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Info on TCSA funding and support for IMPROVE act

Last week I wrote about the Tennessee County Services Association (TCSA) sending a newsletter telling local elected officials to call their legislators in support of the IMPROVE act.  This legislation increases the gas tax and raises the non-commercial vehicle registration fee $5 annually.

This organization is funded by you, the taxpayers.  Here is a copy of the meeting minutes for the meeting that the TCSA voted to support the IMPROVE act.  The TCSA website says the board endorsed the legislation.  Since the meeting minutes don’t give a roll call vote of the TCSA Board, I asked if any voted against supporting the legislation that will soon be law.  Executive Director David Connor wrote, “The board vote was a voice vote. No members voted against supporting the measure and no one asked to be recorded as a no.”  The minutes contain a listing of the members that were present and absent from the meeting.

Blount County paid $3,875 in dues to the TCSA.  The TCSA annual budget is available here.

Do you think your tax money should be spent to fund an association that supports/endorses raises taxes and fees on you?

Pastor and The Daily Times editor Buzz Trexler compares Christian belief to penguin sex

The press has many important functions that can be invaluable.  As such, its important to know the people who are doing the reporting as it can give insight in mindset and biases that occur in journalism.

Buzz Trexler is the pastor at Green Meadow United Methodist Church and an editor at The Daily Times.  His blog/website can help readers glean information about his approach to journalism and preaching.

There you will find that he preached a sermon at the Friendsville United Methodist Church entitled, “Christian Belief Is Like Penguin Sex.”

And that folks is who is editing your daily source of written news in the Bible belt.

Tennessee County Services Association tells local elected officials to support gas tax increase

The Tennessee County Services Association (TCSA) sends local elected officials a newsletter, called Capitol Update, while the Tennessee General Assembly is in session.  The TCSA failed to mention the purchasing secrecy legislation in the six issues that it sent to me in 2016.  When I asked TCSA Executive Director David Connor why he didn’t include bills that made an open process a secret government process he wrote, “Since it was mirroring the process used at the state, I didn’t see a problem with it.”  Two wrongs apparently make a right.

This year the TCSA has sent newsletter with a headline telling local officials to call their state lawmakers and tell them to support the gas tax increase included in the slyly named IMPROVE act.  TCSA seem more interested in telling local officials what to do rather than keeping them informed of legislation that creates local government secrecy.  Is the tail wagging the dog?

March 2017 Commission Report

Agenda Committee
The commission recently started voting to receive reports and minutes from committees and entities that provides us with information because of the new software system that the commission started using in January.  Prior to the new system, these records were available in the commission packet as information without a vote.  I (Tona Monroe) pointed out that some of the meeting minutes were drafts and subject to being changed by their respective bodies.  The draft minutes were postponed until April so that the commission can figure out how to properly handle voting on minutes being received in the future.  The matter shows how most commissioners operate on auto pilot during the meetings and how little thought most put into the process.

Commission meeting
Commissioners Mike Akard, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly and Tom Stinnett were absent.

Evergreen pay study for Highway Department
The Evergreen Solutions salary study pay increase request for the Highway Department was back on the agenda after being pulled by Commissioner Dave Bennett last month without any explanation for it being pulled.  The request increased from $13,579.46 to $15,346.13.

The $15,346.13 will be used to increase the pay of 14 employees.  Shortly before this, one employee was about 2/3’s of this amount in one year.  Certain people get huge page raises while many get small ones.  According to the 2015 payroll, Assistant Superintendent Chico Messer made $71,999.98.  According to the 2016 salary list, Chico Messer’s salary increased to $82,801 on August 25, 2016 (see page 42).  In 2014, Messer’s annual salary was $66,000.06.  It’s interesting that Messer sought and received certification from the state to run for the position of Highway Superintendent but chose not to seek the postion.  Could the big pay increase be a deterrent to Messer running in 2018?

In 2015, the Blount County Commission voted to adopt the recommendations of the Evergreen Solutions employee classification and compensation study for all county departments except the Highway Department and the Schools.  This request adds the Highway Department to the rest of the General County government pay scale.

