Archives

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?

Obamacare’s Best Allies: The Courts and the Republicans

By ruling for the government in the case of King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court once again tied itself into rhetorical and logical knots to defend Obamacare. In King, the court disregarded Obamacare’s clear language regarding eligibility for federal health care subsides, on the grounds that enforcing the statute as written would cause havoc in the marketplace. The court found that Congress could not have intended this result and that the court needed to uphold Congress’s mythical intention and ignore Obamacare’s actual language.

While Obamacare may be safe from court challenges, its future is far from assured. As Obamacare forces more Americans to pay higher insurance premiums while causing others to lose their insurance or lose access to the physicians of their choice, opposition to Obamacare will grow. Additional Americans will turn against Obamacare as their employers reduce their hours, along with their paychecks, because of Obamacare’s mandates.

As dissatisfaction with Obamacare grows, there will be renewed efforts to pass a single-payer health care system. Single-payer advocates will point to Obamacare’s corporatist features as being responsible for its failures and claim the only solution is to get the private sector completely out of health care.

Unfortunately, many Republicans will inadvertently aid the single-payer advocates by failing to acknowledge that Obamacare is not socialist but corporatist, and that that the pre-Obamacare health care system was hobbled by government intervention. In fact, popular support for Obamacare was rooted in the desire to address problems created by prior government interference in the health care marketplace.

Republicans also help the cause of socialized medicine by pretending that Obamacare can be fixed with minor reforms. These Republicans do not understand that replacing Obamacare with “Obamacare Lite” will still leave millions of Americans with inadequate access to quality health care, and could strengthen the movement for a single-payer system.

Republicans’ failure to advocate for a free-market health care system is not just rooted in intellectual error and political cowardice. The insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the other special interests that benefit from a large government role in health care are just as — or perhaps even more — influential in the Republican Party as in the Democratic Party. The influence of these interests is one reason why, despite their free-market rhetoric, Republicans have a long history of expanding the government’s role in health care.

Those who think a Republican president and Congress will enact free-market health care should consider that the last time Republicans controlled Congress and the White House their signature health care achievement was to expand federal health care spending and entitlements. Furthermore, Richard Nixon worked with Ted Kennedy to force all health care plans to offer a health maintenance organization (HMO). Even Obamacare’s individual mandate originated in a conservative think tank and was first signed into law by a Republican governor.

Instead of Obamacare Lite, Congress should support giving individuals direct control over their health care dollars through individual health care tax credits and expanded access to health savings accounts. Other reforms like long-term group insurance could ensure that those with “pre-existing conditions” have access to care. Another good reform is negative outcomes insurance that could help resolve the medical malpractice crisis.

America’s health care system is just as unsustainable as our foreign policy and our monetary system. At some point, the financial and human costs of Obamacare will prove overwhelming and Congress will be forced to replace this system. Hopefully, before this happens, a critical mass of people will convince Congress to replace Obamacare with a truly free-market health care system.

Read online: http://bit.ly/1HoYzls

I bailed out of insurance to better serve my patients, slash costs

David Tulis of Nooganomics.com provides an article by Dr. Homero Rivas II, a TN physician who has “opted-out” of the health-insurance-by-government-force Obamacare system:

“American medicine is being squeezed into an ever-tighter corner in its voluntary self-incarceration in the modern welfare-warfare state. Doctors are concocting a jail break. One way they are crowbarring their way back to professional liberty is to refuse to take third-party reimbursements either from insurance companies or government cartels such as Medicare or Medicaid.”

Dr. Rivas provides an easy-to-understand picture of the difficulties your health care provider (not insurer) faces and how your services are now being controlled by a for-profit third party whose business is now mandated by the federal government.

This same scenario exists for the public school system under Gates/Pearson/Commie Core. The solution for the local school to regain their liberty is also the same.

How Much Does Health Insurance Cost? The Average Premium for Individual Coverage in 2011 was $183 per month, eHealth Study Finds

These are 2011 numbers.  Also the deductibles are much higher than the county plan deductibles.

http://news.ehealthinsurance.com/news/how-much-does-health-insurance-218305

HR Director’s response to Chamber health benefits questions

Human Resources Director Morgan’s responses are in red.

