Monday, July 31, 2006

July 30, 2006 The Mayor Remains Silent

I made a public statement at the June 22 county commission meeting concerning the County Mayor's handling of county finances. Evidently a lot of people saw the tape of the June 22 county commission meeting or read about it in the paper or on this blog (June 25- 4 posts).

People have been coming up to me, calling, e-mailing, and asking me what in the world has been going on at the Courthouse with the county's finances.

Some were surprised by the Mayor's refusal to respond to the allegations and his use instead of disparaging personal remarks at the conclusion of my statement.

I wasn't shocked. I have become used to the Mayor's "shoot the messenger" garbage, and I know why he does it. He can't deny the facts.

What everybody wants to know first is whether County Mayor David Purkey has ever publicly reponded to the actual charges.

The answer is "no." Not at the meeting and not in the six weeks since. I have seen no press statement, no public response, nothing from the Mayor denying any of the charges.

I have talked to a few commissioners. Not one of them has told me that the Mayor has denied the charges to them. Just as soon as they get through telling me that the Mayor hasn't denied anything, they always add, "But we've been audited."

I know where that sound bite comes from--the County Mayor's Office. It is supposed to provide cover for the Mayor.

Commissioners don't ask and won't talk about whether the allegations are true. They have been given their talking points and have been told to keep repeating "we've been audited."

While it's pathetic to hear "we've been audited" instead of hearing a reply as to whether the allegations are true or not, I just laugh and mention one word "Enron."

Enron's auditors said everything was fine---right up until hundreds of employees and investors lost all their retirement money and life savings in the fraud that led to the collapse of this company that had been "audited."

Commissioners who say "we've been audited" like to think (or have been told by the Mayor) that an audit means that everything is OK.

No, an audit doesn't mean that everything is OK. Enron, Tyco, Worldcom, and on and on!

Here is the truth about the county's audit.

The auditors look at what the county presents, they spot check a few items, and they format the county's general ledger into a working trial balance.

The auditors are not responsible for preventing or detecting fraud, waste, or abuse.

One auditor told me that if auditors looked at everything, they would be the county's bookkeepers and they would have to be here every day looking at every transaction and we would have to pay them full-time year round.

Auditors do not look for fraud, waste, and abuse, and the State Comptroller has confirmed this in a statement quoted in my Nov. 2 post, "After all, auditors cannot prevent fraud. It is the duty of the people in positions of trust and responsibility, who are given... power by their positions, to protect their organization and the assets provided by the taxpayers from fraud, waste, and abuse."

"We've been audited." Nice sound bite, but the auditors provide no protection against fraud, waste, and abuse.

"We've been audited." Nice sound bite, but that doesn't answer whether the June 22 charges are true or false: charges that include falsifying documents, showing favoritism to one non-profit in allowing it to use county insurance (and county rates), manipulating audit numbers, and spending and shifting money around without commission's approval.

The public and commissioners who run around repeating "we've been audited" need to accept that the county audit is very limited in scope and that auditors don't look for fraud, waste, or abuse.

Instead of giving commissioners some meaningless sound bite to repeat to avoid the actual charges, why doesn't the County Mayor step forward and personally address each charge with an admission or a denial?

Is there a problem in standing up and saying "yes, it's true" or "no, it's not"?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

July 23, 2006 Televising Commission Meetings in Full

How much government/education time should Hamblen County government be allowed to use on the Charter/Walters State government/education channel?

Televising commission meetings began in December 2002 and has greatly increased public awareness of what the commission does.

Initially, several commissioners said no one would watch commission meetings. Now those same commissioners say that people are watching, that they want to see the entire business portion of the meeting, and that some people don't want to see any public comments.

The Hamblen County Commission continues to be the only local governmental body that tapes and televises its meetings on the local government/ educational channels on Charter and Comcast.

Comcast provides full use of its government/ education channel to the residents it serves in east Hamblen County. Comcast apparently broadcasts commission meetings from start to finish regardless of how long or how short they may be.

Charter, however, does not really control its government/ education channel. Commission in 2002 found out that the county's franchise contract with Charter, for some reason, gave control of the government/ education channel to the City of Morristown.

