NSA Spying Ruled Illegal, But Will Congress Save the Program Anyway?

This week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA’s metadata collection program was not authorized in US law. The PATRIOT Act, under which the program began, was too vague, the court found. But the truth is the Act was intended to be vague so that the government could interpret it in the broadest possible way.

But this is really more of a technicality, because illegality and unconstitutionality are really two very different things. Even if Congress had explicitly authorized the government to collect our phone records, that law would still be unconstitutional because the Constitution does not grant government the power to access our personal information without a valid search warrant.

Even though the court found the NSA program illegal, it did not demand that the government stop collecting our information in this manner. Instead, the court kicked the ball back in Congress’ court, as these provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire at the end of the month and the Appeals Court decided to let Congress decide how to re-authorize this spying program.

Unfortunately, this is where there is not much to cheer. If past practice is any lesson, Congress will wait until the spying program is about to expire and then in a panic try to frighten Americans into accepting more intrusions on their privacy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already put forth a new bill as a stop-gap measure to allow time for a fuller debate on the issue. His stop-gap? A five year re-authorization with no changes to the current program!

The main reform bill being floated, the FREEDOM Act, is little better. Pretending to be a step in the right direction, the FREEDOM Act may actually be worse for our privacy and liberties than the PATRIOT Act!

One silver lining in the court decision is that it should exonerate Ed Snowden, who risked it all to expose what the courts have now found was illegal US government activity. That is the definition of a whistleblower. Shouldn’t he be welcomed back home as a hero instead of being threatened with treason charges? We shouldn’t hold our breath!

This week Snowden addressed a conference in Melbourne, Australia, informing citizens that the Australian government watches all its citizens “all the time.” Australia’s program allows the government to “collect everyone’s communications in advance of criminal suspicion,” he told the conference. That means the government is no longer in the business of prosecuting crimes, but instead is collecting information in case crimes someday occur.

How is it that the Australian government can collect and track “pre-crime” information on its citizens? Last month Australia passed a law requiring telecommunications companies to retain metadata information on their customers for two years.

Why do Australia’s oppressive laws matter to us? Because the NSA “reform” legislation before Congress, the FREEDOM Act, does exactly what the Australian law does: it mandates that US telecommunications companies retain their customers’ metadata information so that the NSA can access the information as it wishes.

Some argue that this metadata information is harmless and that civil libertarians are over-reacting. But, as Ed Snowden told the Melbourne conference, “under these mandatory metadata laws you can immediately see who journalists are contacting, from which you can derive who their sources are.”

This one example of what happens when the government forces corporations to assist it in spying on the people should be a red flag. How can an independent media exist in the US if the government knows exactly whom journalists contact for information? It would be the end of any future whistleblowers.

The only reform of the PATRIOT Act is a total repeal. Accept nothing less.

Source: http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2015/may/10/nsa-spying-ruled-illegal-but-will-congress-save-the-program-anyway-1/

Ron Paul asks, are we a nation of wimps?

Last night a constituent told me that Americans are wimps.  We certainly didn’t start out that way, although there were many who were loyal to the king.  We should never give up our precious liberties for any reason.

We now live in a society where safety and security are to be sought at all costs. The sacrifice of liberty is not a concern for most Americans today. This is not something new and it has been characteristic of most people throughout history but it has gotten especially bad in America since 9/11. In addition many Americans have become deeply worried as a consequence of the economic crisis that started in 2008. They have lost confidence in their future financial security but continue to deny our nation’s bankruptcy.

This has prompted many to opt for dependency on government even if it requires the use of force to get what they want to ameliorate their fears. Rather than having confidence in the benefits that accrue from a free society, the majority of Americans are now frightened by the thought of self-reliance and accepting the responsibility that comes with liberty.

There has been a steady erosion of confidence over the past 100 years as the American people as a whole have accepted the so-called need for big government to provide safety and security for its citizens. In the process they have readily accepted the personal income tax and the abuse of the IRS along with the illegal power of the money manipulators at the Federal Reserve to pay the bills by simply printing money. Unfortunately they have also convinced themselves of our “righteousness” by supporting force to spread American “greatness” throughout the world. This of course is a fantasy and is self-deceptive. This trend has been ongoing since the Woodrow Wilson era up to and including the policies designed by the current crop of neoconservatives.

