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Budget hearing on proposed $8.3M property tax increase Monday June 10th at 5 PM

The Blount County Budget Committee will hold its annual budget hearing meeting on Monday June 10th at 5 PM in room 430 at the courthouse.

The proposed budget will increase the amount of property tax collected from the businesses and citizens of Blount County by approximately $8.3 million over the current budget.

The increase is due to the proposed budget including a tax rate of $2.47 rather than the certified rate of $2.25.  The value of a penny in the current budget is $347,000 but under the reappraisal the penny will be worth $378,000, meaning that property owners will be taxed $8.3 million more in the new (proposed) budget.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tona,

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

Best,
Joel”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 27, 2018

Dear Editor,

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe
Greenback, TN 37742

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

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

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

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

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

Commission rejects resolution requesting new auditors; Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey rules with an iron fist

The Blount County Agenda Committee is a good meeting to watch to see you local government in action.  Several of the incumbents seeking reelection must be feeling heat for their actions because Agenda Committee Chairman Grady Caskey started the meeting by reading a statement about the role of the Agenda Committee.  He continued lecturing commissioners throughout the meeting and ruled with an iron fist.  The treatment of a citizen and a couple of commissioners made this one of the worst meetings that I’ve witnessed in the 10 years that I’ve been attending Blount County government meetings.

For years, courthouse clique commissioners have defended their yes votes at the Agenda Committee meeting by saying that their voting to move something forward doesn’t mean that they’re actually for what they move forward.  At the very meeting where Chairman Caskey chose to lecture the commissioners on the role of the Agenda Committee, the courthouse clique/political machine/good ole’ boys/establishment/swamp creature/status quo commissioners voted against even moving forward a resolution requesting that the county be assigned new auditors after having the same auditors for over a decade.

Harry Grothjahn spoke in favor of the resolution requesting new auditors.  Commissioner Ron French objected to Grothjahn sharing a conversation he had with the Comptroller’s Office about the purpose of audits.  Commissioner French’s objection was the Grothjahn’s sharing of that conversation was hearsay.  The first amendment includes the petitioning of government for a redress of grievances.  When a citizen has a grievance with their government, it is right for them to share that grievance and ask the government redress it.  Apparently Commissioner French doesn’t even want a citizen mentioning their grievances with government.

Furthermore, the practice of cutting my microphone off returned this month.  This meeting is a great examples of a chairman’s abuse of authority.  Chairman Caskey cut my microphone off for discussing the hypocrisy in the resolution of wanting more local control but asking for the state to “significantly increase funding.”  Caskey lectured the commissioners about what they were voting on.  Does Caskey think that commissioners, with only have 5 months left in their 4 year term, don’t understand the makeup of a resolution and what they’re voting on?

Commissioner Mike Akard pointed out that Caskey had a conflict of interest, when he cut my microphone off, because he is a sponsor to the resolution.  Caskey lacks the objectivity to be a chairperson.  Unfortunately Caskey isn’t the only chairman to prohibit me from speaking.  Rick Carver, Chairman of the Blount County Corrections Partnership, and former Commission Chairman Jerome Moon have also cut me off.  These men have all used their positions of authority to stifle those they disagree with.  Some of this resulted from the repeated objections from Andy Allen, Dave Bennett, Mike Caylor and Ron French.

What else is to be expected from Caskeu who insulted people by saying that peopole need to either be educated or jailed.  He obviously doesn’t think much of all the hard working people who did finish high school but have paid the taxes for him to live on the government funded gravy train.  He is the former President of the Blount County Education Association (BCEA) commonly called the teachers union.  He has spent much of his life advocating taking more of your money.  He was elected four years ago because his opponent died during the election and his name was the only name on the ballot.

I apologize to the citizens of Blount County for not making a statement at the end of the meeting about the treatment of the citizen sharing his experience with government.  I had intended to make a statement but this and Caskey’s poor treatment of his fellow commissioners left me drained at the end of meeting and it slipped my mind.

If Commissioner French isn’t willing to listen to what the citizens have to say and Commissioner Caskey isn’t willing to listen to what the commissioners have to say, neither have any business being Blount County Commissioners.  Both have challengers.  Those living in district 8 can vote for Jeff Jopling for Blount County Commissioner and those living in district 9 can vote for Tracie Livesay for Blount County Commissioner.

