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Senator Art Swann is trying to ban talking on cell phone while driving

Art Swann, Tennessee State Senator from Blount County, is trying to ban talking on cell phones while driving.  Simply talking on your cell while driving is not in and of itself a danger, excluding the health effects from radiation.

People use their hands while talking to passengers and driving every day.  Should that activity be criminalized as well since it involves using our hands and talking while driving?

The state of Tennessee already has a distracted driving law.  That is sufficient to stop people who pose a danger.

The very fact that legislation is being discussed to criminalize what is usually safe activity means that most cops don’t view driving while talking on your cell phone as dangerous activity.  If they did, they’d be charging people with distracted driving.  Safe activity shouldn’t be criminalized.

https://www.motorists.org/alerts/tn-sb173/

http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=SB0173&ga=111

http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB0164&GA=111

These bills will be heard by the Finance Ways and Means Committees of both houses next week.  Please encourage the members to vote against these bills.  You can find the members here:

http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/committees/finance.html

http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/committees/finance.html

State Representative Bob Ramsey, also from Blount County, is a cosponsor of the house legislation.

Let freedom ring!
Tona

Blount County isn’t getting paid for housing federal inmates during federal government shutdown

Another reason, among many, why it isn’t a good idea to house pretrial detainee inmates in the Blount County jail.  The arsenic gravy on top of the horse biscuit is that the Blount County Sheriff’s Office didn’t even know about this until the press contacted them.

https://www.wbir.com/article/news/10investigates-some-county-jails-not-getting-thousands-of-dollars-per-day-during-shutdown/51-eefbc652-247f-4653-95de-9062ec48c9f6

Tona Monroe to speak at Bill of Rights Banquet on December 18th

Recipient of last year’s Eagle Award, then Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe, will be the speaker at the 4th annual Truth Radio Bill of Rights Banquet on Tuesday December 18th.  The topic of the speech will be Proof of Authority and the Proper Role of Government: The Foundation of a Constitutional Republic.

A dinner will be held at 7 PM at RJ’s Courtyard located at 3749 Airport Hwy, Louisville, Tennessee 37777.  Book your meal by calling WBCR at 984-1470. 

2017 Bill of Rights Banquet
Eagle Award Recipients Tona Monroe, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Scott Williams 

Commissioner Tona Monroe to speak at Rural (In)Justice Conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Rural (In)Justice: Covering America’s Hidden Jail Crisis
National Conference and Fellowship Launch
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York City, NY
July 10-11, 2018

Rural Justice News Release FINAL 7-8-18

PROGRAM FINAL 7-05-18

RURAL JUSTICE SPEAKERS BIOS FINAL

RURAL JUSTICE FELLOWS BIOS

Read more here: https://thecrimereport.org/covering-americas-jail-crisis/

There will be a Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) meeting on Thursday at the Blount County Courthouse in room 430 at 5:30 PM.  The BCCP met only twice in 2017, with one of those meetings being a workshop.

Audit: Most Tennessee cities, counties require photo ID to access public records

The Blount County Commissioner referred to in this article is me: Tona Monroe.  The state agency that is discussed is the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance which is responsible for providing meeting minutes for the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control

https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/tennessee/2018/05/21/tennessee-public-records-open-government-id-required/617790002/

Last year, when the commission adopted an open records policy, I said during discussion that a photo ID should not be required.  Then Chairman Jerome Moon, now a state representative, defended requiring papers just to see records.  Most of the commissioners must have agreed because only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted against this policy.

It is good to read that a few counties don’t demand papers, proving identity, just to see records.  Requiring proof of citizenship is an unnecessary impediment to a society that is suppose to be free and claims to be transparent.  The USA is not Nazi Germany.

Read the audit herehttp://tcog.info/public-records-policy-audit/

On another note, this is the second article in which a request that I made is discussed without naming me.  The other involved questions that I submitted to Troy Logan, fiscal administrator for Blount County Schools.  Some teachers had several questions about the schools related to how money is spent.  I submitted their questions.  A response was sent me as well as the other 20 county commissioners.

