Understanding Tennessee’s Maintenance of Effort in Education Laws

The Comptroller has issued a report on Maintenance of Effort Laws governing education in Tennessee.



Meeting draws mostly people against charging for Open Records inspections

Attorney Herb Moncier offered some insightful comments about the Tennessee Constitution.  While discussions of rights usually center around the federal constitution, there are important and valuable protections of liberty in our state constitution.

A Utah teacher’s opinion of the SAGE test “items” TN is renting from Utah for $2.3M

by Eric Holcombe

Photo: Kelly Maher Poynter of her daughter working on "rigorous" Commie Core assignments

Photo: Kelly Maher Poynter of her daughter working on “rigorous” Commie Core assignments

As mentioned in earlier posts, Tennessee is leasing Utah’s Common Core, federal government-forced online testing “items” from their SAGE assessments provided by Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) via the behavioral research company American Institutes for Research (AIR). AIR is known for behavioral research, a.k.a. data mining, on public school students such as Project Talent in 1960 (also driven by the federal government). At the time of their implementation, the SAGE assessments were untested, that is, they were unpiloted on any students prior to them being foisted upon Utah students in spring of 2014. Utah students were the guinea pigs – and Utahns paid handsomely for the privilege to be the guinea pigs. In December of 2014, Achieve Inc. board member Bill Haslam announced that Tennessee would be renting test “items” from Utah for $2.3 million for the next couple of years until Measurement Inc. (via AIR, via SBAC) can develop the “TNReady” tests. Now keep in mind that like Tennessee, all states that took the Race To The Top federal bribe must choose between one of two federal-government created masters for their mandatory, online testing: PARCC or SBAC. Tennessee’s initial illegal, no-bid testing contract was awarded to PARCC (Kevin Huffman, governing board). Utah initially chose SBAC and after much public displeasure was expressed then did the same thing Achieve Inc. board member Haslam has since done: pretend to put the mandatory, federal-driven testing “out for bid”, say you are making “state-led” tests except they rigged the specifications so that ultimately only an SBAC subcontracted entity could “win”. So Utah ended up with the SAGE assessments by SBAC via AIR, the behavioral research company. In Tennessee’s case, we added yet another middle-man by hiring Measurement Inc. from North Carolina, who subcontracted to AIR, a Washington DC corporation (like Haslam’s Achieve Inc.) who works with SBAC from Washington State. And in the meanwhile, we are renting the tests that Utah has already paid them to create, thus TN students are really UtahReady.
Following is an editorial by Debbie Nichols, a recently retired Utah teacher of 34 years, who gives her view of the SAGE test (emphasis mine). This was published in the Deseret News on November 1 of 2014, about six months after the first application of the SAGE tests in Utah but still PRIOR to Tennessee’s contract to lease the test “items” for $2.3 million per year from Utah for the next two years and PRIOR to Tennessee’s $108 million contract to Measurement Inc. to produce the new tests from AIR/SBAC for the following five years.
You may find yourself asking who did the shopping for this and why did we decide this was a good idea for Tennessee (if in fact Commie Core and its mandatory online testing really is “state-led” and not forced by the federal government).

My view: A teacher’s opinion of the SAGE test
Many Utahns heard about the SAGE test for the first time this week as the test results were published. There is more to be concerned about than the scores. There are some things that taxpayers and parents need to know about the SAGE test.
I taught school for 34 years and just retired in June. I taught nine years at West Kearns Elementary and 25 years at Eastwood Elementary. I have watched the metamorphosis in education over these many years. Some changes have been good and some have not. The SAGE test is not a good change.

SAGE testing does not line up with the curriculum. It may tell you some things a child knows, but not necessarily what he or she learned in class. This style of test never measures what has been taught.

