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February 2017 Commission Report

Agenda Committee
Spending increase rejected
The commission actually rejected a spending increase request from the schools for tennis court renovations.  This is the first spending request that this commission has rejected.

Commission meetings
State inmate revenue reported incorrectly

After the Tennessee Department of Corrections announced that it would transfer some of its state felons to state facilities, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office started providing the commission a monthly report showing the revenue that the county is receiving from the state for housing state felons.  The county receives $37 a day from the state of Tennessee but the reports have been incorrectly stating that the daily per diem rate is $37.50.  $37 a day is substantially less than the cost to the county for housing state sentenced felons.  Blount County Sheriff James Berrong told the commission last April that the state inmates are only a good deal for the state and that he doesn’t want to keep them.

Highway Department
The commission was asked to approve spending $800,000 of fund balance for the Blount County Highway Department (HD) in a special called meeting.  This request was deemed an emergency by Highway Superintendent (HS) Jeff Headrick, due to trucks being damaged by salt.

The request included 8 new single-axial diesel salt trucks and 4 trailers.  I asked how many salt trucks the HD has.  Headrick didn’t know.  Assistant Superintendent Chico Messer told the commission that the HD has 15.

A common sense fleet management policy would be to replace these trucks at the rate of 1 or 2 a year.  It doesn’t make sense to replace the majority of your fleet (8 of 15) in one budget year.  While this seems to be poor management on the part of the former Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap, it is also poor planning on the part of the new HS.  A slower, more consistent, replacement of the fleet allows for better budget planning and as well as use of the vehicles.

The HD had just purchased 2 new triple-axial trucks in December at a cost of $145,746.80 each.  There was a transfer for $35,000 in January for parts.

At the regular commission meeting, the commission was asked to approve $281,000 to purchase a pug mill and asphalt patching trailer as well as $120,000 for asphalt.  Commissioner Mike Akard asked if the $120,000 for asphalt was an emergency.  Headrick said that it was but no explanation was given as to why it wasn’t included in the special called meeting with the equipment purchase.

Additionally, there was a $13,579.46 request to increase salaries in the Highway Department.  Commissioner Dave Bennett asked for this item to be removed without providing an explanation for its removal.

The requests and purchases for equipment and parts total over $1.4M in less than 3 months.  This was too much too fast.

It makes sense to approve more money for asphalt because the county hasn’t been keeping up with its paving needs.  Headrick said that the $120K will pave an additional 2.25 miles of the 830 miles of local roads.  Additionally, I asked him for a list of roads that will be paved in the next year.  You can read that list here.

Taxpayers footed the lunch bill for the commission, the mayor and his staff and some highway employees for the special called meeting.  Meals paid for by the taxpaying citizens of Blount County have become all too common of a practice.

Ethra funding
The commission was asked to approve the use of local tax money to bail out a federally funded program.  This isn’t the first time that the federal government has failed to fund one of its programs.  Funding was cut and service was to be temporarily halted.  This is a good example of why the federal government shouldn’t be running programs.  There is no constitutional authority for the federal government to fund this program.

There were unanswered questions.  A commissioner who is a part of the courthouse clique said after the meeting that this matter wasn’t explained well to the commission.

As a county commissioner, it isn’t my job to vote to bail out unconstitutional, federal government programs.  Furthermore, not one person from my district called me and asked me to vote for this.  I was the only commissioner to vote no.

Workers compensation (comp) settlement
The commission was asked to approve a workers comp settlement because the settlement was more than $50,000.  The case had been ongoing for over 2 years.  I had asked for records related to the case back in December, primarily because I wanted to know the cost of the legal fees for the case, and was provided with nothing.  Since I didn’t receive anything, I called  Director of General Services Don Stallions and he told me that the legal fees for the case is about $75,000.

I told Mr. Stallions that the commission should, at a minimum, be provided with an annual report on the status of lawsuits and claims against the county, but ideally it should be provided quarterly.  He agreed and said that the information used to be provided in the past when the county had a committee dealing with these matters.  When I mentioned this at the commission meeting, Commissioner Bennett made a statement cautioning against releasing information.  Apparently the status quo of having nothing is acceptable to him, although I doubt he’d run a private business without having this information.

For almost a year, I have been trying to get records and information from Stallions regarding the status of law suits, claims and settlements.  To date he has provided me with nothing.  This lengthy delay is not out of sort.  A former commissioner shared with me that Mr. Stallions stalled him for 2 years on a request.

