Mayor Ed Mitchell started a Facebook page in 2014 and posted a few pictures but then posted nothing for nearly 3 years. Mitchell, or someone in his office, has started posting now that it is election time and he has opponents.
Mitchell will likely win reelection because his opponents don’t have the money that it takes to win a county wide race. One of his opponents, Harry Grothjahn, has done more in a year to keep the citizens informed about local government than Mitchell has done in his both of his terms combined.
Before you head to polls, keep in mind a few things about Ed Mitchell.
- Remember when Ed Mitchell threatened to sue the jail consultant to stifle discussion on the jail study that said the status quo would cost $68-124 million (page 30). There was no lawsuit – just obstructionism.
- Remember when he and his finance director assigned $2 million for a jail expansion transition facility but they lacked the authority to express the county’s intent.
- Remember when his purchasing agent asked the commission to hire an IT firm being sued in federal court that wanted to use foreign labor.
- Remember when he really hesitated about voting for fixed rate financing in the November 2014 Budget Committee. Remember that he didn’t go to fully fixed rate in his first term but only did so during his second term when the commission wanted fixed rate financing.
- Remember how Ed Mitchell made the taxpayers pay for a recycling facility that the county was previously getting for free. Remember that the county now has less recycling locations now that the taxpayers are paying for them.
- Remember how he didn’t want to put a fiscally conservative elected woman on the Budget Committee so he nominated an unelected woman who couldn’t manage her own budget by paying her property taxes on time.
- Remember how he made Joni Serratt, from a political machine family, the head of probation, gave her multiple pay raises and she presented a budget that projected losing money.
- Remember when Ed Mitchell voted for and signed one of the biggest property tax increases in recent Blount County history.
- Remember when the purchasing agent and his general service director chose a company that was 3.5 times the lowest offer.
- Remember how his general services director failed to provide information about lawsuits. It’s been more than 2 years and the information still hasn’t been provided.
- Remember how the county has spent millions of dollars on IT but the commission meetings are no longer live streamed.
- Remember when the EPA wanted to regulate nearly all waters in the USA and Ed Mitchell vetoed a common sense resolution asking congress to roll this back. The US House of Representatives had already passed common sense reform.
- Remember how he supported the Evergreen pay scale, which mostly compared Blount County to cities rather than counties, pays above the average of what these cities and those the county was compared to are paying was approved 7 months before the final report was released and gives the higher pay grade employees a bigger percentage pay increase.
- Remember how Ed Mitchell gave himself a big pay raise by signing a budget that gave himself and 3 others pay supplements.
A business owner reminded me recently that Ed Mitchell has lived on the government gravy train his whole life and said that anytime Ed Mitchell wants something all he knows is go to the taxpayers and make them pay for it. Blount County, Tennessee needs a new mayor with private sector work experience.
During the last election, several of you asked me to post a list of who the good candidates are. There are some candidate profiles already posted to this website, which provide information about the best choices for sheriff and county commissioners. Early voting starts today (Wednesday April 11th) and runs through April 26th. Election day is May 1st.
Please vote for Patrick England for Blount County Sheriff. I’ll give you two good reasons to vote for Patrick England.
1. Patrick has a plan to improve response time, when you call the sheriff’s office. Response times can be slow to some areas of the county. Patrick has studied the situation closely and will implement some much needed changes to have officers at your home or businesses quicker when you need them.
2. Patrick opposes jail expansion. He realizes that the overcrowding problem is largely due to the housing of discretionary inmates in the jail. There are state felons and pretrial federal inmates that do not have to be housed in the local jail. He does not think it is necessary to put Blount County further in debt to house inmates that the county does not have to house.
There are numerous reason not to vote for 28 year incumbent James Lee Berrong. He appears to have acted without authority when he signed the federal inmates contract without seeking commission approval.
Berrong has a history of threatening to burn peoples’ houses down. This is documented in a court opinion. Please read more here: If someone threatened to shave your dog, sugar your gas tank and burn your house down would you report them to the sheriff or vote for them for sheriff?
Berrong has gone unopposed for several terms. This is our chance to drain the swamp of Blount County government.
Let freedom ring!
Patrick England issued the following statement about his candidacy for Blount County Sheriff.
“When my football career came to an end due to an injury my senior* year, I went from being a team player on the field to being a team player in the community serving the citizens of Blount County as an officer with the Blount County Sheriff’s Office.
As a life long Blount Countian, with 23 years of law enforcement experience, I understand what servant leadership means to the citizens of Blount County. With an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice and Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership, I am well suited to provide the improvements in public safety that this community is looking for. As your sheriff, I will put an end to jail expansion that could turn our beautiful mountain community in the next Brushy Mountain prison and save the taxpayers the burden of paying for an expensive, unnecessary jail expansion.
