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“We’ve never incarcerated anyone because everyone always complies”

Lenoir City  Those are the words of Lenoir City revenue agent Don White. Steven Powell of WVLT covered the story of Karen Holloway of Lenoir City and her imprisonment for not keeping her yard maintained. Judge Terry Vann sentenced her to five days in prison, then after a little sunshine was shed on the story, cut it to six hours. The City is claiming this is a 12-year problem to justify their actions. The citation shown in the video is dated July 28, 2014 and it is claimed a lot of yard work has been done since then. The citation states that she was warned on June 13 that her property was in violation of “the City of Lenoir City’s Propert (sic) Maintenance Code.” Out of curiosity, I located the property to see what it looked like in recent Google street views. The picture to the left was captured in March of 2014, just three months before the citation. Not well manicured, but certainly not Sanford and Son either.

Lenoir city 2Here’s the only other image available, from September 2007. Notice the cut grass. I guess those shrubs in front of the porch are just too offensive. Where is the “12-year” ongoing problem? Notice the second news report said neighbors “never even really paid any attention to it, never really even noticed it”. So just exactly who is the ‘brother offended’ here?

The news coverage only featured revenue agent Don White, but neglects to mention the codes enforcement officer Rondel Branam who issued the citation. A little research reveals that Rondel has only been on the job with Lenoir City about a year. This was after the Mike and Debbie Johnson family sued Lenoir City and Wardley Homes LLC for $500,000 in a claim related to faulty construction that was alleged to have been concealed by the contractor and not reported by the paid code enforcement inspectors of Lenoir City:

“Beth Collins, assistant codes inspector with Lenoir City, confirmed in August 2013 that former inspector Leslie Johnson — no relation to the Johnson couple — nor the interim inspector, David Denton, had kept formal inspection records. Previous inspectors were keeping inspection notes on the back of property folders.

Lenoir City has since begun the practice of keeping inspection records and added Rondel Branam as its full-time codes enforcement inspector in September. Branam previously served in that capacity with the city of Loudon.” (emphasis mine)

Interesting. I guess the same inspectors must have kept really meticulous records of their “property maintenance code” citations though – for at least the last 12 years….right?

To add to the frustration, I tried to imagine myself being a resident of Lenoir City and wondering what else I could be imprisoned for related to landscape maintenance and tried to find this “Propert (sic) Maintenance Code”. After all, Ted Hall said “It’s interesting, you know the ordinances are there, you know the laws are there…”. I have searched the city website and tried the pages that might intuitively make sense: Codes EnforcementCity Documents, but to no avail. Only a selection of amendments are there. Has the city made a serious error here in imprisoning Mrs. Holloway and hidden their related code documents that might reveal that, or do they just inform residents of the code one citation at a time?

Vote NO on 2 – Why can’t we just obey the law instead?

by Eric Holcombe

Following is a letter to the editor I composed in opposition to the avalanche of attorney editorials the Kingsport Times News has produced in support of continuing to let trial lawyers give a list of attorneys to the governor to select our judges from – rather than letting the people elect them according to our supreme law. It didn’t even garner a phone call to verify the authorship. I wonder why?

 

Article 6 Section 3 of the Tennessee State Constitution states: “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” These judges have not been elected in Tennessee since 1972, when the so-called “Tennessee Plan” was put into practice by the state legislature allowing the Judicial branch of government to be “selected” by the Executive branch rather than elected by the voters as required by our Constitution. This practice is unconstitutional and therefore illegal. The proposed constitutional Amendment #2 would create a similar selection process including the legislative branch with the executive branch in the process for selecting judges – eliminating the voter’s currently violated constitutional right to elect the judicial branch. Various legislator/attorneys argue that they have the “legislative authority” to determine whom the qualified voters of the state are and it is not the registered voters of the state, but the legislators themselves (and this is agreed to by the illegally-selected judges and their appointed attorney general). The legislator/attorneys’ proposed amendment also states that the planned judicial “retention elections” are open to the “qualified voters of the state”. I presume that if they continue to hold their current definition of whom is qualified (only themselves), that the voters are then completely removed from the process. The other argument made by proponents is that contested elections of judges would require campaigns and the judicial candidates would be “corrupted” by them. Therefore, we should give up the right to vote to people who also campaigned in elections (but somehow are immune to corruption) to select judges for us. It doesn’t take an attorney to see the loss of checks and balances and the ease of corrupting one executive or a few legislators rather than millions of voters that Amendment 2 would bring.

Responsible spending and fixed rate finacing are the solutions to Co. debt, not raising taxes

A big thanks to Nancy McEntee for her letter to the editor about the County debt. It’s always wonderful to see citizens take an interest in important issues.

http://www.thedailytimes.com/opinion/your_voice/regularly-published-figures-surprise-reader/article_349bb33a-e6f6-5653-a646-cf989f181f48.html

There’s no need to raise taxes any further to pay down the debt. The local option sales tax was already increased. Responsible spending and fixed rate financing are the solutions, not draining your wallets.