Dear H.R. Director Morgan,

There are names of people on these health care benefits lists who may not have been eligible to receive County health care benefits. The 2008 list includes 16 people (cells 252-267) listed as being employed by the Blount County Chamber. The 2007 list includes 14 people (cells 1798-1811) listed who are most of the same people in the 2008 file.

Based on the research that Rhonda Pitts and I have done, we have been unable to verify that the Commission approved giving health care benefits to the Chamber employees. Director of Budgets and Finance, Randy Vineyard, stated that he didn’t know if the Commission had ever approved paying for Chamber employees’ health care benefits. There has been no response to my email sent to Bryan Daniels, the President/CEO of Blount Partnership, on this matter. Additionally I have spoken with three former commissioners, one who served on the HR Committee. Neither recalled the Commission ever approving health care benefits for Chamber employees.

Given the serious problem with the current benefits plan being unsustainable, it is incumbent upon Blount County government to ensure that no one who was/is ineligible received or continues to receive health care benefits that they are not entitled to receive. Thus, I am asking that you fully research this matter to determine if there were ineligible people receiving health care benefits and whether they continue to receive health care benefits, what the costs to the taxpayers was/is and report your findings to me.

Along with your findings, please answer the following questions.

1. Did the County Commission ever authorize giving health care benefits to employees of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce? If so, when? Any questions regarding commission actions can be addressed by the commission office as they are the official custodian of commission actions and minutes.

2. If the Commission did not authorize Chamber employees to receive health care benefits, who did and when? I was not here at the time and do not have an answer to this question.

3. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, are they still receiving benefits? No

4. If not, when did Chamber employees stop receiving health care benefits? 12/31/2009

5. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, how many participated in the County health care plans? 14 Chamber employees in 2007; 16 Chamber employees in 2008; 17 Chamber employees in 2009

6. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, how many years did Chamber employees participate in the County health care plans and what were those years? 3 years – 2007, 2008, 2009

7. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, who received these benefits? Deborah Buckner, Bryan Daniels, Kathleen Delozier, Brenda Farner, Tammi Ford, Fred Forster, Herb Handly, Frank Hanson, Jean Hilten, Mary Hunt, Julia Kyle, Linda Lambert, Amy Lawson, Bonny Millard, Deborah Nye, Anna Watson, Mary Webb, Loretta White

8. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, what was the total cost each year? We do not have these records in our office. The carrier we had at the time is no longer in existence. This is a very labor intensive request and will take additional time to research to see if this information is available.

9. If the Chamber employees never received health care benefits, why are their names included in these lists of people enrolled in County health care benefits plans? Chamber employees received health care benefits in 2007, 2008 & 2009.

Sincerely,

Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner
District 7 Seat B

LTE of the year: The Blount County Gravy Train

Normally letters to the editor are published on The Daily Times’ website but the gravy train letter wasn’t.  The Daily Times said that they changed to a new system last week and that is likely why the letters aren’t online.

This letter, written by Tom Robinson, should be letter to the editor of the year and would be a good candidate for letter to the editor of the decade.

Another letter to the editor worth reading, by Troy Ball, is about Blount County government secrecy.

GravyTrain

Update: The Gravy Train letter is now online.

Did/Do Chamber employees receive county provided health care benefits?

Dear H.R. Director Morgan,

There are names of people on these health care benefits lists who may not have been eligible to receive County health care benefits. The 2008 list includes 16 people (cells 252-267) listed as being employed by the Blount County Chamber. The 2007 list includes 14 people (cells 1798-1811) listed who are most of the same people in the 2008 file.

Based on the research that Rhonda Pitts and I have done, we have been unable to verify that the Commission approved giving health care benefits to the Chamber employees.  Director of Budgets and Finance, Randy Vineyard, stated that he didn’t know if the Commission had ever approved paying for Chamber employees’ health care benefits.  There has been no response to my email sent to Bryan Daniels, the President/CEO of Blount Partnership, on this matter.  Additionally I have spoken with three former commissioners, one who served on the HR Committee.  Neither recalled the Commission ever approving health care benefits for Chamber employees.

