October 2016 Commission Report

“The real destroyers of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them bounties, donations, and benefits.”  Plutarch

Plutarch’s statement could be rewritten to more accurately reflect our society and the politics of today by saying, “The real destroyers of the liberties of the people is he who spreads among them government services, government approved education, and benefits.”

Agenda Committee
There were seven commissioners absent from the agenda meeting.  This is one third of the twenty one members commission.  Since this meeting ran smoothly without one third of its membership now is a good time to ask how many commissioners you think Blount County should have.  State law requires a minimum of nine and a maximum of twenty four.

How many commissioners should Blount County have?

9-11
12-15
16-20
Keep it at 21
22-24

Poll Maker

Commission meeting
Commissioner Brad Bowers was absent from the commission meeting.

Transfer turned into political theater
On the agenda was a transfer in the Sherriff’s Office that Finance Director (FD) Randy Vineyard described as being an accounting change to simply recording of employees’ pay in the new Kronos payroll system.  Commissioner Dave Bennett used this transfer as an opportunity for political theater with the jail.

There was no resolution for the matter.  All that was in the packet is a budget amendment form with the transfer box checked with a one sentence explanation.  See Item F1 on page 16.

Dave Bennett made the motion to require the FD to provide the commission with an update on the loss of revenue for housing state inmates.  In the packet you will find that the Sheriff’s Office has been providing the FD, who then forwards to the commission, a letter stating how much revenue the county is receiving for state inmates compared to the monthly average last year.  See page 92 of the commission packet for the letter from Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps to the FD.

The letter does not show how much the Sherriff’s Office projected in revenue for the year compared to what the county is actually receiving.  However, you can obtain that information by looking at the monthly financial report that the FD is required to prepare for the commission.  See page 158, line item 101 00000 46915 00000 CONTRACTED PRISONER BOARD.

Chairman Jerome Moon declared Bennett’s motion out of order.  Commissioner Steve Samples immediately challenged the rule of the chair.  The commission chose to override the chair, forcing a vote on the matter.

From the draft minutes of the meeting:

Commissioner Samples appealed the ruling of the Chair. Commissioner Carter seconded the motion. Chairman Moon instructed the members to vote yes if they agree with the ruling of the Chair, and to vote no if they disagree with the ruling of the Chair. An electronic vote was taken on the appeal.

AkardYes,       AllenNo
ArcherYes,     Bennett‐No
Caskey
Yes,     Carter‐No
Cole‐Yes,
         Carver‐No
Crowe‐Yes,      Caylor‐No
Daly‐Yes,
          Farmer‐No
French- Yes,     Mike Lewis‐No
Miller‐Yes,        Melton‐No

Monroe‐Yes,    Samples‐No
                           Stinnett‐No

BowersAbsent,    Moon‐Abstain

There were 9 voting yes, 10 voting no, 1 abstain, and 1 absent.
Chairman Moon declared the ruling of the Chair was not upheld.

Commission Mike Akard moved to require the reduction in expenses, related to housing less state inmates, be included in the report.  The courthouse clique didn’t want the whole truth, just the distorted, incomplete statement on revenue.  Only commissioners Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) voted to be given the whole truth on housing state inmates.

Dave Bennett, the maker of the motion, Andy Allen, quick to provide a second to the motion, and Steve Samples, the commissioner challenging the rule of the chair should be embarrassed.  All 3 are business men.  Good business people always take a look at expenses, and not just revenue, when examining the financial statements of any situation.  However, keep in mind that Dave Bennett and Andy Allen are both in businesses that profit from building and/or renovations.

Bennett’s motion failed, even though there were not enough votes to uphold the rule of the chair.

Retirement benefit – Taxpayers to contribute 4 times what employees contribute
Sometimes I wonder if commissioners read their packets before voting, or if they read their packets if they actually fully consider the ramifications of what they are doing to the taxpayers before voting.  A resolution regarding retirement benefits for Parks and Recreation Commission employees that the FD referred to as a housekeeping measure makes me questions the quality and fitness of most of our commissioners.

A letter from FD Randy Vineyard tells the Budget Committee that the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Services is requiring the cities of Maryville and Alcoa and Blount County to separate Parks and Rec employees into their own employee group.  The letter further states that there are no changes to plan design and benefits.  That sounds all well and good but there are still several causes for concern.

1.  The resolution calls for an employer (taxpayers) contribution of 20.16% starting 2017 while the employees contribute 5%.
How many people in the private sector have a retirement benefits package where the employer, in this case you the taxpayers, contribute more than four times the amount of the employees?  Private sector business typical budget around 20% of salaries for benefits.  This resolution budgets what the private sector typically budgets for all benefits, solely for retirement benefits.  Furthermore, there is no limit to the percentage.

