Email from citizen Dorthy Cooper

As many recent articles in the Daily Times have indicated, the Blount County mayor and certain commissioners seem to have decided that Blount County needs a property tax increase. The extra tax is needed, among other things, to make it possible to increase the pay for county employees. Before this tax increase is passed I would like for you to consider the following questions.
1. Why do the people of Blount County need to cut their spending in order pay for a tax increase so that you can increase your spending?
2. How do you suggest people living on a fixed income come up with the extra money to pay this extra tax? People who are retired or disabled certainly can’t work an extra shift at work to make up for the extra cost. What do you suggest we cut from out budget? food, prescription medication, heat and air, a doctor visit?
I would love for all of Blount County employees to receive a pay raise. Please open your eyes to the hardships that the people of this county are going through. During the economic downturn many of them lost their jobs and are now working two part time jobs just to make ends meet. Some did not lose their jobs but took pay cuts in order to keep their jobs and as of today they are not back to the pay scale that they were at before the downturn. Lots of people have not had pay raises yet you insist on robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you want to give them a raise, do what you are expecting us to do—CUT YOUR SPENDING. After all this is what you are asking us to do in order to come up with the extra to pay this tax increase.
Recently when Mayor Mitchell nominated Sharon Hannum for the financial board it was brought to his attention that her property taxes had not been paid. The mayor made the comment that she was retired and living on a fixed income and it was hard to come up with the money to pay your taxes on time. I personally have nothing against Sharon but I know she is blessed to receive a pension from her former employer. This is something a lot of people do not have. Now the mayor not only thinks we can come up with that money but thinks we can afford to pay more. A considerable amount more!
If you are going to raise our taxes, please tell the citizens of Blount County who are trying to raise their families, pay their medical insurance and buy groceries (which has increased in cost) where they get the extra to pay for the tax increase.
When you think the people of this county have recovered from its economic problems think again. Blount Memorial has just notified some of its employees that they will be outsourcing their jobs. Some of these employees have been employed with them for 25 and 30 years. They are not old enough to retire and receive social security. Their lives have been turned upside down. Where do you suggest they get the extra to money for your tax increase? I am sure they would forgo any raise just to keep their job.

Dorthy Cooper

Citizen activist Linda King speaks in favor of pay raises for Blount County Sheriff’s deputies

With all the false information and statements floating around regarding the pay raises and upcoming budget vote, it’s a good time to bust a myth.

Myth Buster 1

Assertion by the political machine: Linda King and the people in “her group” are against the county employees.  One author said that she never made any recommendation to that effect.

Fact: At the June 21, 2007 Blount County Commission meeting, Linda King spoke in favor of deputy pay raises and said that the people of Citizens for Blount County’s Future supported the pay raises.  What she pointed out in her speech was that the Sheriff had turnback money in the budget that could have been used to give pay raises to deputies.

Some of the people in “her group” are the people that the same false statements are being made about today, namely Commissioners Karen Miller and Tona Monroe.  Commissioner Mike Akard was not an active member of “her group” but the same false statements are being spread about him.  These three commissioners voted against the unfinished, inadequate Evergreen Study.  That doesn’t mean that they are against employee pay raises.

June 2007 could be June 2015.  The story is the same.  We hear about deputy pay but never hear about cuts.  Turnback is only discussed if the citizens bring it up and they are branded as “naysayers” and being against the county employees for daring to mention that there be some accountability to the taxpayers.  The Sheriff didn’t show much interest in his deputies when he had the money left over in his budget that could have been used to give raises.

The questions that the taxpayers should be asking are why do we not see the same routine out of other offices and departments?  Why are the deputies always the ones being demagogued?

Citizen Donna Wright’s comments to the commission on the proposed tax increase

The job of the county departments head and the mayor is to ask for more money.  You could give them a 100%  increase in their budget request and they would come back tomorrow asking for more. That is their job as bureaucrats and I understand that. But your job as county commissioners is to stand in the gap to stop the runaway budget because of their personal agendas and excess spending and stop this foolishness because the citizens of Blount County, who are under tax payer duress anyway, cannot afford this added burden. We need you as county commissioners to grow a backbone and demand that department heads reduce their budget costs instead of just automatically granting their current requests.

