The commission meeting got off to one of the worst starts that I’ve witnessed in all the years of attending local government meetings. Citizens were ordered out of the commission room while uniformed officers were allowed to line the wall. You can read more about that here.
I regret not speaking up at the time but it happened so fast that it caught me off guard. However, I am doing what I can now to ensure that the discrimination against citizens doesn’t happen again. Also, I am looking into the possibility of having the June commission meeting moved to a larger venue such as a school auditorium so that everyone can be accommodated fairly.
Rural Metro will continue ambulance service
The commission approved Rural Metro to continue providing the ambulance service for emergency calls in the county. The county will have more ambulances which should lead to quicker response times in rural areas.
The mayor held meetings which were technically open to the public but the public didn’t know about them, making them secret for all practical purposes. A couple of commissioners expressed their displeasure with the way the mayor handled the negotiations. This is nothing new. The mayor has repeatedly handled important matters this way.
Several amendments were put forward to the campground regulations that passed last year. Most of these were good. One amendment put a restriction on new business that will not apply on to current businesses. New campgrounds will be forced to limit people staying at their campgrounds to 60 days. Campgrounds already in business will not have this limitation placed on them. Government shouldn’t be used to discriminate like this, giving a competitive advantage to preexisting businesses.
Furthermore, there was nothing in the regulations to allow for exceptions such as charity cases. If someone were to lose their home to a fire or job loss and the campground owner wanted to donate the use of his land until the person can get back on his or her feet financially, new campground businesses will be prohibited from helping people who are facing hard times.
Instead of voting on the amendments separately, a motion was made to vote on them all together. I asked to vote on the amendments separately so that I could vote no on the discriminatory 60 days limitation. Commissioner Shawn Carter objected to unanimous consent which would have allowed a vote on the matter separate from the other series of amendments. Since he objected, I moved to divide the question. My motion to divide the question failed. Thus, we had to vote on all the amendments together. Only Commissioner Akard and I said no to the discriminatory regulation.
What Commissioner Carter and others fail to realize when they object to unanimous consent, is that they do not save any time because a vote on the motion to divide still takes place. The commission still has to vote the same number of times. It’s really ashamed that commissioners won’t allow for separate votes on matters when a commissioner makes this simple request. The whole reason for having open public meeting is twofold: to discuss the business of the people and to vote on the matters. Several commissioners do everything they can to limit discussion and restrict voting, which are the very things that we as commissioners are suppose to do at the meeting.
The good news is that noise regulations will no longer be optional in campgrounds.
The commission failed to override the Mayor’s veto by one vote. Shawn Carter was the swing vote who flipped. This is really ashamed because the EPA has just expanded its jurisdiction over water through rulemaking bypassing congress.
Citizens Keith Miller and Troy Ball gave good reasons to override the mayor’s veto.
The resolution for regulatory relief had broader support at first. Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership worked to kill it. Daniels and the mayor haven’t shown much concern for the regulatory impact of the EPA on existing local businesses. More businesses are shutting down than starting up. We should be doing what we can to relieve the burden on existing business to preserve what we already have locally.
Daniels and Mitchell appear to be more interested in giving special deals to new businesses and cutting ribbons so that you can read about the new jobs they supposedly bring to the area. Only adding to the jobs count without subtracting the jobs that have been lost doesn’t give the true economic impact under your tenure.
Listen to local businessman and County Commissioner Mike Akard explain the horrifying, costly effects of EPA regulations on his business. Mike Akard’s situation feel upon deaf ears with 11 commissioners.
Environmental Court is envisioned for Blount County
In case you think that Blount County itself won’t enforce heavy handed environmental regulations, buried with the 1100+ pages of the commission packet was a liter collection grant application statement about a vision for an environmental court for Blount County. My questioning of Jarrod Millsaps, who is listed as the contact person on the grant application, revealed that the vision statement was written by a former employee of the Sheriff’s Office.
My amendment to prohibit using the grant funds for the promotion or establishment of an environmental court failed. Commissioners Akard, Archer, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted to ensure that the funds wouldn’t be used for this purpose. The rest voted no.
