April 2016 Commission Report

If you demand better government you will get better government.  Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe

Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP)
BCCP Chairman Jeff Headrick missed the March and April BCCP meetings.  Vice Chairman Rick Carver filled in.  Carver showed that he has little or no respect for our constitutional participatory process*.  Citizens have shared with me the horrible faces that he makes when they are speaking and when I am speaking.  Apparently he can’t hide his contempt for the people he is suppose to be representing.

Last month BCCP Vice Chairman Rick Carver asked the BCCP whether we should ram through a request for qualifications (RFQ) to expand the jail.  This matter wasn’t on the agenda.  Another meeting was called to place the item on the BCCP agenda, to ensure that the rush to vote on seeking an RFQ to expand the jail and look at program services would be legal.  What does that say about some local government employees and officials that they would want to ram through something this important without giving the public time to comment?

This wasn’t Carver’s only legally questionable move related to the BCCP.  He also prohibited me from adding an item to the BCCP agenda.  At the end of the March BCCP meeting I requested that discussion and possible action to make a recommendation about housing federal inmates be placed on the agenda.  Rick Carver said he would not allow it to be placed on the agenda.  I asked him if he had authority to stop me from placing an item on the agenda.  He said that he didn’t know.

After the meeting I (Tona Monroe) told Rick Carver that he couldn’t do what he had just done.  He told me to add it to the agenda.  I called Rhonda Pitts, the Commission Secretary, and shared that Rick Carver told me to add it to the agenda.

The agenda was released without the item that I requested.  Neither Pitts or Carver have the integrity to answer who told Pitts to exclude the item from the agenda.  However, records that I have obtained indicate that Rick Carver was making decisions related to the BCCP, in the absence of Jeff Headrick.  Pitts has also failed to properly record the motions that I make into the BCCP meeting minutes.

Historically, no commissioner has ever been prohibiting from adding items to the agenda, that I am aware of.  The commission is free to reject the item and even remove it from the agenda if they choose not to discuss it.  However, prohibiting a commissioner from adding something to the agenda is unprecedented and it trashes the fiduciary responsibility and sacred trust that elected officials have been given.

If it seems trite to talk about this scared trust, it is because people like Rick Carver have thrown our system of governance into the trash bin of antiquity, preferring a oligarchy to our constitutional republic.  No commissioner should be allowed to dictate what can and can not be placed on a meeting agenda.  Why have a committee if one person, acting as chair, can bottleneck and determine the entire agenda?  Committees are suppose to discuss ideas not stifle them.

Defining moment – dangerous precedent
This is a defining moment in Blount County government.  If Rick Carver is allowed to get away with his actions, then the machine will never again have to allow commissioners to place items on the agenda that they don’t approve of.

I am doing what I can to stop this deplorable action from happening again but I can’t do it alone.  It is time for you to step up and demand that this stop.  If you demand better government, you will get better government.

Rick Carver’s phone number is 984-6674 and his email address is rcarver@blounttn.org.  Commission Secretary Rhonda Pitt’s can be reached at 273-5830 and her email is rpitts@blounttn.org.  County Clerk Margaret Flynn, Rhonda’s supervisor, can be reached at 273-5804 and her email is maflynn@blounttn.org.

The RFQ was approved with only me voting no.  This should come as no surprise.  Of the 5 voting members present, 2 are employees of the Sheriff (Jeff French and John Adams), one was finically supported by the Sheriff during his campaign (Rick Carver) and the other sits on a board with the Sheriff (Mike Caylor).

I made a motion to amend the RFQ recommendation it to program services and not expansion of the jail.  Mike Caylor embarrassed himself by speaking out of order by saying that he wouldn’t accept my amendment to his motion, rather than allowing the process to work.

There was further embarrassment when clarification had to be sought from the Purchasing Agent, Katie Branham, as to whether the recommendation needed to be sent to the commission.  The Purchasing Agent said that under the Purchasing Act of 1957, which the county operates under, the BCCP could recommend that she issue the RFQ without commission approval.

It is no wonder that the Purchasing Agent was overheard saying, they don’t know what they are doing.  She is correct.  Rick Carver and Mike Caylor don’t know what they are doing.  They do what they are told and many times they can’t even do what they are told correctly.

