Open Records Policy
The majority of commissioners showed themselves to be overlords rather than servants of the people by adopting an open records policy with a process making it difficult for people to obtain their government records. The policy speaks for itself. Only those with disdain for the people they are suppose to serve would make it as difficult to obtain your records as this commission just did. These people can claim they’re there to serve you but actions speak louder than words.
The policy was designed by an ad hoc committee comprised of 3 county commissioners and 2 citizens. 2 of the commission members, Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor, are local government employees who consistently support government of the government, for the government, and by the government rather than government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The ad hoc committee proposed charging 50 cents per copy, for both black and white and color copies. The fee for black and white copies in the Schedule of Reasonable Charges produced by the state Office of Open Records Counsel, within the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, is 15 cents. Jerome Moon, the Chairman of the committee that wrote the policy, took the extraordinary measure of changing the fee for black and white copies in the policy before presenting it to the commission. Rather than respecting the process by proposing an amendment, he actually changed the policy that the ad hoc committee had recommended.
Commissioners Moon and Grady Caskey sponsored the resolution that adopted the open records policy. These two falsely claimed in their resolution that the commission was adopting the policy as recommended by the ad hoc committee. The fourth whereas statement in the resolution reads:
“WHEREAS, the Blount County legislative body finds that it is mandated to establish a written public records policy and hereby adopts and approves the proposed written public records policy as recommended by the ad hoc committee and attached hereto as Exhibit A.”
This is a false statement because the policy presented to the Agenda Committee, which consists of all members of the commission, was changed. Commissioner Moon is the Chairman of the Blount County Commission. He is well versed in parliamentary procedure. There is absolutely no excuse for what he did. All he had to do was present an amendment and explain his reasoning for the amendment. Instead he changed what was presented to the commission.
Appointments for records inspections – take a number
From the Office of Open Records Counsel’s website, see the 3rd paragraph:
“Under the Tennessee Public Records Act, a records custodian cannot require a request for inspection of public records to be in writing. However, other provisions of law may permit or require such written request. A records custodian can require a request for copies of records to be in writing, or to be made on the Records Request Form, and to include that requirement in their public records policy. If a request must be on a specific form, a copy of the required form must be included in their public records policy and should be readily available for public use. If a governmental entity does not require a specific form, requestors may use the Records Request Form.”
The policy approved by the commission requires an appointment for records inspections, although a section below it makes it sound like it is the decision of the Public Records Request Coordinator (PRRC).
“IV. Inspection of Records
A. There shall be no charge for inspection of open public records. An appointment is required for inspection.
B. The location for inspection of records within the offices of Blount County Government should be determined by either the PRRC or the records custodian.
C. Under reasonable circumstances, the PRRC or a records custodian may require an appointment for inspection or may require inspection of records at an alternate location. The time for appointments should be made with in normal business hours unless mutually agreed upon by PRRC and the requestor.”
For clarity on the matter, I asked the Office of Open Records Counsel for its opinion on Section IV, Part A and Part C. This was the response I received:
“Good Afternoon Ms. Monroe:
I assume your question is regarding Section IV, Part A of the draft policy, which provides: “There shall be no charge for inspection of open public records. An appointment is required for inspection.” However, Part C of the same section provides that the PRRC may require an appointment for inspection of records “under reasonable circumstances.”
Whether requiring an appointment to inspect the records is reasonable will ultimately be left to a court to decide, based upon the particular facts and circumstances of each case. However, to the extent that a county’s public records policy provides a blanket rule that an appointment is required for the inspection of any records in any situation, we find it difficult to imagine that a court would find it reasonable to require an appointment for inspection under the facts and circumstances of each and every situation.”
To resolve the confusion and to reduce the burden upon those requesting records, I offered an amendment to remove the sentence in A that required an appointment for all records inspections. This would have left in place the flexibility of requiring an appointment when circumstances warrant it. The commission rejected this. Only commissioners Akard, Archer, Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted to resolve this issue. If the county is ever sued over the matter of requiring an appointment, it will be the fault of the commissioners who opposed the amendment and voted for the policy. They have sufficient knowledge to know that the matter needed to be resolved.
