Tag Archive | Commissioner Tona Monroe

14 machine commissioners make Art Swann state senator

Blount County Commissioners Andy Allen, Dave Bennett, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Scott King, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Tom Stinnett voted to replace Doug Overbey who recently resigned from the Tennessee Senate with (now former) Representative Art Swann.  Swann was nominated by Commissioner Carver.

Commissioner Tona Monroe nominated Scott Williams.  Commissioners Archie Archer, Karen Miller and Monroe voted for Williams.

Commissioners Mike Akard, Brad Bowers, Tom Cole and Jamie Daly were absent from the meeting.

Only Commissioners Miller and Monroe spoke during the discussion portion of the meeting with both sharing why they were voting for Williams.  Monroe shared that Williams served his country through military service, is a gentleman and a class act.  She said Swann had never returned any of her emails about concerns she had related to state laws and matters impacting local governments.

After the meeting, Jim Hammontree, who has picked up a petition to run for the seat currently held by district 2 Commissioner Mike Lewis, shared with BC Public Record and the local paper that the commission took a do nothing state representative and turned him into a do nothing state senator.

Commissioner Tona Monroe and Scott Williams

Did 13 commissioners vote to break a state transparency law?

At the July Agenda Committee meeting, I placed an item on the agenda to elect three County Revenue Commissioners.  It appears to me that 13 Blount County Commissioners voted to break this state transparency law.

Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly, Karen Miller and Tona Monroe voted yes on the state transparency law.
Commissioners Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Rick Carver, Shawn Carter, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Ron French, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Steve Samples voted no.
Commissioners Gary Farmer and Tom Stinnett were absent.

The good thing that came out of this vote is that commissioner Jerome Moon read a statement from the Comptroller’s Office that said that Blount County is one of only two counties in the state that doesn’t have an Audit Committee.  Perhaps we will finally get an Audit Committee in light of the fact that there is only one other county besides Blount without one.  However if we get an Audit Committee that exists on paper but never meets, like our Purchasing Commission, then what good will it do the taxpayers of Blount County?

5-8-601.  Appointment — Tenure — Oath.

  (a)  (1) The county legislative bodies, at their July term, shall elect three (3) competent citizens, not members of the county legislative body, county clerk, or deputy county clerk, who shall be known as the “revenue commissioners” of the county.

   (2) One (1) of these commissioners shall be an expert accountant.

(b) Their term of office shall begin on the first Monday in September following their election, and they shall hold office for two (2) years, and until their successors are elected and qualified.

(c) Before entering upon their duties, they shall subscribe to an oath before the county clerk that they will well and truly discharge all duties that may devolve upon them by law.

HISTORY: Acts 1907, ch. 602, § 76; Shan., § 935; Code 1932, § 1650; impl. am. Acts 1978, ch. 934, §§ 7, 22, 36; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 5-831.

5-8-602.  Inspections.

  (a) On Tuesday before the first Monday in January, April, July and October of each year, the revenue commissioners shall meet and critically examine the settlements of the county mayor, with all the collecting officers of the county.

(b) They shall inspect the reports of those collecting officers made to the county mayor, and the books of those officers, if necessary.

(c) They shall also carefully examine the financial report of the county mayor.

(d) They shall examine the checks and warrants on which disbursements from the treasury have been made, and compare these with the books of the treasurer or trustee.

(e) They shall ascertain what warrants have been drawn by the county mayor during the preceding quarter, which of these have been paid, which have been registered with the trustee and remain unpaid, and how many, if any, have been either registered or paid.

(f) The commissioners in each case shall see that the balances as stated in the report of the county mayor correspond with the balances shown to be on hand by the books of the trustee and exhibit of the cash or assets which the trustee has or should have on hand.

HISTORY: Acts 1907, ch. 602, § 76; Shan., § 936; Code 1932, § 1651; impl. am. Acts 1978, ch. 934, §§ 16, 36; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 5-832; Acts 2003, ch. 90, § 2.

5-8-603.  Reports. 

The revenue commissioners shall report, in writing at the end of each quarter, the result of their investigation, and it shall be their special duty to call attention to any neglect or violation of duty that they may observe on the part of any official.

HISTORY: Acts 1907, ch. 602, § 76; Shan., § 937; Code 1932, § 1652; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 5-833.

5-8-604.  Compensation. 

