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November 2015 Commission Report

Agenda Meeting
In October of 2013, the Commission voted to spend over $94,000 to conduct a study on the jail overcrowding.  The Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) Criminal Justice System Assessment Report (commonly called jail study) was issued May 31, 2014.  The County Commission has yet to hear from the jail consultant because the Mayor chose to obstruct progress by having his attorney write a letter to the commission asking us to not talk about the report because the county might sue and discussion could damage the County’s legal position.  This was just a tactic to shut down discussion on the report.  Over 7 months later, there is no lawsuit.

I filed a resolution to have a hearing on the jail study.  The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) unanimously recommended that the Commission hear from the Jail consultant at it’s January meeting.  Commissioner Rick Carver said that he didn’t understand my resolution since it didn’t come from the BCCP.  He should have understood it because he was the one who seconded my motion at the January BCCP meeting to recommend having a hearing on the study.

The facts were inconvenient for Rick Carver and the rest of the water boys for the Sheriff.  They made excuse after excuse about not hearing the findings and conclusions of the taxpayer funded study.  The matter was again postponed to the January meeting.  If these commissioners put as much time and effort into solving problems as they have in avoiding the problems we would see the kind of criminal justice reform needed for the betterment of society.

Commission Meeting
The Commission approved purchasing a new software system for the Sheriff’s Office that will allow deputies to be more mobile, improve record keeping and help with inmate classification in the jail.  The expenditure was mostly funded by court costs for technology.

For the second month in a row Accounting and Budgeting either wouldn’t answer or didn’t know the answer to my questions regarding budget amendments and the HR Director failed to provide requested information regarding the Evergreen Employee Compensation and Classification Study.  After the Evergreen Study was adopted as the pay scale for the General County, excluding the Highway Department, employees had the opportunity to go through an appeals process if they weren’t happy with their classification and/or pay.  I submitted questions regarding the outcome of this process to the HR Director in early September but she failed to answer my questions.

A complicated budget transfer request was in the Commission packet to appropriate amounts needed to satisfy the appeals process.  The figures are available on page 25 of Commission packet.  There were a couple of problems with this.

First, I inquired how it was possible that the re-appropriates were exactly zero.  If you have an appeals process, it seems highly unlikely that the appeals process will result in the changes to pay for employees being exactly zero.  The final results showed that the Commission approved $36,917.75 more for wages than was needed.  If the appeals process shows that the commission over budgeted by this amount, then why wasn’t this item a budget decrease instead of a transfer that resulted in neither an increase or decrease to the budget?  The answer I was given did not sufficiently explain this.  The HR Director did not attend the Agenda Committee meeting or the Commission meeting to answer questions.

Additionally, I inquired why re-appropriations that we were asked to vote on did not match the Change/Difference column figures resulting from the appeals process.  For example, the appeals lead to salary increases of $36,205.63 in the Circuit Court Clerk’s budget, but $60,366 for salaries was transferred to this Office. No sufficient answer was given for this either.

With no clear answers, from the Finance Department or HR Director, this budget transfer didn’t pass the common sense test to me.  Only Commissioners Karen Miller and I voted no.

Recycling Committee
The Ad Hoc Committee to Study Recycling expired this month without taking any action except approving a request for an extension of time from the County Commission.  Discussion was short because some people didn’t make it to the meeting.

Blount County Corrections Partnership
Sheriff James Berrong and Chief Deputy Jeff French resorted to petty attacks against me.  Commissioner Jamie Daly asked the men to put egos aside and be adults but French attacked me again after her request.

Five months since last meeting
At the Agenda meeting Commissioner Jamie Daly asked the BCCP Chairman Jeff Headrick how many times the BCCP had met this fiscal year.  He didn’t give a number, because he knew the answer was zero.  The last meeting occurred in June which was the last fiscal year.

The only two agenda items at the June meeting were the TCI presentation and the setting of the next meeting.  After the TCI presentation the Chairman declared that he would set a meeting date.  He drug his feet for four months before setting a meeting date.  On the day of the meeting the members of the BCCP received an email from the Commission Secretary saying that the Chairman wanted to know if we would be attending the meeting.  Chairman Headrick was probably looking for a reason to cancel the meeting as he has done multiple times in the past.

At the April meeting, I asked that our next meeting after the TCI presentation include discussion of housing federal inmates.  When the November meeting public notice was issued, it excluded this agenda item.  I had to call the Commission Secretary to get it added to the public notice.  A new public notice had to be reissued the next day.  At the meeting the Chairman said he had nothing to hide but there are too many things like this to dismiss as innocuous.

Federal Inmates
The County Commission has never approved the contract to house federal inmates.  The Sheriff acted unilaterally when he signed the agreement.  The are many risks associated with housing federal inmates but the matter hasn’t been voted on by the Commission or signed by the Mayor.

For many years, the Sheriff’s Office has promoted the notion that the County makes money keeping federal inmates.  The ILPP report, that the establishment has been avoiding public discussion on, says on page 26, “The only way for the jail to make any money from Federal or State per diems is to crowd it.”

On page 42 the report says:

“ILPP believes that the County is subsidizing the Federal Detention contract and mistakenly believes the County profits from the federal contract. The perceived profits are at expense of staff and inmate conditions. Understaffing and overcrowding results in a distorted view of the profit margin. Providing adequate housing accommodations and sufficient staffing compared to the inmate population will result in substantial loss of County funds. When building cost and staff costs are included, the Federal contract is insufficient to cover real costs.”

The ILPP report recommends that the Sheriff’s Office hire a firm to renegotiate the federal per diem rate.  The Sheriff’s Office has acted on this recommendation and the rates are being renegotiated.  That renegotiation itself suggests that current per diem rate is insufficient to fully cover operational costs of housing federal inmates.

Furthermore, the Sheriff’s Office billed the private sector $35 an hour for security services provided for the recent Luke Bryant concert.  The federal government is billed $14 an hour for transportation services for federal inmates.  The Sheriff told me that I was playing games when I asked him why this rate was less than half the private sector rate.  He said that the concert pay was overtime but Chief French acknowledges that deputies could be on overtime pay when transporting federal prisoners.  Even if the deputies aren’t on overtime, $14 an hour doesn’t cover the costs associated with transporting these inmates.

Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Rick Carver have both said that the ILPP consultant called Washington DC and caused the US Marshalls Service to remove some of the federal inmates from the jail.  I asked the Sheriff if federal inmates had been removed, why the were removed and how many.  He said that either I or the ILPP consultant had called Washington DC and implied that one of us had caused it.  He asked me if I had called.

After hearing the two Commissioners allege that the federal inmate reduction was due to the jail consultant, I placed a call the US Marshalls Service to see if they would tell me why the number of inmates was reduced.  The called was placed near the Thanksgiving holiday so I wasn’t able to speak with anyone who could answer that question.

