March 2016 Commission Report

Special called meeting to appoint Blount County Clerk
Commission Chairman Jerome Moon called a meeting to appoint a replacement for former Blount County Clerk Roy Crawford who passed away last month.  Former Deputy Clerk Margaret Flynn was chosen unanimously by all members present.  Ms. Flynn will serve until a new office holder is elected and sworn in.

There was at least one good person interested in the position who did not seek it after they learned that there would be no primary election.  State law allows the Parties to choose their nominees for the county general election in August since there is no time for a primary election.

Ms. Flynn is probably a good choice for the position because she worked in the clerk’s office for many years.  However, the commission was not given any information prior to the meeting and only told who she was and what her experience was at the meeting.  At the very least we should have been given a resume a few days in advance of the meeting.

Agenda Committee
Chairman Jerome Moon pulled a resolution that he had sponsored and voted for the day before in the Budget Committee that would have allowed General County office holders and their employees to lease new cars.  This may come back in the future.

Commission meeting
I was unable to attend the commission meeting because my husband suffered an injury and spent the afternoon in ER.  He is doing well, all things considered.

Commissioners Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe and I were absent.  The meeting was really short, primarily because I wasn’t there to ask questions.

Mike Caylor added to Budget Committee
The commission approved adding City of Maryville employee and Blount County Commissioner Mike Caylor to the Budget Committee, to replace commissioner Tom Cole who resigned from the committee.  Commissioner Karen Miller was the only no vote.

I can count on one hand the number of spending questions that Caylor has asked since I’ve been on the commission and still have fingers left over.  He will make a great government of the government, for the government and by the government member of the Budget Committee.  There is no one on the Budget Committee who will look out for the taxpaying citizens.

Commission votes on all new business in one motion
The other reason the meeting was so quick, besides my absence, is the commission voted on all 8 items under new business in one motion.  Cramming as many items as you can under one vote is the Washington DC approach to government.  Local government politicians appear to be learning the tricks of the trade from Washington DC.

Commissioner Jamie Daly was the only commissioner to ask any questions related to any of the items.  She inquired about the $65,000 that the commission was being asked to approved to pay a consultant for renegotiating the rate paid to the county to house the federal inmates awaiting trial.

No one from the Sheriff’s Office was at the meeting to answer questions.  The commission packet didn’t even name the consultant being paid.  See pages 18-21 to see what the commission was given regarding the budget amendment request.  The commission never voted to approve housing federal prisoners.  I’ve written about that in the past.  Furthermore, the commission was never told that the rate was being renegotiated, although I did learn about it and posted it along with more jail information.  (See Summerhill Group)

Taxpayers paying for legal agreements to be written
One of the items under new business that was rubber stamped without discussion was renewal of a lease agreement for a community club.  Community clubs have historically been important parts of the community.  It would be wonderful to see them grow again.

My only concern is that the taxpayers, for the second month in a row, are paying to draw up legal agreements for organizations who are getting something for nearly nothing.  Lawyers usually aren’t cheap.

Last month when I asked what the costs were to the taxpayers of Blount County, the mayor and finance director didn’t know.  However, the company benefiting from the agreement said they would pay the legal costs to prepare the agreement.  I had hoped to see the same thing this month.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked the finance director to provide the commission with the cost of preparing the lease agreement.  However, nothing was provided in the packet and no commissioner asked for that information.  The county needs to adopt a policy that will reimburse the taxpayers for the costs of the legal fees for preparing these legal documents.

Conflicts of Interest
Commissioner Karen Miller abstained on the vote for all 8 items because she has a relative who works for one of the companies doing work for the county.  That is the only time that she has ever had any conflict of interest and she did what someone in her position should do: abstain.  However, another commissioner, Andy Allen, works for a man who owns a company who was awarded a county project that was included in the 8 items.  However, he voted for the budget increase rather than abstaining.

Blount County Corrections Partnership – rush to get bids to build
The most alarming thing of the month was the push to rush through a bid process to look at the costs of building another jail pod or new facility.  If you haven’t been paying attention to this issue, now is a good time to start because this could get expensive, quickly.  If you are new to the website, please read some of the history on the jail overcrowding and much more here.  There are several articles to read.

The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) was finally given some important numbers related to Recovery Court, which was previously called Drug Court.  The information wasn’t joyfully provided.

I’ve asked for more information on Recovery Court for over a year.  Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington, who serves as the judge of Recovery Court, was curt, telling me she didn’t have time to gather the information.  What I had actually wanted was for the Program Director to gather the information and present it to us.  However, the Director did not attend the meeting, or any since I’ve been on the BCCP.

At the Budget Committee Workshop last week, Budget Committee member Mike Lewis asked for more information related to the staff costs for Recovery Court vs incarceration costs.  His requested information was included in the information given to the BCCP.

Harrington’s demeanor before the Budget Committee was more pleasant than it has been before the BCCP, probably due to her request for another budget increase.  The increase would be used to fund more staff and training to accommodate more participates.  In general, I support providing more financial resources for Recovery Court but it not responsible to just throw money at something without proper planning.  This was the first time that we were given anything in writing about Recovery Court.