The math section of the SAGE test is really a reading test, which means one cannot distinguish computation from application from vocabulary knowledge. Can the child do the computation but not apply it? Could the child do the computation and apply it if he or she knew a different vocabulary term used in the word problem? The SAGE test won’t tell you, and educators are not given vocabulary lists or knowledge of content.
The SAGE test is simply not a good test. Last spring I saw a little boy stare at his screen for 30 minutes. He knew the correct answer was 1½, but he could not find a way to enter a mixed number to answer the question. It couldn’t be done on his computer.
The SAGE test is written so that as a student answers questions correctly, the test immediately takes the student to questions that aren’t just harder, but out of grade level. It overwhelms and frustrates elementary children. The students are not allowed to go on unless they answer each question. Last year I watched as 28 students stared at a screen until they gave up and guessed. The teacher is not allowed to give prompts during this test at all. Exasperated students soon give up. Low students stop reading altogether.
The SAGE test does not help teachers or students know student progress. This testing format is not age appropriate for grade school. For secondary schools, it is still not measuring if a student mastered the curriculum that they were taught.
Learning has to be measured in some way. So educators look at what the end goal is and set out during the year to try to achieve this goal. We make a curriculum that matches up with the final test to be given. This is not teaching to the test, this is teaching to the goal of mastery of a subject.
A runner knows that his race time does not improve by buying a new stopwatch. The runner knows that he needs to work harder and practice more. Students’ scores will not improve with a new test. It is not the testing we need to practice but the actual skill. More testing does not equal more learning. We need more teaching time in the classroom and less testing time. There is so much more that these students need to know for the future. Too much testing just desensitizes them. We should be striving for love of learning, not hate of testing.
Educators and society need to prepare our students for college and the real workforce. The SAGE doesn’t help, it just dampens the love of learning. We deserve more for our education dollar. More importantly, our students deserve better.

Congress Fiddles While the Economy Burns

By Ron Paul

Reports that the official unemployment rate has fallen to 5.1 percent may appear to vindicate the policies of easy money, corporate bailouts, and increased government spending. However, even the mainstream media has acknowledged that the official numbers understate the true unemployment rate. This is because the government’s unemployment figures do not include the 94 million Americans who have given up looking for work or who have settled for part-time employment. John Williams of Shadow Government Statistics estimates the real unemployment rate is between 23 and 24 percent.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, few in Washington, DC acknowledge that America’s economic future is endangered by excessive spending, borrowing, taxing, and inflating. Instead, Congress continues to waste taxpayer money on futile attempts to run the economy, run our lives, and run the world.

For example, Congress spent the majority of last week trying to void the Iranian nuclear agreement. This effort was spearheaded by those who think the US should waste trillions of dollars on another no-win Middle East war. Congressional war hawks ignore how America’s hyper-interventionist foreign policy feeds the growing rebellion against the dollar’s world reserve currency status. Of course, the main reason many are seeking an alternative to the dollar is their concern that, unless Congress stops creating — and the Federal Reserve stops monetizing — massive deficits, the US will experience a Greek-like economic crisis.

Despite the clear need to reduce federal spending, many Republicans are trying to cut a deal with the Democrats to increase spending. These alleged conservatives are willing to lift the “sequestration” limits on welfare spending if President Obama and congressional democrats support lifting the “sequestration” limits on warfare spending. Even sequestration’s miniscule, and largely phony, cuts are unbearable for the military-industrial complex and the rest of the special interests that control our government.

The only positive step toward addressing our economic crisis that the Senate may take this year is finally holding a roll call vote on the Audit the Fed legislation. Even if the audit legislation lacks sufficient support to overcome an expected presidential veto, just having a Senate vote will be a major step forward.

Passage of the Audit the Fed bill would finally allow the American people to know the full truth about the Fed’s operations, including its deals with foreign central banks and Wall Street firms. Revealing the full truth about the Fed will likely increase the number of Americans demanding that Congress end the Fed’s monetary monopoly. This suspicion is confirmed by the hysterical attacks on and outright lies about the audit legislation spread by the Fed and its apologists.

Every day, the American people see evidence that, despite the phony statistics and propaganda emanating from Washington, high unemployment and rising inflation plague the economy. Economic anxiety has led many Americans to support an avowed socialist’s presidential campaign. Perhaps more disturbingly, many other Americans are supporting the campaign of an authoritarian crony capitalist. If there is a major economic collapse, many more Americans — perhaps even a majority — will embrace authoritarianism. An economic crisis could also lead to mob violence and widespread civil unrest, which will be used to justify new police state measures and crackdowns on civil liberties.

Unless the people demand an end to the warfare state, the welfare state, and fiat money, our economy will continue to deteriorate until we are faced with a major crisis. This crisis can only be avoided by rejecting the warfare state, the welfare state, and fiat money. Those of us who know the truth must redouble our efforts to spread the ideas of liberty.

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.
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So what does UtahReady look like?

