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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Special Report on our County Schools

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Next Meetings

  • Blount County Commission - Thursday April 19th, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday April 17th, 6:30pm, Blount County Library

Report Archives


Feel free to let me know your views on county issues
. 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
 


Current Information





March 2012 Report


This is a time of year when the Commission should be working hard to find ways to cut the budgets of some of the Count's bloated departments (for example the Sheriff). Unfortunately, the Budget did not even appear on the Commission's March Agenda.

Cable TV Board has no purpose - yet continues with a $30,000 per year budget

Instead, the Commission spent its time deciding to keep the useless Cable TV Authority alive for another year.


In 2008 the state took all powers away from the Cable TV Authority, other than receive money and forward money.
The Cable TV Authority has no powers to do anything for the citizens.
A review of the minutes of the Authority meetings, shows that the only substantive thing the board does is vote to accept the payments from the Comcast and Charter and pass them on to the cities and the County.


Yet, the Authority continues to have a 9 paid board members and a lawyer collecting more than $12,000 per year in legal fees. You ask why? The explanation may have something to do with the fact that several of the nine members are County Commissioners. (Cable TV Board Members - Commissioners Gary Farmer, Roy Gamble and Scott Helton, plus Steven J. Greene, Vaughn Belcher, William C. Cochran, Lauren Kardatzke, Donald L. Larson, and Thomas W. Taylor. Cable TV Authority lawyers Crawford, Crawford and Newton.)


This Board has a budget of nearly $30,000 per year. Do we really need to spend $30,000 a year to receive and forward money?

Does it really make sense to be paying Cable TV Board members to perform these trivial services, when members of the Budget Committee and other far more active Commission Committees, who put in scores of extra hours, are uncompensated?


It is a shame this $30,000 is being wasted. As our Special Report on the County Schools showed, this money could be put to much better use by some of the talented teachers in our schools.


Special meeting to select a new Finance Director - in a big hurry

Without even giving the Commission the name of the candidate, the Mayor announced at the end of the Commission meeting that he wanted a special meeting called, the following week, to approve the new Finance Director.


The Finance Director is the most important unelected position in the County. County citizens have learned the hard way over the last decade, that the wrong person in the Finance Director position can create problems that will take many years to solve. The County's nearly quarter billion dollar debt, huge variable rate debt, and nearly $100 million worth of risky interest rate swaps are just a few examples of the harm a poor Finance Director can do.


It turns out that in the short few weeks spent searching for a new Finance Director, the Mayor only seriously considered one candidate. He fixated on that candidate, because the candidate had been Finance Director of the City of Knoxville. However, the candidate's tenure in Knoxville ended nearly ten years ago.


The problem with resumes is that they only tell you how good the person was at solving yesterday’s problems. The majority of this candidate’s experience as a Financial Director was compiled in the 90’s. You will recall that the good times were rolling in that decade. The economy was growing. Unemployment was low. Real estate values were increasing. Budgets could be increased without increasing tax rates. A strong stock market made it easy to fund generous pension plans. Government borrowing levels were low. The problems and risks of variable rate bonds and swaps were not yet visible.


The question on the minds of many citizens is this. Will the same set of skills that were adequate to be a Financial Director in the 90s be matched to the problems of today. The economy is stagnant. Unemployment is high. Real estate values are falling. Budgets need to be cut to prevent tax increases from adding to the crushing burdens of our citizens. Unfunded pension liabilities consume growing portions of our budget. We are suffering from very high levels of debt. And, we are trying to deal with $100 million worth of variable rate debt and more than $20 million of swap termination charges.

To decide whether a candidate has the skill to solve our problems, many citizens believed we needed more than a resume compiled 15 years ago. Our citizens sent me the questions listed below, which I tried to get the Mayor to get answer.

  • Do we have a current job description outlining the goals and objectives for the Financial Director? 
  • How many other people were interviewed for this position? 
  • Was this position advertised? Where?
  • Was any executive search firm involved?
  • What year did the Candidate receive his degree from UT? Why was the year not on the resume? 
  • How many reference checks were conducted on this candidate? Did they explore the candidate’s effectiveness in cutting budgets? Did they explore the candidate’s ability to unwind complicated variable rate debt and swap transactions?
  • What is the incentive for a guy who is receiving a couple of retirement checks, and who claims to be working to avoid boredom, to take tough stances against powerful officials when preparing and enforcing budgets?
  • Has the candidate demonstrated the ability to cut spending? What cost cutting initiatives did he introduce? Give some examples?
  • Does the candidate have any experience with VRDO bonds and swaps? Give some examples.
  • Does the candidate understand that his job is to represent the County citizens NOT the County employees in budget, pension and benefits discussions? Give some examples of past actions that demonstrate this understanding?
  • Do you believe that the Financial Director should take sides in budget discussions?
  • What did the candidate mean on his resume where he said he: “Communicated presented and lobbied all financial matters to the City Council”. Do you really think a Finance Director should be lobbying the Commission for a particular course of action?
  • Why are we paying the candidate more than the salary he requested in the letter accompanying his resume?


Unfortunately, as you can see from this video (Click Here), the Mayor had very few answers to these questions. The video makes it painfully evident that very little serious interviewing was done in filling this key position. The citizens can only pray that this candidate will do a better job than the person who wreaked havoc with the County finances in the last decade.



Only YOU can change YOUR government
PLEASE come to the Commission meeting Thursday, April 19th at 7:00pm in Room 430 of the Courthouse