Given the serious problem with the current benefits plan being unsustainable, it is incumbent upon Blount County government to ensure that no one who was/is ineligible received or continues to receive health care benefits that they are not entitled to receive. Thus, I am asking that you fully research this matter to determine if there were ineligible people receiving health care benefits and whether they continue to receive health care benefits, what the costs to the taxpayers was/is and report your findings to me.

Along with your findings, please answer the following questions.

  1. Did the County Commission ever authorize giving health care benefits to employees of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce? If so, when?
  2. If the Commission did not authorize Chamber employees to receive health care benefits, who did and when?
  3. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, are they still receiving benefits?
  4. If not, when did Chamber employees stop receiving health care benefits?
  5. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, how many participated in the County health care plans?
  6. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, how many years did Chamber employees participate in the County health care plans and what were those years?
  7. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, who received these benefits?
  8. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, what was the total cost each year?
  9. If the Chamber employees never received health care benefits, why are their names included in these lists of people enrolled in County health care benefits plans?

Sincerely,

Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner
District 7 Seat B

 

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jenny Morgan” <jmorgan@blounttn.org>
Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2015 4:42pm
To: tona@breezeair.net Cc: open.records@cot.tn.gov, “Ed Mitchell” <emitchell@blounttn.org>, “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org> Subject: Requested Information

Commissioner Monroe,

Attached are 2 files containing the requested information regarding the list of people on our benefits in 2007 & 2008.  I apologize for the delay in getting this information to you.  Once we located the information, we needed to convert the data to an excel file so some information could be redacted.  This took quite a bit of time for our IT Director to complete as he had to use several different programs to complete the task.

Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can be of further assistance to you.

Thank you,

Jenny Morgan
Human Resources Director
Blount County Government

Republicans Will Never Cut Spending

From Reason.com:

” …the GOP-led Congress is now funding Obamacare just as much as the divided Congress did before, and now debt-ceiling deadlines are occasions not for the meaningful possibility of restraining Leviathan, but for quick rubber stamps. It will be fascinating to see what kind of federal budget the party plops on President Barack Obama’s desk.”

More here

HasbamaCare – It’s Uncontrifuted!

photo credit: midsouthsentinel.com

photo credit: midsouthsentinel.com

by: Eric Holcombe

Video is linked below to the lecture Doug Overbey gave to the Senate Health & Welfare Committee as he played the Establishment “administration” role of selling Insure TN as anything-but-ObamaCare.

Doug Overbey insults the Health & Welfare Committee – and then goes down in flames. Of course, this is the final vote after a good amount of behind the scenes vote counting in the House so it was all over but the crying. Give Doug a listen as he:
1) Questions the Senators’ motivation for serving in their office – that somehow listening to their constituents is not representing them or making their communities better. He sets this up with the straw man that he knows that is why the majority of them would say they initially sought public office.
2) States that the current system is “broken” and the Senators are “doing nothing” by not voting for HasbamaCare. By the way, “NO” is the default vote. Our representatives should only ever vote “YES” if they are sure the legislation is: constitutional, actually desired by their constituents (not just the ones that own the liquor stores in Pigeon Forge), there is a sound funding mechanism, etc.
3) Whines that he has served on Health & Welfare committees for 14 years in the House and Senate (but of course is somehow not responsible for the current “broken” system and “doing nothing” for 14 years as he calls it) but now is having to present the Establishment’s bill to make the sale.
4) Reminds them that Gov. Haslam has his finger on the pulse of Tennesseans and points to his re-election as evidence of same. Live by the vote-for-me-instead-of-Obama sword, die by the vote-for-me-instead-of-Obama sword.
5) Tells the Senators they are supposed to ignore you and instead vote on whether HasbamaCare is good “policy” (after he just said Gov. Haslam is so “in touch” with all the constituents).
6) Creates new word: “uncontrifuted”.
Senator Overbey has consistently demonstrated that he believes the legislators are above the people rather than public servants. I remind you of his “we have the legislative authority” statement lobbying for the continued unconstitutional (and therefore illegal) selection of judges back when the Republicans wouldn’t simply “do nothing” and let the illegal Tennessee Plan sunset when they first won majority. This attitude of we-know-better-than-the-peasants, so let’s force “policy” isn’t representing the constituents. It’s tyranny – and that’s “uncontrifuted”….