Commissioners voting against asking for new auditor on regular basis include Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Brian Robbins and Tom Stinnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mrs. Morgan,

2 follow up questions:

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

Yes

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

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

Sincerely,

Tona

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

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

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

Hi Jenny,

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

Thanks,
Tona

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Finance Director Vineyard,

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

Sincerely,
Tona

 

Randy

 

Randy Vineyard, IOM

Blount County Finance Director

341 Court Street

Maryville, TN 37804

865-273-5719 (office)

rvineyard@blounttn.org

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

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

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

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

Dear Ms. Morgan,

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

Jim Vesper not impressed with officials honoring each other over “clean” audits

This morning I (Tona Monroe) received the following text about mine and Karen Miller’s standing apart from politicians honoring other politicians, in an election year, for receiving “clean” audits at last night’s commission meeting.

“I appreciated you standing apart with Karen last night. The self-congratulations show the other commissioners held last night was embarrassing.  Audited returns do not reflect monies well spent, or assets well managed! I wish every commissioner had your integrity and respect for their constituents wallets.  Blessings to you my friend.”

Jim Vesper – Blount County citizen and businessman

Commissioner Karen Miller and I voted against honoring elected officials and department heads for receiving clean audits.  Mr. Vesper is spot on.  These audits do not reflect the quality of spending or management of assets.  These audits are more a reflection of following accounting standards.  Money can be wasted on many things, but if it is properly accounted for it usually won’t result in an audit finding.

Keep in mind that the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office gave the sheriff and county a free pass for the sheriff signing the federal inmates contract without first obtaining commission approval possibly because its auditors hadn’t caught it the entire time (well over a decade) the contracts have been in effect.  The Comptroller’s Office also gave the mayor, finance director and county a free pass for the $2 million that the mayor and finance director claimed authority to assign.  The mayor and finance director lacked the authority to express the county’s intent with that $2 million “assignment.” Only the commission had the authority to assign those funds with the county’s intent.  The Comptroller’s Office chose not to recognize the mayor and finance director’s $2 million assignments but failed to mention their actions in the audit reports.  Even two failures to properly prove authority did not result in audit findings.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office seems to be handing clean audits out like candy.  It’s important that the citizens of Blount County, and ultimately Tennessee, understand the limited scope of these audits and that they don’t reflect the quality of spending.  Clean audits do not mean that elected officials are good stewards of your taxpayer monies.

Important questions you need to ask about the salaries of elected officials before voting in the local May 1st and state and federal August 2nd 2018 primary elections

State mandated minimum salaries and additional pay supplements for local elected officials vs what taxpayers are making

When you look at important economic indicators such as median household income and average annual income, Blount County taxpayers haven’t fared well in recent years.  When adjusted for inflation, 2014 numbers show that average pay in Blount County actually dropped and that household income averages a double digit drop.

The State of Tennessee mandates very generous salaries for elected officials that are 2, 3 and 4 times what the average Tennessee taxpayer is making.  I (Tona Monroe) have written the state legislature for a couple of years on this matter but this matter has largely fallen on deaf ears when it comes to taking action.  A few lawmakers have agreed with me that the mandated minimums are too high but none have taken action to provide reform.

You can view the state mandated minimum salaries for local elected officials here.
2018-2019  2017-2018   2016-2017  2015-2016  2014-2015  2013-2014
2012-2013   2010-2011  2009-2010  2008-2009  2007-2008  2006-2007

This figures show huge increases to the base pay for local elected officials being mandated by state law.  Despite being paid double and triple, and in the case of judges almost quadruple what the average taxpayer is making, 4 of these local elected officials are receiving pay supplements above the already large state mandated minimums.  Blount County taxpayers are paying $96,717 more than state minimum for the circuit court clerk, highway superintendent, sheriff and mayor.  It’s obvious these people don’t feel the same economic pain that many Blount Countians are feeling.

2 important primary elections will be held this year.  The local government primary election will be May 1, 2018 and the state and federal primary election will be held August 2, 2018.  All office holders elected in partisan elections are Republicans in Blount County.  There isn’t a single Democrat or independent in office in Blount County, excluding the school board which has nonpartisan elections.  Thus, it is highly likely that all upcoming offices, excluding the school board, will be decided in the primary elections.  If you wait to vote in November, you will miss your best opportunities to have an impact on who governs at the local and state levels.  There will be no county elections in November and only state and federal general elections occur in November.