Brian Halladay, Alpine School District Board member, Utah County, UT

By Eric Holcombe
In my last post I explained how we are paying the state of Utah to “lease” test “items” that Utah has paid to have produced by the behavioral research company American Institutes of Research (AIR). Utah’s tests are called the SAGE Assessments and they began using them in 2014, because Utah, like Tennessee, also took the federal bribe in Race To The Top to implement the federally-provided Common Core “state” Standards and all electronic assessment testing provided via the federally created, multi-state testing consortia (PARCC and SBAC). So since Tennessee students will now be UtahReady, I thought you might be interested in the viewpoint of a Utah school board member regarding the SAGE assessments we are now paying Utah to lease “items” from. After all, we have been told by the Common Core Whores what a great idea this is because all the cool kids are doing it (emphasis mine):

The Reality Behind Your Child’s Test

By Brian Halladay, Board Member, Alpine School District, Utah

Sage test results were recently released that showed less than half of Utah’s students were proficient in math, English, and language arts. Taken at face value, this means that more than half our students are “not proficient.” So, what does this mean? Absolutely nothing.

The SAGE test is an unreliable, unverified test that our children from 3rd-11th grade are taking not just once, but up to three times a year. These tests aren’t scored by their teachers, but rather by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). This company is the one of the world’s largest social and behavioral research organizations. Your child’s proficiency is being scored by a bunch of behavioral researchers. 

No teacher is scoring, or has the ability to score, an individual child’s SAGE test.
Your child is taking a test for 8 hours (4 hours for math and 4 hours for English) that their teacher can’t see the questions to. This test is designed to have your child fail. Gone are the days when a student could feel a sense of achievement for getting 100% on a test. This test is touted to be “rigorous”. If your child gets a correct answer the test will continue to ask harder and harder questions until he or she gets it wrong (who knows if what is tested was actually taught in the classroom?) Put simply, this means that your child likely will come home grumpy, anxious, or depressed after taking this test. With over 50% non-proficiency, this will affect more than half  of the students that take it.

The teacher is almost as much of a test victim as the child. Having no idea of the test questions, teachers are still starting to be evaluated —on a test they can’t see. I believe we’re starting to see this leading to more experienced teachers leaving, and an increase in teachers with little to no experience not knowing the pre-SAGE environment.  

Points to consider: 

1. When did we allow testing to become more important than education?
2. Your child’s data is subject to being shared with people and organizations without your consent. There is nothing that prohibits AIR or any its multiple organizations from accessing your child’s data. As long as AIR doesn’t make a profit from the data without the USOE’s consent, they can use it for anything they want.
3. This test has no contractual provisions that prevent it from collecting BEHAVIORAL data. AIR has a long history of collecting behavioral data, and seeing they’re a behavioral research organization, don’t you think they will? (Just look up Project Talent).

Last year, two fellow board members and I wrote a letter to our State Superintendent asking him to address our concerns, for which we’ve had no response. If your parental instinct is kicking in, I would ask that you at least consider opting your child out of taking this test. State law allows any parent to opt their child out. Even if you don’t decide to opt out, talk with your teacher, know when your child is taking this test, and make sure your decision is in the child’s best interest.

Tennessee Students are now Utah-Ready?

TN is paying Utah for test questions

by Eric Holcombe
If you have been following Achieve Inc. board member Haslam and the state department of eduction’s more recent announcements regarding “TNReady” or “TNCore”, the alleged, “new”, “state-led” standards for K-12 education to “replace” Common Core (because those Common Core “state” Standards we were told were “state-led” by these same people were nothing of the sort), then you may have been hearing that everything is bright-shiny new and there are new “Tennessee” tests and new “Tennessee” standards. Well, that’s not exactly true.

While Achieve Inc. board member Haslam did let Kevin Huffman (governing board member of PARCC) go as education commissioner and PARCC did lose their illegal, no-bid, multi-million dollar testing contract to provide the Common Core “state” Standard aligned tests in Tennessee, there were absolutely no consequences for the apparent taxpayer-funded collusion between PARCC, their board members and the folks in TN State Board of Education letting the no-bid contract. Neither was there any repercussion for PARCC’s project manager, Achieve Inc. (Bill Haslam, board member). Instead, the same standards are rebranded “TNCore” and the second testing entity (like PARCC) created with $365 million in federal stimulus money will ultimately provide the Common Core “state” Standards aligned tests. This second company is Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Joining a multi-state testing consortia was part and parcel of taking the federal tax dollar bribe in the Race To The Top federal grant application, and so was the adoption of the Common Core “state” Standards. Many states initially contracted with PARCC and many did with SBAC. We are simply changing federally-created test makers. We took and have already spent the $500+ million in the federal Race To The Top bribe, so you can be sure we will remain slaves to our federal masters, no matter what Nashville wants to rename it.

