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Info on TCSA funding and support for IMPROVE act

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

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

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

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

Guest column: Bills smack of cronyism

http://www.knoxnews.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/04/11/citizens-voice-bills-smack-cronyism/100327302/

This legislation has passed the Tennessee Senate.  However, it was amended to something that could be worse.  The amendment appears to make any contract or agreement secret until a vote by the local legislative body.  This goes far beyond secret, crony development “deals.”  It remains to be seen what happens in the state House.  This is a bureaucrats dream come true but making all this secret could be dangerous to the taxpaying citizens.

Rep. Susan Lynn tries to sell Haslam’s Gasolinazo

source: State Representative Susan Lynn’s Weekly Wrap

by Horatio Bunce

State Representative Susan Lynn has an email newsletter called the Weekly Wrap. She has recently taken time off from selling Gov. Haslam’s re-branding of Common Core in Tennessee to selling Gov. Haslam’s massive fuel tax increases called the IMPROVE Act, while ignoring the $2 BILLION surplus in over-taxation the state is currently burdened with. Rep. Lynn engages in some….interesting….mathematics in justifying Haslam’s fuel tax increase to declare it “pocketbook neutral”. Meanwhile the Transportation Department is, like the Common Core tactic that worked so well, simply renaming the massive tax increase measure the “Tax Cut Act of 2017“.

As Rep. Lynn insults our intelligence to a slightly lesser degree than “Boss” Doss, I’ll give her a pass as she is from The North™ and possibly thinks us dumb hillbillies would actually use Common Core Math. Since she asked, here’s my calculation on the “Tax Cut Act of 2017”. From her Weekly Wrap:

“Improve Act Close to Floor Vote

The House is close to voting on the Improve Act – I want to know what you think. Please email me to let me know.

“The Improve Act is revenue neutral and now pocketbook neutral for most people. It will lower the sales tax on food a full percent or $1 for each $100 you spend at the store. It will also lower the Hall Income tax and the Franchise and Excise Tax on factories. It will raise the gas 6 cents or if you have a 15 gallon tank – or .90 cents a fill up. If you don’t drive a gas vehicle, it will raise the a (sic) diesel tax and impose a $100 annual registration fee for an electric vehicle.”

So as long as gas prices do not increase and you spend 3:1 food vs. fuel, then it is “pocket book neutral” as long as “most people” maintain this ratio of course. I think “most” still means more than 50% even in Common Core Mathspeak.  Of course, if you are buying diesel and need 15 gallons, it will cost an additional $0.12/gallon or $1.80. Oops, there went that pocketbook thingy. I guess I need to buy another $90 in groceries so I can “save” $0.90 to keep your fuel tax increase “neutral”?

But who cares about diesel anyway? What? Oh. The truck drivers. You mean the ones that deliver just about everything you buy at the mega-lo-mart, corporate welfare queens Amazon and FedEx……and the grocery? Yeah, those diesel trucks. Gee, I wonder what that 71% increase in the diesel fuel tax will do to that $100 grocery bill you used to have? Hint: they generally have larger than 15-gallon fuel tanks and lower fuel mileage than your personal car. What will the additional 33% increase in the gasoline tax mean for your grocery budget? I am wondering if the “leadership” Republicans are really this short-sighted or if they are only counting on you being easily fooled?

Conveniently left out of the discussion are the huge cuts to the Hall Income Tax ($102.1M) and cuts to Franchise Taxes ($122.3M), which when combined with the forecast reduction in sales tax on food give a total cut of $279.2M. In other words, the proposed $1 savings on your groceries sales tax only amounts to 19.6% of the “cuts” that we have to pass massive fuel tax increases to make “revenue neutral”.

Then we move on to use of the term “user fees” instead of that bad word “taxes” and explain that “user fees” should be paid by those using the roads, but then despite her photo at the top of the newsletter with “No Socialism” prominently displayed, we are taught that Some Socialism is acceptable when it comes to taxes (or they are not good Republican principles – kind of hard to tell which):

“Why lower some taxes while raising other taxes? Government uses fund accounting. Some taxes go into the General Fund and other taxes go into the Highway Fund. The taxes in the Highway Fund are all user fees – so if you drive – you pay for the roads, and you pay for them in proportion to how much you use them.

Paying for government by use of user fees is a good Republican principle. Much of government is not user fees but subsidized through the General Fund taxes because some things cannot be paid for by use of user fees. For instance, K – 12 education – most families could never pay all of what it costs to educate their children. TennCare too is a subsidy to the recipient – because the poor cannot pay for their care. Higher education is part user fee and part subsidized – students pay tuition (user fee) but they pay less than half of what their education actually costs – the tax payers through the General Fund subsidize the rest, and they also subsidize the buildings and maintenance for the buildings.”

