Just returned from Jamaica in an aeroplane which flew at 530 MPH if speed kills why am I not dead?
— Godfrey Bloom (@goddersbloom) December 18, 2014
There has been a longstanding history of discrimination against women serving on the commission. In 2010 the local Republican machine made defeating former Commissioner Wendy Pitts Reeves their top priority. The machine succeeded. She was replaced by Jerome Moon, who is now in his 4th year as Chairman of the Blount County Commission.
This year the local Republican machine made defeating commission candidate and citizen activist Linda King their number one goal. They succeeded. We have to deal with surly Gary Farmer as a result. The man lives with a perpetual scowl on this face. Various comments made to me have made it clear that I will be the number one target of the local Republican establishment if I choose to seek reelection in 2018.
A review of the Budget Committee packets online, dating back to 2001, lead me to discover that only one female commissioner has served on either the Budget Committee or the Purchasing Commission this millennium. Donna Dowdy was nominated by a woman: Mayor, Beverly Woodruff. In reviewing commission minutes at the courthouse, it appears that the last time a woman commissioner served on either of these Committees, absent a woman mayor, was in the early 1990’s. Thus, it’s evident that there is longstanding discrimination against women on the county commission.
I brought the matter to the attention of the mayor. He has responded by taking an unprecedented step while still discriminating against the women on the commission. He is going to nominate an unelected woman to serve on the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission since State law allows for non-members of the commission to serve on those bodies.
His nomination will be his friend, Sharon Hannum. Mitchell is trying to save face by doing this, but the thinly veiled discrimination against the three women serving on the commission continues. Mitchell will control Hannum like a puppet on a string, which is exactly what he wants.
Mitchell was against the county seeking the common sense fixed rate financing. Listen to Mitchell’s long hesitation to vote yes on seeking fixed rate financing during the November Budget Committee meeting. The four commissioners voted yes, yes, yes, yes without any delay in time. Mitchell finally caved to save face. He wanted to keep the casino gambling style financing because it left in place balloon principle payments not due until 2030 and 2031. His reason for hesitation is obvious.
Beginning next fiscal year, the county will have to make larger payments on the Series E-3-B debt because it will be paying on the principle and the interest. Mitchell wanted to use the monies in debt service to continue funding the waste in his departments instead of biting the bullet to pay down debt. Commissioners were getting complaints from their constituents, for good reason, that it was absurd to have not paid a single penny on the principle for 13 years. Thus, the commission did the right thing in seeking responsible fixed rate financing.
Putting Hannun on the Budget Committee could give Mitchell a vote in his favor the next time he wants to kick the can down the road. She will answer to him for reappointment and not to the people because she is elected by no one. Allowing the Mayor to appoint someone, who will make critical financial decisions for the County, without answering to the voters is a bad idea.
Mitchell is refusing to end the dark history of discrimination against women serving on the commission. His September nominations did not include a single woman on the commission. Tell him what you think. 273-5700 firstname.lastname@example.org
County Commissioner, District 7 Seat B
853 Marble Lane Greenback, TN 37742
Ed Mitchell Blount County Mayor
341 Court Street
Maryville, TN 37804
December 22, 2014
Dear Mayor Mitchell,
Earlier this year, I informed you of the lengthy history of discrimination against women on the commission serving on the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission. You have decided to continue discriminating against the people of Blount County, who elected three women to serve as their commissioners, by taking the unprecedented move of nominating an unelected woman, who you will control because she answers to you and not to the people.
It is the people’s business that we are tending to, but rather than honoring the voters’ choices you have invented a new way to perpetuate a longstanding problem of discrimination against women serving on the county commission. This takes the problem to a whole new level because your decision makes the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission a step removed from the voice of the people of Blount County.
During the general election, the Blount County Republican Party gave money to several men facing challengers, but gave nothing to the women facing challengers. Gary Farmer received $5,000. This was such a large contribution that he actually returned over $1,500 back to the Republican Party. Jamie Daly, who faced a well funded opponent in the general election, would have benefited from the unused money given to Gary Farmer.
Furthermore, during the general election at the courthouse, your treatment of the women now serving on the commission was disdainful. You catered to the men running for office; asking them if they needed anything, while scornfully driving past the women without even speaking. And, you were not the only Republican expressing resentment toward the women candidates.
