In politics tall tales and utter nonsense can float around. The Mayor of Friendsville, Andy Lawhorn, has told people that I (Tona Monroe) don’t return phone calls to the people in my district. A while back, Commissioner Tom Stinnett called me and said that Lawhorn was trying to get ahold of me and asked if it would be OK to give him my phone number. I told Stinnett sure and that my number was available on the county’s website. I never heard from Lawhorn before or after that.
There have been a couple of issues related to the City of Friendsville that have come before the Blount County Commission. No one from the City of Friendsville government has contacted me to discuss these matters, or if anyone has I never received a single message.
Someone asked me why someone had posted on Facebook that I don’t take landline phone calls. I don’t know whether an incoming call is from a land line or from a cell phone. There are some numbers that are recognizable as having been land line numbers but there is no guarantee that they are still land lines. My number was a land line and is now a cell number.
As far as I can recall, I have returned every phone call to the constituents of my district, with the exception of a few who have told me that I didn’t need to call them back. Some months back, I did have some phone trouble and I didn’t get messages or texts for a few days. It’s possible that I could have missed a few calls and texts during that time. If I did miss your call or text, feel free to call me at 856-0814.
Someone did share with me that they didn’t know how to get ahold of Lawhorn’s wife, Staci Crisp-Lawhorn, who is running for county commission because there is no phone number listed for her on the candidate petition page of the county’s website.
At the April 10th, 2018 Agenda Committee meeting, Chairman Grady Caskey turned Commissioner Tona Monroe’s microphone off for discussing what is in the resolution that the body was considering and getting ready to vote on. 10 commissioners voted to uphold Caskey’s decision to cut her microphone off. Three abstained including Caskey.
Do you want commissioners who will cut other commissioner’s microphones off or are too cowardly to even cast vote for or against the decision? If these people don’t even want to listen to their fellow commissioners, will they listen to you the citizens?
Voting to uphold Caskey’s decision cut Commissioner Monroe’s microphone off:
Commissioners Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Scott King, Kenneth Melton, Mike Lewis and Tom Stinnett
Voting to abstain:
Commissioner Grady Caskey (Chair), Tom Cole and Brian Robbins
Commissioners voting not to uphold Caskey’s decision to cut Commissioner Monroe’s microphone off:
Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Ron French, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe
Commissioners who were absent:
Commissioners Dave Bennett and Gary Farmer
The commission would not let Commissioner Karen Miller read her prepared statement at the June 2016 commission meeting. You can read more about this in the June 2016 Commission Report.
From page 4 of the July 2016 commission packet containing the June 2016 meeting minutes:
“Commissioner Miller then made a motion that she be allowed to read her statement. Commissioner Monroe seconded the motion. An electronic vote was taken on the motion by Commissioner Miller to read her statement.
Akard -Absent, Caylor -No, Lewis -No,
Allen -No, Cole -Yes, Melton -No,
Archer -Yes, Crowe -No, Miller -Abstain,
Bowers -No, Daly -Yes, Monroe -Yes,
Carter -Yes, Farmer -No, Moon -No
Carver -No, French -No, Samples -No
Caskey -No, Lambert -No, Stinnett -No
There were 5 voting yes, 14 voting no, 1 abstaining and 1 absent. Chairman Moon declared the motion to have failed.”
These are just two examples. There are many more. You can read the monthly commission reports on this website, read commission meeting minutes and watch commission videos to find many more instances of the courthouse clique silencing those who dared to ask questions.
The only way to stop this to raise awareness of it and elect better people. Please vote in the May 1st, local government primary election.
Blount County Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe discuss why they aren’t seeking reelection. To tie this together, when the citizens group was active, Citizens for Blount County’s Future, there were more people fighting the courthouse clique/political machines/good ole’ boys/establishment. These citizens were present at Blount County government meetings and spoke out on many important issues. After the citizens group disbanded, and Blount County Tax Revolt followed suit, there were often no citizens at commission and committee meetings. This is likely why the courthouse clique has been able to cut commissioner Monroe’s microphone off for about a year and a half. If there had been some citizen participation these past couple of years, the three ladies may have been more effective in trying to reform local government.
By Ron Paul
The Senate Intelligence Committee recently passed its Intelligence Authorization Act for 2018 that contains a chilling attack on the First Amendment. Section 623 of the act expresses the “sense of Congress” that WikiLeaks resembles a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such.” This language is designed to delegitimize WikiLeaks, encourage the federal government to spy on individuals working with WikiLeaks, and block access to WikiLeaks’ website. This provision could even justify sending US forces abroad to arrest WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or other WikiLeaks personnel.
WikiLeaks critics claim that the organization’s leaks harm US national security. However, these critics are unable to provide a single specific example of WikiLeaks’ actions harming the American people. WikiLeaks does harm the reputations of government agencies and politicians, however. For example, earlier this year WikiLeaks released information on the CIA’s hacking program. The leaks did not reveal any details on operations against foreign targets, but they did let the American people know how easy it is for the government to hack into their electronic devices.