Jail RFQ purchasing meeting
After I publically criticized the secrecy created by a new purchasing law, the Purchasing Department held a meeting open to the public so three companies chosen in secret could give presentations as to why their company is the best to look at jail expansion or construction of a new facility.  No decisions were made at the meeting.  The selection of the company was done behind closed doors, to protect the integrity of the process, according to Purchasing Agent (PA) Katie Branham Kerr.  This means that the Tennessee General Assembly and the Purchasing Agent think that the public lacks the integrity to allow her to select a company openly.

The Evaluation Team/Screening Committee consisted of 4 of the 5 people that I named here.  Laurie Bell did not participate at the meeting.  Commissioner Mike Caylor missed two of the three presentations.

Presenters for Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) said that Blount County has a better jail that most in the state and that Monroe County would love to have what we have today.

When asked what the county needs a presenter for Barber McMurry (BMA) said he didn’t know.  This affirms what I have been saying, that Blount County got the cart before the horse.  The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) and the commission never identified what the county needed.

A presenter for Cope Architecture said he suggested a jail committee that would meet weekly during planning and construction.  His suggestion for the makeup of the committee is essentially what exists now with the BCCP.

Upon request, PA Branham Kerr informed me that MBI was chosen.  This is the same company that the schools are using that came back with a $66M proposal after originally estimating $40M.  The public wasn’t allowed to express concerns about a company that went way over what was originally estimated.  We’re told that your comments would have corrupted the integrity of the process.

It’s not surprising that MBI was chosen.  They’ve been watching this for years.  Roy Latham, an employee of MBI, has been attending commission meetings for years.  Commissioners receive a chocolate bar for Christmas from MBI.  Allowing them to be chosen in secret makes me wonder if MBI was a shoo-in all along.

Up next: “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”  Indian Proverb

Blount County is facing two big renovation/building project: the 2 high schools and the jail.  These two matters could become very expensive, quickly.  Pay close attention to these matters.

The Purchasing Agent will make her recommendation for MBI to the BCCP on March 28th at 5:30 in room 430 at the courthouse.

Jail RFQ Evaluation Team/Screening Committee meeting Thursday at 8:30 AM

The jail evaluations will meet in the commission room on February 23rd at 8:30 AM to interview the 3 architectural firms that were chosen based on scoring of written qualifications.  These written qualifications and scores are currently secret due to a change in Tennessee purchasing law last year.  The public will still not be able to comment on the firms.  Purchasing Agent Katie Branham wrote of the interviews, “They are open to the public for observation only.”

Paper fails to mention that Comptroller’s Office doesn’t recognize $2 million in assignments

The article in today’s paper (Feb. 15, 2017) fails to mention that the Comptroller’s Office doesn’t recognize the assignments totaling $2 million related to the jail.  One would think that the paper would want the public to know this considering last year on September 7, 2016 the paper reported on the front page that the funds were assigned and not committed, trying to distinguish accounting terms.

From that story,

“’Assigned — not committed,’ Commissioner Chairman Jerome Moon said.”

and

“Vineyard said during Tuesday’s Blount County Budget Committee meeting. ‘I have assigned $1 million to public safety for the commission and this body to address whatever they need to address toward jail overcrowding.’”

The mayor and “management” don’t have the authority to express the county’s intent in assigning funds.  The paper should distinguish who has authority to express the county’s intent through assignments in the General Fund.

 

Jail RFQ Evaluation Team members revealed?

The local government purchasing procedures evaluating specialty/professional services was a reasonably open process until a change to state law last year which allows all local governments to close evaluation processes.  The law was a huge mistake and it should be immediately repealed.

Some of the comments that I have received related to the members of the jail Request for Qualifications (RFQ) Evaluation Team/Screening Committee members being secret include:

  • I feel like I am living in a communist country.
  • I can’t believe that they think the electorate shouldn’t be able to talk to the team members.
  • I can’t see any good in this law.

The week before last an article in the paper confirmed that a “citizen” is indeed serving as an evaluator.  I wrote about the delay due to a search for a citizen here.  This appears to deviate from the RFQ that was issued.  Page 16 says that the Screening Committee will consist of members of the county legislative body and Sheriff’s Office.

“The proposals will then be given to a Screening Committee consisting of members of the county legislative body and Sheriff’s Office. This committee will evaluate the proposals and determine the top proposals.”