Proof of citizenship and a photo ID – Papers “please”
You will have to prove that you are a Tennessee citizen and may have to provide a photo ID for records request. These two impediments can really slow things down. This isn’t papers “please.” This is papers demanded and just to see or obtain records. Karen Miller and I were placed in an interrogation room at the justice center when a photo ID was demanded of me when I make a records request of the Sheriff’s Office .
I offered an amendment that would have required that proof of citizenship only be required when someone is requesting a fee waiver with their records request. It was rejected.
Proof of citizenship should only be obtained to verify that the person receiving a waiver of fees is actually a citizen and once is it provided it should be destroyed. How is the county going to keep your citizenship and photo ID records? These records may contain sensitive information that Blount County has no legitimate reason in demanding, other than to provide a waiver of the costs/fees to its citizenry.
A photo ID should not be required just to see or get copies of public records. This is not Nazi Germany.
Requests request must go to Blount County Records Manager and Archivist
Jackie Glenn, the Blount County Records Manager and Archivist, will serve as the PRRC. This concerns me because some years back I asked her to provide me with copies of some records. She wrote that it would cost a couple hundred dollars to provide the records but I was able to make copies of the records for a few dollars on my own. I hope that no one finds themselves in a similar situation where a request for copies of records turns into hundreds of dollars when the records can be copied for a few dollars.
Only Commissioners Akard, Daly, Miller and I rejected a policy that put in place with nearly as many unnecessary impediments to obtaining records as the courthouse clique could get away with. While Daly was absent from the commission meeting, she voted against it at the Agenda Committee meeting.
Cutting commissioners off
It has become standard operating procedure for Commissioners Dave Bennett and Mike Caylor to call a point of order while I am speaking to shut me down. This makes it difficult for me to do the job that I was elected to do.
Some have suggested that this is occurring because I am a woman. It’s possible. Commissioner Karen Miller has been questioned about her income and statements have been made about my employment.
A study of the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) found that women justices are interrupted more frequently than men by male justices. Male advocates arguing cases are much more likely to interrupt than female advocates. The article says, “gender is 30 times more powerful in explaining interruptions than seniority.”
Agenda Committee meeting
Commissioner Dave Bennett was absent.
Commission pay raise rejected
Commissioners Ron French and Grady Caskey proposed giving the commission a pay raise. Currently Blount County Commissioners make a salary of $405 a month. There are no official benefits such as health care. However, taxpayer funded meals are provided before and after some special meetings. Additionally, some commissioners are county employees and already receive benefits from the county.
The proposal would have increased the salary to $450 a month and pay commissioners $200 for their attendance at the Agenda Committee meeting. This would have increased the pay from $405 to $650 a month.
I offered an amendment to remove the $200 for attending the Agenda Committee meeting but that amendment failed. Only commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Steve Sample and I supported the amendment. Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained.
The resolution failed in a 9-10-1 vote. Commissioners Archie Archer, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Grady Caskey, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton and Jerome Moon voted yes to placing the resolution to increase their pay on the commission agenda. Commissioners Mike Akard, Andy Allen, Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe and Steve Samples voted against sending the resolution forward. Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained.
This is a hot button political issue that gets a lot of attention but its best to view the voting records of commissioners in their entirety. Some of the commissioners who voted against increasing their pay rarely, if ever, look out for you the taxpayers.
The issue was simple for me. This is public service and I am not going to vote to increase my own pay. I tried to turn down my commission salary but was forced to take it after great resistance on my part.
Commissioners Cole, Daly and Lewis were absent.
Planning Commission appointment
The Blount County Commission rubber stamped Mayor Ed Mitchell’s latest nomination to the Planning Commission. Some rural districts of the county still have no representation on the Planning Commission, despite it having authority to propose regulations that impact the rural areas of the county. I was the only commissioner that voted against the mayor’s appointment.
