Blount County government recently launched a new website. As a result, many of the links to the Blount County government website (www.blounttn.org) found on this website (www.bcpublicrecord.com) will no longer work because the files are now in different locations. If you read past articles and find that the links aren’t working, there is a good starting point page to look for the references found throughout this site. Please start here: http://www.blounttn.org/926/Meeting-Archives
“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.” Will Rogers
Traditionally, each June, the Blount County Commission adopts an annual budget and sets the property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year (FY). A fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30th, which is why the commission usually adopts the budget in June. A fiscal year is denoted by the calendar year in which the fiscal year ends. For example FY 2017 ran July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Accordingly FY 2018 runs July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.
The Blount County Commission approved an annual budget in June of 2016 for FY17 that was $181,267,406 (see pages 105-107). In June of this year, the commission adopted a budget for FY18 that is $195,958,364 (see pages 534-536).
Not all of this was an actual increase. According to the county’s Finance Director (FD), Randy Vineyard, governmental accounting standards require some expenditures to be recorded twice. Troy Logan, the fiscal administrator for Blount County School District told me that he couldn’t think of any expenditures that were recorded twice in the school’s budget. Upon my request, FD Vineyard provided this spread sheet outlining the use of fund balance and the monies that are being accounted for twice.
According to the numbers provided by FD Vineyard, $5,381,930 is accounted for twice. Based on these figures, that means that the commission adopted a budget that is $9,309,028 more than what it initially approved for the previous year, when the double accounting amounts are removed. This is a huge increase for local government that will not be sustainable in the future without either growth in tax revenues or more tax increases.
The spreadsheet shows the county using $7,087,000 of fund balances from the various funds. Some of the increase is for nonrecurring capital expenditures. You can read my questions and FD Vineyard’s responses related to the use of fund balances here. Please take the time to read this as it shows that $1.1M of fund balance may be used for corporate welfare for one company.
At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked Mayor Ed Mitchell how much this secret company would receive from local governments (City of Maryville and Blount County) and the state of Tennessee. He only knew what the county’s contribution will be. Thus, local elected officials walk into these types of “deals” without knowing how much public money will actually be spent.
According to FD Vineyard the county’s General Fund grew to about $15M at the end of FY16 and an estimate for the end of FY17 had not been calculated in early June. Property tax and federal inmate revenues may have been sandbagged in FY16. Both came in higher than projected, and you were slammed with a higher property tax rate than necessary. Some local elected officials may feel good about having accumulated such a large General Fund, but it came about as a result of two large tax increases (sales tax and property tax) not from being good stewards with your tax dollars.
$1.85M of fund balance will be used for Information Technology (IT) updates. This is addition to the $4.1M that has already been spent for IT improvements and huge software purchases since 2014. This new budget brings the total to nearly $6M that has or will be spent from 2014 through the end of June in 2018.
One would think that with such large expenditures that the IT Committee would be keeping a close watch on the various IT projects but it is not. From June 2016 through June 2017 the IT Committee only met twice and during one of those meetings it lacked a quorum. The Mayor canceled the other two meetings that were scheduled.
Blount County taxpayers will be forced to pay $96,717 in additional salaries and benefits to four office holders beyond the state mandated minimums. These office holders are already some of the highest paid employees in county government and have been paid nearly double or triple the average salary of a Blount County citizen.
The commission approved a 3 year lease agreement for Chromebooks for the schools. I voted against this because the county will be paying interest when it does not have to. The funds are available to purchase the computers without wasting any money on interest.
Medical plan changes
The commission voted to reduce the out of pocket maximum from $4,000 to $3,000 for health care and to charge $5 for the employee only dental plan. The dental plan for the employee only is currently free. The cost of the dental family plan is currently the difference between the price of the premium of the employee only plan and the family plan. The dental family plan was also increases $5 and will become the difference between the employee only premium and the family premium, plus $5. The county will be paying $22.14 a month for employees that are enrolled in either the employee only or family dental plans. These changes will take effect January 1, 2018. The health care plans run the calendar year, rather than the fiscal year.
Commissioner Mike Caylor continued interrupting commissioners by twice declaring a point of order. He appears to be abusing the power to raise a point of order to stifle discussion that challenges the status quo.
The commission will look at hiring an architectural firm to renovate and/or expand the jail.
Open Records Policy
The majority of commissioners showed themselves to be overlords rather than servants of the people by adopting an open records policy with a process making it difficult for people to obtain their government records. The policy speaks for itself. Only those with disdain for the people they are suppose to serve would make it as difficult to obtain your records as this commission just did. These people can claim they’re there to serve you but actions speak louder than words.
The policy was designed by an ad hoc committee comprised of 3 county commissioners and 2 citizens. 2 of the commission members, Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor, are local government employees who consistently support government of the government, for the government, and by the government rather than government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The ad hoc committee proposed charging 50 cents per copy, for both black and white and color copies. The fee for black and white copies in the Schedule of Reasonable Charges produced by the state Office of Open Records Counsel, within the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, is 15 cents. Jerome Moon, the Chairman of the committee that wrote the policy, took the extraordinary measure of changing the fee for black and white copies in the policy before presenting it to the commission. Rather than respecting the process by proposing an amendment, he actually changed the policy that the ad hoc committee had recommended.
Commissioners Moon and Grady Caskey sponsored the resolution that adopted the open records policy. These two falsely claimed in their resolution that the commission was adopting the policy as recommended by the ad hoc committee. The fourth whereas statement in the resolution reads:
“WHEREAS, the Blount County legislative body finds that it is mandated to establish a written public records policy and hereby adopts and approves the proposed written public records policy as recommended by the ad hoc committee and attached hereto as Exhibit A.”
This is a false statement because the policy presented to the Agenda Committee, which consists of all members of the commission, was changed. Commissioner Moon is the Chairman of the Blount County Commission. He is well versed in parliamentary procedure. There is absolutely no excuse for what he did. All he had to do was present an amendment and explain his reasoning for the amendment. Instead he changed what was presented to the commission.
Appointments for records inspections – take a number
From the Office of Open Records Counsel’s website, see the 3rd paragraph:
“Under the Tennessee Public Records Act, a records custodian cannot require a request for inspection of public records to be in writing. However, other provisions of law may permit or require such written request. A records custodian can require a request for copies of records to be in writing, or to be made on the Records Request Form, and to include that requirement in their public records policy. If a request must be on a specific form, a copy of the required form must be included in their public records policy and should be readily available for public use. If a governmental entity does not require a specific form, requestors may use the Records Request Form.”
