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October 2017 Commission Report

Commission meeting
Light month for spending – equipment for Animal Shelter approved
In a rare change of pace, none of your hard earned tax money was spent this month.  The only budget increase was a use of Animal Shelter donation monies to purchase kennels to house cats.

Grant process remains dysfunctional
The Blount County Commission is habitually asked to approve grant worksheets, which are requests to apply for grants, after grant deadlines have passed.  There were three grant worksheets and all three deadlines had already passed.  The grants include state funds to purchase bullet proof benches for Juvenile Court, equipment for used oil collection and equipment for recycling at the new convenience center.

The Juvenile Court security grant application was provided with the worksheet.  The recycling equipment grants were not included with the worksheets.

Internal Control Policy approved
The commission approved an Internal Control Policy for Blount County government.  You can read the policy here.

The policy lacks specifics on maintaining internal controls because the policy is based on principles for standards.  The preface explains this:

“This policy summarizes internal controls based on standards for establishing internal controls published in September 2014 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Standards for Internal Controls in the Federal Government (Green Book) and the Internal Control Manual for Local Governmental Entities and Other Audited Entities in Tennessee (the “Internal Control Manual”). Establishing and maintaining a system of internal controls is required by federal and state law.

This policy is based on principles as opposed to providing a detailed method of implementing internal controls because the GAO Green Book is principles based.”

Page 5 of the policy says, “Management reviews all new grant applications and grant agreements to identify potential risks due to changing grant requirements or other circumstances.”  Often the commission only receives a grant worksheet, when it approves a request to apply for a grant.  If management is identifying potential risks, the commission isn’t receiving a memo identifying or explaining potential risks.  It’s possible that grants with potential risks are being identified and aren’t being brought to the commission.  After reading this, I think it would be helpful for a statement of potential risks be included with a grant worksheet.

Page 6 of the policy says, “Management insures that separation of duties is observed; proper reporting and reconciliations are adopted; proper authorizations are received.”  There have been some issues with separation of powers and proper authorizations.  Read this and this.  What happens when the separation of powers and proper authorizations involves management?

Page 6 of the policy says, “Management requires third party service organizations to provide a Service Organization Control (SOC) report as a method of holding them accountable for their internal control systems.”  I’ve asked the finance director questions related to this.  If/when I receive answers, I may write further on this.

Page 7 of the policy says, “The information systems software, which is fully documented and includes backup and recovery processes, is approved by the Information Technology Committee.”  I’d like to see the IT Committee records showing that the IT Committee approved an information systems software.  Readers of this website may recall that I serve on the IT Committee and that I’ve written more than once that I don’t understand why the county has an IT Committee since it usually doesn’t do anything.  Many of the important IT decisions are made without input and approval from the IT Committee.

Page 8 of the policy says, “The Audit Committee has established a process for employees, taxpayers, and citizens to report suspected fraudulent, illegal, wasteful, or improper activity confidentially to the Audit Committee.”  The Audit Committee page on the county’s website contains no contact information for the members of the committee and there is nothing there explaining how to report anything to the Audit Committee.

Page 9 of the policy contains only the word Appendix at the top and is otherwise blank.  Page 1 of the policy says, “See Appendix for a complete list of all boards and committees.”

Much of this policy sounds good but I have to wonder if it is worth the paper it is written considering everything that I’ve just explained.

Up next:
It’s time to consider reforming the grant worksheet approval process.  Suggestions for reform are welcomed.

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.

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 (www.blounttn.org) found on this website (www.bcpublicrecord.com) 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: http://www.blounttn.org/926/Meeting-Archives

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.

$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.

FY18 proposed budget includes $1.1M for one secret company

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which is July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018, includes spending $1.1 million from Blount County’s General Fund balance to use to recruit one company to Blount County.  I sent a list of questions to the Director of Accounts and Budgets, commonly referred to as the Finance Director, Randy Vineyard.  His answers directly follow each question.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked Mayor Ed Mitchell what the total costs in incentives will be for this one company.  He didn’t know.  It is likely that the City of Maryville and the State of Tennessee will also provide incentives.  With the county offering to spend $1.1M, this is obviously an expensive proposition.

