Spending increase rejected
The commission actually rejected a spending increase request from the schools for tennis court renovations. This is the first spending request, apart from the annual budget, that this commission has rejected.
State inmate revenue reported incorrectly
After the Tennessee Department of Corrections announced that it would transfer some of its state felons to state facilities, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office started providing the commission a monthly report showing the revenue that the county is receiving from the state for housing state felons. The county receives $37 a day from the state of Tennessee but the reports have been incorrectly stating that the daily per diem rate is $37.50. $37 a day is substantially less than the cost to the county for housing state sentenced felons. Blount County Sheriff James Berrong told the commission last April that the state inmates are only a good deal for the state and that he doesn’t want to keep them.
The commission was asked to approve spending $800,000 of fund balance for the Blount County Highway Department (HD) in a special called meeting. This request was deemed an emergency by Highway Superintendent (HS) Jeff Headrick, due to trucks being damaged by salt.
The request included 8 new single-axial diesel salt trucks and 4 trailers. I asked how many salt trucks the HD has. Headrick didn’t know. Assistant Superintendent Chico Messer told the commission that the HD has 15.
A common sense fleet management policy would be to replace these trucks at the rate of 1 or 2 a year. It doesn’t make sense to replace the majority of your fleet (8 of 15) in one budget year. While this seems to be poor management on the part of the former Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap, it is also poor planning on the part of the new HS. A slower, more consistent, replacement of the fleet allows for better budget planning and as well as use of the vehicles.
The HD had just purchased 2 new triple-axial trucks in December at a cost of $145,746.80 each. There was a transfer for $35,000 in January for parts.
At the regular commission meeting, the commission was asked to approve $281,000 to purchase a pug mill and asphalt patching trailer as well as $120,000 for asphalt. Commissioner Mike Akard asked if the $120,000 for asphalt was an emergency. Headrick said that it was but no explanation was given as to why it wasn’t included in the special called meeting with the equipment purchase.
Additionally, there was a $13,579.46 request to increase salaries in the Highway Department. Commissioner Dave Bennett asked for this item to be removed without providing an explanation for its removal.
The requests and purchases for equipment and parts total over $1.4M in less than 3 months. This was too much too fast.
It makes sense to approve more money for asphalt because the county hasn’t been keeping up with its paving needs. Headrick said that the $120K will pave an additional 2.25 miles of the 830 miles of local roads. Additionally, I asked him for a list of roads that will be paved in the next year. You can read that list here.
Taxpayers footed the lunch bill for the commission, the mayor and his staff and some highway employees for the special called meeting. Meals paid for by the taxpaying citizens of Blount County have become all too common of a practice.
The commission was asked to approve the use of local tax money to bail out a federally funded program. This isn’t the first time that the federal government has failed to fund one of its programs. Funding was cut and service was to be temporarily halted. This is a good example of why the federal government shouldn’t be running programs. There is no constitutional authority for the federal government to fund this program.
There were unanswered questions. A commissioner who is a part of the courthouse clique said after the meeting that this matter wasn’t explained well to the commission.
As a county commissioner, it isn’t my job to vote to bail out unconstitutional, federal government programs. Furthermore, not one person from my district called me and asked me to vote for this. I was the only commissioner to vote no.
Workers compensation (comp) settlement
The commission was asked to approve a workers comp settlement because the settlement was more than $50,000. The case had been ongoing for over 2 years. I had asked for records related to the case back in December, primarily because I wanted to know the cost of the legal fees for the case, and was provided with nothing. Since I didn’t receive anything, I called Director of General Services Don Stallions and he told me that the legal fees for the case is about $75,000.
I told Mr. Stallions that the commission should, at a minimum, be provided with an annual report on the status of lawsuits and claims against the county, but ideally it should be provided quarterly. He agreed and said that the information used to be provided in the past when the county had a committee dealing with these matters. When I mentioned this at the commission meeting, Commissioner Bennett made a statement cautioning against releasing information. Apparently the status quo of having nothing is acceptable to him, although I doubt he’d run a private business without having this information.
For almost a year, I have been trying to get records and information from Stallions regarding the status of law suits, claims and settlements. To date he has provided me with nothing. This lengthy delay is not out of sort. A former commissioner shared with me that Mr. Stallions stalled him for 2 years on a request.
Jail RFQ purchasing meeting
After I publically criticized the secrecy created by a new purchasing law, the Purchasing Department held a meeting open to the public so three companies chosen in secret could give presentations as to why their company is the best to look at jail expansion or construction of a new facility. No decisions were made at the meeting. The selection of the company was done behind closed doors, to protect the integrity of the process, according to Purchasing Agent (PA) Katie Branham Kerr. This means that the Tennessee General Assembly and the Purchasing Agent think that the public lacks the integrity to allow her to select a company openly.
The Evaluation Team/Screening Committee consisted of 4 of the 5 people that I named here. Laurie Bell did not participate at the meeting. Commissioner Mike Caylor missed two of the three presentations.
Presenters for Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) said that Blount County has a better jail that most in the state and that Monroe County would love to have what we have today.
When asked what the county needs a presenter for Barber McMurry (BMA) said he didn’t know. This affirms what I have been saying, that Blount County got the cart before the horse. The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) and the commission never identified what the county needed.
A presenter for Cope Architecture said he suggested a jail committee that would meet weekly during planning and construction. His suggestion for the makeup of the committee is essentially what exists now with the BCCP.
Upon request, PA Branham Kerr informed me that MBI was chosen. This is the same company that the schools are using that came back with a $66M proposal after originally estimating $40M. The public wasn’t allowed to express concerns about a company that went way over what was originally estimated. We’re told that your comments would have corrupted the integrity of the process.
It’s not surprising that MBI was chosen. They’ve been watching this for years. Roy Latham, an employee of MBI, has been attending commission meetings for years. Commissioners receive a chocolate bar for Christmas from MBI. Allowing them to be chosen in secret makes me wonder if MBI was a shoo-in all along.
Up next: “All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.” Indian Proverb
Blount County is facing two big renovation/building project: the 2 high schools and the jail. These two matters could become very expensive, quickly. Pay close attention to these matters.
The Purchasing Agent will make her recommendation for MBI to the BCCP on March 28th at 5:30 in room 430 at the courthouse.