I asked the Sheriff if he was given a reason why the US Marshalls Service removed the federal prisoners.  He said that he was given a reason.  When I asked what that reason was, he said that it was between him and the US Marshalls Service.

The US Marshall’s Service returned my call after the BCCP meeting and told me that 36 inmates were removed from the jail but refused to tell me why they were removed saying that the contract was between them and the Sheriff’s Office.

The revenue projection for this fiscal year already projected keeping 30% less federal inmates than the prior year.  The budget was put together several months before the US Marshalls Service removed the federal inmates.  When you are told that we are losing revenue because some of the federal prisoners were removed, keep in mind that the budget only projects an average of 52 inmates a day while there are over 80 inmates after the US Marshalls Service removed the 36 inmates.

Information is not provided
The BCCP is not given copies of the TCI jail inspection reports.  The BCCP is not given a copies of the Plan of Action when updated.  The BCCP is not given any information from the Probation Department.  The BCCP is not given any information from the Program Director of Recovery Court (formerly called Drug Court).  The BCCP is not given any information from the District Attorney’s Office.  The BCCP is not given any information from the Public Defender’s Office.  The BCCP has been not given a copy of the Sheriff’s Office agreement with the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee since I’ve been on the BCCP.  If a member wants this information, they have to request it.

BCCP is not hearing from many parts (“stakeholders”) of the criminal justice system
Since I’ve been a member of the BCCP, we have not heard from the citizens serving on the Jail Inspection Committee, Probation Department, DA’s Office or the Public Defenders Office.  What we have heard regarding the Recovery Court has come from Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington.  When I asked that the BCCP be provide with data regarding how many people in the court system would be eligible for Recovery Court programs so that we could look at the possible need to expand it, she was quick to tell me that she didn’t have time to provide that data.  My request wasn’t for her specifically to provide the information but rather for the Program Director or her staff to provide the data.  Harrington encouraged a request for increased funding which I supported on the condition that we be provided data about Recovery Court and the possible need to expand it.  Five months after the budget increase, the BCCP has been given no data from Recovery Court.

We can do better
The BCCP has been dysfunctional and unproductive.  The problem lies squarely on the shoulders of Chairman Jeff Headrick. He is more interested in catering to the establishment than serving the community.

A Chairman who wanted to achieve progress wouldn’t cancel meetings because one or two people, who aren’t voting members, aren’t going to attend.  A Chairman who wanted progress wouldn’t allow five months to pass between meetings.  A Chairman who wanted to achieve progress wouldn’t parrot a statement like, do you want to meet just to meet (yes he said that) knowing that there are many topics that have never been discussed by the BCCP.  A Chairman who wanted progress would work diligently to make sure that the BCCP was getting all the criminal justice system information available.  A Chairman who wanted progress would be inviting each of the Offices/Departments involved in the criminal justice system to come speak to the BCCP.

The BCCP should be meeting monthly and be given either monthly or quarterly reports from each component of the criminal justice system.  Each month one or more of person involved in the system should be speaking to us about what they are doing and what they need to be doing their job better.  These are the requests that I would have been making had the Chairman not hindered the BCCP from meeting on a regular basis.

County Technical Advisory Service Jail Management Consultant Jim Hart issued a review on the jail studies, the one that he did and the ILPP study.  He actually recommends meeting with the people involved in many components of the criminal justice system.  It is my hope that the BCCP will take these recommendations seriously.  Regular meetings with all involved is what the BCCP is suppose to be doing in order to make recommendations to reform the criminal justice system.

Role and effectiveness of government
It has been said that I am against the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s employees.  The same is said about the Schools and their employees.  This is ridiculous.

The Schools and budgets under the Sheriff comprise the majority of the budget; therefore, there is usually move to evaluate than with other departments.  The majority of Sheriff’s employees have been polite to me and have answered my questions.  My interaction with school employees has been less because the committees that I serve on don’t have a lot of involvement with the schools.

It is my job to critically evaluate the effectiveness of government and ensure that its role be to assist in the protection of our rights.

The Declaration of Independence says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Let us never forget that the purpose of government is to secure these rights.  Some in government have lost sight of this role.

Up next
The Commission will not meet in December and I have no meetings scheduled.  Therefore, I hope to utilize the time to offer more in depth discussions on the county debt, jail and criminal justice system.  My November 6th email to the Finance Director with questions regarding the refinancing of nearly $80 million has not been answered yet.

October 2015 Commission Report

Agenda Committee – 3 minute meeting
The Agenda Committee meeting lasted about 3 minutes.  People have told me that the meeting demonstrated what they already know about our local government, that decisions are made behind closed doors and the meetings are formalities.  This is really unfortunate for the people of Blount County because we deserve better government.

Channel 6 questioned whether the meeting was in compliance with the Sunshine Law.

In an unprecedented move, 10 commissioners voted no on setting the agenda.  Ostensibly this was to stop consideration of a resolution that petitions God to spare Blount County from his wrath and condemning judicial tyranny.  The resolution is in response to the Supreme Court opinion that legalized same-sex marriage.

After the agenda failed, Chairman Steve Samples turned to commissioner Carter and told him that he could make his motion to adjourn, which he had previously tried to do before the commission voted on the agenda.  Samples asked if anyone was opposed to adjournment.  The paper has reported that the commission voted 15-0 to adjourn.  That is incorrect.  I raised my hand and voiced opposition, hoping that the commission would reconsider its decision and proceed with the rest of the agenda instead of adjourning without consideration of any matter.  Since the motion to adjourn was a voice vote, I don’t know that it actually passed.

In response, the volume of the audience started to rise and the word cowards was shouted at the commission.  Cowards is an accurate description of the commissioners who quickly exited out the back door avoiding the media and citizens in and outside the courthouse.

A member of the Associated Press approached me and began asking me questions and the rest of the press quickly joined him, blocking me in the commission chamber.  I had intended to exit out the same door as the citizens and had planned to talk with citizens but an officer told me that he and another officer would escort me out the backdoor as well.

Having that many microphones pointed at you and so many members of the press standing in front of you and then being escorted out of building by police is something that I will never forget.  I sought neither but both sought me.

Commissioner Jerome Moon made the motion to set the agenda but then voted against his own motion.  That should cause us all to pause and reflect upon what kind of leader he truly is.

The resolution was non-binding and would change nothing relating to marriage.  Marriage licenses would still be issued to same-sex couples.

The situation unfortunately overshadowed issues that have far more impact to the taxpayers of Blount County.  At the commission meeting nearly a million dollars of your tax money was spent or moved around, some under questionable circumstances.  Furthermore, Bryan Daniels President and CEO of the Blount Partnership which encompasses the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Foundation, Industrial Development Board and Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority was caught in a scandal, blocking communication from two county commissioners.  Questionable spending and unelected people handling taxpayer money while blocking elected officials who are asking questions about your money deserve much stricter scrutiny.  Never have I felt more like I was living in Washington D.C., instead of Blount County, Tennessee, than I did in October.