2.  The taxpayer funded portion of benefits “shall be subject to change based on subsequent annual actuarial valuations.”
The taxpayers will be on the hook for future increases if actuarial valuations show the need.  Alarmingly there is no cap or limit placed on the percentage amount that you could be required to pay for retirement benefits.

3.  “The unfunded accrued liability that remains at the effective date of participation, following the transfer of assets within TCRS to the Joint Venture’s account approved by the City of Maryville by separate resolution, is $1,327,251.”
Could this large unfunded liability be why the contribution from taxpayers is so high?  The FD should have explained this and what the plan is to fully fund this liability before bringing this resolution to the commission.

4.  The county’s portion/share is 38%.
There is no logic given for the amount of 38% but the resolution guarantees that the county will fund this amount.  Commissioner Jamie Daly pointed out that most of the parks are in the cities.  Many of the rural county residence don’t use the parks or rarely use them.  Most are convenient for city residents but not for county residents.  Parks are an optional service that should be paid for by those using the service rather than being subsidized by people don’t use or want the services.

For these reasons I voted no on the resolution.  Only commissioner Karen Miller joined me.  The rest voted yes.

Employee Handbook
There were many revisions proposed to the employee handbook.  The Human Resources (HR) Director was not present at the Agenda Committee meeting and she can be very hard to get ahold of by phone and email.  Thus, the only reliable opportunity to ask her questions was at the commission meeting.

I had several questions, many pertaining to the use of county vehicles.  The HR Director said she didn’t know the answers to my questions related to the use of county vehicles and that I would need to direct my questions to Risk Management (RM).  Since no one from RM was present to answer my questions, I moved to postpone discussion and action on the handbook until November so that RM could be present to answer questions.  The commission voted this down.

Alarmingly, Commissioner Tom Stinnett told the body that he had just spent two days on the handbook.  This invites the question of why he didn’t do this before he voted for the revisions in the HR Committee, a committee that he serves on.  Would you vote to forward something to the commission for approval, that requires two days of research, without asking any questions?   This clearly wasn’t well thought out.

Commissioner Ron French was quick to dismiss my concern but this isn’t in the best interest of the public.  The commission should take the time to thoroughly examine the handbook because there are many glaring holes/deficiencies in the employee handbook.  A lawyer could pick it apart easily.  Commissioners are elected to set public policy.  Answers should be provided before policies are adopted.

The commission actually did vote to give more time to the handbook by sending it back to the HR Committee to look at how to award vacation time after the first 6 months of employment.  However, the HR Committee rubber stamped what was presented to it at its last meeting.  The HR Committee spent less time on the changes to the handbook than the commission.  You can watch the meeting online here.  Hopefully the HR Committee will examine all the policy revisions and work through the entire handbook this time.

Information Technology (IT) Committee
The agenda for the IT Committee was sent by email 2 hours and 20 minutes before the state of the meeting with no supporting documentation.  The committee lacked a quorum so there was no official action taken but their rarely is anyway.

The committee heard from its $100+ hour IT consultant about the IT projects currently under way.  I was the only member to ask any questions.  AV, as he is known, with Mindboard Inc. told the committee that the county’s websites will cost $20,000 annually.  It sounds steep and I have to wonder if the county could be doing some of these projects for substantially less in-house.  The government is rarely, if ever, more efficient than the private sector but the county has benefited from in-house software.  The county is doing away with most, or all, of its in-house software and purchasing software and services that have lots of renewal and license fees.

The list of IT projects contained in the presentation given a couple of months ago has still not been provided and I continue to wonder what the point of having an IT Committee is.

Up next
A joint meeting of the Blount County Commission and Board of Education has been called to look at $40 million in updates to the two high schools.  The meeting will be held in the Heritage High School Theater on Thursday at 6:30 PM.

The Agenda Committee meeting has been moved up a day and will held on Monday November 7th at 6:30 in room 430 at the courthouse.

5 thoughts on “October 2016 Commission Report

    • Yes that’s true. If people hadn’t already started voting I would add the options of amending state law for more or less commissioners.

  1. When I arrived home I told my nephew that Blount County residents didn’t need to leave the County to see a circus. All they needed to do was attend a Blount County Commission meeting.

    • I’ve heard this for years but the courthouse clique already controls the commission. The schools are getting what they want with this commission and the courthouse clique usually gets what they want.

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