Citizens for Better Government
Blount County Tennessee
The Blount County Sheriff, James Berrong, lacked answers to important budget questions at the recent Commission meeting.
Commissioner Pitts-Reeves mentioned that she had sent detailed questions about the Sheriff’s department budget to Mr. Berrong, two weeks prior to the meeting. She requested a full response prior to the Commission meeting. Sheriff Berrong had not provided any answers. She asked why? Berrong responded that the answers to the questions would take a lot of effort and that he was not sure that he would respond at all.
Commissioner Ballard pointed out that the Sheriff’s proposed 07/08 budget did not follow the form required by the State Comptroller. Ballard observed that this lack of organization made it nearly impossible for the Commission to do a proper analysis of the Sheriff’s budget request. Jeff French, Berrong’s budget manager, said that he was working on putting the budget in proper form, but did not offer a date when it would be available. The Commission must vote on the budget in June.
Commissioner Dr. Robert Proffitt, said that he was concerned that the Commission had been trying to find out exactly how many cars the Sheriff’s department has, since last January. He asked the Sheriff how many vehicles the department owned. The Sheriff did not answer. Instead he told Proffitt, this was not on the agenda and that Proffitt’s question was out of order.
Commissioner Monika Murrell told the Sheriff that no question from a Commissioner could be considered out of order. She went on to observe that she found it “amazing” that the Sheriff could not tell the Commission how many vehicles his department owned.
Commissioner Walker then pointed out that the Sheriff’s request to transfer $770,000 to various accounts seemed to be seriously flawed because it transferred money out of, and back into, the very same accounts, in several cases. French and Berrong seemed confused by the question, but ultimately concluded it was a “clerical error”. Walker pointed out that a clerical error in a document that porposed to spend $770,000 was a matter of some concern, and insisted on getting the proper account numbers.
The major problem with the $770,000 request was highlighted by the County Finance Director, David Bennett. Bennett said if the transfer were allowed to go through, the Sheriff would have been short more than $300,000 in other Sheriff’s department accounts. The transfer was voted down.
The Commissioners clearly seemed uneasy that the Sheriff’s $18 million budget for next year was still not in a form that it could be analyzed. The Sheriff’s lack of answers to any of their questions did make them any more comfortable.