For the last year, most of the news surrounding WikiLeaks has centered on its leak of emails showing how prominent Democrats worked to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. In order to deflect attention from these revelations, Democrats, aided by their allies in the media and even some Republicans, promulgated a conspiracy theory blaming the leaks on Russian hackers working to defeat Hillary Clinton. Even though there is no evidence the Russians were behind the leaks, many in both parties are still peddling the “Putin did it” narrative. This aids an effort by the deep state and its allies in Congress and the media to delegitimize last year’s election, advance a new Cold War with Russia, and criminalize WikiLeaks.
If the government is successful in shutting down WikiLeaks by labeling it a “hostile intelligence service,” it will use this tactic to silence other organizations and websites as well. The goal will be to create a climate of fear to ensure no one dares publish the revelations of a future Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning.
Some have suggested that criticizing police brutality, the surveillance state, the Federal Reserve, or even federal spending aids “hostile foreign powers” by weakening the people’s “trust in government.” This line of reasoning could be used to silence, in the name of “national security,” websites critical of the welfare-warfare state.
By labeling WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service” and thus legitimizing government action against the organization, the Senate Intelligence Authorization Act threatens the ability of whistleblowers to inform the public about government misdeeds. It also sets a precedent that could be used to limit other types of free speech.
President Trump should make it clear he will veto any bill giving government new powers to silence organizations like WikiLeaks. If President Trump supports the war on WikiLeaks, after candidate Trump proclaimed his love for WikiLeaks, it will be further proof that he has outsourced his presidency to the deep state.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, along with notable whistleblowers, foreign policy experts, and leading champions of peace and liberty, will be addressing this important issue at my Institute for Peace and Prosperity’s conference on Saturday, September 9 at the Dulles Airport Marriott Hotel in Dulles, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. You can get more information about the conference and purchase tickets at the Ron Paul Institute.
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.
Written by Ron Paul
“I love Wikileaks,” candidate Donald Trump said on October 10th on the campaign trail. He praised the organization for reporting on the darker side of the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was information likely leaked by a whistleblower from within the Clinton campaign to Wikileaks.
Back then he praised Wikileaks for promoting transparency, but candidate Trump looks less like President Trump every day. The candidate praised whistleblowers and Wikileaks often on the campaign trail. In fact, candidate Trump loved Wikileaks so much he mentioned the organization more than 140 times in the final month of the campaign alone! Now, as President, it seems Trump wants Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sent to prison.
Last week CNN reported, citing anonymous “intelligence community” sources, that the Trump Administration’s Justice Department was seeking the arrest of Assange and had found a way to charge the Wikileaks founder for publishing classified information without charging other media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post for publishing the same information.
It might have been tempting to write off the CNN report as “fake news,” as is much of their reporting, but for the fact President Trump said in an interview on Friday that issuing an arrest warrant for Julian Assange would be, “OK with me.”
Trump’s condemnation of Wikileaks came just a day after his CIA Director, Michael Pompeo, attacked Wikileaks as a “hostile intelligence service.” Pompeo accused Assange of being “a fraud — a coward hiding behind a screen.”
Pompeo’s word choice was no accident. By accusing Wikileaks of being a “hostile intelligence service” rather than a publisher of information on illegal and abusive government practices leaked by whistleblowers, he signaled that the organization has no First Amendment rights. Like many in Washington, he does not understand that the First Amendment is a limitation on government rather than a granting of rights to citizens. Pompeo was declaring war on Wikileaks.
But not that long ago Pompeo also cited Wikileaks as an important source of information. In July he drew attention to the Wikileaks release of information damaging to the Clinton campaign, writing, “Need further proof that the fix was in from President Obama on down?”
There is a word for this sudden about-face on Wikileaks and the transparency it provides us into the operations of the prominent and powerful: hypocrisy.
The Trump Administration’s declaration of war on whistleblowers and Wikileaks is one of the greatest disappointments in these first 100 days. Donald Trump rode into the White House with promises that he would “drain the swamp,” meaning that he would overturn the apple carts of Washington’s vested interests. By unleashing those same vested interests on those who hold them in check – the whistleblowers and those who publish their revelations – he has turned his back on those who elected him.
Julian Assange, along with the whistleblowers who reveal to us the evil that is being done in our name, are heroes. They deserve our respect and admiration, not a prison cell. If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.
by Horatio Bunce
Yesterday I posted a comment that I received that the typical response from government related to a reduction in inmates in the jail is to allege how harmful this will be to Blount County’s budget and how the media will be right there with these government officials publishing a series of articles. Predictably there is another article today and we are seeing the situation described in the comment come to fruition.
A TV station also did a story. The story didn’t include any of the actual figures and solutions that I provided to the TV station.
Mark Twain is credited with saying “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” This same is true for other news sources.
I gave several figures and solutions to resolve the issues related to state inmates being removed from the local jail but the TV station didn’t publish that and instead published the two sentences that sounded the most sensational. Americans have grow distrustful of media. I can see why.
