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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August / September Report


I am combining the August and September reports to you, because my activities have been limited as a result of a heart attack at the end of August. I thank all of you for the many prayers, cards, phone calls, flowers, food and other kindnesses that you have showered on my family and myself. I also want to offer a special note of thanks to the Friendsville Fire Department first responders, the Rural Metro EMTs, the Blount County Deputy, and Blount Memorial Hospital staff. Without their help, I would not be alive. With everyone's help, I am healing quickly and expect to be back to near normal activity levels in October.

The GOOD

You will recall that in July, the Human Resources Committee, where 9 of the 10 members are county employees or close relatives, proposed a wacky reorganization of the HR function. The reorganization would have taken the HR Director position from the Mayor and put it directly under the control of the HR Committee. This means the HR Committee, dominated by county employees, would be setting benefits, benefit costs, personnel policies, time-off policies and salary policies. This move also would have added $100,000 per year to the budget because the Mayor currently has one person handling both the HR and Risk Management responsibilities.


After reading the law on this subject, it appeared to me that the proposed HR reorganization was flatly illegal. I requested confirmation from the UT County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS). They confirmed that the proposed HR resolution was illegal. Following a discussion with CTAS, the Mayor's attorney wrote a letter to every Commissioner saying: "I certainly feel that the Commission should not pass a resolution that conflicts with State Law". When the resolution came up at the August Commission meeting, Gary Farmer, the chair of the HR Committee, immediately asked that action be postponed until the September meeting. My understanding is that similar action was taken at the September meeting (which I was unable to attend due to illness). These postponements are nonsense. Commissioner Farmer and the other sponsors of this resolution (Caylor, Burchfield and Kirby) should take the advice of the attorneys and kill it.


At the September Education Committee meeting, School Superintendent, Rob Britt, presented a detailed review of the results of the TCAP tests. Nearly all Blount County Schools showed significant improvements in their test scores. Clearly, Dr.Britt is working hard to instill a culture where we carefully measure results in our schools. We still have a way to go before our schools are competitive with the best, nationally, but it is very gratifying to see the progress being made. We wish Dr. Britt, his administrators, and most of all, the teachers, continued success in these efforts.

 

The BAD

The State government has requested major reductions in the budgets for next year. They have frozen hiring in many departments. Knox County and the city of Knoxville have done the same. Unfortunately, Blount County is not doing any of these things. In fact, the County Commission approved a budget INCREASE to hire an ADDITIONAL employee for Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher's office, at the September meeting. We are already facing nearly a ten percent increase in taxes next year, because one-time funds were used to pay for on-going salary expenses. Now the Commission is adding to the problem. Most Commissioners don't seem to care about the plight of the hard-working taxpayers of the County.


The UGLY
For more than a year, the Human Resources Committee has done its best to avoid public discussion of a consultant's report on medical benefits for county employees. You may recall that county employees enjoy an excellent medical benefit plan that pays 90% of most expenses. County employees pay nothing for these benefits. Family coverage is available at just $100 per month. Most taxpayers are paying $300 to $1000 per month or more for similar benefits. At the same time the hard-working citizens are paying taxes to support the $16 million per year cost of the current plan for county employees.

The consultant's study verified that Blount County employees are being given an extraordinarily good deal. It says that the average municipal employee in Tennessee pays nearly $100 per month for personal coverage and more than $350 per month for family coverage.

At the Mayor's urging, the HR Committee finally scheduled a meeting in early September to discuss the consultant's study. Unfortunately, before any discussion could take place, Bill Dunlap, Highway Superintendent and Committee member, introduced a resolution to keep all employee benefits the same in 2012. The resolution passed with only Mayor Mitchell and Commissioner Mike Lewis voting NO. (Click here to see the video clip)

None of this seemed to bother the other members of the Committee: Sheriff Berrong, Highway Superintendent Dunlap, Registrar Crisp, David Murrell and Commissioners Farmer, Lail, and French. Thus, we have locked a $16 million cost into next year's budget with no serious discussion of any alternatives.

In a blatant display of how petty some County Commissioners have become, the Commission voted against continuing to allow the Mayor to allocate space in county buildings. For years, this has been a routine action by the Commission, because having the Commission involved in every space decision would be a waste of time and an exercise in needless micromanagement. However, because they are displeased with the Mayor's efforts to cut costs and reform Blount County government, Commissioners Burchfield, Burkhalter, Carver, Farmer, Caylor, Helton, Kirby, Lail, Gamble and Harrison voted AGAINST continuing to delegate these responsibilites to the Mayor. This assures that the Commission will now waste valuable time on office space decisions, instead of addressing the serious budget problems that are likely to result in another major tax increase being imposed on the hard pressed citizens of the county. Are these the priorities YOU want from YOUR Commissioners?