the Blount County Commission.  The political machine made Jeff Headrick the Blount County Highway Superintendent in 2016 and Commissioner Steve Samples passed away earlier this year.

*Caskey was unopposed in the primary election because the incumbent died before the election.  He did have a write-in challenger in the general election.

14 machine commissioners make Art Swann state senator

Blount County Commissioners Andy Allen, Dave Bennett, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Tom Stinnett voted to replace Doug Overbey who recently resigned from the Tennessee Senate with (now former) Representative Art Swann.  Swann was nominated by Commissioner Carver.

Commissioner Tona Monroe nominated Scott Williams.  Commissioners Archie Archer, Karen Miller and Monroe voted for Williams.

Commissioners Mike Akard, Brad Bowers, Tom Cole and Jamie Daly were absent from the meeting.

Only Commissioners Miller and Monroe spoke during the discussion portion of the meeting with both sharing why they were voting for Williams.  Monroe shared that Williams served his country through military service, is a gentleman and a class act.  She said Swann had never returned any of her emails about concerns she had related to state laws and matters impacting local governments.

After the meeting, Jim Hammontree, who has picked up a petition to run for the seat currently held by district 2 Commissioner Mike Lewis, shared with BC Public Record and the local paper that the commission took a do nothing state representative and turned him into a do nothing state senator.

Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe and state Senate candidate Scott Williams

Many links on this site are broken due to county’s new website

Blount County government recently launched a new website.  As a result, many of the links to the Blount County government website ( found on this website ( will no longer work because the files are now in different locations.  If you read past articles and find that the links aren’t working, there is a good starting point page to look for the references found throughout this site. Please start here:

Meeting Archives

Commission Meetings

Budget and Finance Committee Meetings

Agenda and Work Session Meetings

Insurance Committee Meetings

HR Committee Meetings

Blount County’s YouTube Channel containing meeting recordings

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.

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.