Some Democrats say that there is a Republican war against women. Unfortunately, this appears to be the case regarding the ladies elected by the people to serve on the commission. I hope that you will prove the Democrats wrong; by ending your discrimination against the elected women commissioners serving on the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission.
Cc: Blount County Republican Party, Blount County Republican Women, Blount County Democratic Party, League of Women Voters, The Daily Times, Knoxville News Sentinel, State Senator Doug Overbey, State Representative Art Swann, State Representative Bob Ramsey, Chris Devaney Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, Republican National Committeewoman Peggy Lambert, Republican National Committeeman John Ryder, Republican State Committeeman Rob Ailey, Republican State Committeewoman Susan Mills, WBCR AM 1470, The Knoxville Journal, WBIR, WVLT, WATE, The Rude Awakening
Related articles: http://www.bcpublicrecord.com/?p=5661
Earlier this month, BC Public Record published some information regarding the history and cost of County health care benefits that contained factual errors, due to poorly kept county commission records. It appeared that county employees actually paid rates that were more inline with the private sector based on the commission minutes available below. Under Insurance/Risk Management Committee Report the minutes says “the following insurance rates” were recommended and the Commission approved the rates.
BC Public Record wanted to learn exactly when county employees began receiving their health care insurance for free. Calls to General Services and a conversation with Blount County Clerk Roy Crawford provided a stunning answer. Crawford said that he has worked for the county for nearly 40 years and that the employee only benefits were free during all of his employment, until this year. He said that the confusion was due to poor wording on his part. Crawford has always been friendly and responded promptly.
What these minutes show is the how much the cost of health care benefits have risen. $240 for employees only and $187 for dependents were the budgeted costs in FY 1996-1997. Director of General Services told BC Public Record that the current budgeted costs are $425 for employees and $550 for dependents, which brings the total to $975 per month for an employee and their family. Current dental care costs are available here. This is a tremendous expense and it’s time to bring the county health care insurance costs more inline with the private sector.
From Downsize DC
Libertarians have long argued that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy results in blowback — acts of terrorism designed to avenge real or perceived assaults by the U.S.
The political class has long sneered at this argument. Your friends may even have accused you of hating America whenever you’ve used this line of reasoning. But now, the tables are turning.
Politicians are responding to the recent CIA torture report in ways that justify the blowback theory. This gives you a powerful new argument to defend your position. The article below explains this development. Read it, and if you like it, do three things…
- Use this argument in conversations with others
- Forward this article to your friends
- Go to this link and share the article on Facebook
Do politicians now agree that an aggressive U.S. foreign policy causes blowback?
By Jim Babka
The recently released CIA torture report has caused the WARfare statists to contradict themselves.
In the previous decade, if you said that blowback explained 911, then you were accused of justifying or even siding with terrorists. Here’s Rudy Guiliani, in 2007, so-accusing Ron Paul and garnering wild applause: http://youtu.be/cQrwKr_b4Lg
After the release of the CIA torture memo, we learn that blowback is very REAL. Dick Cheney and his pals are claiming that these reports increase the danger of a response by al Qaeda or ISIS or whoever the fear-based flavor of the week may be. In other words…
The torture report also informed us that the CIA torture architects didn’t even read their own agency history on this subject. So this might come as a surprise to them and their fans…
The CIA actually coined the term blowback.
Blowback means an unintended consequence rebounding from a covert act. It’s simply a fancy word for revenge. But…
Because so many of the acts that lead to blowback are covert, U.S. citizens are often confused about why the U.S. has been targeted. Here’s an example…
When Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in 1979, most Americans had no idea why our embassy had been targeted. But every Iranian citizen knew. Our embassy had been used to stage a CIA coup against Iran’s democratic government in 1953. The infamous Iranian hostage crisis was simply blowback for that previous act of covert aggression by U.S. agents.
This is the kind of history that most libertarians know, but most other Americans don’t know. Now…
It must become widely known that the idea of blowback was NOT invented by libertarians. It was a word coined by the CIA itself, to name a very REAL problem.
And the risk of blowback is growing! That’s what happens when you torture people. Their allies and loved ones tend to want revenge. And the warfare statists, like Dick Cheney, are now making it clear that they understand this too. You can further judge this by the CIA’s own actions…
If torture actually protected America, if it brought no risk of blowback, then the CIA should be PROUD of its work. It should be willing to trumpet what it did and what was gained from it. They should use it as a “deterrent” to would-be terrorists. Instead…
Jose Rodriguez, the former Chief of the CIA’s Clandestine Service — the man who created the torture program — destroyed the video tapes of the torture proceedings, rather than share them with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Why? Wasn’t he proud of his work? Didn’t he want Congress to see what he had done to protect America?