(a) The revenue commissioners shall be paid for their services such compensation as may be allowed them by the county legislative bodies of the respective counties as follows: not to exceed ten dollars ($10.00) per day for the chair and not to exceed eight dollars ($8.00) per day for other members for the time actually engaged in the discharge of their duties.

(b)  (1) In counties having a population of:  Click here to view image.

      according to the 1970 United States census or any subsequent United States census, such compensation shall not exceed twenty dollars ($20.00) per day for the chair and not exceed fifteen dollars ($15.00) per day for other members for the time actually engaged in the discharge of their duties.

   (2) In counties having a population of not less than fourteen thousand nine hundred (14,900) nor more than fourteen thousand nine hundred twenty-five (14,925), according to the 1980 federal census or any subsequent federal census, such compensation shall not exceed thirty dollars ($30.00) per day for the chair and twenty-five dollars ($25.00) per day for other members for the time actually engaged in the discharge of their duties.

HISTORY: Acts 1907, ch. 602, § 76; Shan., § 938; Acts 1921, ch. 135, § 2; Code 1932, § 1653; Acts 1959, ch. 231, § 1; 1971, ch. 294, §§ 1, 2; 1975, ch. 18, § 1; impl. am. Acts 1978, ch. 934, §§ 7, 36; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 5-834; Acts 1984, ch. 509, §§ 1, 2.

 

A year ago: Thank You!

This time a year ago today I was roasting in the sun.  I was so burnt that I was almost a purple color at the end of the day.

Thank you to the people of Big Springs, Carpenters, Friendsville, Happy Valley and Lanier for electing me to serve as your County Commissioner.  I will carry on ringing the liberty bell throughout Blount County.

ElectionDayMay6

April 2015 Commission Report

Blount County government was marred by indecisiveness and obstructionist politics in April.  However there are some commissioners who are standing for freedom and they deserve recognition for their principled stands.

Jail study hearing rejected
After paying over $94,000 for a jail study last year, the Commission rejected hearing from the jail consultant who conducted the study.  The Mayor obstructed progress by having a letter written to the Commission asking the Commission to reject hearing from the jail consultant so that the County can sue the consultant for a refund.

A man who actively campaigned for the Mayor shared with me that he told the Mayor that he should be embarrassed because the Mayor and the good ole’ boys wanted a study telling them to build.  He said that when they got a real study with real solutions, that Mayor covered it up and now wants to sue to save face.  This seems to be the prevailing opinion of people in the community.

Eight Commissioners voted to move forward instead of obstructing progress.  I (Tona Monroe) was the only Commissioner on the Blount County Corrections Partnership to vote to have the hearing.

Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting
The Corrections Partnership met on Tuesday.  This was the first meeting where ex-officio members Judges Tammy Harrington and Mike Gallegos served on the Partnership.  They were added to the Partnership to bring together all three branches of government for discussion on our criminal justice system.  There are now four commissioners, two judges, two members from the Sheriff’s Department and an ex-officio member from the Mayor’s office.

The Partnership unanimously recommended that the funding increase request for Recovery Court, which includes Drug Court, be approved by the commission.  For months I have been asking for information about how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if it were to expanded.  I have been repeatedly told that everyone is too busy to give me that information.  Thankfully my request, that the funding recommendation include the requirement for this information to be reported to us, was included in the recommendation that will be forwarded to the full commission.  It is very important to identify how many people there are in the system who will be eligible for Recovery Court and have estimates for future demands so that the commission, and all those involved, can adequately prepare for the future.

Judge Harrington said that the funding request is “bare bones” but exactly what she meant by that isn’t clear.  She has repeatedly said she doesn’t know how many people would be eligible for Recovery Court if everyone who qualified was given the option of Recovery Court.  Harrington said that the funding will give the program enough money to fund the program that exists now but also implied that it could be expanded.  Thus, the bare bones funding statement sounded like a typical budget time request statement.  Hopefully the funding increase will help the county prepare better for the future by identifying how many inmates will be eligible for an expanding Recovery Court.

The rest of the meeting was mostly unremarkable except for Judge Tammy Harrington’s behavior.  She appeared to be more interested in venting than working together in a “Partnership” for the betterment of society.  After the meeting a citizen commented to me about Harrington rolling her eyes while people were speaking.