Your elected local legislative officials are being asked to approve this without knowing the full costs to the taxpayers and with little knowledge about the company.  This is somewhat like putting the money into a blind trust and hoping that unelected bureaucrats and a few politicians in the know will make sound decisions with you money.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The commission doesn’t receive reports from the Industrial Development Board (IDB), detailing the use and results of your tax money that it receives from the county.
  • The IDB doesn’t even provide the commission with a copy of its annual budget.
  • Commissioner Jamie Daly and I were blocked for asking questions about the IDB/Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority.
  • The commission has been provided nothing in writing about this deal/proposal, other than to identify the use of funds as an “Economic Development Project.”
  • This $1.1M is in addition to the $1,062,200 that the IDB received this year and will receive again next year, if the FY18 budget is approved.
  • The IDB/Blount Partnership has failed to provide a copy of IDB’s open records policy, which I asked for in May.

The Pellissippi Place, AMI, and the IDB’s handling of the racetrack should give us pause before handing over any more money for corporate welfare, particularly when nearly everything about this is a secret.  It is past time for the state legislature to pass a local government uniform tax incentives act, which would eliminate the secret, special corporate handouts.

Budget Questions sent to the Director of Accounts and Budgets:

Commissioner,

See the responses below. I have copied Troy Logan on the School questions.

Randy

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Angelie Shankle <ashankle@blounttn.org>
Date: Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 3:24 PM
Subject: Fwd: Budget Questions
To: Randolph Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org>

Dear Director of Accounts and Budgets,

Questions related to Fund 189

1.  How much, if any, of the $1,850,000 for IT is money that will be left over from the current budget year?  None
2.  With the budget request for the upcoming year, what will the total budgeted costs (eliminating duplication of unspent appropriations from prior years) for the IT project be? $1.85m for 17-18; $1.3m prior
3. What is the $1.1M economic development project for?  A project that hasn’t been disclosed publicly yet; payback in 2 years; creation of 1000 jobs
4.  Is this $1.1M in addition to the $1,062,200 that is current budgeted? Yes
5.  Will the economic development costs for FY be over $2M? For FY17-18?  If project comes to fruition, yes.
6.  If so, is this expected to reoccur in future years? No, not the $1.1m for the econ. dev. proj.
7.  What is the $415,000 labeled BCSO officer safety capital needs for? body cams, rifles, ballistic helmets/vests, active shooter kits, jail camera replacements-2nd phase

Questions related to use of Fund Balance and Maintenance of Effort

1.  How much of the General Fund balance will be appropriated in the proposed budget?  $3.4m
2.  What do you anticipate the General Fund balance being at the end of the current fiscal year? haven’t estimated yet, but was $15m FY15-16 year end
3.  How much of the School’s General Purpose Fund balance will be appropriated in the proposed budget? $3.1m was proposed
4.  What do you anticipate the School’s General Purpose Fund balance being at the end of the current fiscal year? Troy Logan question
5.  Does use of the School’s General Purpose Fund balance contribute to the MOE in future years, meaning will the county have to provide the same amount next year even if it does not have the fund balance to supply the same amount? Troy Logan question
6.  What is the current school MOE? Troy Logan question
7.  What will the school MOE be if the proposed FY 18 budget is adopted? Troy Logan question

Sincerely,
Tona


Angelie Shankle

Budget Manager
Blount County Courthouse
341 Court St.
Maryville, TN 37804
 

Randy

Randy Vineyard, IOM
Blount County Finance Director
341 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804
865-273-5719 (office)
rvineyard@blounttn.org

Blount County taxpayers are paying $96,717 more than state minimum for 4 elected officials

If the commission votes to approve the budget on its agenda next week, the taxpaying citizens of Blount County will be paying $96,717 more in salaries and benefits than the state mandated minimums for four elected officials.  Blount County Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher and Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick will make 10% above the state minimums.  Sheriff James Lee Berrong and Mayor Marvin Ed Mitchell will both make 32% more than the state mandated minimums.  The sheriff’s additional pay of $30,603 could be used to fund an additional deputy or give $1,000 pay raise to 30 employees.

You can view the state mandated salaries for the upcoming year, current year and prior years here.

During the last two annual budget discussions, I (Tona Monroe) tried to cut the salary supplements from the budget bringing the pay for these 4 elected officials down to the state minimums.  Both times only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted to reduce the pay.  Last year Jerome Moon argued that the commission had to pay the sheriff more but did not state the law requiring an additional pay supplement.  These pay supplements aren’t required.