Rodriguez explained his action to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday (12/14). He destroyed the videos because…
“My intention… was to protect the people who work for me and whose faces were shown all over those tapes. I was concerned for their safety. I knew the tapes would leak some day and I was concerned that al Qaeda would try to go after them and their families. That was the reason that I destroyed the tapes.”
BLOWBACK! Then, he went on to say…
“There was a second reason, and that was that I was concerned about the survivability of the clandestine service because I knew that once the tapes leaked, the mainstream media would not make a distinction between a legal program as the one that we had, and programs like Abu Ghraib.”
In other words, there was nothing to celebrate. Rodriquez is admitting that his work wouldn’t survive the scrutiny of natural human empathy. Nearly all of us recognize each other’s humanity. It might take a bit of time, but eventually, we even recognize the humanity of our enemies. Rodriquez clearly understood what would happen if you and your neighbors had a chance to see his work. You would’ve been revolted. You would have wanted a more American approach.
Worse, in a slap to so-called “representative government,” Rodriguez looked at the Senate Intelligence Committee and did his best Colonel Jessup imitation, “You can’t handle the truth!”
It would be more appropriate to say that Mr. Rodrigues can’t handle YOU knowing the truth.
And now the warfare establishment, which claimed NOT to believe in blowback before, is telling us that we risk blowback. Why? Because the torture report was shared with the American people.
In other words, the warfare establishment is admitting that blowback is real, and that our aggressive actions do lead to retaliation. Well…
We libertarians knew that all along. And we’ve long promoted the proper solution to this problem…
- If you don’t want people to tread on you, then don’t tread on others.
- Don’t initiate force against people.
- Reserve force for defensive purposes only, but even then, don’t defend yourself in a way that creates new enemies.
So here’s the takeaway…
- The CIA invented the term blowback and Dick Cheney now admits blowback is a real danger.
- That means, when we do bad things to others, others do bad things to us.
- Specifically, in this case, when our so-called “government” tortures non-Americans, those non-Americans may someday return the favor or gain revenge in some other way. As we judge, so shall we be judged.
- Encourage a Golden Rule foreign policy, where we treat others the way we want to be treated.
If you like these arguments, do the following…
- Use them in your conversations.
- Forward this article to your friends
- Click on this link and share the article on Facebook.
Several of the Blount County Commissioners demonstrated that they are nothing more than petty politicians at December 9th Agenda Committee meeting. In October there were proposed rules changes that would have shrunk transparency. The proposed rules resolution had passed the Agenda Committee 11-5 and appeared ready to pass at the full Commission meeting. Thankfully it was defeated.
I decided to try to get something good out the proposed rules changes. As it stands now there is no requirement to publish anything prior to the meeting. In October I attended my first meetings of both of my Committee assignments. In both meetings, the Information Technology (IT) Committee and the Blount County Corrections Partnership, I was given an information packet when I arrived at the Committee meetings. Thus, I put forth an amendment at the October Commission meeting that would have required Committee information packets to be published 5 days prior to the Committee meetings.
After listening to the concerns of Commissioners my amendment was amended and passed 13-6. Akard – yes Allen – yes Archer – yes Bowers – yes Carter – no Carver – no Caskey – yes Caylor – absent Cole – yes Crowe – no Daly – yes Farmer – no French – absent Headrick – yes Lewis – yes Melton – no Miller – yes Monroe – yes Moon – yes Samples – yes Stinnett – no
16 E All committee chairman shall furnish the members of each respective committee with the tentative agenda and a meeting packet containing relevant supporting documentation no less than five days prior to the meeting date. All members shall have all revenant information to the chairman seven days prior to the committee meeting, and the Agenda Committee and the Budget Committee are exempt.
After the amendment was added to the rules resolution, Commissioner Gary Farmer got angry that it was amended and said he no longer supported the resolution as amended. It’s as though some of the Commissioners take orders from him, because the resolution was killed 6-13. I voted no because, despite my amendment, the original resolution would still shrink transparency.
