September 2015 Commission Report

“You don’t get paid enough to put up with them (referring to several commissioners). Thanks for looking out for the taxpayers.” Comment from a citizen to me (Tona Monroe) after the September 17, 2015 Commission meeting

Agenda Committee
The Agenda Committee meeting was so poorly run that it was chaotic at times.  The rules went out the window.  The last time that I witnessed a meeting run this poorly was during former Chairman Kenneth Melton’s reign of tyranny.  Thankfully Agenda Committee Chairman Steve Samples isn’t as heavy handed as Kenneth Melton was when he served as Chairman of the Commission.

Leadership and committee assignments mostly stay the same
The machine walked in ready to go, nominating the same people to serve in leadership positions.  The committee assignments will stay mostly the same, except where people resigned from their seats.

Human Resources (HR) Committee
County employee Gary Farmer wanted off the HR Committee.  He was replaced with Rick Carver.  All 10 of the members of the HR Committee are either government employees or have worked for a company having a business relationship with the county.  There isn’t a single person serving on the HR Committee who hasn’t worked for a local government or been employed by a company doing business with the county.  There isn’t a single, independent business person who has never had a conflict of interest on the HR Committee.

3 commissioners shut out of committees with authority
Appointments to committees/boards are done by the Mayor and the Commission.  The Mayor hasn’t nominated any women or teachers, currently serving on the commission, to any of the committees that he makes nominations to.  The Commission has done some better but not enough.

Commissioners Dodd Crowe and Karen Miller only serve on the Education Committee, which has little, if any, authority because it can not supersede the decisions made by the School Board.  The Education Committee was expanded in size to relegate commissioners there, so that the machine can say they didn’t shut any commissioners out.  Commissioner Jamie Daly also serves on the Education Committee as well as the Beer Board.  She volunteered for the Beer Board because so few commissioners wanted to do it.  The Beer Board has little discretion because its actions are tightly governed by state law.  These three commissioners aren’t serving on any committee/board positions where they have authority to make significant policy decisions.

Audit Committee
Blount County didn’t wait to be the last county in the state to form an audit committee, just next to last.  According to Chairman Jerome Moon there will only be one county without an Audit Committee.

Don’t look for much to come from the two commissioners appointed to the Audit Committee.  Commissioners Andy Allen and Mike Caylor usually vote against any attempts to obtain more information before making decisions on spending your money.  I can only recall one question, during the past year, from either of these commissioners pertaining to spending over $175 million of your money.

The commission put two foxes in charge of the hen house.  Hopefully the citizens nominated to the Audit Committee will do what these two have failed to do as commissioners, namely look out for the taxpayers.

Commission meeting
Commissioners Tom Cole, Kenneth Melton and Karen Miller were absent.  Commissioner Ron French left early.

Committees voted on altogether
The commission voted on most of the committees in a single vote.  This allows for commissioners to vote for the own appointments and also gives cover for commissioners who vote for someone they might not otherwise vote for because they were all lumped together.  A commissioner can always tell people that they were against a nomination but because the commission chose to vote on the committees/boards altogether, they didn’t want to vote against the other appointments.

Commissioners Caskey and I each requested that a committee be pulled out of the motion and voted on separately.  No one objected to Commissioner Caskey’s request but Commissioner Andy Allen objected to mine.  What commissioner Allen fails to realize is that he doesn’t save any time by doing this because I can and did make a motion to divide the question.  That requires a vote, as does voting on the item separately.  It’s just one of the petty ways that the good ole’ boys (nothing good about what they do) think they can show you that they have the upper hand.

Crony zoning deal complete
The RAC-2 zone was originally proposed so that a public official could rezone his land to build a Dollar General store and provide for possible development in the future.  After some conservationists voiced objections about the proposal, it was amended to ensure that the elected official would get his deal with most of the other roads being removed from potential future rezoning.  Our zoning regulations have become a tool for those who have connections to shut out those who don’t have connections.  The special deals continue and property rights are now government granted privileges.