What you probably did hear about was a $108-million contract between the state of Tennessee and a company called Measurement Inc. to provide the “new” tests to replace the TCAP tests, now nicknamed/rebranded TNReady. You may have even read that Measurement Inc. isn’t really producing these tests, but is actually subcontracting the work to a company called American Institutes of Research (AIR) who is a partner to SBAC to provide the tests. That’s right. You are now paying for at least two middlemen. In the typical “but Mom, all the other kids are jumping off the roof, so why can’t I?” rationale, we were told how Utah, Arizona and Florida were already contracted with AIR so it must be good for Tennessee too, right? Don’t try too hard to remember all that selling that Achieve Inc. board member Haslam and Candice McQueen have been doing to convince you this time it really is “state-led” (by another state I guess). That is how we ended up in the PARCC boat with Florida to begin with.

AIR is primarily a behavioral research company, not a standardized academic assessment maker, i.e., they are well experienced in data mining. There is much speculation about what their motivation may be in the new business of data-mining public school students when combined with the bizarre data collection goals revealed in “Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perseverance” published by the federal Dept. of Education. Like many of the players in the Common Core game, they too received millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is beginning to look like a prerequisite to get into the education “business” in Tennessee at this point. Nevertheless, AIR did produce Common Core “state” Standard aligned assessments for the state of Utah called SAGE assessments. So, did Florida, Arizona and Tennessee get their own “state-led” assessments made just for themselves for their alleged “state-led” standards? Nope. We are paying $2.3 million to lease two years’ worth of test “items” from the Utah tests. The defenders of this scheme claim that we are not paying for Utah’s “tests”, only “items” from the tests.
So to summarize, Tennessee students will now be Utah-Ready. But it’s all “state-led”….

The Real Refugee Problem – And How To Solve It

Last week Europe saw one of its worst crises in decades. Tens of thousands of migrants entered the European Union via Hungary, demanding passage to their hoped-for final destination, Germany.

While the media focuses on the human tragedy of so many people uprooted and traveling in dangerous circumstances, there is very little attention given to the events that led them to leave their countries. Certainly we all feel for the displaced people, especially the children, but let’s not forget that this is a man-made crisis and it is a government-made crisis.

The reason so many are fleeing places like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq is that US and European interventionist foreign policy has left these countries destabilized with no hopes of economic recovery. This mass migration from the Middle East and beyond is a direct result of the neocon foreign policy of regime change, invasion, and pushing “democracy” at the barrel of a gun.

Even when they successfully change the regime, as in Iraq, what is left behind is an almost uninhabitable country. It reminds me of the saying attributed to a US major in the Vietnam War, discussing the bombing of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town in order to save it.”

The Europeans share a good deal of blame as well. France and the UK were enthusiastic supporters of the attack on Libya and they were early backers of the “Assad must go” policy. Assad may not be a nice guy, but the forces that have been unleashed to overthrow him seem to be much worse and far more dangerous. No wonder people are so desperate to leave Syria.

Most of us have seen the heartbreaking photo of the young Syrian boy lying drowned on a Turkish beach. While the interventionists are exploiting this tragedy to call for direct US attacks on the Syrian government, in fact the little boy was from a Kurdish family fleeing ISIS in Kobane. And as we know there was no ISIS in either Iraq or Syria before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

As often happens when there is blowback from bad foreign policy, the same people who created the problem think they have a right to tell us how to fix it – while never admitting their fault in the first place.

Thus we see the disgraced General David Petraeus in the news last week offering his solution to the problem in Syria: make an alliance with al-Qaeda against ISIS! Petraeus was head of the CIA when the US launched its covert regime-change policy in Syria, and he was in charge of the “surge” in Iraq that contributed to the creation of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The idea that the US can salvage its disastrous Syria policy by making an alliance with al-Qaeda is horrific. Does anyone think the refugee problem in Syria will not be worse if either al-Qaeda or ISIS takes over the country?

Here is the real solution to the refugee problem: stop meddling in the affairs of other countries. Embrace the prosperity that comes with a peaceful foreign policy, not the poverty that goes with running an empire. End the Empire!