This is another comment and view of the media coverage of the jail situation that was sent to me last week. “All that sheriff does is talk about you in the articles. He doesn’t address the topic at hand, he just passively says he’s doing his job and then goes on a tirade about you. That writer Joel in all these articles needs to go back to journalism school and learn how to focus his writing on the topics at hand. He’s just spewing gossip at this point, with very little substance in his pieces. He’s not writing for the national enquirer about celebrities here, but that seems to be his writing style. Journalists are now held in similar regards/disdain as lawyers in this country.”
I recommend the book Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkinson. Attkinson, a reporter, talks about obstruction, intimidation and harassment tactics from the federal government and the media’s willingness to go along to get along and repeated failures to accurately cover the news. The situation is similar in Blount County.
When I (Tona Monroe) envisioned writing monthly reports on county government, I thought that the reports would be published within a few days of the monthly commission meetings, which are held on the 3rd Thursday of each month. However, I quickly realized that it was better to wait until the end of the month to more fully report on your local government. This is because there are important meetings after the monthly commission meeting and the meetings can create more questions than answers. Thus, I usually follow up after these meetings by seeking answers.
Sometimes I get answers and sometimes it is difficult to get answers. As such, these monthly reports are intended to provide a review of the monthly activities of your local government. If you desire to learn about important matters before the commission votes on them, please be sure to visit this site at least a couple of times a month because I write about issues throughout the month. Additionally, I also have an email list that you can subscribe to which will keep you informed. If you’d like to join the email list, please send me an email. email@example.com
Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting
On June 1, I drove to Nashville to attend the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control meeting. Commissioners Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also attended the meeting.
My reasons for attending are manifold. Please search this website, if you are new to the site, to learn those reasons. My statement to the board is available here.
A county should strive to meet minimum standards and be certified by the TCI. However, after reading prior Board of Control minutes and watching the process in action, I’ve concluded that obtaining certification can be political rather than an objective recognition of compliance with standards.
I had intended to write about the meeting before now but haven’t been able to obtain all the documents that I wanted to review before writing about the meeting. This may be something that I will write about in the future.
Commissioners Tom Cole, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett were absent.
At the Agenda Committee meeting, I offered two taxpayer protection amendments. Both were rejected.
One amendment would have amended the annual budget resolution to prohibit the mayor and finance director from assigning fund balance money without commission approval. My intention was to ensure that there would be no more secret plans for your tax money as there has been in the past.
The other amendment was intended to ensure that no monies appropriated for pay raises would be expended for any other purpose without commission approval. The budget funds 1.8% pay raises for all county employees, excluding the Highway Department and schools that set their own raises, and office holders who receive raises based on state mandates. However, not all the amounts budgeted for pay raises will be expended for that purpose.
Raises are suppose to be awarded based on satisfactory job performance. This will leave money in funds that won’t be awarded as pay raises. This means that office holders can transfer money not awarded for pay raises for use elsewhere in their budgets. This is a misuse of the public trust. Office holders should not be requesting money that isn’t needed and no office holder should use the funds for any other purpose.
Pay raises are not uniform throughout local government. Office holders will receive state mandated pay raises. Some school employees will receive 5% pay raises. General county employees will receive 1.8% pay raises. I don’t know what the Highway Department employees will receive.
Only commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted to protect the taxpayers with these two amendments.
Commissioner Mike Akard was absent.
Tax rate is set for $2.47
The property tax rate will remain at $2.47. The powers that be are patting themselves on the back for a job well done because they’ve put together a budget where they get nice pay raises and much of what they want, without increasing the property tax rate. However, that doesn’t mean that local government held the line on spending.
The budget is up $6,789,571 million over the previous year’s original adopted budget. The adopted budget for fiscal year (FY) 15-16 is $174,477,835 while the adopted budget for FY 16-17 is $181,267,406. Not all of this is local money. The schools will receive a sizeable increase from the state and $1,250,000 of this money came from fund balance that was approved as a budget increase in December for the IT fund that was rushed through. It is money that hasn’t yet been spent and has to be budgeted in the new year.
More of your money is projected to be collected due to tax revenue growth but pay has not keeping up with inflation. The local government hasn’t done you any favors by keeping the tax rate that is 15% higher than it was 2 years ago.
Only commissioners Miller and I voted no. That means that there are only 3 commissioners left who haven’t supported a tax rate that is higher than when they took office, or in the case of Peggy Lambert, left office. The commissioners who voted no on the tax increase last year, among other things, have now supported it and everything in the budget a year later.
What good is it to oppose something for one year and then rubber stamp it a year later? The property tax rate was $2.15 when I took my oath of office. When I ran for office, many people told me that they didn’t want another property tax increase. I made a campaign promise not to raise property taxes and I will stick by that. I will never vote for a budget that requires a tax rate that is higher than when I took office.
Someone said to me what good does it do to focus on a tax increase when the entire tax amount is being wasted. That’s a valid point. People often get upset about a tax increase, but that is often just a small amount of what you are paying. The entire amount is important, not just the increase. We should look at every penny the government wants and spends.