Commission meeting
The Mayor called a special commission meeting and the Commission Chairman canceled the regularly scheduled meeting.  The Mayor’s call was unnecessary because the commission already had a meeting scheduled two days later.  The special called meeting did not have the indexing system in our informational packets that regular meetings have making it more difficult to follow the agenda.

False department name and no explanation of increase request
There were several spending increases on the agenda.  The Chairman decided to violate the rules by asking a question of the Finance Director because he wasn’t happy about me asking questions.  The Chairman has habitually cut me off when he doesn’t like what I am saying.  Apparently he doesn’t like questions being asked in public meetings and thinks they should be asked behind closed doors.  The matter that drew his scorn was my questioning of a request for a $32,988 increase that had the department listed as “Denny Garner” and left the explanation section blank.  Read more about that here.

Mistakes
The Finance Director, or his staff, left a capital lease for equipment out of the annual budget, requiring an amendment to fix the mistake made by him or his staff.  There was another budget amendment because the Finance Director, or his staff, failed to budget the correct amount of the salary supplement that the county receives from the state for the Administrator of Elections.

Items not on the agenda of the special called meeting

  • Resolution to give the School Board a 12.5% pay raise
  • Resolution to expand the membership of the Human Resources Committee to include more elected officials
  • Judicial tyranny/wrath of God resolution

None of these items are on the agenda of the November Agenda Committee meeting.

Recycling Committee
At the previous Recycling Committee meeting, I asked the Chairman Grady Caskey to invite private haulers to our October meeting to see if any have an interest in expanding their businesses to offer recycling.  One trash collection service has done that.  The Chairman did not follow through but said he would for the November meeting.

IT Meeting – Kronos behind schedule and IT infrastructure in need of updates
No where has it been clearer who runs the courthouse than at the IT Committee meeting.  Finance Director Randy Vineyard, the defacto leader of courthouse, assured us that it won’t cost the taxpayers anymore money to implement Kronos which is 3 months behind schedule.  He didn’t volunteer the information.  I read that the schedule was adjusted in the monthly memorandum which was issued by an employee of Kronos rather than the IT Director as it had been in past months.

Vineyard’s assurance ignores the fact that we taxpayers just made an annual payment for the service that we won’t be using for the 3 months that the project is behind. According to Vineyard the HR software is being used now but the payroll system is 3 months behind because of leadership changes within the county and at Kronos.

The Mayor’s Office commissioned an IT study, without telling the commission, which told us that the county’s IT infrastructure is aged and could collapse at any moment. After listening to the IT consultants, I realized that essentially what Vineyard’s not so brilliant leadership has given us is a cart before the horse situation where he went out and got the most expensive wheels (Kronos software system) and put it on a car where the engine (the County’s IT infrastructure) may not even start.  The Finance Director should spend more time on his job as Finance Director to eliminate the mistakes coming out of his department rather than trying to run the courthouse.  The Mayor makes a fortune.  He should spend more time ensuring that the county is run efficiently and less time cutting ribbons and attending pancake breakfasts.

Industrial announcement
AMI announced that it will be locating a munitions manufacturing facility here.  Bringing in industry is usually a good thing but the way government throws your money at industries isn’t.  Many questions remain, not the least of which is the total cost to the taxpayers.

Bryan Daniels and politicians, including several commissioners, celebrated giving the farm away, literally.  AMI will be given 235 acres of land and an estimated tax abatement of $5 million.  The cost to update two roads in the area is estimated at $2.85 million, according to the local paper.  These costs don’t include the states incentives.  Alarmingly the state contract has not yet been finalized.

Hopefully these jobs will improve the quality of life in Blount County.  However, many the taxpayers of Blount County who have been handed 2 of the largest tax increase in Blount County history in the past few years are struggling.  Many of the people haven’t seen their quality of life improve.  They people have been handed tax increases when Blount County’s median household income is tied for the highest drop in the region and Blount County is the only county in the region where pay has not kept up with the rate of inflation.  Many have seen a decrease in their financial well being but are forced to pay the taxes to give land and money to big businesses. The people have good reasons to question this crony corporate welfare.

Debt refinancing
A workshop was held on refinancing and restructuring county debt.  The workshop was disappointing and a waste of money.  I had hoped to include discussion on the meeting here but it is going to be a while before I get more information.  When I obtain more information and have the time to write about the debt, I will post a link to the article here.

Up next
“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.”  Denis Waitley

I will be offering a resolution to finally have a hearing on the jail study that was commissioned two years ago.

Does this look like someone who should be blocked?

Earlier this year Commissioner Daly and I (Tona Monroe) sponsored a resolution asking congress to pass legislation, which has passed the House, to repeal draconian EPA stormwater regulations.  The resolution passed despite Bryan Daniels trying to kill it so he could get credit for giving the farm away to bring jobs (a composites manufacturer?) to the area.  Our area would have to be in attainment status in order for the manufacturer to come in the area without having to install more pollution control equipment.

The Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce and what ever entity that Byran Daniels and his cohorts choose to be at the moment have blocked Commissioners Jamie Daly and me.  Despite the secretive, back stabbing, pancake eating, ribbon cutting, PR stunt craving ways of Daniels and Mayor Ed Mitchell, Jamie Daly commented on one of the Facebook pages of the royal deities about the possibility of more industry for the area.  Did the hard hitting comment, “Now we can have more industries.” instill in Daniels such a paralyzing fear that he felt the need to block communication with an elected official?  That comment was hardly a hard hitting rebuke, like I am known to deliver.

Bryan Daniels, his Chamber cohorts, Ed Mitchell, Chairman Jerome Moon and Bob Norris who hides behind his anonymous editorials are PR sensitive wimps.  Anyone can be a boot licker and take credit for giving the farm away.  Benjamin Franklin did it for years before he finally realized it was time to stand up to the crown and fight for the rights of the people.

BlountPartnershipJamie

Blount Partnership admits it is blocking two county commissioners

The Blount Partnership, which the CEO/President Bryan Daniels describes as an umbrella organization for the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Foundation, Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority and Industrial Development Board (also referred to as the Economic Development Board), has admitted that it is blocking communication from two Blount County Commissioners.  Commissioners Jamie Daly and Tona Monroe have been blocked.

The Daily Times has a story today on the matter.
http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/busy-signal-blount-partnership-blocks-two-county-commissioners-from-communicating/article_c86c6d00-141b-58b1-b074-2002eaaefa8d.html

To read more about the economic environment created by entrusting large sums of tax dollars to the Industrial Development Board and the Smoky Mountain Tourism Authority, both part of the Blount Partnership, click here.

The Blount Partnership says, it “is the sole economic development agency for the Blount County area.”  An active citizen in the community and frequent commenter on this website, recently wrote me saying, “I think a “Blount County Industrial Guild” would work wonders for Blount.” 

