Citizens for Better Government

Blount County Tennessee


Sheriff - It's not a war, it's a taxpayer question


Sheriff Berrong and Mayor Cunningham had a lot to say in the Blount Today “Car Wars” article. Apparently, the Mayor invented the “car wars” term. This has nothing to do with war. The citizens of the county would like answers to a few simple questions, such as: 'Where are the 25 cars missing from the Sheriff's department inventory'. Unfortunately Berrong and Cunningham never answered the key questions Blount Today posed on behalf of the citizens. Worse yet, they filled the article with highly questionable assertions designed to mislead the citizens of the county.


Question 1 – Where are the 25 missing Sheriff’s vehicles (cars, trucks, SUVs, vans and motorcycles)?

Finance Director Bennett issued a report on June 11 listing an inventory of 238 Sheriff’s vehicles. Adding 8 narcotics undercover vehicles, gives a total of 246.


The problem is that this number does not tie with the audit report. The 05/06 audit report lists a total of 263 Sheriff’s vehicles present at the end of that fiscal year. The Sheriff bought 27 additional vehicles (24 in January and 3 in May) to give us a new total of 290. The Sheriff sold 16 vehicles and transferred 3 to other departments. This gives us an adjusted total of 271 vehicles. But Bennett lists only 246 vehicles. Where are the 25 missing vehicles? Unfortunately, the Sheriff, the Mayor and the Finance Director chose to run from the Blount Today questions about what happened to these missing vehicles. Why?


Question 2 – Why does the Sheriff need so many vehicles?

The Sheriff has approximately 270 employees. Of these, approximately 130 are jail guards, clerical people, nurses, food workers and others who have no need for a car. Why do we need 246 vehicles, when we have less than 140 people who need one? Perhaps there is a clue in Finance Director Bennett’s list of cars. He lists 51 vehicles as “spares”. The Blount Today article points out that the Sullivan county Sheriff does essentially the same job with just 4 spare vehicles. Who is driving all these “spare” Blount county cars? Why? The hundred or so extra vehicles the Sheriff is carrying have a new value of more than $3 million. If just a small portion of this money were spent on Deputy salaries, the salary problem would have been solved years ago. Another portion of this waste could be used provide funds desperately needed in our schools.


Beyond these basic questions, the misinformation the Sheriff handed out in the Blount Today article is very unfortunate.


Misinformation 1 – Sheriff Berrong says: “that federal prisoner funds, not property taxes, pay for cruisers”.

The 05/06 audit states that the cost of keeping a prisoner in the jail was $55 per day. In 06/07, that cost increased. Yet, last year, the county received just $45 per day from the Federal government for each prisoner. We lost $10 per day on every Federal prisoner. How do the Federal prisoner losses pay for the nearly $900,000 worth of cars the Sheriff is buying every year. The Sheriff may have trouble with numbers, but the citizens of the county know who is paying for all the cars.


Misinformation 2 – Sheriff Berrong says the statement in the audit report that the he had 132 vehicles in 2002 isn’t “valid”. Berrong claims the state auditors asked him only how many “marked patrol vehicles” he had.

Clearly, the Sheriff did not look at the audit report very carefully. It lists 107 patrol cars, 14 SUVs, 4 trucks, 3 vans and 4 undercover narcotics cars. Unless the Sheriff was in the habit of marking his undercover narcotics cars in 2002, and using trucks and vans as patrol vehicles, his assertion seems to be false. Why did the Sheriff nearly double the number of vehicles he had between 2002 and 2006, when the population of the county increased approximately ten percent?


Also, if the 2002 audit was so wrong, why didn’t the Sheriff take steps, in the intervening years, to correct it. If we can’t count on the accuracy of the county’s audit reports, then the county is no better than Enron.


Misinformation 3 – Sheriff Berrong says: “A lot of this was related to our insurance company who came in and told us we needed to take two thirds of our vehicles off the road.”

First, there is no insurance company. The county is self-insured. Second, the average Sheriff’s department vehicle has less than 60,000 miles and is driven an average of approximately 11,000 miles per year. This hardly sounds like the Sheriff is driving around in old, beat-up vehicles, especially when the Sullivan county representative said in the Blount Today article that “they get over 300,000 miles” on some of theirs.


Misinformation 4 – Sheriff Berrong says: “It is impossible to go from 132 to 249 (from 2002 to 2007) buying 25 cars per year. That is mathematically impossible”.


This is another example of how much trouble the Sheriff has with numbers. Five years times 25 cars per year equals 125 cars. Add 125 to 132 and you get a total of 257. Yes, Sheriff, conventional math says it is possible!


It is time for the Sheriff to go back to his elementary school math books and start giving some straight answers to the citizens of the county.


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