The policy approved by the commission requires an appointment for records inspections, although a section below it makes it sound like it is the decision of the Public Records Request Coordinator (PRRC).
“IV. Inspection of Records
A. There shall be no charge for inspection of open public records. An appointment is required for inspection.
B. The location for inspection of records within the offices of Blount County Government should be determined by either the PRRC or the records custodian.
C. Under reasonable circumstances, the PRRC or a records custodian may require an appointment for inspection or may require inspection of records at an alternate location. The time for appointments should be made with in normal business hours unless mutually agreed upon by PRRC and the requestor.”
For clarity on the matter, I asked the Office of Open Records Counsel for its opinion on Section IV, Part A and Part C. This was the response I received:
“Good Afternoon Ms. Monroe:
I assume your question is regarding Section IV, Part A of the draft policy, which provides: “There shall be no charge for inspection of open public records. An appointment is required for inspection.” However, Part C of the same section provides that the PRRC may require an appointment for inspection of records “under reasonable circumstances.”
Whether requiring an appointment to inspect the records is reasonable will ultimately be left to a court to decide, based upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case. However, to the extent that a county’s public records policy provides a blanket rule that an appointment is required for the inspection of any records in any situation, we find it difficult to imagine that a court would find it reasonable to require an appointment for inspection under the facts and circumstances of each and every situation.”
To resolve the confusion and to reduce the burden upon those requesting records, I offered an amendment to remove the sentence in A that required an appointment for all records inspections. This would have left in place the flexibility of requiring an appointment when circumstances warrant it. The commission rejected this. Only commissioners Akard, Archer, Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted to resolve this issue. If the county is ever sued over the matter of requiring an appointment, it will be the fault of the commissioners who opposed the amendment and voted for the policy. They have sufficient knowledge to know that the matter needed to be resolved.
Proof of citizenship and a photo ID – Papers “please”
You will have to prove that you are a Tennessee citizen and may have to provide a photo ID for records request. These two impediments can really slow things down. This isn’t papers “please.” This is papers demanded and just to see or obtain records. Karen Miller and I were placed in an interrogation room at the justice center when a photo ID was demanded of me when I make a records request of the Sheriff’s Office .
I offered an amendment that would have required that proof of citizenship only be required when someone is requesting a fee waiver with their records request. It was rejected.
Proof of citizenship should only be obtained to verify that the person receiving a waiver of fees is actually a citizen and once is it provided it should be destroyed. How is the county going to keep your citizenship and photo ID records? These records may contain sensitive information that Blount County has no legitimate reason in demanding, other than to provide a waiver of the costs/fees to its citizenry.
A photo ID should not be required just to see or get copies of public records. This is not Nazi Germany.
Requests request must go to Blount County Records Manager and Archivist
Jackie Glenn, the Blount County Records Manager and Archivist, will serve as the PRRC. This concerns me because some years back I asked her to provide me with copies of some records. She wrote that it would cost a couple hundred dollars to provide the records but I was able to make copies of the records for a few dollars on my own. I hope that no one finds themselves in a similar situation where a request for copies of records turns into hundreds of dollars when the records can be copied for a few dollars.
Only Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I rejected a policy that put in place with nearly as many unnecessary impediments to obtaining records as the courthouse clique could get away with. While Daly was absent from the commission meeting, she voted against it at the Agenda Committee meeting.
Cutting commissioners off
It has become standard operating procedure for Commissioners Dave Bennett and Mike Caylor to call a point of order while I am speaking to shut me down. This makes it difficult for me to do the job that I was elected to do.
Some have suggested that this is occurring because I am a woman. It’s possible. Commissioner Karen Miller has been questioned about her income and statements have been made about my employment.
A study of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) found that women justices are interrupted more frequently than men by male justices. Male advocates arguing cases are much more likely to interrupt than female advocates. The article says, “gender is 30 times more powerful in explaining interruptions than seniority.”
Agenda Committee meeting
Commissioner Dave Bennett was absent.
Commission pay raise rejected
Commissioners Ron French and Grady Caskey proposed giving the commission a pay raise. Currently Blount County Commissioners make a salary of $405 a month. There are no official benefits such as health care. However, taxpayer funded meals are provided before and after some special meetings. Additionally, some commissioners are county employees and already receive benefits from the county.
The proposal would have increased the salary to $450 a month and pay commissioners $200 for their attendance at the Agenda Committee meeting. This would have increased the pay from $405 to $650 a month.
I offered an amendment to remove the $200 for attending the Agenda Committee meeting but that amendment failed. Only commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Steve Sample and I supported the amendment. Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained.
The resolution failed in a 9-10-1 vote. Commissioners Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Grady Caskey, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton and Jerome Moon voted yes to placing the resolution to increase their pay on the commission agenda. Commissioners Mike Akard, Andy Allen, Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe and Steve Samples voted against sending the resolution forward. Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained.
This is a hot button political issue that gets a lot of attention but its best to view the voting records of commissioners in their entirety. Some of the commissioners who voted against increasing their pay rarely, if ever, look out for you the taxpayers.
The issue was simple for me. This is public service and I am not going to vote to increase my own pay. I tried to turn down my commission salary but was forced to take it after great resistance on my part.
Commissioners Cole, Daly and Lewis were absent.
Planning Commission appointment
The Blount County Commission rubber stamped Mayor Ed Mitchell’s latest nomination to the Planning Commission. Some rural districts of the county still have no representation on the Planning Commission, despite it having authority to propose regulations that impact the rural areas of the county. I was the only commissioner that voted against the mayor’s appointment.
$350,000 more for equipment for the Highway Department
The new Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick has gone on a spending spree, purchasing new equipment. Previous equipment purchases totaled more than $1.4M.
This month the commission approved a request for $350,000 to purchase a new 8′ paver. The county already has a 10′ paver.
The memo accompanying the request said that this will save the county money since the county will be able to do more of its own paving. However, there were no documents or figures to support this claim. Some counties contract this out as it costs less to pay companies to do the paving but I was cut off from fully expressing this and further reasons why I couldn’t support this issue.