A few months later, there was a story in The Daily Times about this request for information.  Then Blount County Board of Education Chairman
Trevis Gardner told the paper that he supported charging for looking at records because they’d received a big request that took a lot of time to respond to.  He citied the questions that I submitted with his support for charging you to look at records.

The paper requested a copy of the questions and answers, and knew they were submitted by a commissioner, but did not mention this in its story.  Gardner said the response took time away from administrators focusing on classrooms but failed to mention that the answers included comparisons to other school systems, which were not part of the inquiries.  Such a comparison may have required time but it was not what was requested.  Furthermore, the fiscal administrator is a records custodian so his job duties include providing records.

Logan said the questions were frequently asked which is why he submitted the response to all 21 Blount County Commissioners.  Thus, having written answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) may have saved the schools time and money in responding to FAQs.

The Daily Times hasn’t moved out of the Stone Age, loves big government

With the passing of Dean Stone and the retirement of penguin sex preacher and editor Buzz Trexler one would hope that The Daily Times would have moved out of the (Dean) Stone Age.   Alas that is not the case.  The stale big government, courthouse clique bias of Bob Norris remains and the new editor J. Todd Foster ran political hit pieces on Commissioner Mike Akard right before the election.  Norris does not reflect the values of many in this community but he and the editors have hidden behind their editorials and trash those who challenge the status quo.

Editors of the past and present at the paper love big government.  In a town where many are conservative, the best they can achieve is support for the establishment Republicans, just look at all the pro Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker editorials.  These big government Republicans and the big government Republicans in the courthouse clique love to tax you, spend your money and tell you how to live your lives.   Thus, the rag trashes those who try to hold the line on spending and question the authority of local government.  The four commissioners who have recently been the subject of hit pieces and an editorial are the four who have most consistently looked out for the taxpaying citizens of Blount County.

Look at the paper’s Twitter account.  The only two days, during the last year, that the paper has published a “sneak peak” of the front page of the paper are the two days where the new editor ran hit pieces on Commissioner Mike Akard.  Despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Mike Akard the new editor says he isn’t partisan, won’t publish the letter to editor I (Tona Monroe) wrote asking questions about the stories and won’t answer the questions that I raised about his stories.  https://twitter.com/DailyTimes/status/989698528195866625
https://twitter.com/DailyTimes/status/989354790714073088

The rag trashed Jim Folts, who served on the previous commission, when he was the lone ranger questioning local government spending.  Now on the eve of this local government primary election, the rag’s focus is on the three women commissioners, who have also challenged the status quo.

The rag should be focusing on important issues on the eve of the election.  However, if they did that it would make those they support, the big spending courthouse clique, look bad.  Many of these big government Republicans are in local office for selfish reasons.  Just look at the conflicts of interest that proceed commission votes.  I wonder what would happen, in this election, if the paper published a story about candidates with conflicts of interest the day before the election.

The Daily Times asked the three ladies on the commission to come be interviewed, not the other way around.  When have the courthouse clique officials sat down for an interview?  Would the paper respond by publishing an editorial the day before the election praising them for what they said?

The Daily Times did willingly publish a hate screed from Ed Mitchell telling Blount County to wake up because voters chose to replace some of the incumbent, courthouse clique commissioners in the last election.  What Ed Mitchell and the anonymous editor(s) are telling us is that they think those of us who voted for people who aren’t part of the courthouse clique need to wake up, because we aren’t smart enough to chose who governs.

The point that I made about being more effective as a citizen is misconstrued in the editorial.  The point was that an active citizenry can accomplish more than a few commissioner without an active citizenry.  When the citizens groups were active, the property tax increases were less.

To act like the three women never transitioned into being public servants is absurd.  The three women were the first three commissioners to hold public town halls after being elected.  They were asked to hold these public meetings by the now defunct Citizens for Blount County’s Future.  When have the political machine commissioners held town hall meetings?  Furthermore, three of the four commissioners that have been the recent focus of paper have worked to inform the public about Blount County government, when the paper often failed to cover issues.  This website is viewed by many and I have done several radio interviews.  Commissioner Jamie Daly has published a newsletter and Mike Akard has posted to Facebook.  These types of efforts to engage with the public are scant or non-existent with the rest of the commissioners.

