Agenda Committee – 3 minute meeting
The Agenda Committee meeting lasted about 3 minutes. People have told me that the meeting demonstrated what they already know about our local government, that decisions are made behind closed doors and the meetings are formalities. This is really unfortunate for the people of Blount County because we deserve better government.
In an unprecedented move, 10 commissioners voted no on setting the agenda. Ostensibly this was to stop consideration of a resolution that petitions God to spare Blount County from his wrath and condemning judicial tyranny. The resolution is in response to the Supreme Court opinion that legalized same-sex marriage.
After the agenda failed, Chairman Steve Samples turned to commissioner Carter and told him that he could make his motion to adjourn, which he had previously tried to do before the commission voted on the agenda. Samples asked if anyone was opposed to adjournment. The paper has reported that the commission voted 15-0 to adjourn. That is incorrect. I raised my hand and voiced opposition, hoping that the commission would reconsider its decision and proceed with the rest of the agenda instead of adjourning without consideration of any matter. Since the motion to adjourn was a voice vote, I don’t know that it actually passed.
In response, the volume of the audience started to rise and the word cowards was shouted at the commission. Cowards is an accurate description of the commissioners who quickly exited out the back door avoiding the media and citizens in and outside the courthouse.
A member of the Associated Press approached me and began asking me questions and the rest of the press quickly joined him, blocking me in the commission chamber. I had intended to exit out the same door as the citizens and had planned to talk with citizens but an officer told me that he and another officer would escort me out the backdoor as well.
Having that many microphones pointed at you and so many members of the press standing in front of you and then being escorted out of building by police is something that I will never forget. I sought neither but both sought me.
Commissioner Jerome Moon made the motion to set the agenda but then voted against his own motion. That should cause us all to pause and reflect upon what kind of leader he truly is.
The resolution was non-binding and would change nothing relating to marriage. Marriage licenses would still be issued to same-sex couples.
The situation unfortunately overshadowed issues that have far more impact to the taxpayers of Blount County. At the commission meeting nearly a million dollars of your tax money was spent or moved around, some under questionable circumstances. Furthermore, Bryan Daniels President and CEO of the Blount Partnership which encompasses the Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Foundation, Industrial Development Board and Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority was caught in a scandal, blocking communication from two county commissioners. Questionable spending and unelected people handling taxpayer money while blocking elected officials who are asking questions about your money deserve much stricter scrutiny. Never have I felt more like I was living in Washington D.C., instead of Blount County, Tennessee, than I did in October.
The Mayor called a special commission meeting and the Commission Chairman canceled the regularly scheduled meeting. The Mayor’s call was unnecessary because the commission already had a meeting scheduled two days later. The special called meeting did not have the indexing system in our informational packets that regular meetings have making it more difficult to follow the agenda.
False department name and no explanation of increase request
There were several spending increases on the agenda. The Chairman decided to violate the rules by asking a question of the Finance Director because he wasn’t happy about me asking questions. The Chairman has habitually cut me off when he doesn’t like what I am saying. Apparently he doesn’t like questions being asked in public meetings and thinks they should be asked behind closed doors. The matter that drew his scorn was my questioning of a request for a $32,988 increase that had the department listed as “Denny Garner” and left the explanation section blank. Read more about that here.
The Finance Director, or his staff, left a capital lease for equipment out of the annual budget, requiring an amendment to fix the mistake made by him or his staff. There was another budget amendment because the Finance Director, or his staff, failed to budget the correct amount of the salary supplement that the county receives from the state for the Administrator of Elections.
Items not on the agenda of the special called meeting
- Resolution to give the School Board a 12.5% pay raise
- Resolution to expand the membership of the Human Resources Committee to include more elected officials
- Judicial tyranny/wrath of God resolution
None of these items are on the agenda of the November Agenda Committee meeting.
At the previous Recycling Committee meeting, I asked the Chairman Grady Caskey to invite private haulers to our October meeting to see if any have an interest in expanding their businesses to offer recycling. One trash collection service has done that. The Chairman did not follow through but said he would for the November meeting.
IT Meeting – Kronos behind schedule and IT infrastructure in need of updates
No where has it been clearer who runs the courthouse than at the IT Committee meeting. Finance Director Randy Vineyard, the defacto leader of courthouse, assured us that it won’t cost the taxpayers anymore money to implement Kronos which is 3 months behind schedule. He didn’t volunteer the information. I read that the schedule was adjusted in the monthly memorandum which was issued by an employee of Kronos rather than the IT Director as it had been in past months.
Vineyard’s assurance ignores the fact that we taxpayers just made an annual payment for the service that we won’t be using for the 3 months that the project is behind. According to Vineyard the HR software is being used now but the payroll system is 3 months behind because of leadership changes within the county and at Kronos.
The Mayor’s Office commissioned an IT study, without telling the commission, which told us that the county’s IT infrastructure is aged and could collapse at any moment. After listening to the IT consultants, I realized that essentially what Vineyard’s not so brilliant leadership has given us is a cart before the horse situation where he went out and got the most expensive wheels (Kronos software system) and put it on a car where the engine (the County’s IT infrastructure) may not even start. The Finance Director should spend more time on his job as Finance Director to eliminate the mistakes coming out of his department rather than trying to run the courthouse. The Mayor makes a fortune. He should spend more time ensuring that the county is run efficiently and less time cutting ribbons and attending pancake breakfasts.
AMI announced that it will be locating a munitions manufacturing facility here. Bringing in industry is usually a good thing but the way government throws your money at industries isn’t. Many questions remain, not the least of which is the total cost to the taxpayers.
Bryan Daniels and politicians, including several commissioners, celebrated giving the farm away, literally. AMI will be given 235 acres of land and an estimated tax abatement of $5 million. The cost to update two roads in the area is estimated at $2.85 million, according to the local paper. These costs don’t include the states incentives. Alarmingly the state contract has not yet been finalized.
Hopefully these jobs will improve the quality of life in Blount County. However, many the taxpayers of Blount County who have been handed 2 of the largest tax increase in Blount County history in the past few years are struggling. Many of the people haven’t seen their quality of life improve. They people have been handed tax increases when Blount County’s median household income is tied for the highest drop in the region and Blount County is the only county in the region where pay has not kept up with the rate of inflation. Many have seen a decrease in their financial well being but are forced to pay the taxes to give land and money to big businesses. The people have good reasons to question this crony corporate welfare.
A workshop was held on refinancing and restructuring county debt. The workshop was disappointing and a waste of money. I had hoped to include discussion on the meeting here but it is going to be a while before I get more information. When I obtain more information and have the time to write about the debt, I will post a link to the article here.
“Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer.” Denis Waitley
I will be offering a resolution to finally have a hearing on the jail study that was commissioned two years ago.