It’s been 6 months and there is no jail Evaluation Team

Do you remember the big rush for the commission to pass a resolution authorizing the purchasing agent to issue a request for qualification (RFQ) for architectural planning and/or design services for the manufactured crisis of jail overcrowding because commissioners might have to sit in deposition in federal court?

Do you remember that the resolution was suppose to be for the jail but that the resolution failed to mention the jail in the title of the resolution?

Do you remember that the purchasing agent said she could issue the RFQ without commission approval?  (Wasn’t this suppose to be done in a hurry?  Why ask for commission approval if it wasn’t needed and this needed to be done in a hurry?)

Do you remember the purchasing agent saying that 30 days was sufficient time to issue the RFQ when questions were asked because this had to be done in a big hurry to appease the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control?

Do you remember it taking 12 weeks for the purchasing agent to issue the RFQ?

Well after the great big rush to issue the RFQ to buy time as Mike Caylor put it  and set aside (assign) $2 million without asking the public or the commission what they think (except for asking them to approve and RFQ that the purchasing agent said she can issue without commission approval) it appears that the courthouse clique really is trying to buy time.  Today marks the 6 month point of the commission approving the RFQ.

The submissions are in but no Evaluation Team has been empaneled to evaluate the companies.  Neither the commission nor the Blount County Corrections Partnership identified what Blount County needed before handing this manufactured crisis to the Purchasing Department to deal with.  It appears that wasn’t such a grand idea/plan after all.

What’s the hold up?
Director of General Services Don Stallions told me that the Evaluation Team hasn’t been empaneled yet because they are still looking for citizens to serve on the team.  Apparently its hard to find a few citizens in a county with a population of about 125,000.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either but would you expect anything different from these people?

Measureable progress?
TCI Director Beth Ashe said that the Board of Control looks for measurable progress.  How is 6 months of nothing but the status quo (keeping discretionary inmates on slates and/or the floor, setting another million aside, the BCCP doing nothing, etc.) measureable progress?

List of Tennessee jails that are decertified or certified under a Plan of Action

These lists were provided by David Wilder, counsel for the Tennessee Corrections Institute

“Here is complete list of the jails on POA’s.  Grainger Co. just came off POA and Davidson (ORC) is set to come off upon completion of some maintenance and re-inspection.”  David Wilder


Decertified jails
Cannon Co. Jail
Claiborne Co. Jail
Cocke Co. Jail
Coffee Co. Annex
Grundy Co. Jail
Hamblen Co. Jail
Loudon Co. Jail
Pickett Co. Jail
Van Buren Co. Jail

Speed limits should be about safety not revenue

Is modern traffic enforcement all about dollars instead of safety?  An author says a strong yes.

Gary Megge, a lieutenant who works in the Michigan State Police traffic services section says that speed limits need to be set based on the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic.

If speed limits are not set properly, this could pose safety issues for those drivers who are within the 85th percentile, Megge said.

“If we don’t match normal and safe driving behavior, if we try to post a speed limit that doesn’t match, we have a problem,” he said. “We make a large portion of the driving public illegal. That’s not the way we should be doing business.”

The Michigan State Police offers two publications on setting realistic speed limits.,4643,7-123-72297_30536_25802-87384–,00.html

Where have we seen this before?

The jail situation in Claiborne County appears to be similar or the same as Blount County.  The rotund mayor appears to be a figurehead who does what the sheriff wants and the media appears to be more interested in he said, she said than reporting the facts and doing investigative journalism.

The paper in Claiborne County referred to the August commission meeting as a dogfight.  The local rag had “fur flies” in the headline and said that hackles were raised.

The people working to protect the taxpayers are blamed for the poor financial decisions of others and the truth is their opinion/interpretation until state officials say it isn’t just their opinion/interpretation.

One thing that is different about Claiborne County is that Circuit Court Judge John McAfee, in his private capacity, is looking out of the taxpayers in his county.  Blount County’s judges, with the possible exception of Kenlyn Foster, are part of the political machine or court house clique.

Justice Department: States Should Not Jail Poor People Over Fine Nonpayment

Tennessee trial court judges are the best paid in the nation after a cost of living adjustment while the taxpaying people of Tennessee don’t fare so well.  The General Sessions Courts in Blount County have the highest collection rate in the state for court costs.  Should court costs and fines collections be the standard measure of success?

A criminal justice system assessment look at Blount County’s use for the jail as a debtors prison.