The City never used the Charter government/ education channel to broadcast city council meetings. When the Hamblen County Commission asked in 2002 to use the Charter government/ education channel to televise commission meetings, the City handed over control of the government/ education channel to Walters State.

Walters State decided to allot only four hours/week to Hamblen County government for the airing of county commission meetings (Tuesday 9-11 pm and Saturday 9-11 pm).

A few commission meetings have run longer than 2 hours. When that happens, Walters State apparently cuts the broadcast off when the 2-hout time limit is up. That creates a problem for viewers.

Recently, Commission Chairman Joe Spoone with vocal support from Commissioners Nancy Phillips and Doyle Fullington proposed a solution that involves the editing of the tape of each meeting to try and keep it within the 2-hour limit imposed by Walters State.

Spoone proposed that public comments continue to be heard at the beginning of the actual meeting, but he asked that the tape of the meeting be edited with public comments placed at the end of the tape.

The Spoone proposal was approved at the July 20 commission meeting. I voted "no."

I have firmly stood for the right of the people---whether I liked or agreed with their comments or not--- to address the commission.

Public comments are part of the meeting, and the entire commission meeting should be televised regardless of whether public comments are at the beginning or at the end of the tape.

There is a very simple solution to this problem. There are 168 hours in a week. County government is currently "allowed" to use only four hours/week.

Let's think about this. Wouldn't a better solution be to ask for more government/education time to be given to Hamblen County government so that the entire meeting is always shown along with public comments (either at the beginning or end)?

Commissioner Phillips agreed to talk with Walters State about airing commission meetings in full---from start to finish---regardless of the time factor. If Walters State agrees, this might mean that occasionally county government would need an extra government/ education hour or two some weeks.

I hope that Walters State will agree that Hamblen County government should be allowed to use 5-6 hours per week out of the 168 government/ education hours that are available in order to air commission meetings in their entirety.

I even hope that the commission will eventually ask for 10 hours/week so that committee meetings can be televised, too. That's where the extensive discussion of issues takes place.

Let's see. With just ten hours/week, Hamblen County Government could show its commission meetings in their entirety twice a week and its committee meetings in their entirety once a week.

Ten hours out of 168 hours in a week. That's 6% of the week to Hamblen County Government. 94% of the week to other programming.

It sure seems fair to me to ask that a government/ education channel be used at least 6% of the time for the airing of county government commission and committee meetings!

Friday, July 21, 2006

July 20, 2006 New posts are coming!

After taking a week off from blogging, I'm ready to post!

Multiple posts are coming over the next several days.

Some of the topics:

The county budget that passed on July 20.

How the county can save money and be accountable in handling the purchase of uniforms for sheriff's deputies.

Audits---what they do and don't tell you.

Public documents---when you can't get an answer about where your tax dollars are going, look at the financial records.

Looking is free! Copies involve some cost. The information....priceless!

And lots more...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

July 13, 2006 Commissioners Postpone Decision on Saving Money on Sheriff's Uniforms

Well, Monday was another interesting day for the "Finance" Committee.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone really cares about listening to ways to save money and provide complete accountability at the same time.

The issue of the best and most economical way to purchase uniforms for sheriff's deputies came up. Be sure to scroll down and read my post of July 10 on this.

Currently, the county writes a payroll check to each deputy and deducts taxes and retirement from the check. The annual line item cost of uniforms is about $25,000.

When you write a payroll check, you have to deduct taxes and retirement from it---that means that a check that starts out as $400 (gross) ends up being written to the deputy for about $350 (net).

Obviously, the deputy can't go out and purchase $400 worth of uniforms if he only gets $350. So the deputy loses, say $50, right at the start.

On top of that, the county taxpayers lose money because they have to pay out matching money for each employee's retirement and tax deductions.

This is a lose-lose situation. The deputy loses and the county loses.

Monday, Finance Director Nicole Epps threw out a figure of $3,300 as the amount she estimated is lost to taxes and unavailable for uniforms.

$3,300 is a lot of money to a lot of people. It doesn't have to be wasted on taxes and retirement costs. I've been pointing out an easy way to save this money for the past several months.

The solution...