What do you think?  A government subsidized monopoly has given us the results of being the only county in the region where average pay isn’t keeping up with the rate of inflation and being tied for the biggest drop in median household income. 

If you’d like to communicate with Bryan Daniels, his email address is bdaniels@blountpartnership.com.





Cowards – Men without honor

There have been well over 100 emails sent to me regarding the judicial tyranny/wrath of God resolution.  Last night a good friend who prays for me, our county and our country called to encourage me.  I read some of the emails to her.  She encouraged me to post this one.

“THE 16 COWARDS OF BLOUNT COUNTY. WHEN THE LIGHT WAS TURNED ON THE COCKROACHES HID. WHEN THE LIGHT SHONE THE RATS RAN. THE COWARDS FLED AND LET 2 WOMEN FIGHT THEIR BATTLES FOR THEM. MEN WITHOUT HONOR. ONLY WIMPS LET WOMEN FIGHT FOR THEM. DO THESE MEN HAVE ANY HONOR OR SHAME? THEIR WIVES SHOULD BE ASHAMED TO BE WITH MEN WITHOUT HONOR. REAL MEN NEVER HIDE BEHIND WOMEN AND RUN OFF AND HIDE.

WIVES BEWARE. HE WILL THROW YOU UNDER THE BUS AND RUN TO SAVE HIS HIDE. HOW CAN YOU MEN LOOK IN THE MIRROR? 2 WOMEN HAVING TO FIGHT YOUR BATTLES WHILE YOU RAN OUT THE DOOR. IF YOU WANT TO SEND THIS TO THE LOCAL RAG AND CHALLENGE THEM TO PRINT IT ON THE FRONT PAGE IF THEY HAVE THE GUTS. I AM 68 AND DO NOT CARE HOW MANY YEARS I HAVE LEFT TO LIVE AMONG THESE SPINELESS, WEAKMINDED WORSHIPPERS OF MONEY AND THE DEVIL WHO CALL THEMSELVES CHRISTIANS WHO ARE GUTLESS AND ANYTHING BUT A REAL CHRISTIAN.”

How the Sheriff’s Office wastes your money: Open Records request gets the interrogation room

As I recently wrote, it has been and continues to be my mission to provide open, transparent and accountable government in addition to restoring liberty.  For those saying this is an exercise in futility, you are mostly right but if we don’t try we automatically lose.

My adventures in head banging started long before I (Tona Monroe) became a county commissioner.  Describing my efforts in engaging the system as an “adventure” is at times an embellishment because it implies that there is some uncertainty in the outcome.  Often the outcome is quite predictable.  Bureaucrats will drag their feet as long as you will let them.  Other times it is very much an adventure in head banging.

Several years ago, I sent an open records request and request for information to the Blount County Sherriff’s Office.  I received a written response telling me that I would have to come to the Blount County Justice Center and provide a government issued photo ID.  This seemed a bit excessive to me, especially since I had just made a similar request with the state of Tennessee and did not have to drive to Nashville with a photo ID.

Karen Miller, who at that time was a concerned citizen like me and had not yet been elected to public office, Harry Grothjahn, a member of the press, and my husband Troy Ball accompanied me the Justice Center to comply with the request from the Sheriff’s Office.  Deputy Chief, then called Assistant Chief, Jimmy Long placed us in the interrogation room while he photocopied my ID and made me restate the request even thought I had provided what I wanted in writing.

Flash forward a couple years.  Karen Miller and I are both county commissioners, my website serves as a media source primarily publishing information about local government and restoring freedom, and obtaining information from local government still can be quite difficult.

After a series of unanswered request for open records and information from the Mayor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office, earlier this year, I went above their heads to the State Office of Open Records Counsel.  Amazingly both offices responded within hours of the Open Records Counsel telling them to comply with the state open records law.

The response from the Mayor’s Office to the Office of Open Records Counsel was reasonable.  I was given the requested record that afternoon.

The response from the Sheriff’s Office was excessive and a waste of taxpayer money.  The Sheriff’s Office had Not the County Attorney Craig Garrett send a written response, by email, to Open Records Counsel and cc’ed me on the email.  You can read the letter here.

Ms. Ann Butterworth responded to the letter from the Not the County Attorney by email saying:

“Dear County Attorney Garrett:

Thank you for responding to my inquiry regarding public record requests made by Ms. Monroe.  I support the County’s direction to develop a reasonable rule to govern public record requests.  Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-506(a) provides “that the lawful custodian of such records shall have the right to adopt and enforce reasonable rules governing the making of such extracts, copies, photographs or photostats.”  Without properly adopted reasonable rules in place, a records custodian is not authorized to charge for copies.

I disagree with the approach the County is taking with regard to requests from citizens (whether they are also elected officials or not).  The County, as the record custodian, does have the right to require proof of citizenship by presentation of a government issued photo ID with a home address.  However, I do not see where the County requested Ms. Monroe to present the identification prior to viewing the record as permitted by Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A).   Since Ms. Monroe is a Commissioner for the County, and a request for identification was not made, I do not see how the County could justify its refusal to respond to her public records request on the basis of citizenship.

The County, as the record custodian, should not ignore a request made under the Tennessee Public Records Act.

While custodians of public records do not have an obligation to review and search their records pursuant to a Public Records Act request, they do have the clear obligation to produce those records for inspection, unless otherwise provided by state law, and to provide a copy or copies of any such record requested by such citizen, upon the payment of a reasonable charge or fee therefor.  T.C.A. § 10-7-503.  Waller v. Bryan, 1999, 16 S.W.3d 770, appeal denied.

The appropriate response is a written denial indicating that no such record exists and that Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(5) does not require a custodian to create a record that does not already exist.  Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(3) provides that failure to respond constitutes a denial and the requestor has the right to bring an action under Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-505.  If the requested documents did exist, I believe a court would find the County to be willful in its action of failing to provide the documents.

Whether or not a governmental entity has a full-time position designated to respond to public records requests, under Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(2)(B), record custodians are required to promptly make open public records available for inspection and, if requested, to provide copies of such records.  If prompt response is not practicable, then a record custodian must respond using the form developed by this Office.

If you have any questions, or would like assistance with or review of the proposed rule for the County, please let me know.

Ann V. Butterworth Open Records Counsel & Assistant to the Comptroller for Public Finance”

About a week later, I received the record that I requested.  It would have been much simpler if the Sheriff’s Office had responded in a timely manner, without wasting money on an attorney.  This occurred after Chief Deputy Jeff French told the commission in June that any commissioner was welcome to come to his office to see where money had been spent.  Hopefully open records and information requests in the future won’t result in letters from attorneys and placing citizens and members of the press in an interrogation room.

Why is all of this important to you?

Besides placing citizens and a member of the press in an interrogation room for asking for public records and information, and failing to respond to requests, the State of Tennessee is considering allowing local governments to charge you, the taxpaying citizens, just to look at your governments public records.  Show up and speak out at the hearing in Knoxville on September 15.  This is your government and its time to remind those who are suppose to “serve” you of that.