The grant passed 16-5. Who knows what kind of Environmental Court is in store for Blount County.
Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study
In Washington DC style fashion, the commission took action on the Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study. This study was not available at the Agenda meeting. Yes, you read that right. The commission was asked to vote on making something official public policy without having a copy of what they were being asked to vote on.
The proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 includes huge budget increases to fund the salary recommendations of the Evergreen study. The Budget Committee approved these recommendations without having a copy of the Evergreen study.
At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked if anyone had a copy of the this study. In early April when I kept hearing the Evergreen study being referenced in budget workshops I asked the HR Director for a copy of the study. She told me that she didn’t have a copy of the final report. At the Agenda meeting on May 12th, I asked if anyone had a copy of the study. The HR Director told the commission that the report was not yet finished.
Think about that for a moment. The budget was created around an unfinished report, the commission was asked to vote on an unfinished report it and the taxpayers are being asked to fund the recommendations of an unfinished report. If I hadn’t raised the matter at the Agenda meeting, the commission wouldn’t have even been given the draft copy of what is available. The Washington DC approach to government has become the way of Blount County government. It’s irresponsible and doesn’t pass the common sense test.
Here is what the commission was provided after already being asked to vote on the matter at the agenda meeting. The draft report provides information on tenure, classification and pay.
There are problems with this study beyond being incomplete. There are 17 entities used for comparison but only one is a county (see page 13). The county that Blount County is compared to is Knox County, a county with over 3 times the population. 8 of the 17 “market peers” are cities. Cities do not have jails, Register of Deeds offices, Property Assessor Offices, or the complex court structures that many counties have. Thus, on these positions the only comparison included in this study is to Knox County.
Furthermore, data was collected for Maryville City Schools, Alcoa City Schools and Knox County Schools but not Blount County Schools. Why collect data for other schools but not for your own?
There is talk that Blount County Schools will pay to have a study done for the schools. I question why that would even be considered when data has been gathered for 3 surrounding school systems. Blount County Schools could organize its own data in house and use what the taxpayers have already paid for without making the taxpayers pay for a second study to do what the first study should have done.
Page 10 of the draft report shows employee tenure by department. The national tenure average is given and then departments are compared to the national average. This doesn’t provide a complete apples to apples comparison of tenure. What are the tenure numbers for counties closest to us in size? What are the tenure numbers by department and office? This study doesn’t provide that comparison.
Most averages are above the national tenure average. The animal shelter is less than 10 years old; therefore, tenure there would be lower by virtue of its short existence.
Much of the focus has been on Sheriff’s deputies leaving. The tenure for Sheriff’s Department employees is well above the national median of tenure listed in the draft report.
The tenure information is interesting but I don’t see why we needed to pay someone to do this. Each department could have determined the tenure of their employees, saving the taxpayers money used on this study.
While there are employees who deserve a pay raise, the incomplete Evergreen study has too many problems to be used as the foundation to base the raises on. It was premature to adopt the recommendations from an unfinished report that failed to compare us to counties similar to us in size and economic status.
In April the commission refused to hear from the jail study consultant on a study that had been completed nearly a year before and in May the commission adopted the recommendations of a study that is not yet finished. This doesn’t make for responsible government.
Commissioners Akard, Archer, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted no. The rest voted yes to adopting something that still has the word draft stamped on it and only compares us to a single county that is much larger in population.
Resolution on intent to raise property taxes
The resolution stating that the commission intends to raise the property tax rate above the state certified rate passed the Agenda Committee 20-1, with me being the only no vote. At the full commission meeting it passed 14-6-1.
Commissioners Allen, Bowers, Carver, Caskey, Caylor, Crowe, Farmer, French, Headrick, Lewis, Melton, Moon, Samples and Stinnett voted yes.
Commissioners Akard, Archer, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted no.
Commissioner Shawn Carter abstained.
Some of these commissioners have never seen a tax increase that they won’t support. The only thing that can stop this is you. An informed citizenry is the best defense of liberty. Now is the to write emails and make phone calls.
The annual budget approved by the Budget Committee proposes a huge property tax increase. I intend to do what I can to stop the tax increase by reining in government spending.