Capital fund amendment failed
I offered an amendment to the tax rate that would have moved one penny of the schools general fund to the schools capital fund. This amendment would have saved county taxpayers about $127,500 because capital fund money doesn’t have to be split with Alcoa and Maryville schools.
Blount County Schools teacher and County Commissioner Dodd Crowe spoke against the amendment although he didn’t actually give a precise reason why he opposed the amendment. Fiscal Administrator for the schools, Troy Logan, said the amendment wouldn’t align with the school board’s goals. Ask your school board member if he or she thinks that one of their goals should include giving $127,500 in tax money to Maryville and Alcoa, when the county doesn’t have to.
The School Board is planning on spending over $2 million to fix roofs this budget year. This will consume the entire capital fund and the rest will be paid for with fund balance in the schools general purpose fund. The shift in the penny would have given the schools additional funds, thereby reducing use of fund balance, without increasing the county property tax rate.
Commissioners and teachers Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe voted against the amendment, as did Commissioner Tom Cole whose wife works for the schools. These three gave about $127,500 to the cities when they didn’t have to. Commissioner and school employee Gary Farmer abstained. Only commissioners Andy Allen, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I thought it makes good fiscal sense to use the money to fix the roofs instead of giving it to the two cities.
I don’t like using the term penny to describe the tax rate because it makes the amount you are paying sound so much smaller than it really is. A penny on the tax rate is estimated to be worth $327,500 in property tax money. Because of split dollars, the amount given to the schools for each penny is about $200,000 according to fiscal administrator Troy Logan. The schools capital fund receives the entire amount of $327,500 per penny, excluding the Trustee’s Fees that are deducted from property taxes.
Budget Committee’s recommended budget is rubber stamped
The commission rubber stamped the budget recommended by the Budget Committee without any changes. Only commissioners Karen Miller and I offered amendments to the budget.
Commissioner Miller offered an amendment to gut the budget given to the Industrial Development Board, which is used to dole out corporate welfare. The IDB receives over $1 million. Miller’s amendment would have cut the IDB budget to $1 and given the money to the Highway Department.
The finance director said that Miller’s amendment would have required the commission to amend the tax rate resolution. This is a good example of why it doesn’t make sense to set the tax rate in advance of setting the budget. How can the commission properly budget the rate when it hasn’t determined the amounts that will be spent from each fund?
Commissioner Miller requested permission of the body to read her prepared remarks on the amendment. The commission rejected allowing her to read her statement. This is appalling. Commissioners are given the power to be heard and the duty to look out for taxpayers. Apparently the majority of commissioners don’t want a commissioner to come prepared with the facts and their reasons for advocating positions. The commission rejected allowing me to read a statement last month.
Miller did speak briefly without reading her statement. She said she didn’t think tax money should be given for corporate welfare, that she was upset with the way Bryan Daniels and the Blount Partnership had blocked commissioner Jamie Daly and me and that the money should be used to fix the pot holes in the road. I seconded Miller’s amendment but it was rejected by the commission with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself supporting it.
4 officials are paid above the state mandated minimum
State law mandates minimum salaries for elected officials. The salaries range from being nearly double to near quadruple the average salary in Blount County.
State law allows the commission to pay elected officials more than the state mandated minimums. With the salaries already being so much more than what the majority of households live on, I moved to cut the salaries of the court clerk, highway superintendent, sheriff and mayor to the state mandated minimums.
The cut would have saved the taxpayers $91,713 but it was rejected with only commissioners Daly, Miller and myself voting for it. Chairman Jerome Moon gave one of the typical reasons to rubber stamp the matter and move on. He said that state law requires us to give the sheriff a pay supplement above his base pay. However, when I asked what state law said we have to give the sheriff more than the state minimum, he couldn’t name the law. The sheriff couldn’t state the law either. Moon them passed the buck to Commissioner Steve Samples, because he is the longest serving commissioner. Samples didn’t know the law either.
I am researching the matter to see exactly what the county is required to pay the sheriff.
No one read a conflict of interest statement but several have conflicts of interest.
Meeting minutes missing wording of a motion
The meeting minutes for the May commission meeting did not include the wording of a motion that I made. I moved to amend the minutes to include the wording of the amendment that I had offered but the commission rejected the amendment. The minutes should reflect any change that a commissioner tries to make to public policy and government documents.
There was a reimbursement grant for highway funds expended during an emergency with begin and end dates that spans five years. The new Highway Superintendent (HS) Jeff Headrick couldn’t explain these dates. He said it was handled before he became HS but his name is on the budget amendment request. I often wonder if anyone in local government understands what they are signing up for, with state and federal grants.
A special Information Technology (IT) Committee was called by the mayor, to have the new IT consulting firm Mindboard give a presentation on its IT assessment of the county. A previous assessment was done. The Mindboard consultant referred to it as the 10,000 foot view. He referred to his assessment as the 3,000 foot view. The county is in need of some IT improvements but we need to tread carefully.