I was a co-sponsor to the resolution to add Judges Harrington and Gallegos to the Blount County Corrections Partnership because judges can serve an important role in working toward productive solutions for our criminal justice system and overcrowded jail.  I look forward to working with the judges and hope that Harrington will be more respectful in the future.

For once the meeting room wasn’t nearly empty.  Past attendees have usually consisted of Linda and Joe King, Harry Grothjahn, Commissioner Jamie Daly, Commissioner Karen Miller and a few people from the State.  Some citizens, Jail Inspector Sharon Hannum, the Sheriff and Deputy Chief Chris Cantrell were present at the meeting.

On June 24th Bob Bass, Senior Inspector with the Tennessee Corrections Institute, will give a presentation to the Blount County Corrections Partnership at 1 PM in the Commission room.   The agenda for the meeting after that (date to be determined) will include discussion about keeping federal prisoners in the jail.

IT Meeting
The IT Committee met but took no action.  It was decided that upgrading the recording equipment in the commission room would have to wait because of budget constraints.

There was some information about a new software system for the Sheriff’s Department that will allow for better communication with 911 and the municipalities that decide to use the same system.  Unfortunately there was no financial information in the packet about the costs.  The City of Alcoa told the Sheriff’s Department that they will use the same system but the City of Maryville hasn’t committed to it.  The Committee was not told why Maryville hasn’t committed to using the software system.

This was the third IT Committee meeting that I’ve attended.  The committee hasn’t made a single recommendation to the commission at any of those meetings.  I am left wondering why we have an IT Committee since it is never given timely or complete information to make recommendations.

Budget Workshops
The budget before the Budget Committee is now about $16 million over projected revenues.  The Budget Committee did not make a single cut to the proposed FY 16 budget during the month of April.

Commission meeting
Stormwater regulations
Controversial stormwater regulations passed the commission on a 13-7 vote.  Five of the six amendments proposed passed.  The part allowing a 3rd party to be added to your deed was removed.

The regulations would have allowed you to be fined up to $5,000 for simply planting a tree in a utility easement.  Most people don’t know precisely where utility easements are on their property.  My amendment adding the word knowingly to the provision about planting a tree in an easement passed, which means that the government will have to prove that you knew that you were planting a tree in a utility easement instead of simply being able to fine you up to $5,000 because a tree was planted within a utility easement.  While I wanted this provision removed from the regulations entirely I proceeded with this amendment because there was confusion as to whether this prohibition and the rest of the regulations under Section 4d are required under state law.

My amendment to remove a provision limiting you on the percentage of trees that you can plant failed.  As such, the regulations prohibit property owners from planting more than 1/3 of the same type of tree within the buffers.  There are many other causes for concern in the regulations.  You can read the unamended regulations here starting on page 38.

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

Stormwater repeal request
The commission passed my resolution asking federal legislators to pass legislation pending before congress that would prohibit the EPA from expanding its definition of waters of the United States through rulemaking authority and to repeal stormwater regulations returning the power back to the states and the people.  Commissioners Akard, Archer, Bowers, Carter, Caskey, Cole, Crowe, Daly, French, Miller, and Monroe voted yes.  Moon abstained.  The rest voted no.

Unfortunately the Mayor vetoed the resolution.  Instead of sending the commission his own reasoning for the veto, he sent a link to an editorial by The Daily Times on the matter.

Traffic Grants
There were five federal grants related to traffic enforcement, including DUI roadblocks.  I voted against them and explained my reasoning here and here.  The paper reported that we voted on six grants but the commission did not vote on the grant for funding for the DA’s office since their funding is through the state.

The nighttime seatbelt demo grant allows the University of Tennessee to study enforcement action for seatbelt usage at night.  The University of Tennessee obtained an unconstitutional grant from the Centers for Disease Control and will be studying five counties including Blount.  Buckle up because the state legislature just increased the seat belt fine, the Sheriff’s Department just got a grant for enforcement and UT can’t wait to use the money it got to study the results.  The nanny state has gotten expensive and complicated.

During the commission meeting I explained why I was voting no, which included taking my oath of office to uphold the federal and state Constitutions and mentioning what James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution had to say about the constitutionality of what we were voting on.  After the meeting, on the way down in the elevator Deputy Chief Jarod Millsaps mocked me for explaining my vote.  The next day the Sheriff apologized to me for Millsaps behavior.