Running on a platform and sticking by it is fulfilling what you said you would.  Another citizens group recognized that when it honored 6 commissioners, including the 3 women and Mike Akard, for doing what they said they would do.  Blount County Tax Revolt, and those in attendance of the awards ceremony dinner, certainly thought the former citizen activists were fulfilling their roles as public servants.

In fairness to the reporters at The Daily Times, they don’t all share the views of those who make the final decisions at the paper.  Even Joel Davis, the reporter most critical of me, wrote that he was impressed with my vigilance, when I found the secret $2 million jail plan in TCI Board of Control meeting minutes.

“Tona,

Thank you every much for the information. Your vigilance is quite impressive. This is definitely going to make an interesting story.

Best,
Joel”

The wrath of God resolution was over the top.  I doubt that it would have gotten a second but the courthouse clique shut the meeting down by voting against setting the agenda.  Commissioner Karen Miller was the only sponsor of the resolution.  Yet Jamie Daly and I are included in the editorial.  The paper talks about how embarrassing it was for Blount County, but it was The Daily Times that started the media circus surrounding the resolution.

The commission passed a resolution in 2017 after the death of Steve Samples quoting a scripture from the Bible proclaiming that he would enter into the joy thy Lord.  There was no media coverage, including the paper, on this resolution.  Does the paper think it’s OK to interject religion into a resolution by proclaiming and approving something from the Bible as long at it supports the courthouse clique?  Where’s the outrage from the editors telling us how embarrassing it is for the commission to think that it can determine who enters into the joy of the Lord?  This wasn’t a prayer proceeding the meeting.  It is a formally adopted resolution and official statement of the Blount County Commission and Mayor.  Karen Miller and I were the only two commissioners who did not sponsor this resolution.

The paper further criticizes the no votes of the women when doing routine business while praising the machine for finessing the shut down of a regularly scheduled meeting and lauding Mayor Mitchell for restoring “order”.  That kind of double speak makes clear the misguided priorities of those in the back rooms of the paper.  The courthouse clique can waste our money all day long.  That isn’t news worthy, unless you vote against it, but a non-binding resolution warrants a media circus and praise for shutting down a meeting.  Remember that it was the courthouse clique and the newspaper that made the huge deal out of the resolution.  It would have likely died for a lack of a second.

There wasn’t any mention of anything that Jamie Daly or I tried to do over the last 4 years.  Before going to vote, the anonymous editor(s) want(s) you to focus on one non-binding resolution that did not bear the names of 2 of the 3 they talked about.  What about the issues that matter?  What about the 15% property tax increase that a majority of commissioners approved shortly after the local option sales tax was raised?  The list of issues is extensive but this is what the paper choses to focus on.

The paper should have learned, from the media coverage of the most recent presidential election, to rethink their election and government coverage priorities. Whether you love or hate Trump or are somewhere in between, the relevancy of many media outlets wore thin on many people in the 2016 election because of the constant Trump bashing.  Many decided, that despite Trump’s numerous character flaws, they trusted him more than the biased barrage of media attacks.  This message was lost on those making decisions at The Daily Times.

People run for public office for a variety of reasons.  The paper is free to express what they think make good qualifications for public office but the people writing anonymous editorials at the paper need a reality check.  Their views don’t align with many in the community.  The number of subscribers has dropped because of it, while the population of Blount County is increasing.  People share their concerns about the bias when the paper solicits renewals, but even when the people trying to sell subscriptions agree and share that they hear this often, the message falls on deaf ears with the decision makers at the paper as we can see by the editorial today.

The Daily Times might increase its number of subscribers if it actually published the votes of every commissioner on every issue, rather than selectively publishing what it wants the public to see.  Of course, if it did that, then big government, courthouse clique Republicans that they support will not look so good.

