Back in the good old Reagan days…when we knew who our enemies were

Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.

Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983 – NSA Archives.

By Horatio Bunce

As I listened this week to Marco Rubio whining about Barry Sotero’s deal with Iran to return the funds we stole from them with our “economic sanctions” and how weak Obama’s response was to the “terrible” treatment of our soldiers who were only in “international waters”, etc., I was first reminded that:

A) It is the Congress that declares war against foreign enemies (though we apparently stopped doing that in spring 1942). Marco Rubio is in Congress. What is he doing about it? Why was our military in Iranian waters without a declaration of war from Congress?

B) If Sotero’s “weak” positioning of military craft in Iranian waters (apparently with no action from Congress) is a problem, then it is Congress that has the power to impeach him. Marco Rubio is in Congress. What is he doing about it?

Then as the pentagon re-re-revised their version of their excuses in the next days as to why we have these watercraft in Iranian waters and are still in 2016 apparently unable to competently navigate our military watercraft , it reminded me of other dealings with Iran when Republicans were in charge. Back when the internet was still being invented by Algore and it was easier to control the “news”. The GOP golden era of Reagan – when special envoy (and future Sect. of Defense) Rumsfeld was buddied up to Saddam Hussein, the CIA was training/arming Osama Bin Laden and the Afghani mujaheddin vs. evil Russia (don’t you remember Red Dawn, Rocky IV, Firefox, Top Gun, Rambo III – there was some great anti-Russia propaganda entertainment back then).

Remember when we conspired with Israel to pay them to ship US weapons to Iran (you know, their mortal enemy that wants to “wipe them off the map”) – but these weapons would only go to the  “moderate” Iranian “contras” we could trust to oust the “bad” Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (ISIS storyline anyone?). Was that also a “weak deal with Iranians” trading our arms for hostages? Did they learn they could “kidnap Americans” and name their price back then too?

How about shooting down innocent Iranian civilians in a passenger airliner over their own airspace as we did in 1988? We “got confused” back then too – really couldn’t remember why we actually were in Iranian waters instead of international waters and why our top-notch defense systems “identified” a commercial passenger jet on its routine, on-time route as an Iranian F-14 (and guess where they bought those). $61.8 million tax dollars went to pay off the victims. Apparently “wage-earning” Iranians were worth $300,000 each while “non-wage earners” (aka children) were only worth $150,000. The perpetrators? They received awards.

I don’t know about you, but forking over $150k for murdering my child just wouldn’t cut it.

Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap to retire

This morning I received a call telling me that Bill Dunlap will retire.  I called the Highway Department and Julie Talbott confirmed that Bill Dunlap is on vacation for two weeks and will be retiring effective February 1st.

Who will take his place?

Commissioner Jeff Headrick (5th District) has been posturing to take his place.  He is a developer and a waterboy for the Sheriff.  His wife is related to the Sheriff.  If he replaces Bill Dunlap then the Sheriff will effectively control the Highway Department, the Mayor, the Blount County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office.

Now would be a good time for Brian Downey to start campaigning.  He did well in the last election for someone with little name recognition starting out.  He will need to do more than put out signs if he intends to win.

Have you heard any other names?

When Peace Breaks Out With Iran

Written by Ron Paul

This has been the most dramatic week in US/Iranian relations since 1979.

Last weekend ten US Navy personnel were caught in Iranian waters, as the Pentagon kept changing its story on how they got there. It could have been a disaster for President Obama’s big gamble on diplomacy over conflict with Iran. But after several rounds of telephone diplomacy between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, the Iranian leadership – which we are told by the neocons is too irrational to even talk to – did a most rational thing: weighing the costs and benefits they decided it made more sense not to belabor the question of what an armed US Naval vessel was doing just miles from an Iranian military base. Instead of escalating, the Iranian government fed the sailors and sent them back to their base in Bahrain.

Then on Saturday, the Iranians released four Iranian-Americans from prison, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian. On the US side, seven Iranians held in US prisons, including six who were dual citizens, were granted clemency. The seven were in prison for seeking to trade with Iran in violation of the decades-old US economic sanctions.

This mutual release came just hours before the United Nations certified that Iran had met its obligations under the nuclear treaty signed last summer and that, accordingly, US and international sanctions would be lifted against the country.