From page 87 of the report:
“The answers to these two questions will be an indicator of how often the Blount Jail is being used as a debtors prison. Although federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833, this relic of the past has returned in a modern guise: probation violation. ILPP strongly finds that Blount Jail’s probation violation numbers are substantial enough, and the release of these people would ease or eliminate crowding and/or the need to build.

The federal government is taking a stronger stand on debtors prisons.

The Blount County Corrections Partnership should be looking more in depth into the use of the jail to see if anything like this may be going on.

Purchasing Agent explains her duties when it suits the machine

Purchasing Agent Katie Branham is an attorney who came to the county with little relevant purchasing experience.  The citizens of this county are not being well served under her leadership because she is controlled and does what the machine wants.

One of the first things that she did was push to weaken the competitive sealed bid process.  She wrote the jail RFQ resolution but failed to include the word jail in the resolved portion of the resolution.  She presented the commission a contract for leasing cars without providing any comparison of buying verses leasing.  Now she is being selective in describing her duties and authority under state law.

At the April 8th Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting, Branham told the body that under the Purchasing Act of 1957 she could proceed with a request for qualifications (RFQ) to look at jail expansion and program services at the request of the Partnership.  She said that commission approval wasn’t necessary to issue the RFQ.

The commission approved a resolution to authorize the purchasing agent to do something that she said she could do without its authorization.  Why did Branham write a resolution to authorize herself to do something that she said she can do without commission approval?  Couldn’t she have used more accurate wording in the resolution that she wrote for the commission?

Blount County government needs to take a close look at the authority, under state law, of each office and position in county government.  The commission met to authorize the purchasing agent to do something that she said she could do without their approval.  Sheriff James Berrong told the commission at that meeting that the state prisoners were out of local control when state law says that counties don’t have to keep state felons with a continuous sentence of more than one year.  Furthermore at the same meeting, the sheriff said the federal inmates were his decision, while the Comptroller’s Office has said it is unaware of any specific state statute that says he can sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval.

Does anyone within the political machine of Blount County government understand their duties and authority under state law?  Commissioner Mike Caylor was so unaware at the BCCP meeting that he consulted the finance director, who told him that he had heard the same thing that the finance director heard.

Does Branham understand what she is doing?  When asked if 30 days would be enough time, she said that 30 days should be sufficient time for to issue the RFQ.  It took Mrs. Branham’s office 12 weeks to issue the RFQ.

I (Tona Monroe) was told that the US Marshals Service follows local purchasing procedures with federal inmate contracts.  Thus, I sought to find out what, if any, authority the local purchasing agent has related to contracting to house federal inmates.

Mrs. Branham won’t tell me if she has the authority to sign or execute a contract to house federal inmates.  She had no problem explaining her duties as she understands them under the state law when the machine asked for clarification.  Why the selective explanation of duties?  Unfortunately this is par for the course of questionable legal authority in Blount County government.

Sheriff Berrong said he doesn’t want to keep state prisoners and they’re only a good deal for the state

In April, Mayor Ed Mitchell called a special commission meeting for the sole purpose of the commission
voting to authorize the purchasing agent to issue a request for qualifications related to jail design and program services.  At that meeting, Sheriff James Lee Berrong said that he and his staff try to get rid of state prisoners every day, that it is out of his control whether the state takes its prisoners, that he doesn’t want to keep the state prisoners and that the revenue the state sends the county is only a good deal for the state of Tennessee.

Direct quotes from Sheriff James Lee Berrong at the meeting include:

“We try every day to get rid of the state prisoners.  I don’t want to keep the state prisoners.”
“We make a request every single day.” (to get rid of state prisoners)
“Out of our control (state prisoners).  We get like $37.50 which is not a good deal for anybody other than the state.”

You can listen to the sheriff’s statements.

How do these statements compare to the sky is falling Chicken Little PR propaganda that we’re hearing now that the state actually removed many of its prisoners from the jail?

Which is the biggest tall tale: the mayor saying there has been no conversation about expanding the jail or the sheriff saying that he doesn’t want to keep state prisoners and tries to get rid of them every day?

The series of articles has begun

Yesterday I posted a comment that I received that the typical response from government related to a reduction in inmates in the jail is to allege how harmful this will be to Blount County’s budget and how the media will be right there with these government officials publishing a series of articles.  Predictably there is another article today and we are seeing the situation described in the comment come to fruition.