USA ranks 20th on The Human Freedom Index

While we enjoy some personal freedom, there is a lot of room for improvement.

http://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index

http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/human-freedom-index-2015.pdf

Not everything on this website is written by me

There are some in the community who think that everything on this website is written by me (Tona Monroe).  That is not the case.  This site was never intended to be a website solely with material written by me.  I own domains with my name and could just as easily write the material there.

There are some in the community who think that I agree with everything written on this website.  That is not the case either.  My intention in creating this website was never to have complete and total agreement with every word posted here.

The litmus test for content on this website was never complete and total agreement with my views and is not the case now.  My goals are to promote freedom and transparency in government.  Those are the reasons why I started this website and why I continue publishing on this website.  Those are also the reasons that I ran for office and what I hope to achieve while in office.

The content here is intended to be thought provoking while promoting freedom and openness in government.  Everything that is posted here should no more be viewed as my opinions than letters to the editors are viewed as being the opinions of the editors at newspapers.

As I’ve said many times before and will continue saying, let freedom ring!

Will the real Bill Haslam please stand up?

proclmation-edited

by Eric Holcombe

Rocky Top Politics has reminded us that July 13 is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee. It’s required by state law TCA 15-2-101:

Additional special observance days.

  Each year it is the duty of the governor of this state to proclaim the following as days of special observance: January 19, “Robert E. Lee Day”; February 12, “Abraham Lincoln Day”; March 15, “Andrew Jackson Day”; June 3, “Memorial Day” or “Confederate Decoration Day”; July 13, “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day”; and November 11, “Veterans’ Day.” The governor shall invite the people of this state to observe the days in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of such dates.

RTP pointed out that Achieve Inc. board member Haslam has signed such a proclamation for Nathan Bedford Forrest Day the last four years running and wondered in light of his recent, new-found distaste for certain statues if Achieve Inc. board member Haslam would break the state law this year. However, that question has been answered already: Achieve Inc. board member Haslam signed the proclamation declaring July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day back on June 2.

 

So to recap:

Achieve Inc. board member Haslam on June 2, 2015: “I….do hereby proclaim July 13, 2015 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee and encourage all citizens to join me in this worthy observance.

 

A mere three weeks later:

Achieve Inc. board member Haslam on June 23, 2015:  “If I’m choosing the Tennesseans that I’m going to honor, and we’re only going to honor a few in the State Capitol, I don’t think I’d pick Nathan Bedford Forrest,”.

June 2015 Commission Report

“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”  2 Peter 2:3

This month I did a lot of writing on issues prior to the monthly commission meeting.  If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read those articles prior to reading this report.  Alternatively, you can read those articles that are linked throughout this report.

Agenda Meeting
The Commission rejected my request to move the Commission meeting to a bigger venue.  A move to one of the school auditoriums would have given all people the opportunity to sit and watch the commission meeting.  Instead people who arrived early were locked out of the commission room.

As a result, people in the commission room were cold and those left standing outside the meeting room were burning up.  The request came after the Chairman, Jerome Moon, ordered standing citizens out of the room last month while allowing uniformed officers to line the wall.

Commission Meeting

The fix is in – Commission raises property tax rate before voting on budget

State law requires the commission to pass an appropriations resolution (annual budget) and a property tax rate resolution.  In the interest of protecting the taxpayers, I tried to have the budget placed ahead of the tax rate for purposes of discussion.  Putting the tax rate ahead of the budget means that the fix is in as there is no incentive to cut the budget after the property tax rate has been set.

In a poor economic environment, where the commission wants to hold the line on taxes but is handed a bloated budget from the Budget Committee recommending a tax increase, the commission could set the rate ahead of the budget and then work on the budget until it is balanced without a tax increase.  That isn’t what happened though and there are still problems with setting the tax rate first.

The tax rate isn’t just one number.  In past years the tax rate has fixed the levy for three funds, General County, General Purpose Schools and Debt Service.  This year, after a court opinion in McMinn County, a new fund for Capital Education Projects was added.  Thus, the Commission isn’t voting on just one number in the tax rate but four.  How would the commission know how much to fix for each fund without discussing the budget?  Debt service is straight forward but the rest require discussion.  It doesn’t make sense to set the rate before knowing how much you are going to spend in each fund.  Do you know any business that sets the price of the products or services before they have any idea what their expenses are?

Voting for the tax rate first and then discussing the budget allows commissioners to play political games with their constituents because some commissioners will vote no on the tax rate or abstain knowing that the increase will pass but then will vote yes on the budget which caused the increase.  Voting for the budget which caused the increase has the same effect as the vote on the tax rate increase.  It spends the same amount of your money and these commissioners are just as responsible as those who didn’t play games with their yes vote on the tax increase.

My motion to discuss the budget before the tax rate failed 3-18 with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself (Monroe) voting to discuss the budget before fixing the tax rate.  The fix was in with a tax increase approved before the commission discussed the budget.

A citizen contacted me several days before the vote and told me what the tax rate would be.  Another contacted me telling me that the tax rate had already been determined but I would not be included.

It came as no surprise when commissioners Rick Carver and Gary Farmer offered amendments that set the tax rate at what I had been told without explaining why that was the rate needed.  Somehow those of us who weren’t included were just suppose to magically know where the reductions in increases (some call these cuts) would be made when the tax rate was voted on before the appropriations resolution, without any discussion as to why the tax rate of $2.47 was the one to go with.

Consensus and stifling of debate
There seemed to be a consensus amongst the majority of commissioners.  How they would know where Rick Carver was going to amend the budget and why he felt no need to explain it to the commission or to the public why those were the changes to make is beyond me.  Debate was stifled through parliamentary procedure and the only explanation given to the citizens as to why Carver’s cuts were the only ones that should be made was the comment from the Finance Director.

Commissioner Andy Allen moved to cut off debate on all amendments and the main motion moving adoption of the budget.  Only four commissioners voted not to cut off debate on over $175 million of your money.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Tom Cole, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted to continue debate.  The rest voted to stifle debate.

Six commissioners voted no on the tax rate and the budget
A game that some commissioners play with their constituents is voting no or abstaining on the tax rate but voting yes on the budget that requires a tax increase to pay for it.  Only six commissioners voted no on both.  The contradictory votes of the one who abstained and other who voted no on the tax rate but yes on the budget should be viewed for the game and hypocrisy that it is.

The six commissioner who voted no are Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.

Conflicts of interest
Several commissioners read conflict of interest statements prior to voting on the budget.  Sadly there are more who should have read statements but didn’t.  Since debate on the budget was stifled through parliamentary procedure, the commission spent more time reading conflict of interest statements than it did voting on the main motion adopting the annual budget.

Obtaining information
The public should know how difficult it can be at times to obtain information to make informed decisions.  Some are quick to provide information while others are not.