How did the “irrational” Iranians celebrate being allowed back into the international community? They immediately announced a massive purchase of more than 100 passenger planes from the European Airbus company, and that they would also purchase spare parts from Seattle-based Boeing. Additionally, US oil executives have been in Tehran negotiating trade deals to be finalized as soon as it is legal to do so. The jobs created by this peaceful trade will be beneficial to all parties concerned. The only jobs that should be lost are the Washington advocates of re-introducing sanctions on Iran.

Events this week have dealt a harsh blow to Washington’s neocons, who for decades have been warning against any engagement with Iran. These true isolationists were determined that only regime change and a puppet government in Tehran could produce peaceful relations between the US and Iran. Instead, engagement has worked to the benefit of the US and Iran.

Proven wrong, however, we should not expect the neocons to apologize or even pause to reflect on their failed ideology. Instead, they will continue to call for new sanctions on any pretext. They even found a way to complain about the release of the US sailors – they should have never been confronted in the first place even if they were in Iranian waters. And they even found a way to complain about the return of the four Iranian-Americans to their families and loved ones – the US should have never negotiated with the Iranians to coordinate the release of prisoners, they grumbled. It was a show of weakness to negotiate! Tell that to the families on both sides who can now enjoy the company of their loved ones once again!

I have often said that the neocons’ greatest fear is for peace to break out. Their well-paid jobs are dependent on conflict, sanctions, and pre-emptive war. They grow wealthy on conflict, which only drains our economy. Let’s hope that this new opening with Iran will allow many other productive Americans to grow wealthy through trade and business ties. Let’s hope many new productive jobs will be created on both sides. Peace is prosperous!

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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Single Digit Jeb

charlie brown

by Horatio Bunce

I have been telling friends and family for some time now that I expect the GOP to force Jeb Bush on the Republican faithful whether they want him or not. Most folks don’t believe it and point to Jeb’s perennially low, single-digit position in any poll of likely Republican voters and contrast that with the ongoing poll performance of Donald Trump/Ben Carson/Ted Cruz/Marco Rubio. Here’s my theory:

The “new” primary debate rules
I was expecting the GOP to field their usual, requisite array of primary candidates designed to appeal to various voter factions and people groups/single issue voters. The wash-rinse-repeat scenario goes like this:

1) The GOP consistently provides certain stereotype primary candidates for you to “identify” with, hoping you will warm up to the GOP brand (and donate!). These play certain specific roles, such as: war-hawk, the black guy, the female, the pro-amnesty, Hispanic-sympathizer, the fiscal money manager, the “evangelical candidate” with the new addition this cycle of “tea party darling” to head off you pesky constitutionalists that are not happy with business as usual but still believe in “reforming” your wife-beating husband called the GOP. Each of these candidates (except one) is fatally flawed by design so they will not run the distance, but you are supposed to stay loyal to the party brand despite this. Because after all, nobody is perfect, and the GOP nominee you are eventually to be force-fed sure isn’t your first, second or third choice.
2) Eventually your candidate is eliminated (by GOP hook or crook). Eventually, the GOP pre-selected nominee will emerge even though you don’t seem to know any supporters. They will have big donors from the beginning despite this. This is typically about the time your “conservative” news outlets begin to inform you that a vote for your favorite “wrong” Republican candidate equals a vote for the Democrat nominee (?). Or that your favorite “wrong” candidate isn’t polling high enough, doesn’t have a chance in the general election (while they also pre-announce the other side’s establishment candidate), etc. Or in more serious cases, they will begin name-calling them something other than Republican, such as a “libertarian isolationist” or “tea party candidate”. In this current cycle for example, if you are Bernie Sanders you are called a “socialist” instead of a Democrat. It may even be necessary to sabotage the Iowa Caucus to report a fraudulent “win” to kill momentum for the “wrong” candidates, as was done in 2012. This is all so you are mentally prepped to think the GOP really tried to give you a choice, but you need to be thinking about the “big picture” – which means keeping the GOP in power – and thus voting AGAINST the Democrat (because see, there are no alternatives to the Big Two – just ask them).
3) Eventually you are to resign your principles and be disgusted with their establishment nominee, yet remain loyal to the brand and then hold your nose and vote “so the Democrats don’t win” or “so they don’t get to pick the Supreme Court judges”. After months of hearing what a horrible candidate the Democrats support (or vice-versa) you Big Two supporters will be told despite this stupid nomination by the other side, it is now a neck-and-neck race, so “Friend, donate now to defeat Candidate X!” Suddenly “everyone” supports the emergent, stinking, establishment candidate – and you do too so you can “win”.

