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Letter to the editor by animal shelter employee Kristin Baksa is wrong

Kristin Baksa, an employee of the Blount County Animal Shelter, wrote a letter to the editor about Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and myself (Tona Monroe).  In it she says that we three ladies consistently refuse to support the animal shelter.  She gives the example of us three voting against the purchase of a commercial washer and dryer.  She’s wrong.

In the minutes of the December 18, 2014 Blount County Commission meeting (see page 3) you will find that Miller and I voted for the purchase of a commercial washer and dryer for the animal shelter.  Commissioner Daly did vote no.

You’ll also see in those minutes, that I made a motion to use donation money to pay for a bigger portion of the washer and dryer than was proposed.  The motion was rejected by the commission.

The animal shelter is sitting on $92,261.40 in donation money, yet it came to the commission for a budget increase to add more staff.  See account 101-0-346300-0.

The animal shelter did not use $21,199.34 of the money appropriated last year.  It could have held the line this year and used a small portion of the donation money to fund the difference of the $33,054 increase that it requested for 2 part time employees.  Instead it asked for more of your money.

Now for a happy story.  Meet Pepper.

Jamie and Pepper

Jamie and Pepper

My husband Troy found Pepper wondering along the side of a road with no collar or identifying information.  She was skinny and a bit timid at first but her timidity has passed and she now has a wonderful new home.

Jamie decided to adopt Pepper since her dog had recently passed on.  Everyone loves Pepper including Jamie’s husband Bill and the grand kids.  Pepper is being spayed today.

pepperwithcheetah

Pepper playing with cheetah

Tennessee General Assembly often nonresponsive to needed and responsible reforms

In my quest for better government, I have written the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on several issues that are ripe for reform.  The legislators have been largely unresponsive.

One such matter is the salaries of government officials and employees.  Tennessee judges enjoy being the best paid judges in the nation, after a cost of living adjustment.  Many elected officials make 2, 3 and 4 times what the average taxpayer makes.  The salaries of some UT officials are outrageous.

Only 2 state legislators have responded to my request for salary reform: Representative Roger Kane and Senator Richard Briggs.  Both have realized that the salaries are excessive but neither has been willing to take the lead to reform how government officials are compensated.  Representative Susan Lynn responded to a friend who sent an email on the matter.  Lynn said she struggled with the salaries but justified them as being necessary to attract good people.

Another matter that I have written about is the supposed 30 year emergency that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is operating under.  State sentenced felons are clogging local jails throughout the state and the legislature has done little to address it.  As such, several local governments have gone deeply in debt to deal with the crisis that the state won’t fix.

Tennessee has the financial resources.  It had a roughly $1 billion surplus in extra tax money that could have been used to fix criminal justice problems and crumbling roads.  Instead it went to teachers salaries and an expensive museum, among other things.  Part of the surplus did go to roads but the legislature did not even fully restore what was taken from transportation funding in the previous decade.

Not one state legislator responded when I sent an email to them with a link to the news article where TDOC says that it has been operating under an emergency declaration since 1985.  How can an emergency exist for 30 years?  This is reprehensible.

When I hear a state legislator brag about Tennessee being one of the lowest indebted nation in the state I cringe.  When do these legislators talk about the debt burden of local governments resulting from state inactions?  The state looks good because it can dump its problems on the back of local governments as it is doing with state sentenced prisoners.

Furthermore, state legislators brag about cutting taxes at the state level.  That sounds good but what about the impact on local tax rates from salary mandates and housing state sentenced felons?

These legislators should be thoroughly rebuked for allowing the problem to burden local governments with debt to pay for housing state inmates.  The Tennessee General Assembly needs to be more responsive to the problems within local government and society, particularly the criminal justice system.  Ignoring criminal justice problems and salary mandates means that local taxpayers will continue to pay for the inactions of the state legislature.