During the budget process I met with the Finance Director Randy Vineyard.  While I have been critical of his withholding information and not giving me a straight answer in the past, he actually was quite accommodating during the budget process.  He hired a new lady, Angelie Shankle, who took my questions and got answers to me promptly.  There is another lady in Accounting named Susan Gennoe who quickly works to get answers.  Both of these ladies have pleasant demeanors and based on my experiences with them appear to be doing their jobs well.

Troy Logan, Finance Director for the Schools, has always given me straight answers.  I met with him and he provided me with everything that I asked for.

Last year when I asked for information about the jail John Adams and Jeff French were quick to provide me with information.  The budget process with the Sheriff’s Office was not a pleasant experience.  Marian O’Briant, the PR person for the Sheriff’s Office attacked me multiple times, was slow to respond and told me that she was getting paid overtime to write me a short email that didn’t answer my questions.  The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need a PR person.  Upper management is paid well and could answer media questions.

I never received the complete breakdown of the compensation from the Evergreen study that I asked for.  The study was incomplete, inadequate and it was a hasty decision for the commission to act on the study.  It was my intention to propose an alternative pay option for deputies in the Sheriff’s Office instead of using an unfinished study to base pay raises on.  15 minutes prior to the start of the Commission meeting, I was given a tiny portion of the information that I had asked for.  It was not broken down into the categories necessary to propose the alternative pay option making it impossible for me to propose an alternate solution.

Employees to be paid above average wages based on unfinished study

The pay recommendations of the Evergreen study are not based on merit.  Furthermore, county employees will be paid above average wages.

The story told me about the need for the study is that county officials got together and decided that they wanted to pay “competitive” wages.  An economist friend of mine pointed out that many positions in government aren’t competitive because they don’t compete in a free market, with the only competition being between surrounding governments.  He said that the more accurate description is that that the study would look at paying similar or better wages.

The officials looked at paying better wages that are above average.  Officials didn’t look to bring wages to average based on the 50th percentile.  The study was based on a pay scale of the 60th percentile of pay.  That would be reasonable if Blount County had a robust economy but it doesn’t.

The ET Index shows that Blount County is the only county in the eight county region where pay has actually dropped .5% after inflation.  Blount County is tied for the biggest drop in median household income at 15%, and is about $7,000 less than it was in 2000.  This type of economic environment is not conducive to a big tax increase.  The people of Blount County are living on substantially less and will now be forced to live on even less thanks to the big property tax increase.  Office holders should have looked harder to control spending and make pay more equitable.  Pay raises based on the 50th percentile or my alternative proposal that I wasn’t able to make because of the lack of information provided would have been more reasonable.  Government often lacks reason in the way it approaches problems.

The Evergreen study still has the word draft stamped on it but the FY 16 budget was built around the draft which only contained 3 of the 5 chapters that will be available in the final report.  No one would run a business this way if they wanted to stay in business and it is embarrassing to see the county run this way.

Fear mongering and Sheriff’s political playbook
Several people wrote me about their displeasure with the head of the library using their email addresses to solicit support for the tax increase.  The fear mongering worked on some because I got a few emails telling me to support raising taxes because of the library.  Overall, people saw through it and weren’t happy about the situation.

Every couple of years the Sheriff drags out his playbook and we go through the same predictable procedure of hearing about the lowest paid deputies.  This tugs on heart strings causing some to be willing to support a tax increase without knowing how much of a pay gap exists within government departments and offices.  The state sets minimum salaries for office holders, which are much higher than they should be but the county is compelled by law to pay those salaries.

This commission can raise the salaries above the state minimum for some office holders and it did that in FY15.  The Sheriff makes about the cost of an entire deputy salary above the state minimum.  He has no credibility talking about how much he cares about the deputies.  Actions speak louder than words.  He could have given this money to his employees but chose not to.  The same is true for Tom Hatcher, Bill Dunlap and Ed Mitchell.

My motion to the cut the salaries of these elected officials failed 4-16-1.  Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I voted to cut their salaries.  Shawn Carter abstained.  The rest voted no.

Probation Services is projected to lose money in the new budget year
The political machine has bragged for several years that Probation Services makes money for the county.  It’s not a lot of money but Probation has usually been revenue positive, leaving more in the general fund than was spent administer the service.  However, that seems to coming to an end.  The approved budget for FY 16 projects that Probation Services will actually lose about $2,200.

Notice the budgeted increase in pay for the Administrator position.  More on that later.

Fund/Cost Center Title FY 14 FY 15 FY 16
105 Administrator $57,250 $65,000 $65,462
53910 Probation Services $504,783 $606,563 $624,482
43393 Fees Probation $607,026 $657,245 $622,250

Schools get a big increase in local revenue
Blount County Schools will see a huge increase in local revenue.  The sales tax increase last year will result in $2 million in increased revenue.  The creation of a Capital Educations Projects fund will result in about a $1.27 million increase funded by a 4 cent property tax increase.  State funding for the schools will be about the same as it was last year because the school population is up only slightly.

The sales tax increase was promoted to the public to be used to fund the purchase of textbooks, technology and infrastructure improvements.  The schools will getting about $1.27 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements.  A recent article in the paper shows that the majority of the $2 million from the sales tax increase will go to increased compensation rather than textbooks and technology.  Thus, we may hear the same old stories next year about there being no money for textbooks and computers.

I recently learned about a book keeper who has been with the schools for over 40 years.  She makes less than the part time PR person employed by the schools.  It was upsetting to read in the paper that the increase will be used to make a part time PR position full time.  This is definitely not a priority item over textbooks and computers.  I’ve asked for a breakdown of the school budget to see exactly how much is going to be spent on technology and textbooks and waiting for that response.

Several teachers voted no on giving the schools a million dollars.  A motion was made to cut $1 million from the economic development budget leaving it with about $62,000 since there is little accountability to the taxpayers.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted yes.  Commissioners Cole and Farmer abstained.  The rest voted yes.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Tom Stinnett, all teachers, voted no on giving the schools the money and allowing the unaccountability of this taxpayer money to continue.

The Blount Partnership is a private entity and Bryan Daniels denied my request for their budget.  However, it consists of many of the same people involved with the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and the Chamber of Commerce.  Apparently the IDB can go out and make promises to private business and hand the taxpayers the bill.  The commission doesn’t vote on these deals/promises made to private business and we are often not even informed what type of deals/promises are made.  It is absolutely wrong to allow a board to go out and promise taxpayer money to private businesses and then levy a tax on your home to pay for it.  Furthermore, some of these same people are involved with the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority which is another unaccountable use of taxpayer money.

Budget
There is much more to say about the budget but I will stop here because this report is approaching a treatise.