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.
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How the Sheriff’s Office wastes your money: Open Records request gets the interrogation room

As I recently wrote, it has been and continues to be my mission to provide open, transparent and accountable government in addition to restoring liberty.  For those saying this is an exercise in futility, you are mostly right but if we don’t try we automatically lose.

My adventures in head banging started long before I (Tona Monroe) became a county commissioner.  Describing my efforts in engaging the system as an “adventure” is at times an embellishment because it implies that there is some uncertainty in the outcome.  Often the outcome is quite predictable.  Bureaucrats will drag their feet as long as you will let them.  Other times it is very much an adventure in head banging.

Several years ago, I sent an open records request and request for information to the Blount County Sherriff’s Office.  I received a written response telling me that I would have to come to the Blount County Justice Center and provide a government issued photo ID.  This seemed a bit excessive to me, especially since I had just made a similar request with the state of Tennessee and did not have to drive to Nashville with a photo ID.

Karen Miller, who at that time was a concerned citizen like me and had not yet been elected to public office, Harry Grothjahn, a member of the press, and my husband Troy Ball accompanied me the Justice Center to comply with the request from the Sheriff’s Office.  Deputy Chief, then called Assistant Chief, Jimmy Long placed us in the interrogation room while he photocopied my ID and made me restate the request even thought I had provided what I wanted in writing.

Flash forward a couple years.  Karen Miller and I are both county commissioners, my website serves as a media source primarily publishing information about local government and restoring freedom, and obtaining information from local government still can be quite difficult.

After a series of unanswered request for open records and information from the Mayor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office, earlier this year, I went above their heads to the State Office of Open Records Counsel.  Amazingly both offices responded within hours of the Open Records Counsel telling them to comply with the state open records law.

The response from the Mayor’s Office to the Office of Open Records Counsel was reasonable.  I was given the requested record that afternoon.

The response from the Sheriff’s Office was excessive and a waste of taxpayer money.  The Sheriff’s Office had Not the County Attorney Craig Garrett sent a written response, by email, to Open Records Counsel and cc’ed me on the email.  You can read the letter here.

Ms. Ann Butterworth responded to the letter from the Not the County Attorney by email saying:

“Dear County Attorney Garrett:

Thank you for responding to my inquiry regarding public record requests made by Ms. Monroe.  I support the County’s direction to develop a reasonable rule to govern public record requests.  Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-506(a) provides “that the lawful custodian of such records shall have the right to adopt and enforce reasonable rules governing the making of such extracts, copies, photographs or photostats.”  Without properly adopted reasonable rules in place, a records custodian is not authorized to charge for copies.

I disagree with the approach the County is taking with regard to requests from citizens (whether they are also elected officials or not).  The County, as the record custodian, does have the right to require proof of citizenship by presentation of a government issued photo ID with a home address.  However, I do not see where the County requested Ms. Monroe to present the identification prior to viewing the record as permitted by Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(7)(A).   Since Ms. Monroe is a Commissioner for the County, and a request for identification was not made, I do not see how the County could justify its refusal to respond to her public records request on the basis of citizenship.

The County, as the record custodian, should not ignore a request made under the Tennessee Public Records Act.

While custodians of public records do not have an obligation to review and search their records pursuant to a Public Records Act request, they do have the clear obligation to produce those records for inspection, unless otherwise provided by state law, and to provide a copy or copies of any such record requested by such citizen, upon the payment of a reasonable charge or fee therefor.  T.C.A. § 10-7-503.  Waller v. Bryan, 1999, 16 S.W.3d 770, appeal denied.

The appropriate response is a written denial indicating that no such record exists and that Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(5) does not require a custodian to create a record that does not already exist.  Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(3) provides that failure to respond constitutes a denial and the requestor has the right to bring an action under Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-505.  If the requested documents did exist, I believe a court would find the County to be willful in its action of failing to provide the documents.

Whether or not a governmental entity has a full-time position designated to respond to public records requests, under Tenn. Code Ann. Section 10-7-503(a)(2)(B), record custodians are required to promptly make open public records available for inspection and, if requested, to provide copies of such records.  If prompt response is not practicable, then a record custodian must respond using the form developed by this Office.

If you have any questions, or would like assistance with or review of the proposed rule for the County, please let me know.