It’s a sense of insecurity that prompts the need to demonstrate strength and confidence in an artificial manner. In a way it’s “a little man syndrome” to compensate for our diminishing achievements in our domestic economy and our position in world affairs. This includes the “chicken Hawks” as well as those who participate in aggressive behavior both domestically and internationally.

Many get a sense of strength and a feeling of patriotism from being able to bomb and kill individuals 6,000 miles away from our home though they have never committed an aggressive act against us. Our policies are designed to search for enemies to destroy though they pose no threat to us. We use remotely controlled drones and cruise missiles to perpetuate a sense of power even against powerless Third World pseudo-enemies.

We never hesitate to put on sanctions to punish those who do not obey our wishes, causing suffering, including death, to millions of innocent people. It is common now for us to pursue these policies around the world with the use of surrogates and training of other people. Because Americans, though they want to be powerful and in control, do not want to see any more Americans killed. In spite of the need for heroic militarism, Americans are getting tired of proving to the world that we are not a nation of wimps.

They have been convinced that we can be the strongest nation in the world, maintain an empire, and contract out the dirty work. And they seem surprised that it’s not working very well. It is now necessary for us to make snipers our super-heroes. Matter of fact every member of the military is now a hero, “risking his life” defending freedom and the Constitution, and deserving constant public displays of gratitude and special recognition. This pretense occurs while neglecting the veterans whose lives have been ruined by the senseless wars.

Denial is epidemic as to what should be done to address the problem of misplaced militarism being used to compensate for a deep-seated fear of inadequacy. Just killing imaginary enemies doesn’t make us strong and confident. The danger is that this morally confusing policy can destroy the soul of a nation.

We must remember that insecurity and fear provide fodder for authoritarians. And they are only too willing to oblige and fill the needs of the weak to feel better about themselves by engaging in the patriotic defense of our country, even if the threats are manufactured by the propagandists. The tragic part of all this is that it’s all done at the expense of liberty since loss of liberty was the major source of the problem in the first place.

Although the wimpiness of the American citizenry has been developing for quite a while, on 9/11 nineteen individuals brought America to her knees. This was principally due to the lack of understanding of exactly why 9/11 occurred — and to the successful efforts of our government to perpetuate a fraudulent explanation that those who want to kill us are doing so only because they are angry with us due to our freedoms and our prosperity. We are constantly being frightened of some unknown potential enemy lurking around the corner ready to attack and destroy us at any moment.

The Bush doctrine of preemptive war, which is nothing more than aggression, was met with essentially no resistance from the American people and very little from politicians. This idea of presidents being able to go to war recklessly and ask questions later possibly satisfies those who claim this serves the interest of our national security, but it’s a reflection of a sense of insecurity and contributes to the persistent attitude that we have a great need for Empire to make us safe and free. Nothing could be further from the truth

The ones who suffer most from this policy are those who pay and die without questioning, who actually lack courage and wisdom to resist the forces that push for war that serve the special interests. These special interests include: the political demagogues, financial beneficiaries, the military-industrial complex, proponents of the “sphere of influence argument,” money and power and false patriotism which are all promoted by government lies designed to perpetrate fear to a gullible public suffering from chronic wimpiness.

Support for these policies come from the many who succumb to the propaganda. Complacency is also a major contributing factor as people become more and more dependent as long as they believe the government will deliver safety and security. The wimps want to believe these false promises in spite of the evidence of their failure and the true costs. But that may be about to change. Liberty is not thought much about as long as benefits come in spite of the increasing concern for the solvency of the country. This attitude can change quickly when the dollar takes a big hit

The majority of Americans are deeply worried that a foreign enemy is at our doorstep. The Al Qaeda could hit us any day and is out to get us in any country in which we find ourselves. Meanwhile it appears that ISIS is winning all the wars.

People have to be convinced that a potential Hitler is about to attack us at any time even without any evidence that it’s likely to happen. During the 20th century hundreds of millions of people were killed by the Communists and Fascists, yet the size and scope of today’s dangers are miniscule in comparison. Blinded by the propaganda, the wimps refuse to see how the enemy, which is real to some degree, is made stronger by our inciting hatred by our occupations, and foolishly getting ourselves involved in civil wars in the many countries of the Middle East.

The evidence is overwhelming that our efforts in the Middle East are the best recruiting tool for the jihadist radicals to recruit supporters willing to wage guerrilla war against us. The process has led us to spend hundreds of billions of dollars with the results being that our enemies grow stronger as they end up using our weapons against us. The current foreign policy has been an absolute failure in achieving any positive results and it certainly hasn’t removed the need and desire for the American people to feel victorious on the battlefield to compensate for their sense of inferiority and insecurity.