Letter to the editor that self proclaimed nonpartisan editor Todd Foster won’t publish.

April 27, 2018

Dear Editor,

What I took away from the first article about Commissioner Mike Akard is that he burns wood and brush on his property, had a permit to do so and no wrong doing was found, fireworks have been let off in celebration of our nation’s independence and he had two traffic citations: one with a $50 fine and the other was dropped after driving school.

Who hasn’t done such horrible things as burn wood, let off fireworks and exceed the speed limit?  That hardly warrants the following day’s headline that Akard has a criminal past.

Is The Daily Times going to refer to everyone, who has been given a traffic ticket, as having a criminal past?  No other charges or convictions were stated.  Has The Daily Times researched the driving records of all candidates or just Mike Akard?

There was no comment from Akard about the two traffic tickets.  Did The Daily Times ask Akard for a comment, like it asked his opponent for an explanation about his criminal conviction?

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe
Greenback, TN 37742

Update: I received this in an email Tuesday evening.  “I canceled my subscription after I read that editorial today. Sounded like something the president would put in Twitter. Disgusting.”

LTE: Jail expansion is empire building, not about public safety

https://www.thedailytimes.com/opinion/your_voice/jail-expansion-is-empire-building-not-about-public-safety/article_35f4f8ed-455b-5c1f-a9e5-64fed0d5caad.html

The author of this letter to the editor points out that there was a lawsuit in Knox County regarding state sentenced felons and the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) must take the TDOC felons.  Here are the court orders regarding that lawsuit.

Knox County Jail Carver Case
Knox County Jail Roberts Case

Remember that nonsense from former Chairman Jerome Moon about commissioners being  sued in federal court over the jail?  These court records should put this matter in its proper perspective.

With a new sheriff in town, jail overcrowding and expansion could go away.

Elections do matter: Jail expansion and overcrowding could go away

This is a 2015 email from a friend in Greene County:
 
“For years, Greene County had an overcrowding problem. The long-time Sheriff played upon decertification, for-pay prisoners, and insurance against lawsuits, in his unrelenting, but unsuccessful, pursuit for a new jail complex.
 
I sent out a brief study nine months before the last election, a challenger was elected, and the overcrowding went away shortly after the election.”

12 signs that a candidate might be part of the courthouse clique

Here are 12 statements that will help you identify the candidates who are swamp creatures or wanting to become part of the Blount County establishment.  Without further ado, here’s your sign.

  1. The schools need more money.  The $hool$ need more money.  The $chool$ need more money.
  2. It’s for the children.  It’s for the children.  It’s for the children.
  3. The county makes money on federal inmates.
  4. The Blount Partnership is doing a great job recruiting businesses.
  5. The county is being run efficiently because we have clean audits.
  6. We have to do this.  Federal law or state law says we have to.
  7. The sheriff should decide what inmates he keeps in the local jail.
  8. Our county employees work hard.  They deserve to make more than the average taxpaying citizen.
  9. Our teachers do such a great job that they deserve two pay raises: a step increase and a percentage increase.
  10. Blount County has a secret sauce.
  11. Blount County needs a wheel tax because it’s not fair for the property owners to have to pay all the taxes.
  12. The commissioners work so hard that they deserve an 85% pay raise.

If a candidate is saying any of these things then you’ll know you’re talking to someone who is a part of the courthouse clique or wants to be part of the courthouse clique.  You have been warned.

Blount Lifestyle PAC identifies and funds the local swamp creatures

People have been asking for a list of who to vote for and there are several posts on this website providing information about the good candidates.  Blount Lifestyles PAC identifies who the swamp creatures of Blount County are.  If a candidate appears on this list, then don’t vote for them.  These are the courthouse clique/good ole’ boys/establishment/political machine/swamp creatures being funded by the swamp creatures.

These are the people who will drain your wallet.  Let’s drain the swamp instead.