Without any information to support the claim that it will save the county money, I wasn’t comfortable with spending the money. I made motion to postpone this for a month so that the commission could be provided with numbers to back up the claim that this purchase will save money. The motion failed. Commissioner Akard made an amendment, which I seconded, to reduce the amount to $200,000 so that the county could purchase a used paver. That failed as well. The commission approved the purchase with only commissioners Akard, Miller and myself voting against it.
Road for Denso
Unfortunately, corporate welfare is ingrained in local and state governments. Blount County government already spends $1,062,200 annualy on “economic development”, without the commission being provided any info on how the money is spent. Commissioners aren’t even given a budget showing how this $1M will be spent. After asking for the budget in 2015, Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/Blount Chamber of Commerce/Industrial Development Board/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority blocked me.
Despite spending $1M+ on “economic development”, the commission was asked to approve an additional $60,425 to build a road for Denso. The letter from the Tennessee Department of Transportation accompanying the contract is dated September 16, 2016 but the commission was not told about this or provided anything until this month.
$1M is enough of your money for secret, crony, corporate welfare deals. Only commissioners Miller and I voted against giving more of your money to another special deal.
I am all for business friendly tax policies but tax breaks should be fair to all and apply equally to similar businesses. Giving one business the farm (literally), another a building, building a road for another, or a tax abatement for another should stop. Tax policies could be written to provide incentives to all businesses, not just those that cozy up to the courthouse clique and the swamp in Nashville.
Watch out for Randy Boyd, who is running in the Republican primary for Governor of Tennessee. He is the king of corporate welfare, having spent two years as the Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development. During that time he traveled the state giving corporate handouts to businesses while he and local elected officials could get their pictures in papers for “creating jobs” with your money. As such, 22 east Tennessee mayors recently endorsed him. Multiple media outlets serve as PR firms rather than news reporters, promoting how wonder these special, secret deals are. That’s how powerful the corporate welfare, special interests have become. Boyd has been well groomed to be the next big government governor, next in line after Bill Haslam.
Highway Dept. agreement with 4 local cities
The majority of commissioners rubber stamped local agreements between the Blount County Highway Department and the cities of Friendsville, Louisville, Rockford and Townsend. The agreements were simple, only 1-2 pages each. However, there was no mention of liability for the parties. I inquired as to who would pay for what should an accident occur and was met with silence rather than answers. Only commissioners Akard, Miller and I voted against taking the risk of the unknown with these agreements.
While there is no tax rate increase proposed in the upcoming budget, spending will increase. The revenues recommend by the Budget Committee are available here. The expenditures recommended by the Budget Committee are available here.
Local government elections
“The future has a way of arriving unannounced.” George F. Will
In many of these monthly commission reports I encourage you, the public, to get involved. The 2018 local government primary election is less than one year away. All partisan elected officials in Blount County are Republicans. Thus all county government races, with the exception of the school board and Property Assessor, were determined in the May 6, 2014 primary election and the races will likely be determined in the May 1, 2018 election. School board races are nonpartisan and the Property Assessor election occurs in the same year as a presidential election.
If you are dissatisfied with the status quo, please give consideration to running and/or supporting good candidates for local office next year. It is not to early to start preparing.
“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” Karen Lamb
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Will Rogers
The press has many important functions that can be invaluable. As such, it’s important to know the people who are doing the reporting as it can give insight into the mindsets 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.
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?
This month there were two special called commission meetings in addition to the regular monthly meeting: one to look at architectural ideas for the high schools and the other to refinance hospital debt. There were several interruptions making it difficult to concentrate. The meetings were some of the worst that I’ve ever attended.
Architects suggest lavish plans for high schools
When people criticize school spending, they are often quickly attacked as being against education. Education spending and a quality education are not synonymous and it should not be taboo to talk about wasteful spending in the schools.
The schools are the majority of the local government budget. You can cut the rest of the budget and improve efficiency all day long but taxes will continue to go up unless school spending is responsibility restrained.
Many don’t like big government. Big Ed, short for education, is a huge part of big government. Some of the teachers on the commission talk about per pupil spending when they want more money while the quality of education is often left out of these discussions. The amount of money should not be the standard measure for education.
Commissioners Grady Caskey and Tom Stinnett have made insulting statements that we either educate the kids or jail them. I’ve known several people who don’t have a high school diploma but work hard and pay taxes to fund the generous salaries of people like these two.
There is probably nothing more worn out than saying that something is for the children but many in the education field continue to beat that drum. It’s easy to see why when you look at the payroll. Administrators are making about double what the average taxpayer makes and the Director of Schools is making triple what the average taxpayer makes.
It’s easy come, easy go to some of these people. The taxpayers are treated like ATM machines. The presentation by architects with Michael Brady Inc. shows just how out of touch some on the school board and the Blount County public school system are with the taxpayers.
Most of the presentation focused on looks. One of the architects told us how their expensive and lavish ideas “feel” better. The ideas include lots of open space and suggestions to make the high schools look like universities. If some want these types of luxury improvements, then let those people pay for these updates.
Only a small portion of the presentation actually focused on improvements that may enhance the quality of education that the students receive. The science labs were mentioned as being in need of modernization. We weren’t given many details about this but this is something worth looking into. Having good sciences labs is a worthy endeavor. Next year the school board should look at using the education capital fund that it is receiving to improve the science labs. The fund is being used to replace roofs this year.
With the internet and technology rapidly advancing, the future of education will change. Before spending large sums of your money on brick and mortar that “feels” good, we should be looking at how to modernize education, utilizing online resources.
When I was out knocking on doors, during the campaign season, I spoke to several retired educators and school employees. In general the retired teachers would speak openly, telling me about waste in the schools, where money does need to be spent, and shared that they don’t think we need more brick and mortar in Blount County Schools. In comparison some of the current educators seemed fearful. An educator shared with me that many are job scared and that administration unnecessarily promotes a fearful environment. Teachers should be free to teach in an environment where they aren’t constantly burdened with political agendas.
Agenda Committee meeting
The chairman of the Agenda Committee, Commissioner Steve Samples, did not run the meeting as he should have. He let newly elected Commissioner Dave Bennett interrupt me (Tona Monroe) and Jamie Daly. Bennett continued doing this during the Commission meeting but Chairman Jerome Moon reminded Bennett that he did not have the floor.
After the commission meeting a citizen talked about the lack of control and said that he thought the bullying from Bennett (without naming Bennett by name) was inappropriate.