$350,000 more for equipment for the Highway Department
The new Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick has gone on a spending spree, purchasing new equipment. Previous equipment purchases totaled more than $1.4M.
This month the commission approved a request for $350,000 to purchase a new 8′ paver. The county already has a 10′ paver.
The memo accompanying the request said that this will save the county money since the county will be able to do more of its own paving. However, there were no documents or figures to support this claim. Some counties contract this out as it costs less to pay companies to do the paving but I was cut off from fully expressing this and further reasons why I couldn’t support this issue.
Without any information to support the claim that it will save the county money, I wasn’t comfortable with spending the money. I made motion to postpone this for a month so that the commission could be provided with numbers to back up the claim that this purchase will save money. The motion failed. Commissioner Akard made an amendment, which I seconded, to reduce the amount to $200,000 so that the county could purchase a used paver. That failed as well. The commission approved the purchase with only commissioners Akard, Miller and myself voting against it.
Road for Denso
Unfortunately, corporate welfare is ingrained in local and state governments. Blount County government already spends $1,062,200 annualy on “economic development”, without the commission being provided any info on how the money is spent. Commissioners aren’t even given a budget showing how this $1M will be spent. After asking for the budget in 2015, Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/Blount Chamber of Commerce/Industrial Development Board/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority blocked me.
Despite spending $1M+ on “economic development”, the commission was asked to approve an additional $60,425 to build a road for Denso. The letter from the Tennessee Department of Transportation accompanying the contract is dated September 16, 2016 but the commission was not told about this or provided anything until this month.
$1M is enough of your money for secret, crony, corporate welfare deals. Only commissioners Miller and I voted against giving more of your money to another special deal.
I am all for business friendly tax policies but tax breaks should be fair to all and apply equally to similar businesses. Giving one business the farm (literally), another a building, building a road for another, or a tax abatement for another should stop. Tax policies could be written to provide incentives to all businesses, not just those that cozy up to the courthouse clique and the swamp in Nashville.
Watch out for Randy Boyd, who is running in the Republican primary for Governor of Tennessee. He is the king of corporate welfare, having spent two years as the Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development. During that time he traveled the state giving corporate handouts to businesses while he and local elected officials could get their pictures in papers for “creating jobs” with your money. As such, 22 east Tennessee mayors recently endorsed him. Multiple media outlets serve as PR firms rather than news reporters, promoting how wonder these special, secret deals are. That’s how powerful the corporate welfare, special interests have become. Boyd has been well groomed to be the next big government governor, next in line after Bill Haslam.
Highway Dept. agreement with 4 local cities
The majority of commissioners rubber stamped local agreements between the Blount County Highway Department and the cities of Friendsville, Louisville, Rockford and Townsend. The agreements were simple, only 1-2 pages each. However, there was no mention of liability for the parties. I inquired as to who would pay for what should an accident occur and was met with silence rather than answers. Only commissioners Akard, Miller and I voted against taking the risk of the unknown with these agreements.
While there is no tax rate increase proposed in the upcoming budget, spending will increase. The revenues recommend by the Budget Committee are available here. The expenditures recommended by the Budget Committee are available here.
Local government elections
“The future has a way of arriving unannounced.” George F. Will
In many of these monthly commission reports I encourage you, the public, to get involved. The 2018 local government primary election is less than one year away. All partisan elected officials in Blount County are Republicans. Thus all county government races, with the exception of the school board and Property Assessor, were determined in the May 6, 2014 primary election and the races will likely be determined in the May 1, 2018 election. School board races are nonpartisan and the Property Assessor election occurs in the same year as a presidential election.
If you are dissatisfied with the status quo, please give consideration to running and/or supporting good candidates for local office next year. It is not to early to start preparing.
“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” Karen Lamb
“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Will Rogers