Please vote for Patrick England for Blount County Sheriff

Hello Folks,
During the last election, several of you asked me to post a list of who the good candidates are.  There are some candidate profiles already posted to this website, which provide information about the best choices for sheriff and county commissioners.  Early voting starts today (Wednesday April 11th) and runs through April 26th.  Election day is May 1st.

Please vote for Patrick England for Blount County Sheriff.  I’ll give you two good reasons to vote for Patrick England.

1.  Patrick has a plan to improve response time, when you call the sheriff’s office.  Response times can be slow to some areas of the county.  Patrick has studied the situation closely and will implement some much needed changes to have officers at your home or businesses quicker when you need them.

2.  Patrick opposes jail expansion.  He realizes that the overcrowding problem is largely due to the housing of discretionary inmates in the jail.  There are state felons and pretrial federal inmates that do not have to be housed in the local jail.  He does not think it is necessary to put Blount County further in debt to house inmates that the county does not have to house.

There are numerous reason not to vote for 28 year incumbent James Lee Berrong.  He appears to have acted without authority when he signed the federal inmates contract without seeking commission approval.

Berrong has a history of threatening to burn peoples’ houses down.  This is documented in a court opinion.  Please read more here: If someone threatened to shave your dog, sugar your gas tank and burn your house down would you report them to the sheriff or vote for them for sheriff?

Berrong has gone unopposed for several terms.  This is our chance to drain the swamp of Blount County government.

Let freedom ring!
Tona

TN Comptroller’s Office has been using same auditors for over a decade in Blount and Polk counties; Revolving door between auditors and local government finance directors

Some have been touting how wonderful Blount County government is because of receiving three “clean” audits in row.  That does sound good but as was recently pointed out here, audits don’t reflect assets well managed or monies well spent.

After discussion with a Polk County Commissioner, who shared with me that the state Comptroller’s Office has been using the same auditors for several years in Polk County, I reviewed Blount County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) and found that the same thing has occurred with Blount County’s audits.

Utilizing the same auditors for more than a decade is unacceptable.  Familiarity between auditors and those being audited is not in the best interest of the taxpayers.  Relationships can develop and those being audited learn what specific auditors are looking for and possibly more importantly what the auditors aren’t looking for.

To address that matter, I (Tona Monroe) have filed a resolution requesting new auditors for Blount County’s fiscal year 2018 audit.  Audit reports for Blount County are available on the Comptroller’s website here.

A review of the audit reports from 2004 through 2017 shows that one auditor has participated in all 14 years of audits, another 13 out of 14 and another 9 out of 14 years.  The situation in Polk County is similar to Blount County.  2 of the auditors have participated in all of the audits for the past 13 years.

Furthermore, the state legislature passed a law making the job performance evaluations of Comptroller’s Office employees confidential.  The job performances of those tasked with looking out the taxpayers are secret.  You aren’t allowed to know the quality of work they are doing.  This open records exemption needs to be repealed.

Revolving door
Another problem that needs to be addressed is allowing Comptroller’s Office auditors to become local finance directors.  Former Blount County Finance Director Dave Bennett worked for the Comptroller’s Office before working for the county.  The same thing happened in Hamblen County with Joey Barnard.  It’s not in the best interest of the taxpaying citizens to allow someone to be in charge of keeping your local government’s books when they could be friends with the state’s auditors, because they’ve worked with them in past.  The positions of county finance directors and state auditors should not be a revolving door.

These issues involving auditors, finance directors are the Comptroller’s Office are ripe for reform to protect the people of Tennessee.  Instead the Tennessee General Assembly went the other way by adding more secrecy when it sealed the performance evaluations from public view. One of Blount County’s state lawmakers, Representative Bob Ramsey, was the House sponsor of the legislation.  Senator Ken Yager was the Senate sponsor.  These two are waterboys for the Comptroller’s Office.  It looks like we the people need to reform our state legislature by sending better lawmakers to Nashville.

If someone threatened to shave your dog, sugar your gas tank and burn your house down would you report them to the sheriff or vote for them for sheriff?