On the bright side, I was thrilled to have three commissioners join me in voting no.  Commissioners Akard, Cole, Miller and I voted no.  The rest voted yes.  I commend these three commissioners for upholding their oaths of office and respecting the bill of rights which has been so trampled upon.

Recycling Committee appointed
Commissioners Brad Bower, Grady Caskey and I were appointed along with four citizens to serve on the Recycling Committee.  If you have ideas that you would like to share, please attend the first meeting on May 26th at 5 PM at the courthouse.

Abstaining on important votes
Commissioner Steve Samples abstained on the stormwater vote and Jerome Moon abstained on the jail study vote and the stormwater repeal request resolution.  These two have been abstaining on several issues lately.  Jerome Moon is the Chairman of the Commission and Steve Samples is the Chairman of the Agenda Committee.  These two hold the two most important positions of leadership within the legislative body of Blount County.  Why are they abstaining so much on critical issues?

Up next
The ambulance service agreement is up for renewal.

$95,000 report ‘kept from public review,’ consultant claims

Here is the final report (jail study) issued by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) on the criminal justice system in Blount County.

Here are the key points to reducing the jail overcrowding according to Alan Kalmanoff JD, the Executive Director of the ILPP, the organization paid to do the criminal justice system assessment.

Here is the open memo to the Blount County Commission, Corrections Committee and Citizens from Alan Kalmanoff.

Here is the June 2014 Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Audit stating that the number of federal prisoners needs to be reduced and that we should look at alternative and pre-trial sentencing solutions.

The Daily Times published a story today on the matter with my comments included.  At the October Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) meeting, I made a motion to forward the ILPP report to the full commission because that report had never been formally released to the public.  However, the full commission has not heard from the study consultant.

My statement:

“As the commissioner who made the motion to have a full commission presentation from the jail consultant on the Criminal Justice System Assessment Report, I am troubled that the meeting was canceled.  Obviously, some county officials aren’t happy with the conclusions of the independent report.  The report was suppose to be heard by the full commission last year, yet there has been no presentation to the commission and it has been delayed once again.  Nearly $95,000 of taxpayer money has been spent.  We owe it to the people of Blount County to have a thorough public discussion on our justice system and jail overcrowding problem.

The report makes some of the same recommendations that the Tennessee Corrections Institute makes including reducing the number of federal prisoners and providing more pre-trial release and alternative sentencing programs.  The report points out that our jail may be unconstitutional and that we could face legal action if we don’t reduce our jail population.  The jail overcrowding situation is dangerous not only to the inmates but to the taxpayers who may be forced to fund an unnecessary jail expansion.”  Commissioner Tona Monroe

Article: http://www.thedailytimes.com/news/report-kept-from-public-review-consultant-claims/article_1b6a1d8c-b18c-570d-b856-5376242592da.html

January 2015 Commission Report

The Good
A tremendous victory was achieved this month.  Commissioner Mike Akard and I have been trying to separate the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission since taking office.  Our efforts were finally successful.  Read my articles on the subject here and hereBusiness owners have expressed their concerns, to me, about the county purchasing procedures.  This is our opportunity to reform business as usual in Blount County government.

Ultimately, real reform is dependent upon the quality of people elected to serve on the Purchasing Commission.  Please contact the Mayor at 273-5700 and emitchell@blounttn.org with your suggestions for people to serve on the Purchasing Commission.  Commissioner Akard would make an excellent member on the Purchasing Commission because he is a business owner with extensive purchasing experience and will ask the questions that need to be asked in order to improve county purchasing procedures.

At the Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting, on the 27th, my motion to hear from the Executive Director of the Institute of Law and Policy Planning on the Criminal Justice System Assessment Report that the county paid $95,000 for last year, passed out of the committee and will be sent as a recommendation to the Agenda Committee.  Despite the final report being issued May 31, 2014, the commission has never been given a presentation on the findings in the report.  The report addresses multiple ways to reduce the jail overcrowding problem.  This should be on the commission agenda soon.  You can read the study here, starting on page 264.

The Bad
Unfortunately the political machine was able to muster the votes to appoint a habitual tax delinquent to the Budget Committee.  The Trustee’s office told me that Sharon Hannum had 9 delinquent tax bills during 2011-2013.  That means that she was delinquent on all of her property taxes during those three years.  Six tax bills were parcels of property and three tax bills were related to Hannum’s business.  The current business tax bill is only $6 for the year.  The Mayor tried to justify putting someone who can’t manage her own household budget in charge of a $165 million budget.  The people didn’t buy the Mayor’s excuses.