1. Take bids on uniforms from several companies.

2. Specify the quality and design features that are required (material, color, care requirements, etc.).

3. Award the bid for uniforms to the company that will provide the specified uniforms at the lowest price to the county.

4. Then handle the purchase and sizing of uniforms in the most convenient way.

For example, issue "Uniform Allowance Cards" (like a store merchandise card) to each deputy. Whenever it is convenient for the deputy, he or she goes to the uniform store, gets measured, and makes his or her purchase using the Uniform Allowance Card.

Using the example above, the Uniform Allowance Card would be for the full $400. That means that the deputy who gets a $400 uniform allowance is actually able to get $400 worth of pants, shirts, etc. instead of only getting $350 worth as is done now.


The uniform company can come to the sheriff's department, measure all deputies, and take orders from each deputy on the spot. Again, the deputy who gets a $400 uniform allowance is actually able to get $400 worth of pants, shirts, etc. instead of only getting $350 worth as is done now.

No payroll check, no tax deductions, no retirement deductions.

Uniform dollars aren't paid out for taxes and retirement by the deputies or by the county.

The uniforms are all of the same quality and are being obtained at the lowest price available.

You know that every uniform dollar is going toward the purchase of uniforms.

It Saves Money and Provides Full Accountability.

With all this information, what did the Finance Committee do?

Commissioner Osborne moved to table the issue (put it off to another time) and the committee agreed (I voted "no"). Tabling also ended any further discussion on this issue.

If it were your money, what would you do?

Issuing a uniform allowance card (or giving the uniform store the name and amount of the uniform allowance for each deputy) takes care of the tax issue for the deputies and for the county and is designed to ensure accountability in the spending of this money!

No one could explain what's wrong with saving the deputies money, saving the county money, and knowing that every uniform dollar goes toward the purchase of uniforms at the lowest possible price.

Monday, July 10, 2006

July 10, 2006 Sheriff's uniforms---how to save money

Several committees meet today---all have a short agenda.

Today, the Finance Committee will be looking at how Sheriff's uniforms are purchased.

As I understand it, the county currently writes a payroll check to each deputy, and the deputy is supposed to go out and buy his/her uniform(s).

The county has to deduct taxes from the gross amount of the check and the deputy gets what is left to buy his/her uniform.

Writing a check means that the full amount of the check (gross) doesn't get spent on uniforms.

A check that starts out as $400 (gross) may end up being $350 or less after all the deductions are made.

The money that is lost to taxes this way doesn't buy a single uniform.

And on top of what is lost by the employee to taxes, the county also loses by having to match the employee's social security and other deductions.

I have mentioned this loss of money and have proposed a solution several times in the past, but no one has listened. We are losing precious uniform dollars by not handling this in a non-taxable way.

After I brought it up again during the budget process this year, it was finally referred to Finance for further consideration.

I hope the committee will give consideration to my oft-repeated proposal today. The money that is currently paid out by the deputies and by the county in taxes doesn't buy a single uniform.

And there is a very simple way to avoid this waste with no hassle for anyone.

I'll keep you posted...

July 10, 2006 And the answer is....

Hats off to J.E. for correctly answering the Tennessee Trivia questions!

The Tennessee State flag was adopted by the General Assembly in 1905.

Leroy Reeves of the 3rd Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, designed the flag.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

July 6, 2006 Tennessee Trivia Quiz

Time for another Tennessee Trivia Question.

In what year was the official Tennessee State flag adopted by the General Assembly?

And for those who like to delve deeper, who designed the Tennessee State flag?

E-mail your answers to

July 6, 2006 Ricky Bruce: No New School Funding

This headline is tricky.

Read it again. Because it all depends on what the meaning of "new" is!

According to Ricky's document, the school budget for the 2006-2007 school year will be $3.8 million dollars higher than last year's 2005-2006 school budget.

The $3.8 million "new" revenue is made up of $2.1 million "new" state BEP funding dollars and $1.7 million "new" local growth dollars, bus note revenue, etc.

No new school funding?

It all depends on what the meaning of new is.

The schools will receive and spend $3.8 million dollars more than they did in the previous year, that sure seems like new funding from somewhere.

Hopefully, the new money, old money, or whatever it is called will be spent wisely.