Economic dependency is every bit as bad as the need for the American people to have military victories to feed their egos. This is initiated quite frequently by the politicians seeking votes and anxious to get people dependent on them so that they can serve as their rescuers. Bad economies, essentially caused by bad economic planning by our government and the Federal Reserve, breeds dependency. It also contributes to wealth inequality, and tragically the blame is placed on free markets and liberty as the cause rather than understanding how the problems are created by the government and its economic policies. The worse the problems get the louder the demands become for “fairness” in the redistribution of goods which of course have to be first stolen from one group to give to another.

This attitude breeds discontent and contributes significantly to the turmoil in our inner cities as the contest between those demanding entitlements are pitched against the militarized police. The militarization of the police of recent years contributes significantly to the problem which prompts those who are dependent to lobby the politicians to fight for their share of the wealth while at the same time the economic pie is shrinking. Rarely is there ever a demand for independence, self-reliance, and free markets — instead it’s for more welfare redistribution for which the recipients believe they are entitled and have a right to. Of course all of this contributes to further wimpiness of our society.

Sociopaths, those without scruples, appear tough but this only compensates for their own inadequacies and fear. They believe the military can provide “the manliness” they seek. They’re convinced they are showing strength and superiority over others yet the real problem is their own lack of confidence. The more inadequate they feel, greater is the need for aggression to prove their toughness. This is especially troublesome since our leaders are incapable of expressing regret or a wiliness to reconsider the policies that have caused so much harm. Without a conscience, they never suffer from PTSD.

This requires that they ridicule, badger and discredit anyone with enough self-confidence and self-esteem that does not require artificial “strength” achieved by bullying weaker nations or individuals by hiding behind the authoritarian force provided by government. It is this insecurity that drives the neoconservatives to depend on war for their sense of satisfaction. Actually they are wimps and afraid of their own shadow. They believe Al Qaeda exists under our bed and we’re about to be invaded. At least this is what they want the people to believe so they can pursue their bold militarism for their own psychological and special interest needs.

Since these are all false and unnecessary justifications for war, success is rare. Since World War II the wars have been essentially lost. Now bands of renegades are achieving military victories every place we go to promote regime change to teach people in faraway lands to adhere to democratic elections following our rules. If the candidate we support doesn’t win, no problem, we can then simply throw our support behind the next “regime change.”

Too often our fighting and spending money help our enemies and never serve our national security. It’s easy to frighten the people by stories of the attacks by ISIS yet they never mention countries like Saudi Arabia which practice sharia law and are not bashful about beheading citizens for even social and religious reasons. The fear and insecurity many Americans feel is encouraged by individuals seeking power and money.

The only answer to this is for the people to stand up to the truth that the real wimps are the ones who hide behind militarism and initiate needless wars. Confidence and strength of character to challenge forced redistribution of wealth is also necessary. An answer can be found in promoting the cause of liberty. The people unfortunately have been conditioned to believe that government violence both economic and military is a “tool” that serves the people. The job of the propagandists, for which there are many, is to convince the people that it’s all done for the purpose of helping them.

Unfortunately dependency destroys the soul, as well as the soul of a nation, by eliminating the satisfaction one gets from producing freely as an individual and assuming responsibility for oneself. And as this lack of self-confidence grows, so does the dependency on the state. Those who seek more government help to alleviate their sense of weakness and fear, conclude that it’s all the government’s fault for failing to provide society with enough security. Seeking more liberty is rarely seen as the answer to the people’s frustrations. Instead this produces a sense of victimization that results in demanding that government do more for those dependent who eagerly grant more power to the authoritarians.

Throughout history there have always been opportunities for the authoritarians to run roughshod over the people. A nation of wimps, dependent on the government for safety and security, opens the doors for the authoritarians who delight in satisfying their needs by controlling others and falsely believing in their own strength and wisdom. Soldiers fighting wars and bureaucrats passing out welfare are emboldened by a sense of satisfaction that they are serving a special purpose by providing the strength that the weak and helpless lack.

The problem is that these efforts are never helpful in dealing with the dependency of the weak. By accommodating the needy, who are all looking in the wrong places for satisfaction, the dependency only gets worse. The solution can only come from understanding the significance of practicing self-reliance. This cannot come from government. If it does not come from within us, it will only lead to frustration and a greater desire to foolishly give up more liberty for safety and security. Those who are dependent will continue to seek security in the entitlement system and “strength” from a national endorsement of the warrior state.

