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#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.

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?

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.