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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 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 an $1.26 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 $1.26 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.

If you think so, let your state legislators know.

Senator Doug Overbey sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov 850-9411
Representative Art Swann rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov 982-6811
Representative Bob Ramsey rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov 984-8124

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.

Senator Doug Overbey sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov 850-9411
Representative Art Swann rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov 982-6811
Representative Bob Ramsey rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov 984-8124

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?

Keeping your friends close and your enemies closer: Where is that lawsuit Mayor?

It’s interesting that Mayor Ed Mitchell has hired a reporter who a few months ago covered the fact that the Blount County Commission has yet to hear from the jail consultant paid to address the overcrowding problem.  Mitchell responded by threatening to file a frivolous lawsuit.

The reporter doesn’t have any experience in the field of Emergency Management that he was hired to work in.  Could this be Mitchell’s attempt to keep his friends close and his enemies closer?  It appears to be a smart move on Mitchell’s part but the way that Mitchell, the Sheriff and the commission have responded to the jail report is not smart for the taxpayers of Blount County.

The Sheriff is hell-bent on building a new jail pod.  The criminal justice assessement report (jail study) said there are many things we can do besides expand the jail.  That’s why the report had to be squashed, ignored, ridiculed and the character of the person who did the report maligned.  Most of the people in county government are afraid to stand up to the Sheriff and say no to expanding the jail.

Ed Mitchell doesn’t run this town.  The Sheriff does.  Mitchell is only in charge of the things that the Sheriff doesn’t care about.  You can see it in Mitchell’s actions.  The Mayor didn’t have to respond to the jail consultant the way he did.

Where is that lawsuit Mayor?  You know the one that you threatened to file with your Not the County Attorney*.  It’s time to quit playing games.  Numerous lives and the wallets of the people of Blount County are at risk from the poor decisions made by our local government.

The best place to start reducing the jail population is to stop taking federal inmates since we lose money on them.  The report that the Mayor and his Not the County Attorney don’t want the commission to talk about said we lose money on federal inmates.

*Blount County does not have a County Attorney.  Numerous public officials and department heads refer to the County Attorney but there isn’t one.  The Mayor has an attorney that he and others consult for legal advice.

The County Commission is far too lax in its resolutions by allowing false statements saying that matters have been reviewed by the county attorney when there is no such position in Blount County government.  When the government allows false statements in its official public policy, the public trust has been broken.  You deserve better.

Links: http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/coleman-former-daily-times-reporter-hired-as-county-emergency-management/article_6dacc88e-7863-5f74-93ab-37835f266e4c.html

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/local-news/jail-consultant-blount-county-leaders-distracted-by-money_88872812

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/state/blount-mayor-threatens-lawsuit-over-jail-report_91564577

Interview on upcoming budget

This interview took place on The Rude Awakening on Thursday June 4th at 8 AM.  There was one place were I corrected myself saying 3 years but it is actually 4 years.

http://www.bcpublicrecord.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Rude Awakening060415.mp3

 

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/

Looting the Looters

Bill Gibbons announces death of the 4th Amendment in TN

Bill Gibbons announces death of the 4th Amendment in TN

If You See Something Say Something™ right Bill Gibbons? I see our Department of Safety and Homeland Security are a bunch of 4th and 5th Amendment-violating crooks. The state legislature has attempted (and failed) in two sessions now to enact some kind of restraint on the armed robbery committed in the name of “asset forfeiture” in Tennessee. It is looking more and more like Nashville may be the root cause.

The “thin blue line” strikes again:

http://knoxblogs.com/humphreyhill/2015/05/01/department-of-safety-fights-for-cash-that-police-say-was-wrongfully-seized/

“When the Sevierville Police Department learned pills in a woman’s car were antacids and the $11,922 an officer seized as suspected drug money was an inheritance, the agency agreed to drop charges and return the cash.

The Tennessee Department of Safety wants it back….

The department essentially argues that the only way that Ms. Stiltner could prove (the cash was not drug money) is through taking serial numbers of all the bills she received from the estate check, hiring an accountant to review all of her cash spending, and then comparing these notes to the money that was seized,” he wrote. “This is nonsensical, and the department’s position is wholly untenable … This appeal results from the Tennessee Department of Safety’s continued efforts to steal $11,922 from Kathy Stiltner despite uncontroverted evidence that the funds were derived from a legitimate source and a total lack of evidence that the funds resulted from illegal activity.”

If only the United States was the land of the free, we might have some kind of law against this.