About two dozen emails filled commissioners’ inboxes asking us to vote no on Sharon Hannum.  A few asked that the commission separate the Budget Committee and the Purchasing Commission.  Furthermore, after the front page articles, people who have worked with Sharon Hannum contacted me, thanked me and shared their experiences and concerns about Hannum.  Apparently, many people are in agreement with me but have been afraid to express their views for fear of being attacked like I have been.

Someone pointed out to me that no women or minorities spoke in favor of Sharon Hannum.  It was just the good ole’ boys, who like to spend your money, who spoke at the meeting in support of her. This confirms my concern that she will be a yes woman for the political machine.

What was lost in the paper’s coverage of the nomination was Mitchell’s hesitation on fixed rate financing and the purchasing problems within county government.  Those should have been the focal points of the nomination but they don’t make for good headlines.

Commissioners Andy Allen, Brad Bowers, Shawn Carter, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Dodd Crowe, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Jeff Headrick, Jerome Moon, Steve Samples and Tom Stinnett voted yes. Commissioners Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Jamie Daly and Karen Miller voted no. Commissioners Cole and Lewis abstained.  Jerome Moon was suppose to abstain and said so after the vote total was announced.  Commissioners Melton and Monroe were absent.

The other bad news was the commission’s rejection of a highly qualified and accomplished nominee for the Jail Inspection Committee.  At the Agenda meeting, I nominated Doctor Nancy McEntee to serve on the Jail Inspection Committee.  There were four nominees and Doctor McEntee received the least number of votes.

Harry Grothjahn of Truth Radio contacted 3 of the 4 nominees, Brad Bryant, Nancy McEntee and Robert Mathis to inquire if they had read the jail study.  Only Nancy McEntee was aware of the study.

Worth noting is Commissioner Tom Stinnett’s efforts to ensure that Doctor McEntee did not get nominated even though he voted for her.  She resides in mine and Commissioner Stinnett’s district so he voted for her, which allows him to avoid criticism in his district.  However, he got to vote last because of the alphabetical roll call vote and knew that the machine’s three nominees had already won election without his votes.  At the Agenda meeting he seconded the motion to forward on the nomination of Robert Mathis, even though he didn’t vote for him at the Agenda meeting.  He was able to help the good ole’ boys while appearing to save face in his district.  These sorts of tricks are unfortunate but easily seen by those in attendance.

The three jail inspectors elected are Brad Bryant, Sharon Hannum (yes she was elected to this committee as well) and Robert Mathis.  You can read about the committee responsibilities and the people who will serve on the Jail Inspection Committee here beginning on page 26.  The machine made sure that the three elected to serve on the Jail Inspection Committee won’t rock the boat in any significant way.

The Ugly
Several attacks were launched against me because I wrote about someone who can’t manage her own household budget being nominated to manage your local government budget.  It doesn’t pass the common sense test; therefore, I took to writing about the matter.  I never said Sharon Hannum’s name in public, which the paper noticed and wrote about, yet Commissioner Rick Carver launched an attack against me at the Agenda meeting.  Chairman Steve Samples allowed the attack to go into great length before commissioner Jerome Moon asked Chairman Samples to stop the attack.  Chairman Moon has gotten pretty good about shutting down personal attacks.  It wasn’t always that way but he has become consistent in stopping such attacks.

It’s times like this when I reflect upon why so few good people want to run for office.  Hit dogs holler the loudest and there was plenty of hollering at me.  However, I will carry on standing for your liberty and working to protect your wallets.  As I always like to conclude my emails, let freedom ring!

November 2014 Commission Report

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.

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Richard Hutchens addresses 2 important issues in open letter to Mayor and Commissioners

Richard Hutchens has for years appealed to the Board of Commissioners to rise above petty politics and make decisions that are in the best interest of all citizens, not a connected few.  Last year he gave Roy Crawford the First Blount County Statesmen Award.  His shame, shame, shame speech delivered during Melton’s reign of tyranny, a month before the Commission raised the property tax rate, will go down as one for the ages in Blount County politics.

Last night he sent an open letter to the Mayor and Commissioners addressing two important issues.  Both deserve serious consideration.  Please read the letter.  How do you think the Commission should address these issues?

Click here to contact your Commissioners.