These salaries are double and nearly triple what the taxpaying citizens of Blount County are making.

Government officials salaries continue to grow by large amounts, reaping the fruits of the labor of the citizenry while pay in Blount County isn’t even keeping up with the rate of inflation.

Tennessee trial court judges are best paid in nation after cost of living adjustment.

Meanwhile the mayor, Governor Bill Halsam, Lord of Croynism Randy Boyd and Gentlemen of the Bedchamber Byran Daniels have been busy getting their pictures in the paper for job creation.  The local rag is happy to serve as their PR firm.

The Tennessee General Assembly has been largely nonresponsive to reforming salaries that are double, triple and quadruple the average annual salary.  Most of them don’t feel your pain.  Many voted for the gas tax and most voted for Haslam’s bloated budget.

  Proposed   state minimum   Salary Estimated Total Fund
Office 2017-18   (no supplements)   Difference Taxes    
Mayor – Mitchell 132,550 must make 5% more than Sheriff 100,416   32,134 6207 38,341 101
                 
Circuit Court Clerk* – Hatcher 95,635 other elected officials plus 10% for more than 1 court 86,941   8,694 1716 10,410 101
                 
Sheriff – Berrong 105,199 must make 10% more than highest general elected official (CCC) 95,635   30,603 5914 36,517 101
Workhouse* 10,520              
Juvenile* 10,520              
  126,238              
                 
Highway – Headrick 105,199 must make 10% more than highest general elected official (CCC) 95,635   9,564 1885 11,449 131

Figures provided by Angelie Shankle, Budget Manager for Blount County government.

Beacon Center Report on Blount County School District shows big administrative growth while students declined from 2004-2014

The Beacon Center created a tool to examine school spending and growth rates from 2004-2014.

According to the reported generated by the tool, the Blount County School District saw a 71% increase in administrative costs, an 11% increase in teachers and a 21% increase in administrators from 2004-2014 but the number of students dropped 0.2% during this time.

Are your tax dollars being used wisely?

For comparison during the same time period, Alcoa and Maryville School Districts both had a decrease in administrators while the rest of the data provided, including students, increased.

The debt amount in this report does not accurately reflect the full debt costs of the schools because most of the debt for the schools is paid for out of the Debt Service Fund and not the General Purpose Schools Fund.

May 2017 Commission Report

Open Records Policy
The majority of commissioners showed themselves to be overlords rather than servants of the people by adopting an open records policy with a process making it difficult for people to obtain their government records.  The policy speaks for itself.  Only those with disdain for the people they are suppose to serve would make it as difficult to obtain your records as this commission just did.  These people can claim they’re there to serve you but actions speak louder than words.

The policy was designed by an ad hoc committee comprised of 3 county commissioners and 2 citizens.  2 of the commission members, Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor, are local government employees who consistently support government of the government, for the government, and by the government rather than government of the people, for the people and by the people.

Copy fees
The ad hoc committee proposed charging 50 cents per copy, for both black and white and color copies.  The fee for black and white copies in the Schedule of Reasonable Charges produced by the state Office of Open Records Counsel, within the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, is 15 cents.  Jerome Moon, the Chairman of the committee that wrote the policy, took the extraordinary measure of changing the fee for black and white copies in the policy before presenting it to the commission.  Rather than respecting the process by proposing an amendment, he actually changed the policy that the ad hoc committee had recommended.

Commissioners Moon and Grady Caskey sponsored the resolution that adopted the open records policy.  These two falsely claimed in their resolution that the commission was adopting the policy as recommended by the ad hoc committee.  The fourth whereas statement in the resolution reads:

“WHEREAS, the Blount County legislative body finds that it is mandated to establish a written public records policy and hereby adopts and approves the proposed written public records policy as recommended by the ad hoc committee and attached hereto as Exhibit A.”

This is a false statement because the policy presented to the Agenda Committee, which consists of all members of the commission, was changed.  Commissioner Moon is the Chairman of the Blount County Commission.  He is well versed in parliamentary procedure.  There is absolutely no excuse for what he did.  All he had to do was present an amendment and explain his reasoning for the amendment.  Instead he changed what was presented to the commission.