Kronos, the $2.3M time keeping, payroll and HR IT software project, is several months behind schedule. This was rushed through without fully examining whether the county was ready for the project.
The estimated capital costs of about $2.5M, in the Mindboard presentation, are nearly double what the commission approved last year for the updates. Furthermore, the annual costs to maintain these updates will greatly increase the IT budget. The committee was given a figure that was over $600,000.
These aren’t exact numbers. The costs for computers was listed as zero. The former IT Director John Herron, who now works for the schools, pointed out that this wasn’t realistic.
I wondered why this was listed as zero and I may have learned why. In the commission packet, there are budget transfers to purchase computers in both the Finance and Accounting and Data Processing (IT) budgets. (See pages 330 and 334) Finance Director Vineyard told me that all IT needs would come out of the IT fund but apparently both had money left over at the end of the year to use to buy new computers.
It is amazing how much money is moved around (transferred) at the end of the year. I may write more about the subject in the future.
The IT Committee took no action on the presentation. However, the mayor and finance director usually proceed with their big spending plans without a recommendation from the IT Committee.
State to remove 99 felons from jail
The best news of the month is that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is going to remove 99 felons to state facilities. This reduces the chance of a tax increase for jail expansion. However, we should be ever vigilant of the matter. We need to ensure that TDOC and the sheriff actively work to move felons, with a continuous sentence of more than a year, to state facilities in the future.
The sheriff stated that I have “offered no realistic or legal solutions.” That’s false. One realistic and legal solution that I offered was to have the state sentenced felons moved to state facilities. It’s good to see this solution will happen.
The commission will consider reforming the Human Resources and Insurance Committee.
Happy Independence Day!
Some of the people who have contributed to Blount County’s fiscal woes are in a tizzy because I dared to mention the secret actions taken to assign $1.5 million for possible jail expansion. The paper has been doing what it can to excuse the political machine (misnamed good ole’ boys, when there is little good that they do) with repeated stories downplaying the actions taken by Mayor Ed Mitchell and Finance Director Randy Vineyard.
At the Agenda Committee meeting on June 7th, I put forward an amendment to the annual budget resolution that the would prohibit any monies collected by the county that exceeds projected revenues from being designated for any purpose without commission approval. The sheriff referred to the $1 million that was set aside as an earmark and told the TCI Board of Control, last year, about a plan for another million. At the June TCI Board of Control meeting that there would be about another half a million this year, which is half a million less that what he told the Board last year.
The accounting term for this $1.5 million is that it is assigned.
Assigned Fund Balance
13. Amounts that are constrained by the government‘s intent to be used for specific purposes, but are neither restricted nor committed, should be reported as assigned fund balance, except for stabilization arrangements, as discussed in paragraph 21. Intent should be expressed by (a) the governing body itself or (b) a body (a budget or finance committee, for example) or official to which the governing body has delegated the authority to assign amounts to be used for specific purposes.
Notice the intent for the use of this fund balance for a specific purpose. The Blount County Corrections Partnership was not told about this assignment even though it is the body charged with making recommendations on the jail and criminal justice system. The commission and public weren’t told about this assignment. The public learned about the matter shortly after I did, after I read about the secret plan in the minutes of a state body.
Gary Farmer said, “There is no such thing as secret money.” The money itself may not be a secret but there was a secret plan with intended use of this money.
No solution Mike Caylor asked if the money could be spent without commission approval. It can’t. Any commissioner who doesn’t know that shouldn’t be a commissioner. This was his attempt to cover for the Mayor, Finance Director and Sheriff who would rather plan their actions in secret rather than discuss the matter in public with the Blount County Corrections Partnership.
The jail has been and remains an important issue in Blount County. Local government officials should be working diligent to address the needs of our criminal justice system, for the betterment of society. Instead the Blount County Corrections Partnership only meets a few times a year, information is withheld, meeting minutes don’t fully reflect motions that are made, the Commission Chairman cuts citizens off for referencing the jail study, Mike Caylor calls a point of order when I try to discuss ways to avoid jail expansion and money is assigned in secret. The public trust has been broken by these actions.
Here is my statement for the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting on June 1, 2016. Due to the five minute time limit, I wasn’t able to complement my remarks.
Thank you. My name is Tona Monroe. I am a county commissioner representing the 7th district in Blount County and am a member of the Blount County Corrections Partnership.
I come to you today frustrated, as I am sure that you are at times as well. My frustration runs deep, as it does with the people that I represent. Let me share some of the reasons for our frustration.
There was a secret plan to set aside $2 million to expand the jail. The public and I did not know about this until I called the TCI and began asking questions related to jail inspections and certification and obtained and read the Board of control meeting minutes from September 2 of last year.
I did suspect that money was being set aside to build because the revenue projection for housing federal inmates was cut in the current budget. When I asked if it was expected that the number of federal inmates being housed in the Blount County Adult Detention Facility would be reduced, I was told no. The forthright thing would have been to tell the commission and the public that amount of money being appropriated was being reduced so that the additional monies could accumulate for the purpose of addressing needs without our criminal justice system.
