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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  • Blount County Commission - Thursday July 18th, 7:00 pm, room 430, Blount County Courthouse
  • Citizens for Blount County's Future - Tuesday July 16th, 6:30pm, Blount County Library

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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
 


Current Information





June 2013 Report


The Blount County Commission passed a budget in June that takes another step down the slippery slope to a financial crisis. The Commission continued to demonstrate its lack of fiscal discipline by voting for a grant application to make a major increase to the Sheriff’s staff, and to add a new facility for the Sheriff’s Drug Task Force. On top of all that, the political machine’s Commissioners tried to silence the many citizens who were critical of its actions, by attempting to adjourn the meeting before the citizens could be heard. Finally, Commission Chairman Jerome Moon continued his recent harassment of Commission members who are critical of the political machine.

The 2013-2014 Budget
The budget adopted by your Blount County Commission did nothing to eliminate wasteful spending. Under the approved budget, the County will spend nearly $5 million more than it will take in. It avoids a tax increase, in the coming election year, by decimating the County’s rainy day funds, including a fund that exists to make sure we can make the payments on our nearly quarter billion dollars of County debt. You probably remember that our debt per person is already two to four times the two Tennessee counties closest to us in size.

Some parts of the new budget are just plain absurd. For example, the budget takes money from the debt reserve fund to pay for nearly $700,000 worth of cars the Sheriff doesn’t need. If the Sheriff insisted on purchasing these unneeded cars, he should have been forced to use some of the $1.5 million he has in his Drug Seizure Fund account. At least that would not have had a negative effect on the County’s credit rating.

Special Called Budget Meeting
The Commission finally got around to discussing the County’s budget at a special called meeting on June 3. One meeting dedicated to discussing a budget that covers 319 pages, shows that the County budget process is seriously broken.

Chairman Moon made the problem worse by announcing new rules limiting each Commissioner to two five minute periods to ask questions, propose alternatives, and comment, on the proposed budget. This represented a suspension of the Commission’s regular rules, which requires a two thirds vote by the Commission, but Chairman Moon did not even bother with this formality.

Amazingly, only eight of the twenty-one Commissioners had done enough homework on the budget to use their allotted time. For those who had done some homework, the Chairman’s new time limits made an intelligent discussion of alternatives impossible.

I did manage to point out that most of our citizens are having to mange their expenses to stay within incomes that are barely keeping up with inflation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, inflation was 3.4% over the last twenty four months. Comparing 2012 actual spending with the proposed budget showed only a few of our County General Fund and School departments are keeping their budgets within inflation (e.g. County Clerk – Roy Crawford, County Buildings – Damon Fortney, Data Processing – John Herron, School Regular Instruction, Adult Ed and Transportation). Most of the rest of our General Fund and School departments are increasing their spending by 2 to more than 40 times faster than the rate of inflation. In dollar terms the Sheriff’s department, remains the largest source of wasteful spending.

Lack of preparation by many Commissioners, plus the Chairman’s new rules inhibiting discussion, resulted in the Special Called Commission Meeting making no progress in developing an alternative to the proposed budget.

More Spending
This set the stage for the regular Commission meeting to vote on the tax rate and the budget. But, before the discussion of the budget even began, the Commission passed two spending resolutions that will cause future budget problems.

First, they declared the Building occupied by the Drug Task Force as “surplus” and directed that it be sold. This action violated all the space allocation procedures of the Commission. The head of the Drug Task Force simply wrote a letter saying that he wanted a new larger space, directing that his existing building  be declared surplus. He did not make any case for why he needed more space. He did not present his case to the Commission Space Allocation Committee. The Space Allocation Committee did not try to match his needs to the many empty building spaces the County already has available. He did not even mention what his new space might cost. This sets a terrible precedent. If a county department manager wants fancier space, all he has to do is write a letter to the Mayor declaring his existing space as surplus. Only Commissioners Burchfield, Murrell and myself voted against this waste of money.