Some of the proposed money brought in from a property tax increase would be to fund the short fall of the health care fund.  Why are you not currently pursuing the options of making the county employees pay for more of their health care benefits or make some plan changes first before you put forth this proposal to raise taxes.  You have a 1.8 million short fall year to date. What are you going to do next year when that will more than likely increase.  Implement the wheel tax possibly?

My husbands insurance rates increased this year by 36% and who pays for it?  He does.  He doesn’t have the advantage of passing that increase onto someone else.  Our sheriff has a 10.6 million dollar budget.  You mean to tell me he cannot reallocate his budget to give his deputies a raise.  We just passed  the 22% sales tax increase last year which I thought was for education.  Why do they keep coming back for more?  If you make the money available they will find ways to spend it and next budget they’ll ask for more.

My family runs a fiscally responsible household and when we need to cut that’s what we do. And if you pass this property tax increase guess what we will be doing?  Making more cuts.  It is your job as commissioners of this county to be fiscally responsible stewards of the taxpayer’s money and right now some of you are failing miserably.  I know some of you have your mind made up already, but those of you on the fence, I ask that you do the fiscally responsible thing and vote no on the property tax increase.  Thank you.

Blount County pay not keeping up with inflation; Median household income tied for biggest drop in region

A 22% property tax increase in this economic environment?  No way!

“How is our region performing?

In 2012, the region’s average salary was just over $43,000, below the average for the state ($44,000) and the nation ($49,000). Since 2000, the region’s average salary increased by 6%, lower than the 8% growth statewide but higher than the 5% growth nationwide. Union County’s average annual pay grew by 43% over the same time period, more than any other county, while Blount was the only county in the region to experience a decrease in average pay (-0.4%). Between 2011 and 2012, average annual pay increased slightly in the region, driven by growth in Union and Jefferson counties (7% and 6%, respectively).”

“How is our region performing?

In 2009-13, median household income in the region was $45,100, slightly higher than the state ($44,300) but lower than the nation ($53,000). Among local counties, median household income was highest in Loudon ($51,100) and Knox ($47,700) and lowest in Union ($34,400) and Monroe ($37,600). Since 2000, median household income decreased by 11% in the region, compared to decreases of 13% in the state and 10% in the nation. Among the counties, median household incomes decreased most in Jefferson and Blount (both 15%). Knox experienced the smallest rate of decline (10%).”

Bolded for emphasis.

Interview on upcoming budget

This interview took place on The Rude Awakening on Thursday June 4th at 8 AM.  There was one place were I corrected myself saying 3 years but it is actually 4 years. Awakening060415.mp3


The BS Gap Continues to Grow

snake-oil-salesman475by Eric Holcombe

Dad Gone Wild has a new post about the Achievement School District (ASD) in TN directed by Teach For America (TFA) alum Chris Barbic. Remember that Chris was tagged for the position by Kevin Huffman, the former executive v.p. of public relations for TFA (and board member of PARCC of no-bid, testing contract fame) who was appointed by Achieve Inc. board member Bill Haslam. Somebody had to spend the $90 million Bill Gates grant given to Memphis to start up charter schools. The ASD was created by Jamie SCORE Woodson’s special session First To The Top bill in January 2010 at the same time the Common Core “state” Standards were being committed to (before they existed) in the fraudulent Race To The Top federal grant application that claimed unanimous support and signatures from every director of schools, school board chair and teacher union representative in the state. Shortly after passage, she quit her Senate seat to start collecting Bill Gates’ checks at TNSCORE along with Bill Frist (nearly $6M now and counting).