The politicians are well attuned to the desires of those whose weakness encourages them to become dependent on government largesse. Polling is key to the politician’s success in responding to the demands and expectations of those who are no longer self-reliant.

Everyone is aware that a thug with a gun used to satisfy his personal needs or demands is a criminal. Politicians and armies in a dependent society, who use guns to wage war and forcibly redistribute wealth at will, are “criminals” as well. This is not only true for many of the poor who have become dependent. Business interests, especially in the midst of a crisis, are always looking to the government for favors with financial bailouts, targeted regulations, special contracts as we see in the military-industrial complex, and in the many benefits banks get from our monetary system.

A predictable consequence of Keynesian economic policy is the development of structural poverty which affects even those desirous of independence and self-reliance but are more or less forced to listen to the promises of the politicians who claim they have an answer for their needs. All political factions are anxious to take care of the people but they do nothing more than create more dependency and a poorer nation.

It seems at this time that the task is overwhelming because more people become dependent on the state and as they do they become more fearful of the future. The only solution for this is to get the people to understand the principles of liberty and the positive results thereof. This cannot work unless we reinstitute the work ethic instead of allowing the lobbyists and big money to run the system.

The solution has to be found in peaceful resistance to the policies of government benevolence, which were supposed to solve our problems. Dependency on government force in redistribution of wealth and militarism around the world as a source of strength has to end. The people have to come to realize that real strength comes from resisting the status quo that preaches the doctrine of a command society, and to recognize that insecurity drives many Americans to support wars that are expensive and futile.

Depending on militarism and promotion of Empire to compensate for weakness and dependency is not an answer. We must raise up a generation of individuals who are not frightened and embarrassed to support the natural instinct for peace, love, and friendship. Wars do little to provide strength of character for individuals who do not understand why we’re in the mess that we find ourselves today. Not only should we insist that the government not lie to us, we should stop lying to ourselves as well. This means that there should be no more glorification of war and using the military personnel as a source of our confidence and strength. This can only come by living in a free society

Summary: The prevailing attitude of the American people today reflects weakness, fearfulness, and dependency. In general, confidence and self-reliance has been lost.

Government failure, false promises, bad economic policy has contributed greatly to this condition. Human nature also is a major contributor to this sense of hopelessness. It is not unnatural to accept unearned benefits when trouble begins. We as a nation have grown to believe that government redistribution of wealth, through force, is a right and an entitlement. Sadly, hard work, savings, production, sound economy, and honest money are of little interest to most Americans.

True sense of worth can only come from productive effort. When people become overly dependent on government redistribution of wealth, true happiness and satisfaction is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. There is little personal satisfaction when individuals become addicted to government “benefits” which actually worsen the conditions and increase the fear that the future does not bode well for us. This only provides the incentive and the need to expand the welfare/warfare state

The cycle, once it has started, sets the stage for the continued erosion of liberty and in spite of the fact that the people become unhappy, poor and angry, they blame government for not doing enough to take care of them. Under these conditions the demagogues in and out of government thrive. The social and economic philosophers, politicians, power seekers, and powerful special interests all step forth with solutions that only serve their interests and not the interests of the people who are on the receiving end of bad policy. It is their use of the “wimps” to enhance their agenda that becomes a full-time job in Washington. The weak are conditioned to believe the lies and promises about both domestic and international affairs. Only individual liberty and the principles of a Republic offer us any hope.

Is the American dream dead? Once it was characteristic of most Americans to believe in the American dream. That meant there was a strong conviction that everyone had an equal opportunity to achieve any goal they sought with hard work and effort. They believed in the work ethic and that determination would ultimately pay off. Achieving the American dream was thought to be a result of hard work.

Today there are still a lot of people who believe in the American dream but too often they are individuals who have recently left countries much poorer than ours and are hopeful that with hard work and effort they too can have a better life for themselves here. It is proven by many who come to this country — both illegal and legal — that they bring with them a work ethic that has become difficult to find in Americans who have become dependent on the “the American dream” being delivered to them by government action and corporate favoritism.

Many Americans have come to the conclusion that hard work and effort is no longer rewarded due to the many obstacles put in their way by an overly intrusive government. And it is for this reason that the numbers are growing of those individuals anxious to expatriate and go to other countries where they believe that their work and effort will not be diminished as they are in our country today.

