The agenda was lengthy this month, containing 17 items under new business (one added at the last minute) as well as items under the consent calendar and elections, appointments and confirmations. Some of the items won’t be covered in this commission report but you can ask any questions that you may have about those items in the comments section below. Commissioners Dave Bennett and Gary Farmer were absent.
The consent calendar contained a resolution titled “A RESOLUTION HONORING ALL VETERANS AND THE EMPLOYEES OF THE BLOUNT COUNTY VETERANS AFFAIRS OFFICE FOR THEIR OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTIONS.” In the September 2017 Commission Report, I explained why I frequently vote no on these resolutions honoring people. I abstained on this vote, which is something I rarely do. Many of our veterans are worthy of honor, which is why I abstained rather than voting no.
While the veterans are listed first in the title of the resolution, they are barely mentioned in the resolution. The resolution is mostly about the staff of the Blount County Veterans Affairs Office. This resolution really diminishes our veterans. Once again politicians were using their political office to honor government employees.
Some speak highly of Veterans Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum. That’s good that there are people who are happy with the job he is doing. However, he is being well paid for this job. His salary is substantially more than the average taxpayer in Blount County. Furthermore, he works in air an conditioned building and has great fringe benefits. He is already being rewarded by the taxpayers with the generous salary and benefits that he receives which exceed more than the majority live on. The people of Blount County are free to honor him anytime they so chose, without the Blount County Commission telling them to.
Donation for employee recognition
Item F4 on the agenda was a resolution to approve spending $1,500 donated to pay for a recognition luncheon for Blount County Sheriff’s Office employees. This is a much better way to honor those who people feel are doing good for the community, than the resolutions that the county commission passes. Actions like this speak louder than the commission’s words on paper.
Highway Department employee handbook – who has authority to approve it?
The commission was asked to approve updates to the Blount County Highway Department Employee Supplement Handbook. I questioned why the commission was voting on this when Highway Superintendent Jeff Headrick has authority under TCA 5-23-103 to adopt a policy without commission approval.
“Any county official whose employees are governed by the base personnel policies adopted by the county legislative body shall have the right to adopt separate base personnel policies applicable to the employees of such official’s office by filing approved base personnel policies with the county legislative body in the same manner as set out in subsection (a), at the following times.”
Blount County government appears to have an authority problem. The sheriff did not bring the federal inmates contract to the county commission for approval before signing the contract. Yet, the commission is approving policies that state law says office holders have the authority to adopt without commission approval. If state law says an office holder has the authority to act, then commission should leave the responsibility to the office holder.
Fireworks ban repeal request
The possession, sale, manufacture, storing and use of pyrotechnics (fireworks) was made illegal in Blount County under a 1949 private act. Punishment can be severe, with fines ranging from $50-400 and/or jail time ranging from 30 days to 11 months and 29 days.
You can legally buy fireworks in Loudon County but you can’t bring them into Blount County legally. People routinely do this and the law isn’t being enforced. As such, the law either needs to enforced, repealed or amended to something more reasonable.
A letter from Blount County Sheriff James Berrong explains that the main complaint his office receives from fireworks is related to noise. Berrong’s suggestion is for the fireworks ordinance be rewritten to prohibit the use of fireworks between the hours of 11 PM through 7 AM.
The resolution requests that the Tennessee General Assembly repeal the private act. Chairman Moon declared that a 2/3rds majority of 14 votes was needed, and the resolution was postponed because of the uncertainty of whether a simple majority or a 2/3rds majority is required for a resolution requesting repeal of a private act. One has to wonder why Ron French, who questioned the number of required votes, didn’t know the answer since he is in the 4th year of his 4th term as a county commissioner.
Commission Mike Caylor topped himself this month by flying off the handle and pointing at Mike Akard after Akard spoke in favor of the resolution. Unfortunately that the commission video doesn’t zoom in close enough for the citizens to see Caylor’s disrespectful actions.
Purple Heart Highway
The commission passed a resolution supporting the designation of US Highway 321 through Blount County the Military Order Purple Heart Highway. The title of the resolution shows how sloppy the wording of resolutions can be.
The title reads, “RESOLUTION NAMING U.S. HIGHWAY 321/LAMAR ALEXANDER PARKWAY FROM LOUDON COUNTY/BLOUNT COUNTY LINE NORTH TO BLOUNT COUNTY/SEVIER COUNTY LINE THE MILITARY ORDER PURPLE HEART HIGHWAY.” The commission wasn’t actually renaming the 321 but rather showing support for the designation. The title of a resolution should reflect what the commission is actually doing. The title should have used the word requesting or supporting instead of making it read that the road would actually be given a new name.