Health care benefits
The commission approved increases in the rates that employees will pay for their health care benefits but the plan is still projected to lose money during FY16.  Several attempts were made to reduce what the employees will pay and they all failed.  I proposed an amendment that would have added about $35,000 in revenue, which is about half of what the plan is projected to lose this fiscal year, in an attempt to bring the plan closer to solvency but that failed as well.  The current plan does nothing to address future unfunded health care obligations.

Commissioner Tom Stinnett made the comment that the plan is delicate.  That’s nonsense.  For far too long the health care benefits have been treated like the sacred cow of Blount County.  There is nothing delicate or sacred about the county health care plan.  Politicians forget what really is sacred, the rights of the people.

Audit of health care administrator
The commission rushed through approval of an audit for the health care plan administrator without having all the facts to make a good judgment on the matter.  The county is self insured but the claims are processed through our administrator, which is currently Humana but will become Allegiance at the first of the new year.  About $44,000 will be spent to audit Humana, who administers the claims, to see if the county has been overpaying the providers.  300 claims will be audited.  See pages 69-125 for more information.

An audit is usually a good thing but the way the commission handle this is not.  As usual the commission was told that we had to do this now and few commissioners questioned it.  As usual the commission was presented with something that didn’t go through a county initiated competitive bid process and I was the only one who questioned it.

The county health care broker, CBIZ, provided the bid information.  Broker provided recommendations don’t have to go through the county Purchasing Department.  However, this doesn’t neglect the fiduciary responsibility of the commission.

There were 3 proposals in the packet.  One was from the broker.  Yes, one of the three proposals that CBIZ provided was from CBIZ.  It was substantially higher than the other two and was a range of $80,000-100,000 rather than a set amount plus travel expenses.  CBIZ didn’t recommend itself, even though it provided a proposal.

The recommended proposal by HMS is about $44,000 with travel expenses.  That is a lot less than the CBIZ proposal but it also a lot more than the other proposal which is $24,500 plus travel expenses.

Section 7.3 of the HMS proposal says (page 87), “As is apparent, our clients have a large range of employees. For every one of our clients, HMS has always provided a positive Return on Investment—no matter the population size. We would be glad to provide more history upon request.”  I made a request for more history since the examples in the proposal have much larger numbers of employees than the county.  The answer I received from the man who signed the proposal was stunning.  He said, the part about providing more history upon request probably shouldn’t be in the proposal.

I pressed on, asking to be provided with what HMS had specifically want to know what companies close to us in size of employees and/or those covered and using the same administrator (Humana) have reclaimed from audits.  An email sent to me from Steve Noury with HMS a few hours before the meeting said, “we don’t currently aggregate the type of information you requested (results by carrier).  We have the data in our system, and we are actually working on that capability as we speak.”

Since the data exists but hasn’t be aggregated in a useable form, I made a motion to postpone voting on the audit until the information was made available to the commission to see what kinds of comparable results HMS is getting out of its audits.  Only commissioners Archie Archer, Grady Caskey, Jamie Daly and I (Tona Monroe) voted to wait until we had the information to make an informed decision.

There are plenty of companies available to do medical claims audits.  One of proposals was from the broker itself and it was substantially higher than the other two, without giving a specific quote.  The broker could have easily obtained several more quotes without using his own company.

These are not good business practices.  I would not run a company this way, making rushed decisions without full information and without a thorough bid process.  As such, I can’t in good conscience vote to spend taxpayer money this way.  It is possible that the county will reclaim more than it spends on the audit but your commission has failed to do its due diligence in ensuring that they obtained the best and most cost effective company to do the audit.

It appears to me that most commissioners don’t want to put the time in that is required to do a good job.  They simply want to trust the “experts”, without bothering to make sure that the people they trust are actually competent enough to do a good job.  You don’t have to be an “expert” to know that haste makes waste and that someone coming with a proposal from their own company isn’t likely to be the best deal available.

Up next
Refinancing of nearly $80 million in variable rate debt.

One thought on “September 2015 Commission Report

  1. Hi Tona,
    Thanks again for your tenacity. I know what a headache it can be plowing through financial records and procedures and policies to unravel the mystery known as BC procurement, financing, and budgeting. Hang
    tough, you are making a difference.

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