Blount County has been a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family but many have expressed concern about the direction this county is headed. I look forward to restoring confidence in the servant leadership that a sheriff offers the community. That is why I am offering myself as a candidate who will limit himself to two terms against a 28 year incumbent career politician.”
*Update – Correction: The original press release stated that Mr. England was injured during his senior year but a correction was issued stating that he was injured during his junior year.
England’s campaign website is https://england4sheriff.com/
Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio AM 1470 invited me to speak on his Sunday morning radio show to discuss important issues that you need to know about before voting in the upcoming May 1, 2018 local government primary election. The interview was recorded so that you can listen to it and the slide show presentation is attached for your information and review.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of important local issues. This is a good starting point in becoming informed for the upcoming May 1st primary election.
Let freedom ring!
Blount County Commissioner
Light month for spending – equipment for Animal Shelter approved
In a rare change of pace, none of your hard earned tax money was spent this month. The only budget increase was a use of Animal Shelter donation monies to purchase kennels to house cats.
Grant process remains dysfunctional
The Blount County Commission is habitually asked to approve grant worksheets, which are requests to apply for grants, after grant deadlines have passed. There were three grant worksheets and all three deadlines had already passed. The grants include state funds to purchase bullet proof benches for Juvenile Court, equipment for used oil collection and equipment for recycling at the new convenience center.
The Juvenile Court security grant application was provided with the worksheet. The recycling equipment grants were not included with the worksheets.
Internal Control Policy approved
The commission approved an Internal Control Policy for Blount County government. You can read the policy here.
The policy lacks specifics on maintaining internal controls because the policy is based on principles for standards. The preface explains this:
“This policy summarizes internal controls based on standards for establishing internal controls published in September 2014 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Standards for Internal Controls in the Federal Government (Green Book) and the Internal Control Manual for Local Governmental Entities and Other Audited Entities in Tennessee (the “Internal Control Manual”). Establishing and maintaining a system of internal controls is required by federal and state law.
This policy is based on principles as opposed to providing a detailed method of implementing internal controls because the GAO Green Book is principles based.”
Page 5 of the policy says, “Management reviews all new grant applications and grant agreements to identify potential risks due to changing grant requirements or other circumstances.” Often the commission only receives a grant worksheet, when it approves a request to apply for a grant. If management is identifying potential risks, the commission isn’t receiving a memo identifying or explaining potential risks. It’s possible that grants with potential risks are being identified and aren’t being brought to the commission. After reading this, I think it would be helpful for a statement of potential risks be included with a grant worksheet.
Page 6 of the policy says, “Management insures that separation of duties is observed; proper reporting and reconciliations are adopted; proper authorizations are received.” There have been some issues with separation of powers and proper authorizations. Read this and this. What happens when the separation of powers and proper authorizations involves management?
Page 6 of the policy says, “Management requires third party service organizations to provide a Service Organization Control (SOC) report as a method of holding them accountable for their internal control systems.” I’ve asked the finance director questions related to this. If/when I receive answers, I may write further on this.
Page 7 of the policy says, “The information systems software, which is fully documented and includes backup and recovery processes, is approved by the Information Technology Committee.” I’d like to see the IT Committee records showing that the IT Committee approved an information systems software. Readers of this website may recall that I serve on the IT Committee and that I’ve written more than once that I don’t understand why the county has an IT Committee since it usually doesn’t do anything. Many of the important IT decisions are made without input and approval from the IT Committee.
Page 8 of the policy says, “The Audit Committee has established a process for employees, taxpayers, and citizens to report suspected fraudulent, illegal, wasteful, or improper activity confidentially to the Audit Committee.” The Audit Committee page on the county’s website contains no contact information for the members of the committee and there is nothing there explaining how to report anything to the Audit Committee.
Page 9 of the policy contains only the word Appendix at the top and is otherwise blank. Page 1 of the policy says, “See Appendix for a complete list of all boards and committees.”
Much of this policy sounds good but I have to wonder if it is worth the paper it is written considering everything that I’ve just explained.
It’s time to consider reforming the grant worksheet approval process. Suggestions for reform are welcomed.
Commissioners Gary Farmer, Kenneth Melton and Steve Samples were absent.
Last month, the commission approved a contract for architectural services with Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) without also approving a budget amendment to pay for the contract. This month the commission approved the funding for the contract with the architectural firm as well as funding for public relations and a project manager.
Yes, Blount County government thinks that it needs a Ministry of Propaganda to tell you why they’ve hired an architect for the jail. Unless you’ve been living in the forest you know that Blount County, like any other county in this nation, has a drug problem stemming from the use of pain pills and street drugs. It’s really a shame that the taxpayers are having to pay to be told that there is an opioid and drug problem in the community.
The memo in the commission packet from the Blount County Purchasing Department, Human Resources and Finance Department says that the contract was approved by the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP). However, it was not approved by the BCCP.