The theory behind the new secret government law is that keeping the evaluators insulated through secrecy protects the integrity of the process by preventing undue influence.  However, this process surrounding the jail never had any integrity to begin with.  Furthermore, if the evaluators are so weak as to be influenced by some comments from the public and architectural firms then better, stronger people need to be selected.  Weak choices don’t justify secret government.  Purchasing Departments aren’t the CIA.

The Tennessee Senate sponsor of this new law, Senator Ken Yager, has chosen to block me on Twitter rather than return my phone calls and listen to the reasons why the law should be repealed.  Yager refuses to even have a discussion on the matter.  Thus, in protest of the law and to provide transparency to a secret process, I am releasing what I believe to be the names of the Evaluation Team.

It is possible that these aren’t the evaluators and that I was given bad information.  If not, some much needed sunshine is now being added to a issue that has been far too secretive.

Without further ado, the names provided to me are:

Blount County Commission Mike Caylor
Blount County Deputy Chief Chris Cantrell
Blount County Director of General Services Don Stallions
Blount County Purchasing Technician Lori Bell
Blount County Citizen C. Sterling

For those that are fairly new to the issue, please take the time to become informed.  Read the articles provided below.

On the manufactured overcrowding crisis and keeping state felons
Are counties required to keep felons sentenced to more than a year?
Commissioner Tona Monroe calls for immediate meeting of Blount County Corrections Partnership to discuss removing discretionary inmates after AG’s opinion on state sentenced felons.
Tennessee AG opinion 16-21

Sheriff signed a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval
Tennessee Comptroller’s Office says it can find no specific statutory authority for a sheriff to sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval

$2 million jail/public safety assignment never approved by the commission
Comptroller’s Office says it doesn’t recognize assignments totaling $2 million in funds for jail
Audit report says Blount County Commission has the authority to assign General Fund

Tennessee Corrections Institute can’t shut the jail down
http://www.bcpublicrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/TCIAuthorityLetter.pdf

TCI employee bullies public and pushes counties into building
Bob Bass of TCI tells press and citizens to turn cameras off: Shows them video already on YouTube
March 2016 Commission Report

A 30 year emergency that the legislature fails to address?
Tennessee General Assembly often nonresponsive to needed and responsible reforms

Fire Marshall on inmate classification
Types of inmates don’t influence State Fire Marshal’s decision to shut jail down

Cost to house federal inmates
Purchasing Agent & Director of General Services chose $65K consultant over $18.5K option
Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have form used to determine inmate costs

Can we believe anything that is said?
Sheriff Berrong said he doesn’t want to keep state prisoners and they’re only a good deal for the state
Is someone not telling the truth?

Does lawful authority mean anything?
Purchasing Agent explains her duties when it suits the machine
Comptroller’s Office says it doesn’t recognize assignments totaling $2 million in funds for jail
Tennessee Comptroller’s Office says it can find no specific statutory authority for a sheriff to sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval

No answers?
Why were federal inmates removed from the Blount County jail?

Observations and suggestions ignored?
Former Sheriff’s Chief Clerk wrote letter to the Mayor on jail overcrowding

Media bias?
The series of articles has begun

Conflicts of interest on the Blount County Corrections Partnership
March 2016 Commission Report

Making money keeping inmates?
Sheriff Berrong said he doesn’t want to keep state prisoners and they’re only a good deal for the state
Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have form used to determine inmate costs

Blount County debt and liabilities
$228,646,423 in total liabilities according to the 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (page 24)

Secret purchasing procedures
Interview on new RFQ/RFP exemption to Tennessee Open Records Act
Two wrongs don’t make a right: State RFP purchasing process shouldn’t be secret either
New secret purchasing law

Urge the Tennessee General Assembly to repeal the secret purchasing laws governing state and local purchasing procedures.

“Ken Yager” <sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov, “Mae Beavers” <sen.mae.beavers@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov, “Janice Bowling” <sen.janice.bowling@capitol.tn.gov>, “Richard Briggs” <sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.rusty.crowe@capitol.tn.gov, “Steven Dickerson” <sen.steven.dickerson@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.todd.gardenshire@capitol.tn.gov, “Mark Green” <sen.mark.green@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.dolores.gresham@capitol.tn.gov, sen.ferrell.haile@capitol.tn.gov, sen.thelma.harper@capitol.tn.gov, sen.lee.harris@capitol.tn.gov, sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov, “Ed Jackson” <sen.ed.jackson@capitol.tn.gov>,  “Jack Johnson” <sen.jack.johnson@capitol.tn.gov>, “Brian Kelsey” <sen.brian.kelsey@capitol.tn.gov>, “Bill Ketron” <sen.bill.ketron@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.sara.kyle@capitol.tn.gov, sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov, “Becky Massey” <sen.becky.massey@capitol.tn.gov>,
lt.gov.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov, sen.frank.niceley@capitol.tn.gov, “Mark Norris” <sen.mark.norris@capitol.tn.gov>, “Doug Overbey” <sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.kerry.roberts@capitol.tn.gov, “Steve Southerland” <sen.steve.southerland@capitol.tn.gov>, sen.john.stevens@capitol.tn.gov, sen.reginald.tate@capitol.tn.gov, sen.jim.tracy@capitol.tn.gov, sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov, sen.jeff.yarbro@capitol.tn.gov

