Blount County government was marred by indecisiveness and obstructionist politics in April. However there are some commissioners who are standing for freedom and they deserve recognition for their principled stands.
Jail study hearing rejected
After paying over $94,000 for a jail study last year, the Commission rejected hearing from the jail consultant who conducted the study. The Mayor obstructed progress by having a letter written to the Commission asking the Commission to reject hearing from the jail consultant so that the County can sue the consultant for a refund.
A man who actively campaigned for the Mayor shared with me that he told the Mayor that he should be embarrassed because the Mayor and the good ole’ boys wanted a study telling them to build. He said that when they got a real study with real solutions, that Mayor covered it up and now wants to sue to save face. This seems to be the prevailing opinion of people in the community.
Eight Commissioners voted to move forward instead of obstructing progress. I (Tona Monroe) was the only Commissioner on the Blount County Corrections Partnership to vote to have the hearing.
Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting
The Corrections Partnership met on Tuesday. This was the first meeting where ex-officio members Judges Tammy Harrington and Mike Gallegos served on the Partnership. They were added to the Partnership to bring together all three branches of government for discussion on our criminal justice system. There are now four commissioners, two judges, two members from the Sheriff’s Department and an ex-officio member from the Mayor’s office.
The Partnership unanimously recommended that the funding increase request for Recovery Court, which includes Drug Court, be approved by the commission. For months I have been asking for information about how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if it were to expanded. I have been repeatedly told that everyone is too busy to give me that information. Thankfully my request, that the funding recommendation include the requirement for this information to be reported to us, was included in the recommendation that will be forwarded to the full commission. It is very important to identify how many people there are in the system who will be eligible for Recovery Court and have estimates for future demands so that the commission, and all those involved, can adequately prepare for the future.
Judge Harrington said that the funding request is “bare bones” but exactly what she meant by that isn’t clear. She has repeatedly said she doesn’t know how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if everyone who qualified was given the option of Recovery Court. Harrington said that the funding will give the program enough money to fund the program that exists now but also implied that it could be expanded. Thus, the bare bones funding statement sounded like a typical budget time request statement. Hopefully the funding increase will help the county prepare better for the future by identifying how many inmates will be eligible for an expanding Recovery Court.
The rest of the meeting was mostly unremarkable except for Judge Tammy Harrington’s behavior. She appeared to be more interested in venting than working together in a “Partnership” for the betterment of society. After the meeting a citizen commented to me about Harrington rolling her eyes while people were speaking.
I was a co-sponsor to the resolution to add Judges Harrington and Gallegos to the Blount County Corrections Partnership because judges can serve an important role in working toward productive solutions for our criminal justice system and overcrowded jail. I look forward to working with the judges and hope that Harrington will be more respectful in the future.
For once the meeting room wasn’t nearly empty. Past attendees have usually consisted of Linda and Joe King, Harry Grothjahn, Commissioner Jamie Daly, Commissioner Karen Miller and a few people from the State. Some citizens, Jail Inspector Sharon Hannum, the Sheriff and Deputy Chief Chris Cantrell were present at the meeting.
On June 24th Bob Bass, Senior Inspector with the Tennessee Corrections Institute, will give a presentation to the Blount County Corrections Partnership at 1 PM in the Commission room. The agenda for the meeting after that (date to be determined) will include discussion about keeping federal prisoners in the jail.
The IT Committee met but took no action. It was decided that upgrading the recording equipment in the commission room would have to wait because of budget constraints.
There was some information about a new software system for the Sheriff’s Department that will allow for better communication with 911 and the municipalities that decide to use the same system. Unfortunately there was no financial information in the packet about the costs. The City of Alcoa told the Sheriff’s Department that they will use the same system but the City of Maryville hasn’t committed to it. The Committee was not told why Maryville hasn’t committed to using the software system.