Appointments for records inspections – take a number
From the Office of Open Records Counsel’s website, see the 3rd paragraph:

“Under the Tennessee Public Records Act, a records custodian cannot require a request for inspection of public records to be in writing. However, other provisions of law may permit or require such written request. A records custodian can require a request for copies of records to be in writing, or to be made on the Records Request Form, and to include that requirement in their public records policy. If a request must be on a specific form, a copy of the required form must be included in their public records policy and should be readily available for public use. If a governmental entity does not require a specific form, requestors may use the Records Request Form.”

The policy approved by the commission requires an appointment for records inspections, although a section below it makes it sound like it is the decision of the Public Records Request Coordinator (PRRC).

“IV. Inspection of Records

A. There shall be no charge for inspection of open public records. An appointment is required for inspection.

B. The location for inspection of records within the offices of Blount County Government should be determined by either the PRRC or the records custodian.

C. Under reasonable circumstances, the PRRC or a records custodian may require an appointment for inspection or may require inspection of records at an alternate location. The time for appointments should be made with in normal business hours unless mutually agreed upon by PRRC and the requestor.”

For clarity on the matter, I asked the Office of Open Records Counsel for its opinion on Section IV, Part A and Part C. This was the response I received:

“Good Afternoon Ms. Monroe:

I assume your question is regarding Section IV, Part A of the draft policy, which provides: “There shall be no charge for inspection of open public records.  An appointment is required for inspection.”  However, Part C of the same section provides that the PRRC may require an appointment for inspection of records “under reasonable circumstances.” 

Whether requiring an appointment to inspect the records is reasonable will ultimately be left to a court to decide, based upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case.  However, to the extent that a county’s public records policy provides a blanket rule that an appointment is required for the inspection of any records in any situation, we find it difficult to imagine that a court would find it reasonable to require an appointment for inspection under the facts and circumstances of each and every situation.”

To resolve the confusion and to reduce the burden upon those requesting records, I offered an amendment to remove the sentence in A that required an appointment for all records inspections.  This would have left in place the flexibility of requiring an appointment when circumstances warrant it.  The commission rejected this.  Only commissioners Akard, Archer, Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted to resolve this issue.  If the county is ever sued over the matter of requiring an appointment, it will be the fault of the commissioners who opposed the amendment and voted for the policy.  They have sufficient knowledge to know that the matter needed to be resolved.

Proof of citizenship and a photo ID – Papers “please”
You will have to prove that you are a Tennessee citizen and may have to provide a photo ID for records request.  These two impediments can really slow things down.  This isn’t papers “please.”  This is papers demanded and just to see or obtain records.  Karen Miller and I were placed in an interrogation room at the justice center when a photo ID was demanded of me when I make a records request of the Sheriff’s Office .

I offered an amendment that would have required that proof of citizenship only be required when someone is requesting a fee waiver with their records request.  It was rejected.

Proof of citizenship should only be obtained to verify that the person receiving a waiver of fees is actually a citizen and once is it provided it should be destroyed. How is the county going to keep your citizenship and photo ID records?  These records may contain sensitive information that Blount County has no legitimate reason in demanding, other than to provide a waiver of the costs/fees to its citizenry.

A photo ID should not be required just to see or get copies of public records.  This is not Nazi Germany.

Requests request must go to Blount County Records Manager and Archivist
Jackie Glenn, the Blount County Records Manager and Archivist, will serve as the PRRC.  This concerns me because some years back I asked her to provide me with copies of some records.  She wrote that it would cost a couple hundred dollars to provide the records but I was able to make copies of the records for a few dollars on my own.  I hope that no one finds themselves in a similar situation where a request for copies of records turns into hundreds of dollars when the records can be copied for a few dollars.

Only Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I rejected a policy that put in place with nearly as many unnecessary impediments to obtaining records as the courthouse clique could get away with.  While Daly was absent from the commission meeting, she voted against it at the Agenda Committee meeting.

Cutting commissioners off
It has become standard operating procedure for Commissioners Dave Bennett and Mike Caylor to call a point of order while I am speaking to shut me down.  This makes it difficult for me to do the job that I was elected to do.

Some have suggested that this is occurring because I am a woman.  It’s possible.  Commissioner Karen Miller has been questioned about her income and statements have been made about my employment.

