Commissioners Gary Farmer, Kenneth Melton and Steve Samples were absent.
Last month, the commission approved a contract for architectural services with Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) without also approving a budget amendment to pay for the contract. This month the commission approved the funding for the contract with the architectural firm as well as funding for public relations and a project manager.
Yes, Blount County government thinks that it needs a Ministry of Propaganda to tell you why they’ve hired an architect for the jail. Unless you’ve been living in the forest you know that Blount County, like any other county in this nation, has a drug problem stemming from the use of pain pills and street drugs. It’s really a shame that the taxpayers are having to pay to be told that there is an opioid and drug problem in the community.
The memo in the commission packet from the Blount County Purchasing Department, Human Resources and Finance Department says that the contract was approved by the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP). However, it was not approved by the BCCP.
The last time that the BCCP met was in March to discuss the purchasing agent’s selection of MBI. The agenda for the meeting says, “Discussion and possible action regarding presentation regarding the solicitation and request for qualifications for architectural planning and/or design services and/or programming services for Blount County.” There is no mention of a contract in the agenda or the unofficial meeting minutes of this BCCP meeting. The minutes are unofficial because the BCCP has not met since this March 28, 2017 meeting and therefore has not taken any vote to approve the meeting minutes.
The contract with MBI is time stamped on the bottom with a date of May 24, 2017, which is almost two months after the BCCP March 28 meeting. Why would the purchasing agent, human resources director and director of accounts and budgets (finance director) sign a memo with a false statement? Why would their boss Mayor Ed Mitchell let them?
The cost to the taxpayers is $244,723 which includes $188,000 for the MBI contract. Only Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted against this.
The resolution says that the monies came from funds “Assigned for Public Safety.” Many remember when I found that Sheriff James Lee Berrong and Mayor Ed Mitchell had a $2 million jail plan in Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting minutes. The commission is the body who has the authority to express the county’s intent by assigning monies in the general fund. The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office did not recognize the assignments of $2 million for public safety.
The bigger and potentially more expensive picture is that “Blount County has not set a specific scope or budget for this project,” as stated under Article 1.12 of the MBI contract.
Grant process dysfunctional
The commission was asked to approve five grants. The deadline for two of these grants, one for juvenile court and the other for the animal shelter, had already passed. While these two grants had already been written, neither provided the commission with copies of the actual grants. The juvenile court grant worksheet included a memo about the grant while the animal shelter only provided the grant worksheet. It seems reasonable that any department/office wanting the commission to approve a grant after the deadline would include a copy of the grant along with the worksheet.
The commission approved a $360,791 increase to the state aid account of the highway department budget. According to a memo from Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick, Tennessee Department of Transport (TDOT) provided the funds for replacement of tiles/culverts on state highways. The state aid account is now $1,082,000 for fiscal year 2018.
The commission approved TDOT’s proposal for the relocated Alcoa Highway. While there was a public meeting in the City of Alcoa about this proposal in May, this was the first time that this commission was provided anything on the proposal. It would have been nice to have been given more time to study the matter and to hear from the citizens on something this important. Most seemed to be unaware that the commission was considering this matter. I voted against this because of the short time frame to study the matter and because of the lack of information about other possibilities for Alcoa Highway. Commissioners Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also voted no while the rest of the commissioners present voted yes.
A meeting was called to approve applying for federal funds to make improvements to Morganton Road. This road has long been in need of repair. People in the 1st, 6th and 7th districts have expressed their concerns about the road to me. This has been one of the top 10 issues that I hear the most about from those in the community.
This a good start but more work is needed. Some are upset that this project does not come further into the county. There have been concerns expressed about the City of Maryville annexing part of Morganton Road.
According to the mayor, the commission approved $4 million for improvements to Morganton Road in 2006 but those funds were never spent for that purpose. No one that I’ve spoken with seems to know why this money was never spent.
This project runs into 2023. You can read more about it here.
Accounting and financial software
The commission approved a 7 year, $2.334M contract for a Financial Management Information System (FMIS). This Services as a Software (SaaS) agreement is with Tyler Technologies. The estimated cost for implementation is $293,470.50 and the annual recurring fees are $299,945.00 throughout the 7 year contract.
When the Kronos time keeping, payroll and HR software system was presented to the commission, a business case was made for savings through staff reductions. Those projected savings never materialized. According to a June 22, 2017 email from Finance Director Randy Vineyard, “there have been no retirements or departures since implementation in General County.” He did write that there could be possible staff reductions in the future as “as staff retirements arise.”
No business case for savings was made for the purchase of Tyler Technologies software. The commission was told that the current financial system was antiquated, unsecure, needed to be replaced with a modern system and that Tyler Technologies is the best fit for the county. The commission not given anything to support the assertion that this company’s software is the best fit for Blount County.
The commission is often asked to vote on what the bureaucrats want without being given any information on comparable products. With an annual reoccurring expense of nearly $300K, it would have been helpful to have seen what other companies had to offer. Other companies might offer a bit less than a competitor but at a much lower price while still providing what the county needs. I don’t know if there were any better deals or fits for the county because I wasn’t given any information on any other products.
The memo to the commission is from the county’s program manager for IT Abhijit Verekar of Avèro Advisors. He is being sued in federal court by a previous employer.
Considering the lack of information about comparable products, I thought it best to vote no to this long term costly commitment. Commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller also voted no.
Up next: The end of August marks the end of the 3rd year of this four year commission term. What would you like to see me focus on during the next year?
It’s also time to give serious consideration to running for local office. In November, candidates can begin picking up petitions to run in the May 1, 2018 primary election. That will be here before you know it. Don’t let the opportunity slip past you.
In the words of a great American:
“We are not weak, if we make proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power… The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” Patrick Henry
Even if you don’t want to run, you can begin talking to others about running and support good candidates who do run.
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” — Edmund Burke