rep.raumesh.akbari@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.alexander@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.beck@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harry.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sheila.butt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kent.calfee@capitol.tn.gov, rep.karen.camper@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dale.carr@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.carter@capitol.tn.gov, rep.glen.casada@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.ray.clemmons@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov, rep.barbara.cooper@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.crawford@capitol.tn.gov,
rep.michael.curcio@capitol.tn.gov, rep.martin.daniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.barry.doss@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jimmy.eldridge@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jeremy.faison@capitol.tn.gov, rep.andrew.farmer@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joanne.favors@capitol.tn.gov, rep.craig.fitzhugh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.forgety@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.gant@capitol.tn.gov, rep.brenda.gilmore@capitol.tn.gov, rep.tilman.goins@capitol.tn.gov, rep.marc.gravitt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.curtis.halford@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ga.hardaway@capitol.tn.gov, speaker.beth.harwell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.hawk@capitol.tn.gov, rep.patsy.hazlewood@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gary.hicks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.timothy.hill@capitol.tn.gov, rep.matthew.hill@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov, rep.andy.holt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bud.hulsey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.darren.jernigan@capitol.tn.gov, rep.curtis.johnson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sherry.jones@capitol.tn.gov, rep.roger.kane@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kelly.keisling@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sabi.kumar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.william.lamberth@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mary.littleton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.lollar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov, rep.susan.lynn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.pat.marsh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.judd.matheny@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jimmy.matlock@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gerald.mccormick@capitol.tn.gov, rep.steve.mcdaniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.larry.miller@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bo.mitchell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.debra.moody@capitol.tn.gov, rep.antonio.parkinson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.pitts@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mark.pody@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jason.powell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dennis.powers@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.ragan@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jay.reedy@capitol.tn.gov, rep.courtney.rogers@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.sanderson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.charles.sargent@capitol.tn.gov, rep.cameron.sexton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnny.shaw@capitol.tn.gov, rep.eddie.smith@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.sparks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.rick.staples@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.stewart@capitol.tn.gov, rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bryan.terry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.towns@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.travis@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnnie.turner@capitol.tn.gov, rep.micah.vanhuss@capitol.tn.gov, rep.terri.lynn.weaver@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sam.whitson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.windle@capitol.tn.gov, rep.tim.wirgau@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jason.zachary@capitol.tn.gov, tracey.vance@capitol.tn.gov,

January 2017 Commission Report

Commission meeting
The agenda was light this month.  The same Budget Committee members were reappointed for another year.  Members include Commissioner Mike Caylor, Sharon Hannum, Commissioner Mike Lewis, Mayor Ed Mitchell and Commissioner Jerome Moon.  These are the same people who presented a “balanced” budget to the commission by upping the revenue projections for housing state inmates rather than reducing spending.  The current budget is funded with a property tax rate that is 16% higher than it was two years ago and a local option sales tax that that is 22% higher than it was 2 years ago.

The commission got its first official meeting experience with the new IT system.  The old system was much simpler to use.  We’re told this will make it easier for the county to do business in the long run.

Information Technology (IT) Committee meeting
The IT Committee meeting was canceled.  I still haven’t received the IT timeline that I asked for many months back.

Up next
The mayor has called a commission meeting to be held in the training room of the Highway Department at the Operations Center on February 6th at noon.  The Highway Superintendent is requesting approval to spend $800,000 of fund balance for an “Emergency Purchase” of 4 equipment floats and 8 dump trucks.

The jail evaluations will meet in the commission room on February 23rd at 8:30 AM to interview the 3 architectural firms that were chosen based on scoring of written qualifications.  These written qualifications and scores are currently secret due to a change in Tennessee purchasing law last year.  The public will still not be able to comment on the firms.  Purchasing Agent Katie Branham wrote of the interviews, “They are open to the public for observation only.”