Open Letter from Richard Hutchens Page 1

Open Letter from Richard Hutchens Page 2

October 2014 Commission Report

October was a really busy month for the County Commission.  I had 6 meetings to attend this month, the Agenda Committee, the Commission Board meeting, 2 special called meetings dealing with the refinancing of County debt, an IT Committee meeting and a Blount County Corrections Partnership meeting.  There is much to report, so please take the time to read this, send it to your friends, family and neighbors and ask any questions that you have.

Debt Refinancing – A Major Step in the Right Direction
One of the best things to happen was the Commission’s decision to seek fixed rate financing for $20,165,000 of variable rate debt and the swap attached to it.  This debt was originally issued on 05/17/01 as the A-1-A bond for $20,000,000 with a variable rate.  The County paid $238,532 in fees to issue this debt.  The County signed a swap contract on 1/17/02 against the bond to synthetically fix the nominal interest rate at 4.31%.  Synthetically fixed doesn’t mean that the interest rate is actually a flat fixed rate.  The rate varied from about 4%-7% until the bond deal blew up in July of 2008.

The County’s credit rating wasn’t good enough to issue variable rate debt on its own.  It purchased bond insurance to be able to issue this complicated variable rate debt.  The bond issuer lost its AAA credit rating, causing the County to have to refinance the debt.  On July 31, 2008 the bond was re-issued as the series E-3-B debt for $20,165,000.  The debt principle increased because the County had to refinance multiple series of debt at once and lacked the funds to pay the refinancing fees.   Alarmingly the County still owes $20,165,000 after 13 years of paying on the debt.  Not one penny has been paid on the principle because is was financed as a balloon payment with the principle being paid only during the last two years of payments.   This situation is worse still because a swap is attached to the debt.  The amount it costs to terminate the swap changes frequently and has been running over $5 million.  In a nutshell the County financed $20 million in debt in May 2001, has been paying on it for 13 years and actually owes nearly $26 million on this debt, including the swap.  It’s insanity and I am happy the Commission decided to put the County on a more fiscally sound path by seeking fixed rate financing.

Information Technology (IT) Committee – Working to improve transparency
Several people have told me that they experience problems with the live streaming and the Google hangout live session recording of County meetings.  I sought membership on this Committee to address these concerns.  John Herron, the County’s IT manager said that it would cost around $30,000 to improve the live streaming.  Mayor Mitchell said that the matter may be presented to the Budget Committee in January.  Herron said that with purchase of some better cameras he could burn a disk and give to the cable access channel, putting the Commission meetings back on cable.  Spending your money is not something that I like doing, but I think this is a wise investment for the citizens.

County Corrections Partnership – Tackling Serious Correction Measures
(formerly Ad hoc Committee to Study Jail Overcrowding)
The former Chairman of the Committee, Tab Burkhalter, spoke about the presentation given on the final report of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP) study to provide solutions on the jail overcrowding.  You can read the study online here.  The Study says “The County needs …to completely rethink the use of its jail” and offers several solutions to reduce overcrowding.

Burkhalter told the Committee that the Jail has a higher than average number of women and that many of them are in the jail for drug problems.  A few months ago I listened to Circuit Court Judge Tammy Harrington talk about the Drug Court.  She said that the County now has a facility for men, to help them get off drugs and back into society.  There is no facility for women.  In the back of the study there is a list of 118 County properties.  Thus, I made the motion that the Agenda of the next meeting be to look at the empty County buildings and meet with community people who have experience putting together and operating a facility to help women inmates get rehab and return to society.  In December the Committee will discuss this matter.

Agenda and Commission Meetings
Technology Request by Circuit Court Clerk
There was a letter from the Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher requesting that the Commission approve $30,500 for data processing services, maintenance agreements and hardware. (See pages 16-18)  Commissioner Karen Miller asked why the data services and maintenance portions was $26,500 and the equipment was only $4,000.  She was not given an answer explaining why the services and maintenance was over 6 times that of the equipment.

The information provided was vague, with the explanation reading “For purchase of replacement monitors, printers and software support.”  Thus, I inquired into the age of the equipment that the Commission was asked to replace.  The Director of Budgets and Finance gave me a flippant answer saying if it was anything like the rest of the County it was old.  I made a motion to postpone this item until the November meeting so that the Commission could be provided with a detailed list of equipment and software that was being replaced and updated.