The last time that the BCCP met was in March to discuss the purchasing agent’s selection of MBI. The agenda for the meeting says, “Discussion and possible action regarding presentation regarding the solicitation and request for qualifications for architectural planning and/or design services and/or programming services for Blount County.” There is no mention of a contract in the agenda or the unofficial meeting minutes of this BCCP meeting. The minutes are unofficial because the BCCP has not met since this March 28, 2017 meeting and therefore has not taken any vote to approve the meeting minutes.
The contract with MBI is time stamped on the bottom with a date of May 24, 2017, which is almost two months after the BCCP March 28 meeting. Why would the purchasing agent, human resources director and director of accounts and budgets (finance director) sign a memo with a false statement? Why would their boss Mayor Ed Mitchell let them?
The cost to the taxpayers is $244,723 which includes $188,000 for the MBI contract. Only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted against this.
The resolution says that the monies came from funds “Assigned for Public Safety.” Many remember when I found that Sheriff James Lee Berrong and Mayor Ed Mitchell had a $2 million jail plan in Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting minutes. The commission is the body who has the authority to express the county’s intent by assigning monies in the general fund. The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office did not recognize the assignments of $2 million for public safety.
The bigger and potentially more expensive picture is that “Blount County has not set a specific scope or budget for this project,” as stated under Article 1.12 of the MBI contract.
Grant process dysfunctional
The commission was asked to approve five grants. The deadline for two of these grants, one for juvenile court and the other for the animal shelter, had already passed. While these two grants had already been written, neither provided the commission with copies of the actual grants. The juvenile court grant worksheet included a memo about the grant while the animal shelter only provided the grant worksheet. It seems reasonable that any department/office wanting the commission to approve a grant after the deadline would include a copy of the grant along with the worksheet.
The commission approved a $360,791 increase to the state aid account of the highway department budget. According to a memo from Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick, Tennessee Department of Transport (TDOT) provided the funds for replacement of tiles/culverts on state highways. The state aid account is now $1,082,000 for fiscal year 2018.
The commission approved TDOT’s proposal for the relocated Alcoa Highway. While there was a public meeting in the City of Alcoa about this proposal in May, this was the first time that this commission was provided anything on the proposal. It would have been nice to have been given more time to study the matter and to hear from the citizens on something this important. Most seemed to be unaware that the commission was considering this matter. I voted against this because of the short time frame to study the matter and because of the lack of information about other possibilities for Alcoa Highway. Commissioners Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also voted no while the rest of the commissioners present voted yes.
A meeting was called to approve applying for federal funds to make improvements to Morganton Road. This road has long been in need of repair. People in the 1st, 6th and 7th districts have expressed their concerns about the road to me. This has been one of the top 10 issues that I hear the most about from those in the community.
This a good start but more work is needed. Some are upset that this project does not come further into the county. There have been concerns expressed about the City of Maryville annexing part of Morganton Road.
According to the mayor, the commission approved $4 million for improvements to Morganton Road in 2006 but those funds were never spent for that purpose. No one that I’ve spoken with seems to know why this money was never spent.
This project runs into 2023. You can read more about it here.
Accounting and financial software
The commission approved a 7 year, $2.334M contract for a Financial Management Information System (FMIS). This Services as a Software (SaaS) agreement is with Tyler Technologies. The estimated cost for implementation is $293,470.50 and the annual recurring fees are $299,945.00 throughout the 7 year contract.
When the Kronos time keeping, payroll and HR software system was presented to the commission, a business case was made for savings through staff reductions. Those projected savings never materialized. According to a June 22, 2017 email from Finance Director Randy Vineyard, “there have been no retirements or departures since implementation in General County.” He did write that there could be possible staff reductions in the future as “as staff retirements arise.”
No business case for savings was made for the purchase of Tyler Technologies software. The commission was told that the current financial system was antiquated, unsecure, needed to be replaced with a modern system and that Tyler Technologies is the best fit for the county. The commission not given anything to support the assertion that this company’s software is the best fit for Blount County.
The commission is often asked to vote on what the bureaucrats want without being given any information on comparable products. With an annual reoccurring expense of nearly $300K, it would have been helpful to have seen what other companies had to offer. Other companies might offer a bit less than a competitor but at a much lower price while still providing what the county needs. I don’t know if there were any better deals or fits for the county because I wasn’t given any information on any other products.
The memo to the commission is from the county’s program manager for IT Abhijit Verekar of Avèro Advisors. He is being sued in federal court by a previous employer.
Considering the lack of information about comparable products, I thought it best to vote no to this long term costly commitment. Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also voted no.
Up next: The end of August marks the end of the 3rd year of this four year commission term. What would you like to see me focus on during the next year?
It’s also time to give serious consideration to running for local office. In November, candidates can begin picking up petitions to run in the May 1, 2018 primary election. That will be here before you know it. Don’t let the opportunity slip past you.