The majority of the American people unfortunately have accepted the idea that it is necessary to be aggressive and dependent and driven by fearfulness to survive in a political-economic culture that rewards political action and lobbying for success rather than being rewarded for hard work and effort. Because of this, most policies in Washington are designed to accommodate this culture. Even though government policy has been the main contributor to the problems we face and the destruction of the American dream, the majority is still supporting the idea that more activism by the government to intervene in our lives and in the economy is the solution.

Welfare demands drive a lot of politicians to continuously redistribute wealth out of a desire for fairness with a policy that does the opposite. The zeal for patriotism and for the support of America’s greatness makes the electorate overly anxious and willing to support militarism which has done such great harm to us as a nation and to our moral character.

Even though the majority of the American people reflect a philosophy of the past hundred years that promoted dependency and foreign entanglements, a large number of citizens are now recognizing that it has been a failed policy. However difficult this may be to overcome, it does not mean that our policies can’t be reversed. More accurately we’re probably in a transition period, and even though many are frightened by change, support for a philosophy based on liberty and peace is gaining in acceptance.

There are signs on the horizon that the American people are awakening and once again are beginning to understand what the American dream was all about and how our politicians and our culture of dependency has led us astray. The intellectuals of the past century were very supportive of these views that gave credibility to both the domestic welfare programs as well as the international intervention that has given us so many needless and wasteful wars.

The good news is that the intellectual framework that is now developing in our society is advocating a different sentiment for the American people. One day if enacted it will reignite the idea of self-reliance and emphasize that by hard work people can get ahead and do better economically rather than by depending on a government that has driven us into bankruptcy. Hardly has the educational system been enhanced by $1.3 trillion in student debt which is now currently being defaulted on — all we have to show for it is a large number of graduates not well trained and without jobs available.

Something different is required than depending on government controlled education. Thankfully it’s available in the growing interest in home and private schooling. The Internet provides the vehicle for spreading the answer to the mess created by the authoritarian’s false promises to provide safety and security by sacrificing liberty.

The good news is that we’re well on our way to raising up a new generation that understands the dangers and the limits on the system that we have today and are anxious to promote and support the ideas of liberty. That is where the answers will be found.

Copyright © 2015 by RonPaul Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.

HR Director’s response to Chamber health benefits questions

Human Resources Director Morgan’s responses are in red.

Dear H.R. Director Morgan,

There are names of people on these health care benefits lists who may not have been eligible to receive County health care benefits. The 2008 list includes 16 people (cells 252-267) listed as being employed by the Blount County Chamber. The 2007 list includes 14 people (cells 1798-1811) listed who are most of the same people in the 2008 file.

Based on the research that Rhonda Pitts and I have done, we have been unable to verify that the Commission approved giving health care benefits to the Chamber employees. Director of Budgets and Finance, Randy Vineyard, stated that he didn’t know if the Commission had ever approved paying for Chamber employees’ health care benefits. There has been no response to my email sent to Bryan Daniels, the President/CEO of Blount Partnership, on this matter. Additionally I have spoken with three former commissioners, one who served on the HR Committee. Neither recalled the Commission ever approving health care benefits for Chamber employees.

Given the serious problem with the current benefits plan being unsustainable, it is incumbent upon Blount County government to ensure that no one who was/is ineligible received or continues to receive health care benefits that they are not entitled to receive. Thus, I am asking that you fully research this matter to determine if there were ineligible people receiving health care benefits and whether they continue to receive health care benefits, what the costs to the taxpayers was/is and report your findings to me.

Along with your findings, please answer the following questions.

1. Did the County Commission ever authorize giving health care benefits to employees of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce? If so, when? Any questions regarding commission actions can be addressed by the commission office as they are the official custodian of commission actions and minutes.

2. If the Commission did not authorize Chamber employees to receive health care benefits, who did and when? I was not here at the time and do not have an answer to this question.

3. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, are they still receiving benefits? No

4. If not, when did Chamber employees stop receiving health care benefits? 12/31/2009

5. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, how many participated in the County health care plans? 14 Chamber employees in 2007; 16 Chamber employees in 2008; 17 Chamber employees in 2009

6. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, how many years did Chamber employees participate in the County health care plans and what were those years? 3 years – 2007, 2008, 2009

7. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, who received these benefits? Deborah Buckner, Bryan Daniels, Kathleen Delozier, Brenda Farner, Tammi Ford, Fred Forster, Herb Handly, Frank Hanson, Jean Hilten, Mary Hunt, Julia Kyle, Linda Lambert, Amy Lawson, Bonny Millard, Deborah Nye, Anna Watson, Mary Webb, Loretta White

8. If Chamber employees did receive health care benefits, what was the total cost each year? We do not have these records in our office. The carrier we had at the time is no longer in existence. This is a very labor intensive request and will take additional time to research to see if this information is available.