4) Nothing substantive changes. Banksters run roughshod with virtual printing of FRNs, foreign policy of undeclared war continues unabated, socialist security is still a ponzi scheme, budget deficits and can-kicking bailouts continue. More new boogie-men to be afraid of, liberties sacrificed for safety, etc. Globalist-R or Globalist-D makes no difference.

I found it really interesting that the GOP trotted out such a huge field of retread losers (Perry, Graham, Huckabee, Santorum, Christie) – while simultaneously announcing new “rules” for the primary debates, effectively giving you the illusion of choice, yet immediately telling you that your choice is varsity or j.v. by where they fall in the debate lineup – or whether you even see them on television. These debate lineups are to be based on polling data (those are always reliable right?). The large number made me suspicious of two things: first, that the establishment nominee was very unappealing to the average Republican voter – who is more tired than ever of establishment Republicans and second, that there may be a real, honest-to-goodness threat to the establishment in the field that has to be drowned out and marginalized with establishment-shill noise. Split the primary vote, split the donors, split those debate minutes into seconds. The legacy, big money and the die-hard minority establishment vote isn’t going anywhere. They are lifers. But you have to bust up the rest. The weak candidates will fall out and the establishment will be sustained by the legacy money. Jeb is easily recognized as nothing but establishment. The family tie, big Common Core promoter, CFR Independent Task Force co-chair. He is your globalist-R candidate (just like Hillary is the globalist-D candidate).
Single Digits
This extra attention to polling has made it even more interesting that Jeb continues to garner attention from the “news” when no one else seems interested in him. He has consistently placed in single digits in all polls. The only poll I have seen Jeb at the top of is the recent Iowa Caucus poll that asked “which candidate do you like the least?” I find this VERY interesting after Ron Paul’s previous campaigns where he consistently polled 12-14%, but was lambasted as having “no chance” and the name-calling was used  by the “conservative news”. How in the world can these same “news” stooges keep talking up Single Digit Jeb? They tell us his primary campaign is broke…and then the next station break runs a PAC-funded ad for Single Digit Jeb. The current topics of “news” will seem to search out the opinion of Single Digit Jeb – despite his 7th place ranking in the polls. Interesting. The “news” has NEVER paid attention to anyone in the single digits like this. Don’t you wonder why? Hasn’t this always been an excuse in the past to stifle debate and eliminate the back-markers? I mean if less than 1% of Republicans want Lindsey Graham and he is in the debate, why not an actual different party candidate for once? Why are we limited to the Big Two and crap candidates that only single-digits of likely loyal party voters are interested in?
I ran across an interesting scorecard this week called the 2016 Endorsement Primary. It lists the current presidential candidates and gives points based on that candidate’s endorsements by incumbent Governors (10 points), U.S. Senators (5 points) and U.S. Representatives (1 point). Guess who is leading all Republicans in endorsements by the established Republicans? That’s right, Single Digit Jeb. He’s the establishment man. However, the number of endorsements is terribly low historically for this point in the campaign. Comparably, Hillary Clinton already has ten times the endorsements. Comparisons can also be made to previous presidential campaigns which is pretty interesting. Another notable: Neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson have any Republican endorsements. I believe this is very telling – either for a shill or real-deal candidate. Don’t you find it strange that these “front-runner” men in the polls for months now have ZERO endorsements by incumbent Republicans?
The Iowa Deadline
Well, as you know, the cuts have been made in the debate lineup, narrowing the field – based on polling data we are told. We are less than thirty days away from the Iowa Caucus, and despite Single Digit Jeb being named the least liked Republican candidate in the polls, there he is on the varsity squad again – and of course there must be seven of them, since he is in seventh place. I am expecting some really interesting hi-jinks in the next 30 days. Certain “front-runners” are going to fall out suddenly. Watch for whom they endorse. This will be telling also. The design is for you to transfer your support with their endorsement – eventually backing the pre-selected nominee.