The taxpayers funded a study conducted by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning to examine the reasons for overcrowding. The study was a holistic look at the criminal justice system. Rather than embracing what the system can do to improve, several took offense to the assessment. As a result, the conclusions, findings and recommendations have largely been ignored or criticized without a fair hearing on the matter. There has been no hearing from the author on the final report. I tried to get the commission to set a date for a hearing but the Mayor threatened to sue the consultant to silence discussion. There was no lawsuit.
The people of Blount County don’t understand why a few people have worked so hard to avoid direct discussion on the report that over $94,000 of their tax money was spent on. Then to further stall the matter and avoid direction communication with the consultant, Jim Hart of CTAS was asked to review the ILPP study.
The people are frustrated because they don’t want to live in a prison county. One of my constituents asked me why are we in the prison business, referring to housing federal inmates. The people understand that the ILPP report that some have worked so hard to silence discussion on says that the county does not make money housing federal inmates. They don’t understand why the sheriff continues to house federal inmates when our jail is over crowded.
A citizen recently expressed her frustration to me by asking how the state could threaten to decertify our jail if we don’t look at building, when the state has so many sentenced inmates in our jail that it refuses to house in its prisons. We’ve been told that we have to keep the state sentenced inmates. However, my reading of the state law says otherwise.
TCA 41-8-106 (a) says “No county shall be required to house convicted felons sentenced to more than one (1) year of continuous confinement unless the county, through the authority of its county legislative body, has chosen to contract with the department of correction for the purpose of housing certain felons.”
I asked our Finance Director whether the county has a contract to state sentenced inmates and he said no. Thus, I am wondering why we’re being told that we have to house these state prisoners when the law says otherwise. Furthermore, the county legislative body has not approved the contract to house federal inmate either. If the county commission hasn’t approved housing these state sentenced felons or federal inmates, why are they there crowding our jail?
According to the data provided by our Jail Administrator, the average daily count of sentenced felons with at least 1 year left to serve during the last year is 174. If you couple that with the federal inmates in the jail, and removed them, our jail population decreases to below the 350 beds that we have. For example, in March the local paper reported that there were 517 inmates in the jail. 76 were federal and 142 were sentenced inmates awaiting beds in a state facility. If the federal inmates and state sentenced felons were removed the population in the jail on that give would have been 299 inmates, which is below the 350 bed capacity and below the 90% capacity of 315 inmates. People are asking me why we are keeping these state sentenced felons and federal inmates when eliminating them means we wouldn’t be overcrowded. Our citizens can do they math. They know that these discretionary inmates are what are causing the overcrowding.
Another frustrating matter is the false statements in the note section of the recent TCI inspection report. The report says, “The results were submitted at the April 29, 2014 CCP meeting and reviewed the findings during monthly meetings.”
The statement would partially read true if the first part read, “The preliminary results”. The final report was not released until May 31, 2014. As for reviewing the findings during monthly meetings, the BCCP does not have monthly meetings. That has been one of the great frustrations, that I haven’t been able to get the BCCP to meet monthly to discuss the report. The BCCP only met 4 times in 2015. One of the meetings that was canceled by the chairman was to hear from the author of the ILPP report to discuss the findings. That meeting was never rescheduled. Instead Jim Hart did a report on the ILPP report, which brings me to the next statement in the note section of the jail inspection report.
“The County commission has also acquired JIM Hart of CTAS conduct a Feasibility Study for the facility that was discussed during the January 19, 2016 CCP meeting.”
We have a couple of other county commissioners here today (Commissioners Karen Miller and Jamie Daly also attended the Board of Control meeting). Ask them if they acquired Jim Hart of CTAS to conduct a feasibility study. This was not a commission decision. I wonder how many commissioners even knew about the Hart study, until it was used as an excuse to delay talking about the ILPP study.
“The CCP Committee has continued to send in monthly process reports.”
What progress reports? If you are receiving monthly reports, they aren’t coming from the BCCP because it doesn’t meet monthly. I have obtained copies of what the Sheriff’s Office is submitting to you. However, the BCCP didn’t get this information, or even a copy of the Plan of Action, until I started requesting it. The Chairman of the BCCP even told the commission secretary to not provide us with a copy of the January 2016 jail inspection report at our January meeting. I didn’t even know that the jail had already been inspected this year and failed its inspection until Bob Bass told us at the January meeting. The BCCP wasn’t given a copy of that inspection report until the March meeting.
The last sentence of the note makes a recommendation. It says, “I strongly recommend that the CCP Committee look at all types of alternative sentencing and pre-trial release as well as reducing the number of discretionary/contracted inmates.”
Please know that the Vice Chairman, who served as acting Chairman of two BCCP meetings during the Chairman’s absence, prohibited me from placing the recommendation to stop housing federal inmates on the BCCP agenda. Here the jail inspector is recommending that we look at the matter and the Vice Chairman won’t even let me put it on the agenda.