Akard – no Allen – yes Archer – yes Bowers – no Carter – yes Carver – no Caskey – yes Caylor – absent Cole – no Crowe – no Daly – yes Farmer – no French – absent Headrick – yes Lewis – no Melton – no Miller – no Monroe – no Moon – no Samples – no Stinnett – no
This month I put forth a similar change to the rules as a stand alone resolution. It was not identical, but was similar to the amendment that received 13 votes in October. The rules amendment read (see page 117):
16E. Excepting the Agenda Committee, the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission, all Committee Chairmen shall furnish the members of each respective Committee with the tentative agenda and an information meeting packet containing relevant documentation not less than five days prior to the meeting day. Members shall have all relevant documentation to the Chairmen seven days prior to Committee meetings. For agenda items meeting the five day requirement, Chairmen may allow relevant information to be added to the information meeting packet for legitimate reasons of time constraints, no less than three days prior to the meeting.
Commissioner Andy Allen stated that the resolution this month was identical to what had failed in October. You can see that it’s not identical. Furthermore, the amendment didn’t fail on it’s own. The amended resolution failed, which did kill my amendment along with. The advice of the Parliamentarian, Commissioner Mike Lewis was sought. Lewis doesn’t know the rules or Parliamentary procedure very well. He tried to say it was against the rules, but I pointed out that he would need to name a rule that the resolution violated and he did not name anything.
Pettiness prevailed. The resolution failed 7-12. Akard – yes Allen – no Archer – yes Bowers – absent Carter – yes Carver – no Caskey – no Caylor – no Cole – yes Crowe – no Daly – yes Farmer – no French – no Headrick – no Lewis – no Melton – no Miller – yes Monroe – yes Moon – no Samples – absent Stinnett – no
Compare the votes from October to December.
Commissioners flip-flopping for and then against: Andy Allen, Grady Caskey, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis, Jerome Moon
Commissioners flip-flopping against and then for: Shawn Carter
Commissioner against Committee transparency: Rick Carver, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Kenneth Melton, Tom Stinnett
Commissioners for transparency: Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Brad Bowers*, Tom Cole, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe, Steve Samples*
Commissioner Tom Stinnett chastised the people at the Big Springs Community Club this month and attacked me. Part of his attack included a rant about Commission rules saying that we both had proposed rule changes on the Agenda this month, that we were trying to do the same thing and that he had a hard time supporting me. He obviously doesn’t make much sense when he votes against something yet says we’re trying to do the same thing. I voted for his resolution to improve transparency and accountability in our Commission rules. He felt it necessary to be a petty politician and vote against something, even though he said we were trying to do the same thing.
*Brad Bowers and Steve Samples were absent during the December Agenda meeting.
There have been a couple of letters to the editor about the 3 women being the only Commissioners who consistently say no to the wasteful spending. Nancy McEntee had a wonderful letter to the editor in The Daily Times on December 1st. Larry Henry also submitted one to The Daily Times, but the Publisher didn’t respond to his requests to have his letter printed. He went around The Daily Times, as several others have also done this year, sending it to the Knoxville News Sentinel. It was published December 10th. The letter is published here with Henry’s permission.
Thank you to everyone paying attention. Let freedom ring!
Blount County Will Never Get Out Of Debt
“Au contraire,” cry the dilettantes of the Blount County Commission. “We serve the People!”
So say the majority on the Commission who march in lockstep with Finance Director Randy Vineyard, Mayor Ed Mitchell, Barrister Craig Garrett, and Sheriff James Berrong. The only ones who consistently buck the Yes Men are the women, Tona Monroe, Karen Miller, and Jamie Daly.
Blount County currently owes $240,000,000 in debts and liabilities. That’s $1,920 for every man, woman, and child in a population of 125,000. For a family of four that’s about eight thousand bucks. $46,000 is the median income which is tough in today’s political quicksand.
Kronos is the latest waste of $$$ that might have been used to pay down the debt.
$1,000,000 was tossed in the pot recently to purchase a fancy new computer system for doing the Blount County payroll. Kronos is the name of that system. Projected costs over the next 5 years are $2,300,000. For those familiar with government projections, you know they’re always wrong and they’re always low.
Ten bids were originally taken, the most expensive start-up option being chosen by Randy Vineyard. This purchase was never properly debated because it never went through the Information Technology Committee. It was rammed through by the Mayor and a handful of political drones. A full explanation of expenses and responsibilities has never been presented to the Blount County Commission.
