AMI and other special incentives deals

With questions of uncertainty arising around the relocation of Advanced Munitions International (AMI) to Alcoa, some are inquiring about the deal given to them.  The incentives agreement was made available on this website last year, thanks to Sam Duck who requested the information after I was blocked by Bryan Daniels of the Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce/Industrial Development Board/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority for sending a few emails asking question.

Additionally, reading about the City of Alcoa working a development deal that has been in the making for 17+ years, should cause us all to stop and ask why government is making these special deals.  If the market isn’t willing to develop a property that should a sign to government officials that they probably shouldn’t be doing it either.  But never fear, big government is here to do something the market won’t do.

17+ years of not being able to achieve something shouldn’t result in the government concocting a convoluted, corporate welfare deal.  It’s time to stop these crony deals.  There should be no special land deals, no grants to businesses and no special tax deals.  Property taxes should be even across the board.  Businesses should compete based on the value of products and services they provide, not their ability to obtain special deals from the government.

It’s been 6 months and there is no jail Evaluation Team

Do you remember the big rush for the commission to pass a resolution authorizing the purchasing agent to issue a request for qualification (RFQ) for architectural planning and/or design services for the manufactured crisis of jail overcrowding because commissioners might have to sit in deposition in federal court?

Do you remember that the resolution was suppose to be for the jail but that the resolution failed to mention the jail in the title of the resolution?

Do you remember that the purchasing agent said she could issue the RFQ without commission approval?  (Wasn’t this suppose to be done in a hurry?  Why ask for commission approval if it wasn’t needed and this needed to be done in a hurry?)

Do you remember the purchasing agent saying that 30 days was sufficient time to issue the RFQ when questions were asked because this had to be done in a big hurry to appease the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control?

Do you remember it taking 12 weeks for the purchasing agent to issue the RFQ?

Well after the great big rush to issue the RFQ to buy time as Mike Caylor put it  and set aside (assign) $2 million without asking the public or the commission what they think (except for asking them to approve and RFQ that the purchasing agent said she can issue without commission approval) it appears that the courthouse clique really is trying to buy time.  Today marks the 6 month point of the commission approving the RFQ.

The submissions are in but no Evaluation Team has been empaneled to evaluate the companies.  Neither the commission nor the Blount County Corrections Partnership identified what Blount County needed before handing this manufactured crisis to the Purchasing Department to deal with.  It appears that wasn’t such a grand idea/plan after all.

What’s the hold up?
Director of General Services Don Stallions told me that the Evaluation Team hasn’t been empaneled yet because they are still looking for citizens to serve on the team.  Apparently its hard to find a few citizens in a county with a population of about 125,000.  Yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either but would you expect anything different from these people?

Measureable progress?
TCI Director Beth Ashe said that the Board of Control looks for measurable progress.  How is 6 months of nothing but the status quo (keeping discretionary inmates on slates and/or the floor, setting another million aside, the BCCP doing nothing, etc.) measureable progress?

Iceland Today, the US Tomorrow?

By Ron Paul

During the 2008 economic crisis, Iceland’s government froze offshore accounts held by foreign investors in that country’s currency, the krona. Recently, the government of Iceland announced it would unfreeze the accounts if the account holders paid a voluntary “departure tax,” which could be as high as 58 percent. Investors who choose not to pay the departure tax would have their investment “segregated” into special funds that only invest in CDs issued by Iceland’s central bank. These CDs are expected to only provide a rate of return of at most 0.5 percent a year. So investors in offshore accounts can thus choose between having their money directly seized via the departure tax or indirectly seized via the inflation tax.

Iceland’s freezing of offshore krona accounts was part of a “stabilization and recovery” program implemented under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also provided Iceland with a $1 billion loan. So US taxpayers not only helped the IMF bail out Iceland’s government, they may have helped the IMF advise Iceland on how best to steal property from American investors!

The IMF’s role in Iceland’s seizure of the property of foreign investors shows the hypocrisy of IMF officials, who recently expressed concerns about the increasing support for protectionism supposedly exemplified by the Brexit vote. However, freezing of assets held by foreign investors is a particularly harmful form of protectionism, while Brexit was more about rejecting the European Union’s bureaucracy than rejecting free trade. Perhaps what the IMF and its supporters are really worried about is losing their power to use taxpayers’ money to force other countries to adopt IMF bureaucrats’ favored economic policies.

Iceland is not the only government to turn to a departure tax to raise revenue. Just last year, in order to raise revenue for federal transportation programs, Congress gave the IRS the power to revoke the passport of any American accused of owing more than $50,000 in back taxes.