You may remember that one of my objections at the time was that the report wasn’t even finished when the commission was asked to vote to adopt its recommendations.  The final study was not made public until 7 months after the commission had voted on the matter.  Well this new study wasn’t in the Agenda Committee packet.  When I asked why, I was told by the Human Resources Director that she had just received the report that day.  That raises the question of why it had been put on the agenda last month when the report wasn’t finished.  Do these people ever learn?  Do they even care?

Furthermore, the previous study only compared Blount County to one other county.  The rest of the comparisons were to schools, even though Blount County Schools didn’t participate, cities and other entities.  This new study only compared Blount County to cities.  Not one county was included in the study.  It wouldn’t be that hard, particularly when you’re only looking at one department, to obtain the payrolls for other counties and analyze comparable positions.  Commissioners Karen Miller and I were the only no votes.

Service dogs
A couple donated $10,000 to the county for the purchase of a service dog.  Blount County currently has 7 service dogs and will soon have 10.

CTAS resolution
State legislation has been filed that would add the County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS) to the list of government entities that would sunset and have to be renewed by the Tennessee General Assembly after a review process.  All of the status quo, courthouse clique commissioners signed onto a resolution that opposed this legislation.

If enacted, an Evaluation Committee would review the objectives of CTAS.  TCA 4-29-105 says:

The Evaluation Committee shall have as its objectives:
1) The review of present programs and strategies of entities to determine the quality, efficiency, and success of such programs and strategies in implementation of legislative mandates.

What’s wrong with a regular review of CTAS?  CTAS can be political and is cliquish, picking their favorites.

On at least two occasions that I have asked CTAS questions, the local government consultant for this area, Wesley Robertson, has called Commission Chairman Jerome Moon and given him the answer to my questions rather than calling and giving the answers to me.

I’ve talked to local elected officials in several counties around the state.  Those who are principled reformers receive similar treatment.  A commissioner in another county shared with me that she has quit contacting CTAS because as soon as she inquires about anything, her CTAS government consultant calls her county mayor to inform him of what she is inquiring about.  Another elected official in a different county told me that we should get together and ask the Tennessee General Assembly for some real help, since we aren’t getting it from CTAS.  She shared with me how another lady she knows in local government is treated poorly by CTAS.  It seems that CTAS has a history of treating women who oppose the status quo, poorly.  However, I have talked with men in local elected office who don’t consult with CTAS either because they consider them to be part of the problem within the bureaucracy in government.

CTAS is a part of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service (IPS).  IPS blocked me on twitter after I posted tweets critical of CTAS.  Amazingly, the IPS unblocked me the day before the commission voted on this resolution and is now following www.twitter.com/bcpublicrecord.

A thorough review of CTAS might be just exactly what it needs to provide better service.  It makes no sense to oppose a review process of your tax dollars at work; therefore I voted no.  Only Commissioner Karen Miller joined me in voting no.  Commissioners Akard and Daly, who were absent from the commission meeting, voted against putting this item on the agenda, at the Agenda Committee meeting.

Open records policy
The state legislature enacted a law requiring local governments to have open records policies by July 1st.  This should have been a law many years ago.  However, the law is not as specific as it should be and will probably require changes to it in the future.

As an elected official, I thought that it would be easier to obtain information but that is often not the case.  It can be difficult obtaining records needed to make important public policy decisions.  I’ve had to go to the Office of Open Records Counsel for assistant several times in obtaining records from Blount County government.  Several people have shared with me how difficult it can be to obtain help from the Office of Open Records Counsel.  Thus, a clear policy is needed.

Commissioner Jerome Moon chose to place himself and Commissioners Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor on the ad hoc committee that will write the open records policy.  Both Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor work for local governments and tend to favor government.  Hopefully the policy to be written will serve the people of Blount County well.

Lack of discussion
Other that the normal course of speaking required for the chairman to run a meeting, I was the only commissioner to discuss anything on the agenda that was put to a vote.  Many have said that these meetings are a done deal before the commissioners get there.  With no discussion except from me, I see why so many conclude this.