So Charlie Brown, do you want to try to kick the football again?

$1.7M of 2011 debt was for library

Conversations about Blount County’s debt have centered around the Schools and the Justice Center.  However, as of 2011, $1.7 million of the outstanding debt was Library debt.  In 2011 it was refinanced along with other debt, to become part of the Series 2011 bonds.

People have been expressing to me that they are tired of paying for the library since they don’t use it.  This email was interesting because it provided some statistics that show how few people are using libraries and discusses how technology is changing the way people access books and movies.

The statistics are from the UK.  We should look at statistics here.

Question: Should the people who don’t use the library continue to pay for it?

“Well that explains why the library sent us messages last summer asking us to contact the commissioners to approve the property tax increase!

Libraries are great but we have to be honest, they aren’t going to last much longer in their current state.  More and more people are reading books and watching movies on hand held devices.  In 2004 there were about 38,000 bookstores in the US but in 2015 that has dropped to about 25,000.  Bookstores will not last much longer, nor will libraries whose fundamental mission is reading paper books.

The number of people visiting libraries at least once a year has declined by at least 25% since records started being kept in 2005.  Also the number of libraries declined 9% between 2005 and 2012.  In another study nearly 64% of people surveyed had not visited a library a single time in the last year.  How much funding should be dedicated to  something that only 36% of the public uses?

It’s time to be proactive and shape the library into something that can sustain itself.  What’s wrong with charging for library cards or movie rentals?  There are probably many ways to generate revenue for those who actually use the library.  I know the argument is going to be “I pay my taxes and I should have the library for free.”  But conversely, lots of people pay their taxes and get nothing from the library.

With budget issues, it seems like there are more urgent needs.”


Thought of the day: gas prices at “historic lows”

by Horatio Bunce

As Tennessee Republicans continue to float the idea of an increase in the motor fuel tax, I keep seeing a phrase along the lines of “it might be the right time since gas prices are at historic lows”.

I am not sure how “historic” or “low” they mean. Regular unleaded gasoline in Knoxville was $1.46/gallon when Barry Sotero was elected in 2008. Today it is $1.58/gallon, an 8.2% increase. If the fraudulent 2.1% inflation rate reported by our government actually included housing, food and fuels, then a 2.1% inflation rate since 2008 should put gasoline at $1.69/gallon where it has been in the last month. However, we all knew the days of $110/bbl oil and $3.50/gallon gasoline in this same window. And why should we believe there will not be an equal, non-market fundamental, skyrocketing of price in the next 7 years?

How much tax is enough? Of the current $1.58/gallon, $0.214 is state tax and another $0.184 is federal tax. That’s over 25% of the total revenue going to taxes already. The same government that has coddled hybrids and electric cars, their buyers and manufacturers, and mandated increased fuel efficiencies now seems to be suffering the consequences of its own mandates. What did they expect after forcing manufacture of more fuel efficient vehicles? More fuel use to keep padding their coffers?

Of course it is readily apparent to anyone paying attention the last seven years that fuel price apparently has nearly nothing to do with cost of oil production or even demand. Crude Oil price per barrel today ($37) is far less now than when gasoline was $1.46 per gallon ($46). Have you noticed the price of motor oil dropping 50% like gasoline has the last couple of years? Why hasn’t it moved? Are we to believe there is less demand and an inventory surplus of crude oil lowering the price of gasoline, but the same surplus doesn’t affect price for the oil used in the gasoline engine?

There are many games being played with the oil market, our OPEC agreement for exports only in US dollars, EFT (electronically traded funds) or futures (not actual barrels of oil) trading, economic sanctions (economic warfare) with certain foreign countries. Retaliation by other countries in response, etc. It is a false market. Republicans should stop relying on its instantaneous position to justify tax increases.

December 2015 Commission Report

Commission canceled meeting – Mayor calls one anyway, ramrods 20 resolutions through during Christmas season
Ordinarily commissioners place resolutions on the agenda of the Agenda Committee, where the committee will discuss whether to send the resolution(s) forward to the monthly commission meeting.  For two of the last three months, resolutions have not gone through the normal double vetting process.