Interlocal agreement between Blount County and the City of Friendsville
Item F14 is a resolution to approve an interlocal agreement between the county and Friendsville. The City of Friendsville is in my commission district but no one from the City of Friendsville contacted to discuss this matter before bringing it to the commission. I learned of the agreement when I read the Agenda Committee packet.
The agreement requires the Blount County Sheriff’s Office to enforce city ordinances that will be adjudicated in Blount County General Sessions Court. The agreement says, “this agreement shall extend until such time as the City requests and expresses their intent pursuant to the applicable statutes that their designated municipal ordinance is no longer to be prosecuted by the Sheriff and General Sessions Court.” This only mentions what happens if the city wants out of the agreement.
The resolution says, “this Interlocal Agreement is necessary and required by T.C.A. § 12-9-401 to provide for the appropriate court costs and costs of enforcement.” The fines collected go to the city, according to state law. The court costs are $177 for each city ordinance violation and are paid into the county’s general fund, except for processing fees collected by the clerk.
I inquired what would happen if the county needed to increase its costs for enforcement. No answer was provided. As such, I didn’t think it wise to approve something saying that the county would do something until Friendsville no longer wanted to continue, without knowing how the county could increase court costs if needed to cover its expenses.
Duty to report law
The county commission approved a resolution requesting that the Tennessee General Assembly enact legislation “to require a person to report a person in distress by calling 911 or a first responder.” This resolution is dangerous to liberty for many reasons.
While the resolution doesn’t mention the word crime, this is a request to make anyone who doesn’t call 911 (the government) or a first responder a criminal. A law without a penalty is usually just a suggestion. We need to be very careful about what we allow government to require us to report or be penalized if we don’t. If you see something, say something resulted in this family’s dog being killed by government.
Distress isn’t defined in the resolution. Thus, the commission didn’t know precisely what it asking the state legislature to outlaw.
Without a clear definition of what constitutes distress, it’s possible to envision a scenario where you’re driving down the road one day minding your own business and harming no one, pass a car on the side of the road and find yourself charged with a crime a few days later because you didn’t report the person inside the vehicle who was distressed. You could have been recorded with a government surveillance camera or an I-phone and you would then have to explain to a judge why you didn’t call 911.
The second whereas clause says, “a person who knows that another person is exposed to great physical harm and in need of assistance, and can give assistance without danger or peril to himself, should report the person in distress by calling 911 or a first responder.” This doesn’t appear to address those instances where the person rending aid is successful in resolving the problem. Why should someone who is rendering assistance be required to report their own help if it successful without further medical intervention?
What if someone is fearful of the government or medical practitioners? Is it right to report someone’s problem to 911, government or emergency responders if they don’t want their situation reported? What if the person being required to report is fearful of those they would be required to report to? Not everyone views assistance from the police, government and allopathic medicine practitioners as being productive or amicable. What if someone doesn’t think that reporting a distressed person to 911, government or emergency responders is the best course of action? This appears to request that individual judgement be criminalized.
This matter stems from the disappearance of Eric Ashby, a former Tennessee resident who moved to Colorado to hunt for a “chest containing treasure fit for a pirate,” that is thought to be buried in New Mexico. It is bizarre that the Blount County Commission was being asked to vote on a resolution asking for state law in Tennessee because someone from Tennessee moved to Colorado to hunt for a modern day pirate’s treasure that may be in the state of New Mexico.
Ashby disappeared after his raft capsized in the Arkansas River. Those with Ashby on the treasure hunting trip made it safely back to land but Ashby did not. None of those who returned safely reported Ashby’s emergency. Thus, the commission was asked to support the enactment of a new law because those with Ashby didn’t call police for help.
However that isn’t the whole story. It turns out that a bystander who witnessed the incident did report it to the police. Thus, it seems likely that the law Ashby’s family and friends are requesting would not have saved his life, unfortunately. I offer condolences to Ashby’s family and friends for his tragic loss of life but we don’t need to pass another law that could make criminals out of Tennesseans when it likely wouldn’t have saved Ashby’s life if it had been the law in Colorado.
The commission will be filling the Tennessee Senate seat vacated by Doug Overbey who was appointed the U.S. attorney for East Tennessee.