Grant policy routinely violated
Office holders and department heads have repeatedly shown that the authority of the commission means nothing to them.  The commission is expected to rubber stamp grants and not ask questions.  The Chairman, Jerome Moon, tried to stop me from asking questions at the Commission meeting because I had asked questions at the Agenda meeting.  After the Agenda meeting, I did some homework and came prepared with questions to ask at the Commission meeting.  Apparently the Chairman doesn’t think you should actually do your job as a County Commissioner by researching matters and coming prepared with questions. What’s the point of having a meeting if you aren’t going to do your homework and come prepared to discuss the items on the agenda?

The deadline to apply for nearly every grant that the commission is asked to vote on has already passed before being brought to the commission.  Explanations are never given unless I ask why.  The Budget Committee never asks why the grants aren’t presented in a timely manner.  When I asked Jeff French why the deadline for the grant request from the Sheriff’s Office had already passed, he told me he didn’t know.  His name is listed as the reporting person.  See page 48.

The grant from the Facilities Coordinator, under the Mayor, didn’t even have a grant worksheet with the request in the Budget Committee and Agenda Committee meetings.  It only appeared in the Commission meeting packet after I pointed this out at the Agenda meeting.

While I was begrudgingly allowed to ask some questions about the energy efficiency grant for court house building improvements, I wasn’t able to ask everything.  When my questioning revealed that the county had already received the grant, without any commission oversight, knowledge or inclusion on the matter, the Chairman asked Commissioner Farmer to amend his motion to ratify the grant rather than to approve the worksheet to apply for the grant.  I had my light on to be recognized to speak to ask further questions but the Chairman turned it off.  I then asked if we were only voting on the amendment.  Chairman Moon shook his head yes in answer to my question.  After voting on the amendment, the Chairman proceeded on to the next Agenda item when we hadn’t even voted on the main motion, just the amendment.

I still had questions about how the county would benefit from energy efficiency in replacing the windows when the grant application said it would take over 179 years for the energy cost savings to be more than the cost of the windows.  See page 62 for the payback period.

RAC2 district created
The Commission voted to create what will eventually be a special new zone.  The wording is tricky saying that it isn’t creating a zone but it allows for it in the future and the effect is to allow special development privileges for a handful of properties.

“This section does not amend the Zoning Map, nor zone nor rezone any land to RAC2, but only identifies limits to location for any land that may in the future be zoned RAC2.”

This request morphed into nothing more than a crony deal for an office holder to develop his land when the rest of us can’t.  The matter has been the subject of discussion since 2013 in the Planning Commission.  It would have been quicker and simpler to have just sent the commission the crony deal to start with since the good ole’ boys get what they wanted.

Why do we have zoning regulations when anyone who is politically connected can get them amended to do what they want?  Zoning has become a tool of the politically connected to develop their land while squashing competition.  Unfortunately, some “conservationists” go along with this as those it’s a good thing for our community to create laws and regulations with special favors for the politically connected few while discriminating against everyone else.

Only Commissioners Akard, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted against this crony deal.  The rest took care of a political office holder while discriminating against you.

Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Corrections Partnership heard from Bob Bass of the Tennessee Corrections Institute.  He previously asked to speak to the Partnership about what he does in other counties, leading me to believe that he was going to offer solutions to reduce jail overcrowding.  He offered none.  His presentation was on the role of the jail and did not address how to reduce the overcrowding problem.

The only person to ask any questions was me.  I asked him what the TCI’s position was on keeping federal inmates when the jail is overcrowded.  He said the TCI doesn’t have a position.

After the meeting, it became apparent to me after further discussion with the people from the TCI that they want the county to build a new jail pod.  The inspector told me that work programs don’t work and the ILPP report didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.  Actually the jail the report told me several disturbing things about our criminal justice system that I didn’t know.  It was the TCI presentation that didn’t tell me anything that I don’t already know.

A member of the community shared with me that the Sheriff didn’t get what he wanted in the jail study so he is trying to get what he wants out of the state, which is a position that the jail should be expanded.  Unfortunately I am afraid that this person is right.

There are people who need to be in jail.  However, I have heard from people in a variety of situations who should not be in jail.  There are numerous factors to the jail overcrowding.  The jail study addresses several of those factors.

One factor that would quickly reduce the number of inmates is to stop taking federal prisoners.  The ILPP study that the Mayor and Sheriff don’t want to talk about in public says that we lose money on federal prisoners.  The Mayor went so far as to threaten filing a frivolous lawsuit.  Where is that lawsuit Mayor?

There is genuine fear in the community about speaking out about the Sheriff, the judges and the condition of the jail.  People share their stories with me but won’t go public for fear of retaliation against them or their loved ones.  It makes my job of advocating for meaningful reform more difficult because people won’t share their stories with the public.  Couple the fear with a Sheriff who wants to expand political power with a bigger jail, and Mayor who has bowed to the Sheriff and some judges who can’t handle criticism and you have a mess.

The jail overcrowding is a multilayered problem.  One big layer of the problem that can be peeled off is the optional practice of keeping federal inmates.  For those of you who aren’t afraid of the Sheriff, tell him that you don’t want the county to keep federal inmates any longer.  His email address is jlb@bcso.com and his phone number is 273-5000.

Role of government
One thing that emerged during budget discussions with the people of my district is what the role of government should be.  I had several people telling me that they are tired of paying taxes for services that they don’t use.  People are tired of paying for the schools, library and parks when they don’t use them.  Others told me that they are tired of having to pay fees to use these three, when they are already paying taxes on them.  Theselegitament points are frequently buried and not fully vetted in debate about taxes.

People complained to me about the schools always saying that they never get enough money.  Others expressed to me that they aren’t happy with upper management making big salaries.  Others homeschooling or sending their kids to private school feel that they shouldn’t pay taxes for public education when they pay for their kids education.

People complained to me about having to pay for the library when they don’t use it.  Others told me that they love the library and would pay more taxes for it.  Others said that they find the fees that the library charges to use meeting rooms ridiculous when they pay taxes for the library.

People complained to me that they are tried of paying taxes for Parks and Rec when they charges big fees for summer time activities.

These are all legitimate points worthy of discussion, not suppression and emotional, libelous branding of the people who make them.  Should people pay taxes for services that they don’t use?  Some County Offices are fee offices like the County Clerk’s Office and the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.  They are funded by fees rather than taxes.  Should services like the library and Parks and Rec be funded by fees from the people who use them, rather than taxing the homes of people who don’t use them?  Some people certainly think so.

Media coverage
People regularly send me emails asking why the media doesn’t cover more local government issues.  They also complain to me about media bias favoring the good ole’ boys.

One person commented about the paper in Knox County offering a more balanced approach to the coverage of deputy pay while the local paper ran several puff pieces in support of the Sheriff’s Office.  Others have complained to me about the editorials always supporting Senators Doug Overbey, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

The best place to address these concerns are with local media sources although I did publish some of what was sent to me here.

Up next
County Revenue Commissioners.  This is an old statute still on the books that I found that could bring some transparency and accountability to a local government that lacks an Audit Committee.  Newly elected Commissioners in multiple counties are trying to revive the positions since Audit Committees are optional unless the Comptroller requires one and even then an Audit Committee may do nothing.  The Comptroller is talking about having it repealed since they enjoy being in charge.  Tell your state elected officials that a fully functioning Audit Committee should be required or the County Revenue Commissioners law should stay.

