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 August 18, 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.


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July 2011 Report

The GOOD

One good thing happened at the Commission meeting this month. The proposed ban on citizens applauding at Commission meetings was defeated. Many citizens spoke against the ban at the beginning of the meeting. Their presentations were often eloquent and emotional  in defense of their Constitutional right of freedom of expression. (Click here to see video clip1) (Click here to see video clip2) Chairman Melton made sure that the ban was the last item on the agenda. Thankfully, reporters and cameras from all three TV stations stayed for the entire meeting.

 

The applause ban was included in the same resolution with three other good changes to the Commission rules. (Click here to see video clip of debate on applause ban).The first allowed Commissioners to yield additional time to citizens speaking at a meeting. This used to be common practice, until Chairman Melton took over and decided he would no longer permit it. The second positive change to the rules was a requirement for a summary of the background of a proposed appointee be made available to the Commissioners before a vote on the appointment. This seems like common sense, but several appointments have been put before the Commission with nothing more than a name. The last of the good rule changes would have permitted any Commissioner to add information to the packet for a meeting. This used to be done routinely, but Chairman Melton has recently been dictating what will, and will not, be made available in the Commission packet.

 

The political machine immediately tried to ram the resolution through in its entirety. Commissioner Hasty introduced made a motion to consider each rule changes separately. Commissioners Burchfield, Burkhalter, Kirby, Lail, Melton and Helton voted AGAINST this common sense approach. Commissioner Moon, a former editor of the Daily Times, who might be expected to be a forceful defender of citizens’ free speech,  boldly abstained, and Farmer joined him. Fortunately, the other 12 Commissioners voted YES (Caylor was absent) and the motion passed.

 

Commissioner Samples then made a motion to approve the three positive changes to the rules.  Unfortunately, Commissioners Burhalter, Kirby, Lail, Melton, Helton, Farmer, Harrison and Hasty voted AGAINST these common sense rule changes, preventing the two-thirds vote needed for their adoption. Moon again boldly abstained.

 

When it came time to vote for the applause ban, with the cameras from all three TV stations rolling, no Commissioner was even willing to make the motion. Helton and Melton, who pushed it through the Rules Committee, stayed silent. Carver and Hasty, who sponsored the resolution, stayed silent. Common sense prevailed. The audience applauded.

 

The BAD

The Blount County PBA held several meetings in June. It was discovered that documents covering hundreds of millions of dollars of bond offerings are missing. To emphasize the continuing incompetence, the members of the PBA board proceeded to sign the signature pages of documents more than a hundred million dollars of bond related transactions, without even reading the documents.

 

It appears that Commission meetings will no longer be broadcast on Charter and Comcast cable channels. It seems Chairman Melton quietly deleted the funding for videoing the meetings from the Commission budget. He seems to be much happier operating in the shadows, rather than in the sunshine of public scrutiny.


Chairman Melton showed a disappointing lack of respect for an 83 year woman trying to tell the Commission about her mistreatment at the hands of the Property Assessor. When she ran slightly over her three minute limit, he refused to let her finish her remarks and graveled her down despite the protests of Commissioner Murrell and others. (See video clip here)


The UGLY
The Mayor decided several months ago to combine the vacant Human Resources position with another, and save the taxpayers $100,000 per year. This did not suit the HR Committee, where 8 of the 10 members are employees or close relatives of employees. They insisted the $100,000 remain in the budget.

 

This month the HR Committee voted to take the HR Director position from the Mayor and put it directly under the control of the HR Committee. (Click here to see the video clip). This means a Committee, where 8 of 10 members are county employees, or have close relatives who are, will be setting benefits, benefit costs, personnel policies, time-off policies and salary policies. There was much discussion in the HR Committee about how this will be good for the county employees. It probably will. Any group of employees, given the opportunity to set their salaries and benefits, would undoubtedly make sure they had the best, regardless of the cost. There was no discussion about who represents the poor taxpayers in this scheme. In fact the taxpayers were never mentioned in the discussion. In checking, I was unable to find any other County, or large private organization, who has this kind of wacky organization. Several organizational experts I talked to, suggested this is equivalent to putting the inmates in charge of the asylum. None of this seemed to bother the members of the Committee. Sheriff Berrong, Highway Superintendent Dunlap, Registrar Crisp, David Murrell and Commissioners Farmer, Lail and Lewis voted for this nonsense. Commissioner French was absent and Mayor Mitchell abstained.

 

The HR Committee then got around to discussing raises. (Click here to see video clip). First they put some bad information out, saying that 54% of county employees make less than $30,000 per year. This counts the hundreds of part-time employees who work for the county. Actually, more than 70% of county employees make MORE than $30,000. The HR Committee then passed another resolution authorizing a salary survey to justify employee raises.


Only YOU can change YOUR government
If you do not favor letting your county employees select their own Human Resources Director; if you do not favor having county employees set their own salary and benefit policies; if you do not favor the removal of County Commission meetings from the cable channels; PLEASE come to the Commission meeting Thursday, August 18 at 7:00pm. The citizens made the difference in defeating the ban on applause. The citizens can do it again.