IT budget amendment decrease without clear answer why it was needed
The agenda included a rarity: a request to decrease the current budgets use of funds from the Information Technology (IT) capital fund. Before anyone gets excited thinking that government is actually spending less of your money, it’s not. This is a carryover amendment from the previous budget because the county used more of the fund last year that it anticipated, leaving less funds to spend in the current budget.
Since budget decreases are rare, I asked some questions about why it was necessary. I asked the Finance Director if funds could be spent that aren’t there. He said no but didn’t give a clear answer as to why the amendment was necessary. The state Comptroller’s Office told me that the amendment isn’t required by law but it is good accounting practice to make the budget reflect actual available funds. It would have been nice to have been given a similar, simple answer from the Finance Director.
Commission meeting – Hospital keeps risky variable rate debt
Last month the commission voted to convert all of the county’s variable rate debt to fully fixed rate financing. The timing was excellent for the county, through no great planning on the part of any one individual. Interest rates were historically low right before the election and the holder of the swaps had received two credit downgrading.
However, Blount Memorial Hospital (BMH) will continue on with its variable rate financing and interest rate swaps. The hospital could have done what the county did but instead in will remain in risky financing, having missed a good opportunity.
The hospital should be embarrassed for presenting this request to the commission. Besides missing a good opportunity to go fully fixed rate, the hospital failed to provide the commission with what it needed to make a good decision and also waited until the last minute to ask the commission to approve extending the variable rate debt.
The hospital has known for 3 years that this debt would need to be refinanced in December of 2016 but it did not present anything to the commission until a few weeks before the refinancing need to be in place. Chairman Jerome Moon told me after the vote that he was glad the commission voted to approve an extension of the variable rate debt for the hospital because the hospital was up against a deadline for approval. Moon should be upset that the hospital used the commission like this and that BMH has no more respect for the taxpayers than to wait until the last minute to present us with an extension of risky debt financing.
The taxpayers of Blount County are on the hook for the hospital debt if the hospital defaults on its debt. The agreement that the commission approved is between the county and JP Morgan. The hospital is not on the agreement.
If waiting until the last minute and putting you on the hook aren’t bad enough, the commission was also not given all the necessary paperwork to understand what is already in place. The commission was not given a copy of the bond or the two swap agreements.
The two swaps don’t fully cover all of the $79.025 million of variable rate debt. There is $23 million of debt that is not hedged with a swap and is exposed to variable interest rates. The hospital debt will not be fully hedged until 2024.
We were not given the current mark to market value of the interest rate swaps, although I did obtain that from the Chief Financial Officer, Jonathan Smith, by calling the hospital and speaking with him. Furthermore, we weren’t provided with the interest rates of the swaps. The CFO did provide me with the interest rates that the hospital is paying on the swaps but he did not know how much the hospital was receiving in the swap agreements.
The commission voted on this matter without having this vital information. It seems that whatever the advisor Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) puts in front of them is enough. PFM makes money every time the county goes to market for financing. It is to their advantage to continually see refinancing like this.
Chairman Moon cut my microphone off for talking about the lack of information on the swaps. All the commission was given is a letter offering an extension of the tender date and a term sheet that expired on September 9, 2016. The letter is dated August 26, 2016 but we were never offered either of these as a courtesy prior to the November meeting.
At the Agenda Committee meeting I asked the Finance Director Randy Vineyard why the hospital would need to go through the county to issue debt. He said to utilize a better credit rating. When I asked if the county had a better credit rating than BMH he said most counties do. After speaking with the CFO of the hospital, I learned that BMH doesn’t have an active credit rating. Thus, the commission voted to approve this without any idea of what the credit rating of the hospital actual is. Additionally, I have to wonder if the Finance Director knew this as it would explain why he didn’t answer with a simple yes to my question about the BMH’s credit rating.
BMH is looking at building a new emergency room facility in the county. This will necessitate taking on more debt. Before any new debt is considered, BMH needs to be more forthcoming in what it presents to the commission. There is no excuse for the way this was handled. You the taxpayers deserve more respect that you received.
Chairman Moon was frustrated throughout the commission meeting. He interrupted the speakers unnecessarily several times throughout the evening. The frustration may be coming from seeing Mike Caylor act like a hothead, Dave Bennett act like a bully and Steve Samples inability to run a meeting.
In the packet was an application to apply for a $5,000 grant to pay for a $58,000 server. Commissioner Mike Akard asked where the other $53,000 will be coming from. I asked if it would be coming from the Information Technology (IT) capital fund. No one knew the answer or no one was willing to say. A motion was made to postpone it for one month and another motion was made to send it to the IT Committee since it is IT related. The application was approved by the commission. Where the other $53,000 will come from remains to be seen.
The employee handbook came to the commission with a change to the vacation policy after being sent back. The questions about vehicle liability were not addressed by the Human Resources (HR) Committee. The commission voted to scrap the vacation changes and keep the vacation policy currently in place.
Vehicle Policy leaves questions about liability
There will now be a restriction on the use of concealed carry of weapons in vehicles in the employee handbook. When I inquired about open carry, the Director of General Services said it would be a policy decision of the office holders and department heads. He wasn’t sure if open carry is occurring now. Commissioner Ron French made the comment that employees have to follow state law but no one was suggesting that employee handbook would be used to supersede state law.
My questions about whether the county has liability for personal use of county vehicles seemed to be yes, no and maybe. Unfortunately there wasn’t a clear answer. The commission should have taken its time to ensure that it is adequately protecting the taxpayers.
During the campaign season, my husband Troy spoke to a retired police chief living in our district. He said that on court days he drove his own vehicle to work because he was reporting to work the same as anyone else. He didn’t think the county should be providing take home vehicles for people who didn’t need the vehicles to do their jobs.
I proposed that employees using county vehicles for personal use pay a small fee of $20 a week for the privilege. It was rejected. Commission Caylor attacked me personally, asking me if I had ever had a job and made it sound like I don’t think that county employees should be able to eat out for lunch. My proposal wouldn’t have prohibited any county employee from going out to eat for lunch. It simply would have charged a small amount for the personal use of a county vehicle.
Last month during statements toward the end of the meeting, Commissioner Daly made a statement about someone she knew who had implemented a program to track personal use of computers by company employees. Commissioner Caylor became upset over her statement.
Could this be why?
This website is frequently visited by government employees. Will the time spent on this website be prohibited under the new policy? Or will local government employees continue surfing this website while on taxpayers’ time?