Question for the people of Blount County
Each month I spend a great deal of time writing lengthy detailed commission reports.  One of my campaign promises included writing commission reports and I will continue to keep that promise.  Do you want the reports to continue to be as detailed as they are now?  Or would shorter reports suffice?

Chairman Jerome Moon orders standing citizens to clear commission chamber while letting uniformed officers line the wall

The May Commission meeting started with one of the most despicable acts toward the citizenry of Blount County that I’ve ever witnessed.  Chairman Jerome Moon ordered the citizens who were standing to clear the room while allowing uniformed armed officers to line the wall.

Citizens have historically lined the walls of county government meetings.  You can pull up archived meetings from previous years to see citizens standing along the walls without being ordered to leave.

Furthermore a member of the press, Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio, was not allowed to enter the commission meeting room except for the 3 minutes that he spoke about items on the commission agenda.

Fire codes are the excuse but if they are so important why can government employees stand along the wall in large number?  No distinction was made by Chairman Moon as to off duty uniformed officers and on duty uniformed officers.

Furthermore, the citizens are smart enough to know whether they want to stand in a room or leave.  Laws are used by those in authority to suppress those that they don’t agree with.  The people have long stood against the walls of public building rooms.  Using the fire codes to suppress free speech is the latest tool of the political machine and should not be tolerated.

Conveniently this occurred at a meeting where discussion about a new pay scale for county employees was on the agenda.  The uniformed officers were able to clap for those advocating adoption of a new pay scale from an incomplete study, while the citizens opposing having their taxes raised, who weren’t able to obtain seats, were relegated to standing outside in the hallway.

One of my constituents said to me what are they (the commission) there for?  It seems that some have forgotten that they are there for the people of Blount County.

This video only shows the second time that Jerome Moon ordered citizens out of the room.  The first time he told them that they could stand out in the hallway while the Sheriff’s deputies could stand along the wall.  Moon’s first statement was likely made prior to the meeting starting and is therefore not available as a part of the commission meeting video.

Keith Miller reminds Commission of societal foundation, rebukes Jarrod Millsaps behavior toward Constitution

Keith Miller addressed the Blount County Commission at its monthly board meeting on May 21, 2015 about Blount County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps mocking Commissioner Tona Monroe for talking about her oath of office to the Constitution of the United States of America.  His statement serves as a much needed reminder of why the people of this country have suffered so much loss of liberty.  Cavalier and arrogant treatment of citizens from those in government should not be tolerated.  Government officials are to protect liberty, not treat those who cherish it with contempt.

Jarrod Millsaps has a history of mistreating commissioners and citizens.  A couple of years back, Mayor Mitchell held a meeting for county employees.  The meeting was open to the public.  A few citizens attended but it was mostly county employees.  During the meeting, Millsaps yelled at Linda King and then commissioner Jim Folts, for the whole room to hear, implying that they were responsible for what some of the employees viewed as problems in county government.

During the 2007 county budget discussions, Jim Folts, a citizen activist at the time, placed some literature on the table outside the commission room.  Jarrod Millsaps threw the literature in the trash.  You can read Barney Lowe’s statement regarding this incident here and here.

Keith Miller’s statement on Items Not on the Agenda
Regular Commission Meeting
May 21 2015

Commissioners Psalm 11:3 states “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous
do?”

At the last commission meeting, one of your number dramatized the Oath you all swore to the Constitution with the raising of her hand as she re-emphacized the seriousness of that oath. Shortly thereafter a member of the Sheriff’s staff made a flippant remark about the raising of one’s hand to take an Oath to the Constitution. I do not believe I have ever heard of such disrespect ever spoken by anyone with reference to the Constitution of Tennessee or the US Constitution. Especially disturbing is the fact that it came from an official in the Sheriff’s department. Not only is the US Constitution highly respected by the people of this county but some who have taken the oath referred to by that commissioner have given their lives in executing it. We would all do well to remember that when such an oath is taken as part of the military swearing in ceremony it means “I will protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic even if it kills me.”

The very bedrock of the temporal social order we have established as Americans is the Constitution. Let’s respect it.  Again Psalm 11:3 “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Keith Miller served in the United States Marine Corps.

NSA Spying Ruled Illegal, But Will Congress Save the Program Anyway?

This week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s metadata collection program was not authorized in US law. The PATRIOT Act, under which the program began, was too vague, the court found. But the truth is the Act was intended to be vague so that the government could interpret it in the broadest possible way.

But this is really more of a technicality, because illegality and unconstitutionality are really two very different things. Even if Congress had explicitly authorized the government to collect our phone records, that law would still be unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant government the power to access our personal information without a valid search warrant.

Even though the court found the NSA program illegal, it did not demand that the government stop collecting our information in this manner. Instead, the court kicked the ball back in Congress’ court, as these provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of the month and the Appeals Court decided to let Congress decide how to re-authorize this spying program.

Unfortunately, this is where there is not much to cheer. If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put forth a new bill as a stop-gap measure to allow time for a fuller debate on the issue. His stop-gap? A five year re-authorization with no changes to the current program!

The main reform bill being floated, the FREEDOM Act, is little better. Pretending to be a step in the right direction, the FREEDOM Act may actually be worse for our privacy and liberties than the PATRIOT Act!

One silver lining in the court decision is that it should exonerate Ed Snowden, who risked it all to expose what the courts have now found was illegal US government activity. That is the definition of a whistleblower. Shouldn’t he be welcomed back home as a hero instead of being threatened with treason charges? We shouldn’t hold our breath!

This week Snowden addressed a conference in Melbourne, Australia, informing citizens that the Australian government watches all its citizens “all the time.” Australia’s program allows the government to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion,” he told the conference. That means the government is no longer in the business of prosecuting crimes, but instead is collecting information in case crimes someday occur.

How is it that the Australian government can collect and track “pre-crime” information on its citizens? Last month Australia passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata information on their customers for two years.

Why do Australia’s oppressive laws matter to us? Because the NSA “reform” legislation before Congress, the FREEDOM Act, does exactly what the Australian law does: it mandates that US telecommunications companies retain their customers’ metadata information so that the NSA can access the information as it wishes.

Some argue that this metadata information is harmless and that civil libertarians are over-reacting. But, as Ed Snowden told the Melbourne conference, “under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.”

This one example of what happens when the government forces corporations to assist it in spying on the people should be a red flag. How can an independent media exist in the US if the government knows exactly whom journalists contact for information? It would be the end of any future whistleblowers.

The only reform of the PATRIOT Act is a total repeal. Accept nothing less.

Source: http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2015/may/10/nsa-spying-ruled-illegal-but-will-congress-save-the-program-anyway-1/