Americans have been conditioned to call 911 or the police when fearing for loss of life, liberty or property.  Many accept this as being what they’re suppose to do, but who do you call when the person threatening your life, property or liberty is the sheriff?

A 2014 court opinion from the Tennessee Supreme Court Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel at Knoxville, stemming from a meeting in 2002 between Blount County Sheriff James Lee Berrong and his former secretary Jo Dean Nuchols, refers to a disturbing, habitual problem from Berrong.  From page 4:

“Sheriff Berrong, Chief Crisp and Mr. French testified that at the meeting, the Sheriff was upset because he believed Ms. Nuchols had gossiped to his wife about alleged improprieties. All testified that the Sheriff’s actual words were that he would ‘shave her dog, sugar her gas tank and burn her house down.’ Chief Crisp and Mr. French stated that this was a phrase the Sheriff used frequently. Two other witnesses, Martha Reagan and Dennis Garner, also confirmed that the Sheriff often used that phrase.”

Threats to shave someone’s dog, sugar their gas tank and burn their home down should not be tolerated from anyone, let alone the chief law enforcement officer for Blount County.  Anyone often making such a threatening statement is wholly unfit to hold public office.

Ms. Nuchols’ workers compensation case was dismissed because of a failure to provide notice, not because her claim was frivolous. From page 18:

“In its alternative findings, the trial court held that Ms. Nuchols had a claim for 100% total disability. Unfortunately for Ms. Nuchols, she failed to perfect her claim by providing the defendants notice until she filed her claim almost a year later.”

This matter appears to originate from the sheriff’s concern about Nuchols talking with his wife.  From page 2:

“It is not disputed that Sheriff Berrong believed that Ms. Nuchols had a telephone conversation with his wife, Gayle, on May 29, during which Ms. Nuchols implied that he had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a female employee of the department.”

The female employee is identified as Kathy on page 3 but no last name is included.  Did the sheriff have an inappropriate relationship with a female employee named Kathy?  The citizens of Blount County deserve to know.

Berrong’s website talks about his aggressive approach to drug enforcement and sex offenders.  Perhaps Berrong should apply an aggressive approach toward improving his own behavior.  Shouldn’t a sheriff lead by example?

It’s time for a new sheriff in town.  The election on May 1, 2018 is the day to make that happen.

Ray Moore runs for Blount County Commission

To the great people of Blount County:
I have been employed for 28 years by a retail company where I am in charge of millions of dollars of merchandise each year. This has given me the experience to carefully watch the resources of the taxpayers and to represent the people as a county commissioner. I have two beautiful daughters that are my life. I have lived in Tennessee my entire life and have been in Blount County for more than 20 years now. I do not like the direction our governments have been going: local, state and federal.

When my opponent wouldn’t give me straight answers about important issues that the county is dealing with, I could not sit on the side line and not do my part to change the direction of our local government. My opponent has voted for 3 budgets funded by the same 16% property tax rate increase from 2015. He also voted to restrict private property rights back in 2015 with the water buffer resolution. My opponent is against transparency. After the November 2014 Human Resources Committee meeting, my opponent told another commissioner to hide benefits information from public view. Please ask yourself: Is this the person you wish to have representing you as the citizen taxpayer?

Our county government owes over $214 million dollars in debt and total liabilities (see page 25). Some elected officials can not control their spending. We have schools that are in disrepair, yet over the past 3 years the county mayor and finance director set aside two-million dollars for jail expansion. The commission just approved spending $118,000 on a condemned bridge instead of repairing our schools. As both a voter and taxpayer, I do not think this is the way things should be done. I will prioritize the county’s spending.

I stand for the Constitution, and I will vote to insure that the money of each taxpayer will be spent wisely and not wasted on non-priority items like bridges to nowhere. I promise to vote against new taxes of any kind. We as a county do not have a funding problem; what we have is a spending problem. We need to prioritize spending and pay down our debt and in turn keep our government running efficiently. I support a transparent government that conducts its business openly rather than working behind closed doors and hiding things from the public. I humbly ask for your vote come May 1, 2018.

Thank you for considering me for Blount County Commissioner in the 7th district.