In the words of a great American:
“We are not weak, if we make proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power… The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” Patrick Henry
Even if you don’t want to run, you can begin talking to others about running and support good candidates who do run.
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” — Edmund Burke
Information Technology (IT) Committee meeting
The IT Committee heard from Abhijit Verekar (AV) on the status of Blount County’s ongoing IT project updates. AV has served as the project manger for the multiyear IT project. However, this time he was the project manager from his own newly started company Avero Advisors, rather than Mindboard Inc (Mindboard). If you’re thinking this seems odd, you may be right.
AV and Mindboard Inc. were embroiled in a lawsuit with AV’s previous employer RNR Consulting when the county commission approved a contract with Mindboard Inc. Some serious allegations were made in that lawsuit. If you aren’t familiar with the situation please click on these links and read about the matter before proceeding with the rest of this report.
New company not brought to the commission for approval
Only one of the references listed in response to the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) provided by Mindboard had a budget over $60,000 while the county’s IT budget was more than 22 times that amount. It didn’t make good sense to hire Mindboard because of these serious allegations and too much uncertainty about Mindboard handling such a large budget.
Purchasing Agent Katie Branham-Kerr defended her choice in early 2016 by saying that the rates that Mindboard offered the county were 20% lower than other contract rates but nothing was provided to the commission to support this statement. When I (Commissioner Tona Monroe) asked Branham-Kerr why the county was switching from Mindboard to Avero Advisors, she said the county would save about 30% from what it was paying Mindboard. It makes one wonder why Mindboard was chosen when she could find another firm to do the work cheaper the following year. The county’s purchasing process leaves much to be desired.
The county hasn’t actually terminated its contract with Mindboard. Both Mindboard, and AV’s company Avero Advisors, are providing IT services to Blount County government. The contract with Avero is set up on a yearly basis, renewing annually at the start of each fiscal year. The arrangement means that the Avero contract doesn’t have to be brought to the commission for a vote on the matter because it doesn’t extend beyond the current fiscal year. However, a contract that annually renews automatically, unless being canceled, should be required to be approved by the county commission. This is a reform needed at the state level.
I asked Branham-Kerr if AV was working for both companies and she said no. She said that the county had received a signed agreement from Mindboard Inc., releasing AV from contract with Mindboard. You can read the Change of Relationship Agreement here.
Under Terms and Conditions it says:
“1. Contract Termination.
The parties hereby agree that the Agreement has been and is hereby terminated in all respects, provided however that the provisions of Sections 5 shall survive with the exception that Employee is permitted to contract with Blount County, TN and Mindboard will not seek to enforce Section 5 with respect to Employee contracting with Blount County, TN.”
Section 5 is not stated in the agreement but it appears to refer to a non-compete clause in the terminated employment contract between Mindboard and AV. Thus, it appears that Mindboard allowed AV to contract with Blount County but not any other customer that Mindboard may have. If so, why?
Despite this large sum of money, people are expressing their dissatisfaction with the county’s new website and software system used for commission and committee meetings. The new Granicus program isn’t as user friendly as the older, simpler system.
The IT Committee had no say in the selection of the new software system or website. I have and continue to wonder why there is even an IT Committee since the Mayor’s Office along with the purchasing agent and these IT firms are making the decisions how to spend your money.
Over $3 million has been budgeted in recent years for Mayor Ed Mitchell, Mindboard Inc. and Avero Advisors to manage. It is really a shame that there is so much dissatisfaction with the use of millions of your tax dollars.
Commissioners Mike Akard and Steve Samples were absent. Once again, I was prohibited from asking questions at the monthly commission meeting.
Recycling convenience center – Failed leadership of Mayor Ed Mitchell
There is perhaps no greater example of the failure of Mayor Ed Mitchell’s leadership than with the way he has handled recycling in Blount County. For those who are cheering the opening of a convenience center in the county, I encourage you to consider the history of recycling in Blount County because we now have less recycling sites with the county providing recycling than before the county decided to provide recycling.
Spectra recycling announced that in May it would be closing its recycling location on Robert C Jackson that was open to the public. After learning about this, I called the owner Mr. Steve Dixon. He told me that I was the only elected official to call him to find out why he had closed the recycling convenience center. After I shared this with the Big Springs Community Club at its monthly meeting, the other commissioner from the 7th district went and met with Mr. Dixon after he had already voted to spend taxpayer money for a convenience center.
Mr. Dixon shared with me how previous mayors had met with him and were appreciative of his free recycling services that he provided to the citizens of Blount County. He shared that this changed with the Mitchell administration and the new Purchasing Agent Katie Branham-Kerr.
In 2015, the Purchasing Department issued Request for Proposal (RFP) 2015-2372 to provide recycling services for county buildings. Spectra had been providing free recycling to the county government, in addition to free recycling convenience centers throughout the county. Spectra was the only one to bid that RFP.
