“To stand in silence, when
they should be protesting, makes cowards out of men” - Abraham Lincoln
Commission email addresses
Next Commission Meeting
- Thursday February 17, 7:00 pm,
room 430, Blount County Courthouse
Feel free to let me know your views on county issues. Just send me an email
at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call at 995-9476.
Blount County Commissioners
Citizens for Better Government
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
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 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
reading a passage from the Bible and ran slightly over his allotted
time. (Click here to see the
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
It seems Mr. Stinnett
is a former police officer. Last month, he told the Commission he
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
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,
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.
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
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.