In October, the mayor decided that he wanted to control the agenda of the commission by calling a special meeting the same week as the regularly scheduled commission meeting.  Commission Chairman Jerome Moon canceled the regular commission meeting because there was no need to have two meetings in the same week.  This allowed the Mayor to set the agenda for the Commission instead of the Commission setting its own agenda.

With unanimous consent, the County Commission canceled its December meetings (Agenda Committee and Commission) but the Mayor disrespected the choice of the commission by calling a special meeting to ramrod 20 resolutions through, including the creation of an IT fund using $1.3 million of your tax money.  This move allowed the mayor to set the agenda again.

Under the state law, the mayor can call special meetings of the Blount County legislative body.  There is rarely a need to call a special meeting because the commission meets regularly, once a month.  However, the mayor has decided to abuse the process in recent months.  A special meeting should be called when an urgent need arises to deal with an important matter.  Special meetings shouldn’t be called to avoid the Agenda Committee process or to ramrod large agendas through during the holiday season when few people are able to attend meetings and/or are paying attention.

Commission meeting
Commissioners Mike Caylor and Karen Miller were absent.  The other 19 were present.

20 resolutions – no fiscal discipline
There were 20 resolutions on the special called meeting and all 20 passed.  While seven of the resolutions were to amend the budget to reflect the funds that the County received to recoup expenses related to the CSX train derailment and one was to allow for safe passage of a visitor from the North Pole there were twelve more resolutions that should have gone through the usual vetting process.  This is a sorry way to conduct business.

If you are upset with the omnibus spending bill that congress just rammed through, you’ll want to pay closer attention to your local government that just rammed through 20 resolutions in a rush right before the Christmas holiday season.  There is a Washington, DC, Blount County, Tennessee parallel.

Property Assessor cut health benefits and then wanted it back and more
The Commission was asked to vote on a budget amendment to increase funding for health care benefits for the Property Assessor’s reappraisal employees.  The Commission was asked to appropriate an additional $35,500.  Interestingly, most of this amount was in the budget last year.  See page 18 for the FY 15 and 16 health insurance amounts.  The cost centers are 205 and 207.  When I inquired why money had been cut from these cost centers, no one from the Property Assessor’s Office was present to answer the question.  No one from the Property Assessor’s Office attended the Budget Committee to explain this either.

$1.3 million IT Fund – IT expenses $4.1 million without approval of IT Committee
Information Technology (IT) expenses are projected to have a 5 year cost exceeding $4.1 million.  Remarkably, none of these expenses have been recommended by the IT Committee.

Finance Director Randy Vineyard is the driving force behind many of these expenditures.  He appears to be the defacto leader of the courthouse, rather than Mayor Ed Mitchell.

The costs include:

  • $2.3 million for Kronos, over a 5 year period
  • $9,300 for the first year and $3,400 each year there after for software used by the Election Commission
  • $579,064 Spillman software purchase for Sheriff’s Office
  • $1,348,942 million IT Fund to update infrastructure and purchase new equipment

The Commission was not presented with the Election Commission software purchase because the Election Commission budget was already so bloated that it did not take an increase to purchase the software.  The IT Committee sent this item to the Budget Committee on the condition that the Administrator of Elections show up and explain the purchase.  The Administrator did not attend the IT Committee meeting and did not provide any explanation to the IT Committee as to why the new software was needed.

The Election Commission had previously been using in-house software.  The IT Director said the new software requested by the new Administrator of Elections Susan Hughes will actually take more time to use than the old system.  Why anyone would want to spend money on software that takes more time to use than an in house system is beyond me.  To add insult to injury, when Hughes inquired whether she needed to present the software request to the Commission, the Mayor responded saying, not unless you are a glutton for punishment.

The Kronos payroll, time keeping and H.R. software was a top secret project.  The lead volunteer on the project is no longer overseeing the project and the payroll portion is 3 months behind schedule.

The Spillman software purchase last month was another big expense.  All but $100,000 of it was funded with court costs.  You can read the contract here.

The IT Director, John Herron, left earlier this year to go to work for Blount County Schools.  He kept the County’s IT system afloat on in-house software and by modifying software purchased many years ago.  This saved the County large sums of money that is and will be spent on more modern software programs.  While many of us in the private sector make due without having state of the art everything and live within our budgets this apparently wasn’t good enough for our Finance Director.  More than one County employee shared with me that the Finance Director wanted the IT Director gone.  Rather than working with the IT Director while he had the chance, the Finance Director waited until the IT Director left and seized the opportunity to go on a spending spree after already getting a $2.3 million software system the year before.

The Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for an IT company for the newest IT project was sent out on December 4th, before the Budget Committee and Commission met.  This should tell everyone that the Mayor and Finance Director considered this issue a slam dunk with the Budget Committee and the Commission.  It should alarm the taxpaying public that your Commission allows the Mayor and Finance Director to take us for granted.  The legislative body is suppose ensure that important matters aren’t rushed through irresponsibly and that taxpayer money is spent wisely on priority items not long wish lists.

In October, I reported that the IT Committee heard a presentation from Net3 regarding the IT needs of the County.  You can read the report here and view the presentation here.

The IT Committee sent the report to the Budget Committee but made no recommendation based on the report.  When the IT Committee voted to send the report on, I stated that I hoped that before the Budget Committee made any budget
recommendation that the IT Committee be given the chance to make recommendations.  That didn’t happen.

The Budget Committee decided to fund the entire estimated costs (over $1.3 million) listed in the report and recommended putting it into a capital projects fund.  The Budget Committee asked very few questions on the matter.

The Commission addressed the $1.3 million request at the special called meeting.  We were told that the IT Committee had recommended it and that the Sheriff’s Office couldn’t proceed without this fund, neither of which are true.  Creating the fund isn’t actually appropriating money for specific purchases.  The purchases could be made without the fund and still have to go through normal purchasing protocols.

Motions were made to postpone the matter until February, which didn’t make a lot of sense since the matter needed to be prioritized rather than just delayed, to reduce the amount to $700,000 and to send the matter back to the IT Committee.  All 3 motions failed.

Commissioner Mike Akard has written about the matter on his Facebook page.  Rather than me writing basically the same thing here, please read what he has to say here and here.

There are two things that jump out at me regarding the $1.3 million placed in the capital fund.  Some of the estimates seem high.  For example, monitors are listed at an estimated cost of $168.30 each (see page 54) but any of us could walk into an office supply store and get a better off the shelf price, with no prior planning.  The same is likely true for the desktop pcs, even though the individual specifications aren’t listed.  Furthermore, there are two capital costs listed as unknown (see page 53).  I hope this doesn’t cause this latest IT project to exceed its budgeted costs.

The money will come out of the General Fund.  Now that the funds are available, there is little, if any, incentive not to spend the funds.

All of this has taught me that it is a bad policy to forward anything from the IT Committee to the Budget Committee without a specific recommendation.  The IT Committee needs to thoroughly examine everything before sending anything on without a recommendation.  I will be insistent on this in the future.

More mistakes by Finance Director and staff
Last month I wrote about mistakes made by the Finance Director and/or his staff.  The mistakes continued this month.  Last month the Commission was asked to vote on a budget amendment for the donations to the Animal Shelter.  This month we were asked to vote on an amendment to undue last months amendment because we didn’t need the amendment after all.

The Commission was asked to vote to amend the budget to appropriate an additional $578,611 for workers compensation because of an omission by the Finance Director.  It is not that difficult to calculate workers compensation.  Situations can arise that would necessitate a small increase but a competent Finance Director wouldn’t miss the mark this much.

Funding workers compensation isn’t an optional budgetary expenditure.  While I voted for this amendment, in hindsight I wish that I hadn’t.  Could it be that this was under budgeted, to make the budget look smaller than it actually was, knowing that funding it isn’t optional?  It’s much easier to come back during the middle of the fiscal year for a huge budget increase on an expense that isn’t optional than for one that isn’t.  I intend to monitor this situation more closely in the future and will likely only support amendments that are minor necessary adjustments, not huge increases (‘mistakes’) like this.

Competitive sealed bid threshold raised from $10,000 to $25,000
In January, the Commission rejected having the same people serve on the Purchasing Commission and the Budget Committee at the same time.  In March, the Commission approve the Mayor’s appointments to the newly separated Purchasing Commission.  I voted no on the appointments for several reasons, the most important being that I didn’t see anyone in the nominees that I could be sure would look out for the taxpayers.  Unfortunately, based on the first action of the new Purchasing Commission,
my concern is now justified.