Furthermore, the commission secretary who writes the meeting minutes for the BCCP has failed to record two motions that I made at BCCP meetings. One time she didn’t even mention that I made a motion and the second time she mentioned that I made a motion but failed to record what the motion stated. The other members of the BCCP did not seem concerned that motions were left out the meeting minutes.
One member of the BCCP said at the most recent BCCP meeting that the county needed to issue an RFQ to look at jail expansion to buy some time. Buy time for what exactly? Instead of buying some time, the people of Blount County deserve answers, not obstructionism. The people deserve action, not stalling or buying time. The people deserve to know what their local government is planning in open meetings, not by reading TCI meeting minutes.
At the called commission meeting in April to address issuing an RFQ related to the jail, those referencing the ILPP report were cut off when the report was germane to the matter. Citizens were also concerned that some commissioners were told that if they didn’t vote to authorize the RFQ they would be sued.
With all these questionable matters, it is no wonder that that the people are frustrated. I understand and share their frustration.
If you certify the jail today, please do so with the following conditions:
There will be no more stifling of discussion.
No BCCP member will be prohibited from adding items to the agenda.
The BCCP will meet regularly and frequently.
The BCCP will be given all important information in a timely manner.
The BCCP minutes will accurately state all motions made at the meetings.
There will be no more secret plans with taxpayer money.
The commission and public will be told what law authorizes the sheriff to sign a contract with the US Marshals Service to house federal inmates in the local jail.
The commission will be given an explanation from the state as to why state sentenced felons with sentences over one year are still in jail when the state law says that county doesn’t have to keep them.
And last but not least, the citizens will not be shut down during public input for referencing studies that support their positions.
Note: Former BCCP Chairman Tab Burkhalter spoke to the BCCP, after he left office, about the history of the BCCP and the ILPP study. He shared that the author of the report was willing to have a teleconference with the BCCP on the final report and the findings and conclusions of the study. That teleconference never happened. The discussion that took place between the author of the report and the BCCP at the April 2014 meeting was on the draft report.
March 3, 2016 TCI re-inspection report for Blount County Adult Detention Facility This was given to me with a cover letter dated February 12, 2016, even though the re-inspection was March 3rd.
The rules are made to be broken by the Blount County Commission. Enforcement of commission rules is selective to advance the agenda of the political machine and cover-up their actions.
Agenda Committee meeting
Federal Inmates/Prisoners – Commission refuses to take a position
After being prohibited by Blount County Corrections Partnership Vice Chairman (BCCP) Rick Carver from putting a recommendation to stop housing federal inmates in the local jail on the BCCP agenda, I took the matter to the commission. A majority of commissioners didn’t even want to discuss the matter. Commissioner Andy Allen objected to the consideration of the question, which means that you don’t want to discuss the resolution. The motion failed because a 2/3rd majority of 14 commissioners is required to pass this motion.
Those voting against discussing the matter include Commissioners Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Gary Farmer, Mike Lewis, Jerome Moon, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett.
Those voting to discuss the matter include Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Jamie Daly, Ron French, Karen Miller and me (Tona Monroe).
Commissioner Kenneth Melton was absent. Commission Seat 5A was vacant.
All the commissioners except for Akard, Archer, Daly, Miller and I voted to refer this to the BCCP. Now that the matter has been sent to the to the BCCP, the Vice Chairman Rick Carver can’t stifle it. However, this was the place to send the matter to die because the BCCP is heavily stacked with people who work for the Sheriff or who are close to him.
What state law authorizes the Sheriff to sign a contract with the US Marshals Service?
The sheriff has said that he has unilateral authority to enter into an agreement with the US Marshals Service to house federal inmates. I’ve asked to be given that law. A basis starting point for all those in government is provide proof of authority to act.
It’s possible that the sheriff has this authority, under state law. It should be simple to show the public this law.
I’ve asked the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) to provide me with the law that authorizes the sheriff to sign a contract to house federal inmates. However, they have not provided me with the law or an opinion that is specific to the matter of housing federal inmates.
Special called commission meeting
Chairman Moon called a special meeting to appoint a replacement for Jeff Headrick who resigned his commission seat after being appointed by the commission to office of Highway Superintendent.
There were 3 nominees: Chris Arnette, Ed Cherry and Peggy Lambert. I nominated Chris Arnette, a lady who is active in the community and who has been attending commission meetings because she is concerned about her community and wants good government. Peggy Lambert previously was appointed to the commission to replace Bob Ramsey who resigned from his commission seat after winning election to the office of State Representative.
The commission chose Peggy Lambert.
- Those voting Chris Arnette included Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly and Tona Monroe.
- Commissioners Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe for voted for Ed Cherry on the first ballot and Peggy Lambert on the second ballot after Ed Cherry was eliminated for receiving the lowest number of votes.
- Commissioners Shawn Carter, Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Karen Miller were absent.
- The rest voted for Lambert.