Next, the Commission voted to apply for a Federal “grant” that will add eight more deputies to the Sheriff’s department. Again, the Sheriff did not present any data justifying the need for eight more people. As soon as the grant expires, the County will have to bear the full cost of these additional employees – more than $600,000 per year. And, this cost will continue forever, because state law prohibits the Commission from cutting employees from the Sheriff’s payroll. I pointed out that we may need books for our school kids, more than we need deputies, but my fellow Commissioners did not even want to discuss this possibility. Only Commissioner Murrell and myself voted against this measure.

Finally the Budget Discussion - Closed Minds
The Commission then finally opened discussion of the budget. I began describing an alternative approach to the budget that would limit each department’s spending to the actual 2012 spending plus 3.4% to cover the inflation that has occurred over the last 24 months. This would have reduced the budget deficit from $5 million to $2 million, without cutting any department’s budget. I prepared a hand-out to help my fellow Commissioners understand this approach. Commissioner Peggy Lambert objected to looking at any alternative. In the vote that followed, it was incredibly disappointing to see Commissioners Burkhalter, Caver, Caylor, Farmer, Gamble, Hasty, Helton, Kirby, Lail, Lambert, Melton, Moon and Wright vote against even discussing a proposed alternative! Closed minds do not serve the interests of the citizens, and lead to dumb actions. So, your Blount County Commission passed a budget without even bothering to discuss an alternative or the many questions our citizens are asking about waste, and worse.

Commissioner Farmer then moved to cut off further discussion. Only Commissioners Murrell, French and myself voted against cutting off the discussion. The budget was then passed with no changes. Only Commissioners Burchfield, Burkhalter, Melton and myself voted against this budget, which takes the County another step down the road to a financial crisis. Commissioners Farmer, Lail, Helton, Carver and Hasty had to read conflict of interest disclaimers before their votes, because they, or their close relatives, are county employees.

Budget May be Illegal
The proposed budget may be illegal. Tennessee law requires that the budget provide prior year and proposed numbers of employee positions. None of the information distributed to Commissioners contained this important information. I raised a Point of Order that the budget may be illegal for this reason. Chairman Moon ruled against the Point of Order, after Finance Director Vineyard said the required information was made available in the legal notice for the budget. After the meeting I made an immediate Open Records request for the documents. Though Open Records requests are supposed to be handled within seven days, neither Mayor Mitchell nor Vineyard have provided this information.

Adjourn Before the Citizens Can Speak
The political machine Commissioners were plainly rattled by the audience disapproval of their budget actions. Commissioner Melton made a motion to adjourn the meeting before the public had a chance to speak. Commissioners Farmer, Helton, Kirby, Lambert, Moon and Wright joined him in this effort to silence public input. Fortunately, the remainder of the Commissioners defeated the motion and the citizens were heard.

If You Can’t Argue the Facts – Use Harassment
When Jerome Moon first took over as Commission Chairman, he seemed to bring some much needed fairness and professionalism. Recently, it has been disappointing to watch Moon's Chairmanship degenerate into a pattern of harassing those who oppose the political machine. For example, he violated Commission rules by interrupting my comments on the budget, telling me I was reading some of them. I have always made notes on my comments to the Commission, as part of my homework for each meeting. There is no prohibition in the Commission Rules, or Roberts Rules, against reading from notes. Commission Rule 4D does require that a Commissioner who has the floor “shall not be interrupted”. Chairman Moon simply ignored that rule.

In last month’s report, I wrote about a clumsy attempt at a political smear, aimed at me, by the political machine. As part of that attempted smear, Commissioner Caylor read a letter into the Commission minutes that was full of factual errors, false statements and false accusations. At the June meeting, I requested that my letter of reply be included in the minutes of the meeting. Normally, as a matter of common courtesy and decency, the Commission approves these requests. Commission Rules require a vote in this situation, but Chairman Moon skipped the vote and ruled that the letter could not be added to the minutes.

I then sought to read my reply into the minutes under the agenda item reserved for "Announcements and Statements" by Commissioners. Chairman Moon ruled my statement out of order. In more than eight years of attending Commission meetings, I have never seen a Commissioner prohibited from making a statement in this portion of the meeting. This is why the Commission Rules provide this agenda item.

Chairman Moon told me last month that he is proud of this Commission. What do you think?


Only YOU can change YOUR government


Please attend the Commission meeting on July 18th at 7:00pm in Room430 of the Courthouse.