Cell phone usage
The cell phone policy for personal use limits talking but it doesn’t limit texting or use of the phone to surf the internet. I pointed this out and tried to fix this by offering an amendment. Discussion then turned to job performance and the amendment was defeated. Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that if everything hinges on job performance then why have any statement about cell phone usage in the handbook. Commissioner Caylor made a statement about the Blount County Commission becoming the phone police.
It is a shame that sincere concerns of commissioners are treated with such sarcastic statements. Commissioners were sighing during discussion. Commissioner Steve Samples moved to cut off debate and told the commission that he was sure that the commissioners already had their minds made up on how they would vote. He made a similar statement regarding a matter last year.
Another question that I asked is what the policy is on using county phones for personal use. Human Resources (HR) Director Jenny Morgan said, “I am not aware of a policy pertaining to personal use on work phones.” This is another matter that the HR Committee should look at and a good reason that it should have been sent back to the HR Committee.
At the end of the meeting Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp, admonished the commission for trying to take the time to get the answers needed to make good policy decisions saying, “Be ready to make a decision whether is the right decision or the wrong decision. You know in your heart when you come here that you are going to vote yes or your going to vote no. It doesn’t matter.”
It doesn’t matter? What is the point in having meetings if commissioners show up with their minds already made up and aren’t open to discussion or possible improvements to public policy? While she was talking one of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office deputies was nodding in agreement.
Rather than take the time to get answers to the concerns of the few commissioners who look out for the taxpayers, the commission was dismissive of these concerns. There are many problems with the handbook. It wouldn’t have hurt to wait a month to get some answers and amend the handbook to resolve any concerns.
Conflicts of interest
A major problem in Blount County government is the huge number of conflicts of interest within the Blount County Commission. Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Gary Farmer are employees of Blount County Schools. Commissioners Brad Bowers and Tom Cole have relatives working for the schools. Commissioner Kenneth Melton previously said that he has a relative working for the county. Should any of these commissioners vote on the employee handbook?
The handbook was 41 pages prior to the revisions. Some Departments/Offices have their own page employee handbooks. The Highway Department Handbook is available online here and is 39 pages. The handbook for the Schools is available here.
Commissioner Rick Carver works for East Tennessee Medical Group which is owned by BMH but he voted to use the credit of the county, guaranteed by you, to continue variable rate financing for BMH. He should have abstained.
Commissioners Andy Allen and Dave Bennett work for companies owned by the same individual. Some of these companies do work for the county. You can read their employee handbook here. At 94 pages, it is much more detailed than the county’s handbook which was 41 pages prior to the revisions.
Obviously the content is more important than the number of pages. Compare what it says about storage of weapons in vehicles, liability for personal use of vehicles and use of social media. One would think that as businessmen they would strive to have a county handbook that is as thorough as there employers handbook to protect the taxpayers of Blount County.
If you pull up the IT capital fund through the county’s account system (189-91110) you will see that the county is utilizing Cherokee Millwright this fiscal year and used Massey Construction Inc. last fiscal year. Both of these commissioners should have abstained on the IT budget amendment.
There are plenty more conflicts in Blount County, Tennessee government. Do these conflicts serve you the taxpayers well? If not, in the May 2018 primary election vote for people who don’t have conflicts of interest. All 21 of the commission races were determined in the Republican primary in May 2014 election. Please don’t wait until the general election in August because most or all of the races will be determined in the May primary election.
After the commission meeting
After the meeting Register of Deeds Phyllis Crisp told Commissioners Jamie Daly and Miller that if they were going to dish it out they should be prepared to take it. You can watch the commission meeting to see if you think that Daly or Miller did anything to warrant a lecture from Crisp.
As I wrote in my Thanksgiving message, please consider taking a more active role in local government. You don’t have to be a full time activist. Do what you can, when you can.
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.
Blount County Commissioner
Proverbs 23: 1When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: 2 And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. 3 Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat. 4 Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
Commissioners Mike Akard, Mike Caylor, Peggy Lambert and Tona Monroe were absent.
Commissioner Jamie Daly put forward a resolution to say that citizens aren’t out of order for citing sources and should be allowed to speak rather than being declared out of order. This came as a result of Commission Chairman Jerome Moon shutting down citizens during public input at the special called commission meeting in April. Commissioner Mike Caylor objected to me citing the Institute for Law and Policy Planning study. Moon declared me out of order as well as the citizens when the study was referenced. Daly’s resolution said “the Commission Chairman and the Blount County Legislative Body will not prohibit citizens from citing supporting references during public input.” You can read the resolution here on page 108.
The commission voted to table this. Only commissioners Archie Archer, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller voted against the motion to table the resolution. I would have voted for the resolution had I been present. The majority of commissioners are now on record saying that they don’t want you to come to commission meetings prepared with references that support your positions.
Commissioner Peggy Lambert was absent.
Zoning request for storage units was voted down
The commission rejected a request to rezone a parcel of land from residential to commercial. I have to wonder if the request would have been approved if the man making it had been politically connected.
Commissioner Ron French led an effort to amend the zoning regulations so that a politically connected office holder could have his land rezoned to commercial to put in a commercial business. The regulations were written such that one of the few intersections that could be rezoned belonged to an office holder. Would you and I be able to get the zoning regulations amended to put a commercial development on our property? Why would commissioner French work so hard for one of the good ole’ boys but vote against this request?
After serving nearly two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that zoning has destroyed the private property rights of the people of Blount County and is nothing more than a tool of the political machine to limit competition. Unfortunately, there are some in the community who play right into the hands of the political machine, thinking that they are keeping Blount County safe from developers while preserving the scenic beauty. However, the machine gets what they want, competition is limited and property rights are nothing more than property privileges granted by government.
I’ve been asked what I like best about being a county commissioner and what I like least about being a county commissioner. What I enjoy best is advocating for the liberty of the people that I represent. Government should be limited and justice should be blind. The most disappointing thing is the lack of citizen participation in government. I’d love to see more involvement from the people. What I dislike the most about being a county commissioner is voting on zoning regulations and requests for rezoning. 21 people sit as a board of overlords and micromanage land use regulations. We’re suppose to protect property rights, not eliminate your rights and grant special privileges to a select few.