The motion failed 6-13.  Akard – yes  Allen – no  Archer – yes  Bowers – no  Carter – no  Carver – no  Caskey – no  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – absent  Headrick – no  Lewis – no  Melton – no  Miller – yes  Monroe – yes  Moon – no  Samples – no  Stinnett – no

Commissioner Samples stated that the money was coming from Court fees not tax money.  My response was that we (the Commission) still have the fiduciary responsibility to see that the money is spent wisely.  Commissioner Allen then stated that the software could be in danger of expiring, but gave no date or a single example.  Those excuses work every time.

The resolution passed 15-4.  Akard – yes  Allen – yes  Archer – no  Bowers – yes  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – yes  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – yes  Daly – no  Farmer – yes  French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – yes  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Towers in Residential Areas
The Commission passed a resolution to decrease the minimum tower separation requirements in residential areas from 200 feet to 85 feet from your property line.  Commissioner Archer and I both felt that the public simply wasn’t aware of the matter or there would be more discussion from the community.  Commissioner Archie Archer made a motion to send it back to the Planning Commission for further study.  The referral motion failed 10-9.    Akard – yes  Allen – no  Archer – yes  Bowers – no  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – no  Caylor – absent  Cole – yes  Crowe – no  Daly – yes  Farmer – no  French – absent  Headrick – no  Lewis – yes  Melton – no  Miller – yes  Monroe – yes  Moon – no  Samples – yes  Stinnett – no

The final vote total was 11-8.   Akard – no  Allen – yes  Archer – no  Bowers – yes  Carter – no  Carver – yes  Caskey – no  Caylor – absent  Cole – no  Crowe – yes  Daly – no  Farmer – yes  French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – yes  Melton – yes  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Open Enrollment Software
The Commission voted to spend $60,000 on a “stop gap” measure for a one year use of a software system that performs open enrollment benefits for County employees.  The County has paid nothing for this service in the past but the Commission was told that we had to pass this because the County changed its benefits administrator who would no longer perform the service for the County.

I asked the new HR Director Jenny Morgan if this $60,000 software had been put out for a bid.  She told the Commission that it had not been put out for a bid.  I then ask if there was any documentation to show that they County was getting the best price for it’s money.  She told me that the documentation that she had was a letter from our benefits adviser.  You can view the one page letter on page 20 here.  Notice there is no supporting documentation in the Commission packet, the information provided to Commissioners.

In July the Commission was encouraged to authorize implementation of an HR software system from Kronos.  Former Commissioner Jim Folts tried to delay the resolution one month so that the Commissioners could study the matter further.  That motion failed after being told that if they rushed the Kronos software system through, they would be able to use it for open enrollment for employee benefits.  That did not materialize.  Furthermore, the savings given in the slide show presentation for the annual open enrollments cost was listed as $117,600 (see page 53).  When I asked why the Commission was given that number in July when the County could buy it for $60,000, nearly half, I wasn’t given an answer.

At the Agenda meeting the voted failed 10-5, with one abstention Grady Caskey.  11 votes are required to send items to the Commission meeting.  After Chairman Steve Samples declared the motion to have failed, Grady Caskey spoke up saying he had intended to vote yes.  Votes can’t be changed after the Chairman announces the results.

Vote total 10-5  Akard – no  Allen – yes  Archer – no  Bowers – absent  Carter – yes  Carver – yes  Caskey – abstain  Caylor – yes  Cole – absent  Crowe – absent  Daly – no  Farmer – yes   French – absent  Headrick – yes  Lewis – absent  Melton – yes  Miller – no  Monroe – no  Moon – yes  Samples – yes  Stinnett – yes

Chairman Samples announced that the Commission would vote again.  I raised a point of order and told the Chairman that he couldn’t move the body, per the rules.

Commissioner Jerome Moon then proceeded to violate the rules by making a motion to reconsider.  The motion was out of order, per Roberts Rules of Order because only Commissioners who voted with the prevailing side, the Commissioners who voted no, may make the motion to reconsider.  In this case only the 5 who voted no, Commissioners Akard, Archer, Daly, Miller and I would be in order to make this motion.  I didn’t catch that fast enough and it slipped through the Agenda meeting, passing 11-5 in violation of the rules.