It should be noted that this is also one of the first things that the new Purchasing Agent, Katie Branham an attorney, pushed for.  The Purchasing Commission approved 4 to 0 with 1 absent to raise the competitive sealed bid threshold from $10,000 to $25,000.  Now the Purchasing Department will only need to try to get 3 bids before awarding purchases up to $25,000.  Special deals were just made easier in Blount County.  Only Commissioners Akard and I voted no.

Election Commission members given pay raise
We live in a time where the idea that public servants should actually serve the public, rather than themselves, seems trite, if not nonexistent.  I take my job as a public servant very seriously, to the point that I am willing to serve without compensation.  So many today get in positions in government to enrich themselves while giving lip service to the notion of public service.

The Blount County Election Commission meets once a month.  In a non-election year, the meetings can be brief, some lasting less than an hour.  The current pay is $300 a month for each member except for the Chairman who is paid $400.  The members will now be paid $400 a month starting in February.  Where else can you get paid $400 for an hour or two of work each month?

During an election year there is more work for the Election Commission but that is public service.  My wish for the new year is for those who claim they want to serve to examine whether that is really what is in their hearts and minds.  While 4 Commissioners voted no on the resolution to increase the pay, only Commissioners Akard and I voted no on the transfer that made the pay increase possible.

The majority of Election Commissioners were on the Election Commission when it voted to not count the ballots of Keith and Karen Miller in 2010 because they had requested paper ballots.

$1 million ear mark for jail
I have long maintained that our local government operates far too secretively.  That point could not be clearer than the recent revelation that Mayor Ed Mitchell and Finance Director Randy Vineyard earmarked one million for the jail without telling the commission or the public.

When asked for a comment, the Mayor lacked the integrity to even respond.  Failure to respond to a request for comment has become the norm for the Mayor.

The Finance Director said that he had a transition facility in mind when he earmarked the money without telling you, the taxpaying public.  A Sheriff’s employee recently told me that he also wanted a transition facility.  Blount County may benefit from a transition facility but something this important should be discussed openly for the benefit of the public, not behind closed doors with secret earmarking.

The Finance Director serves as a non-voting member of the Blount County Corrections Partnership but he did not bother to inform the BCCP, the Commission or the public about this money.  After the Budget Committee meeting, where I questioned the Finance Director about this money, he yelled at me after the microphones were turned off and the press had left the room.  With this type of behavior and secrecy and the volume of financial mistakes, I am convinced that the taxpaying citizens of Blount County deserve a better Finance Director and Mayor.

With all the big spending by this Commission, Mayor and several office holders, I think the best investment this County could make is to hire a new Finance Director who will be open, better informed, live within the budget and stop making so many mistakes.  My November 6th email to the Finance Director on the nearly $80 million in variable rate debt that will need to be refinanced in 2016 remains unanswered.

Up next
The resolution that I filed in November to have a hearing on the nearly $94,580 jail study was delayed until January.  Interestingly the Sheriff’s Office has already followed the advice given in the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) report regarding renegotiating per diem rates for housing federal inmates.  The ILPP report recommended hiring a company with expertise in rate negotiations to renegotiate the rates.  The Sheriff’s Office took this advice and received a rate increase.

The BCCP unanimously (5-0 with one absent) recommended that the Commission have a hearing on the jail study.  The Commission chose not to because of the Mayor’s false threat of a lawsuit, against the jail consultant, to silence discussion.  There is no lawsuit.  It’s time to hear from the consultant.

And the Beat Goes on… Newsletter by Commissioner Jamie Daly

Blount County Commissioner Jamie Daly is sending a printed newsletter to the voters in her district, which is the Louisville area.  The first two issues are available here for you to read.  Future editions will be available for your information by clicking on the picture of Jamie Daly in the right side column under the heading of And the Beat Goes on…

February 2015   Issue 1 page 1   Issue 1 page 2
June 2015   Issue 2 page 1   Issue 2 page 2

Correction to the second issue: A simple majority of 11 votes is required to override the veto of the Mayor, not a 2/3rds majority.

For the monthly Commission Reports published by Commissioner Tona Monroe serving in the 7th district in Blount County, TN, click here.

Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study Final Report made public 7 months after vote

The latest chapter in the embarrassing lack of transparency in Blount County government is the Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study Final Report finally being made available to the public seven months after the commission voted to follow its recommendations.  Yes, the commission adopted the recommendations of the Evergreen Solutions study even though it wasn’t finished at the time it was voted on.

The commission received a draft version, a few days before the commission meeting, containing 3 of the 5 chapters after I (Tona Monroe) asked if anyone had a copy of it and was informed by the HR Director that she hadn’t given the Commission a copy yet because it wasn’t finished.  Commissioner Jamie Daly then asked for the draft version, which we received a few days prior to the vote.  Apparently Mayor Ed Mitchell, Human Resources Director Jenny Morgan, Budget Committee and the HR Committee don’t think you actually need to read some thing before you vote on it.  To make matters worse, the commission was asked to vote on budget amendments last month and this month, pertaining to the new Evergreen pay scale, without having a copy of the final report.

The Mayor appears to be right proud of his making the final report available to the public after the Evergreen pay scale was adopted and implemented as public policy, so much so that a link to the report appears on the homepage of county’s websiteYou can read the final report hereThe draft version is available here.

Notice in the letter included with the draft version that the HR Director says, “I will send the chapters (Chapters 1 and 5 which weren’t finished) to you as soon as I receive them.”  She did not follow through as she said she would.  The study appeared on the County’s website likely in response to my formal open records requests for the study.

The final report simplifies Exhibits 3A and 3B, giving less information about each Department under office holders.  For example, Information Technology is listed as having the longest tenure of any Department in the draft version but that data is rolled into another Department in the final report.

More on Evergreen: Evergreen Solutions study pay is not based on merit

The NMA Holiday Travel Checklist: NMA E-Newsletter #362

Record numbers of Americans are expected to hit the road this holiday season. Couple that with the inevitable bad weather and overbearing traffic enforcement, and we thought it made sense to provide this holiday travel checklist—NMA style.

Be Prepared: Pack a roadside safety kit in case you find yourself stranded, especially in bad weather. Pick one up premade or put together your own with a few basic hand tools, jumper cables, flashlight, tire inflator, blankets, first aid kit, etc. Check here for a full list of recommended items.

Plan Ahead Part 1: Staying safe means anticipating road hazards. Check and before you leave to see where to expect stepped-up enforcement along your journey. Beyond speeding, police will be working overtime (thanks to federal grants) looking for things like seat belt violations, DUI and distracted driving infractions.

Plan Ahead Part 2: Speaking of distracted driving, cell phone and texting laws vary widely. What is permissible in one state will result in an expensive ticket in another. Check here to get an idea of the laws in the states you plan to visit.

Weather the Storm: Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy and ready for the conditions. Check things like the battery, tires, fluid levels, wiper blades, etc. Here’s a full list.

Take a Deep Breath: Heavy traffic, bad weather and the stresses of the holidays bring out the worst in drivers. Be patient on the road, leave plenty of space between your vehicle and others and …

Spread Some Holiday Cheer: Practice Lane Courtesy and make everyone’s trip a little more enjoyable.

Have a Contingency Plan: Despite your planning and diligence, you still find yourself along the side of the road with a cop looking to fill his federal grant-driven holiday enforcement quota (oops … performance measure). What do you do? Look here for some great tips on how to minimize the damage and get back on your way as soon as possible.

Speak Up: Using the phrases “Am I free to leave now?” and “Am I being detained?” during a traffic stop or roadblock could extract you from further harassment. Also, by exercising your civil rights you can protect yourself should the situation turn more serious and lead to future court proceedings.

Hide the Presents: If you’ve got presents in your vehicle, keep them out of sight. You don’t want any Grinches stealing your Christmas, especially if you’re traveling to New Haven, Connecticut, where police have been stealing valuables from unlocked cars, just to teach their owners a lesson. No kidding.

Go Cashless: Civil forfeiture is always a danger, and the cops will look for any excuse to pick your pocket, even if you’re only carrying a few hundred bucks. Carry as little cash as possible.

Give Back: Consider a year-end donation to the NMA Foundation, which may be tax deductible.

Finish up your Holiday Shopping: Giving a NMA gift membership to someone on your list is easy, inexpensive and always appreciated. Call us at 1-800-882-2785.