It is ridiculous that we don’t have more small businesses such as restaurants out in the county. People shouldn’t be forced to drive into the cities for small businesses that could be readily available in the county without destroying the scenic beauty. We should stop to think about the pollution created by people driving into cities for simple household items and a meal that could easily be obtained in the county. Small businesses aren’t going to destroy the scenic beauty of Blount County anymore than new subdivisions, yet subdivisions have been placed all around the county. Have you noticed that it is usually the large chain that can work through this complicated, political process?
We’re always told that the roads can’t handle any more traffic. It is true that we have some roads that are in bad shape and some that are in need of expansion. However, we need to ask if private property rights are dependent upon which road you live on. We’re told that roads are too narrow for trucks to travel through. If that is the case then then trucks should be prohibited from traveling on these narrow roads, but this is often not the case. Rather than talking about how bad roads are to limit development, we should work to fix the roads that are dangerous.
Furthermore, the economic consequences of zoning has resulted in the cities getting the lion’s share of sales tax because the county’s zoning regulations are so restrictive toward development. The last time I inquired, I was told that roughly 85% of businesses were in the cities
Zoning was started 100 years ago in New York City to deal with skyscrapers. The County doesn’t have skyscrapers. The only building that might fit that definition is in the City of Maryville. However, zoning regulations have been expanded through the last century to impact nearly all development.
What we have in place with zoning is a system that is suppose to protect property rights but it doesn’t. Connected people get what they want and those who aren’t connected don’t get what they want. No one that I talk with thinks the system is fair, even if they strongly support having zoning. It’s just a system and not a very good one at that.
Some land use regulations are good, such as setbacks from roads and flowing water. However, I think it is time for Blount County to have a discussion on whether zoning is serving us well. For reasons stated here and many more, I conclude that the county is not well served by the system in place and that we should look at taking a different approach to land use regulations.
Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP)
The BCCP met and did nothing other than approve the meeting minutes of the last meeting and receive and briefly discuss some paperwork that is submitted monthly to the Tennessee Corrections Institute as a part of the Plan of Action to address issues related to overcrowding. The updated Plan of Action was not included in the paperwork provided to the BCCP. I had to request that.
The resolution that I introduced in May to request that the sheriff stop housing federal inmates in the local jail was sent by the Agenda Committee to the BCCP after the courthouse clique failed to kill the resolution through parliamentary procedure. None of the sheriff’s employees, friends and relatives would second my motion; therefore it died for a lack of a second.
I wasn’t able to offer discussion on the matter. If I had been able, I would have referenced the response that I received from the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury that says their legal staff could find no specific law that says the sheriff can sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval.
Commission Secretary Rhonda Pitts continued her failure to accurately record the meeting minutes. The minutes of the April 7, 2016 BCCP meeting say, “Tona Monroe made a motion to amend the motion. There was no second.” The minutes do not reflect what my motion would have done to the recommendation that the BCCP sent to the commission. However, I made the same motion at the commission meeting that the mayor called to authorize the purchasing agent to issue an RFQ related to the jail. That motion is reflected in the commission minutes. Why was my motion fully recorded in the minutes of one meeting and not the other?
The one good thing that is happening is the Sheriff’s Office request for guidance in establishing a reentry program for those who are incarcerated to integrate back into society. This is something that I would have liked to have seen several years ago. Furthermore, this is something that I would have tried to get the BCCP to look into if the BCCP had been meeting regularly and without interference from people like Commissioner Rick Carver. The BCCP and County Commission should have listened to the findings and conclusions of the author of the jail study. A reentry program would have been a logical step forward after hearing from the author who could have helped us get started on this process much sooner.
Information Technology (IT) Committee
The IT Committee meeting was canceled with no explanation given for the cancellation. With $1.3M having been put into a fund in a rush last year, these meetings should not be canceled.
The Agenda Committee meeting will be held at the courthouse at 6:30 PM in room 430 on Tuesday the 9th. The commission meeting will be held in the same room at 7 PM in the same room on Thursday the 18th.
When I (Tona Monroe) envisioned writing monthly reports on county government, I thought that the reports would be published within a few days of the monthly commission meetings, which are held on the 3rd Thursday of each month. However, I quickly realized that it was better to wait until the end of the month to more fully report on your local government. This is because there are important meetings after the monthly commission meeting and the meetings can create more questions than answers. Thus, I usually follow up after these meetings by seeking answers.
Sometimes I get answers and sometimes it is difficult to get answers. As such, these monthly reports are intended to provide a review of the monthly activities of your local government. If you desire to learn about important matters before the commission votes on them, please be sure to visit this site at least a couple of times a month because I write about issues throughout the month. Additionally, I also have an email list that you can subscribe to which will keep you informed. If you’d like to join the email list, please send me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting
On June 1, I drove to Nashville to attend the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control meeting. Commissioners Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also attended the meeting.
My reasons for attending are manifold. Please search this website, if you are new to the site, to learn those reasons. My statement to the board is available here.
A county should strive to meet minimum standards and be certified by the TCI. However, after reading prior Board of Control minutes and watching the process in action, I’ve concluded that obtaining certification can be political rather than an objective recognition of compliance with standards.
I had intended to write about the meeting before now but haven’t been able to obtain all the documents that I wanted to review before writing about the meeting. This may be something that I will write about in the future.
Commissioners Tom Cole, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett were absent.
At the Agenda Committee meeting, I offered two taxpayer protection amendments. Both were rejected.
One amendment would have amended the annual budget resolution to prohibit the mayor and finance director from assigning fund balance money without commission approval. My intention was to ensure that there would be no more secret plans for your tax money as there has been in the past.
The other amendment was intended to ensure that no monies appropriated for pay raises would be expended for any other purpose without commission approval. The budget funds 1.8% pay raises for all county employees, excluding the Highway Department and schools that set their own raises, and office holders who receive raises based on state mandates. However, not all the amounts budgeted for pay raises will be expended for that purpose.
Raises are suppose to be awarded based on satisfactory job performance. This will leave money in funds that won’t be awarded as pay raises. This means that office holders can transfer money not awarded for pay raises for use elsewhere in their budgets. This is a misuse of the public trust. Office holders should not be requesting money that isn’t needed and no office holder should use the funds for any other purpose.
Pay raises are not uniform throughout local government. Office holders will receive state mandated pay raises. Some school employees will receive 5% pay raises. General county employees will receive 1.8% pay raises. I don’t know what the Highway Department employees will receive.
Only commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted to protect the taxpayers with these two amendments.
Commissioner Mike Akard was absent.