Spectra had provided free recycling to the county government up to that point but the recycling market is dynamic and hadn’t been profitable; therefore, it had asked for a small trip fee to cover expenses. The cost would have been a few thousand dollars annually.
Then Purchasing Agent Theresa Johnson, who was later demoted to assistant purchasing agent, told Mr. Dixon that she would have to take the matter to Mayor Ed Mitchell. Mr. Dixon waited about a year thinking that Spectra would be awarded a contract but when he called the new Purchasing Agent Katie Branham-Kerr he was told that the county would not been awarding a contract for RFP 2015-2372. During this year Spectra continued providing free recycling services to the county government.
When I tried to inquire why this RFP was not awarded, Commissioner Ron French declared a point of order saying that it was 2017 not 2015 and Chairman Jerome Moon declared me out of order. This prohibited me from making the point that perhaps this matter had something to do with why Spectra was no longer offering recycling and inquiring why Spectra didn’t respond to the current RFP 2016-2456 (issued in 2017). The 2017 RFP only had 2 responses. Commissioners looking out for the taxpayers should want to know why Spectra, a local business, did not respond to a recycling RFP.
Mr. Dixon shared with me that he did not know that a new RFP had been issued. This is alarming because I reviewed the 2015 RFP and found that the county reached out to potential bidders but did not appear to make the same effort with the 2017 RFP. I asked the purchasing agent who the county reached out to on the 2017 RFP and received this response:
From: “Katie Branham-Kerr” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, September 8, 2017 4:24pm
Cc: “Jackie Cooper” <email@example.com>
Subject: Fwd: Question about Recycling
From: Lauri Bell <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 8:48 AM
Subject: Re: Question about Recycling
To: Katie Branham-Kerr <email@example.com>
On Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 8:07 AM, Katie Branham-Kerr <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Please review Mrs. Monroe’s email and let me know who we reached out to individually regarding the recycling bid.———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Mon, Sep 4, 2017 at 10:31 AM
Subject: Question about Recycling
To: Katie Branham-Kerr <email@example.com>
Dear Katie,In reviewing the recycling records, the purchasing office reached out to potential bidders, by email, in 2015 for recycling needs. There wasn’t any record of that occurring this year. Did your office reach out, by email or any other form of communication, to potential companies that might provide recycling services?Also, I received 3 records from Jackie but didn’t receive the email that I asked be forwarded related to the hourly rates that you negotiated with AV. Please forward that email to me.Sincerely,
I have repeatedly asked the purchasing agent and Mayor’s Office why the 2015 recycling RFP was not awarded. No explanation has been given.
At one time, Spectra was providing 12 free recycling sites throughout Blount County, not including the schools that it was providing free recycling services for. Some of these recycling centers were open to the public 24/7/365. The county’s convenience center will only be open 3 days a week. Furthermore, recycling at the library will stop as well.
At one time Spectra was providing free recycling for the county at the location on McArthur Road where the new convenience center will be located. Now the taxpayers will pay for part time recycling at this location and the 12 free recycling centers that the county once had are gone. After speaking with Mr. Dixon at Spectra, I am firmly convinced that the county could have many more recycling centers throughout the county with more hours of operation for less money than the 3 day a week county operation that will be at McArthur Road. This great loss to the community falls squarely on the shoulders of Mayor Ed Mitchell. Blount County needs a mayor with private sector experience who can get things done without going to taxpayers for everything.
To make matters worse, the commission wasn’t provided with all the documentation pertaining to the contract. The contract instrument says that the contract consists of 7 documents including: the Request for Proposal, the Instructions to Proponents, the Contractor’s Proposal, the General Specifications, the resolution of Blount County ordering or authorizing, the work and services contemplated herein, this instrument and any addenda or changes to the foregoing documents agreed to by the parties hereto. The commission was only provided with the instrument and the authorizing resolution. It’s possible that there were no amendments but the commission should have been told that no amendments exists if there were none.
I moved to postpone the matter until the next month so that the commission could be provided with all of the documentation. The motion failed with only Commissioners Archie Archer, Shawn Carter, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voting to wait one month to be given all of the documentation prior to voting on the matter. The commissioners who sponsored the resolution approving the contract have egg on their faces. You should watch the commission meeting to see how some of them try defending why they brought a contract to the commission without having the entirety of the contract. The purchasing agent said that the reason that some of the documents were not provided is because they weren’t yet finished. However, that does not explain the failure to provide the RFP to the commission.
Commissioner Mike Caylor asked the mayor if he had done his due diligence on this matter. Mitchell said he had. Apparently Caylor was OK with not doing his due diligence as a county commissioner, to protect the taxpayers.
Most of the commissioners present took the Nancy Pelosi approach to government when they voted for something only to learn later what is in it. Only Commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted against approving a contract without having all of the documents available.