Wow, for a second there, I thought a sacred cow was getting slaughtered. No, I guess not everyone can afford $10,000 each for their 1.8 kids to go to “free” government school when the average household income is less than $50k and 25% or more of us qualify for food stamps. But maybe we could figure out how multiple private schools provide an education for 40% less, rather than  using the super-inflated “free” schools’ price to justify another tax increase. Here’s a little food for thought. Let’s say the “free” schools could cut only half the difference in price to a mere $8000/student/year : $2000 * 1,000,000 public school students = $2,000,000,000 EVERY YEAR.

And the higher education language…students pay less than half of what education costs. Gee, after 13 YEARS (plus any pre-K) of “free” education why should they start paying for it at all? This is more divide-the-people obfuscation since of course everyone paying for tuition (or not) is a taxpayer paying for higher education (and their 20% inflation rates). Even when the students graduate, they pay taxes the rest of their lives in Tennessee. Now that community college is “free”, just wait to see how much it costs!

“So the Governor hopes to lower several taxes in the General Fund thus eliminating the surplus and effectively shifting the surplus to the Highway Fund by raising the user fee taxes. The plan is for all of this reduction and shifting to be as revenue neutral as possible to as many tax payers as possible.

Truly, every person and family will have their own calculous (sic). So please, take out a pencil and paper and do your own math.”

After justifying this massive fuel tax increase with people buying $100 in groceries and not being able to afford public school costs, the lion’s share of the tax breaks are the Hall Income Tax and Franchise Tax folk. Is that really helping “most people” or “as many tax payers as possible”? Because the rest of you dupes will be paying more for your fuel AND more for the same groceries, which means….your grocery sales tax cut is ALSO REVENUE NEUTRAL.

STOP WITH THE LIES ALREADY! IT’S A TAX INCREASE ANY WAY YOU SLICE IT!

Weekly Report from TN Co. Commissioners Association April 7, 2017

Members,

I’m attaching 3 reports and the explanations are listed below. This week the legislative process peaked out and has started to slow down.

Report “A” shows 11 bills in C&R that have not been put on notice, 70 bills on the move next week and 1 Senate bill scheduled for C&R 4/20/17.

Report “B” shows 46 bills have passed, 10 bills have failed and 8 bills have been withdrawn.

Report “C” shows 52 Senate bills have been placed in General Sub, 28 House bills have been take off notice, 5 bills have been deferred until next year, 7 House bills have been placed behind the budget, 3 House bills are waiting for a special committee, 4 bills have been recommended for summer study and 1 house bill has been set for the last calendar for Finance sub..

The bills that are in General Sub could be put on notice any day and the House bills that are off notice can be put on notice any day except the bills assigned to committees that have been shut down.

Thanks and have a great weekend,

Charlie

4-7-17 Report A

4-7-17 Report B

4-7-17 Report C

March 2017 Commission Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2017 Commission Report

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

Commission meetings
State inmate revenue reported incorrectly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 of chairman’s picks for records committee work for local government

Last night the Blount County Commission voted to create an ad hoc committee to write an open records policy for Blount County government.  The committee will consist of 5 members: 3 appointed by Commission Chairman Jerome Moon and 2 appointed by Mayor Ed Mitchell.

Jerome Moon has chosen himself and Commissioners Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor.  Both Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor are local government employees.  Grady Caskey works for Blount County Schools and Mike Caylor works for the City of Maryville.  The 5 member committee will have at least 2 members who may have a tendency to favor the government over the citizenry.

Bill would require 2/3’s majority to increase property tax rate

This legislation would make it harder on local government employees, their friends and relatives, sitting on the Blount County Commission to raise your property tax rate.  This could offer some protection to taxpayers who are plagued with numerous conflicts of interest in local government.  The legislature should prohibit county employees and their relatives from holding office.

Accessing entire commission meeting packets

The county recently purchased a new software system called Granicus to organize local government meetings.  Meeting packets use to be available on the county’s website as one file, for each meeting, that was indexed by individual items.  The new system divides documentation by agenda item and breaks the information down even further by document type.  However, it’s still possible to download the entire commission packet for those desiring the simplicity of the structure of the old system.

To access an entire commission meeting packet:
Visit https://blounttn.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx
Click on Meeting Details for Board of Commissioners.
On the new screen, next to Attachments, click on Information for Commission (or Agenda Committee) Meeting Scheduled for (date).

Right now, the commission and agenda meetings are the only meetings that have an entire packet available without having to click on each agenda item separately.  Hopefully more committees will make entire meeting packets available in the future.  In the meantime, you can read the information available for each agenda item by clicking on the individual links.