9. If the Chamber employees never received health care benefits, why are their names included in these lists of people enrolled in County health care benefits plans? Chamber employees received health care benefits in 2007, 2008 & 2009.

Sincerely,

Tona Monroe
Blount County Commissioner
District 7 Seat B

A year ago: Thank You!

This time a year ago today I was roasting in the sun.  I was so burnt that I was almost a purple color at the end of the day.

Thank you to the people of Big Springs, Carpenters, Friendsville, Happy Valley and Lanier for electing me to serve as your County Commissioner.  I will carry on ringing the liberty bell throughout Blount County.

ElectionDayMay6

Looting the Looters

Bill Gibbons announces death of the 4th Amendment in TN

Bill Gibbons announces death of the 4th Amendment in TN

If You See Something Say Something™ right Bill Gibbons? I see our Department of Safety and Homeland Security are a bunch of 4th and 5th Amendment-violating crooks. The state legislature has attempted (and failed) in two sessions now to enact some kind of restraint on the armed robbery committed in the name of “asset forfeiture” in Tennessee. It is looking more and more like Nashville may be the root cause.

The “thin blue line” strikes again:

http://knoxblogs.com/humphreyhill/2015/05/01/department-of-safety-fights-for-cash-that-police-say-was-wrongfully-seized/

“When the Sevierville Police Department learned pills in a woman’s car were antacids and the $11,922 an officer seized as suspected drug money was an inheritance, the agency agreed to drop charges and return the cash.

The Tennessee Department of Safety wants it back….

The department essentially argues that the only way that Ms. Stiltner could prove (the cash was not drug money) is through taking serial numbers of all the bills she received from the estate check, hiring an accountant to review all of her cash spending, and then comparing these notes to the money that was seized,” he wrote. “This is nonsensical, and the department’s position is wholly untenable … This appeal results from the Tennessee Department of Safety’s continued efforts to steal $11,922 from Kathy Stiltner despite uncontroverted evidence that the funds were derived from a legitimate source and a total lack of evidence that the funds resulted from illegal activity.”

If only the United States was the land of the free, we might have some kind of law against this.

These taxpayer-funded, unaccountable armed robberies need to stop.

April 2015 Commission Report

Blount County government was marred by indecisiveness and obstructionist politics in April.  However there are some commissioners who are standing for freedom and they deserve recognition for their principled stands.

Jail study hearing rejected
After paying over $94,000 for a jail study last year, the Commission rejected hearing from the jail consultant who conducted the study.  The Mayor obstructed progress by having a letter written to the Commission asking the Commission to reject hearing from the jail consultant so that the County can sue the consultant for a refund.

A man who actively campaigned for the Mayor shared with me that he told the Mayor that he should be embarrassed because the Mayor and the good ole’ boys wanted a study telling them to build.  He said that when they got a real study with real solutions, that Mayor covered it up and now wants to sue to save face.  This seems to be the prevailing opinion of people in the community.

Eight Commissioners voted to move forward instead of obstructing progress.  I (Tona Monroe) was the only Commissioner on the Blount County Corrections Partnership to vote to have the hearing.

Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting
The Corrections Partnership met on Tuesday.  This was the first meeting where ex-officio members Judges Tammy Harrington and Mike Gallegos served on the Partnership.  They were added to the Partnership to bring together all three branches of government for discussion on our criminal justice system.  There are now four commissioners, two judges, two members from the Sheriff’s Department and an ex-officio member from the Mayor’s office.

The Partnership unanimously recommended that the funding increase request for Recovery Court, which includes Drug Court, be approved by the commission.  For months I have been asking for information about how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if it were to expanded.  I have been repeatedly told that everyone is too busy to give me that information.  Thankfully my request, that the funding recommendation include the requirement for this information to be reported to us, was included in the recommendation that will be forwarded to the full commission.  It is very important to identify how many people there are in the system who will be eligible for Recovery Court and have estimates for future demands so that the commission, and all those involved, can adequately prepare for the future.

