Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 30, 2007 The Public Is Invited (sort of) To a City Retreat at 8:00 AM Tomorrow

I was looking through the Tribune tonight and happened to see a rather interesting public notice in the classifieds.

The notice said that the City of Morristown is having a "retreat" at 8:00 am in the morning at Windswept.

My guess is that the retreat is at Windswept, the house, and not Windswept, the gated subdivision.

For people who are new to the area, people who don't know what or where Windswept is ...well, maybe they can ask somebody really early in the morning.

The City schedules a public retreat for 8:00 am in the morning. The county schedules public committee meetings at 11:30 am.

It looks like there's not really much interest in scheduling meetings for times when the public can actually attend and hear public discussions, recommendations, and decisions being made.

Schedule public meetings at a convenient time for the majority of people? What an old-fashioned, democratic idea!

Schedule public meetings at inconvenient times for the majority of people? What a modern, elitist idea!

Wonder if a taxpayer-provided breakfast will be served?

Monday, May 28, 2007

May 28, 2007 Memorial Day

In memory of those who gave the last full measure of devotion...
With gratitude for all who have served in the past...
In honor of those who serve today...
A medley of armed forces music and a look at the history behind our Memorial Day observances.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 16, 2007 Anonymous(e) Pops Up at Cuppa Joe

Thanks to Joe Powell for mentioning my post on the violation of the Sunshine Law by the Hamblen County Commission at the May 8th meeting of the full Commission.

Joe has always been a crusader for open government and for getting rid of backdoor deals.

Apparently, a Courthouse Anonymous(e) was lurking on Joe's blog and started whining when Joe linked to my post where I reported that there was no public notice of the May 8th meeting of the Hamblen County Commission at which the Hamblen County Ethics Committee was appointed.

How the Commissioners sat there silently on May 8th while the County Mayor, the Commission Chair, and the County Attorney somehow said with a straight face that the county actually met the "adequate public notice" requirements of the law even when there was NO PUBLIC NOTICE or announcement of the meeting is more than a wee bit hard to understand.

Here is my reply in Joe's comments section to Joe's Anonymouse.

Linda said...
Looks like there might be an Anonymous(e) in the courthouse to go along with those termites!

Where did Anonymouse deal with the issue which was: was "adequate public notice" as required by law provided for this "special called meeting" of the Hamblen County Commission?

Anonymouse appears to admit that the requirements of public NOTICE were not met when he says "I don't think there was any DELIBERATE attempt to keep the meeting from the public."

I stated much the same thing in my post when I said "It was probably hoped and expected that the press would notify the public."

BUT IT DIDN'T HAPPEN as hoped or expected.

That means that there was not adequate public notice. There was NO public notice. Zero. Nada. Zilch.

Anonymouse should do a little reading: The law says that the County must provide "adequate public notice" not "adequate press notice."

You are absolutely right in your last comment--as soon as it was realized that the law had not been followed regarding notice of the meeting, it should have been stopped and re-scheduled with proper notice to the public.

I'll have a lot more on this on my blog in a day or so.

The Sunshine Law and the Public Records Laws are among THE most important tools and safeguards that citizens have to protect from secret meetings and to enable them to try to find out what's going on with their money and their government!

Because these laws are citizen-friendly and are so useful to citizens, governments love to stick the "troublemaker" label on those who try to enforce and actually use the law to get information.

Sorry about that, Anonymouse! Until the Sunshine and Public Records (Laws) are repealed, I'll continue to use them to get info and I'll continue to remind officials that it isn't a public meeting and the Sun isn't shining if you haven't announced the meeting to the public!

If that makes me a "troublemaker," so be it.

This "troublemaker" has saved county taxpayers a ton of money by asking questions and checking out financial info much to the chagrin of Anonymouse.

I saved the taxpayers $1.1 million dollars in 2005 by checking the math in the calculation of the county's new tax rate after the 2005 re-appraisal. I checked the rate that the state had provided and that county finance officials were using in the budget process in 2005.

I found out that the rate was 11 cents too high. This would have resulted in the over collection of $1.1 million from Hamblen County taxpayers. My figures were quickly verified as correct, and the state and county then corrected and lowered the certified tax rate by 11 cents.

Remember the $18,000 that we have saved every year since 2002 by using the state auditors which I pushed for in 2002?

And there's more we could be saving right now and could have saved over the past several years if certain spending and procurement practices were changed.

I'm sick of taxes going up, up, and away!

So, Anonymouse, watch out.

The taxpayers need commissioners who will work with the public as "watchdogs" of the public pursestrings---and not be timid "lapdogs" who spend too much time worrying that they might not get invited into the inner sanctum of government.