Paper reported that Blount County Animal Shelter has about 250 active volunteers

According to the paper, there are about 250 active volunteers who donate their time at the Blount County Animal Shelter (BCAS).  When you add these 250 volunteers to the approximately 1,800 people on local probation, 700 on state probation and 300 inmates in the local jail (excluding federal inmates), that brings the total to about 3,000 people that the BCAS can look to obtain workers from.  It becomes nearly impossible for anyone to believe that the BCAS can’t find 2 people amongst 3,000 to clean the kennels.

Comptroller’s Office says it doesn’t recognize assignments totaling $2 million in funds for jail

Regarding the jail we’ve learned of a secret $2 million plan, a contract signed without commission approval, inmates filling our jail that we don’t have to keep, a company being paid 3.5 times more than the lowest offer, a purchasing agent writing a resolution about the jail that failed to mention the word jail in the resolutionthe inspecting authority (TCI) having no authority to shut the jail down but pushing the county to build and its Corrections Partnership Coordinator bullying people attending public meetings.  Now we learn that the $2 million in assignments for the jail are not recognized by the Comptroller’s Office (see below).

Is there anything regarding the jail that can be trusted?  The public trust has been broken.  The public has good reason to be very skeptical and cautious of anything presented to it regarding the jail, regardless of what the courthouse clique calls it (i.e. Transitional Facility).

What we see now is that there are essentially two sets of books: the lawful set of books recognized by the state and a second set of books by the courthouse clique.  How many other slush funds are there in the courthouse clique’s 2nd set of books?

This all makes the case of why one more layer of secret bureaucracy through the Purchasing Department should not be tolerated.  The evaluation process of qualifications should not be done in secret and the Yager/Calfee exemption law should be repealed.

Contact Senator Ken Yager sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov and Representative Kent Calfee rep.kent.calfee@capitol.tn.gov to repeal the secret purchasing practices.

 

Here is my correspondence with Jim Arnette, the Director of the Division of Local Government Audit in the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jim Arnette” <Jim.Arnette@cot.tn.gov>
Sent: Thursday, January 5, 2017 2:07pm
To: “tona@breezeair.net” <tona@breezeair.net>
Cc: “Justin Wilson” <Justin.Wilson@cot.tn.gov>, “Bryan Burklin” <Bryan.Burklin@cot.tn.gov>, “Mark Treece” <Mark.Treece@cot.tn.gov> Subject: RE: Who authorized assigning this $2 million?

Ms. Monroe,

We found no documentation that the county commission has adopted a resolution or policy clearly giving management the authority to assign fund balance for external reporting purposes. Therefore, we have not recognized these assignments in the financial statements in the annual financial report that we issue with our audit opinion. Although we do not recognize the authority for management to assign fund balance for external reporting purposes, this would not necessarily preclude management from recognizing assignments on their internal records as a management planning tool.

Jim Arnette, CGFM, CISA
Director
Comptroller of the Treasury
Division of Local Government Audit
1500 James K. Polk Building
Nashville, Tennessee  37243-1402
615.401.7841 

From: tona@breezeair.net [mailto:tona@breezeair.net]
Sent: Thursday, December 29, 2016 12:57 PM
To: Jim Arnette <Jim.Arnette@cot.tn.gov>
Cc: Justin Wilson <Justin.Wilson@cot.tn.gov>
Subject: Who authorized assigning this $2 million?

Dear Director Arnette,

Last year, I learned about a secret plan by Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and Sheriff James Lee Berrong to set aside $2 million, $1 million last year and another $1 million this year, through contact with and in records of the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI).  The September 2, 2015 meeting minutes of the TCI Board of Control are attached for your review.  The part relevant to Blount County is found on page 7.  

“Since that time, the mayor is on board 100 percent and called the sheriff the previous day and told the sheriff that one million dollars had been escrowed and earmarked for a new jail and plan to do the same thing next year.”   

