Richard Hutchens sent an open letter to the Mayor and Blount County Commissioners in the evening on November 9th. Commissioner Tom Stinnett was waiting for Richard Hutchens at his duplex the next day when he arrived home from work. Stinnett told Hutchens that he had researched the first issue that Hutchens addressed in his letter, gave his card to Hutchens and told Hutchens he would appreciate it if he would call him directly in the future to discuss issues.
Stinnett told Hutchens not to rely on hearsay, referring to the Stinnett quotes in Hutchens’ letter. Hutchens informed Stinnett that the quotes were not hearsay and that there is a recording of Stinnett’s conversation with Grady Caskey. Blount County (BC) Public Record is in possession of a recording where Tom Stinnett says both of the quotes that Hutchens included in his letter. The person who overheard the conversation also recorded it. BC Public Record respects the anonymity of it’s sources and has confirmed that Commissioner Tom Stinnett did make both of those statements to Commissioner Grady Caskey.
As alarming as Tom Stinnett’s statements are, it touches upon the need to address two important issues affecting the taxpayers of Blount County. The first is the makeup of the Human Resources (HR) Committee. 9 of the 10 members are either County employees or City of Maryville employees. Only one member, Commissioner Mike Lewis, does not work for a government within Blount County. Lewis also had a conflict of interest in the past, having worked for a Bank that had business dealings with the County. His previous employment was the subject of an Attorney General opinion. The makeup of the HR Committee only makes sense if you work for government. The HR Committee makes important decisions regarding benefits for County employees. The current makeup allows for foxes to guard the hen house, which leads to the second important issue affecting taxpayers.
County employees currently receive employee health care benefits for $25 a month. This is the lowest cost that I know of anywhere right now. Businesses are not providing premium plans at such low costs anymore. Furthermore, what the employees receive for their $25 a month is routinely referred to as a “rich” plan by the County broker, Trinity Benefits Advisors.
School employees received their plan for free until August 1st. I asked Troy Logan to explain the matter to me and received this response:
“As of August 1, 2014, all School employees with health insurance coverage are paying $25 per month out-of-pocket. And yes, the BOE did reimburse all School employees with health insurance coverage $25 per month from January 1, 2014 – July 31, 2014. For teachers, this was based on an agreement through the collaborative conferencing process. For non-teachers, the BOE agreed to “effect” them in the same manner as teachers. For all employees, this benefit stopped July 31, 2014. Let me know if you need additional information.”
The free coverage is what led to the conversation between Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Grady Caskey. Sheriff James Berrong heard that School employees were paying nothing for their rich coverage and said he wanted to look further into this at the July HR meeting. Caskey was not on the Commission in July, but addressed the Sheriff’s remarks at the October HR meeting. After the meeting, Stinnett admonished Caskey for talking about the matter in public. You can read his alarming remarks in my monthly October Commission report.
The conversation between Commissioners Stinnett and Caskey leaves me wondering if there’s an effort afoot to eliminate the $25 cost for health insurance coverage. At the end of the October HR meeting, Sheriff James Berrong and Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap commented about employee health care coverage costs. Berrong responded to Caskey by saying, “I was the one that brought up the difference (referring to School employees being reimbursed the $25 monthly cost)… my purpose of that… I was going to make a motion to rescind General County having to pay the $25 when Education didn’t and that was my purpose for that.” Dunlap said, “That Uniform Road law gives me the right to set the salaries for all the employees of the Highway Department. This coming Budget year, I will adjust that.” Dunlap was referring to the health insurance premiums.
Perhaps Tom Stinnett’s request for secrecy will have the opposite effect and finally shed some light on a huge problem. The last figures that I saw showed health benefits costing approximately $900 per month per employee. What do you think are reasonable costs for County employee health and dental benefit premiums?