The commission recently started voting to receive reports and minutes from committees and entities that provides us with information because of the new software system that the commission started using in January. Prior to the new system, these records were available in the commission packet as information without a vote. I (Tona Monroe) pointed out that some of the meeting minutes were drafts and subject to being changed by their respective bodies. The draft minutes were postponed until April so that the commission can figure out how to properly handle voting on minutes being received in the future. The matter shows how most commissioners operate on auto pilot during the meetings and how little thought most put into the process.
Commissioners Mike Akard, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly and Tom Stinnett were absent.
Evergreen pay study for Highway Department
The Evergreen Solutions salary study pay increase request for the Highway Department was back on the agenda after being pulled by Commissioner Dave Bennett last month without any explanation for it being pulled. The request increased from $13,579.46 to $15,346.13.
The $15,346.13 will be used to increase the pay of 14 employees. Shortly before this, one employee was about 2/3’s of this amount in one year. Certain people get huge page raises while many get small ones. According to the 2015 payroll, Assistant Superintendent Chico Messer made $71,999.98. According to the 2016 salary list, Chico Messer’s salary increased to $82,801 on August 25, 2016 (see page 42). In 2014, Messer’s annual salary was $66,000.06. It’s interesting that Messer sought and received certification from the state to run for the position of Highway Superintendent but chose not to seek the postion. Could the big pay increase be a deterrent to Messer running in 2018?
In 2015, the Blount County Commission voted to adopt the recommendations of the Evergreen Solutions employee classification and compensation study for all county departments except the Highway Department and the Schools. This request adds the Highway Department to the rest of the General County government pay scale.
You may remember that one of my objections at the time was that the report wasn’t even finished when the commission was asked to vote to adopt its recommendations. The final study was not made public until 7 months after the commission had voted on the matter. Well this new study wasn’t in the Agenda Committee packet. When I asked why, I was told by the Human Resources Director that she had just received the report that day. That raises the question of why it had been put on the agenda last month when the report wasn’t finished. Do these people ever learn? Do they even care?
Furthermore, the previous study only compared Blount County to one other county. The rest of the comparisons were to schools, even though Blount County Schools didn’t participate, cities and other entities. This new study only compared Blount County to cities. Not one county was included in the study. It wouldn’t be that hard, particularly when you’re only looking at one department, to obtain the payrolls for other counties and analyze comparable positions. Commissioners Karen Miller and I were the only no votes.
A couple donated $10,000 to the county for the purchase of a service dog. Blount County currently has 7 service dogs and will soon have 10.
State legislation has been filed that would add the County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS) to the list of government entities that would sunset and have to be renewed by the Tennessee General Assembly after a review process. All of the status quo, courthouse clique commissioners signed onto a resolution that opposed this legislation.
If enacted, an Evaluation Committee would review the objectives of CTAS. TCA 4-29-105 says:
The Evaluation Committee shall have as its objectives:
1) The review of present programs and strategies of entities to determine the quality, efficiency, and success of such programs and strategies in implementation of legislative mandates.
What’s wrong with a regular review of CTAS? CTAS can be political and is cliquish, picking their favorites.
On at least two occasions that I have asked CTAS questions, the local government consultant for this area, Wesley Robertson, has called Commission Chairman Jerome Moon and given him the answer to my questions rather than calling and giving the answers to me.
I’ve talked to local elected officials in several counties around the state. Those who are principled reformers receive similar treatment. A commissioner in another county shared with me that she has quit contacting CTAS because as soon as she inquires about anything, her CTAS government consultant calls her county mayor to inform him of what she is inquiring about. Another elected official in a different county told me that we should get together and ask the Tennessee General Assembly for some real help, since we aren’t getting it from CTAS. She shared with me how another lady she knows in local government is treated poorly by CTAS. It seems that CTAS has a history of treating women who oppose the status quo, poorly. However, I have talked with men in local elected office who don’t consult with CTAS either because they consider them to be part of the problem within the bureaucracy in government.
CTAS is a part of the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service (IPS). IPS blocked me on twitter after I posted tweets critical of CTAS. Amazingly, the IPS unblocked me the day before the commission voted on this resolution and is now following www.twitter.com/bcpublicrecord.