When I inquired about whether $1 million had been set aside by the Mayor without telling the public or the Blount County Commission, Blount County Finance Director Randy Vineyard informed me that yes $1 million had been assigned.  He provided me a paper copy of the March 2009 Governmental Accounting Standards Board Document referencing Statement 54.  That document is found here:  http://www.gasb.org/cs/BlobServer?blobkey=id&blobwhere=1175820452832&blobheader=application/pdf&blobcol=urldata&blobtable=MungoBlobs  

Under the classification Assigned is says,  

“Assigned fund balance comprises amounts intended to be used by the government for specific purposes. Intent can be expressed by the governing body or by an official or body to which the governing body delegates the authority. In governmental funds other than the general fund, assigned fund balance represents the amount that is not restricted or committed. This indicates that resources in other governmental funds are, at a minimum, intended to be used for the purpose of that fund.”

The words “or by an official or body” are underlined because they were underlined on the copy provided to me. 

Paragraph 13 of Statement 54 says much the same thing.

“Assigned Fund Balance

  1. Amounts that are constrained by the government‘s intent to be used for specific purposes, but are neither restricted nor committed, should be reported as assigned fund balance, except for stabilization arrangements, as discussed in paragraph 21. Intent should be expressed by (a) the governing body itself or (b) a body (a budget or finance committee, for example) or official to which the governing body has delegated the authority to assign amounts to be used for specific purposes.

What I want to know and hope that your office will tell me is when did the governing body delegate the authority to assign these funds to the Mayor and/or Finance Director?  Please let me know if there is a state statute that allows for this.  If there is no state law, when did the Blount County Commission delegate this authority to the Mayor and/or Finance Director.

 

I await your response and wish you a happy new year.

 

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe

Blount County Commissioner

Interview on new RFQ/RFP exemption to Tennessee Open Records Act

In response to the stonewalling related to my (Tona Monroe) request for information and records related to the Screening Committee/Evaluation Team for the request for qualifications related to jail expansion, David Tulis interviewed me and Deborah Fischer today about a new exemption to the Open Records Act.  I learned that what was previously public information is now sealed until there is an intent to award a contract.

There is a point in the interview when I said proposal where I should have said qualifications.  Also, the person who shared concerns about purchasing policies said that the policies “may” not comply with law. He did not state definitely that didn’t comply with law.

David Tulis interviewed Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe

 

David Tulis interviewed Deborah Fisher of the Tennessee Coalition of Open Government
https://www.facebook.com/hotnews1240/videos/1211086112291916/

December 2016 Commission Report

Commission meeting
Commissioners Shawn Carter, Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Karen Miller were absent.

$5 million of debt service fund used to pay debt
After the commission voted to authorize an additional $5 million in debt, the Mayor and Finance Director went ahead and used $5 million from the debt service fund rather than borrowing it.  I (Tona Monroe) am glad that they did and don’t understand why the additional $5 million was authorized by a majority of the commissioners.

Stop Loss Policy
The county self insures its health care plan, excluding additional insurance products like dental and vision insurance.  However, it has maintained a stop loss policy through a private vendor for large medical claims.

The commission was provided with the cost of the policy for the current year and for the new year but wasn’t given any information about the amount of claims paid out under this policy.  I asked to be given the cost of the policy and the claims paid with the stop loss policy.

The numbers showed that the county has spent about $900,000* more in premiums than the stop policy has paid out in claims since July 1, 2013.  I was the only commission present who voted no.

Underwriting Year Premium Claims
07/01/2013 554,961 601,535
07/01/2014-01/01/16 883,339 331,093
01/01/2016 446,922 46,982*

*These amount could change before the end of the year.  These figures were provided on December 12, 2016.

Industrial Development Board
There has been some much needed discussion about crony capitalism or corporate welfare surrounding the Carrier deal that President Elect Donald Trump negotiated.  At the state level, the Beacon Center has been calling for an end to corporate welfare.  I and others, here locally, have been calling for an end to these special deals.

The Industrial Development Board (IDB), often with the help of the state of Tennessee, fosters crony deals for a few connected and chosen businesses.  The public is usually in the dark during the negotiations.  When the deals are made public, cheerleaders consisting of the local press try to convince us that the gods of government and the Blount Partnership have done something great by giving the farm away.

Neither tax deals nor land incentives for a few select businesses is equal protection under the law.  All businesses should operate under tax laws that apply equally to all businesses.  There should be no corporate handouts.  Businesses should succeed or fail on their own merits or lack thereof.

The best thing the government can do to promote a business friendly environment is ensure that taxes are uniform and that regulations have a legitimate, useful purpose.  Unfortunately the situation isn’t likely to change with the Blount County state legislators.   The poster child for corporate welfare is State Senator Doug Overbey, who sponsored the TN Investco program which has been a big flop.