 

Seven Reasons to Vote for the Libertarian Party

From Reason:

1. The Libertarian Party supports all of your freedoms, all of the time
2. The Libertarian Party is consistent and principled
3. Voting for old party politicians tells them that you want to keep government big
4. Voting Libertarian is the only clear message you can send
5. Voting Libertarian forces the old parties to take the libertarian positions
6. Because the old parties don’t want you to
7. Voting Libertarian helps your favorite “libertarian-leaning old party politician


For great explanations to each of these reasons, click the link above or here.

 

Why Partyism Is Wrong

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/opinion/david-brooks-why-partyism-is-wrong.html?_r=0

I don’t agree with every statement in this op-ed, but it raises a good point.  There’s too much emphasis on party politics.  This may be a consequence of big government.  A couple of years ago I read an article about political views being more important in the success of a marriage than religion.  Society needs to take a hard look at classifying people based on party labels, because not everyone fits in the right-left paradigm.

Commission approves a contract without knowing cost

Last night the Commission approved a contract with Blount Memorial Hospital to provide health care to employees without knowing how much it would cost.  No amount was stated in the resolution.  That didn’t matter though, because it passed 15-2 with only Commissioners Burchfield and Folts voting against it.  Commissioners Lambert, Lewis, Melton and Murrell were absent.

Commissioner Wright brought to light that the copier contract isn’t a flat cost like the Commission has always been lead to believe.  There is a 5 cent per click cost for color copies.  Wright works in the industry and said he could negotiate a better rate.  The Commission chose not to pursue a better rate since some were afraid that Departments would be without copiers for a brief time if the final contract wasn’t approved prior to the old one expiring on June 30th.  Theresa Johnson sounded more like a cheer leader for Canon Solutions American Inc., than the purchasing agent for Blount County.  The length of the contract, 5 years, puts the matter out of reach for the incoming Commission where 6 incumbents will be gone.

Budget Modifications a new term

Old Agendas would specify budget increases and decreases.  Now, thanks to Randy Vineyard the Finance Director, these transactions are listed as Budget Modifications.  It sounds nicer than calling these for what they are, increases in spending your money.

The Commission also approved a Blount County employee dental plan without having much information.  Currently the employees pay nothing and taxpayers pay $23.51 per month for each employee.  Employees have the option of purchasing a family plan for $49.24 a month.  The family plan costs $72.75 and the County pays the $23.51 it would pay if they just had the employee plan.  Dental coverage was previously self insured by the County, but the current plans are offered through Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Bob Ramsey’s responses to jokes and real issues are often the same

Last week I wrote Bob Ramsey about radioactive polonium in hydrofluorosilicic acid.  Here’s the response that I received.

“After reading the article, I am forwarding it to our health staff for evaluation. Thanks”

________________________________
From: Tona
Sent: Monday, February 10, 2014 7:18 PM
Subject: Radiation poisoning from hydrofluorosilicic acid

Hello Rep. Bob Ramsey D.D.S.,
Do you still support poisoning us against our will when the crap (hydrofluorsilic acid) being dumped in our water is contaminated with radioactive polonium?

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/02/10/radioactive-fertilizer.aspx

Seriously, what else would it take being found in this industrial waste for you to say the benefit of possibly preventing some tooth decay (which actually makes it harder to see tooth decay on x-rays) is out weighed by all the harmful CRAP that comes with it?  Would people have to turn neon green first and grow a 3rd physical eye before you no longer claim your saving their teeth by poisoning them?

Let freedom ring!

Last year, I wrote a satirical email to Rep. Bob Ramsey regarding chocolate being more effective than chemicals containing fluoride in protecting teeth.  I received the following response:

“We are looking for the same results, less decay. This may be a good avenue to that end, and I have sent the suggestion to our staff as well as the TDA administration. Thanks”

Sent from my iPad

As you can see, he forwards it to others, not taking a position either time.

Here’s the response that Richard Hutchens received from Ramsey regarding UT’s Sex Week last year.

Richard Hutchens recently wrote Representative Ramsey on a couple of issues.  Ramsey’s response and Hutchens’ initial email are included fyi.