A study of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) found that women justices are interrupted more frequently than men by male justices.  Male advocates arguing cases are much more likely to interrupt than female advocates.  The article says, “gender is 30 times more powerful in explaining interruptions than seniority.”

Source: https://aeon.co/ideas/how-men-continue-to-interrupt-even-the-most-powerful-women

Agenda Committee meeting
Commissioner Dave Bennett was absent.

Commission pay raise rejected
Commissioners Ron French and Grady Caskey proposed giving the commission a pay raise.  Currently Blount County Commissioners make a salary of $405 a month.  There are no official benefits such as health care.  However, taxpayer funded meals are provided before and after some special meetings.  Additionally, some commissioners are county employees and already receive benefits from the county.

The proposal would have increased the salary to $450 a month and pay commissioners $200 for their attendance at the Agenda Committee meeting.  This would have increased the pay from $405 to $650 a month.

I offered an amendment to remove the $200 for attending the Agenda Committee meeting but that amendment failed.  Only commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Steve Sample and I supported the amendment.  Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained.

The resolution failed in a 9-10-1 vote.  Commissioners Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Grady Caskey, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton and Jerome Moon voted yes to placing the resolution to increase their pay on the commission agenda.  Commissioners Mike Akard, Andy Allen, Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe and Steve Samples voted against sending the resolution forward.  Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained.

This is a hot button political issue that gets a lot of attention but its best to view the voting records of commissioners in their entirety.  Some of the commissioners who voted against increasing their pay rarely, if ever, look out for you the taxpayers.

The issue was simple for me.  This is public service and I am not going to vote to increase my own pay.  I tried to turn down my commission salary but was forced to take it after great resistance on my part.

Commission meeting
Commissioners Cole, Daly and Lewis were absent.

Planning Commission appointment
The Blount County Commission rubber stamped Mayor Ed Mitchell’s latest nomination to the Planning Commission.  Some rural districts of the county still have no representation on the Planning Commission, despite it having authority to propose regulations that impact the rural areas of the county.  I was the only commissioner that voted against the mayor’s appointment.

$350,000 more for equipment for the Highway Department
The new Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick has gone on a spending spree, purchasing new equipment.  Previous equipment purchases totaled more than $1.4M.

This month the commission approved a request for $350,000 to purchase a new 8′ paver.  The county already has a 10′ paver.

The memo accompanying the request said that this will save the county money since the county will be able to do more of its own paving.  However, there were no documents or figures to support this claim.  Some counties contract this out as it costs less to pay companies to do the paving but I was cut off from fully expressing this and further reasons why I couldn’t support this issue.

Without any information to support the claim that it will save the county money, I wasn’t comfortable with spending the money.  I made motion to postpone this for a month so that the commission could be provided with numbers to back up the claim that this purchase will save money.  The motion failed.  Commissioner Akard made an amendment, which I seconded, to reduce the amount to $200,000 so that the county could purchase a used paver.  That failed as well.  The commission approved the purchase with only commissioners Akard, Miller and myself voting against it.

Road for Denso
Unfortunately, corporate welfare is ingrained in local and state governments.  Blount County government already spends $1,062,200 annualy on “economic development”, without the commission being provided any info on how the money is spent.  Commissioners aren’t even given a budget showing how this $1M will be spent.  After asking for the budget in 2015, Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/Blount Chamber of Commerce/Industrial Development Board/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority blocked me.

Despite spending $1M+ on “economic development”, the commission was asked to approve an additional $60,425 to build a road for Denso.  The letter from the Tennessee Department of Transportation accompanying the contract is dated September 16, 2016 but the commission was not told about this or provided anything until this month.

$1M is enough of your money for secret, crony, corporate welfare deals.  Only commissioners Miller and I voted against giving more of your money to another special deal.

I am all for business friendly tax policies but tax breaks should be fair to all and apply equally to similar businesses.  Giving one business the farm (literally), another a building, building a road for another, or a tax abatement for another should stop.  Tax policies could be written to provide incentives to all businesses, not just those that cozy up to the courthouse clique and the swamp in Nashville.