So, what was the ASD supposed to do? Well, frankly an impossible task – take the bottom 5% of schools academically and move them to the top 25% academically, in just five years. Okay, anyone paying attention to achievement scores knows this is not realistic and would expect some shall we say, creative accounting, was involved if this proved to be true. Well, Chris and Co. have already done some of that, creating a new “school” out of thin air when reporting scores to report year-over-year “improvement” that was at best an apples-to-oranges comparison. Now that the 5-year goal deadline is approaching, the Gates money is running thin, well something has to give to keep the dream alive:

From the post,

“…Barbic says,

“We could say tomorrow we are changing the goal. The only blowback we would probably get is from you guys (media). But there is nothing stopping us. I could wake up tomorrow and decide I want to do something different.

Wow. If we were making porn movies, that would be what they call the money shot. The hubris is appalling. I guess he forgot that part about kid’s lives being at stake. Hey, when you’re building a franchise, it’s hard to keep track of the players. It’s interesting that this line appeared in the original story in the Commercial Appeal but by mid-afternoon the next day it and two other paragraphs had oddly disappeared only to be replaced by more flattering paragraphs like below,”

Click here to read the rest of the post at Dad Gone Wild

Then remind yourself of how many years the Tennessee Virtual Academy was allowed to exist before being shut down by the state amidst enrollment caps instituted by Achieve Inc. board member Haslam, while parents with a choice still wanted to escape there with their children.


May 2015 Commission Report

The commission meeting got off to one of the worst starts that I’ve witnessed in all the years of attending local government meetings.  Citizens were ordered out of the commission room while uniformed officers were allowed to line the wall.  You can read more about that here.

I regret not speaking up at the time but it happened so fast that it caught me off guard.  However, I am doing what I can now to ensure that the discrimination against citizens doesn’t happen again.  Also, I am looking into the possibility of having the June commission meeting moved to a larger venue such as a school auditorium so that everyone can be accommodated fairly.

Commission meeting

Rural Metro will continue ambulance service
The commission approved Rural Metro to continue providing the ambulance service for emergency calls in the county.  The county will have more ambulances which should lead to quicker response times in rural areas.

The mayor held meetings which were technically open to the public but the public didn’t know about them, making them secret for all practical purposes.  A couple of commissioners expressed their displeasure with the way the mayor handled the negotiations.  This is nothing new.  The mayor has repeatedly handled important matters this way.

Campground regulations
Several amendments were put forward to the campground regulations that passed last year.  Most of these were good.  One amendment put a restriction on new business that will not apply on to current businesses.  New campgrounds will be forced to limit people staying at their campgrounds to 60 days.  Campgrounds already in business will not have this limitation placed on them.  Government shouldn’t be used to discriminate like this, giving a competitive advantage to preexisting businesses.

Furthermore, there was nothing in the regulations to allow for exceptions such as charity cases.  If someone were to lose their home to a fire or job loss and the campground owner wanted to donate the use of his land until the person can get back on his or her feet financially, new campground businesses will be prohibited from helping people who are facing hard times.

Instead of voting on the amendments separately, a motion was made to vote on them all together.  I asked to vote on the amendments separately so that I could vote no on the discriminatory 60 days limitation.  Commissioner Shawn Carter objected to unanimous consent which would have allowed a vote on the matter separate from the other series of amendments.  Since he objected, I moved to divide the question.  My motion to divide the question failed.  Thus, we had to vote on all the amendments together.  Only Commissioner Akard and I said no to the discriminatory regulation.

What Commissioner Carter and others fail to realize when they object to unanimous consent,  is that they do not save any time because a vote on the motion to divide still takes place.  The commission still has to vote the same number of times.  It’s really ashamed that commissioners won’t allow for separate votes on matters when a commissioner makes this simple request.  The whole reason for having open public meeting is twofold: to discuss the business of the people and to vote on the matters.  Several commissioners do everything they can to limit discussion and restrict voting, which are the very things that we as commissioners are suppose to do at the meeting.

The good news is that noise regulations will no longer be optional in campgrounds.

EPA Resolution
The commission failed to override the Mayor’s veto by one vote.  Shawn Carter was the swing vote who flipped.  This is really ashamed because the EPA has just expanded its jurisdiction over water through rulemaking bypassing congress.