The commission was given 3 nominees from the IDB to serve on the IDB.  Yes, the IDB sends us the list of who it wants to serve on the IDB and in the order of preference (see page 40).  The state of Tennessee has set many of these boards up so that they can do their own nominating.

Greg Wilson, President of First Tennessee Bank was the first choice of the IDB Chairman Fred Lawson and Blount Partnership President Bryan Daniels and the nominee that the commission chose.  I called Mr. Wilson and spoke to him.  He was largely ignorant of special deals being dolled out through the IDB.  He told me that he only know what he had read in the papers about the Advanced Munitions Inc. deal.  I asked how he would determine which businesses should be given special development deals.  He said it depended on the return on the investment.  That sounds like code for, only the big boys will get the special deals.  Of course many of the local establishment will benefit as well.

Bankers and construction people are often the members of this Board.  It’s good for business to know who is coming into you county and where the special deals are handed out.  These business people may have conflicts of interest.  The whole set up of the IDB makes little sense, unless you are benefiting from it.

It would make much more sense for local elected officials to have an advisory committee to offer suggestions in creating a business friendly environment.  Tax policies should be set by the state and by the county commission and applied equally to all businesses.  It would be far better to reduce the tax burden on all businesses than for the government to keep picking winners and losers.  It is high time to reform this process.

Commissioner Jamie Daly and I, who were blocked by Bryan Daniels Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce/IDB/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority, were the only two to vote no on confirmation of Mr. Wilson.  My mother received much better treatment from her local chamber, which recently awarded her citizen of the year.

Ho Ho Ho and No No No: Learning to use the NO button 
At the end of the meeting, I gave the commissioners a Christmas gift that they can use to practice protecting you the taxpayers.

Up next: Two big issues may be discussed in January.  You absolutely need to pay close attention to your local government and become involved as these could both be very costly issues.

The Blount County School Board passed a budget amendment request that will be presented to the Budget Committee to provide more funding for an architect to look at expanding the high schools.

Important decisions surrounding the jail are or will soon be discussed in secret through the Purchasing Department.  The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing local governments to operate in secret during the evaluation process for professional services.  This new law is an affront to the citizens who deserve to know how the evaluators are vetted and how and why the make their decisions.  All of this will remain a secret until the Purchasing Agent starts the negotiation process with the chosen company.  Good luck at learning how the now secret evaluators reached their decisions after the fact.

The process was already flawed by allowing the appointments to be political rather than being based on the knowledge and expertise of the subject matter.  Now you aren’t even allowed to know who they are until after the fact, thanks to the state legislature.  If these secret evaluators are really knowledgeable on what Blount County needs, then they should have been discussing their ideas and suggestions with the Blount County Corrections Partnership.  Blount County government put the cart before the horse.

Happy New Year!

Blount County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have open records policy

On two occasions*, I have requested help from the Office of Open Records Counsel with obtaining public records from the Blount County Sherriff’s Office.  Both times have been met with letters from the Mayor’s attorney Craig Garrett.  Mr. Garrett has attempted to school me on what constitutes a valid open records request.  Thus to try to avoid delays on future requests and the need to consult a state office, I asked for a copy of the open records policy for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.  It turns out that the office doesn’t have a local open records policy.

*The follow up request to the Office of Open Records Counsel to obtain the open records policy could constitute a third occasion if counted separately from the original request for records related to housing federal inmates in the local jail.

For more information on previous requests see:
How the Sheriff’s Office wastes your money: Open Records request gets the interrogation room
A response to a nonresponse: Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have form used to determine inmate costs

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jeff French” <jfrench@bcso.com>
Sent: Thursday, December 1, 2016 9:03am
To: “tona@breezeair.net” <tona@breezeair.net>
Cc: open.records@cot.tn.gov, “Jill Reed” <jreed@cgarrettlaw.com>
Subject: FW: Blount County Sheriff’s Office – Open Records Request of Tona Monroe

Mrs. Monroe,

This is message I sent to you on November 16, 2016.  I apologize if you did not receive.

Thank you,

Jeff

From: Jeff French <jfrench@bcso.com>
Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2016 8:29 AM
To: Jeff French <jfrench@bcso.com>
Cc: Jill Reed <jreed@cgarrettlaw.com>
Subject: Re: Blount County Sheriff’s Office – Open Records Request of Tona Monroe

Mrs. Monroe,

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office does not have any such policy pertaining specifically to open records requests.