A thorough review of CTAS might be just exactly what it needs to provide better service. It makes no sense to oppose a review process of your tax dollars at work; therefore I voted no. Only Commissioner Karen Miller joined me in voting no. Commissioners Akard and Daly, who were absent from the commission meeting, voted against putting this item on the agenda, at the Agenda Committee meeting.
Open records policy
The state legislature enacted a law requiring local governments to have open records policies by July 1st. This should have been a law many years ago. However, the law is not as specific as it should be and will probably require changes to it in the future.
As an elected official, I thought that it would be easier to obtain information but that is often not the case. It can be difficult obtaining records needed to make important public policy decisions. I’ve had to go to the Office of Open Records Counsel for assistant several times in obtaining records from Blount County government. Several people have shared with me how difficult it can be to obtain help from the Office of Open Records Counsel. Thus, a clear policy is needed.
Commissioner Jerome Moon chose to place himself and Commissioners Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor on the ad hoc committee that will write the open records policy. Both Grady Caskey and Mike Caylor work for local governments and tend to favor government. Hopefully the policy to be written will serve the people of Blount County well.
Lack of discussion
Other that the normal course of speaking required for the chairman to run a meeting, I was the only commissioner to discuss anything on the agenda that was put to a vote. Many have said that these meetings are a done deal before the commissioners get there. With no discussion except from me, I see why so many conclude this.
Commissioner Dodd Crowe’s only statement of the night came at the end of the meeting to inform those in the audience that the IT Department was working to ensure that all of the commissioners and their votes appeared on the screen displaying the votes. All of the commissioners, and their votes, had not been showing on the screen because of an issue with the new software system.
Blount County Corrections Partnership
The Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) is a charade that exists to appease the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) to keep the jail certified. Certification by the TCI Board of Control (BOC) is pretty close to worthless. Jail standards are good but the TCIBOC has and continues to certify jails that are not in compliance with the standards because they jump through hoops.
One of those hoops is having the BCCP. Part of the charade even includes TCI employees Detentions Facility Specialist (DFS) Robert Kane, who inspects the jail, and the Corrections Partnership Coordinator Bob Bass. DFS Robert Kane makes false statements in his jail inspection report such as the March 3, 2016 report that gives the BCCP credit for things that it doesn’t do such as submitting monthly progress reports to the TCI. It doesn’t, the Blount County Sheriff’s Office does that. He says that the BCCP meets monthly and discusses the findings of the ILPP report. The BCCP met 4 times in 2015. You can read more about the report here.
CPC Bass serves as the bully for the TCI. He comes to some of the meetings to talk tough to the BCCP about how the jail could be decertified if the county doesn’t build. Talking tough is about all he can do, other than educate us in meetings with videos available on YouTube. He once popped off to me about shutting the jail down but he and the TCI lack the authority to shut the jail down. All he can do is go to the State Fire Marshal’s Office like the rest of us can and speak against the jail getting a nearly worthless certification from the TCI.
TCI certification is voluntary but many don’t know that. Certification is used as a red herring for the TCI’s lack of authority to shut a jail down. Jails that aren’t certified operate without being shut down. Increased insurance rates can be a consequence of decertification, but this will not likely impact Blount County significantly because the county is self insured. Read this letter from the legal counsel for the TCI on its certification and authority regarding shutting a jail down.
We are currently looking at architectural and engineering firms because Bob “the bully” Bass and Robert Kane came in and talked tough. That was the excuse the political machine needed to start the expansion process. Reality is that little to nothing would have happened if Blount County hadn’t solicited a firm because certification is a voluntarily process.
The only person to speak during public input was Commissioner Karen Miller. She expressed how disappointed she is that the BCCP hasn’t actually examined the possible solutions that have been given in the studies that have been done and instead is wanting to pay an architectural firm to look at what the BCCP should be looking at.
Purchasing Agent Katie Branham Kerr spoke briefly about the jail RFQ process and how Michael Brady Incorporated (MBI) was chosen for jail renovation and/or expansion. She was quick to say that the interviews for 3 of the companies that submitted qualifications were public but failed to mention that most of the process, including the decision making, was done in secret. The Tennessee General Assembly last year decided that you the taxpaying citizens might some how corrupt the integrity of the process and made most of the purchasing process sealed. Yes, state legislators thinks that you lack the integrity to interact with the Purchasing Agent and the evaluators that she selects until she has chosen a company and they made a law to stop you for interacting. However, the names of the Screening Committee/Evaluation Team were published on this website before she made the names of the evaluators known.