The May 1 and August 2 primary elections provide opportunities for you to clean house of these state and local officials who refuse to hold the line on these outrageous salaries.  Only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and myself have voted to cut the pay of these 4 elected officials down to the state minimum, which is already much higher than it should be.

Questions to ask before heading to the polls on May 1 and August 2:
1) Why have local elected officials refused to cut the pay of these officials to the state mandated minimums?
2) Why have the state legislators continued funding huge increases for elected officials?
3) Why did Jerome Moon try to lead the commission to believe that these pay supplements weren’t optional?

Please consider these questions before casting your votes in the May 1 and August 2 elections.

East Tennessee Index 2014 figures for median household income:

What does this measure?
Median household income, adjusted for inflation. Half of households earn below the median, and half are above.

Why is this important?
Median household income is a gauge of overall economic health of the region and the financial resources of households.

How is our region performing?
In 2010-14, median household income in the region was $45,100, slightly higher than the state ($44,600) but lower than the nation ($53,500). Among local counties, median household income was highest in Loudon ($50,600) and Knox ($47,500) and lowest in Union ($36,000) and Monroe ($37,200). The region, state, and nation all saw their median income fall by double digits from 2000 to 2010-14 (down 12% in the region, 14% in the state, and 10% in the nation). Median income fell much faster in the region from 2005-09 to 2010-14 than in the nation and state (16% decrease in the region compared to a 6% decrease for the state and the nation). Among the counties, median household incomes decreased most from 2000 to 2010-14 in Sevier, Monroe and Blount (all 14%). Union experienced the smallest rate of decline (7%), but still has the lowest median household income in the region.

Notes about the data
Figures are presented in 2014 dollars. The multiyear figures are from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The bureau combined five years of responses to the survey to provide estimates for smaller geographic areas and increase the precision of its estimates. The survey provides data on characteristics of the population that used to be collected only during the decennial census.

ETIndex.org 2014 figures for average annual salary:

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.

#TNaintReady 2.0

by Horatio Bunce

Common Core “state” standards performance numbers for high school students are in. Commissioner McQueen had a press conference and bar graph to declare success as reported by the always- government-school-sympathetic Chalkbeat. Chalkbeat had set up the press conference the day before with another article stating that Tennessee students were struggling with the testing on the “UtahReady” tests because of the “rigorous” Common Core “State” Standards that students have only been using for two years. Convenient excuse isn’t it?

Remember how when back in 2014 (that’s 3 whole years ago for you Common Core Math students) when Stacey Campfield introduced a bill to stop implementing more Common Core “State” Standards, it was too late to turn back and lose all that ground? Apparently none of that counts, nor does the instruction happening between then and 2015 when we started paying millions of dollars to “lease” Utah Sage Assessment questions for TNReady tests. So the setup was that if we didn’t see improvement, it would be really bad news, therefore telegraphing that flat or any improvement at all is “success”. So, Candice makes up a bar graph that is really exaggerated to show improvement from 2016 to 2017.

I felt it necessary to edit her bogus graph to include the rest of the data set and illustrate how statistically insignificant the difference in the two years’ scores are. The educrats have changed the federally-driven testing language from the old “below basic, basic, proficient and advanced” terms to now only show us two terms called “on track” and “mastered”. There is a very significant data set (added by me in red) that does not fall in these categories. Not sure what that is called, since it is not “on track” or “mastered”. Maybe “obscured”, “obfuscated”, “ignored in press releases” or something similar would work?

 

 

 

Many links on this site are broken due to county’s new website

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

Meeting Archives

Commission Meetings

Budget and Finance Committee Meetings

Agenda and Work Session Meetings

Insurance Committee Meetings

HR Committee Meetings

Blount County’s YouTube Channel containing meeting recordings

June 2017 Commission Report

“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.”  Will Rogers

Annual Budget
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.

Chromebooks lease
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.

$1,272,000 loan to the schools
The commission, through the Agenda Committee, actually rejected a spending request from the schools in February.  This month the schools requested this money, for tennis courts renovations, once again along with more money for 3 additional capital projects.  The commission was asked to approve capital outlay notes that would be funded by using monies from debt service that will be loaned to the schools.  The county should be using the debt service fund to pay down debt rather than loaning it to be paid back at 2% interest.  Furthermore, the county has to pay a financial advisor and bond counsel to loan money to itself.  The better option would be to increase the amount of property tax going to the schools capital fund rather than a complicated loan transaction with fees and 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.

Interruptions continue
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.

Up next:
The commission will look at hiring an architectural firm to renovate and/or expand the jail.