Jail architect contract approved without a budget amendment – discussion process seriously flawed
The commission approved a contract with Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) for jail expansion/renovation (?) without knowing the full costs of what is being called the Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI). Jerome Moon and the commissioners who follow his lead made hypocrites out of themselves with this issue because there was no budget amendment in the packet to pay for the contract. Moon has insisted in the past that the commission appropriate money to pay for something prior to discuss what the money is actually being appropriated for. Remember when I tried to move discussion of the budget ahead of setting the tax rate in 2015 and only the three women commissioners voted to discuss the budget first?
On this same agenda the commission voted to appropriate the money for the recycling contract before voting on the actual contract, which was not provided in its entirety. Moon didn’t even want me discussing the recycling contract during the discussion time of the budget amendment that funded it. The commission is expected to approve the money without first discussing the substance of the matter, the actual legal documents and impact those documents will have. Doesn’t it make sense to discuss the substance of the matter before you spend the money to do it? The discussion process is seriously flawed.
Commissioner Andy Allen pointed out that the contract was specific in the cost for this project. It’s true that the cost of the architectural firm is in the contract. However, the costs of the project are more than the MBI contract. The commissioners weren’t told what the actual total costs of the CJI project would be. Only commissioners Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted against approving the contract.
Not satisfied due to the lack of information provided, I wrote Director of Accounts and Budgets Randy Vineyard for an explanation of the costs. It turns out that he didn’t know either and wrote that due diligence for the CJI was not finished when the contract was presented to the commission.
From: “Randy Vineyard” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Monday, July 24, 2017 11:05am
Cc: “Marvin Mitchell” <email@example.com>, “James Berrong” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Jarrod Millsaps” <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Funding for MBI contract
The amendment has not been finalized because there are items likely to be recommended along with the MBI fees. Our due diligence is not yet completed.
Randy Vineyard, IOM
Blount County Finance Director“
Support for the federal government’s war on poverty
The commission approved a resolution supporting federal government programs that were created as a part of the war on poverty. Nearly everything that the federal government declares war on turns into an expensive failure. The war on poverty may be the costliest “war” disaster of all.
All 21 Blount County Commissioners were elected and are in office as Republicans. Only Commissioner Karen Miller and I voted against this, showing that most Republicans aren’t serious about cutting wasteful spending or eliminating failed government programs. Furthermore, most of the commissioners do not seem to honor their oaths of office because there is no authority for the federal government’s war of poverty authorized in the United States Constitution.
Federal COPS grant approved after deadline
The commission was presented with a USDOJ Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) grant application after the grant deadline had already passed. The grant will pay for 75% of the salaries and benefits for 6 officers for 3 years. The grant does not pay for equipping the officers with laptops, uniforms, weapons, or cars. The commission was told that the county would be required to keep these positions, after the grant money runs out.
Commissioner Caylor seemed indigent that Commissioner Daly would even inquire about the county having to pay for the officers after the grant money ran out. He said it was a savings but there is no savings. Federal money is taxpayer money. At the rate that the federal government is borrowing money, your children and grandchildren may be forced to pay interest to foreign investors in China and Saudi Arabia on these officers because the federal government is not paying its (our) bills now.
While the program goal and objectives were including in the grant application guide, the commission was provided no data to show that six more officers will actually improve safety in the community. Only commissioners Daly, Miller and I voted no this grant.
July was a doozie. The lackadaisical attitude of several on the commission should give pause to those concerned about their community. If you want to see better government, then seriously considering becoming that better government by either running for local office or supporting good candidates who will ensure that due diligence is done prior to each vote of the commission.
Nervous about traffic stops? John Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute is and says you should be too.
By Ron Paul
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently ordered the Justice Department to increase the use of civil asset forfeiture, thus once again endorsing an unconstitutional, authoritarian, and increasingly unpopular policy.
Civil asset forfeiture, which should be called civil asset theft, is the practice of seizing property believed to be involved in a crime. The government keeps the property even if it never convicts, or even charges, the owner of the property.
Police can even use civil asset theft to steal from people whose property was used in criminal activity without the owners’ knowledge. Some have even lost their homes because a renter or houseguest was dealing drugs on the premises behind the owners’ backs.
Civil asset theft is a multi-billion dollar a year moneymaker for all levels of government. Police and prosecutors receive more than their “fair share” of the loot. According to a 2016 study by the Institute for Justice, 43 states allow police and prosecutors to keep at least half of the loot they got from civil asset theft.
Obviously, this gives police an incentive to aggressively use civil asset theft, even against those who are not even tangentially involved in a crime. For example, police in Tenaha, Texas literally engaged in highway robbery — seizing cash and other items from innocent motorists — while police in Detroit once seized every car in an art institute’s parking lot. The official justification for that seizure was that the cars belonged to attendees at an event for which the institute had failed to get a liquor license.
The Tenaha police are not the only ones targeting those carrying large sums of cash. Anyone traveling with “too much” cash runs the risk of having it stolen by a police officer, since carrying large amounts of cash is treated as evidence of involvement in criminal activity.