Lambert has a history or trying to suppress free speech at commission meetings and threatening to sue those that she disagrees with. She voted to disband the Ethics Committee. Her brother and husband serve on the Public Building Authority. She is part of a well connected political family. She is perfect for the those referred to the good ole’ boys, although there is rarely anything good that they do.
Commissioners Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Karen Miller were absent.
New budget form is already causing problems
A few months ago the commission adopted a new budget amendment form. I voted against the new form. You can read more on that matter here.
There are now four boxes: transfer, increase, decrease and adjustment. Adjustment is a nebulous term that obfuscates what is actually happening with your money.
Commissioner Mike Akard proposed amendments to each of the budget amendments that had the adjustment box checked. I seconded each of his amendments and voted for each of them because they attempted to clarify the true nature of the budget amendments. Theses were simply clarifying amendments but apparently the majority of commissioners don’t even want the facts clearly stated in budget amendment resolutions.
Schools back for more money
The schools had two budget requests this month. The first was a request for an additional $30,000 to cover the cost of fixing light poles at stadiums. The School Board under budgeted what was needed for the project.
The second was a request to appropriate an additional $80,000 to the capital fund because revenues have come in higher than projected. I tried to table the $30,000 request, which means postpone it until later in the meeting, so that the $80,000 could be approved and then the $30,000 request could be paid for with the $80,000. The motion to table failed. There was no good reason for the School Board to request an additional $30,000 when they were being given $80,000 in new revenue to spend.
In hindsight, I don’t think that tabling the matter was even necessary. The commission should have approved the $80,000 and sent the $30,000 request back to the school board telling them to take the $30,000 out of the $80,000. That would have sent a message to the School Board to live within their means but the commission doesn’t exercise much, if any, fiscal discipline either. Only commissioner Mike Akard and I vote no.
Those of you who live in the 4th and 6th School Board districts should give serious consideration to those races. The school budget is over half of the annual local budget. Fiscal conservatives are needed on the School Board.
Courthouse security request
There was a $210,000 budget increase for a courthouse security project. That was all the description said. See pages 18-19. No one in the county government offered any explanation for how this money will actually be used. Furthermore, this amount will almost double the current budget for courthouse and jail maintenance and is more than the recommended budget for the entire upcoming year. See page 120.
I didn’t know that the courthouse parking lot was being renovated until someone told me about it after reading it in the paper. It is alarming how little commissioners are actually told about plans for projects in county government.
Cover-up and tyranny continue
Those who comprise the political machine of Blount County have gone to great lengths to suppress debate and freedom of speech surrounding the local jail and criminal justice system. Actions this month piled higher and deeper on the problem.
I’ve written in the past about my attempts to amend the BCCP minutes, how those amendments failed and how the commission secretary failed to record those amendments in the minutes. This month I was prohibited from even fully stating my amendment to the minutes of the April 18, 2016 called commission meeting.
Chairman Jerome Moon cut me off and declared my amendment out of order before I could even finish stating my amendment. One could ask how he could have possibly known that the amendment was out of order when I wasn’t even allowed to fully statement the entire amendment.
The amendment was an attempt to document that the chairman cut citizens off and the commission prohibited me from speaking about the jail study in reference to expanding the jail. It is not out of order for citizens and commissioners to cite sources that support their positions. Why is the political machine working so hard to stifle discussion on the jail study?
The meetings have become more tyrannical with time. The tyranny has gone from the amendments being excluded from the minutes of a meeting to not even being able to state the amendment.
I challenged the rule of the Chair. The clique voted to uphold Moon’s ruling without even hearing the entire amendment. I then invoked Rule 5 asking to read the proposed amendment as a statement rather than an amendment. The commission voted against allowing me to offer the statement.
Think about that for a moment. The commission has now upheld a commissioner not even being able to state an amendment to the minutes. Freedom of speech of the citizens and the power of each commissioner to be heard and act on issues should be sacred but they have been squashed by the Blount County Commission.
Gary Farmer waves finger in Chairman Moon’s face
During discussion Jerome Moon interrupted commissioners Dodd Crowe and Gary Farmer telling them they were off topic but he let both of them continue. Favoritism is shown. They were allowed to continue speaking, but I was not.
Gary Farmer shook his finger in Chairman Jerome Moon’s face and told him that he could continue speaking. Moon backed down and Farmer spoke as he wanted to. I have no desire to shake my finger in Moon’s face but I wonder if I could have continued speaking if I had.
I didn’t object to Crowe or Farmer speaking because neither were actually off topic. Both were making their cases as to why a resolution wasn’t good for Blount County. I disagree with them but they have been given the power to be heard and to take action on matters.
This is a dangerous place to be. Commissioners discussing why something is or isn’t a good idea should be able to speak without interruption. Some commissioners selectively chose to interrupt commissioners like me because they know that the commission will uphold the ruling of the chair, while allowing Dodd Crowe and Gary Farmer to speak at great length and discuss what they want .
The annual budget. Hang onto your wallets.
Regarding the budget, here is a question to ponder: Should government “servants” make 2, 3 and 4 times what the taxpayers make?
Happy Memorial Day!