At the Commission meeting, I moved to have it removed from the Commission Agenda since it was sent in violation of the rules, but the motion failed.  Only Commissioners Akard, Archer, Carter, Caskey, Daly, Miller and I voted to follow the rules.  Commissioners Caylor and French were absent.  The rest voted to continue on after a rule was broken.  My motion to send it back to the Budget Committee to go through a bid process also failed.

There was supposedly some bid paperwork being passed around the Commission during the meeting.  The bid process according to Commissioner Stinnett went through the broker Trinity Benefit Advisors.  Chairman Moon called down Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Mike Akard for discussing it during the meeting.  I still haven’t been given any bid paperwork.

The Commission was fed the typical line that we have to do this or chaos will ensue.  That line works every time, so the resolution passed 16-3 with Commissioners Daly, Miller and myself voting no.  The 3 ladies on the Commission are quickly proving to be the most fiscally conservative Commissioners.

Kronos suspension
For the most part, the County Commission has been left in the dark about the pending implementation of a costly HR and payroll software system service.  The Commission is now (in November) being asked to spend $2.3 million over 5 years, but has only been given what the Director of Budgets and Finance wants the Commission to have, when he wants the Commission to have it.  In November, I plan to go into greater detail about the problems, but want to give a brief summary about why I sponsored a resolution to suspend implementation of the Kronos software system.

In July the Commission authorized over $1.3 million to what most believed to be first year implementation costs and licenses fees.  After taking office in September, I met with Mr. Vineyard and asked for an Kronos implementation schedule and was told it would be in the October Budget packet.  It was not.  At the Agenda meeting, I asked Mr. Vineyard why it was not in the packet.  He refused to answer my question.  At the end of the meeting, I requested that it be added to the Commission packet in November.  Mr. Vineyard gave me a hostile look and refused to say anything at that time.  He wasn’t the only one giving dirty looks.  Citizens in the audience commented to me after the meeting that the laughing and behavior of some HR people and a handful of County employees was disrespectful and unprofessional.

Since a response to my request wasn’t forthcoming, Commissioners Akard, Miller and I sponsored a resolution to suspend the Kronos project until the Commission was provided with detailed information.  Lo and behold the information is in the November Agenda packet, with a request to sign a 5 year contract at a cost of approximately $2.3 million.

There was also a letter added to the October Commission packet 2 days prior to the Commission meeting stating that the delay was due to Mr. Vineyard experiencing health problems.  I do not understand why he didn’t convey that during the October Commission meeting.  Technology can be a good thing, but the secrecy surrounding this project is in no way in the best interest of the public.

Former Commissioner Jim Folts wrote about some of the problems with the proposal after the July Commission meeting.  You can read his report at www.jimfolts.com.

Human Resources (HR) Committee – Shocking Comments
Tension was apparent as a result of statements made by Commissioner Grady Caskey, a Blount County teacher and former President of the Blount County Education Association (commonly referred to as the teachers union), off the Agenda about a request made by Sheriff James Berrong at the July HR meeting.  Until this year County employees paid nothing for their health care plan, a plan that the County benefits adviser Drew Mann routinely calls “rich” because it’s so generous.  The policy was changed to $25 a month this year, which is still well below nearly everything I’ve seen in both the public and private sectors.

The Sheriff asked, at the July meeting, to look into whether teachers are paying the $25 like general government County employees.  They did receive this benefit for free until August 1, when they began paying $25.  At the October meeting, Grady Caskey informed the HR Committee that the $25 was paid for them as a result of teacher negotiations with the School Board.

After the meeting, Commissioner Tom Stinnett, a retired Maryville City School teacher, admonished Caskey for talking in public about the teachers paying nothing for their health care benefits, saying “You can’t do that. You can’t do that in public. It pisses…. it pisses the public off. They don’t give a crap about us in this room, trying to tell them why we deserve it.”  After Caskey responded, Stinnett went on to say, “That’s why they hate us, ok. We have to do everything to hide this from people in the public because they will crucify us and they will all line up at the beginning of the Commission, … line up against us.”  It is shocking that a Commissioner would make such statements, wanting another Commissioner to hide benefits information from the public and belittle the public by saying they would crucify teachers for having transparency.  I’ve never met anyone in Blount County who wants to crucify our teachers.  Citizens deserve better from elected officials.

In November
Kronos, stay tuned.

Read more on the October Commission meeting here.

Update: The article has been updated to reflect the fact that School employees began paying $25 for health care benefits in August.