These taxpayer-funded, unaccountable armed robberies need to stop.

April 2015 Commission Report

Blount County government was marred by indecisiveness and obstructionist politics in April.  However there are some commissioners who are standing for freedom and they deserve recognition for their principled stands.

Jail study hearing rejected
After paying over $94,000 for a jail study last year, the Commission rejected hearing from the jail consultant who conducted the study.  The Mayor obstructed progress by having a letter written to the Commission asking the Commission to reject hearing from the jail consultant so that the County can sue the consultant for a refund.

A man who actively campaigned for the Mayor shared with me that he told the Mayor that he should be embarrassed because the Mayor and the good ole’ boys wanted a study telling them to build.  He said that when they got a real study with real solutions, that Mayor covered it up and now wants to sue to save face.  This seems to be the prevailing opinion of people in the community.

Eight Commissioners voted to move forward instead of obstructing progress.  I (Tona Monroe) was the only Commissioner on the Blount County Corrections Partnership to vote to have the hearing.

Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting
The Corrections Partnership met on Tuesday.  This was the first meeting where ex-officio members Judges Tammy Harrington and Mike Gallegos served on the Partnership.  They were added to the Partnership to bring together all three branches of government for discussion on our criminal justice system.  There are now four commissioners, two judges, two members from the Sheriff’s Department and an ex-officio member from the Mayor’s office.

The Partnership unanimously recommended that the funding increase request for Recovery Court, which includes Drug Court, be approved by the commission.  For months I have been asking for information about how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if it were to expanded.  I have been repeatedly told that everyone is too busy to give me that information.  Thankfully my request, that the funding recommendation include the requirement for this information to be reported to us, was included in the recommendation that will be forwarded to the full commission.  It is very important to identify how many people there are in the system who will be eligible for Recovery Court and have estimates for future demands so that the commission, and all those involved, can adequately prepare for the future.

Judge Harrington said that the funding request is “bare bones” but exactly what she meant by that isn’t clear.  She has repeatedly said she doesn’t know how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if everyone who qualified was given the option of Recovery Court.  Harrington said that the funding will give the program enough money to fund the program that exists now but also implied that it could be expanded.  Thus, the bare bones funding statement sounded like a typical budget time request statement.  Hopefully the funding increase will help the county prepare better for the future by identifying how many inmates will be eligible for an expanding Recovery Court.

The rest of the meeting was mostly unremarkable except for Judge Tammy Harrington’s behavior.  She appeared to be more interested in venting than working together in a “Partnership” for the betterment of society.  After the meeting a citizen commented to me about Harrington rolling her eyes while people were speaking.

I was a co-sponsor to the resolution to add Judges Harrington and Gallegos to the Blount County Corrections Partnership because judges can serve an important role in working toward productive solutions for our criminal justice system and overcrowded jail.  I look forward to working with the judges and hope that Harrington will be more respectful in the future.

For once the meeting room wasn’t nearly empty.  Past attendees have usually consisted of Linda and Joe King, Harry Grothjahn, Commissioner Jamie Daly, Commissioner Karen Miller and a few people from the State.  Some citizens, Jail Inspector Sharon Hannum, the Sheriff and Deputy Chief Chris Cantrell were present at the meeting.

On June 24th Bob Bass, Senior Inspector with the Tennessee Corrections Institute, will give a presentation to the Blount County Corrections Partnership at 1 PM in the Commission room.   The agenda for the meeting after that (date to be determined) will include discussion about keeping federal prisoners in the jail.

IT Meeting
The IT Committee met but took no action.  It was decided that upgrading the recording equipment in the commission room would have to wait because of budget constraints.

There was some information about a new software system for the Sheriff’s Department that will allow for better communication with 911 and the municipalities that decide to use the same system.  Unfortunately there was no financial information in the packet about the costs.  The City of Alcoa told the Sheriff’s Department that they will use the same system but the City of Maryville hasn’t committed to it.  The Committee was not told why Maryville hasn’t committed to using the software system.

This was the third IT Committee meeting that I’ve attended.  The committee hasn’t made a single recommendation to the commission at any of those meetings.  I am left wondering why we have an IT Committee since it is never given timely or complete information to make recommendations.

Budget Workshops
The budget before the Budget Committee is now about $16 million over projected revenues.  The Budget Committee did not make a single cut to the proposed FY 16 budget during the month of April.

Commission meeting
Stormwater regulations
Controversial stormwater regulations passed the commission on a 13-7 vote.  Five of the six amendments proposed passed.  The part allowing a 3rd party to be added to your deed was removed.