Beacon Center Report on Blount County School District shows big administrative growth while students declined from 2004-2014

The Beacon Center created a tool to examine school spending and growth rates from 2004-2014.

According to the reported generated by the tool, the Blount County School District saw a 71% increase in administrative costs, an 11% increase in teachers and a 21% increase in administrators from 2004-2014 but the number of students dropped 0.2% during this time.

Are your tax dollars being used wisely?

For comparison during the same time period, Alcoa and Maryville School Districts both had a decrease in administrators while the rest of the data provided, including students, increased.

The debt amount in this report does not accurately reflect the full debt costs of the schools because most of the debt for the schools is paid for out of the Debt Service Fund and not the General Purpose Schools Fund.

April 2017 Commission Report

Agenda and Commission Meetings
This was a light month for the Blount County Commission.  The agenda was short. There was a zoning request that was had no objections and the commission voted to approve its minutes and receive reports.

The only thing of significance that happened was the commission moved the regular meeting time of 7 PM to 4 PM.  This was likely because the Republican Party of Blount County scheduled its Lincoln Day dinner for the same night at 6 PM.  Commissioner Dave Bennett had the item placed on the agenda for the Agenda Committee but he wasn’t present at the meeting to explain his request.  He is the former chairman of the local Republican Party.

Would the all Republican commission change the meeting time for the Blount County Democratic or Libertarian Parties?  The Information Technology Committee meeting, which was scheduled for 6 PM the same night, was also canceled.  I was the only commissioner present to vote against catering to the local Republican Party.

Paper takes down a story related to jail expansion
Last month I wrote about the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) cutting me off and not letting me do the job that I was elected to do: ask questions and get answers related to jail expansion in order to make an informed decision.  This month the paper removed a story from its website that it wrote related to my research and questions about this endeavor.

Blount County Tax Revolt, a local citizens group, asked me to come speak about the BCCP cutting me off and explain what I was prohibited from asking and what I had hoped to learn by asking questions.  A reporter for The Daily Times was present at the meeting and a story was written.  The story did not appear in the print edition but it was online with a link on the homepage of the paper’s website until the early afternoon when it was taken down.

The Daily Times has twice published that the Purchasing Department had an open meeting related to the jail RFQ.  This cherry picked reporting is a disservice to this community.  Most of the purchasing process related to the selection of a firm was done in secret because of a new state law.  It seems that the paper is more interested in publishing the talking points of the courthouse clique than it is evaluating a new law that made what was formerly an open process largely secret.  This law coupled with the actions of the BCCP have made my job more difficult than it should be.

At the March BCCP meeting, Purchasing Agent Katie Branham Kerr said that she would have to refer to her notes when I asked her who she had contacted in Loudon County when consulting references for the architectural firm Michael Brady Inc. (MBI).  I requested a copy of her notes and all communications records that she had with other governmental entities related to MBI.  Kerr informed me that she has no communications records related to MBI.

She says that she did contact someone at Loudon County regarding MBI but can’t remember who she spoke with or what office/department this person works in.  I checked with the Loudon County Mayor’s Office to see if anyone had any recollection of speaking to Kerr or anyone from Blount County related to MBI.  Anita Green with the Loudon County Mayor’s Office responded with, “I have spoken with several department heads and none have any recollection of speaking with anyone from Blount County.”

I’ll likely write more on this in the future.

Spectra Recycling Center to close
Blount County has been fortunate to enjoy having recycling services provided free of charge by a private company.  Spectra will be closing its recycling center on May 1st.  Spectra has provided recycling services free to city and county residents for 17 years.

While some recycling materials are profitable others are not.  The demand for glass is low and many governments that provide recycling services have stopped collecting it during garbage pick up.

In 2015, I served on an ad hoc committee that looked at recycling options for Blount County.  You can read the report issued by the chairman of that committee here.

If the county were to provide recycling, there will be costs associated with that service.  We had a valuable service being provided by a private business.  I don’t know if that service could have continued but I do wish that possibility had been fully explored before looking to provide a new county service.  Do you support using your tax dollars for the county to provide recycling?

Up Next:
Open Records Policy

The commission will soon vote on an open records policy.  Those who are interested in open government and obtaining or inspecting records will want to pay close attention to this.

Info on TCSA funding and support for IMPROVE act

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

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

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

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

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

The press has many important functions that can be invaluable.  As such, 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.

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

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

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