Civil asset theft also provides an easy way for the IRS to squeeze more money from the American taxpayer. As the growing federal debt increases the pressure to increase tax collections without raising tax rates, the IRS will likely ramp up its use of civil asset forfeiture.
Growing opposition to the legalized theft called civil asset forfeiture has led 24 states to pass laws limiting its use. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out of step with this growing consensus. After all, Sessions is a cheerleader for the drug war, and civil asset theft came into common usage as a tool in the drug war.
President Trump could do the American people a favor by naming a new attorney general who opposes police state policies like the drug war and police state tactics like civil asset theft.
“Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this,’ and they didn’t, they got worse.” Will Rogers
Traditionally, each June, the Blount County Commission adopts an annual budget and sets the property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year (FY). A fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30th, which is why the commission usually adopts the budget in June. A fiscal year is denoted by the calendar year in which the fiscal year ends. For example FY 2017 ran July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Accordingly FY 2018 runs July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.
The Blount County Commission approved an annual budget in June of 2016 for FY17 that was $181,267,406 (see pages 105-107). In June of this year, the commission adopted a budget for FY18 that is $195,958,364 (see pages 534-536).
Not all of this was an actual increase. According to the county’s Finance Director (FD), Randy Vineyard, governmental accounting standards require some expenditures to be recorded twice. Troy Logan, the fiscal administrator for Blount County School District told me that he couldn’t think of any expenditures that were recorded twice in the school’s budget. Upon my request, FD Vineyard provided this spread sheet outlining the use of fund balance and the monies that are being accounted for twice.
According to the numbers provided by FD Vineyard, $5,381,930 is accounted for twice. Based on these figures, that means that the commission adopted a budget that is $9,309,028 more than what it initially approved for the previous year, when the double accounting amounts are removed. This is a huge increase for local government that will not be sustainable in the future without either growth in tax revenues or more tax increases.
The spreadsheet shows the county using $7,087,000 of fund balances from the various funds. Some of the increase is for nonrecurring capital expenditures. You can read my questions and FD Vineyard’s responses related to the use of fund balances here. Please take the time to read this as it shows that $1.1M of fund balance may be used for corporate welfare for one company.
At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked Mayor Ed Mitchell how much this secret company would receive from local governments (City of Maryville and Blount County) and the state of Tennessee. He only knew what the county’s contribution will be. Thus, local elected officials walk into these types of “deals” without knowing how much public money will actually be spent.
According to FD Vineyard the county’s General Fund grew to about $15M at the end of FY16 and an estimate for the end of FY17 had not been calculated in early June. Property tax and federal inmate revenues may have been sandbagged in FY16. Both came in higher than projected, and you were slammed with a higher property tax rate than necessary. Some local elected officials may feel good about having accumulated such a large General Fund, but it came about as a result of two large tax increases (sales tax and property tax) not from being good stewards with your tax dollars.
$1.85M of fund balance will be used for Information Technology (IT) updates. This is addition to the $4.1M that has already been spent for IT improvements and huge software purchases since 2014. This new budget brings the total to nearly $6M that has or will be spent from 2014 through the end of June in 2018.
One would think that with such large expenditures that the IT Committee would be keeping a close watch on the various IT projects but it is not. From June 2016 through June 2017 the IT Committee only met twice and during one of those meetings it lacked a quorum. The Mayor canceled the other two meetings that were scheduled.
Blount County taxpayers will be forced to pay $96,717 in additional salaries and benefits to four office holders beyond the state mandated minimums. These office holders are already some of the highest paid employees in county government and have been paid nearly double or triple the average salary of a Blount County citizen.
The commission approved a 3 year lease agreement for Chromebooks for the schools. I voted against this because the county will be paying interest when it does not have to. The funds are available to purchase the computers without wasting any money on interest.
$1,272,000 loan to the schools
The commission, through the Agenda Committee, actually rejected a spending request from the schools in February. This month the schools requested this money, for tennis courts renovations, once again along with more money for 3 additional capital projects. The commission was asked to approve capital outlay notes that would be funded by using monies from debt service that will be loaned to the schools. The county should be using the debt service fund to pay down debt rather than loaning it to be paid back at 2% interest. Furthermore, the county has to pay a financial advisor and bond counsel to loan money to itself. The better option would be to increase the amount of property tax going to the schools capital fund rather than a complicated loan transaction with fees and interest.
Medical plan changes
The commission voted to reduce the out of pocket maximum from $4,000 to $3,000 for health care and to charge $5 for the employee only dental plan. The dental plan for the employee only is currently free. The cost of the dental family plan is currently the difference between the price of the premium of the employee only plan and the family plan. The dental family plan was also increases $5 and will become the difference between the employee only premium and the family premium, plus $5. The county will be paying $22.14 a month for employees that are enrolled in either the employee only or family dental plans. These changes will take effect January 1, 2018. The health care plans run the calendar year, rather than the fiscal year.
