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GOD AND COUNTRY PETITION NEWSLETTER EXPRESS – THE HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL

Good evening my friends,

I know it has been a long time since a newsletter has gone out. For all purposes the “God and Country Petition” is a dead issue and will NOT continue. We gave it a good try but in could not come to fruition. However, a lot of what was in my petition, President Trump is trying to accomplish, such as the repeal of Obamacare, the repeal of the Dodd-Frank Bill, illegal immigration, building our military & defenses and more.

The proposed health care bill has been a major issue and confusing to say the least. I have been following the house version of the bill and now the proposed senate version of the bill, which may come to a vote and passage as early as this week. Personally I hope it does not, I feel it is being rushed and there are problems within the proposed Republican senate version!

Below are two attachments, the first attachment is the proposed Republican Party senate version of the bill, broken out section by section in a summary fashion, in short, this is not the garbled up actual proposed bill! This is a summery that was prepared by a US senators committee on health care for their constituents, it contains 142 pages. As simplified as it was mad in comparison to the actual bill, it is still confusing.

The second attachment is a proposal I created, with the help of many of you reading this newsletter, my version is only 6 pages long!

My feelings partially are as follows on the proposed Republican Party version before the senate to be voted on. I must say, there was not only a lot of reading in what is in the proposed Republican Party version in the first attachment above but dissecting it and understanding it was even more of a challenge for me, it may not be for many of you reading it!

I understood some of what I read but did not understand other parts of it as well. Section 102 I have many problems with, I feel it is discriminatory in many ways. I also feel the formula proposed will come back to haunt us many times over!

I felt this from the beginning as evidenced in my proposal in the second attachment above, the formula for calculating premiums, in my opinion, needed to be a blended actuary table based on the entire population of the American people.

By banding those in the senior age brackets or pre-existing conditions, or segregating other segments of the population is a bad thing. However, income brackets are an entirely different issue in itself. My proposal has subsidies based on income brackets. I feel very strongly that section 102 needs a lot of soul searching by each member of the senate as well as realizing the consequences that will go along with it!

Section 103 – 105, I don’t see any glaring problems. Please don’t take me wrong, this is an improvement over the house version and as far as Obamacare, that is not even on the table for discussion!

Section 106, good in some ways, bad in others. I feel the dollar amounts need to be higher, especially spread amongst 50 states.

The new subsection (I), which would establish a Long-Term State Stability and Innovation Program is good. It appears to make funding available to all 50 states and the District of Columbia from CY2019 through CY2026.

If I am reading this right, a state would be required to submit an application to the CMS Administrator to receive any federal funding to carry-out specified activities in the state, which were outlined in those 3 activities listed. That I felt was good.

Sections 107 through 119, I saw no problems with. Section 120, I am not sure of, too vague for me at this time, I need to research. Section 121 through 124 more in detail. If anyone reading this can help me out on it, I would appreciate it!

Sections 125 and 126 there are a lot of problems with it, in my opinion. I feel our senators need to go back to the drawing board and get their heads together on these issues. Hear again, I feel there are many discriminatory areas in these two sections that will come back to haunt us. These two sections need to be clarified re-worked and put in plain English for all to understand!

Section 133 in my opinion could cause more problems than it is worth. Hear again, we are using actuary tables based on individual states in many areas, rather than the aggregate of all 50 states and the entire US population. Section A however, does use aggregate and Federal averages of medical assistance matching percentages.

I also see threw out this proposal there are many areas that a state can opt out of participating in certain things that could take away benefits from its residents that other states may have. In short, I see a lack of a lot of uniformity with this proposal. In my opinion, it lacks the all for one, one for all approach!

I may be all wrong in my analysis, this is why I included my proposal above for all of you to view. This is a very complex issue facing this nation and the American people. We may not be able to push this through as fast as some would like it to be. It just seems like a lot of work needs to be done with this proposal to make it as palatable as possible for the American people.

I will say this in closing and I am not saying this because I am a senior but the elderly, especially the 50 to 65 year old, will have many pains to face with this proposal, as I read it, which I am the first that will say I am open to be corrected!

As I had said, these are my opinions as I see it, you may see it differently and I am open to be corrected on anything I have stated in this newsletter. I do not like it in its present form! I hope and pray, the Republican Party senators do what is right for all the American people, equally, with this so critical bill before us all!

I ask each of you to please take an interest in reading my e-mail and the senate version of the proposed bill and my proposal, both attachments are above! If any of you feel what I am proposing has merit, will you please send out my newsletter and the attachments to everyone you know as well as posting it on Facebook, U-Tube or any other social media you may belong to, if you do, I will be beholding to you. This repeal and replacement of Obamacare is so critical to all of us, please don’t ignore this!!

God speed to all of you and thank you,

JS
John A. Smaldone
God and Country petition
http://www.usa-godandcountry-petition.com/

 

Attachment 1     Attachment 2

Stop loss policy claim limit

In the montly December Commission Report, I reported on the premiums and the claims of the stop loss policy for the county’s health care plan.  FYI here is the claim limit amount where the stop loss policy kicks in.