Last Tuesday the Blount County Commission voted in favor of seeking fixed rate financing with no balloon payment for the Series E-3-B debt. This is a turning point in the County debt that will result in saving millions on interest costs and achieve some stability in a market that could become volatile. It’s one of the major reasons that I ran and I am ecstatic to be off to such a good start.

When They Came for Me…

“In May, Houston’s City Council passed an ordinance that extended anti-discrimination laws to gay and transgender residents.”

Now if you preach against homosexuality in Houston, you could be in trouble: “…City attorneys issued subpoenas last month…seeking, among other communications, “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the Equal Rights Ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” The subpoenas were issued to pastors and religious leaders who have been vocal in opposing the ordinance…”

More here.

When they came for the Muslims, I didn’t speak up because I am not a Muslim.
When they came for the drug users, I didn’t speak up because I am not a drug user.
When they came for the homosexuals, I didn’t speak up because I am not a homosexual.
Then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak for me.

License Plate Readers

The Daily Times has recently run a couple of puff pieces on automated license plate readers, including the lead/main story featured today.  There is a more nefarious side to consider about constant surveillance.  The matter has been discussed several times before here on BC Public Record and throughout the internet.

Setting the record straight on DHS and license plate tracking

90 Day License Plate Storage Bill Signed by TN Governor

California Court Denies Sampling Of License Plate Information
California Superior Court judge refuses access to license plate camera data.
http://thenewspaper.com/news/45/4505.asp

Virginia: Cops Spied On Motorists At Political Rallies
Virginia State Police plate reader cameras record the identity of participants at Republican and Democratic political events.
http://thenewspaper.com/news/42/4232.asp

ACLU Report Exposes Extent Of License Plate Surveillance
Report documents police use of automated license plate recognition technology.
http://thenewspaper.com/news/41/4155.asp

Federal Agencies Trade Motorist Data to Insurance Companies
Department of Homeland Security agrees to track motorists using a database built by the insurance industry.
http://thenewspaper.com/news/38/3877.asp

FBI forces police departments across the US to keep quiet about cellphone spying gear

http://www.blacklistednews.com/FBI_forces_police_departments_across_the_US_to_keep_quiet_about_cellphone_spying_gear/38170/0/38/38/Y/M.html#disqus_thread

Law enforcement isn’t suppose to discuss the use of Stingray cellphone spy equipment.

Although the majority of the December 2012 document is redacted, a paragraph from FBI special agent Laura Laughlin to Police of Chief Donald Ramsdell reveals that Tacoma officers were told they couldn’t discuss their use of IMSI-catchers with anyone.

“We have been advised by Harris Corporation of the Tacoma Police Department’s request for acquisition of certain wireless collection equipment/technology manufactured by Harris Corporation,” the FBI letter reads in part. “Consistent with the conditions on the equipment authorization granted to Harris Corporation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state and local law enforcement agencies must coordinate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to complete this non-disclosure agreement prior to the acquisition and use of the equipment/technology authorized by the FCC authorization.”

The Feds are trying hard to stop information from being released to the public.

As RT reported recently, the US Marshals Service recently intervened in a dispute between the police department in Sarasota, FL and the ACLU by seizing cell phone records collected by an cop-owned StingRay before the civil libertarians could review them.

This is consistent with what we’ve seen around the country with federal agencies trying to meddle with public requests for Stingray information,” ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed told Wired back in June. “The feds are working very hard to block any release of this information to the public.”

 

Stop and seize- Aggressive police take hundreds of millions of dollars from motorists not charged with crimes

Policing-for-Profit

Photo credit: Forbes.com

by Eric Holcombe

A must read/watch from The Washington Post found:

  • “There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million. Half of the seizures were below $8,800.
  • Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases — 4,455 — where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.
  • Hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. The Post found that 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.
  • Agencies with police known to be participating in the Black Asphalt intelligence network have seen a 32 percent jump in seizures beginning in 2005, three times the rate of other police departments. Desert Snow-trained officers reported more than $427 million in cash seizures during highway stops in just one five-year period, according to company officials. More than 25,000 police have belonged to Black Asphalt, company officials said.”

“Federal support helped drive the surge. In Florida, Indiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin alone, police spent a total of at least $1 million during the last decade in Justice and Homeland Security grants for Desert Snow training. The DEA, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others spent an additional $2.5 million in contracts on Desert Snow training for police, records show. The DEA also paid more than $2 million for training from the 4:20 Group. Individual local and state police forces across the country paid millions more for the training using seized cash, one of the uses permitted by Equitable Sharing rules.” [emphasis mine]

Take notice of the lack of cooperation and unwillingness to answer for their actions by the “law enforcement” involved in these accounts. What do they have to hide? You are a suspect if you have air fresheners hanging on the mirror, fast food trash in the floorboard or sweat too much. These cowards are on their own video tape. Maybe they will go hide in their MRAP.

