Jim Folts   Blount County Commissioner


“To stand in silence, when they should be protesting, makes cowards out of men” - Abraham Lincoln

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  • Thursday February 17, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse

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. Just send me an email at jimfolts@gmail.com, or give me a call at 995-9476.

The Blount County Commissioners

Citizens for Better Government

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The work has begun

On September 1, 2010 I took the oath of office as Blount County Commissioner. I was elected to listen to you and make your opinions known to our County government. Feel free to measure me against the issues we talked about in the campaign. A link to my campaign brochure is included in the left column of this page. Let me know how I am doing by emailing me or phoning me at the address and numbers shown in the left column.

To keep you posted, I will include a summary of each Commission meeting on this page. I will list the important issues covered in the meeting, as well as the results of each vote on those issues. You can also view the video of each meeting by using the link in the left column.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to earn your confidence.

January 2011 Report

Commission Meeting – 1/20/11 – Blatant disrespect for the citizens

Amazingly, another month went by, with no discussion of the County’s financial crisis by the Commission.

Instead, Commission Chairman, Ken Melton, put applause at the top of the agenda. He started the meeting by forbidding the audience to applaud their fellow citizens or Commissioners. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Constitution. Applauding, when various points of view are expressed, is a time honored tradition in our political system. How many times did various members of Congress applaud statements made in the President's State of the Union address.  When I questioned the basis for Chairman Melton’s ruling, he cited a statute on disorderly conduct. Since when does applause constitute disorderly conduct? I appealed the ruling to the entire Commission. Only Commissioner Monika Murrell and myself voted to overturn Chairman Melton’s edict.

Melton further aggravated the situation by making another ruling eliminating the long tradition of Commission members yielding additional time to allow citizens to finish their remarks, if they run over their allotted three minute limit. At the end of the meeting Chairman Melton even used police force to eject a citizen, who was reading a passage from the Bible and ran slightly over his allotted time. (Click here to see the video)

I find this blatant disrespect for citizens to be appalling, and will continue to fight it. It is disappointing and unfortunate that Chairman Melton seems to have forgotten that he works for the citizens, not the other way around.

The Commission again discussed the transfer of the salary budget for the Emergency Management Director, Bart Stinnett, from the Mayor to the Sheriff. It seems Mr. Stinnett is a former police officer. Last month, he told the Commission he wanted the budget for his salary transferred to the Sheriff's department, so that he could maintain his police officer (POST) certification. The certification is NOT a requirememt for the Emergency Management job. If this was done, he would somehow continue to report to the Mayor, even though he would now be paid by the Sheriff. Having a person paid out of one group, but responsible to a different group is something most well-run organizations try to avoid like the plague. Because of conflicting letters on the legality of doing this, I immediately proposed that the item be tabled. My motion was defeated. The Sheriff sent Mr. Rick Baker to appear before the Commission as an "expert" in this area, and argue for approval of this transfer. (Yes, this is the same Rick Baker who used County funds to pay for a bogus Internet college diploma.). The Mayor pointed out that State law might require the Emergency Management Director to resign his post, if his budget was transferred to the Sheriff. Additonal information provided to the Commission raised significant questions about potential infringements on the civil rights of our County citizens if this move was made. The Commission spent another 30 minutes discussing the issue, until a motion finally was passed to seek legal advice before considering further action. Newspaper reports, after the meeting, indicate that Mr. Stinnett has withdrawn his request for this transfer.

The Commission also approved the payment of $36,051 to the State, for violations of biddings rules. The payment was the result of the County playing middleman in a transaction between the State DOT and a private organization. I proposed an amendment that would forbid the County from playing middleman for a private organization in any future transaction, without the specific approval of the Commission. I withdrew the motion after being assured that this prohibition was already on the books.

Budget Committee – 1/20/11 - Lots of new refrigerators. Budget cuts – maybe.
From the standpoint of the taxpayers, the Budget Committee meeting outcome was a mixed bag.

The most positive note was a request by Mayor Ed Mitchell to have his salary reduced by 12.7%. Mayor Mitchell was trying to set an example for the other elected officials in this County financial crisis. The Budget Committee appeared to have trouble accepting the Mayor’s offer. At one point in a discussion led by Commissioner Lail, they appeared ready to reject the Mayor’s offer, but in the end, they reluctantly accepted.  You have to watch the video to believe it.

The positive momentum of the Mayor’s example was somewhat offset by the award of a bid to buy a total of 19 new, 22 cu. ft. refrigerators, for our County officials offices, at a cost to the taxpayers of $14,516 . Not a single member of the Budget Committee commented on this blatant waste of taxpayer money.

The $60,000 for the unneeded expansion of the “Justice Center” parking lot came up, yet again. The Budget Committee approved a new version, to cost $5,000. The lengthy prior discussion, on this question, revealed that any shortage of parking could be solved by better scheduling of juror candidates. So, why are we even talking about $5,000?

Finance Director Jennings asked, for third meeting in a row, for the Budget Committeegive him some direction. The question was should he prepare a no-tax-increase budget, or one that requires a tax increase. After much discussion, the Committee told Mr. Jennings to prepare a budget assuming no tax increase. However, several members of the Committee qualified their endorsement. I continue to believe, that only vigilance and involvement by the taxpayers, will prevent a major tax increase.

The Budget Committee chose an across the board 12.8% budget cut to head off a tax increase. This kind of cut penalizes the County departments who are already being frugal with taxpayer money, and rewards the wasteful spenders. The Committee needs to do the hard work to identify the problem departments. Citizens for Better Government has spent three months comparing our county spending with the three other Tennessee counties closest to us in population. This could be the first step toward making smarter cuts in the budget. I offered to review these results at the next Budget Committee meeting. I have not yet received a response from the Committee. In any event, I will present the results of this comparison to the Smoky Mountain Tea Party Patriots on Feb 3, at 6:30pm, at the Blount County Library.

Human Resources Committee of the Blount County Commission 1/4/2011 - Requested information not presented - No action - The purpose of this meeting was to consider ways to reduce the County's healthcare costs. The full Commission had requested a presentation on healthcare benefits and costs, along with a justification for the free health clinic currently provided to County employees. Currently, County employees pay nothing for their own coverage and $100 per month for family coverage. The Finance Director had asked the Committe to consider charging employees $50 per month for their coverage.
The Human Resources/Insurance Committee members are County Mayor Ed Mitchell, Sheriff James Berrong, Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap, Tonya Burchfield, Gary Farmer, Ron French, Holden Lail, MikeLewis, Phyllis Crisp, and David Murrell. All except Mitchell, Lewis and French are current or former County employees, or close relatives of current employees. Betsy Cunningham, the HR Director for the County did NOT make the requested presentation on benefits and costs. The Chairman of the Committee, Commissioner Gary Farmer, immediately tried to take the issue off the table by saying the Committee had voted for the current benefits package in September (However, the benefits package was never brought to the full Commission for a vote). He demanded that anyone who had any other ideas speak out now. No one spoke out in favor of the changes. Commissioner Mike Lewis requested a list of benefit options in February. Thus, the Commission again delayed any consideration of budget cuts. The Finance Director has been very clear. If there are no cuts taxes will go up nearly 20 percent. Apparently some Commissioners still have not gotten the message.