The regulations would have allowed you to be fined up to $5,000 for simply planting a tree in a utility easement.  Most people don’t know precisely where utility easements are on their property.  My amendment adding the word knowingly to the provision about planting a tree in an easement passed, which means that the government will have to prove that you knew that you were planting a tree in a utility easement instead of simply being able to fine you up to $5,000 because a tree was planted within a utility easement.  While I wanted this provision removed from the regulations entirely I proceeded with this amendment because there was confusion as to whether this prohibition and the rest of the regulations under Section 4d are required under state law.

My amendment to remove a provision limiting you on the percentage of trees that you can plant failed.  As such, the regulations prohibit property owners from planting more than 1/3 of the same type of tree within the buffers.  There are many other causes for concern in the regulations.  You can read the unamended regulations here starting on page 38.

Commissioners Allen, Carter, Carver, Caskey, Caylor, Crowe, Daly, Farmer, Headrick, Lewis, Melton, Moon and Stinnett voted yes.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Cole, French, Miller and Monroe voted no.  Commissioner Samples abstained.

Stormwater repeal request
The commission passed my resolution asking federal legislators to pass legislation pending before congress that would prohibit the EPA from expanding its definition of waters of the United States through rulemaking authority and to repeal stormwater regulations returning the power back to the states and the people.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Carter, Caskey, Cole, Crowe, Daly, French, Miller, and Monroe voted yes.  Moon abstained.  The rest voted no.

Unfortunately the Mayor vetoed the resolution.  Instead of sending the commission his own reasoning for the veto, he sent a link to an editorial by The Daily Times on the matter.

Traffic Grants
There were five federal grants related to traffic enforcement, including DUI roadblocks.  I voted against them and explained my reasoning here and here.  The paper reported that we voted on six grants but the commission did not vote on the grant for funding for the DA’s office since their funding is through the state.

The nighttime seatbelt demo grant allows the University of Tennessee to study enforcement action for seatbelt usage at night.  The University of Tennessee obtained an unconstitutional grant from the Centers for Disease Control and will be studying five counties including Blount.  Buckle up because the state legislature just increased the seat belt fine, the Sheriff’s Department just got a grant for enforcement and UT can’t wait to use the money it got to study the results.  The nanny state has gotten expensive and complicated.

During the commission meeting I explained why I was voting no, which included taking my oath of office to uphold the federal and state Constitutions and mentioning what James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution had to say about the constitutionality of what we were voting on.  After the meeting, on the way down in the elevator Deputy Chief Jarod Millsaps mocked me for explaining my vote.  The next day the Sheriff apologized to me for Millsaps behavior.

On the bright side, I was thrilled to have three commissioners join me in voting no.  Commissioners Akard, Cole, Miller and I voted no.  The rest voted yes.  I commend these three commissioners for upholding their oaths of office and respecting the bill of rights which has been so trampled upon.

Recycling Committee appointed
Commissioners Brad Bower, Grady Caskey and I were appointed along with four citizens to serve on the Recycling Committee.  If you have ideas that you would like to share, please attend the first meeting on May 26th at 5 PM at the courthouse.

Abstaining on important votes
Commissioner Steve Samples abstained on the stormwater vote and Jerome Moon abstained on the jail study vote and the stormwater repeal request resolution.  These two have been abstaining on several issues lately.  Jerome Moon is the Chairman of the Commission and Steve Samples is the Chairman of the Agenda Committee.  These two hold the two most important positions of leadership within the legislative body of Blount County.  Why are they abstaining so much on critical issues?

Up next
The ambulance service agreement is up for renewal.

Update
This post has been updated at the request of Commissioner Mike Caylor because he denies doing what was reported here.  He didn’t like that people were expressing to him that such behavior is unprofessional.  Hopefully he will stop voting against nearly everything that I put forward.

Blount County 2013 per capita income is less than $24,000, median household income is $45,991

There has been a lot of talk in the Budget Worshops about the Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study but it hasn’t been released to the Commission or to the public.  The roughly $16,000,000 budget deficet is partially due to budget requests for pay increases.  Another big part of the deficet is due to increased health care benefits costs.  It’s not going to be possible to continue with health care plans that the previous broker repeatedly called “rich” and give raises without a huge tax increase.

Here are some things to consider about Blount County government and its citizenry.