The real keys to student success and achievement are a disciplined classroom, uninterrupted instructional time, parental involvement, personal responsibility on the part of students, and a focus on the time-honored basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic (or math, if you prefer).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

July 4, 2006 Intimidation 101

July 4th. Independence Day across the United States.
July 4th is marked in many ways---parades, newspaper editorials, family gatherings, fireworks, political speeches on the Courthouse lawn.

Locally, there will be speeches at the Morristown City Center and the ringing of the replica of the Liberty Bell. There will be a day full of festivities at Cherokee Park.

Patriots in 1776 and down through the years have fought and died for the freedoms that we have today.

There is no way to put into words the debt we owe to those who have gone before, who have served this country in the armed forces, and who have paid the price---oftentimes the ultimate price---to preserve our rights and freedoms.

From what I hear, many veterans and others who saw what happened at a peaceful rally against illegal immigration at the Hamblen County Courthouse on Saturday, June 24, are shocked and outraged. (Scroll down to the previous July 4th post to see more pictures of what took place that day)

The speakers and their supporters were greeted by a temporary fence that ran all around the Courthouse lawn and back to 3rd N. Street.

A THP videographer and still photographer were on the 2nd floor Courthouse balcony. Others were on the 3rd floor balcony. (See the picture above)

The speakers were unable to address the crowd as their voices were drowned out by the THP helicopter circling overhead. (See the picture above)

The speakers and participants were surrounded by 100+ THP, local police, and local sheriff's deputies---many in riot gear and carrying automatic weapons.

The issue at the rally was to be the impact of illegal immigration. Some security was expected and was welcomed.

However, the level of "security" went far beyond that at any previous gathering by any group in Hamblen County.

Many who wanted to attend the rally (and many of those who did attend) felt intimidated by the sights and sounds of THP vehicles everywhere, SWAT-team officers, a half-track personnel vehicle, a huge self-contained mobile command unit with satellite communications dish, a helicopter circling overhead, automatic weapons at the ready.

One speaker, a veteran, began his remarks about illegal immigration with comments about "Intimidation 101."

Indeed, what can you say about a peaceful assembly on a Courthouse lawn where the organizers find themselves surrounded by a fence and 100+ officers and are told that they can't bring a cooler with soft drinks inside the fenced area to share with those who have come to listen and learn?

July 4, 2006 Independence Day

July 4th. The most important day in the history of the United States.

Independence was declared on this day in 1776.

A long war followed as the upstart colonists fought for independence from Great Britain and freedom.

A Nation was formed with a Constitution and a Bill of Rights--the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

When Americans are intimidated by their government in the exercise of the right of free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, the rights of all Americans are compromised.

The pictures accompanying this post are not from some far away land or third-world country. These pictures were taken on the lawn of the Hamblen County Courthouse on June 24, 2006, as Americans sought to exercise the right of free speech and peaceable assembly.

Monday, July 03, 2006

July 3, 2006 An Open and Fair Process Passes in Commission

At the June 22 meeting of the Hamblen County Commission, commissioners voted unanimously to adopt my proposal for an open and fair process in selecting architects and engineers to work with the county on future projects.

I worked on the design and wording of this proposal for several months, so I am especially pleased at the result of the recent vote.

For more information, see my June 13 post on this topic.

In a nutshell, the Commission has now said that all qualified and interested architects and engineers may submit a Statement of Interest and Qualifications to the County whenever a county project is planned.

The County will fairly evaluate and rank all the proposals and then try to negotiate a contract with the firm deemed most qualified. Once a contract is negotiated, it will be brought to the full commission for approval

Previously, one or two people were picked over and over to provide architectural or engineering services, and no one else was invited to submit their qualifications for consideration.

There may be some initial reluctance on the part of architects and engineers in participating in the new process. This reluctance, however, will be wiped out when the county shows that the new procedures are truly going to be open and fair.

Of course, approving a new policy doesn't mean that there was anything wrong with any previous architect or engineer who was selected to work for the county.

Approving the new policy only means that whoever is selected in the future will be chosen after a full consideration and evaluation of the qualifications of all who are interested in performing such work for the county.

Surely, there's nothing wrong with being fair to everyone before making a selection.