Commissioner Mike Caylor continued interrupting commissioners by twice declaring a point of order. He appears to be abusing the power to raise a point of order to stifle discussion that challenges the status quo.
The commission will look at hiring an architectural firm to renovate and/or expand the jail.
Edwards’ death was ruled a homicide yet no one is facing criminal charges.
Yesterday on the radio show Real News airing on Talk Radio 92.3 FM in Knoxville, Knox County political operative Kenny Collins said that multiple sources have told him that Tennessee State Senator Doug Overbey will be nominated as the next US Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Overbey would not deny or confirm that he is being considered for the position, saying today that he could not comment on the matter. He did say that he had heard the same rumors, that I have heard.
One would think that if he wasn’t under consideration he would have denied the “same rumors.” You can draw your own conclusion.
Scott Williams, who ran against Overbey for the 2nd district senate seat last year, said today that he is seriously considering running if Overbey vacates the seat. Williams will be in a better position to win this time, as he will have more name recognition and team of supporters willing to help him campaign.
— RealNewsRadio (@RealNewsRadio) June 20, 2017
— RealNewsRadio (@RealNewsRadio) June 20, 2017
According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, the average daily cost to house an inmate in state prison is $76 a day. That is more than twice what the state pays counties to house state felons. The state currently pays counties a daily per diem of $37. It’s no wonder that the state is content with letting their felons be housed in local jails. It makes their costs lower, their books look better and it frees up more money to spend elsewhere.
But don’t worry the state is here to help local governments out by increasing the daily per diem rate for housing state felons in local jails to $39 a day. That’s a whopping $2 daily increase. Never mind that, at $39 a day, the state still averages saving $37 a day.* State lawmakers and officials need to be able brag about being good stewards of taxpayer money by keeping the state budget lower and having a $2 billion surplus of your money.
Some good news: statewide recidivism was down in 2016.
*The cost savings to the state may be less in counties with a contract for state sentenced felons.
From the man who should have been President the last 8 years.
By Ron Paul
It can be a challenge to follow the pronouncements of President Trump, as he often seems to change his position on any number of items from week to week, or from day to day, or even from minute to minute. Consider his speech last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). It was reported as “fiery” and “blistering,” but it was also full of contradictions.
In the speech, President Trump correctly pointed out that the last 15 years of US military action in the Middle East has been an almost incomprehensible waste of money – six trillion dollars, he said – and that after all that US war and meddling the region was actually in worse shape than before we started.
It would have been better for US Presidents to have spent the last 15 years at the beach than to have pursued its Middle East war policy, he added, stating that the US infrastructure could have been rebuilt several times over with the money wasted on such militarism.
All good points from the President.
But then minutes later in the same speech he seemed to forget what he just said about wasting money on militarism. He promised he would be “upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything,” in what would be “one of the greatest military buildups in American history.”
This “greatest” military buildup is in addition to the trillions he plans on spending to make sure the US nuclear arsenal is at the “top of the pack” in the world, as he told the press last Thursday. And that is in addition to the trillion dollar nuclear “modernization” program that is carrying over from the Obama Administration.
Of course when it comes to nuclear weapons, the United States already is at the “top of the pack,” having nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads. How many times do we need to be able to blow up the world?
At CPAC, President Trump is worried about needlessly spending money on military misadventures, but then in the same speech he promised even more military misadventures in the Middle East.
Where is the money going to come from for all this? Is the President going to raise taxes to pay for it? Is he going to make massive cuts in domestic spending?
In the same CPAC speech, President Trump reiterated his vow to “massively lower taxes on the middle class, reduce taxes on American business, and make our tax code more simple and much more fair for everyone.” And that’s all good. So it’s not coming from there.
Will he cut domestic spending? The President has indicated that he also wants a massive infrastructure modernization program launched in the near future. The plan will likely cost far in excess of the trillion dollars the President has suggested.
That leaves only one solution: printing money out of thin air. It has been the favorite trick of his predecessors. While he correctly condemns the $20 trillion national debt passed down from previous Administrations, his policies promise to add to that number in a massive way. Printing money out of thin air destroys the currency, hastening a US economic collapse and placing a very cruel tax on the working and middle classes as well.
Following the President’s constantly changing policies can make you dizzy. That’s a shame because the solution is very simple: end the US military empire overseas, cut taxes and regulations at home, end the welfare magnet for illegal immigration, and end the drug war. And then get out of the way.
The jail evaluations will meet in the commission room on February 23rd at 8:30 AM to interview the 3 architectural firms that were chosen based on scoring of written qualifications. These written qualifications and scores are currently secret due to a change in Tennessee purchasing law last year. The public will still not be able to comment on the firms. Purchasing Agent Katie Branham wrote of the interviews, “They are open to the public for observation only.”