Commissioner Dodd Crowe’s only statement of the night came at the end of the meeting to inform those in the audience that the IT Department was working to ensure that all of the commissioners and their votes appeared on the screen displaying the votes.  All of the commissioners, and their votes, had not been showing on the screen because of an issue with the new software system.

Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) is a charade that exists to appease the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) to keep the jail certified.  Certification by the TCI Board of Control (BOC) is pretty close to worthless.  Jail standards are good but the TCIBOC has and continues to certify jails that are not in compliance with the standards because they jump through hoops.

One of those hoops is having the BCCP.  Part of the charade even includes TCI employees Detentions Facility Specialist (DFS) Robert Kane, who inspects the jail, and the Corrections Partnership Coordinator Bob Bass.  DFS Robert Kane makes false statements in his jail inspection report such as the March 3, 2016 report that gives the BCCP credit for things that it doesn’t do such as submitting monthly progress reports to the TCI.  It doesn’t, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office does that.  He says that the BCCP meets monthly and discusses the findings of the ILPP report.  The BCCP met 4 times in 2015.  You can read more about the report here.

CPC Bass serves as the bully for the TCI.  He comes to some of the meetings to talk tough to the BCCP about how the jail could be decertified if the county doesn’t build.  Talking tough is about all he can do, other than educate us in meetings with videos available on YouTube.  He once popped off to me about shutting the jail down but he and the TCI lack the authority to shut the jail down.  All he can do is go to the State Fire Marshal’s Office like the rest of us can and speak against the jail getting a nearly worthless certification from the TCI.

TCI certification is voluntary but many don’t know that.  Certification is used as a red herring for the TCI’s lack of authority to shut a jail down.  Jails that aren’t certified operate without being shut down.  Increased insurance rates can be a consequence of decertification, but this will not likely impact Blount County significantly because the county is self insured.  Read this letter from the legal counsel for the TCI on its certification and authority regarding shutting a jail down.

We are currently looking at architectural and engineering firms because Bob “the bully” Bass and Robert Kane came in and talked tough.  That was the excuse the political machine needed to start the expansion process.  Reality is that little to nothing would have happened if Blount County hadn’t solicited a firm because certification is a voluntarily process.

The only person to speak during public input was Commissioner Karen Miller.  She expressed how disappointed she is that the BCCP hasn’t actually examined the possible solutions that have been given in the studies that have been done and instead is wanting to pay an architectural firm to look at what the BCCP should be looking at.

Purchasing Agent Katie Branham Kerr spoke briefly about the jail RFQ process and how Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) was chosen for jail renovation and/or expansion.  She was quick to say that the interviews for 3 of the companies that submitted qualifications were public but failed to mention that most of the process, including the decision making, was done in secret.  The Tennessee General Assembly last year decided that you the taxpaying citizens might some how corrupt the integrity of the process and made most of the purchasing process sealed.  Yes, state legislators thinks that you lack the integrity to interact with the Purchasing Agent and the evaluators that she selects until she has chosen a company and they made a law to stop you for interacting.  However, the names of the Screening Committee/Evaluation Team were published on this website before she made the names of the evaluators known.

MBI employee Jay Henderlight and John Eisenlau with TreanorHL gave a presentation on what they can and have done related to jails.  Eisenlau would work with MBI throughout the process.  I asked them if they were considering a new facility at a new location and was told that they haven’t considered that and didn’t think it would be necessary.  This is important because of what happened in Loudon County.

Loudon County Justice Center: Expansion and renovation vs a new facility
In the letter of engagement from MBI to the Loudon County Purchasing Agent, under Project Information the proposed improvements/use says “Expansion and Renovation of Existing Justice Center.”  The site location reads “12680 Highway 11 W., Loudon, TN” which is the location of the current Loudon County Justice Center.