No solution Mike Caylor asked the Finance Director, Randy Vineyard, what he thought about the procedure for handling the RFQ process.  The Finance Director, who is usually quite happy to run things while the mayor is out to lunch or cutting a ribbon, told Caylor you’ve heard the same things that I heard.  Caylor said, I just wanted to hear you (Vineyard) say it and laughed.  Once again no solution Caylor was showing that he doesn’t want to do the thinking and is just there as a rubber stamp for the machine.

Agenda Committee
Favoritism shown
Toward the end of each meeting there is a section on the agenda for statements and announcements from commissioners.  The Agenda Committee Chairman Steve Samples frequently skips over the section.  I had my light on to speak and he skipped me and went straight to public input for items on the agenda.

Rather than letting me make my statement in my commission seat, where commissioners normally make their statements, Jerome Moon insisted that I go to the podium and speak which I did.  However, Samples let commissioner Ron French speak from his seat.  Moon did not insist that French go to the podium and speak.  Samples apologized to me after the meeting but he let Moon have his way.

Called Commission meeting
The commission approved the RFQ to look at costs to expand the jail and/or programs.  I made the motion to remove jail expansion and just focus on programs.  My amendment failed with Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and me voting for it.  These are the same 6 who voted against the RFQ.

The paper reported the final vote wrong.  Jerome Moon did not abstain and Gary Farmer left before the final vote.  Jeff Headrick was absent at the start of the meeting but came in late and voted yes.  Headrick and Carver are the two sponsors of the resolution.

What Jerome Moon abstained on was my challenge to his ruling as Chair.  No solution Mike Caylor who wanted to hear from the Finance Director, who had nothing to say, declared a point of order saying that I was out of order because I was referring to the Institute for Law and Policy Planning report which discussed why we didn’t need to build.  It is not out of order for a commissioner to talk about why we shouldn’t be doing something before the body (commission) and reference resources that support that position.  However, Jerome Moon declared me out of order and the commission voted to shut my discussion on the matter down by upholding Moon’s ruling.

I wasn’t the only one shut down when referencing the jail study.  Moon shut citizens down who spoke about the study.  He also told Commissioner Tom Cole that he could be sued if he didn’t vote for the RFQ.

What has Blount County government become?
Think about what Blount County government has become and decide if it is serving you well.  If not, you shouldn’t put up with this and should demand better from those who are suppose to be your public servants.

  • The Blount County Adult Detention Facility (jail) is overcrowded, exceeding its certified capacity of 350 beds.
  • The sheriff and US Marshal’s service willfully contribute to the crowding problem by agreeing to house federal inmates in the jail.
  • The taxpayers funded a $94,580 study to address jail overcrowding.
  • The study is a criminal justice system assessment and not just a plan to expand the jail.
  • Several of the powers that be were upset with the findings, conclusions and recommendations.
  • The BCCP recommended that the commission conduct a teleconference hearing with the jail consultant.
  • The Mayor threatened to sue the consultant to stop discussion on the study.
  • The county paid $3,710 in legal fees to the mayor’s attorney.
  • There was no lawsuit and the commission still rejected hearing from the consultant.
  • The study said that the county is losing money housing federal inmates and that the only way to make it seem like money is being made is to understaff and overcrowd the jail.
  • I requested that the issue of housing federal inmates be added to the BCCP agenda.  It took 7 months for this to happen.
  • After some discussion with figures showing that the county isn’t making money on federal inmates, the BCCP Chairman Jeff Headrick cut discussion off and moved to the next item without considering whether the BCCP should recommend that federal inmates no longer be housed in the jail.
  • The Finance Director and Sheriff’s Office cut the revenue projections for housing federal inmates.
  • More revenue accumulated than projected.
  • The Finance Director, Mayor and Sheriff secretly planned to use this accumulated revenue to build.
  • The Purchasing Agent chose a company charging 3.5 times more than the lowest offer to renegotiate the federal inmate per diem daily rate.
  • The county was obligated to pay the $65,000 consultant fee but the commission wasn’t presented with a budget amendment until after services were rendered.
  • I tried to place the federal prisoners issue back on the BCCP agenda, to make a recommendation but Vice Chairman Rick Carver stopped it from being placed on the agenda.
  • Commission Secretary Rhonda Pitts has refused to record the words of my amendments in the meeting minutes.
  • Mike Caylor declared a point of order prohibiting me from speaking about why we didn’t need to build.
  • Jerome Moon ruled that I was out of order and commission upheld that a commissioner can’t talk about why we shouldn’t build, when being presented with resolution seeking approval of an RFQ to build.
  • The sheriff told the paper in December that he hasn’t asked the commission for a new jail.
  • The sheriff still hasn’t asked the commission for a new jail or expansion.

Why are we doing this?

Commission meeting – a spending spree
Mike Caylor was absent.

The majority of commissioners showed again that they have no fiscal discipline and that they are happy to accommodate government anytime it wants to go on a spending binge.

The schools were back for more budget increases despite being given a huge increase in local revenue this year and already receiving another large budget increase a few months back.  I have never received the information that I requested regarding new hires and part time jobs being made full time this fiscal year.  Only commissioner Karen Miller and I voted against giving the schools another big increase.

The commission was presented with a lease for laptops for the Sheriff’s Office.  There were numerous problems with this lease.  Neither the Purchasing Agent or the new $100+ hourly Mindboard IT consultant could answer questions about the agreements that they negotiate.  I asked why the paperwork listed a 4 year warranty for a 3 year lease.  The $100+ hourly IT consultant did say what was already obvious, that this 3 lease is just a way to go and get new laptops again in 3 years, rather than using the laptops for the life of the equipment.  During the meeting commissioner Mike Akard was able to find a lower price for the same model laptops from the same vendor.  Why we need someone making over $100 a hour involved in a laptop lease is beyond me.

The most potentially dangerous item approved by the commission is a lease agreement for county employees to lease new cars for 5 years.  The Sheriff’s Office and Blount County Schools are excluded.  The rest will be able to get new cars if they can find the money in their budgets.  With all the transfers taking place, it won’t surprise me to see several people with new cars soon.

Besides the obvious opening the door to get new cars, this matter was not presented in a business like manner to the commission.  The commission should have been given an expense sheet documenting the cost of purchasing and maintaining cars for at least the last 3 budget years, preferably more.  We should have been given a list of market options, beyond leasing new cars.  There are software programs that handle fleet management but nothing like this was presented, even though the lease agreement was sold to the budget committee as a way to solve our lack of having a fleet management system.  All the market options should have been presented to us so that we could determine what the best option was.  We were given none of this.  While the laptops were a bad deal for the taxpayers a few leased cars will quickly cost more than the laptops.  Only myself and Commissioner Karen Miller voted no on this poorly thought out way to manage county vehicles.

The annual litter grant, with language about an Environmental Court being envisioned, was back.  Last year I pointed this matter out and put forth an amendment to ensure that no funds would be used for this purpose.  That amendment failed and it failed again this year.  If there is no agenda or desire for an Environmental Court, why does this statement keep getting submitted to the state?

Information Technology (IT) Steering Committee meeting canceled
The IT Committee meeting was canceled.  No explanation was given for the cancelation.  Mike Cain, Assistant IT Director and custodian of the IT Committee minutes, has not responded to my email inquiring why the meeting was canceled.  This is bad for the taxpayers of Blount County because it reduces oversight on major, expensive IT projects.

IT costs have soared the past couple of years.  The IT Committee should be meeting regularly to ensure good fiscal stewardship of the large sums of taxpayer monies that have been allocated to IT projects.  However, the opposite is occurring.

The IT Committee is only scheduled to meet 4 times a year and this meeting was canceled.  With no meeting on the near horizon and an Assistant IT Director who won’t respond to emails, it makes it difficult for me to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent wisely.  I never had a problem getting a timely response from the former IT Director John Herron.

Unfortunately this is business as usual.  The Mayor and his staff willfully leave those who might question their decisions in the dark.  Canceling a meeting, when we should be discussing how the $1.3 million IT fund is being spent is the latest way to avoid accountability.

Up next
The commission will chose a replacement for Jeff Headrick, who was appointed by the commission to the office of Highway Superintendent, to serve until the next election.

Call to action – Please get involved in your government
As I stated above, if you demand better government you will get better government.  Make phone calls, send emails, write letters to the editor and attend commission meetings.  Local government is right here.  You don’t have to drive to Nashville or Washington DC to be heard.  If you don’t show up, you will have to pay up, because your taxes will keep going up to pay for all the poor decisions being made right in your back yard.  This is your government.  Take charge of it.  Let freedom ring!

*Constitutional participatory process: this is commonly called the democratic process.

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