Sincerely,
Ray Moore

Employees in higher pay grades are receiving higher percentage pay increase under Evergreen compensation pay scale

After 7 weeks of emails, I received answers to questions related to the annual pay increases that Blount County government employees are receiving under the Evergreen employee classification and compensation pay scale.  The top pay grade employees are eligible for a higher annual percentage step increase, with a satisfactory job performance, than the lower pay grades.  With the same percentage increase, those in higher pay grades would receive a bigger pay raise than those in lower pay grades because 1.84% of a larger number is more than 1.84% of a smaller.

It turns out that the people at the top of the pay scale are getting bigger pay raises.  The commission should not fund two different pay raise rates when the higher rate is for the best paid employees.  This pay scale applies to all county departments/offices except for the schools.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2018 8:27am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Please see my answers below in red.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
397 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804

On Sun, Mar 25, 2018 at 12:45 PM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

—–Original Message—–
From: tona@breezeair.net
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2018 1:43pm
To: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Dear Mrs. Morgan,

2 follow up questions:

The step increases of 1.84% and 2.11% have been the same annually since the Evergreen pay scale was adopted?

Yes

Why are people in positions with higher pay grades being given a larger percentage increase than those with lower pay grades?

​ Typically, in compensation programs, the higher grades have wider ranges and larger grade progressions. Or said another way, it is common that top salary grades have a wider range and that the lowest salary grades often have the most narrow range.  There are approximately 20 positions in pay grades 113-120.

Sincerely,

Tona

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2018 2:17pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner,
We have used these percentages since we implemented the compensation system that was adopted by Commission in 2015.  The steps are built into the budget but only given if the employee has a favorable performance evaluation.  As it pertains to total budget increases, that information is provided annually as part of the Budget Committee’s work papers and is available online.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

On Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 11:14 AM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

Hi Jenny,

Thank you for the information.  However, this doesn’t tell me what year you are referring to.  Are these numbers for the current FY or what will be proposed in the budget in the upcoming year?  Furthermore, I am wanting to know the percentage of increase for each FY since Evergreen was adopted.  Please provide that.

Thanks,
Tona

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2018 2:47pm
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Each employee who is in a position in pay grades 101-112, is eligible for a 1.84% step increase.  Those employees who are in positions in pay grades 113-120 are eligible for a 2.11% step increase.  They receive the step increase provided that we have a positive performance evaluation on file in the HR office.  This is consistent with the compensation plan adopted by County Commission.
Thank you,
 
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

On Fri, Feb 16, 2018 at 9:11 AM, Randy Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org> wrote:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: <tona@breezeair.net>
Date: Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 2:58 PM
Subject: RE: Evergreen pay raises
To: Randy Vineyard <rvineyard@blounttn.org>

—–Original Message—–
From: tona@breezeair.net
Sent: Monday, February 5, 2018 11:30am
To: “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Subject: Evergreen pay raises

Dear Finance Director Vineyard,

Please provide me with the base percentage increases that have been provided as pay raises since the Evergreen Solutions pay scale was adopted.  I realize that there is some flexibility within the pay ranges.  What I am requesting is the amount budgeted each year for percentage increases.

Sincerely,
Tona

 

Randy

 

Randy Vineyard, IOM

Blount County Finance Director

341 Court Street

Maryville, TN 37804

865-273-5719 (office)

rvineyard@blounttn.org

Update: I confirmed that the approximately 20 positions in pay grades 113-120 do not include office holders whose salaries are set by state law.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 10:46am
To: tona@breezeair.net
Cc: “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>, “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>
Subject: Re: Evergreen pay raises

Commissioner Monroe,
Yes, the positions where the salaries are set by state law (elected officials, administrator of elections and clerk & master) are excluded from the pay grades.
The state set salaries are on the Accounting website under Budget Reports in the March 23rd workshop file.
Thank you,
Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government
397 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804
865-273-5781

On Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 2:10 PM, <tona@breezeair.net> wrote:

Dear Ms. Morgan,

Do the approximately 20 employees in pay grads 113-120 exclude office holders and those whose salaries are set by state law?
Sincerely,
Tona

It’s a good idea to know what the Tennessee Open Records Act says before making a records request

Tennessee state law required all state and local governments/agencies/public entities to adopt open records policies by July 1, 2017.  The Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and Industrial Development Board of Blount County (IDB) adopted policies that are separate from the general policy adopted by the commission which covers the rest of county government.