As an increasingly desperate Congress looks for new ways to squeeze money out of the American people to fund the welfare-warfare state, it is likely that more Americans will have their liberties limited because the IRS accuses them of not paying their fair share of taxes. It also is likely that the Federal Reserve will follow the example of its counterpart in Iceland and devalue the holdings of anyone who dares to resist the IRS’s demands.

Those hoping that the presidential election will result in real changes are bound to be disappointed. While Donald Trump seems to appreciate how current Fed policies help the incumbent administration while harming the people, he does not appear to understand that the problem is not with certain Fed policies, but with the Fed’s very existence. While Mr. Trump does support tax cuts, he also supports increasing government spending on infrastructure at home, militarism abroad, protectionism, and an economic cold war with China.

Hillary Clinton has actually said it is inappropriate for candidates to criticize the Fed. Sectary Clinton has also called for massive increases in government spending and taxes. Hillary Clinton may be more hawkish than Donald Trump, since Mr. Trump has rejected Secretary Clinton’s calls for a new cold war with Russia.

Instead of looking to politicians to save us, those of us who understand the dangers of our current course must continue to spread the ideas of liberty among our fellow citizens. Politicians will only change course when a critical mass of people stops falling for the war party’s propaganda, stops demanding entitlements, and starts demanding liberty.


Fifteen Years Into the Afghan War, Do Americans Know the Truth?

By Ron Paul

Last week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, the longest war in US history. There weren’t any victory parades or photo-ops with Afghanistan’s post-liberation leaders. That is because the war is ongoing. In fact, 15 years after launching a war against Afghanistan’s Taliban government in retaliation for an attack by Saudi-backed al-Qaeda, the US-backed forces are steadily losing territory back to the Taliban.

What President Obama called “the good war” before took office in 2008, has become the “forgotten war” some eight years later. How many Americans know that we still have nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan? Do any Americans know that the Taliban was never defeated, but now holds more ground in Afghanistan than at any point since 2001? Do they know the Taliban overran the provincial capital of Kunduz last week for a second time in a year and they threaten several other provincial capitals?

Do Americans know that we are still wasting billions on “reconstruction” and other projects in Afghanistan that are, at best, boondoggles? According to a recent audit by the independent US government body overseeing Afghan reconstruction, half a billion dollars was wasted on a contract for a US company to maintain Afghan military vehicles. The contractor “fail[ed] to meet program objectives,” the audit found. Of course they still got paid, like thousands of others getting rich off of this failed war.

Do Americans know that their government has spent at least $60 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces, yet these forces are still not capable of fighting on their own against the Taliban? We recently learned that an unknown but not insignificant number of those troops brought to the US for training have deserted and are living illegally somewhere in the US. In the recent Taliban attack on Kunduz, it was reported that thousands of Afghan security personnel fled without firing a shot.

According to a recent study by Brown University, the direct costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars thus far are nearly five trillion dollars. The indirect costs are virtually incalculable.

Perhaps Afghanistan is the “forgotten war” because to mention it would reveal how schizophrenic is US foreign policy. After all, we have been fighting for 15 years in Afghanistan in the name of defeating al-Qaeda, while we are directly and indirectly assisting a franchise of al-Qaeda to overthrow the Syrian government. How many Americans would applaud such a foreign policy? If they only knew, but thanks to a media only interested in promoting Washington’s propaganda, far too many Americans don’t know.

I have written several of these columns on the various anniversaries of the Afghan (and Iraq) wars, pointing out that the wars are ongoing and that the result of the wars has been less stable countries, a less stable region, a devastated local population, and an increasing probability of more blowback. I would be very happy to never have to write one of these again. We should just march home.


September 2016 Commission Report

Commission meeting
The regular commission meeting was a rarity in that there was little controversy.  However, there was plenty of other controversy throughout the month.

The commission agenda consisted of reappointing committee assignments.  The one thing that I (Tona Monroe) would have liked to have seen done differently was to have some new commissioners appointed to the Insurance Committee.  The commission recently separated the Insurance and HR Committee into two separate committees.  The same commissioners were appointed to both.  It would have been nice to see some new faces and ideas, with two separate committees instead of the same people on both.

Special called Commission meeting to refinance debt
Commissioners Gary, Farmer, Mike Lewis and Kenneth Melton were absent.

The commission has long delayed going to fully fixed rate financing.  The commission voted to hire an advisor to give a presentation last October to give 3 variations of keeping 20% variable rate debt.  That seemed to be what the courthouse clique wanted.  However, it appears that courthouse clique was finally willing to consider completely fixed rate financing because the holder of the swaps, Deutsche Bank, is in such poor financial shape.