Loudon County had previously paid MBI about $16,000 to see if the current location of their justice center was suitable for expansion.  After it was determined that the existing location is suitable for expansion, the Loudon County Corrections Partnership (LCCP) voted to move forward with expanding the existing facility in August of 2015.  However, that changed after the Loudon County Commission approved paying MBI up to $60,000 to provide options to expand the justice center at its current location.

MBI provided several expansion and renovation options but the recommendation that came from the LCCP in 2016 was the construction of a new facility at a different location.  While the LCCP was considering building at a new location, the Loudon County jail was decertified by the TCIBOC.  Who and/or what caused the change in plan from expansion of the existing facility to the construction of a new facility isn’t entirely clear.  What role, if any, MBI played in this isn’t clear either.  Who caused the deviation from expanding the existing facility to building a brand new facility at a different location?

Since MBI touts their work in Loudon County and PA Katie Kerr recommends MBI, both should be able to explain to the BCCP and the commission what happened in Loudon County.  I asked PA Kerr who she spoke to at Loudon County when evaluating MBI.  She said she would have to go back and look at her notes.  Even if she couldn’t recall the name of the person that she spoke with she should have been able to recall the conversation but she didn’t offer anything specific about her conversation with Loudon County.

Exactly how much research did Kerr do into MBI prior to recommending them?  Kerr has taken 11 months to complete the process of selecting a company.  Kerr’s office took nearly 3 months to issue the RFQ, despite her saying that 30 days should be sufficient time to issue the paperwork.

Furthermore, Kerr deviated from the jail RFQ issued by her office.  The RFQ says that the Screening Committee selected to evaluate the firms that submitted proposals would be county commissioners and employees Sheriff’s Office (see page 16).  2 of the evaluators were neither county commissioners or employees of the Sheriff’s Office.

I continued with my efforts to learn exactly what happened in the change of course in Loudon County but was prohibited from questioning Kerr further on the matter.  Chairman Rick Carver said that my questioning was out of order.  I challenged the rule of the chair and the rest of the voting members voted against allowing me to continue.

The people of the 7th district elected me to ask the though questions.  The BCCP voted to prohibit me from asking the necessary questions to make informed decisions the protect the taxpayers of Blount County and are in the best interest of the community.  We were there to decide whether to recommend the company chosen by the PA to the Blount County Commission.  I was prohibited by the BCCP from doing what I was elected to do.

What is point of attending these meetings if I am not going to be allowed to do my job?  The people deserve to know exactly what happened in Loudon County and how much research that PA Kerr did on MBI but I was prohibited from finding out.

When a new justice center was recommended to the Loudon County Commission, the matter died for a lack of motion.

MBI is the same company that was chosen for the renovation proposals for the high schools that was original estimated at $40M and has now ballooned up to $66M.  Given that the same company has been recommended for and involved in two important, and very costly proposals the people deserve answers that Commissioners Dave Bennett, Rick Carver and Mike Caylor and Blount County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff French and Jail Administrator John Adams prohibited me from obtaining.

This is a farce.  Nothing about the jail can be trusted.

I have requested Kerr’s notes related to MBI for the jail and high school renovations.  We’ll see what I get.

BCCP emails:
Chairman Rick Carver rcarver@blounttn.org
Commissioner Mike Caylor mcaylor@blounttn.org, bmcaylor@maryville-tn.gov
Commissioner Dave Bennett dbennett@blounttn.org
Commissioner Tona Monroe tmonroe@blounttn.org
Chief Deputy Jeff French jfrench@bcso.com
Jail Administrator John Adams jadams@bcso.com
Finance Director Randy Vineyard rvineyard@blounttn.org
General Session Judge Mike Gallegos mgallegos@blounttn.org
Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington tharrington@blounttn.org

Other Chairs:
Agenda Committee Chairman Steve Samples ssamples@blounttn.org
Commission Chairman Jerome Moon jmoon@blounttn.org

Up next: The commission will be considering MBI for work related to the jail and expansion and renovation of the high schools.  Some have contacted me about these matters.  If you want answers, you’re going to have to help me as I’ve been stonewalled by the courthouse clique.

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, apart from the annual budget, 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 assignments 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 purchasing 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