Tax rate is set for $2.47
The property tax rate will remain at $2.47. The powers that be are patting themselves on the back for a job well done because they’ve put together a budget where they get nice pay raises and much of what they want, without increasing the property tax rate. However, that doesn’t mean that local government held the line on spending.
The budget is up $6,789,571 million over the previous year’s original adopted budget. The adopted budget for fiscal year (FY) 15-16 is $174,477,835 while the adopted budget for FY 16-17 is $181,267,406. Not all of this is local money. The schools will receive a sizeable increase from the state and $1,250,000 of this money came from fund balance that was approved as a budget increase in December for the IT fund that was rushed through. It is money that hasn’t yet been spent and has to be budgeted in the new year.
More of your money is projected to be collected due to tax revenue growth but pay has not keeping up with inflation. The local government hasn’t done you any favors by keeping the tax rate that is 15% higher than it was 2 years ago.
Only commissioners Miller and I voted no. That means that there are only 3 commissioners left who haven’t supported a tax rate that is higher than when they took office, or in the case of Peggy Lambert, left office. The commissioners who voted no on the tax increase last year, among other things, have now supported it and everything in the budget a year later.
What good is it to oppose something for one year and then rubber stamp it a year later? The property tax rate was $2.15 when I took my oath of office. When I ran for office, many people told me that they didn’t want another property tax increase. I made a campaign promise not to raise property taxes and I will stick by that. I will never vote for a budget that requires a tax rate that is higher than when I took office.
Someone said to me what good does it do to focus on a tax increase when the entire tax amount is being wasted. That’s a valid point. People often get upset about a tax increase, but that is often just a small amount of what you are paying. The entire amount is important, not just the increase. We should look at every penny the government wants and spends.
Capital fund amendment failed
I offered an amendment to the tax rate that would have moved one penny of the schools general fund to the schools capital fund. This amendment would have saved county taxpayers about $127,500 because capital fund money doesn’t have to be split with Alcoa and Maryville schools.
Blount County Schools teacher and County Commissioner Dodd Crowe spoke against the amendment although he didn’t actually give a precise reason why he opposed the amendment. Fiscal Administrator for the schools, Troy Logan, said the amendment wouldn’t align with the school board’s goals. Ask your school board member if he or she thinks that one of their goals should include giving $127,500 in tax money to Maryville and Alcoa, when the county doesn’t have to.
The School Board is planning on spending over $2 million to fix roofs this budget year. This will consume the entire capital fund and the rest will be paid for with fund balance in the schools general purpose fund. The shift in the penny would have given the schools additional funds, thereby reducing use of fund balance, without increasing the county property tax rate.
Commissioners and teachers Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe voted against the amendment, as did Commissioner Tom Cole whose wife works for the schools. These three gave about $127,500 to the cities when they didn’t have to. Commissioner and school employee Gary Farmer abstained. Only commissioners Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I thought it makes good fiscal sense to use the money to fix the roofs instead of giving it to the two cities.
I don’t like using the term penny to describe the tax rate because it makes the amount you are paying sound so much smaller than it really is. A penny on the tax rate is estimated to be worth $327,500 in property tax money. Because of split dollars, the amount given to the schools for each penny is about $200,000 according to fiscal administrator Troy Logan. The schools capital fund receives the entire amount of $327,500 per penny, excluding the Trustee’s Fees that are deducted from property taxes.
Budget Committee’s recommended budget is rubber stamped
The commission rubber stamped the budget recommended by the Budget Committee without any changes. Only commissioners Karen Miller and I offered amendments to the budget.
Commissioner Miller offered an amendment to gut the budget given to the Industrial Development Board, which is used to dole out corporate welfare. The IDB receives over $1 million. Miller’s amendment would have cut the IDB budget to $1 and given the money to the Highway Department.
The finance director said that Miller’s amendment would have required the commission to amend the tax rate resolution. This is a good example of why it doesn’t make sense to set the tax rate in advance of setting the budget. How can the commission properly budget the rate when it hasn’t determined the amounts that will be spent from each fund?
Commissioner Miller requested permission of the body to read her prepared remarks on the amendment. The commission rejected allowing her to read her statement. This is appalling. Commissioners are given the power to be heard and the duty to look out for taxpayers. Apparently the majority of commissioners don’t want a commissioner to come prepared with the facts and their reasons for advocating positions. The commission rejected allowing me to read a statement last month.
Miller did speak briefly without reading her statement. She said she didn’t think tax money should be given for corporate welfare, that she was upset with the way Bryan Daniels and the Blount Partnership had blocked commissioner Jamie Daly and me and that the money should be used to fix the pot holes in the road. I seconded Miller’s amendment but it was rejected by the commission with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself supporting it.
4 officials are paid above the state mandated minimum
State law mandates minimum salaries for elected officials. The salaries range from being nearly double to near quadruple the average salary in Blount County.
State law allows the commission to pay elected officials more than the state mandated minimums. With the salaries already being so much more than what the majority of households live on, I moved to cut the salaries of the court clerk, highway superintendent, sheriff and mayor to the state mandated minimums.
The cut would have saved the taxpayers $91,713 but it was rejected with only commissioners Daly, Miller and myself voting for it. Chairman Jerome Moon gave one of the typical reasons to rubber stamp the matter and move on. He said that state law requires us to give the sheriff a pay supplement above his base pay. However, when I asked what state law said we have to give the sheriff more than the state minimum, he couldn’t name the law. The sheriff couldn’t state the law either. Moon them passed the buck to Commissioner Steve Samples, because he is the longest serving commissioner. Samples didn’t know the law either.
I am researching the matter to see exactly what the county is required to pay the sheriff.
No one read a conflict of interest statement but several have conflicts of interest.
Meeting minutes missing wording of a motion
The meeting minutes for the May commission meeting did not include the wording of a motion that I made. I moved to amend the minutes to include the wording of the amendment that I had offered but the commission rejected the amendment. The minutes should reflect any change that a commissioner tries to make to public policy and government documents.
There was a reimbursement grant for highway funds expended during an emergency with begin and end dates that spans five years. The new Highway Superintendent (HS) Jeff Headrick couldn’t explain these dates. He said it was handled before he became HS but his name is on the budget amendment request. I often wonder if anyone in local government understands what they are signing up for, with state and federal grants.