Tennessee General Assembly Emails:

sen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.mike.bell@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.rusty.crowe@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.todd.gardenshire@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.dolores.gresham@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.ferrell.haile@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.thelma.harper@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.lee.harris@captitol.tn.gov,
sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.randy.mcnally@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.kerry.roberts@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.john.stevens@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.reginald.tate@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.jim.tracy@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.bo.watson@capitol.tn.gov,
sen.jeff.yarbro@capitol.tn.gov,
“Becky Massey” <sen.becky.massey@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Bill Ketron” <sen.bill.ketron@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Brian Kelsey” <sen.brian.kelsey@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Doug Overbey” <sen.doug.overbey@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Ed Jackson” <sen.ed.jackson@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Frank Niceley” <sen.frank.niceley@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Jack Johnson” <sen.jack.johnson@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Janice Bowling” <sen.janice.bowling@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Mae Beavers” <sen.mae.beavers@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Mark Green” <sen.mark.green@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Mark Norris” <sen.mark.norris@capitol.tn.gov>,
lt.gov.ron.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov,
“Steven Dickerson” <sen.steven.dickerson@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Steve Southerland” <sen.steve.southerland@capitol.tn.gov>,
sen.sara.kyle@capitol.tn.gov,
“Richard Briggs” <sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov>,
“Ken Yager” <sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov>,
rep.raumesh.akbari@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.alexander@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.armstrong@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.beck@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harry.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.brooks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sheila.butt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kent.calfee@capitol.tn.gov, rep.karen.camper@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dale.carr@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.carter@capitol.tn.gov, rep.glen.casada@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.ray.clemmons@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jim.coley@capitol.tn.gov, rep.barbara.cooper@capitol.tn.gov, rep.martin.daniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.deberry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.barry.doss@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kevin.dunlap@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.dunn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jimmy.eldridge@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jeremy.faison@capitol.tn.gov, rep.andrew.farmer@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joanne.favors@capitol.tn.gov, rep.craig.fitzhugh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.forgety@capitol.tn.gov, rep.brenda.gilmore@capitol.tn.gov, rep.tilman.goins@capitol.tn.gov, rep.marc.gravitt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.curtis.halford@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ga.hardaway@capitol.tn.gov, speaker.beth.harwell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.hawk@capitol.tn.gov, rep.patsy.hazlewood@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gary.hicks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.timothy.hill@capitol.tn.gov, rep.matthew.hill@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov, rep.andy.holt@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bud.hulsey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jamie.jenkins@capitol.tn.gov, rep.darren.jernigan@capitol.tn.gov, rep.curtis.johnson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sherry.jones@capitol.tn.gov, rep.roger.kane@capitol.tn.gov, rep.kelly.keisling@capitol.tn.gov, rep.sabi.kumar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.william.lamberth@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mary.littleton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.lollar@capitol.tn.gov, rep.harold.love@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jon.lundberg@capitol.tn.gov, rep.susan.lynn@capitol.tn.gov, rep.pat.marsh@capitol.tn.gov, rep.judd.matheny@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jimmy.matlock@capitol.tn.gov, rep.gerald.mccormick@capitol.tn.gov, rep.steve.mcdaniel@capitol.tn.gov, rep.steve.mcmanus@capitol.tn.gov, rep.larry.miller@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bo.mitchell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.debra.moody@capitol.tn.gov, rep.antonio.parkinson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.pitts@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mark.pody@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jason.powell@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dennis.powers@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.ragan@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jay.reedy@capitol.tn.gov, rep.courtney.rogers@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bill.sanderson@capitol.tn.gov, rep.charles.sargent@capitol.tn.gov, rep.cameron.sexton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnny.shaw@capitol.tn.gov, rep.david.shepard@capitol.tn.gov, rep.eddie.smith@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.sparks@capitol.tn.gov, rep.billy.spivey@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mike.stewart@capitol.tn.gov, rep.art.swann@capitol.tn.gov, rep.bryan.terry@capitol.tn.gov, rep.joe.towns@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ron.travis@capitol.tn.gov, rep.johnnie.turner@capitol.tn.gov, rep.micah.vanhuss@capitol.tn.gov, rep.terri.lynn.weaver@capitol.tn.gov, rep.dawn.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov, rep.ryan.williams@capitol.tn.gov, rep.john.windle@capitol.tn.gov, rep.tim.wirgau@capitol.tn.gov, rep.rick.womick@capitol.tn.gov, rep.jason.zachary@capitol.tn.gov

A response to a nonresponse: Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have form used to determine inmate costs

headbashwallIn the inane world of government, here’s another story to share that leaves me wondering why I continue to bang my head against the wall of local government.