Watch out for Randy Boyd, who is running in the Republican primary for Governor of Tennessee.  He is the king of corporate welfare, having spent two years as the Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development.  During that time he traveled the state giving corporate handouts to businesses while he and local elected officials could get their pictures in papers for “creating jobs” with your money.  As such, 22 east Tennessee mayors recently endorsed him.  Multiple media outlets serve as PR firms rather than news reporters, promoting how wonder these special, secret deals are.  That’s how powerful the corporate welfare, special interests have become.  Boyd has been well groomed to be the next big government governor, next in line after Bill Haslam.

Highway Dept. agreement with 4 local cities
The majority of commissioners rubber stamped local agreements between the Blount County Highway Department and the cities of Friendsville, Louisville, Rockford and Townsend.  The agreements were simple, only 1-2 pages each.  However, there was no mention of liability for the parties.  I inquired as to who would pay for what should an accident occur and was met with silence rather than answers.  Only commissioners Akard, Miller and I voted against taking the risk of the unknown with these agreements.

Up next:
Budget
While there is no tax rate increase proposed in the upcoming budget, spending will increase.  The revenues recommend by the Budget Committee are available hereThe expenditures recommended by the Budget Committee are available here.

Local government elections

“The future has a way of arriving unannounced.”  George F. Will

In many of these monthly commission reports I encourage you, the public, to get involved.  The 2018 local government primary election is less than one year away.  All partisan elected officials in Blount County are Republicans.  Thus all county government races, with the exception of the school board and Property Assessor, were determined in the May 6, 2014 primary election and the races will likely be determined in the May 1, 2018 election.  School board races are nonpartisan and the Property Assessor election occurs in the same year as a presidential election.

If you are dissatisfied with the status quo, please give consideration to running and/or supporting good candidates for local office next year.  It is not to early to start preparing.

“A year from now you will wish you had started today.”  Karen Lamb

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”  Will Rogers

Are We Fighting Terrorism, Or Creating More Terrorism?

By Ron Paul

When we think about terrorism we most often think about the horrors of a Manchester-like attack, where a radicalized suicide bomber went into a concert hall and killed dozens of innocent civilians. It was an inexcusable act of savagery and it certainly did terrorize the population.

What is less considered are attacks that leave far more civilians dead, happen nearly daily instead of rarely, and produce a constant feeling of terror and dread. These are the civilians on the receiving end of US and allied bombs in places like Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Last week alone, US and “coalition” attacks on Syria left more than 200 civilians dead and many hundreds more injured. In fact, even though US intervention in Syria was supposed to protect the population from government attacks, US-led air strikes have killed more civilians over the past month than air strikes of the Assad government. That is like a doctor killing his patient to save him.

Do we really believe we are fighting terrorism by terrorizing innocent civilians overseas? How long until we accept that “collateral damage” is just another word for “murder”?

The one so-called success of the recent G7 summit in Sicily was a general agreement to join together to “fight terrorism.” Have we not been in a “war on terrorism” for the past 16 years? What this really means is more surveillance of innocent civilians, a crackdown on free speech and the Internet, and many more bombs dropped overseas. Will doing more of what we have been doing do the trick? Hardly! After 16 years fighting terrorism, it is even worse than before we started. This can hardly be considered success.

They claim that more government surveillance will keep us safe. But the UK is already the most intrusive surveillance state in the western world. The Manchester bomber was surely on the radar screen. According to press reports, he was known to the British intelligence services, he had traveled and possibly trained in bomb-making in Libya and Syria, his family members warned the authorities that he was dangerous, and he even flew terrorist flags over his house. What more did he need to do to signal that he may be a problem? Yet somehow even in Orwellian UK, the authorities missed all the clues.

But it is even worse than that. The British government actually granted permission for its citizens of Libyan background to travel to Libya and fight alongside al-Qaeda to overthrow Gaddafi. After months of battle and indoctrination, it then welcomed these radicalized citizens back to the UK. And we are supposed to be surprised and shocked that they attack?

The real problem is that both Washington and London are more interested in regime change overseas than any blowback that might come to the rest of us back home. They just do not care about the price we pay for their foreign policy actions. No grand announcement of new resolve to “fight terrorism” can be successful unless we understand what really causes terrorism. They do not hate us because we are rich and free. They hate us because we are over there, bombing them.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/may/28/are-we-fighting-terrorism-or-creating-more-terrorism/

State prison inmate cost is $76 a day while TN pays counties $37 a day

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, the average daily cost to house an inmate in state prison is $76 a day.  That is more than twice what the state pays counties to house state felons.  The state currently pays counties a daily per diem of $37.  It’s no wonder that the state is content with letting their felons be housed in local jails.  It makes their costs lower, their books look better and it frees up more money to spend elsewhere.