A TV station also did a story.  The story didn’t include any of the actual figures and solutions that I provided to the TV station.

Mark Twain is credited with saying “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”  This same is true for other news sources.

I gave several figures and solutions to resolve the issues related to state inmates being removed from the local jail but the TV station didn’t publish that and instead published the two sentences that sounded the most sensational.  Americans have grow distrustful of media.  I can see why.

This is another comment and view of the media coverage of the jail situation that was sent to me last week.  “All that sheriff does is talk about you in the articles. He doesn’t address the topic at hand, he just passively says he’s doing his job and then goes on a tirade about you.  That writer Joel in all these articles needs to go back to journalism school and learn how to focus his writing on the topics at hand.  He’s just spewing gossip at this point, with very little substance in his pieces.  He’s not writing for the national enquirer about celebrities here, but that seems to be his writing style.  Journalists are now held in similar regards/disdain as lawyers in this country.”

I recommend the book Stonewalled by Sharyl Attkinson.  Attkinson, a reporter, talks about obstruction, intimidation and harassment tactics from the federal government and the media’s willingness to go along to get along and repeated failures to accurately cover the news.  The situation is similar in Blount County.

Comment on inmate labor in animal shelter and jail and media coverage

Emails and phone calls have been rolling in regarding the jail and possible bias in media coverage of the jail.  This comment was received today, in response to the article in the paper about the Animal Center requesting a budget increase.  People are questioning why it appears that only the state felons were doing the inmate labor.

“That is soooo typical.

It was only the state felons who fed and walked dogs and cleaned kennels who got pulled. And there are no others left in the jail who can do this!

It will end up with a “series” of articles on the awful impact of having fewer inmates in the jail.

So crime and an overcrowded jail are the keys to Blount’s budget?

You depend on crime and state felons to fund your budget and provide labor.

Your 400 “other” inmates can’t/won’t pick up the slack?

The animal shelter can’t find any other inmates in a 400-person facility to clean kennels and walk and feed dogs?”

Note: Comments/statements should not be viewed as total statement of facts.  This includes statements from government officials, that the media parrots and likes to sensationalize.  However, comments from the community do reflect the views and questions of the community.

July 2016 Commission Report

Proverbs 23:  1When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee:  And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.  Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat.  Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.

Agenda Committee
Commissioners Mike Akard, Mike Caylor, Peggy Lambert and Tona Monroe were absent.

Commissioner Jamie Daly put forward a resolution to say that citizens aren’t out of order for citing sources and should be allowed to speak rather than being declared out of order.  This came as a result of Commission Chairman Jerome Moon shutting down citizens during public input at the special called commission meeting in April.  Commissioner Mike Caylor objected to me citing the Institute for Law and Policy Planning study.  Moon declared me out of order as well as the citizens when the study was referenced.  Daly’s resolution said “the Commission Chairman and the Blount County Legislative Body will not prohibit citizens from citing supporting references during public input.”  You can read the resolution here on page 108.

The commission voted to table this.  Only commissioners Archie Archer, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller voted against the motion to table the resolution.  I would have voted for the resolution had I been present.  The majority of commissioners are now on record saying that they don’t want you to come to commission meetings prepared with references that support your positions.

Commission meeting
Commissioner Peggy Lambert was absent.

Zoning request for storage units was voted down
The commission rejected a request to rezone a parcel of land from residential to commercial.  I have to wonder if the request would have been approved if the man making it had been politically connected.

Commissioner Ron French led an effort to amend the zoning regulations so that a politically connected office holder could have his land rezoned to commercial to put in a commercial business.  The regulations were written such that one of the few intersections that could be rezoned belonged to an office holder.  Would you and I be able to get the zoning regulations amended to put a commercial development on our property?  Why would commissioner French work so hard for one of the good ole’ boys but vote against this request?

After serving nearly two years, I’ve come to the conclusion that zoning has destroyed the private property rights of the people of Blount County and is nothing more than a tool of the political machine to limit competition.  Unfortunately, there are some in the community who play right into the hands of the political machine, thinking that they are keeping Blount County safe from developers while preserving the scenic beauty.  However, the machine gets what they want, competition is limited and property rights are nothing more than property privileges granted by government.