Back in early May of this year I sent an email to Jeff French, the Chief Deputy of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), asking for a copy of the Intergovernmental Agreement between the BCSO and the United States Marshals Service which establishes the daily inmate per diem amount and travel rate and for the paperwork that was used to determine those rates.   About a week later, Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps emailed me the Intergovernmental Agreement but I never received anything related to the paperwork that was used to determine the federal per diem rate.

The specific form that the federal government requires is the Form USM-243.  My request was broader than just this form because I wasn’t sure if anything else related to the rate had been submitted.  Thus, my request was for all of the paperwork related to the determination of the per diem and travel rates.  Remember that the county paid a company 3.5 times more than the low bid to submit the paperwork for a new rate.

Several months passed without receiving a response from French or the paperwork determining the rates.  As such, I contacted the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) in the Comptroller’s Office to obtain their help.  About a month passed when Ann Butterworth in the OORC emailed me saying that Chief French told her that the BCSO did not have the Form USM-243 and that a nonresponse constitutes denial under the Open Records Act of Tennessee.

I thought that was the end of my open records request.  You can’t get blood out of a turnip.  If the BCSO doesn’t have the Form USM-243 then my only option to obtain the paperwork it is to do a Freedom of Information Act request with the federal government.

About a week later, I got an email from attorney Craig Garrett’s office with this attached letter denying that the BCSO had failed to respond to an open records request.  His contention is that my original request wasn’t a valid request under the Open Records Act; therefore, the BCSO didn’t have to respond.

Really?  Why do people go to such great lengths in responding to explain why they didn’t respond in the first place?  If French had taken 1 minute to email me to explain that the BCSO didn’t have the records that I was requesting, there would have been no need to contact an attorney at taxpayer expense to provide a response.  If people would just do their jobs the taxpayers would be better served and no one have to lawyer up for failing to respond to a request.

Perhaps the most alarming thing is the discovery that the BCSO doesn’t have the Form USM-243.  The BCSO has long maintained that the county makes money housing federal inmates.  How can that statement be made with a straight face when the BCSO isn’t even in possession of the paperwork used to determine the per diem rate?   Has the BCSO done its own analysis on the cost of housing inmates?  If so, why pay a company to do it for you?  If not, there is little if any reason to believe that the county benefits financially by keeping federal inmates in the Blount County Adult Detention Center.

Jeff French:  (865) 273-5000  jfrench@bcso.com
Sheriff James Berrong:  (865) 273-5000 jlb@bcso.com

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

BEDFORD CO. JAIL
BLOUNT CO. CJC
CLAY CO. JAIL
COCKE COUNTY ANNEX
DAVIDSON CO. ORC
FRANKLIN CO. JAIL
GILES CO. JAIL
HANCOCK CO. JAIL
HAMILTON COUNTY CJC
HOUSTON COUNTY JAIL
LAWRENCE
LEWIS CO. JAIL
MACON CO. JAIL
MADISON COUNTY CJC
MARION COUNTY JAIL
MEIGS COUNTY JAIL
MONROE CO. JAIL/ANNEX
MOORE COUNTY JAIL
MORGAN COUNTY JAIL
PUTNAM CO. JAIL
RHEA CO. JAIL
ROANE COUNTY JAIL
STEWART CO. JAIL
SULLIVAN COUNTY CJC
TIPTON CO. JAIL
WARREN COUNTY  JAIL

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.

http://www.autoblog.com/2016/09/02/modern-traffic-enforcement-ticket-revenue-safety-opinion/

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.

http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2016/09/02/speed-limits-tried-and-true-invalid/89708990/

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.
http://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,4643,7-123-72297_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.

http://claiborneprogress.net/news/9238/a-dog-days-journey-into-night

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.

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/department-justice-states-should-not-jailed-over-fine-nonpayment-n537796

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?