Incumbent commissioners who consistently rubber stamp whatever’s coming down the pike: Carver, Caylor, Farmer, French, Lewis, Melton, and Moon. New commissioners who are consistently wrong: Akard, Allen, Bowers, Carter, Caskey, Cole, Crowe, Headrick, and Stinnett.
Just what we need, a law giving government more power to spy on us.
Richard Hutchens sent an open letter to the Mayor and Blount County Commissioners in the evening on November 9th. Commissioner Tom Stinnett was waiting for Richard Hutchens at his duplex the next day when he arrived home from work. Stinnett told Hutchens that he had researched the first issue that Hutchens addressed in his letter, gave his card to Hutchens and told Hutchens he would appreciate it if he would call him directly in the future to discuss issues.
Stinnett told Hutchens not to rely on hearsay, referring to the Stinnett quotes in Hutchens’ letter. Hutchens informed Stinnett that the quotes were not hearsay and that there is a recording of Stinnett’s conversation with Grady Caskey. Blount County (BC) Public Record is in possession of a recording where Tom Stinnett says both of the quotes that Hutchens included in his letter. The person who overheard the conversation also recorded it. BC Public Record respects the anonymity of it’s sources and has confirmed that Commissioner Tom Stinnett did make both of those statements to Commissioner Grady Caskey.
As alarming as Tom Stinnett’s statements are, it touches upon the need to address two important issues affecting the taxpayers of Blount County. The first is the makeup of the Human Resources (HR) Committee. 9 of the 10 members are either County employees or City of Maryville employees. Only one member, Commissioner Mike Lewis, does not work for a government within Blount County. Lewis also had a conflict of interest in the past, having worked for a Bank that had business dealings with the County. His previous employment was the subject of an Attorney General opinion. The makeup of the HR Committee only makes sense if you work for government. The HR Committee makes important decisions regarding benefits for County employees. The current makeup allows for foxes to guard the hen house, which leads to the second important issue affecting taxpayers.
County employees currently receive employee health care benefits for $25 a month. This is the lowest cost that I know of anywhere right now. Businesses are not providing premium plans at such low costs anymore. Furthermore, what the employees receive for their $25 a month is routinely referred to as a “rich” plan by the County broker, Trinity Benefits Advisors.
School employees received their plan for free until August 1st. I asked Troy Logan to explain the matter to me and received this response:
“As of August 1, 2014, all School employees with health insurance coverage are paying $25 per month out-of-pocket. And yes, the BOE did reimburse all School employees with health insurance coverage $25 per month from January 1, 2014 – July 31, 2014. For teachers, this was based on an agreement through the collaborative conferencing process. For non-teachers, the BOE agreed to “effect” them in the same manner as teachers. For all employees, this benefit stopped July 31, 2014. Let me know if you need additional information.”
The free coverage is what led to the conversation between Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Grady Caskey. Sheriff James Berrong heard that School employees were paying nothing for their rich coverage and said he wanted to look further into this at the July HR meeting. Caskey was not on the Commission in July, but addressed the Sheriff’s remarks at the October HR meeting. After the meeting, Stinnett admonished Caskey for talking about the matter in public. You can read his alarming remarks in my monthly October Commission report.
The conversation between Commissioners Stinnett and Caskey leaves me wondering if there’s an effort afoot to eliminate the $25 cost for health insurance coverage. At the end of the October HR meeting, Sheriff James Berrong and Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap commented about employee health care coverage costs. Berrong responded to Caskey by saying, “I was the one that brought up the difference (referring to School employees being reimbursed the $25 monthly cost)… my purpose of that… I was going to make a motion to rescind General County having to pay the $25 when Education didn’t and that was my purpose for that.” Dunlap said, “That Uniform Road law gives me the right to set the salaries for all the employees of the Highway Department. This coming Budget year, I will adjust that.” Dunlap was referring to the health insurance premiums.
Perhaps Tom Stinnett’s request for secrecy will have the opposite effect and finally shed some light on a huge problem. The last figures that I saw showed health benefits costing approximately $900 per month per employee. What do you think are reasonable costs for County employee health and dental benefit premiums?
Some Fiscal Sanity Prevails
The best thing to happen this month was the unanimous 20-0 vote to secure fixed rate refinancing for $20,165,000 of variable rate Series E-3-B County debt that I wrote about last month. The outcome was a step toward better debt management, but there was a last minute attempt by Commissioner Mike Lewis to dismantle the effort. His proposal was one of the most ludicrous that I’ve ever heard and I’ve heard a lot of crazy idea from government officials.