Anonymouse, smell the coffee and quit blaming others and trying to deflect attention from the issue. You have admitted that the public wasn't notified about the meeting: "I don't think there was any deliberate attempt to keep the meeting from the public."

Deliberate or not deliberate, it really doesn't matter. THERE WAS NOT ADEQUATE PUBLIC NOTICE OF THIS MEETING!

Is it that difficult to accept and properly deal with what you yourself have admitted. It's not rocket science. If there wasn't public notice, if it was just a glitch, do what Joe said, re-schedule the meeting, provide adequate public notice, and do it over the right way!

And next time, take an ad in the Legal/Public notice section of the paper to provide notice.

That's what the county does for rezonings and lots of other special meetings. Then you don't have to worry about someone else taking care of "adequate public notice."

Monday, May 14, 2007

May 13, 2007 Hamblen County Ethics Committee Appointed But the Sun Wasn't Shining

There was a special called meeting of the Hamblen County Commission on Tuesday, May 8, but the public wasn't told or notified.

Officials and a few other individuals received e-mail notification about the meeting from the Hamblen County Mayor's Office around May 1.

[I just happened to hear about the meeting from a Hamblen County official a few days before the meeting was to take place. ]

There is a Sunshine Law in Tennessee. The Sunshine Law states that it is the public policy of the state that the business of the public must be conducted in public.

To make sure that public business is conducted in public, the Sunshine Law provides that there must be "adequate public notice" for regular meetings and for special called meetings.

Just prior to the start of the business portion of the May 8th meeting, I notified the entire commission that there had been only e-mail notification to a very limited number of individuals about this special meeting, and I expressed my concern over this apparent violation of the Sunshine Law.

Chairman Ford turned to Mayor Purkey, and the Mayor said something to the effect that they had complied with the notice requirements for public meetings.

When asked specifically whether an e-mail notification that only went to a very limited number of individuals in Hamblen County could be considered adequate notice to the 60,000 Hamblen countians who did NOT receive the e-mail or any public notice, Chairman Ford referred the question to County Attorney Rusty Cantwell.

Cantwell expressed no concern about the legality of public notice even when the only notice of the meeting was an e-mail that was sent to a very limited number of specific recipients.

While it may have been hoped or expected that the press would notify the public of this special meeting, that didn't occur. The Sunshine Law doesn't state that a hope or expectation that someone will provide notice of the meeting meets the actual notice requirement.

The Sunshine Law states that there must be "adequate public notice" for regular and special called meetings. T.C.A. 8-44-103.

How can you conduct public business in public if you don't tell the public that there is a public meeting and if you don't provide notice as to when and where the meeting will take place?

There wasn't any Sunshine at the May 8th meeting even though it was an especially important meeting--a special called meeting during which appointment of the Hamblen County Ethics Committee would take place. The only other item on the agenda was termites in the Courthouse.

Mayor David Purkey, as expected, appointed commissioners Stancil Ford and Joe Swann and Trustee Bill Brittain to the Ethics Committee. Joe Swann then jumped in and nominated Jack Cartwright and Jim Harrison for the "regular citizen" positions.

Right before the meeting, I talked with two commissioners and recommended Patricia Stephens and Steve Sublett for the Ethics Committee. Each was nominated and received three and four votes respectively. Both Ms. Stephens and Mr. Sublett attend commission meetings regularly, are thoughtful and conscientious individuals, and would have represented the citizens and taxpayers well.

Bonnie Oakberg was also nominated. She attends meetings regularly and would have served well. Bonnie had taken the initiative to submit her own list of possible Ethics Committee nominees to commissioners several weeks ago.

I know Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Harrison by name only. I don't know how many commission meetings they have attended in the past 4-5 years.

I trust that Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Harrison along with the other members of the Ethics Committee will serve honorably, recognizing that they have perhaps the most important jobs in Hamblen County. They are the gatekeepers of ethics in Hamblen County.

It is unfortunate and ironic, however, that the appointment of this new five-man Hamblen County Ethics Committee took place at a meeting of which the public meeting was not notified.

It is unfortunate, and that is putting it midly, that the County Mayor, the County Attorney, and Commission Chair Stancil Ford (who was appointed to the Ethics Committee) had zero concern about the lack of public notice for this meeting and zero concern about the apparent violation of the notice requirements of the Sunshine Law.

It is unfortunate, and that is putting it mildly, that the thirteen other commissioners, including Joe Swann (who was appointed to the Ethics Committee), had zero concern about the lack of public notice for this meeting and zero concern about the apparent violation of the notice requirements of the Sunshine Law in Tennessee.