WTVF did an extensive investigation into the “drug interdiction taskforce” revenue agents robbing travelers along I-40 in Tennessee (but only the west-bound side mind you, the east-bound side has the drugs and they aren’t interested in seizing that – in the “war” on drugs). If you haven’t seen their Policing For Profit series, you need to. They have a summary site here with links to their ongoing coverage.

Last year the state legislature passed what was called a “major reform” in the illegal fleecing of innocent citizens by the revenue agents with guns, dogs, tasers, MRAPs, spy vans, body armor, tanks, etc:

For the first time, those drivers will be allowed to make their case to a judge at the same time the officer asks for the seizure to be approved.

The House sponsor, Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, said lawmakers were appalled that those protections were not already in the law.

“When we were watching the ‘Policing for Profit’ videos, the one thing that stuck out in everyone’s mind is that they go to a hearing, but only one side is heard,” Rich said.

“This re-establishes the trust between us and the people of the state of Tennessee,” said Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport.”
Wow, so you get to actually talk to a judge when they are stealing your money? Is this the same judge they call for their “no refusal” vampire checkpoint blood draw warrants?

Let’s see, our state Constitution states in Article 6 Section 14 that: “No fine shall be laid on any citizen of this state that shall exceed fifty dollars, unless it shall be assessed by a jury of his peers, who shall assess the fine at the time they find the fact, if they think the fine should bemore than fifty dollars.

Of course the illegally “selected” judges in this state will claim that stealing thousands of dollars from you is not a “fine” so the requirement of a jury trial to extract this money from you (with no criminal charges filed by the way) is “legal”. Plus, you got to talk to them.

ANOTHER REASON TO VOTE “NO” ON 2.

 

 

September 2014 Commission Report

Thank you

Troy and I want to thank everyone who supported us and voted for us during the campaign season.  I look forward to serving the people the next four years.  Feel free to email or call me with your concerns about your County government.

No Discussion on Leadership

Elections that send new people to public offices are suppose to bring fresh ideas and new leadership.  That’s not what Blount County got when the Commission chose it Officers.  The old guard stayed firmly in place.  The same Commissioners that have held leadership positions were nominated in a systematic fashion with no discussion as to why the same people should have power.  Even several of the new Commissioners, who rarely, if ever, attended Commission meetings prior to running, seemed to be in complete agreement by their silence.  After the Agenda meeting a constituent remarked to me that the Chairman already had his stuff lined up and was ready to take the seat after the swift election.  Former Commissioner Jim Folts wrote about the same problem 4 years ago (see Sept. 2010).  The people of Blount County deserve open discussion about the leaders on their County Commission, but were once again denied that.

Agenda Committee is optional

Traditionally, the Budget Committee meets the day before the Agenda Committee.  Business approved by the Budget Committee is sent to the Agenda Committee (which consists of all members of the County Commission) for review.  This usually means that budget items are placed in the Agenda packet the day of the meeting, giving Commissioners little, if any, time to read these important fiscal matters.  Usually the rest of the information is in the packet 5 working days prior to the Agenda Committee meeting.

That wasn’t the case this month.  Recommendations from the Mayor were dated Sept. 4th, less than 5 working days prior to the Sept. 9th Agenda Committee meeting.  Commission rule 6A requires information to be in the Commission packet 5 working days prior to the meeting, unless there is a good reason.  The rules don’t say that the 5 day requirement applies to the Agenda meeting, it just says “meeting” singular.

Five (5) working days is a good rule in the best interest of the public because it allows time for the public to review what the Commission is pursing.  When I pointed out that the Mayors recommendations were not in our package 5 working days prior to the meeting, Agenda Chairman Steve Samples said they didn’t have to be, ruling that the 5 day rule didn’t apply to the Agenda meeting.  I challenged the rule of the Chair and only Commissioners Daly and Miller supported my challenge.

Two of the Mayor’s recommendation letters didn’t list the correct names of the Commissions.  I asked that the Mayor resubmit those in October and he agreed.  Alarmingly, Commissioner Tom Stinnett wanted to let the Mayor go down to his office and type new letters and submit them to the Commission during the Agenda meeting.

The Commission meeting on the 18th settled the fact that there are no Commission rules governing how the Board (Commission) meeting must receive it’s business matters or that the Agenda Committee is even a required process to send business to the Board (full Commission).  Notary Public and Deputy Sheriff oaths and bonds were on the Commission agenda, even though neither had gone through the Agenda Committee.  When I raised a point of order asking why these items had not gone through the Agenda Committee, there were periods of time where you could hear a pin drop.