Lewis proposed postponing the refinancing for a month to study whether the County could internally amortize the cost of terminating the swap attached to the debt, which has ranged in value from $5-6 million in recent months. He proposed setting aside the additional amount that would be paid toward fixed rate financing, restricting it, allegedly to keep from having to pay the swap termination fee. You may be asking what’s wrong with that, well this is government we’re talking about. The proposed “restricted” money would be blown before we could count to three. Furthermore, it would have kept the variable rate debt in place leaving us with all the risks of variable rate financing, the need to obtain a letter of credit ever couple of years and the principle balloon payments would be left in place for 2030 and 2031. You can read more about that Series of debt in my October Commission Report.
8 Commissioners voted to explore Lewis’ idea. A Allen, B Bowers, M Caylor, D Crowe, G Farmer, R French, M Lewis, K Melton voted yes and Moon was absent. Thankfully rational heads prevailed and the motion failed. The Commission chose to bite the bullet and move forward. Debt is painful, and I am delighted that the Commission chose the most fiscally responsible path for this Series of debt. The County still has over 1/3 of it’s debt in variable rate financing that will need to be addressed in about a year and a half.
Starting next year, the County will spend more to service the debt as it begins paying principle on this fixed rate debt. The increased expenditure is already being used as an excuse to start talking about increasing the property tax rate next year. Keep these important facts in mind when you encounter the propaganda. The debt service fund was actually projected to have a surplus this year, but the previous Commission took part of it and allocated it to fund General County government. Next year the debt service fund will receive increased revenue from the sales tax from the recently enacted increase in the County sales tax. It’s nonsense to use fiscally sound refinancing to condition people into accepting an unneeded tax increase.
Top Secret Kronos IT Project Approved
Nothing in recent memory has been more top secret in Blount County government, with the possible exception of Commissioner Tom Stinnett telling Commissioner Grady Caskey to hide benefits information from the public, than the Kronos information technology (IT) project. Last month I wrote about the subject, but the matter deserves more through coverage and discussion. The NSA scandals have demonstrated the need for better accountability and open transparent government. The secrecy of Kronos IT project is of a scandalous nature, but in the end only Commissioner Karen Miller and I said no to rubber stamping the top secret project. Commissioner Jamie Daly said at the end of the meeting that she meant to vote no. She had trouble with her remote working throughout the meeting. Once again the women were the only ones willing to stand up to the bureaucrats.
No transparency on funding the project
Twice this year, the Mayor and Director of Budgets and Finance (commonly called Finance Director) asked the previous Commission to designate large amounts of money to Capital Projects, allegedly for future capital project expenditures, without providing any information detailing what the money would be spent on. 7 of the 8 incumbents on the current Commission rubber stamped both: Carver, Caylor, Farmer, French, Lewis, Melton and Moon. Commissioner Samples voted for the first request and against the second request to transfer money.
In February then Commissioner Jim Folts reported:
“Mayor and Commission take Nancy Pelosi approach to government
The Mayor proposed, and the Commission approved, spending $545,000 on “capital projects”. The only problem is that Mayor Mitchell did not bother to tell anyone what would be purchased with this money. He seems to be taking the Nancy Pelosi approach to government. Pass the resolution and we’ll tell you where we’ll spend it – later. Only Commissioner Murrell and myself voted against this blank check.”
In June then Commissioner Jim Folts reported:
“Throwing another $442,000 into a pot for unknown projects
Since the budget process had to be redone, there was very little on the agenda of the official Commission meeting. The major item was another sign of the sloppy way in which the County is being operated. As a result of some accounting changes in accounting for self insurance funds, an additional $442,000 became available in the current budget. Instead of just using this money to make an extra payment of the huge county debt ($240 million per the last audit report), the Mayor recommended adding this money to a mysterious “capital projects” fund he created several months ago. This would bring the total amount in the fund to nearly $1 million. In the real world, if capital projects are anticipated, a capital expenditures plan is prepared, and money is put aside in a capital fund to meet those needs. When several Commissioners asked the Mayor where the plan was for the use of the money, the reply was that his office had not had time to come up with a plan. The Mayor has been in office nearly four years. That would seem to be adequate time to come up with a list of capital projects.