From broker Cole Harris:

“It used to be $250,000 until July of 2015 when it was raised to $300,000. I requested for rates higher than $300,000, but the largest the carrier would go was $350,000 due to your size. The rates for $350,000 did not justify the increase in liability.”

38 lbs. watermelon

This is the year of watermelons.  We had about a dozen good watermelons with a couple of them being humongous.  The biggest one weighed 38 pounds.  A neighbor stopped by to tell me that he had been marveling at our watermelon patch, that the 38 lb. watermelon was the biggest he had ever seen and that I should post pictures of it online.  Thus, here it is.  Troy and I (Tona) enjoyed it.

38lbwatermelon3s

 

38lbwatermelon2s

The Right Lessons from Obamacare’s Meltdown

By Ron Paul

The decision of several major insurance companies to cut their losses and withdraw from the Obamacare exchanges, combined with the failure of 70 percent of Obamacare’s health insurance “co-ops, ” will leave one in six Obamacare enrollees with only one health insurance option. If Obamacare continues on its current track, most of America may resemble Pinal County, Arizona, where no one can obtain private health insurance. Those lucky enough to obtain insurance will face ever-increasing premiums and a declining choice of providers.

Many Obamacare supporters claimed that the exchanges created a market for health insurance that would allow consumers to benefit from competition. But allowing consumers to pick from a variety of government-controlled health insurance plans is not a true market; instead it is what the great economist Ludwig von Mises called “playing market.”

Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, too many are drawing the wrong lessons from Obamacare’s difficulties. Instead of calling for a repeal of Obamacare and all other government interference in the health care market, many are calling for increased penalties on those who defy Obamacare’s individual mandate in order to force them onto the exchanges. Others are renewing the push for a “public option,” forcing private companies to compete with taxpayer-funded entities and easing the way for the adoption of a Canadian-style single payer system.

Even those working to restore individual control over health care via tax deductions, credits, and expanded health savings accounts still support government intervention in order to provide a “safety net” for the poor. Of course, everyone — including libertarians — shares the goal of creating a safety net. Libertarians just understand that a moral and effective safety net is one voluntarily provided by individuals, religious organizations, and private charities.

Government has no legitimate authority to take money from taxpayers to fund health care or any other type of welfare program. Government-run health care also does not truly serve the interest of those supposedly “benefiting” from the program. Anyone who doubts this should consider how declining reimbursements and increasing bureaucracy is causing more doctors to refuse to treat Medicaid and Medicare patients.

Medicaid patients will face increasing hardships when, not if, the US government’s fiscal crisis forces Congress to make spending cuts. When the crisis comes, what is more likely to be cut first: spending benefiting large corporations and big banks that can deploy armies of high-powered lobbyists, or spending benefiting low-income Americans who cannot afford K Street representation?

Contrary to myth, low-income individuals did not go without care in the days before the welfare state. Private, charity-run hospitals staffed by volunteers provided a safety net for those who could not afford health care. Most doctors also willingly provided free or reduced-price care for those who needed it. The large amount of charitable giving and volunteer activity in the United States shows that the American people do not need government’s help in providing an effective safety net.

The problems plaguing the health care system are rooted in the treatment of health care as a “right.” This justifies government intervention in the health care marketplace. This intervention causes increasing prices and declining quality and supply. Ironically, those who suffer most from government intervention are the very people proponents of these programs claim to want to help. The first step in restoring a health care system that meets the needs of all people is to start treating health care as a good that can and should only be provided via voluntary actions of free people.

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2016/august/28/the-right-lessons-from-obamacares-meltdown/

September 2015 Commission Report

“You don’t get paid enough to put up with them (referring to several commissioners). Thanks for looking out for the taxpayers.” Comment from a citizen to me (Tona Monroe) after the September 17, 2015 Commission meeting

Agenda Committee
The Agenda Committee meeting was so poorly run that it was chaotic at times.  The rules went out the window.  The last time that I witnessed a meeting run this poorly was during former Chairman Kenneth Melton’s reign of tyranny.  Thankfully Agenda Committee Chairman Steve Samples isn’t as heavy handed as Kenneth Melton was when he served as Chairman of the Commission.

Leadership and committee assignments mostly stay the same
The machine walked in ready to go, nominating the same people to serve in leadership positions.  The committee assignments will stay mostly the same, except where people resigned from their seats.

Human Resources (HR) Committee
County employee Gary Farmer wanted off the HR Committee.  He was replaced with Rick Carver.  All 10 of the members of the HR Committee are either government employees or have worked for a company having a business relationship with the county.  There isn’t a single person serving on the HR Committee who hasn’t worked for a local government or been employed by a company doing business with the county.  There isn’t a single, independent business person who has never had a conflict of interest on the HR Committee.

3 commissioners shut out of committees with authority
Appointments to committees/boards are done by the Mayor and the Commission.  The Mayor hasn’t nominated any women or teachers, currently serving on the commission, to any of the committees that he makes nominations to.  The Commission has done some better but not enough.

Commissioners Dodd Crowe and Karen Miller only serve on the Education Committee, which has little, if any, authority because it can not supersede the decisions made by the School Board.  The Education Committee was expanded in size to relegate commissioners there, so that the machine can say they didn’t shut any commissioners out.  Commissioner Jamie Daly also serves on the Education Committee as well as the Beer Board.  She volunteered for the Beer Board because so few commissioners wanted to do it.  The Beer Board has little discretion because its actions are tightly governed by state law.  These three commissioners aren’t serving on any committee/board positions where they have authority to make significant policy decisions.

Audit Committee
Blount County didn’t wait to be the last county in the state to form an audit committee, just next to last.  According to Chairman Jerome Moon there will only be one county without an Audit Committee.

Don’t look for much to come from the two commissioners appointed to the Audit Committee.  Commissioners Andy Allen and Mike Caylor usually vote against any attempts to obtain more information before making decisions on spending your money.  I can only recall one question, during the past year, from either of these commissioners pertaining to spending over $175 million of your money.

The commission put two foxes in charge of the hen house.  Hopefully the citizens nominated to the Audit Committee will do what these two have failed to do as commissioners, namely look out for the taxpayers.

Commission meeting
Commissioners Tom Cole, Kenneth Melton and Karen Miller were absent.  Commissioner Ron French left early.

Committees voted on altogether
The commission voted on most of the committees in a single vote.  This allows for commissioners to vote for the own appointments and also gives cover for commissioners who vote for someone they might not otherwise vote for because they were all lumped together.  A commissioner can always tell people that they were against a nomination but because the commission chose to vote on the committees/boards altogether, they didn’t want to vote against the other appointments.

Commissioners Caskey and I each requested that a committee be pulled out of the motion and voted on separately.  No one objected to Commissioner Caskey’s request but Commissioner Andy Allen objected to mine.  What commissioner Allen fails to realize is that he doesn’t save any time by doing this because I can and did make a motion to divide the question.  That requires a vote, as does voting on the item separately.  It’s just one of the petty ways that the good ole’ boys (nothing good about what they do) think they can show you that they have the upper hand.

Crony zoning deal complete
The RAC-2 zone was originally proposed so that a public official could rezone his land to build a Dollar General store and provide for possible development in the future.  After some conservationists voiced objections about the proposal, it was amended to ensure that the elected official would get his deal with most of the other roads being removed from potential future rezoning.  Our zoning regulations have become a tool for those who have connections to shut out those who don’t have connections.  The special deals continue and property rights are now government granted privileges.

Health care benefits
The commission approved increases in the rates that employees will pay for their health care benefits but the plan is still projected to lose money during FY16.  Several attempts were made to reduce what the employees will pay and they all failed.  I proposed an amendment that would have added about $35,000 in revenue, which is about half of what the plan is projected to lose this fiscal year, in an attempt to bring the plan closer to solvency but that failed as well.  The current plan does nothing to address future unfunded health care obligations.

Commissioner Tom Stinnett made the comment that the plan is delicate.  That’s nonsense.  For far too long the health care benefits have been treated like the sacred cow of Blount County.  There is nothing delicate or sacred about the county health care plan.  Politicians forget what really is sacred, the rights of the people.

Audit of health care administrator
The commission rushed through approval of an audit for the health care plan administrator without having all the facts to make a good judgment on the matter.  The county is self insured but the claims are processed through our administrator, which is currently Humana but will become Allegiance at the first of the new year.  About $44,000 will be spent to audit Humana, who administers the claims, to see if the county has been overpaying the providers.  300 claims will be audited.  See pages 69-125 for more information.

An audit is usually a good thing but the way the commission handle this is not.  As usual the commission was told that we had to do this now and few commissioners questioned it.  As usual the commission was presented with something that didn’t go through a county initiated competitive bid process and I was the only one who questioned it.

The county health care broker, CBIZ, provided the bid information.  Broker provided recommendations don’t have to go through the county Purchasing Department.  However, this doesn’t neglect the fiduciary responsibility of the commission.

There were 3 proposals in the packet.  One was from the broker.  Yes, one of the three proposals that CBIZ provided was from CBIZ.  It was substantially higher than the other two and was a range of $80,000-100,000 rather than a set amount plus travel expenses.  CBIZ didn’t recommend itself, even though it provided a proposal.

The recommended proposal by HMS is about $44,000 with travel expenses.  That is a lot less than the CBIZ proposal but it also a lot more than the other proposal which is $24,500 plus travel expenses.

Section 7.3 of the HMS proposal says (page 87), “As is apparent, our clients have a large range of employees. For every one of our clients, HMS has always provided a positive Return on Investment—no matter the population size. We would be glad to provide more history upon request.”  I made a request for more history since the examples in the proposal have much larger numbers of employees than the county.  The answer I received from the man who signed the proposal was stunning.  He said, the part about providing more history upon request probably shouldn’t be in the proposal.

I pressed on, asking to be provided with what HMS had specifically want to know what companies close to us in size of employees and/or those covered and using the same administrator (Humana) have reclaimed from audits.  An email sent to me from Steve Noury with HMS a few hours before the meeting said, “we don’t currently aggregate the type of information you requested (results by carrier).  We have the data in our system, and we are actually working on that capability as we speak.”

Since the data exists but hasn’t be aggregated in a useable form, I made a motion to postpone voting on the audit until the information was made available to the commission to see what kinds of comparable results HMS is getting out of its audits.  Only commissioners Archie Archer, Grady Caskey, Jamie Daly and I (Tona Monroe) voted to wait until we had the information to make an informed decision.

There are plenty of companies available to do medical claims audits.  One of proposals was from the broker itself and it was substantially higher than the other two, without giving a specific quote.  The broker could have easily obtained several more quotes without using his own company.

These are not good business practices.  I would not run a company this way, making rushed decisions without full information and without a thorough bid process.  As such, I can’t in good conscience vote to spend taxpayer money this way.  It is possible that the county will reclaim more than it spends on the audit but your commission has failed to do its due diligence in ensuring that they obtained the best and most cost effective company to do the audit.

It appears to me that most commissioners don’t want to put the time in that is required to do a good job.  They simply want to trust the “experts”, without bothering to make sure that the people they trust are actually competent enough to do a good job.  You don’t have to be an “expert” to know that haste makes waste and that someone coming with a proposal from their own company isn’t likely to be the best deal available.

Up next
Refinancing of nearly $80 million in variable rate debt.

USA ranks 20th on The Human Freedom Index

While we enjoy some personal freedom, there is a lot of room for improvement.

http://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index

http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/human-freedom-index-files/human-freedom-index-2015.pdf

A critique of recent economic evaluations of community water fluoridation

http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/full/10.1179/2049396714Y.0000000093

When is the Mayor going to be true to his word to the Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots (SMTPP) and appoint new people to the water board?  He told the SMTPP that he knew water fluoridation is harmful, because Linda King kept him informed on the latest research.

If the Mayor knows that water fluoridation is harmful why does he reappoint the same people and allow the practice to continue?

Not everything on this website is written by me

There are some in the community who think that everything on this website is written by me (Tona Monroe).  That is not the case.  This site was never intended to be a website solely with material written by me.  I own domains with my name and could just as easily write the material there.

There are some in the community who think that I agree with everything written on this website.  That is not the case either.  My intention in creating this website was never to have complete and total agreement with every word posted here.

The litmus test for content on this website was never complete and total agreement with my views and is not the case now.  My goals are to promote freedom and transparency in government.  Those are the reasons why I started this website and why I continue publishing on this website.  Those are also the reasons that I ran for office and what I hope to achieve while in office.

The content here is intended to be thought provoking while promoting freedom and openness in government.  Everything that is posted here should no more be viewed as my opinions than letters to the editors are viewed as being the opinions of the editors at newspapers.

As I’ve said many times before and will continue saying, let freedom ring!

Politics Is Not the Path to Pro-Life Victory

by Ron Paul

During my time in Congress, I regularly introduced legislation forbidding organizations that perform abortions from receiving federal funding. The US Government should not force taxpayers to subsidize an activity they believe is murder. Thus, while I was horrified by the recently released videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing selling the organs of aborted babies, I am glad that the reaction to these videos has renewed efforts to end federal funding of abortion.

My experience in Congress does not leave me optimistic that federal funding of Planned Parenthood will be ended this year, however. This is not just because the current US president is pro-abortion. When I started my efforts to end taxpayer support of abortion, I was shocked to find out how many Republicans, including some self-described “pro-life” leaders, were unsupportive of, and sometimes hostile to, my efforts.

Most pro-life politicians preferred to add language to funding bills prohibiting federal funds from being used for abortions, rather than denying federal funds to abortion providers. This approach does not stop US taxpayers from subsidizing abortions. The reason is that money is fungible. Giving Planned Parenthood $100 to use for non-abortion activities allows it to spend an additional $100 of its non-government funds on abortion.

Foreign interventionists in both parties were particularly hostile to my efforts to eliminate federal funding for international organizations that performed or promoted abortions. This is a foolish policy that gives people around the globe another reason to resent the US government.

Planned Parenthood may have abandoned the explicitly racist and eugenic views of its founder Margaret Sanger, but the majority of its abortion “services” are still provided to lower-income and minority women. Every day nearly 2,000 African-American babies lose their lives to abortion, a rate five times higher than the Caucasian abortion rates.

I support the black lives matter movement. I have long advocated an end to the drug war, police militarization, and other threats to liberty that disproportionately victimize African-Americans. However, I wish some of the black lives matter movement’s passion and energy was directed to ending abortion. Unborn black lives also matter.

The federal government has no constitutional authority to permit, fund, or even outlaw abortion. Therefore, efforts to make abortion a federal crime are just as unconstitutional as efforts to prohibit states from outlawing abortion. A Congress that truly cared about the Constitution would end all federal funding for abortion and pass legislation restricting federal jurisdiction over abortion, thus returning the issue to the states.

While passing legislation may help limit abortion, the pro-life movement will never succeed unless it changes people’s attitudes toward the unborn. This is why crisis pregnancy centers, which provide care and compassion to women facing unplanned pregnancies, have done more to advance the pro-life cause then any politician. By showing women they have viable alternatives to abortion, these centers have saved many lives.

One factor hindering the anti-abortion movement’s ability to change people’s minds is that too many abortion opponents also support a militaristic foreign policy. These pro-lifers undercut their moral credibility as advocates for unborn American lives when they display a callous indifference to the lives of Iraqi, Iranian, and Afghan children.

Libertarians who support abortion should ask themselves how they can expect a government that does not respect the unborn’s right to life to respect their property rights. Therefore, all those who wish to create a society of liberty, peace, and prosperity should join me in advocating for a consistent ethic of life and liberty that respects the rights of all persons, born and unborn.

Read online: http://bit.ly/1OXZavR

You know someone doesn’t get it when…

they say the community needs to do more after a 22% increase in the local option sales tax and a 16% increase in the property tax.  How much more do the people of this community need to do?

Apparently Tom Stinnett isn’t looking at the economic health of the community.

Under the proposed plan, county employees can still keep the $25 monthly plan.  In fact, the employees can continue paying the same premiums for all of the plans as they currently pay now.  Deductibles will be raised but the employees will still have the low costs options available.  A $25 health care plan is still a bargain, even with an increased deductible.

June 2015 Commission Report

“And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”  2 Peter 2:3

This month I did a lot of writing on issues prior to the monthly commission meeting.  If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read those articles prior to reading this report.  Alternatively, you can read those articles that are linked throughout this report.

Agenda Meeting
The Commission rejected my request to move the Commission meeting to a bigger venue.  A move to one of the school auditoriums would have given all people the opportunity to sit and watch the commission meeting.  Instead people who arrived early were locked out of the commission room.

As a result, people in the commission room were cold and those left standing outside the meeting room were burning up.  The request came after the Chairman, Jerome Moon, ordered standing citizens out of the room last month while allowing uniformed officers to line the wall.

Commission Meeting

The fix is in – Commission raises property tax rate before voting on budget

State law requires the commission to pass an appropriations resolution (annual budget) and a property tax rate resolution.  In the interest of protecting the taxpayers, I tried to have the budget placed ahead of the tax rate for purposes of discussion.  Putting the tax rate ahead of the budget means that the fix is in as there is no incentive to cut the budget after the property tax rate has been set.

In a poor economic environment, where the commission wants to hold the line on taxes but is handed a bloated budget from the Budget Committee recommending a tax increase, the commission could set the rate ahead of the budget and then work on the budget until it is balanced without a tax increase.  That isn’t what happened though and there are still problems with setting the tax rate first.

The tax rate isn’t just one number.  In past years the tax rate has fixed the levy for three funds, General County, General Purpose Schools and Debt Service.  This year, after a court opinion in McMinn County, a new fund for Capital Education Projects was added.  Thus, the Commission isn’t voting on just one number in the tax rate but four.  How would the commission know how much to fix for each fund without discussing the budget?  Debt service is straight forward but the rest require discussion.  It doesn’t make sense to set the rate before knowing how much you are going to spend in each fund.  Do you know any business that sets the price of the products or services before they have any idea what their expenses are?

Voting for the tax rate first and then discussing the budget allows commissioners to play political games with their constituents because some commissioners will vote no on the tax rate or abstain knowing that the increase will pass but then will vote yes on the budget which caused the increase.  Voting for the budget which caused the increase has the same effect as the vote on the tax rate increase.  It spends the same amount of your money and these commissioners are just as responsible as those who didn’t play games with their yes vote on the tax increase.

My motion to discuss the budget before the tax rate failed 3-18 with only Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself (Monroe) voting to discuss the budget before fixing the tax rate.  The fix was in with a tax increase approved before the commission discussed the budget.

A citizen contacted me several days before the vote and told me what the tax rate would be.  Another contacted me telling me that the tax rate had already been determined but I would not be included.

It came as no surprise when commissioners Rick Carver and Gary Farmer offered amendments that set the tax rate at what I had been told without explaining why that was the rate needed.  Somehow those of us who weren’t included were just suppose to magically know where the reductions in increases (some call these cuts) would be made when the tax rate was voted on before the appropriations resolution, without any discussion as to why the tax rate of $2.47 was the one to go with.

Consensus and stifling of debate
There seemed to be a consensus amongst the majority of commissioners.  How they would know where Rick Carver was going to amend the budget and why he felt no need to explain it to the commission or to the public why those were the changes to make is beyond me.  Debate was stifled through parliamentary procedure and the only explanation given to the citizens as to why Carver’s cuts were the only ones that should be made was the comment from the Finance Director.

Commissioner Andy Allen moved to cut off debate on all amendments and the main motion moving adoption of the budget.  Only four commissioners voted not to cut off debate on over $175 million of your money.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Tom Cole, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted to continue debate.  The rest voted to stifle debate.

Six commissioners voted no on the tax rate and the budget
A game that some commissioners play with their constituents is voting no or abstaining on the tax rate but voting yes on the budget that requires a tax increase to pay for it.  Only six commissioners voted no on both.  The contradictory votes of the one who abstained and other who voted no on the tax rate but yes on the budget should be viewed for the game and hypocrisy that it is.

The six commissioner who voted no are Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.

Conflicts of interest
Several commissioners read conflict of interest statements prior to voting on the budget.  Sadly there are more who should have read statements but didn’t.  Since debate on the budget was stifled through parliamentary procedure, the commission spent more time reading conflict of interest statements than it did voting on the main motion adopting the annual budget.

Obtaining information
The public should know how difficult it can be at times to obtain information to make informed decisions.  Some are quick to provide information while others are not.

During the budget process I met with the Finance Director Randy Vineyard.  While I have been critical of his withholding information and not giving me a straight answer in the past, he actually was quite accommodating during the budget process.  He hired a new lady, Angelie Shankle, who took my questions and got answers to me promptly.  There is another lady in Accounting named Susan Gennoe who quickly works to get answers.  Both of these ladies have pleasant demeanors and based on my experiences with them appear to be doing their jobs well.

Troy Logan, Finance Director for the Schools, has always given me straight answers.  I met with him and he provided me with everything that I asked for.

Last year when I asked for information about the jail John Adams and Jeff French were quick to provide me with information.  The budget process with the Sheriff’s Office was not a pleasant experience.  Marian O’Briant, the PR person for the Sheriff’s Office attacked me multiple times, was slow to respond and told me that she was getting paid overtime to write me a short email that didn’t answer my questions.  The Sheriff’s Office doesn’t need a PR person.  Upper management is paid well and could answer media questions.

I never received the complete breakdown of the compensation from the Evergreen study that I asked for.  The study was incomplete, inadequate and it was a hasty decision for the commission to act on the study.  It was my intention to propose an alternative pay option for deputies in the Sheriff’s Office instead of using an unfinished study to base pay raises on.  15 minutes prior to the start of the Commission meeting, I was given a tiny portion of the information that I had asked for.  It was not broken down into the categories necessary to propose the alternative pay option making it impossible for me to propose an alternate solution.

Employees to be paid above average wages based on unfinished study

The pay recommendations of the Evergreen study are not based on merit.  Furthermore, county employees will be paid above average wages.

The story told me about the need for the study is that county officials got together and decided that they wanted to pay “competitive” wages.  An economist friend of mine pointed out that many positions in government aren’t competitive because they don’t compete in a free market, with the only competition being between surrounding governments.  He said that the more accurate description is that that the study would look at paying similar or better wages.

The officials looked at paying better wages that are above average.  Officials didn’t look to bring wages to average based on the 50th percentile.  The study was based on a pay scale of the 60th percentile of pay.  That would be reasonable if Blount County had a robust economy but it doesn’t.

The ET Index shows that Blount County is the only county in the eight county region where pay has actually dropped .5% after inflation.  Blount County is tied for the biggest drop in median household income at 15%, and is about $7,000 less than it was in 2000.  This type of economic environment is not conducive to a big tax increase.  The people of Blount County are living on substantially less and will now be forced to live on even less thanks to the big property tax increase.  Office holders should have looked harder to control spending and make pay more equitable.  Pay raises based on the 50th percentile or my alternative proposal that I wasn’t able to make because of the lack of information provided would have been more reasonable.  Government often lacks reason in the way it approaches problems.

The Evergreen study still has the word draft stamped on it but the FY 16 budget was built around the draft which only contained 3 of the 5 chapters that will be available in the final report.  No one would run a business this way if they wanted to stay in business and it is embarrassing to see the county run this way.

Fear mongering and Sheriff’s political playbook
Several people wrote me about their displeasure with the head of the library using their email addresses to solicit support for the tax increase.  The fear mongering worked on some because I got a few emails telling me to support raising taxes because of the library.  Overall, people saw through it and weren’t happy about the situation.

Every couple of years the Sheriff drags out his playbook and we go through the same predictable procedure of hearing about the lowest paid deputies.  This tugs on heart strings causing some to be willing to support a tax increase without knowing how much of a pay gap exists within government departments and offices.  The state sets minimum salaries for office holders, which are much higher than they should be but the county is compelled by law to pay those salaries.

This commission can raise the salaries above the state minimum for some office holders and it did that in FY15.  The Sheriff makes about the cost of an entire deputy salary above the state minimum.  He has no credibility talking about how much he cares about the deputies.  Actions speak louder than words.  He could have given this money to his employees but chose not to.  The same is true for Tom Hatcher, Bill Dunlap and Ed Mitchell.

My motion to the cut the salaries of these elected officials failed 4-16-1.  Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I voted to cut their salaries.  Shawn Carter abstained.  The rest voted no.

Probation Services is projected to lose money in the new budget year
The political machine has bragged for several years that Probation Services makes money for the county.  It’s not a lot of money but Probation has usually been revenue positive, leaving more in the general fund than was spent administer the service.  However, that seems to coming to an end.  The approved budget for FY 16 projects that Probation Services will actually lose about $2,200.

Notice the budgeted increase in pay for the Administrator position.  More on that later.

Fund/Cost Center Title FY 14 FY 15 FY 16
105 Administrator $57,250 $65,000 $65,462
53910 Probation Services $504,783 $606,563 $624,482
43393 Fees Probation $607,026 $657,245 $622,250

Schools get a big increase in local revenue
Blount County Schools will see a huge increase in local revenue.  The sales tax increase last year will result in $2 million in increased revenue.  The creation of a Capital Educations Projects fund will result in about a $1.27 million increase funded by a 4 cent property tax increase.  State funding for the schools will be about the same as it was last year because the school population is up only slightly.

The sales tax increase was promoted to the public to be used to fund the purchase of textbooks, technology and infrastructure improvements.  The schools will getting about $1.27 million earmarked for infrastructure improvements.  A recent article in the paper shows that the majority of the $2 million from the sales tax increase will go to increased compensation rather than textbooks and technology.  Thus, we may hear the same old stories next year about there being no money for textbooks and computers.

I recently learned about a book keeper who has been with the schools for over 40 years.  She makes less than the part time PR person employed by the schools.  It was upsetting to read in the paper that the increase will be used to make a part time PR position full time.  This is definitely not a priority item over textbooks and computers.  I’ve asked for a breakdown of the school budget to see exactly how much is going to be spent on technology and textbooks and waiting for that response.

Several teachers voted no on giving the schools a million dollars.  A motion was made to cut $1 million from the economic development budget leaving it with about $62,000 since there is little accountability to the taxpayers.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted yes.  Commissioners Cole and Farmer abstained.  The rest voted yes.  Commissioners Grady Caskey, Dodd Crowe and Tom Stinnett, all teachers, voted no on giving the schools the money and allowing the unaccountability of this taxpayer money to continue.

The Blount Partnership is a private entity and Bryan Daniels denied my request for their budget.  However, it consists of many of the same people involved with the Industrial Development Board (IDB) and the Chamber of Commerce.  Apparently the IDB can go out and make promises to private business and hand the taxpayers the bill.  The commission doesn’t vote on these deals/promises made to private business and we are often not even informed what type of deals/promises are made.  It is absolutely wrong to allow a board to go out and promise taxpayer money to private businesses and then levy a tax on your home to pay for it.  Furthermore, some of these same people are involved with the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority which is another unaccountable use of taxpayer money.

Budget
There is much more to say about the budget but I will stop here because this report is approaching a treatise.

Grant policy routinely violated
Office holders and department heads have repeatedly shown that the authority of the commission means nothing to them.  The commission is expected to rubber stamp grants and not ask questions.  The Chairman, Jerome Moon, tried to stop me from asking questions at the Commission meeting because I had asked questions at the Agenda meeting.  After the Agenda meeting, I did some homework and came prepared with questions to ask at the Commission meeting.  Apparently the Chairman doesn’t think you should actually do your job as a County Commissioner by researching matters and coming prepared with questions. What’s the point of having a meeting if you aren’t going to do your homework and come prepared to discuss the items on the agenda?

The deadline to apply for nearly every grant that the commission is asked to vote on has already passed before being brought to the commission.  Explanations are never given unless I ask why.  The Budget Committee never asks why the grants aren’t presented in a timely manner.  When I asked Jeff French why the deadline for the grant request from the Sheriff’s Office had already passed, he told me he didn’t know.  His name is listed as the reporting person.  See page 48.

The grant from the Facilities Coordinator, under the Mayor, didn’t even have a grant worksheet with the request in the Budget Committee and Agenda Committee meetings.  It only appeared in the Commission meeting packet after I pointed this out at the Agenda meeting.

While I was begrudgingly allowed to ask some questions about the energy efficiency grant for court house building improvements, I wasn’t able to ask everything.  When my questioning revealed that the county had already received the grant, without any commission oversight, knowledge or inclusion on the matter, the Chairman asked Commissioner Farmer to amend his motion to ratify the grant rather than to approve the worksheet to apply for the grant.  I had my light on to be recognized to speak to ask further questions but the Chairman turned it off.  I then asked if we were only voting on the amendment.  Chairman Moon shook his head yes in answer to my question.  After voting on the amendment, the Chairman proceeded on to the next Agenda item when we hadn’t even voted on the main motion, just the amendment.

I still had questions about how the county would benefit from energy efficiency in replacing the windows when the grant application said it would take over 179 years for the energy cost savings to be more than the cost of the windows.  See page 62 for the payback period.

RAC2 district created
The Commission voted to create what will eventually be a special new zone.  The wording is tricky saying that it isn’t creating a zone but it allows for it in the future and the effect is to allow special development privileges for a handful of properties.

“This section does not amend the Zoning Map, nor zone nor rezone any land to RAC2, but only identifies limits to location for any land that may in the future be zoned RAC2.”

This request morphed into nothing more than a crony deal for an office holder to develop his land when the rest of us can’t.  The matter has been the subject of discussion since 2013 in the Planning Commission.  It would have been quicker and simpler to have just sent the commission the crony deal to start with since the good ole’ boys get what they wanted.

Why do we have zoning regulations when anyone who is politically connected can get them amended to do what they want?  Zoning has become a tool of the politically connected to develop their land while squashing competition.  Unfortunately, some “conservationists” go along with this as those it’s a good thing for our community to create laws and regulations with special favors for the politically connected few while discriminating against everyone else.

Only Commissioners Akard, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted against this crony deal.  The rest took care of a political office holder while discriminating against you.

Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Corrections Partnership heard from Bob Bass of the Tennessee Corrections Institute.  He previously asked to speak to the Partnership about what he does in other counties, leading me to believe that he was going to offer solutions to reduce jail overcrowding.  He offered none.  His presentation was on the role of the jail and did not address how to reduce the overcrowding problem.

The only person to ask any questions was me.  I asked him what the TCI’s position was on keeping federal inmates when the jail is overcrowded.  He said the TCI doesn’t have a position.

After the meeting, it became apparent to me after further discussion with the people from the TCI that they want the county to build a new jail pod.  The inspector told me that work programs don’t work and the ILPP report didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know.  Actually the jail the report told me several disturbing things about our criminal justice system that I didn’t know.  It was the TCI presentation that didn’t tell me anything that I don’t already know.

A member of the community shared with me that the Sheriff didn’t get what he wanted in the jail study so he is trying to get what he wants out of the state, which is a position that the jail should be expanded.  Unfortunately I am afraid that this person is right.

There are people who need to be in jail.  However, I have heard from people in a variety of situations who should not be in jail.  There are numerous factors to the jail overcrowding.  The jail study addresses several of those factors.

One factor that would quickly reduce the number of inmates is to stop taking federal prisoners.  The ILPP study that the Mayor and Sheriff don’t want to talk about in public says that we lose money on federal prisoners.  The Mayor went so far as to threaten filing a frivolous lawsuit.  Where is that lawsuit Mayor?

There is genuine fear in the community about speaking out about the Sheriff, the judges and the condition of the jail.  People share their stories with me but won’t go public for fear of retaliation against them or their loved ones.  It makes my job of advocating for meaningful reform more difficult because people won’t share their stories with the public.  Couple the fear with a Sheriff who wants to expand political power with a bigger jail, and Mayor who has bowed to the Sheriff and some judges who can’t handle criticism and you have a mess.

The jail overcrowding is a multilayered problem.  One big layer of the problem that can be peeled off is the optional practice of keeping federal inmates.  For those of you who aren’t afraid of the Sheriff, tell him that you don’t want the county to keep federal inmates any longer.  His email address is jlb@bcso.com and his phone number is 273-5000.

Role of government
One thing that emerged during budget discussions with the people of my district is what the role of government should be.  I had several people telling me that they are tired of paying taxes for services that they don’t use.  People are tired of paying for the schools, library and parks when they don’t use them.  Others told me that they are tired of having to pay fees to use these three, when they are already paying taxes on them.  Theselegitament points are frequently buried and not fully vetted in debate about taxes.

People complained to me about the schools always saying that they never get enough money.  Others expressed to me that they aren’t happy with upper management making big salaries.  Others homeschooling or sending their kids to private school feel that they shouldn’t pay taxes for public education when they pay for their kids education.

People complained to me about having to pay for the library when they don’t use it.  Others told me that they love the library and would pay more taxes for it.  Others said that they find the fees that the library charges to use meeting rooms ridiculous when they pay taxes for the library.

People complained to me that they are tried of paying taxes for Parks and Rec when they charges big fees for summer time activities.

These are all legitimate points worthy of discussion, not suppression and emotional, libelous branding of the people who make them.  Should people pay taxes for services that they don’t use?  Some County Offices are fee offices like the County Clerk’s Office and the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.  They are funded by fees rather than taxes.  Should services like the library and Parks and Rec be funded by fees from the people who use them, rather than taxing the homes of people who don’t use them?  Some people certainly think so.

Media coverage
People regularly send me emails asking why the media doesn’t cover more local government issues.  They also complain to me about media bias favoring the good ole’ boys.

One person commented about the paper in Knox County offering a more balanced approach to the coverage of deputy pay while the local paper ran several puff pieces in support of the Sheriff’s Office.  Others have complained to me about the editorials always supporting Senators Doug Overbey, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

The best place to address these concerns are with local media sources although I did publish some of what was sent to me here.

Up next
County Revenue Commissioners.  This is an old statute still on the books that I found that could bring some transparency and accountability to a local government that lacks an Audit Committee.  Newly elected Commissioners in multiple counties are trying to revive the positions since Audit Committees are optional unless the Comptroller requires one and even then an Audit Committee may do nothing.  The Comptroller is talking about having it repealed since they enjoy being in charge.  Tell your state elected officials that a fully functioning Audit Committee should be required or the County Revenue Commissioners law should stay.

Question for the people of Blount County
Each month I spend a great deal of time writing lengthy detailed commission reports.  One of my campaign promises included writing commission reports and I will continue to keep that promise.  Do you want the reports to continue to be as detailed as they are now?  Or would shorter reports suffice?