Tona,

It is totally worthless sending a well written, well thought out e-mail to Bob.
He doesn’t read them
From: rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov
To: Richard Hutchens
Subject: Re: Please Co-Sponsor End of Forced Annexation in TN Act
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2014 03:21:27 +0000
Thanks
Sent from my iPad
On Feb 13, 2014, at 6:06 AM, “Richard Hutchens”  wrote:
Rep. Ramsey and Senator Overby
Three Fundamental Principles of our Constitutional form of Govt. are:
1.   Sovereignty resides with the citizens
2.  Governments are instituted among men to secure their unalienable rights…
3.  Legitimate Governments derive their just Powers from Consent of the Governed.
As my Representatives, Please protect your Constituents God Given and Constitutional Protected Rights to these above principles by Co-Sponsoring HB 2371 and  vote for the End of Forced Annexation in TN Act (EFATA).

 

The recent political edition of why did the chicken cross the road joke, in which I added my own response, was posted on Stacey Campfield’s blog.  You can see Bob’s thoughtful response.

“Thanks”

Last year when Richard Hutchens sent Bob Ramsey concerning the problems with the Blount County Republican Party, he received the same response.

“Thanks”

Perhaps you see a pattern in these responses.

http://www.bcpublicrecord.com/?p=4728

http://www.bcpublicrecord.com/?p=3873

http://lastcar.blogspot.com/2014/02/joke-of-week_9.html

 

Response regarding UT Sex Week

This is the response that I received from Rep. Bob Ramsey.  My follow-up is on top of the response, so you may wish to work your way up, rather than down.  No UT official’s name was provided, which I assume was redacted by Bob.

Thanks Bob.

What exactly are student speaker fees?  Who pays these fees?  Are students, who don’t support this, required to pay fees which ultimately contribute to funding this filth?

Are members of the public, free to use the University of Tennessee campus to promote any filth they desire, so long as the filth isn’t illegal activities?

Let freedom ring!

 

—–Original Message—–
From: “Bob Ramsey” <rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov> Sent: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 6:26pm
To: Tona
Subject: RE: University of Tennessee – Public university Sex Week to teach masturbation, when orgasms are a ‘political act’

It seems the University of Tennessee shares the concerns of citizens and members of this legislative body with regards to how sex week has been portrayed and marketed to the public as an event funded by tax dollars.
I have taken the liberty of attaching the correspondence sent to me by The University of Tennessee regarding Sex Week at UT Knoxville. I hope this satisfies any questions you may have.
Representative Ramsey:
Thank you for your message concerning your constituent’s questions regarding Sex Week at UTK – an event organized and hosted by students at our Knoxville Campus.  After reviewing some of the information referred to by your constituent, I share the same feeling and concern about the appropriateness of some of the marketing materials and promotions.
I have verified that no state appropriations, tuition monies, or tax dollars have been committed or will be used in any aspect of the event.  All funds will be derived from grants to promote personal responsibility and awareness, student speaker fees, and private funds, some of which will be raised by the student organizations sponsoring the event.
As you know, the First Amendment restricts the ability of the University administration to direct or influence the spending of student speaker fee monies.  Additionally, the University cannot prevent registered student organizations from using university facilities for these events.  However, I can assure you that the University has done all that the First Amendment allows it to do in this circumstance.
Again, I understand and appreciate you and your constituent’s concerns and likewise appreciate your continued support of The University of Tennessee.
Rep. Matlock has brought legislation HB2450 Education, Higher – As introduced, prohibits use of institutional revenues, including student activity fees, to engage visiting or guest speakers for events at public institutions of higher education. – Amends TCA Title 49, Chapter 7; Title 49, Chapter 8 and Title 49, Chapter 9.
Thanks

Food stamps cut in crony Agriculture bill

1% cut?  Oh my gosh… the sky will now fall.

http://www.mail.com/news/politics/2626770-obama-signs-farm-bill-that-trims-food-stamps.html#.23140-stage-hero1-2

Meanwhile, the corporate hacks in Congress made sure to keep us poisoned and pacified with plenty of fluoride.

http://www.anh-usa.org/farm-bill-wins-but-one-dangerous-amendment/