Ann V. Butterworth Open Records Counsel & Assistant to the Comptroller for Public Finance”

About a week later, I received the record that I requested.  It would have been much simpler if the Sheriff’s Office had responded in a timely manner, without wasting money on an attorney.  This occurred after Chief Deputy Jeff French told the commission in June that any commissioner was welcome to come to his office to see where money had been spent.  Hopefully open records and information requests in the future won’t result in letters from attorneys and placing citizens and members of the press in an interrogation room.

Why is all of this important to you?

Besides placing citizens and a member of the press in an interrogation room for asking for public records and information, and failing to respond to requests, the State of Tennessee is considering allowing local governments to charge you, the taxpaying citizens, just to look at your governments public records.  Show up and speak out at the hearing in Knoxville on September 15.  This is your government and its time to remind those who are suppose to “serve” you of that.

USA ranks 20th on The Human Freedom Index

While we enjoy some personal freedom, there is a lot of room for improvement.



How to explain Blount County’s debt with 2 cows

The ownership of two cows has been used to explain the economics of different types of government.  The simplest types are below and have been around for years.  A more recent description has been added to the list, venture capitalism.  It describe the upcoming Blount County debt that will need to be refinanced next year.

You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.

You have two cows. The government takes them both and promises you milk but you starve.

You have two cows. The government takes them and sells you the milk.

You have two cows. The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, and then pours it down the drain.

Traditional Capitalism
You have two cows.  You sell one and buy a bull.  Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.  You sell them and retire on the income.

Variable Rate Demand Obligation Debt with 4 swaps – Blount County debt that will need to be reissued next year.  If you can’t explain it, don’t do it.

August 2015 Commission Report

“Just when you thought you’d seen the last straw, here comes a whole new bale.”  the late Ron McTigue, a local political activist

August marks the completion of my first year as a county commissioner.  This month did not disappoint for those use to adventures in head banging.

Commission Meeting
All commissioners were present.

Nominations – rubber stamping instead of serious discussion
As I wrote last month, the commission routinely rubber stamps the nominees with no discussion except from me.  It appears to me that if the political machine nominated Lucifer, most commissioners would vote yes without saying a word.

It has been standard practice of the Blount County Board of Commissioners to ignore the order of its own local rules.  Rule 3 governs the order of business.  Item 6 under Rule 3 is elections, appointments, and confirmations.  This is a separate agenda item from the consent calendar which is item 4 on the agenda.  The consent calendar is suppose to be noncontroversial items that cost the taxpayers nothing and require little or no discussion.

Most commission meetings have the elections, appointments and confirmation placed on the consent calendar so as to rubber stamp the important appointments without giving the public the opportunity to comment which occurs between these two items as Item 5.  See the agenda on page one of this August commission packet to see exactly what I am describing.

Elections, appointments and confirmations are far too important to place under bulk items to be rubber stamped.  I intend to stop this practice and hope that the public will provide more input on the nominations and that the commission will take their duty to see quality people serving on important bodies more seriously.

The first term commissioners would do well to look deeper into who they are approving on the consent calendar.  It is easy to blame past commissions for our problems, which are plenty, but the situation isn’t going to get any better by rubber stamping the same people already in these positions.

Commissioner Karen Miller and I (Tona Monroe) attended Blount County government meetings for years, prior to becoming commissioners.  We have both shaken our heads in disgust over many of the decisions made.  Only commissioners Karen Miller and I voted no on rubber stamping the consent calendar which included approving nominations to 3 important bodies.

Public Building Authority (PBA)
The commission reappointed Bob Kidd and Abbe Evans to the PBA.  To read about past iniquities in the PBA click here and here.

Board of Construction Appeals
There were two nominees to serve on the Board of Construction Appeals.  I asked if one of the nominees, who has worked on a variety of school projects, was involved in any of the many problems that we’ve had with our schools.  The Mayor said that he hadn’t received any complaints on one of the nominees and didn’t know if he had done any work on the schools.  This was alarming because I had to wonder if the Mayor had read the resume of his nominee because that’s where I read that the nominee had worked on several school projects.  See page 21 of the commission packet for the resume.  I am not aware of anything that the nominee has done that is cause for concern but wanted to ask since there have been so many problems with school construction projects and designs.

County Purchasing Agent
The Mayor decided to restructure the Purchasing Department eliminating two positions while creating a new assistant position.  The current Purchasing Agent was demoted to the assistant position.  His pick is the latest in in a series of bizarre choices.