Thank you,

Jeff French

From: Jeff French <jfrench@bcso.com>
Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2016 9:54 AM
To: Jeff French <jfrench@bcso.com>
Subject: Fwd: Blount County Sheriff’s Office – Open Records Request of Tona Monroe

Jeff French

Begin forwarded message:

From: tona@breezeair.net
Date: November 15, 2016 at 3:13:33 PM EST
To: “Jeff French” <jfrench@bcso.com>
Cc: “open.records@cot.tn.gov” <open.records@cot.tn.gov>, “Jill Reed” <jreed@cgarrettlaw.com>
Subject: RE: Blount County Sheriff’s Office – Open Records Request of Tona Monroe

Dear Chief Deputy,

It is amazing what great lengths some will go to in a response to explain why they haven’t responded.  If just a fraction of effort was put into to responding in the first place, there wouldn’t be a need to contact an attorney, at taxpayer expense, to explain your lack of response.

Pursuant to the Open Records Act of Tennessee, I request a copy of the open records policy of Blount County Sheriff’s Office.  An electronic copy is preferred if available.

If you want me come to the Justice Center and give a copy of my drivers license I can but you should have a copy of my drivers license on file from the request when Chief Deputy Jimmy Long made a copy of it while I was placed in the interrogation room during a request some years back.

Sincerely,

Tona Monroe

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jill Reed” <jreed@cgarrettlaw.com>
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2016 2:22pm
To: “open.records@cot.tn.gov” <open.records@cot.tn.gov>
Cc: “Jeff French” <jfrench@bcso.com>, “tona@breezeair.net” <tona@breezeair.net>
Subject: Blount County Sheriff’s Office – Open Records Request of Tona Monroe

Please see attached from Attorney Craig Garrett.

Thank-you,

Jill A. Reed-Chaney

Legal Assistant

Law Office of Craig L. Garrett, Attorney at Law, PLLC

607 Smithview Drive

Maryville, Tennessee  37803

(865) 984-8200

(865) 981-2833 fax

Happy Thanksgiving

Troy and I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.  We have much to be grateful for.

One thing that I am thankful for is the opportunity to call out government officials for wrong doing and advocate for reform.  In some parts of the world people face severe repercussions for rebuking their government “leaders”.  Sadly I too often hear from people who are afraid of retaliation if they challenge that courthouse clique that exists in local government.  Good people who initiate no harm should not live in fear of their governments.

I encourage everyone during this time of thanksgiving to give serious consideration to your knowledge and involvement in state and local governments.  In general people are too focused on federal politics.  The main stream media bombards us with drama and endless controversy in Washington DC.

Give some consideration to taking a break from media sources that focus solely or mostly on national politics and put some time and energy into learning what your local and state governments are doing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the majority of people can’t even name their local and state officials.

While I stood in a very long line to vote in the November election, I noticed someone willing to wait in the long line to vote in the Presidential race who hadn’t voted in the local government primary election held in May of 2014.  The reason this stood out to me is because this person had my sign in their yard but they didn’t actual take the time to vote in the local election.

If you voted in the presidential race this year, your vote was one in over 120 million votes.  If you voted in a county commission race in the local government election in May of 2014, your vote was about 1 in a thousand.  Some districts had more than 1,000 votes and some had less.  Many people don’t vote because they don’t feel that their votes matter.  Where does your vote have the most impact, a race with over 120 million votes or a race with about 1,000 votes?

If you still aren’t convinced that your vote matters tremendously in local elections, let me put it another way for you.  3 of the 21 county commission races were decided by less than 25 votes in the May primary election in 2014.  Jamie Daly won her race by 21 votes.  Archie Archer won his race by 12 votes.  Kenneth Melton won reelection to the Blount County Commission by receiving 6 more vote than his challenger.

These local races are often very close.  Do you vote in the local elections?  If not, why?

The unofficial results on the county’s website show 53,260 votes in the November election while only 12,061 voted in the August election.  If you are one of the many people who voted in November but not in August, please reflect upon why you didn’t vote in August.

Yesterday and today I posted several articles about the difficulties and unresponsiveness that I deal with on a regular basis as an elected official serving the community through local government.  Contact information for the appropriate people is provided in these posts if you feel so inclined to provide input on any of these matters.

It has been said that serving as a county commissioner is a thankless job.  Actually its not.  I receive several thanks on a fairly regular basis.  What is more accurate is to describe it as a helpless job because there are so few willing to help promote better government locally.

What would make me even more thankful this Thanksgiving Day would be to see more people take an active role in what is happening right here in our county.

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner