Purchasing Agent Katie Branham is an attorney who came to the county with little relevant purchasing experience. The citizens of this county are not being well served under her leadership because she is controlled and does what the machine wants.
One of the first things that she did was push to weaken the competitive sealed bid process. She wrote the jail RFQ resolution but failed to include the word jail in the resolved portion of the resolution. She presented the commission a contract for leasing cars without providing any comparison of buying verses leasing. Now she is being selective in describing her duties and authority under state law.
At the April 8th Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting, Branham told the body that under the Purchasing Act of 1957 she could proceed with a request for qualifications (RFQ) to look at jail expansion and program services at the request of the Partnership. She said that commission approval wasn’t necessary to issue the RFQ.
The commission approved a resolution to authorize the purchasing agent to do something that she said she could do without its authorization. Why did Branham write a resolution to authorize herself to do something that she said she can do without commission approval? Couldn’t she have used more accurate wording in the resolution that she wrote for the commission?
Blount County government needs to take a close look at the authority, under state law, of each office and position in county government. The commission met to authorize the purchasing agent to do something that she said she could do without their approval. Sheriff James Berrong told the commission at that meeting that the state prisoners were out of local control when state law says that counties don’t have to keep state felons with a continuous sentence of more than one year. Furthermore at the same meeting, the sheriff said the federal inmates were his decision, while the Comptroller’s Office has said it is unaware of any specific state statute that says he can sign a contract to house federal inmates without commission approval.
Does anyone within the political machine of Blount County government understand their duties and authority under state law? Commissioner Mike Caylor was so unaware at the BCCP meeting that he consulted the finance director, who told him that he had heard the same thing that the finance director heard.
Does Branham understand what she is doing? When asked if 30 days would be enough time, she said that 30 days should be sufficient time for to issue the RFQ. It took Mrs. Branham’s office 12 weeks to issue the RFQ.
I (Tona Monroe) was told that the US Marshals Service follows local purchasing procedures with federal inmate contracts. Thus, I sought to find out what, if any, authority the local purchasing agent has related to contracting to house federal inmates.
Mrs. Branham won’t tell me if she has the authority to sign or execute a contract to house federal inmates. She had no problem explaining her duties as she understands them under the state law when the machine asked for clarification. Why the selective explanation of duties? Unfortunately this is par for the course of questionable legal authority in Blount County government.