In government, throwing $1 million of your money into a pot without a clear plan for the use of the money, almost guarantees waste and abuse. But, this seemed OK with the Mayor and many Commissioners. Only Commissioners Murrell, Samples, Wright and myself voted against this nonsense.”
At the June 10, 2014 Agenda Committee meeting when the Commission considered the $442,507 capital projects request, Finance Director Vineyard said, “There is no list of capital (projects). It’s merely is a statement by this body that you’re setting aside money that in the future if there are capital needs that arise you would have available at your disposable (sic) $982,000 and change to address those capital needs, whatever they may be.” Folts followed up on that statement asking if the County had a long term capital projects plan. Vineyard responded, “The simple answer to that is no. We are starting one, but we are not where I’d like to see us, nor where I think this body would like to be.” Commissioner Steve Samples said “I just have a problem with putting that much money in there, when we don’t have a list, simply because if we put that much money in there the list (capital projects) will magically appear.”
Lo and behold, Mayor Mitchell and the Finance Director sprang on the scene in July with a resolution to spend the money, just one month after the second transfer. They admitted that they had been planning this project before either of the two Capital Projects fund requests. But, as you see above, they failed to mention this very large capital project, even in response to direct questions from Commissioners.
The Kronos IT project consists of an HR component, a payroll component and time-keeping component. At a 5 years cost of around $2.3 million, this may be the biggest and most expensive IT project in the County’s history but alarmingly it did not go through the IT Committee. The Mayor and Finance Director bypassed this Committee and formed their own Committee without telling the Commission. Worse, they proposed putting a lawyer in charge of the IT project, instead of an IT professional. Can you imagine walking into a Courtroom with an IT man as your lead counsel? Why would anyone put a lawyer in charge of an expensive IT project?
In response to Samples statement about a list magically appearing at the June Agenda meeting Vineyard said, “You’re going to get a list because I am committed to get you one, of the needs that we’re aware of.” If that’s the case, then why didn’t he give the Commission a heads-up at the June meeting with regards to his plan for use of the nearly $1 million? Vineyard, an unelected official, has been allowed to tell the Commission what he wants them to know, when he wants them to know it, because the Commission puts up with it. Many of the Commissioners are simply too lazy to fully research matters and chose to rely on him, rather than demanding more accountability and transparency.
After Commissioners Folts and Samples objections made the proposal look ill-thought-out, Commissioner Moon attempted to save the June recommitment of fund balance by implying that the County needed a capital fund to appease rating agencies. If that’s the case, it begs the question of why Commissioner Moon, along with most of the Commission, is willing to drain the fund knowing that the County is going to the market to refinance debt.
At the July Commission meeting, the Kronos Project Manager, Bill Rahner a lawyer, presented a slide-show presentation to the Commission about the project and included a chart of proposed savings. It’s worth watching the meeting to see Commissioner Folts rip the alleged savings to shreds. After he torched the shreds, the only thing left of the alleged savings was the smoke to fill the back rooms of the Kronos project.
New Commission arrives – Project over half a million more than originally projected – No job cuts planned
The Kronos IT project required two votes from the Commission, although that wasn’t explained well to anyone. The first vote appropriated $1,361,506.00, for the first year of the project, draining the entire $987,507.00 committed to capital outlay. The vote this month authorized a five year contract costing approximately $2.3 million. In July, the paper published an article saying the 5-year cost would be $1,646,712. The Commission was given no explanation why the 5 -year cost was over half a million more than originally projected.
Please read the Open Enrollment Software and Kronos Suspension sections of my October Commission Report if you haven’t already done so, before proceeding with the rest of this report. You will see that I validated a portion of Commissioner Folts’ statements about the lack of alleged savings. Notice also that the Commission was urged to rush through committing about $1.3 million in July, supposedly to save the cost of open enrollment software for 2015, but instead the Commission spent $60,000 on open enrollment software anyway.
The sales pitch to the Commission in July said that software could do the work of 10.75 full time jobs, implying there would be staff reductions (page 49). At the time, I asked the Finance Director when he planned to make the first staff reduction. He told me possibly 2017. There was/is no plan to cut jobs, just to spend your money.
New HR Director
The County has not needed a stand alone Human Resources Director for about 3 years. The Mayor found a way to save money by having Don Stallions serve as Risk Manager and HR Director. However, that changed in late August. The Mayor hired a new HR Director. It turns out that the new HR Director has Kronos software experience and can train employees on its use. This shows the Kronos system is already costing money, not saving it.