After some discussion, Chairman Jerome Moon declared that both items were in order, despite not being sent to the Board (Commission) by the Agenda Committee.  According to Commission Rule 12, Chairman Moon said, “An Agenda Committee meeting is really optional.”  I am not sure that all the Commissioners grasped the importance of the Chairman’s statement.  Nothing the Board addresses is required to go through the Agenda Committee.  As Chairman Moon said, the meeting is optional.

RULE 12
AGENDA COMMITTEE MEETINGS
An agenda committee meeting may be held on the week prior to meetings subject to the discretion of the chairman, the county mayor, and the county clerk. The committee shall be composed of all the members of the Board of County Commissioners. The duties of the agenda committee shall be to discuss items and vote to send or not send items to the agenda of the Board of County Commissioner’s meeting. The committee may also refer the item to other committees.

Campground Regulations

The most debated matter of the meeting was the resolution on campground regulations.  I am not opposed to campgrounds and originally intended to vote for the matter.  However, I discovered one word that is the Achilles heel of the resolution.

5J (page 126)
Lighting and Noise. All campgrounds shall be designed to meet the current outdoor lighting standards found in section 7.15 D. All campgrounds should conduct business in accordance to any existing noise laws within the county.

The resolution states that campgrounds should follow noise regulations, rather than shall follow noise regulations.  Lighting regulations are shall, as are many other statements throughout the resolution.  Is this a simple oversight?  I don’t know, but as written it appears to me make compliance with noise regulations optional.

The Commission was given an opportunity to fix this and address other concerns when Commissioner French moved to send it back to the Planning Commission with suggestions.  The motion was defeated 10 to 10.

Akard – yes   Allen – no   Archer – yes   Bowers – yes   Carter – yes   Carver – no Caskey – yes   Caylor – no   Cole – absent   Crowe – no   Daly – yes   Farmer – no   French – yes   Headrick – no   Lewis – no   Melton – yes   Miller – no   Monroe – yes   Moon – yes   Samples – no   Stinnett – no

The resolution passed 13-7 with 1 absent.

Akard – no   Allen – yes   Archer – no   Bowers – yes   Carter – no   Carver – yes   Caskey – yes   Caylor – yes   Cole – absent   Crowe – yes   Daly – no   Farmer – yes   French – yes   Headrick – yes   Lewis – yes   Melton – yes   Miller – no   Monroe – no   Moon – yes   Samples – no   Stinnett – yes

Hopefully bullhorns and rock concerts won’t become common place at new campgrounds.

Grant Money to Operate a Spy Van

Commissioners Akard, Daly and I had concerns about a grant application to operate a spy van and train 3 people at a national conference.  No one from the Drug Task Force or the Sheriff’s Department was present to address our concerns.  The Commission did not have the grant for review, because it has not been written.  Because the matching funds (local dollars) comes from an Agency fund rather than the General Fund of the County, the Commission will not see this matter again.  With no grant to read and nothing to come back to the Commission, I don’t know how any Commissioner could vote to fund the spy operation.

While the measure passed 14-6, I take heart in the fact that 6 Commissioners voted against the application.  This is the largest number of Commissioners that I’ve ever seen oppose what some view as “free” money.  In a time when the NSA is the only government agency actually listening to the people, ;-) we need to be ever vigilant about government spying.  Commissioner Mike Akard said it best, “Are we to believe that when our government has seized drug money that it doesn’t affect the taxpayers when we spend it frivolously on a spy van?”

Commissioners Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett voted yes.

Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Grady Caskey, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted no.

Commissioner Tom Cole was absent.

Citizen Comments about Open Discussion on Issues

At the end of the Commission meeting, Blount County citizen and regular attendee of Commission meetings, Barney Lowe commented that he was glad to see open discussion on the issues.

Upcoming Issues
In October the Commission with be tasked with refinancing approximately $20 million in variable rate debt.  This is a serious matter that I will consider diligently.  There will be a public hearing on October 7th regarding cell tower regulations.

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING, In accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated Section 13-7-105, the Board of County Commissioners of Blount County, Tennessee, will convene in a called meeting and hold public hearing on October 7, 2014 at 6:15 P.M., at the Blount County Courthouse Commission Meeting Room for the following proposed amendments to the Zoning Resolution of Blount County, Tennessee, being Resolution 00-06-010.

A RESOLUTION TO AMEND THE ZONING RESOLUTION OF BLOUNT COUNTY, TENNESSEE, SECTION 7.4-D-7(a) TOWER SEPARATION REQUIREMENTS.
7.4-D-7(a) Tower separation shall be measured from the base of the tower to the lot line of the off-site uses. Separation distance shall be 85 feet plus one foot for every one foot greater than 75 feet in tower height, whichever is greater, in relation to an existing residential use or a platted subdivision lot intended predominantly for residential us