Last year the Finance Director and Mayor were promoting an attorney to head up the Kronos IT project.  The Mayor choose someone who repeatedly didn’t pay her taxes on time to sit on the Budget Committee, which oversees spending $175 million of your money.  The Mayor recently chose a reporter, with no emergency management experience, to become the Emergency Management Director.  Now, the County will have an attorney serving as the Purchasing Agent.

The lady selected, Katie Branham, has little relevant purchasing experience.  I suggested a different use for Ms. Branham, since most of her work experience is related to the legal profession.

According to figures from the Mayor’s office, the County spent nearly $100,000, $99,872.59 to be exact, for legal services from attorney Craig Garrett during the last fiscal year.  Ms. Branham will be paid $58,000, which is more than the previous Purchasing Agent, but far less than what the County is paying Garrett.  While I am not suggesting that Ms. Branham be made the County Attorney, a position which has never been created in Blount County government, it appeared to me that we had an opportunity to reduce our legal expenses.  That idea took off like a lead balloon.

Financial advice for debt refinancing
The commission approved spending $9,000 for financial advice regarding nearly $80 million in variable rate debt that will need to be refinanced by the end of 2016.  There are several causes for concern about the matter.

The commission will be given a presentation by Public Financial Management Inc. (PFM) in October.  The information that PFM will present will likely be outdated by the time that the matter goes to market.  There is great uncertainty in the market right now.  While waiting until the last minute is not a good idea, the financial advice rendered may not be relevant when the county goes to market.

The letter of engagement from PFM says that there is some subjectivity in choosing the appropriate debt refunding structure.  The final deliverable says that PFM will work the Finance Director, Randy Vineyard, to determine the ideal option and prepare a presentation to give to the commission.  Because of the subjectivity and saying that these two will determine the ideal option, I tried to amend the resolution to ensure that the commission will be presented with options rather on a single option with subjectivity.

One reason I made the motion is because last year during the previous debt presentation given by PFM, they presented 4 options but gave limited information on the 2 fixed rate options.  When I expressed my dissatisfaction with the lack of information provided on fixed rate financing options, the Finance Director told me that he told PFM not to give the information because he didn’t want the commission to have too much information.  Yes, he actually said he didn’t want to give the commission to much information.

This previous experience made me question whether the Mayor was promoting staying in variable rate debt.  What I was concerned about was confirmed when the Mayor was so hesitant on voting for the fixed rate refinancing last year during a Budget Committee meeting.  My amendment didn’t actually go far enough.  I should have requested that it included detailed information about multiple options, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  Commissioner Farmer was his usual snarky self and the commission didn’t seem too concerned about the matter.  Only commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen and I voted to amend the resolution to require multiple options.

The other cause for concern is that PFM will consider extending the length of the debt.  I am the youngest commissioner by 5 days.  Only commissioners Andy Allen and are below the age of 40.  We may be the only two below the age of 50.  Some of the commissioners will never live see the debt paid off and I will be an old woman by the time this debt is paid off.  It’s disheartening that the Finance Director would even propose consideration of kicking the can further down the road.

Only commissioners Karen Miller and I voted no to financing the possibility of extending the length of the debt.

Airshow donation with your tax dollars
The commission chose to return to the practice of using your tax dollars to fund charitable purposes.  Several years ago the commission chose to discontinue donation to charitable organizations, with the exception of the Heritage Center.

An airshow which will come to the airport next year, requested a $10,000 sponsorship from the county.  Since this was promoted as bringing tourism to the area, with the proceeds going to a charity, I moved to refer the matter to the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority (SMTDA).  The motion failed.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted to refer the matter to the SMTDA.  The rest voted not to refer.  The SMTDA gets $1.4 million in tax revenue from the hotel/motel tax.  They could have easily found $10,000 in your budget but the commission chose to make you give even more.  Only commissioners Archer, Miller and I voted no.

Audit Committee
Blount County will have an Audit Committee.  The committee will be comprised of 2 commissioners and 3 citizens.  Commissioner Mike Akard offered an amendment to expand the number of commissioners to 4 and prohibit the membership from including people serving on the Budget Committee and Purchasing Commission.  This make sense because the Audit Committee shouldn’t include the same people to Audit the results of their own decisions.  The amendment failed.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Daly, French, Miller and I voted yes.  The rest voted no.

Hopefully the Audit Committee will meet more often than the Purchasing Commission, which hasn’t met since the commission separated it from the Budget Committee in January.  Commissioners Archer, Farmer, Miller and Stinnett voted no on forming an Audit Committee.