Citizens Keith Miller and Troy Ball gave good reasons to override the mayor’s veto.

The resolution for regulatory relief had broader support at first.  Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership worked to kill it.  Daniels and the mayor haven’t shown much concern for the regulatory impact of the EPA on existing local businesses.  More businesses are shutting down than starting up.  We should be doing what we can to relieve the burden on existing business to preserve what we already have locally.

Daniels and Mitchell appear to be more interested in giving special deals to new businesses and cutting ribbons so that you can read about the new jobs they supposedly bring to the area.  Only adding to the jobs count without subtracting the jobs that have been lost doesn’t give the true economic impact under your tenure.

Listen to local businessman and County Commissioner Mike Akard explain the horrifying, costly effects of EPA regulations on his business.  Mike Akard’s situation feel upon deaf ears with 11 commissioners.

Environmental Court is envisioned for Blount County
In case you think that Blount County itself won’t enforce heavy handed environmental regulations, buried with the 1100+ pages of the commission packet was a liter collection grant application statement about a vision for an environmental court for Blount County.  My questioning of Jarrod Millsaps, who is listed as the contact person on the grant application, revealed that the vision statement was written by a former employee of the Sheriff’s Office.

My amendment to prohibit using the grant funds for the promotion or establishment of an environmental court failed.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted to ensure that the funds wouldn’t be used for this purpose.  The rest voted no.

The grant passed 16-5.  Who knows what kind of Environmental Court is in store for Blount County.

Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study
In Washington DC style fashion, the commission took action on the Evergreen Employee Classification and Compensation Study.  This study was not available at the Agenda meeting.  Yes, you read that right.  The commission was asked to vote on making something official public policy without having a copy of what they were being asked to vote on.

The proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 includes huge budget increases to fund the salary recommendations of the Evergreen study.  The Budget Committee approved these recommendations without having a copy of the Evergreen study.

At the Agenda Committee meeting, I asked if anyone had a copy of the this study.  In early April when I kept hearing the Evergreen study being referenced in budget workshops I asked the HR Director for a copy of the study.  She told me that she didn’t have a copy of the final report.  At the Agenda meeting on May 12th, I asked if anyone had a copy of the study.  The HR Director told the commission that the report was not yet finished.

Think about that for a moment.  The budget was created around an unfinished report, the commission was asked to vote on an unfinished report it and the taxpayers are being asked to fund the recommendations of an unfinished report.  If I hadn’t raised the matter at the Agenda meeting, the commission wouldn’t have even been given the draft copy of what is available.  The Washington DC approach to government has become the way of Blount County government.  It’s irresponsible and doesn’t pass the common sense test.

Here is what the commission was provided after already being asked to vote on the matter at the agenda meeting.  The draft report provides information on tenure, classification and pay.

There are problems with this study beyond being incomplete.  There are 17 entities used for comparison but only one is a county (see page 13).  The county that Blount County is compared to is Knox County, a county with over 3 times the population.  8 of the 17 “market peers” are cities.  Cities do not have jails, Register of Deeds offices, Property Assessor Offices, or the complex court structures that many counties have.  Thus, on these positions the only comparison included in this study is to Knox County.

Furthermore, data was collected for Maryville City Schools, Alcoa City Schools and Knox County Schools but not Blount County Schools.  Why collect data for other schools but not for your own?

There is talk that Blount County Schools will pay to have a study done for the schools.  I question why that would even be considered when data has been gathered for 3 surrounding school systems.  Blount County Schools could organize its own data in house and use what the taxpayers have already paid for without making the taxpayers pay for a second study to do what the first study should have done.

Page 10 of the draft report shows employee tenure by department.  The national tenure average is given and then departments are compared to the national average.  This doesn’t provide a complete apples to apples comparison of tenure.  What are the tenure numbers for counties closest to us in size?  What are the tenure numbers by department and office?  This study doesn’t provide that comparison.

Most averages are above the national tenure average.  The animal shelter is less than 10 years old; therefore, tenure there would be lower by virtue of its short existence.