The BCCP was presented with this information after it was presented to the Budget Committee, not before.  The BCCP has been treated as a formality rather than a place to work to reduce the overcrowding in the jail and thereby improve society.

Very few citizens attend the BCCP meetings.  However, a few that have attended have spoken to me after the meetings about Tammy Harrington’s behavior at the meetings.  After the meeting a citizen described her as hostile.  After a previous meeting a citizen described her as condescending.

Harrington told the BCCP that we were dysfunctional because we didn’t immediately settle on a meeting date.  The people of Blount County should be questioning whether someone with that kind of impatience should be sitting as a judge with authority to make life altering decisions.

The Chairman has traditionally announced a date to the BCCP to see if it is agreeable to the members.  No one said they couldn’t attend but the date was rejected because it wasn’t soon enough to ram through a process to seek bids for building estimates.  The BCCP settled on a meeting date after consulting with the members, as it usually does.

She pontificated that she didn’t want to be a part of the BCCP if we weren’t going to take action (while we were talking about seeking an architect to build) but then spoke out of the other side of her mouth saying later that it shouldn’t be assumed that she wanted to build.  Of course, she hasn’t offered much in the way of solutions, so what else is there to conclude from her pompous lecture?

Early into my commission term, I reached out to her to invite her to attend the BCCP to share what she does as a judge and what her goals are for the future.  I also supported adding her as a non-voting member to the BCCP.  However, given how little she has actually brought to the table and her overbearing attitude, it may be best if she does step aside and just occasionally attends.  Perhaps then we might actually hear from the Director of Recovery Court.

Judges Tammy Harrington and Robert Headrick have never faced opponents in contested elections.  Both judges were appointed to their positions.  Headrick was appointed by the county commission to replace judge David Duggan when he vacated the General Sessions judgeship.  Judge Harrington was appointed by Governor Haslam to replace judge Dale Young.

These two are in their positions because they were good at convincing politicians to choose them rather than the people choosing them.  It would be healthy for these two to face opponents in our democratic process rather than remaining in office for life because people are afraid to challenge incumbent judges.

Bob Bass of TCI pushed seeking architect
It became clear to me last year that Bob Bass of the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) intended to push the BCCP to expand the jail.  He popped off that he would have our jail shut down if we didn’t toe the line.  However, he is more mouth than authority.  He doesn’t have the authority to shut a jail down.  He also doesn’t have authority to make us build.  He toed the line at the January BCCP meeting after I spoke with his supervisor about what authority he actually has.  However, he was back true to form this month.

After the meeting a citizen said to me, I didn’t understand what point Bass was making when he spoke.  At the heart of his rant is a bully pushing to build.

Bass knows that he can’t order the county to build and he knows that I know that.  His tactic was to tell us that if we get some estimates on building that the jail may be recertified.  He implied that the jail will lose its certification if we don’t get bids.  That was enough for sheriff’s minions, commissioners Mike Caylor and Rick Carver, to jump on board and proceed full steam ahead without asking the many necessary questions that should be asked. The first question that should be asked, regarding building is build what exactly?  That important detail was not discussed.

The one thing that stopped them from rubber stamping a recommendation to seek building proposals was that that I pointed out that seeking bid proposals wasn’t on our agenda and we couldn’t vote to do something that wasn’t on our published agenda.  That’s the only thing that stopped them from sending that recommendation forward to the commission.  However, that won’t stop them for long.  A meeting has been scheduled for April 7th at 5:30 in room 315 at the courthouse.

The machine has wanted to move the meetings back to a smaller room, where the meetings aren’t video recorded and there is less space for the public to attend.  The only reason they haven’t all been moved downstairs away from the cameras is because I have insisted that the meetings remain in the commission chamber with the cameras rolling.  However, Bob Bass wants them in smaller rooms away from cameras as well, because he doesn’t like being on cameras either.

BCCP is dysfunctional – 5 of 6 voting members are Sheriff’s pals or employees
In her impatience about setting a meeting date Harrington said the BCCP is dysfunctional.  She is right, but for the wrong reason.  The BCCP is dysfunctional and unproductive, as I have written in the past.  The BCCP is dysfunctional because most of the members are closely affiliated with the Sheriff.

There are 6 voting members:
Chairman Jeff Headrick – married to a relative of the Sheriff
Vice Chairman Rick Carver – Sheriff donated to his first commission campaign
Jeff French – Chief Deputy of Sheriff’s Office
John Adams – Captain in the jail
Commissioner Mike Caylor – City of Maryville employee who serves on Boards with the Sheriff.
Commissioner Tona Monroe – no affiliation with the Sheriff

Minions or a couple of Blount County Corrections Partnership members?
Photo: www.designbolts.com

The BCCP is dysfunctional because it was never designed to work in the first place.  The BCCP was originally an ad hoc committee to study jail overcrowding.  This was the second time a committee had been created to look at the matter.