Emergency Medical Services Board
The commission unanimously passed a resolution creating an Emergency Medical Services Board to oversee the services provided by Rural Metro under their new ambulance contract.  The original proposal was strongly resisted by commissioner Ron French who serves on the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department for failing to provide representative oversight to the rural areas of the county which have the longest response times for ambulance service.  Commissioner French’s suggestions for improvement were unanimously adopted by the commission.

Vendor changes for county insurance program
The commission unanimously approved several vendor changes to the county insurance program.  This will save some money but does not take the self insurance fund county out of the red.  The rest of the savings will have come from changes to the insurance rates charged to the employees or the taxpayers will be stuck with another property tax increase.

Political machine voting block
The political machine of Blount County appears to be firmly in place one year into this commission term.  Commissioners and Blount County Schools teachers Grady Caskey and Dodd Crowe weren’t backed by the local good ole’ boys in the last election but they appear to amalgamated with the machine.  These two got what they wanted, a huge increase in local revenue to the schools and pay raises out of the increase budget.  Thus, it’s not surprising that they vote with the machine on nearly everything.  Grady Caskey started out with a bit more independence but that appears to be a thing of the past.

Here are the wage increase given to Blount County Schools employees who are commissioners or relatives of commissioners.  Betsy Cunningham is not a relative of a commissioner but I inquired about her pay because she is now the full time PR person for the Schools.

Grady Caskey   53,080 50,520
Dodd Crowe   64,380 62,718
Gary Farmer   68,792 66,783
Betsy Cunningham 1 44,440 30,000
Becky Cole   11,056 10,505
Kristi Yates 2 50,582 41,539

1 – moved from part time to full time in FY 15-16
2 – added office manger job responsibilities in FY 15-16

Up next:
Changes to the employee insurance rates.

All hail King Daniels!

“All hail King Daniels!”  That was the subject line of an email in my inbox today.  The body of the email went on to say “and his royal court- crazy Phyllis, Alexander, Haslam and others!”

Last week I received an email with the subject line “Pure Nonsense” and the body said “National Enquire material…”.  Attached to the email was the article on Bryan Daniels being given the 2015 Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Executive of the Year award.

An email from earlier this month contained this link TeamHealth to acquire IPC for $1.6B and said, “All cash deal after the Blount Partnership bragged about giving them $200,000 for employee training.  Why did they need it?”

Someone recently said to me, “anyone can give the farm away.”  It sounds like the people of Blount County see through these “deals.”

It is good to see Denzo expand.  They are a valuable asset to the community.

The paper talks about the donations that Denzo makes to the community.  What about the “donations” that the taxpayers give to Denzo?  It should concern us that the state and the local governments have to give them things to get them to expand where they already exist and operate.

Bryan Daniels talks about the “secret” to successful recruitment of business being cooperative community leaders.  It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone at CTAS regarding the Industrial Development Board and business recruitment.  He said, these people who do the recruiting act like there is a magic formula but there isn’t.  They just start giving them stuff until they say yes.

That’s right, they give them stuff.  Your stuff.  You get to pay for it through increased property taxes on your house.  You may never get one of these jobs but you get to pay for the stuff given to these companies to get those jobs here.  The tax money given to the IDB and the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority, both a part of the private Blount Partnership, keeps going up not down.

Earlier in the year, after one of these Blount Partnership press conferences I received a message complaining about the mediocre pay the employees will receive from the company that was given a special tax deal.  It reminded me of what Bryan Daniels told members of the community in January, “A lot of companies that, a lot of those manufacturers that are coming in, they’re looking for (sigh) kind of a little bit cheaper labor force at times.”

There you have it folks.  Bryan Daniels, the Blount Partnership and your elected officials are giving the farm away to get a little bit cheaper labor force here.  The results speak for themselves.  Blount County has the highest drop in median household income in the region and Blount County is the only county in the region where pay isn’t keeping up with the rate of inflation.  Those are really results worth writing weekly puff pieces on.

Anyone in for throwing in another million (the IDB gets about $1 million of your tax money) in the IDB/Blount Partnership pot for more of these results?

Here’s a recruitment tip for Byran Daniels.  Bring in a vomit bag manufacturer so that the people have something to catch the projections that result from the plethora of nauseating articles coming from the paper telling us how great these secretive deals are that provide jobs that can’t even keep the pay in Blount County growing at the rate of inflation.