This was the third IT Committee meeting that I’ve attended. The committee hasn’t made a single recommendation to the commission at any of those meetings. I am left wondering why we have an IT Committee since it is never given timely or complete information to make recommendations.
The budget before the Budget Committee is now about $16 million over projected revenues. The Budget Committee did not make a single cut to the proposed FY 16 budget during the month of April.
Controversial stormwater regulations passed the commission on a 13-7 vote. Five of the six amendments proposed passed. The part allowing a 3rd party to be added to your deed was removed.
The regulations would have allowed you to be fined up to $5,000 for simply planting a tree in a utility easement. Most people don’t know precisely where utility easements are on their property. My amendment adding the word knowingly to the provision about planting a tree in an easement passed, which means that the government will have to prove that you knew that you were planting a tree in a utility easement instead of simply being able to fine you up to $5,000 because a tree was planted within a utility easement. While I wanted this provision removed from the regulations entirely I proceeded with this amendment because there was confusion as to whether this prohibition and the rest of the regulations under Section 4d are required under state law.
My amendment to remove a provision limiting you on the percentage of trees that you can plant failed. As such, the regulations prohibit property owners from planting more than 1/3 of the same type of tree within the buffers. There are many other causes for concern in the regulations. You can read the unamended regulations here starting on page 38.
Commissioners Allen, Carter, Carver, Caskey, Caylor, Crowe, Daly, Farmer, Headrick, Lewis, Melton, Moon and Stinnett voted yes. Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Cole, French, Miller and Monroe voted no. Commissioner Samples abstained.
Stormwater repeal request
The commission passed my resolution asking federal legislators to pass legislation pending before congress that would prohibit the EPA from expanding its definition of waters of the United States through rulemaking authority and to repeal stormwater regulations returning the power back to the states and the people. Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Carter, Caskey, Cole, Crowe, Daly, French, Miller, and Monroe voted yes. Moon abstained. The rest voted no.
Unfortunately the Mayor vetoed the resolution. Instead of sending the commission his own reasoning for the veto, he sent a link to an editorial by The Daily Times on the matter.
There were five federal grants related to traffic enforcement, including DUI roadblocks. I voted against them and explained my reasoning here and here. The paper reported that we voted on six grants but the commission did not vote on the grant for funding for the DA’s office since their funding is through the state.
The nighttime seatbelt demo grant allows the University of Tennessee to study enforcement action for seatbelt usage at night. The University of Tennessee obtained an unconstitutional grant from the Centers for Disease Control and will be studying five counties including Blount. Buckle up because the state legislature just increased the seat belt fine, the Sheriff’s Department just got a grant for enforcement and UT can’t wait to use the money it got to study the results. The nanny state has gotten expensive and complicated.
During the commission meeting I explained why I was voting no, which included taking my oath of office to uphold the federal and state Constitutions and mentioning what James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution had to say about the constitutionality of what we were voting on. After the meeting, on the way down in the elevator Deputy Chief Jarod Millsaps mocked me for explaining my vote. The next day the Sheriff apologized to me for Millsaps behavior.
On the bright side, I was thrilled to have three commissioners join me in voting no. Commissioners Akard, Cole, Miller and I voted no. The rest voted yes. I commend these three commissioners for upholding their oaths of office and respecting the bill of rights which has been so trampled upon.
Recycling Committee appointed
Commissioners Brad Bower, Grady Caskey and I were appointed along with four citizens to serve on the Recycling Committee. If you have ideas that you would like to share, please attend the first meeting on May 26th at 5 PM at the courthouse.
Abstaining on important votes
Commissioner Steve Samples abstained on the stormwater vote and Jerome Moon abstained on the jail study vote and the stormwater repeal request resolution. These two have been abstaining on several issues lately. Jerome Moon is the Chairman of the Commission and Steve Samples is the Chairman of the Agenda Committee. These two hold the two most important positions of leadership within the legislative body of Blount County. Why are they abstaining so much on critical issues?
The ambulance service agreement is up for renewal.