Much of the focus has been on Sheriff’s deputies leaving.  The tenure for Sheriff’s Department employees is well above the national median of tenure listed in the draft report.

The tenure information is interesting but I don’t see why we needed to pay someone to do this.  Each department could have determined the tenure of their employees, saving the taxpayers money used on this study.

While there are employees who deserve a pay raise, the incomplete Evergreen study has too many problems to be used as the foundation to base the raises on.  It was premature to adopt the recommendations from an unfinished report that failed to compare us to counties similar to us in size and economic status.

In April the commission refused to hear from the jail study consultant on a study that had been completed nearly a year before and in May the commission adopted the recommendations of a study that is not yet finished.  This doesn’t make for responsible government.

Commissioners Akard, Archer, Cole, Daly, Miller and Monroe voted no.  The rest voted yes to adopting something that still has the word draft stamped on it and only compares us to a single county that is much larger in population.

Resolution on intent to raise property taxes
The resolution stating that the commission intends to raise the property tax rate above the state certified rate passed the Agenda Committee 20-1, with me being the only no vote.  At the full commission meeting it passed 14-6-1.

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

Some of these commissioners have never seen a tax increase that they won’t support.  The only thing that can stop this is you.  An informed citizenry is the best defense of liberty.  Now is the to write emails and make phone calls.

Up next
The annual budget approved by the Budget Committee proposes a huge property tax increase.  I intend to do what I can to stop the tax increase by reining in government spending.

Commissioner and Alcoa businessman Mike Akard explains horrifying EPA stormwater regulations

Where is the Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce when you need them? Bryan Daniels was busy killing a resolution asking our federal legislators to provide regulatory relief for existing businesses. Listen to local Alcoa businessman and County Commissioner Mike Akard explain the horrible situation he faced because of EPA regulations. Your Mayor Ed Mitchell and the face of industrial development/recruitment worked to kill this simple request for regulatory relief that could help native local businessmen like Mike Akard.

Bryan Daniels’ salary should be cut and the money used to fund pay raises for the Sheriff’s deputies.

This fell upon the deaf ears of 11 commissioners. The resolution originally passed 11-10. Commissioner Shawn Carter flipped and voted not to override the Mayor’s veto. We should be looking out for existing businesses and spend less time giving special deals to foreign owned companies.

Chairman Jerome Moon orders standing citizens to clear commission chamber while letting uniformed officers line the wall

The May Commission meeting started with one of the most despicable acts toward the citizenry of Blount County that I’ve ever witnessed.  Chairman Jerome Moon ordered the citizens who were standing to clear the room while allowing uniformed armed officers to line the wall.

Citizens have historically lined the walls of county government meetings.  You can pull up archived meetings from previous years to see citizens standing along the walls without being ordered to leave.

Furthermore a member of the press, Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio, was not allowed to enter the commission meeting room except for the 3 minutes that he spoke about items on the commission agenda.

Fire codes are the excuse but if they are so important why can government employees stand along the wall in large number?  No distinction was made by Chairman Moon as to off duty uniformed officers and on duty uniformed officers.

Furthermore, the citizens are smart enough to know whether they want to stand in a room or leave.  Laws are used by those in authority to suppress those that they don’t agree with.  The people have long stood against the walls of public building rooms.  Using the fire codes to suppress free speech is the latest tool of the political machine and should not be tolerated.

Conveniently this occurred at a meeting where discussion about a new pay scale for county employees was on the agenda.  The uniformed officers were able to clap for those advocating adoption of a new pay scale from an incomplete study, while the citizens opposing having their taxes raised, who weren’t able to obtain seats, were relegated to standing outside in the hallway.

One of my constituents said to me what are they (the commission) there for?  It seems that some have forgotten that they are there for the people of Blount County.

This video only shows the second time that Jerome Moon ordered citizens out of the room.  The first time he told them that they could stand out in the hallway while the Sheriff’s deputies could stand along the wall.  Moon’s first statement was likely made prior to the meeting starting and is therefore not available as a part of the commission meeting video.