MBI employee Jay Henderlight and John Eisenlau with TreanorHL gave a presentation on what they can and have done related to jails. Eisenlau would work with MBI throughout the process. I asked them if they were considering a new facility at a new location and was told that they haven’t considered that and didn’t think it would be necessary. This is important because of what happened in Loudon County.
Loudon County Justice Center: Expansion and renovation vs a new facility
In the letter of engagement from MBI to the Loudon County Purchasing Agent, under Project Information the proposed improvements/use says “Expansion and Renovation of Existing Justice Center.” The site location reads “12680 Highway 11 W., Loudon, TN” which is the location of the current Loudon County Justice Center.
Loudon County had previously paid MBI about $16,000 to see if the current location of their justice center was suitable for expansion. After it was determined that the existing location is suitable for expansion, the Loudon County Corrections Partnership (LCCP) voted to move forward with expanding the existing facility in August of 2015. However, that changed after the Loudon County Commission approved paying MBI up to $60,000 to provide options to expand the justice center at its current location.
MBI provided several expansion and renovation options but the recommendation that came from the LCCP in 2016 was the construction of a new facility at a different location. While the LCCP was considering building at a new location, the Loudon County jail was decertified by the TCIBOC. Who and/or what caused the change in plan from expansion of the existing facility to the construction of a new facility isn’t entirely clear. What role, if any, MBI played in this isn’t clear either. Who caused the deviation from expanding the existing facility to building a brand new facility at a different location?
Since MBI touts their work in Loudon County and PA Katie Kerr recommends MBI, both should be able to explain to the BCCP and the commission what happened in Loudon County. I asked PA Kerr who she spoke to at Loudon County when evaluating MBI. She said she would have to go back and look at her notes. Even if she couldn’t recall the name of the person that she spoke with she should have been able to recall the conversation but she didn’t offer anything specific about her conversation with Loudon County.
Exactly how much research did Kerr do into MBI prior to recommending them? Kerr has taken 11 months to complete the process of selecting a company. Kerr’s office took nearly 3 months to issue the RFQ, despite her saying that 30 days should be sufficient time to issue the paperwork.
Furthermore, Kerr deviated from the jail RFQ issued by her office. The RFQ says that the Screening Committee selected to evaluate the firms that submitted proposals would be county commissioners and employees Sheriff’s Office (see page 16). 2 of the evaluators were neither county commissioners or employees of the Sheriff’s Office.
I continued with my efforts to learn exactly what happened in the change of course in Loudon County but was prohibited from questioning Kerr further on the matter. Chairman Rick Carver said that my questioning was out of order. I challenged the rule of the chair and the rest of the voting members voted against allowing me to continue.
The people of the 7th district elected me to ask the though questions. The BCCP voted to prohibit me from asking the necessary questions to make informed decisions the protect the taxpayers of Blount County and are in the best interest of the community. We were there to decide whether to recommend the company chosen by the PA to the Blount County Commission. I was prohibited by the BCCP from doing what I was elected to do.
What is point of attending these meetings if I am not going to be allowed to do my job? The people deserve to know exactly what happened in Loudon County and how much research that PA Kerr did on MBI but I was prohibited from finding out.
When a new justice center was recommended to the Loudon County Commission, the matter died for a lack of motion.
MBI is the same company that was chosen for the renovation proposals for the high schools that was original estimated at $40M and has now ballooned up to $66M. Given that the same company has been recommended for and involved in two important, and very costly proposals the people deserve answers that Commissioners Dave Bennett, Rick Carver and Mike Caylor and Blount County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff French and Jail Administrator John Adams prohibited me from obtaining.
This is a farce. Nothing about the jail should be trusted.
I have requested Kerr’s notes related to MBI for the jail and high school renovations. We’ll see what I get.
Chairman Rick Carver [email protected]
Commissioner Mike Caylor [email protected], [email protected]
Commissioner Dave Bennett [email protected]
Commissioner Tona Monroe [email protected]
Chief Deputy Jeff French [email protected]
Jail Administrator John Adams [email protected]
Finance Director Randy Vineyard [email protected]
General Session Judge Mike Gallegos [email protected]
Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington [email protected]
Up next: The commission will be considering MBI for work related to the jail and expansion and renovation of the high schools. Some have contacted me about these matters. If you want answers, you’re going to have to help me as I’ve been stonewalled by the courthouse clique.