Blount County is providing free dental benefits to its employees.  The employees pay for the family plan but if they opt for the employee only plan it’s free.  The cost to the county per employee, as discussed at the May 15, 2014 Commission meeting, is $23.15 per employee per month.  The county pays the same amount for the family plan and employees pay the difference of $49.24 per month for family coverage.  This seems like a good place to start cutting.

Current health care plans and costs reported at the Budget Workshop on Monday:

Plan Employee Pays Taxpayers Pay Total Costs
Employee Only 25 425 450
Employee Plus Child 125 975 1100
Employee Plus Spouse 150 975 1125
Family 175 975 1150

The 2013 per capita income in Blount County is $23,788.  Many of the employees that the current budget proposes giving raises to already make more than the average income in Blount County.  Couple this with the fact that benefit plans are far better than what is available in most of the private sector and the cost of each position becomes a whole lot more than just the base salary.

View the 2015 payroll here.

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/47/47009.html

The median household income for Blount County (2009-2013) is $45,991.  Many households include two incomes.  There are about 18 pages of Blount County government employees making more than the median household income for just one salary.  There are 24 pages of people making over $40,000 with one income.  There are 42 pages of employees making more than the per capita income of Blount County.  Some of the county employees making less than the per capita income are part time employees.

It may seem like some employees are underpaid, and perhaps there some who are.  However many county government employees are making more than the people paying their salaries and benefits are living on.

Laws and their effectiveness based on emotions and opinions

Jamie Satterfield has been writing some blog post about emotions, politics and opinions driving laws and interpretation of their effectiveness, rather than facts and logic.  Read two posts here and here.  She talks about passing laws by having people bring framed pictures of their loved on.

That was seen earlier this month in Blount County government.  A lady held up a picture of her mother during the Commission meeting while talking about the DUI roadblock grant.  This tugs at heart strings.  Losing a loved one to a drunk driver is inexcusable but the rights of people who don’t drink and drive should not be infringed upon because there are careless people in the world.  Enforcement of criminal laws should be directed at the people breaking the laws not the people who abide by the laws.

During the Commission meeting the Assistant DA, Ryan Desmond, said that the enforcement actions paid for with the federal grants were effective but the statistics he gave don’t support his statement.

He gave three years of statistics for impaired driving arrest in Blount County: 2012: 392, 2013: 341,  2014: 322.  He also stated impaired conviction rates had increased from 76.9% in 2010 to 88.9% in 2014.

I called him and asked for more information.  The numbers he provided show that impaired driving convictions rates fluctuated widely from 2010 to 2014.  2014 (88.9%), 2013 (81.4%), 2012 (84.8%), 2011 (82.9%), 2010 (76.9%)

He didn’t know when the Blount County Sheriff’s Office began conducting roadblocks.  Thus, I have to wonder how he could say that roadblocks are working without having a starting point to measure from.

According to the data provided by the Governors Highway Safety Office traffic fatalities started decreasing with the economic recession in 2008.  This includes a significant drop statewide in alcohol impaired fatalities from 2008-2012 compared to previous years.  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that traffic fatalities have been dropping nationwide and that just like Tennessee the drop started in 2008.

This decline in fatalities is likely due to people having less money to spend and thereby driving less.  Discretionary driving decreases when you are pinching pennies to put food on the table.  Less driving usually means less accidents.   Statistics suggests that the economy has lead to a significant decreases in traffic fatalities in recent years, not the unconstitutional enforcement campaigns.

Read more:

http://tntrafficsafety.org/data-statistics/1738

http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx

http://knoxblogs.com/lady-justice-unmasked/2015/04/22/james-brown-aint-the-only-who-feels-good/?_ga=1.150336246.1990585110.1429753314

http://knoxblogs.com/lady-justice-unmasked/2015/04/20/survey-17-prosecutors-believe-law-made-the-earth-flat/

It’s a ‘fine’ day and night in Blount County and throughout Tennessee

Well the Tennessee General Assembly just voted to raise the seatbelt fine from $10 to $25.  This is a great way for Republicans to enrich public treasuries without ‘raising taxes’.  It’s no surprise that Blount County’s 3 nanny $tati$t $upported the tax… err fine.  Good Ole’ Big Government Bob Ramsey, Art Swann and Doug Overbey.

Here in Blount County the Commi$$ion just took an unconstitutional grant for nighttime $eatbelt demo.  Buckle up, or you will find out what a ‘fine’ place Blount County is to live, especially since the federal government and the Tenne$$ee General A$$embly made $ure that you’ll be adding more to the public trea$ury if you don’t.