The commission voted to refinance all of its variable rate debt, terminate its 4 swaps and to refinance all callable fixed rate financing at a lower rate if possible.  While this is good news, the commission wasn’t as responsible with your money as it should have been.

Blount County has about $11 million in the debt service fund.  This money is drawing rust because interest rates are at historic lows.

I’ve been asking Finance Director Randy Vineyard to provide me with information about our smaller pieces of debt since March.  He failed to do that before the debt workshop in September.

My purpose for the request was to see if it is feasible to use some of the debt service funds to pay off some of the smaller pieces of debt or whether it is better to use the money to terminate the swaps.  While Vineyard didn’t provide the requested information, one of the refinancing options presented to the commission would have used $5 million to terminate the swaps.  This would have left $6 million in the debt service fund.

Unfortunately the commission choose to authorize an additional $5 million in debt to finance the termination of the swaps rather than using money that is already available.  This is why I voted no.  It is good that the county will be totally fixed rate, with a level payment schedule soon but adding an additional $5 million in debt when we don’t have to is not fiscally responsible.  Most of the same people who were quick to authorize spending $180 million a few months ago got cold feet about spending $5 million to reduce debt.  Only commissioners Mike Akard, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and I voted against authorizing an additional $5 million in debt.

Another $1 million set aside for a transition facility?
Last December I brought to light a $2 million plan for jail expansion that was orchestrated by Mayor Ed Mitchell, Sheriff James Berrong and the Finance Director.  The paper said the $2 million was my “interpretation”.  It can no longer be said that it is my interpretation.

The Finance Director announced that another $1 million had been set aside to address jail overcrowding.  This brings the total to $2 million as is stated in TCI minutes.  What is usually not mentioned is the jail wouldn’t be overcrowded if the state felons and federal inmates were removed.  As was done last year, the commission wasn’t told about this until after the money was assigned.

The mayor has said there is no plan to expand the jail.  If not, what exactly is the courthouse clique planning to do with your $2 million?

It appears that Vineyard may have let the cat out of the bag.  Last year he made a comment about using the money for a transition facility and you can see below that in the county’s online accounting system, the latest $1 million assignment says “Transitional Facility.”


Blount County may benefit from a transition facility but there is no excuse whatsoever for the way that the mayor, sheriff and finance director have handled this.  Blount County has a committee that could/should be discussing this but the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) is not and it is a miserable failure.  The BCCP exists to appease the state for the purpose of annual certification of the jail.

The BCCP was and remains captured by the sheriff.  The former chairman is a married to a relative of the sheriff and the current chairman received a campaign contribution from the sheriff and will do what the sheriff wants.  We should be meeting regularly but aren’t.  The current chairman will do what the sheriff and the courthouse clique want him to do.

Are we going to expand the jail? 
That is a question that many people ask me.  I’ve long said that some form of building/expansion is coming but that the word jail is too toxic politically.  No one sets aside (assigns) $2 million of fund balance unless they are planning something.  The RFQ that was issued specifically says jail expansion.

What constitutes a transition facility in the eyes of the courthouse clique remains to be seen.  Watch for the double speak.  It doesn’t matter what the courthouse clique politicians call what they do if the end result is spending your money based on a manufactured crisis of jail overcrowding due to housing discretionary inmates.  Expansion can be called anything.  Politicians can be great at spinning their agendas.

The public might be supportive of some criminal justice system reforms, especially if it can be done without raising taxes.  However, there is no good reason to avoid the BCCP process unless your motives are less than pure.

The jail situation should had been handled with more transparency, discussion with all involved and planning.  It is not good public policy to let a few plan these things behind closed doors and/or through the Purchasing Department.  Many lives are affected through the criminal justice system and all our wallets suffer from the secrecy and poor decisions.

Up next:  The Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots has asked me to speak at their meeting on Thursday at 6:30 at the Everett Recreation Center.

The Happy Valley Fall Festival is October 22nd at the Happy Valley Community Building.  Come out for a pinto beans and cornbread lunch, to meet the fine folks of Happy Valley and enjoy the beautiful countryside.

The commission will look at revising the employee handbook in October.

Records must be turned over promptly; can’t be held for 7 days without a practical reason

$56,884.55 of taxpayer money was awarded to an attorney because Metro Nashville’s police department records division used the 7 day timeframe in the State of Tennessee’s open records law to delay releasing what could have promptly been made available in less time.  Local governments and state agencies should stop withholding records when they can be released.  The people who withheld the records should be made to pay the attorneys fees instead of the taxpayers.