Finally a meeting to answer questions
After voting to suspend the Kronos IT project in October, I received a call from the Mayor’s office asking me to meet with the Finance Director and the officials who would be in charge of the project. I went to the meeting with an open mind about the HR software thinking that it may be best to start with that portion of the software project and then proceed with the payroll and time-keeping if the HR portion was successful. I asked for a break down of the alleged savings, to determine what is attributed to the HR portion and what is attributed to the payroll and time-keeping portion. Additionally I asked for the costs of just the HR portion of the Kronos software.
I came away from the meeting uneasy about the HR portion of the software. When the responses to my questions arrived, I could not support the HR portion of the software. You can read the Project Managers response here. The most important part is his statement, “In my judgment, the business case for implementing just the HR piece is not supportable and I could not recommend the County proceed with just that component.” If the Project Manger doesn’t recommend that the County implement the HR portion, then why would we do it? I read this statement to the Commission at the November meeting but it didn’t matter. Facts often don’t matter and the bureaucrats usually get what the bureaucrats want.
At the Commission meeting, I asked the Information Technology Manger (ITM) John Herron if anyone had looked into low cost open source software. He said no. Thus, without exploring open source solutions and the Project Manager saying that he wouldn’t recommend that the County proceed with just the HR portion, it didn’t make rational sense to proceed with the HR software.
The Finance Director did agree to place the Kronos Project Manger under the County’s IT Manager, per Commissioner Tom Cole’s request. This was the only potentially meaningful concession the Commission got before approving the roughly $2.3 million expenditure of your money. This does little to ease my mind thought because it was a last minute change, likely to get votes, and I don’t know how much oversight Herron will actually have.
The Commission packet says the County will be purchasing 250 management and 3,000 employee time keeping licenses. But the County says only the hourly employees who will be clocking in (Page 43). That means that there will be roughly 250 managers for 1,500 employees (Page 78). That’s a 1:6 ratio. Surely the managers can handle tracking the hours of 6 employees on average. Taxpayers will be paying for the licenses for the salaried employees to make the lives of the mangers easier to track time off and vacations.
Former Commissioner Folts would frequently say that something didn’t pass the common sense test. This IT project doesn’t pass the common sense test or the smell test. The Tennessean had a good article on the subject of IT project failures. The Commission should have done a better job thinking this through. $2.3 million of your tax money was just spent when we have outstanding debt of over $200,000,000.
The worst thing about this top secret IT project is the fact that I had to spend so much unnecessary time on it, trying to obtain information that should have been readily available. I’ve spent far more time dealing with the endless excuses, white washing, obfuscating and falsities of bureaucrats who consider the Commission a trite formality to their endless wasteful agendas than I’ve ever spent listening to the concern of the citizens. Not one person in my district, or the whole County for that matter, came to me and asked me to support this project. The people didn’t want this, the bureaucrats did. My job as a Commissioner is to represent you, not to give the bureaucrats everything they want. I will continue saying no to the nonsense.
Utilities use of right-of-ways
The Commission considered a sloppily worded resolution to govern utilities use of right-of-ways. The resolution did not define the word work and said that all work required a permit to obtained from the Highway Superintendent and a million dollar insurance policy. This meant that someone volunteering their work to pick up trash or dig a hole for a mailbox could be required to obtain a permit and a million dollar insurance policy. Thankfully my amendment defining the word work passed, specifically limiting it to the work done by utilities, correcting the problem.
Up next – Commission Rules
In previous Commission reports, I’ve written about the Commission not following it’s rules. This month was even worse for rule breaking. Board rules require the Agenda to be published 5 days prior to the meeting day and documentation has to be included with the resolutions, but that was violated multiple times. There were 6 versions of our Commission packet, with the latest revisions appearing in the packet the day of the Commission meeting. The Commission needs to ensure that the people of Blount County have time to thoroughly review everything. I will insist on better adherence to the rules governing our agenda and it’s supporting documentation at future meetings. Next month I will be offering a resolution to amend our rules to achieve better transparency for our Committee meetings and may offer further resolutions in the future as the need arises.
It would be better for politicians to get their hands out of wallets instead of using using our wallets to hand out congratulatory plaques. Donna Rowland should have voted no instead of present not voting.