Judge Harrington said that the funding request is “bare bones” but exactly what she meant by that isn’t clear.  She has repeatedly said she doesn’t know how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if everyone who qualified was given the option of Recovery Court.  Harrington said that the funding will give the program enough money to fund the program that exists now but also implied that it could be expanded.  Thus, the bare bones funding statement sounded like a typical budget time request statement.  Hopefully the funding increase will help the county prepare better for the future by identifying how many inmates will be eligible for an expanding Recovery Court.

The rest of the meeting was mostly unremarkable except for Judge Tammy Harrington’s behavior.  She appeared to be more interested in venting than working together in a “Partnership” for the betterment of society.  After the meeting a citizen commented to me about Harrington rolling her eyes while people were speaking.

I was a co-sponsor to the resolution to add Judges Harrington and Gallegos to the Blount County Corrections Partnership because judges can serve an important role in working toward productive solutions for our criminal justice system and overcrowded jail.  I look forward to working with the judges and hope that Harrington will be more respectful in the future.

For once the meeting room wasn’t nearly empty.  Past attendees have usually consisted of Linda and Joe King, Harry Grothjahn, Commissioner Jamie Daly, Commissioner Karen Miller and a few people from the State.  Some citizens, Jail Inspector Sharon Hannum, the Sheriff and Deputy Chief Chris Cantrell were present at the meeting.

On June 24th Bob Bass, Senior Inspector with the Tennessee Corrections Institute, will give a presentation to the Blount County Corrections Partnership at 1 PM in the Commission room.   The agenda for the meeting after that (date to be determined) will include discussion about keeping federal prisoners in the jail.

IT Meeting
The IT Committee met but took no action.  It was decided that upgrading the recording equipment in the commission room would have to wait because of budget constraints.

There was some information about a new software system for the Sheriff’s Department that will allow for better communication with 911 and the municipalities that decide to use the same system.  Unfortunately there was no financial information in the packet about the costs.  The City of Alcoa told the Sheriff’s Department that they will use the same system but the City of Maryville hasn’t committed to it.  The Committee was not told why Maryville hasn’t committed to using the software system.

This was the third IT Committee meeting that I’ve attended.  The committee hasn’t made a single recommendation to the commission at any of those meetings.  I am left wondering why we have an IT Committee since it is never given timely or complete information to make recommendations.

Budget Workshops
The budget before the Budget Committee is now about $16 million over projected revenues.  The Budget Committee did not make a single cut to the proposed FY 16 budget during the month of April.

Commission meeting
Stormwater regulations
Controversial stormwater regulations passed the commission on a 13-7 vote.  Five of the six amendments proposed passed.  The part allowing a 3rd party to be added to your deed was removed.

The regulations would have allowed you to be fined up to $5,000 for simply planting a tree in a utility easement.  Most people don’t know precisely where utility easements are on their property.  My amendment adding the word knowingly to the provision about planting a tree in an easement passed, which means that the government will have to prove that you knew that you were planting a tree in a utility easement instead of simply being able to fine you up to $5,000 because a tree was planted within a utility easement.  While I wanted this provision removed from the regulations entirely I proceeded with this amendment because there was confusion as to whether this prohibition and the rest of the regulations under Section 4d are required under state law.

My amendment to remove a provision limiting you on the percentage of trees that you can plant failed.  As such, the regulations prohibit property owners from planting more than 1/3 of the same type of tree within the buffers.  There are many other causes for concern in the regulations.  You can read the unamended regulations here starting on page 38.

Commissioners Allen, Carter, Carver, Caskey, Caylor, Crowe, Daly, Farmer, Headrick, Lewis, Melton, Moon and Stinnett voted yes.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Cole, French, Miller and Monroe voted no.  Commissioner Samples abstained.

Stormwater repeal request
The commission passed my resolution asking federal legislators to pass legislation pending before congress that would prohibit the EPA from expanding its definition of waters of the United States through rulemaking authority and to repeal stormwater regulations returning the power back to the states and the people.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Carter, Caskey, Cole, Crowe, Daly, French, Miller, and Monroe voted yes.  Moon abstained.  The rest voted no.

Unfortunately the Mayor vetoed the resolution.  Instead of sending the commission his own reasoning for the veto, he sent a link to an editorial by The Daily Times on the matter.

Traffic Grants
There were five federal grants related to traffic enforcement, including DUI roadblocks.  I voted against them and explained my reasoning here and here.  The paper reported that we voted on six grants but the commission did not vote on the grant for funding for the DA’s office since their funding is through the state.