But don’t worry the state is here to help local governments out by increasing the daily per diem rate for housing state felons in local jails to $39 a day.  That’s a whopping $2 daily increase.  Never mind that, at $39 a day, the state still averages saving $37 a day.*  State lawmakers and officials need to be able brag about being good stewards of taxpayer money by keeping the state budget lower and having a $2 billion surplus of your money.

Some good news: statewide recidivism was down in 2016.

Source: http://tn.gov/correction/news/49926

*The cost savings to the state may be less in counties with a contract for state sentenced felons.

April 2017 Commission Report

Agenda and Commission Meetings
This was a light month for the Blount County Commission.  The agenda was short. There was a zoning request that was had no objections and the commission voted to approve its minutes and receive reports.

The only thing of significance that happened was the commission moved the regular meeting time of 7 PM to 4 PM.  This was likely because the Republican Party of Blount County scheduled its Lincoln Day dinner for the same night at 6 PM.  Commissioner Dave Bennett had the item placed on the agenda for the Agenda Committee but he wasn’t present at the meeting to explain his request.  He is the former chairman of the local Republican Party.

Would the all Republican commission change the meeting time for the Blount County Democratic or Libertarian Parties?  The Information Technology Committee meeting, which was scheduled for 6 PM the same night, was also canceled.  I was the only commissioner present to vote against catering to the local Republican Party.

Paper takes down a story related to jail expansion
Last month I wrote about the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) cutting me off and not letting me do the job that I was elected to do: ask questions and get answers related to jail expansion in order to make an informed decision.  This month the paper removed a story from its website that it wrote related to my research and questions about this endeavor.

Blount County Tax Revolt, a local citizens group, asked me to come speak about the BCCP cutting me off and explain what I was prohibited from asking and what I had hoped to learn by asking questions.  A reporter for The Daily Times was present at the meeting and a story was written.  The story did not appear in the print edition but it was online with a link on the homepage of the paper’s website until the early afternoon when it was taken down.

The Daily Times has twice published that the Purchasing Department had an open meeting related to the jail RFQ.  This cherry picked reporting is a disservice to this community.  Most of the purchasing process related to the selection of a firm was done in secret because of a new state law.  It seems that the paper is more interested in publishing the talking points of the courthouse clique than it is evaluating a new law that made what was formerly an open process largely secret.  This law coupled with the actions of the BCCP have made my job more difficult than it should be.

At the March BCCP meeting, Purchasing Agent Katie Branham Kerr said that she would have to refer to her notes when I asked her who she had contacted in Loudon County when consulting references for the architectural firm Michael Brady Inc. (MBI).  I requested a copy of her notes and all communications records that she had with other governmental entities related to MBI.  Kerr informed me that she has no communications records related to MBI.

She says that she did contact someone at Loudon County regarding MBI but can’t remember who she spoke with or what office/department this person works in.  I checked with the Loudon County Mayor’s Office to see if anyone had any recollection of speaking to Kerr or anyone from Blount County related to MBI.  Anita Green with the Loudon County Mayor’s Office responded with, “I have spoken with several department heads and none have any recollection of speaking with anyone from Blount County.”

I’ll likely write more on this in the future.

Spectra Recycling Center to close
Blount County has been fortunate to enjoy having recycling services provided free of charge by a private company.  Spectra will be closing its recycling center on May 1st.  Spectra has provided recycling services free to city and county residents for 17 years.

While some recycling materials are profitable others are not.  The demand for glass is low and many governments that provide recycling services have stopped collecting it during garbage pick up.

In 2015, I served on an ad hoc committee that looked at recycling options for Blount County.  You can read the report issued by the chairman of that committee here.

If the county were to provide recycling, there will be costs associated with that service.  We had a valuable service being provided by a private business.  I don’t know if that service could have continued but I do wish that possibility had been fully explored before looking to provide a new county service.  Do you support using your tax dollars for the county to provide recycling?

Up Next:
Open Records Policy

The commission will soon vote on an open records policy.  Those who are interested in open government and obtaining or inspecting records will want to pay close attention to this.