My first two records requests made under these new local policies shows some compliance issues, lack of understanding of the opens records law and difficulty in being able to view records.

Request for copies of meeting minutes
I made a request to Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/SMTDA/IDB and the Cities of Alcoa & Maryville, Tennessee (IDB) for copies of SMTDA and IDB meeting minutes.  These are typed records; therefore, one would reasonably think that the meeting minutes should be made available electronically.  In the 21st century these meeting minutes should be available online at no cost.  The Blount County Commission makes its meeting minutes readily available online for free.

Daniels responded, writing that copies of the meeting minutes would be provided in paper form and told me that I (Tona Monroe) could be charged up to $100 for the copies.  With such a large potential cost estimate, I modified my request asking instead for copies of the newly adopted open records policies for the SMTDA and the IDB.  You can read the new policies by clicking the links.

Open records policies not provided willfully
Daniels did not respond to my request and follow up emails pertaining to the open records policies.  I had to write the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) in the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, requesting their assistance in obtaining the policies.  Daniels never did provide the open records policies directly.  The OORC sent me the open records policies.  These policies should also be available online.

Think about Daniel’s response to an elected official tasked with the fiduciary responsibility of looking out for you, the taxpaying citizens of Blount County.  He wanted up to $100 to provide copies of meeting minutes and denied providing the open records policies.  Failure to respond constitutes denial under state law.

10-7-503 (3) Failure to respond to the request as described in subdivision (a)(2) shall constitute a denial and the person making the request shall have the right to bring an action as provided in § 10-7-505.

This isn’t the first time that he has treated county commissioners less than professionally.

Request to inspect meeting minutes
With such an absurdly high monetary amount estimate and with Daniels’ failure to respond to my simple request for the open records policies, I went to Blount Partnership (BP)/Chamber of Commerce building to request to inspect the meeting meetings for the IDB and SMTDA. I had already emailed Daniels the time frames for the meeting minutes that I wanted to see but I was made to fill out a form and had to schedule a time to come back and see the records.

Tennessee law: No form required to inspect records
State law prohibits governmental entities from requiring you to fill out a form to inspect public records, yet that is what I required to do in order to see the meeting minutes of the SMTDA and IDB.

TCA 10-7-503 (7)  (A)  (i) A governmental entity shall not require a written request or assess a charge to view a public record unless otherwise required by law.

Viewing open records policies and meeting minutes should be easy but this process was not.

County’s Public Records Request Coordinator (PRRC) denied my request
PRRC Jackie Glenn denied my records request to look at the records of information technology (IT) firms and recycling records in the Purchasing Office, saying it wasn’t detailed enough.  After a couple of back and forth emails letting her know that my request wasn’t broad, she then made me schedule a time to inspect the records.  That became an issue as well.

I was finally able to see the records, with all of 40 minutes notice for the appointment, when I emailed the PRRC the state law on records being available for inspection.

TCA 10-7-503.  Records open to public inspection — Schedule of reasonable charges — Costs.

   (2)  (A) All state, county and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.

      (B) The custodian of a public record or the custodian’s designee shall promptly make available for inspection any public record not specifically exempt from disclosure. In the event it is not practicable for the record to be promptly available for inspection, the custodian shall, within seven (7) business days:

         (i) Make the information available to the requestor;

When I actually was able to view the records, there was only one IT firm file folder and one recycling folder in the Purchasing Office, along with some purchase orders, showing that it wasn’t a large request.

If you’re going to do a records request, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the open records act and insist the local officials comply with the law.

Records Policies:
Blount County Public Records Policy
IDB
SMTDA