A special Information Technology (IT) Committee was called by the mayor, to have the new IT consulting firm Mindboard give a presentation on its IT assessment of the county. A previous assessment was done. The Mindboard consultant referred to it as the 10,000 foot view. He referred to his assessment as the 3,000 foot view. The county is in need of some IT improvements but we need to tread carefully.
Kronos, the $2.3M time keeping, payroll and HR IT software project, is several months behind schedule. This was rushed through without fully examining whether the county was ready for the project.
The estimated capital costs of about $2.5M, in the Mindboard presentation, are nearly double what the commission approved last year for the updates. Furthermore, the annual costs to maintain these updates will greatly increase the IT budget. The committee was given a figure that was over $600,000.
These aren’t exact numbers. The costs for computers was listed as zero. The former IT Director John Herron, who now works for the schools, pointed out that this wasn’t realistic.
I wondered why this was listed as zero and I may have learned why. In the commission packet, there are budget transfers to purchase computers in both the Finance and Accounting and Data Processing (IT) budgets. (See pages 330 and 334) Finance Director Vineyard told me that all IT needs would come out of the IT fund but apparently both had money left over at the end of the year to use to buy new computers.
It is amazing how much money is moved around (transferred) at the end of the year. I may write more about the subject in the future.
The IT Committee took no action on the presentation. However, the mayor and finance director usually proceed with their big spending plans without a recommendation from the IT Committee.
State to remove 99 felons from jail
The best news of the month is that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is going to remove 99 felons to state facilities. This reduces the chance of a tax increase for jail expansion. However, we should be ever vigilant of the matter. We need to ensure that TDOC and the sheriff actively work to move felons, with a continuous sentence of more than a year, to state facilities in the future.
The sheriff stated that I have “offered no realistic or legal solutions.” That’s false. One realistic and legal solution that I offered was to have the state sentenced felons moved to state facilities. It’s good to see this solution will happen.
The commission will consider reforming the Human Resources and Insurance Committee.
Happy Independence Day!
Mayor Ed Mitchell is bragging about a budget without a tax increase and Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher said the budget process was easy this year. It’s no wonder that both are happy because they will both get nice raises and be paid substantially more than state law requires. Hatcher will make 2.13 times the average 2014 salary of Blount County citizens. Mitchell will make 2.95 times the 2014 average of $42,728. Does anyone think that the Circuit Court Clerk and Mayor do double and triple the work of the average taxpayer struggling to pay their bills?
These two are patting each other on the back and padding their pockets with your money, while Blount County pay continues to fall below the rate of inflation. With the 2014 numbers in, Blount County pay actually averaged a $3 drop compared to 2013, when adjusted for inflation.
What does this measure?
The average annual salary in a region in a given year, adjusted for inflation.
Why is this important?
Salaries are a gauge of overall economic health and a measure of the degree to which employees are sharing in the prosperity of a community. They also indicate the vitality of a region and its ability to compete and attract workers.
How is our region performing?
In 2014, the region’s average salary was $43,000, below the average for the state ($45,200) and the nation ($51,400). Since 2000, the region’s average salary increased by 6%, on par with growth nationally and but below statewide (7%). Roane County’s average annual pay grew by 26% over the same time period, more than any other county, while average salary fell in Blount and Sevier counties over that period (both less than 1% respectively). Between 2013 and 2014, the region’s average annual salary increased by 1%, on par with the state increase.
Notes about the data
Data presented in 2014 dollars.
In past years, Blount County was the only county in the region to average pay below the rate of inflation. With Sevier County joining Blount, two counties that heavily promote tourism, we should be questioning how the governments’ heavy involvement in tourism promotion is actually benefiting its citizens.
With the repeated failures of the Blount Partnership, Chamber, Industrial Development Board and Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority (SMTDA) to foster an environment where average pay keeps up with the rate of inflation, it’s time for the commission to look at abolishing the SMTDA and letting the private sector promote its own tourist attractions. The roughly $1.5 million that the SMTDA authority is getting from the hotel/motel tax should be used to help the citizens of Blount County by paying down some of the $232.8 million in liabilities (page 24) instead of being used to train gas station attendants (yes the former Tourism Director bragged about training gas station attendants) and give corporate welfare to a select few.
Don’t look for reform anytime soon though. Commissioner and county school employee Gary Farmer was wearing his Blount Partnership shirt at the commission meeting Thursday evening. As a commissioner, he gets to vote to fund money that is used for his regular pay raises as a school employee. What’s inflation to someone with that power?
The Blount County Commission consists entirely of Republicans who claim to espouse positions of low tax and small government but actions speak louder than words. There are now only 3 commissioners who have not voted for a property tax rate that is 15% higher than when they took office in September of 2014, or in the case of Peggy Lambert, left office.
The tax rate for fiscal year (FY) 2015 (July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015) was $2.15. In FY 16 the commission raised the tax rate to $2.47. The tax rate approved for FY 17 is also $2.47.
Last year (FY 16) commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted no on both the tax rate (increase) and the annual budget resolutions. Commissioner Brad Bowers pulled a Steve Hargis by voting for the budget resolution while voting no on the tax rate resolution. Commissioner Tom Stinnett took the courageous position of abstaining on the tax rate resolution while voting for the budget resolution. Neither Bowers or Stinnett should be taken seriously by voters in the future because you can’t vote for most, or all, of the spending without voting for the taxes to pay for the spending.
This year leaves no doubt on their tax and spend ways. Commissioner Mike Akard was absent from the Commission meeting but he voted no on the tax rate and budget resolutions at the Agenda Committee meeting. Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted no on both the tax rate resolution and budget resolutions at both the Agenda Committee meeting and Commission meeting.
Commissioners Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Peggy Lambert and Tom Stinnett all joined the tax and spend crowd this year by voting yes to both the $2.47 tax rate resolution and the annual budget resolution that is partially funded by the $2.47 property tax rate.
Commissioners Archer, Cole and Daly showed the people that they lack firm principles by voting against the tax rate last year and then turning the other way and voting for it this year. Commissioners Bowers and Stinnett showed last year that they have no principles by their contradictory and cowardly votes last year, respectively. Peggy Lambert recently wrote that she never voted a tax increase in comments on BC Public Record’s website but a few days later voted for a tax rate that was 15% higher than when she left office in 2014. Her hypocrisy is clear. The rest of the commissioners reaffirmed their tax and spend ways. These commissioners include Andy Allen, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Steve Samples.