I’ve been asked what I like best about being a county commissioner and what I like least about being a county commissioner.  What I enjoy best is advocating for the liberty of the people that I represent.  Government should be limited and justice should be blind.  The most disappointing thing is the lack of citizen participation in government.  I’d love to see more involvement from the people.  What I dislike the most about being a county commissioner is voting on zoning regulations and requests for rezoning.  21 people sit as a board of overlords and micromanage land use regulations.  We’re suppose to protect property rights, not eliminate your rights and grant special privileges to a select few.

It is ridiculous that we don’t have more small businesses such as restaurants out in the county.  People shouldn’t be forced to drive into the cities for small businesses that could be readily available in the county without destroying the scenic beauty.  We should stop to think about the pollution created by people driving into cities for simple household items and a meal that could easily be obtained in the county.  Small businesses aren’t going to destroy the scenic beauty of Blount County anymore than new subdivisions, yet subdivisions have been placed all around the county.  Have you noticed that it is usually the large chain that can work through this complicated, political process?

We’re always told that the roads can’t handle any more traffic.  It is true that we have some roads that are in bad shape and some that are in need of expansion.  However, we need to ask if private property rights are dependent upon which road you live on.  We’re told that roads are too narrow for trucks to travel through.  If that is the case then then trucks should be prohibited from traveling on these narrow roads, but this is often not the case.  Rather than talking about how bad roads are to limit development, we should work to fix the roads that are dangerous.

Furthermore, the economic consequences of zoning has resulted in the cities getting the lion’s share of sales tax because the county’s zoning regulations are so restrictive toward development.  The last time I inquired, I was told that roughly 85% of businesses were in the cities

Zoning was started 100 years ago in New York City to deal with skyscrapers.  The County doesn’t have skyscrapers.  The only building that might fit that definition is in the City of Maryville.  However,  zoning regulations have been expanded through the last century to impact nearly all development.

What we have in place with zoning is a system that is suppose to protect property rights but it doesn’t.  Connected people get what they want and those who aren’t connected don’t get what they want.  No one that I talk with thinks the system is fair, even if they strongly support having zoning.  It’s just a system and not a very good one at that.

Some land use regulations are good, such as setbacks from roads and flowing water.  However, I think it is time for Blount County to have a discussion on whether zoning is serving us well.  For reasons stated here and many more, I conclude that the county is not well served by the system in place and that we should look at taking a different approach to land use regulations.

Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP)
The BCCP met and did nothing other than approve the meeting minutes of the last meeting and receive and briefly discuss some paperwork that is submitted monthly to the Tennessee Corrections Institute as a part of the Plan of Action to address issues related to overcrowding.  The updated Plan of Action was not included in the paperwork provided to the BCCP.  I had to request that.

The resolution that I introduced in May to request that the sheriff stop housing federal inmates in the local jail was sent by the Agenda Committee to the BCCP after the courthouse clique failed to kill the resolution through parliamentary procedure.  None of the sheriff’s employees, friends and relatives would second my motion; therefore it died for a lack of a second.

I wasn’t able to offer discussion on the matter.  If I had been able, I would have referenced the response that I received from the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury that says their legal staff could find no specific law that says the sheriff can sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval.

Commission Secretary Rhonda Pitts continued her failure to accurately record the meeting minutes.  The minutes of the April 7, 2016 BCCP meeting say, “Tona Monroe made a motion to amend the motion.  There was no second.”  The minutes do not reflect what my motion would have done to the recommendation that the BCCP sent to the commission.  However, I made the same motion at the commission meeting that the mayor called to authorize the purchasing agent to issue an RFQ related to the jail.  That motion is reflected in the commission minutes.  Why was my motion fully recorded in the minutes of one meeting and not the other?

The one good thing that is happening is the Sheriff’s Office request for guidance in establishing a reentry program for those who are incarcerated to integrate back into society.  This is something that I would have liked to have seen several years ago.  Furthermore, this is something that  I would have tried to get the BCCP to look into if the BCCP had been meeting regularly and without interference from people like Commissioner Rick Carver.  The BCCP and County Commission should have listened to the findings and conclusions of the author of the jail study.  A reentry program would have been a logical step forward after hearing from the author who could have helped us get started on this process much sooner.

Information Technology (IT) Committee
The IT Committee meeting was canceled with no explanation given for the cancellation.  With $1.3M having been put into a fund in a rush last year, these meetings should not be canceled.

Up next
The Agenda Committee meeting will be held at the courthouse at 6:30 PM in room 430 on Tuesday the 9th.  The commission meeting will be held in the same room at 7 PM in the same room on Thursday the 18th.