The nighttime seatbelt demo grant allows the University of Tennessee to study enforcement action for seatbelt usage at night.  The University of Tennessee obtained an unconstitutional grant from the Centers for Disease Control and will be studying five counties including Blount.  Buckle up because the state legislature just increased the seat belt fine, the Sheriff’s Department just got a grant for enforcement and UT can’t wait to use the money it got to study the results.  The nanny state has gotten expensive and complicated.

During the commission meeting I explained why I was voting no, which included taking my oath of office to uphold the federal and state Constitutions and mentioning what James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution had to say about the constitutionality of what we were voting on.  After the meeting, on the way down in the elevator Deputy Chief Jarod Millsaps mocked me for explaining my vote.  The next day the Sheriff apologized to me for Millsaps behavior.

On the bright side, I was thrilled to have three commissioners join me in voting no.  Commissioners Akard, Cole, Miller and I voted no.  The rest voted yes.  I commend these three commissioners for upholding their oaths of office and respecting the bill of rights which has been so trampled upon.

Recycling Committee appointed
Commissioners Brad Bower, Grady Caskey and I were appointed along with four citizens to serve on the Recycling Committee.  If you have ideas that you would like to share, please attend the first meeting on May 26th at 5 PM at the courthouse.

Abstaining on important votes
Commissioner Steve Samples abstained on the stormwater vote and Jerome Moon abstained on the jail study vote and the stormwater repeal request resolution.  These two have been abstaining on several issues lately.  Jerome Moon is the Chairman of the Commission and Steve Samples is the Chairman of the Agenda Committee.  These two hold the two most important positions of leadership within the legislative body of Blount County.  Why are they abstaining so much on critical issues?

Up next
The ambulance service agreement is up for renewal.

Update
This post has been updated at the request of Commissioner Mike Caylor because he denies doing what was reported here.  He didn’t like that people were expressing to him that such behavior is unprofessional.  Hopefully he will stop voting against nearly everything that I put forward.

LTE of the year: The Blount County Gravy Train

Normally letters to the editor are published on The Daily Times’ website but the gravy train letter wasn’t.  The Daily Times said that they changed to a new system last week and that is likely why the letters aren’t online.

This letter, written by Tom Robinson, should be letter to the editor of the year and would be a good candidate for letter to the editor of the decade.

Another letter to the editor worth reading, by Troy Ball, is about Blount County government secrecy.

GravyTrain

Update: The Gravy Train letter is now online.

Blount County 2013 per capita income is less than $24,000, median household income is $45,991

There has been a lot of talk in the Budget Worshops about the Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study but it hasn’t been released to the Commission or to the public.  The roughly $16,000,000 budget deficet is partially due to budget requests for pay increases.  Another big part of the deficet is due to increased health care benefits costs.  It’s not going to be possible to continue with health care plans that the previous broker repeatedly called “rich” and give raises without a huge tax increase.

Here are some things to consider about Blount County government and its citizenry.

Blount County is providing free dental benefits to its employees.  The employees pay for the family plan but if they opt for the employee only plan it’s free.  The cost to the county per employee, as discussed at the May 15, 2014 Commission meeting, is $23.15 per employee per month.  The county pays the same amount for the family plan and employees pay the difference of $49.24 per month for family coverage.  This seems like a good place to start cutting.

Current health care plans and costs reported at the Budget Workshop on Monday:

Plan Employee Pays Taxpayers Pay Total Costs
Employee Only 25 425 450
Employee Plus Child 125 975 1100
Employee Plus Spouse 150 975 1125
Family 175 975 1150

The 2013 per capita income in Blount County is $23,788.  Many of the employees that the current budget proposes giving raises to already make more than the average income in Blount County.  Couple this with the fact that benefit plans are far better than what is available in most of the private sector and the cost of each position becomes a whole lot more than just the base salary.

View the 2015 payroll here.

http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/47/47009.html

The median household income for Blount County (2009-2013) is $45,991.  Many households include two incomes.  There are about 18 pages of Blount County government employees making more than the median household income for just one salary.  There are 24 pages of people making over $40,000 with one income.  There are 42 pages of employees making more than the per capita income of Blount County.  Some of the county employees making less than the per capita income are part time employees.

It may seem like some employees are underpaid, and perhaps there some who are.  However many county government employees are making more than the people paying their salaries and benefits are living on.