The first ad hoc committee recommended building but the economy tanked; therefore, jail expansion didn’t happen.  The second ad hoc committee was chaired by Tab Burkhalter who actually wanted to explore all options before building.  That threw a kink in the machine’s plan to build.

Rather than getting a quick recommendation to build, a study was commissioned to look at all our options.  That has been buried.  Furthermore, the TCI wanted the ad hoc committee to continue under the new name, the Blount County Corrections Partnership.  It has continued to exist to appease the state and because it can be used as a tool to achieve the goal of expanding the jail.

The machine has been working behind the scenes to make building happen.  The powers that be succeeded in getting Bob Bass to do for them what they lacked the guts to do themselves: push the BCCP to recommend seeking quotes to build.

The political machine really shows what gutless cowards they are on this matter.  The sheriff controls the mayor.  He controls the commission.  He controls the BCCP.  He is good friends with the judges.  He is well connected with the feds.  There has been no groundswell of public opposition against expanding the jail.  Yet, despite being well connected and firmly in control, the sheriff can’t pull the trigger (figuratively speaking).

What the sheriff and his minions have done is get Bob Bass and William Robert Kane to come in and issue a tough sounding, empty fiat, that we need to do something (build).  It is just that, tough sounding talk from bureaucrats, but the sheriff’s minions are treating it as though it has the force and effect of law.

Summary
A study was done that said jail expansion wasn’t necessary.  That study was buried with the false threat of a lawsuit by the mayor, to silence discussion on the matter.  There has never been a meeting to hear the conclusions, findings and recommendations of the final report.

The Finance Director and sheriff cut the budget revenue projections on federal inmates which allowed money to accumulate, for possible building without telling the commission or the public about their plan.

The county has been losing money on the federal inmates for many years.  Costs are higher than the Sheriff’s Office has been saying.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute does not have authority to make Blount County expand its jail.  Bob Bass of the TCI is a bully and his words mean little or nothing.  He has no vote on the Board of Control.  Neither does the Detention Facility Manger William R, Kane, who is actually recommending to the Board of Control that the county’s formal Plan of Action be updated and approved by the TCI Board of Control.

There is more to cover on this matter.  I will write more about this in the future.

Should Blount County expand its jail?  Vote now.

Rick Carver acts as dictator
The Chairman, Jeff Headrick, was absent from the BCCP meeting because he was attending the Republican Party Executive Committee meeting, where he was chosen as the Republican Party’s nominee for Highway Superintendent.

Vice Chairman, Rick Carver, chaired the meeting.  He used the meeting to practice his skills as a dictator.  I requested that discussion and possible action of housing federal inmates be added to the agenda.  Rick Carver said the BCCP couldn’t do anything about it so he wasn’t going to allow it on the agenda.  I asked him if he had authority to stop me from putting anything on the agenda.  He said he didn’t know.  That was a cop-out.  He knows that he can’t stop a commissioner from putting an item on the agenda.  However, the public notice was issued with the agenda item that I requested.

If you would like to tell the BCCP members that the Chairman is not a dictator, here are the email addresses for the BCCP members.

“Jeff French” <jfrench@bcso.com>, “Jeff Headrick” <jheadrick@blounttn.org>, “John Adams” <jadams@bcso.com>, “Michael Gallegos” <mgallegos@blounttn.org>, “Mike Caylor” <bmcaylor@maryville-tn.gov>, “Randy Vineyard” <rvineyard@blounttn.org>, “Richard Carver” <rcarver@blounttn.org>, tharrington@blounttn.org, “Tona Monroe” <tmonroe@blounttn.org>

The bottom line
The only thing that can be done to bring accountability to this matter is YOU.  I am shining light on the matter but I need your help.  If you don’t want your wonderful community to become the next Brushy Mountain prison then you need to rise up and say no to turning the beautiful mountains into the Smoky Mountains mega jail.

Up next
Annual budget hearings are underway.  The next one is April 1, 8:30 AM-4:30 PM at the Blount County Public Library.

Where do you want to cut the budget?  Vote now.

BCCP meeting April 7, 5:30 in room 315 – to ram through a request for cost estimates on building

Is a tax increase coming?
People are asking that question.  Politicians in Blount County can’t keep wasting money the way they have been doing without eventually treating the people as nothing more than ATM machines to withdraw money anytime they want.  I don’t know if there will be a tax increase this year or not.  There have already been several tax increase and there will be more in the future if you don’t get involved.

Please get involved.  That is the only thing that can truly let freedom ring!

3 thoughts on “March 2016 Commission Report

  1. According to the article in the Daily Times today, if the state and federal inmates were removed from the county jail there would be 51 empty beds. The jail has 350 beds and there are 299 county inmates currently in the jail. Blount County should not be paying to house state and federal inmates. If they want to house state and federal inmates, let the state and federal governments pay for the new jail pods and reimburse the county the actual cost of operation.

  2. Pingback: Jail RFQ Evaluation Team members revealed? | Blount County (BC) Public Record

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