March was a busy month because I made it a priority to attend several meetings to learn as much as I can about how local government operates. In order to avoid writing a book, I will hit the highlights.
I attended 11 of the 13 meetings that I planned for and toured the county jail. One meeting was canceled due to inclement weather and the other, the Blount County Corrections Partnership, received a lot of media attention for being canceled.
Public Building Authority (PBA)
The PBA met to select a company to do its annual audit. Ingrahm, Overhalt and Bean is the current auditor. There were 6 audit findings, due to the way the information was reported and not substantive in terms of discrepancies in money. The State felt that there were 6 areas the audit accounting standards could be improved. Cheri Huffman Jones, PBA member, suggested that the Board select a new company because of the audit findings and because the state recommends changing auditors periodically. However, Jerry Cunningham made the motion to keep the current auditor because they offered the lowest price. Ingrahm, Overhalt and Bean was approved.
Solid Waste Authority
The Solid Waste Authority held its annual meeting but lacked a quorum to conduct business. As a result, those present were able to have discussions about recycling, litter, state regulation and to hear a presentation from Enerdyne. Landfill gas is about 50% methane. Enerdyne has set up operations at the county dump to collect this methane and it is being used to power about 1,000 home.
The Budget Committee conducted its annual budget workshops for fiscal year 2016. The frustrating part of these meetings is seeing how few questions are asked concerning the proposed budgets.
One of the complaints that I received about the Planning Commission was that it didn’t allow for public input at its meetings. Commissioner Brad Bowers made a motion to make public input a regular part of each meeting. The Planning Commission will now be open for public comments.
District 2 School Board Member Selected
The commission chose a replacement for District 2, Blount County School Board member Chris Cantrell who resigned from the seat. Retired teacher Bill Padget was selected. Prior to the nomination, a majority of the school board (4 of 7) were retired employees of the schools or relatives of employees of the schools. With Padget, five of the seven School Board members will be retired school employees or relatives of school employees. The School Board has so many conflicts of interest that it revised its nepotism policy to make the meetings run faster.
Additionally, School Board member Scott Helton retired from the county. Six of the seven School Board members worked for the county or are related to people working for the county. Thus, I didn’t think it wise to vote for another retired school employee. My vote was cast for Sam Duck a local activist who has spoken out against Common Core.
Roof Repairs and Rules Loophole
The commission voted unanimously to replace the roofs on Middlesettlements and Montvale Elementary Schools. These roofs were needed but the commission packet lacked information about the bid process and the companies chosen to install the roofs. There was only 2 pages in the commission packet about the installation of the roofs (see pages 39-40), the resolution and the budget amendment request. If I hadn’t checked the paper’s website to learn about the bid process I wouldn’t have known that it took place. After the meeting Troy Logan, the budget director for the schools, apologized to me about the lack of information and said he would do better in the future at providing information.
This budget request did not go through the Agenda Committee before coming to the commission for a vote because Commission Rule 9B allows budget request to go directly to the full commission without first going through the Agenda Committee. The Agenda Committee meeting was optional until January of this year when the commission passed my resolution to amend the Commission Rules to require the meeting. Additionally, a resolution was passed requiring a 2/3’s vote of the commission (14 votes) to add an agenda item directly to the commission meeting agenda. However, budget items remain exempt under current commission rules. This should be fixed. The commission should have to vote to add budget items to the commission agenda. I will work to fix this.
Judical Commissioners – Hard to get a straight answer from the Director of Budgets and Finance
There was a $6,000 transfer request to move money from the Circuit Court Clerk budget to the Judicial Commissioner budget. In the past the budget for judicial commissioners has been under the Circuit Court Clerk. It was separated out this year. This was a good move because in the past resolutions were presented to the commission stating that judicial commissioners were to be paid $1 for their services when they were paid substantially more.
When I tried to find out who presented the annual budget for judicial commissioners, I couldn’t get a straight answer from the budget director Randy Vineyard. He is back to his bad habits of dancing around an issue without giving a straight answer. His behavior is uncalled for. The county would benefit from having a Director of Budgets and Finance who can give straight answers with a pleasant demeanor.
Stormwater regulations have been the subject of repeated controversy, with debate centered around property rights and what is mandated by the EPA and TDEC and what isn’t. My motion to postpone this matter until the April meeting passed, giving commissioners time to do their homework to understand what is mandated and what isn’t.
Ad hoc Recycling Committee
An ad hoc committee to study recycling was created. Members will be chosen at the April commission meeting.
Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP)
The BCCP meeting this month was canceled. The jail consultant for the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) was scheduled to discuss the ILPP report on the criminal justice system in Blount County. The report was issued last May but the full commission hasn’t been given a presentation on the report.
The agenda for the April Agenda Committee meeting contains an item under unfinished business to schedule a hearing from the jail consultant. It is my sincere hope that all finger pointing will cease and that Blount County government officials can come together and work toward solutions. The jail overcrowding is a serious problem in need of productive solutions. Great leaders are those who rise to the occasion during difficult times. Our community will benefit from people rising to the occasion.
I’ve filed a resolution urging federal legislators to repeal EPA stormwater regulations restoring rights back to the people and power to the states and the people per the 9th and 10th amendments. The people of Blount County are smart enough to manage water quality without the federal government dictating unconstitutional policy.