Sunday, January 27, 2008

January 27, 2008 City Forms "Support the Tax" Committee

The cycle of spending, borrowing, and raising taxes is moving at warp speed!

Hamblen County Mayor David Purkey and Commission Chair Stancil Ford signed letters on county letterhead a few days ago that were then mailed to citizens urging taxpayers to cast their vote FOR an increase to the local sales tax.

Now the City of Morristown has registered as a "committee" to encourage voters to vote FOR an increase to the local sales tax.

The form above is the city's Single-Measure Committee filing. The name of the committee is "City of Morristown"; the purpose of the committee is to support the sales tax; the appointing authority is "Kay Senter," member of City Council and East High teacher; and the treasurer is "Dynise Robertson," a city employee.

The City has put up signs (see above) at the City Center and at the Courthouse--where early voting is underway--encouraging people to vote YES to increase the local sales tax.

The Tribune has an article today reporting on the county's Purkey-Ford tax letters and the City's Committee to support the sales tax.

It reports that nothing was legally wrong when County Mayor David Purkey and Commission Chair Stancil Ford signed a letter on county letterhead and then had someone else pay for printing and mailing it out.

At Commission's January 24 meeting, Purkey said that "the education foundation" paid for the mailout. When I specifically asked if he was referring to HC*Excell, a non-profit foundation, Purkey wouldn't respond and just repeated "the education foundation."

Now the Tribune reports that the county mailing was "actually paid for by the P-16 council but was officially done by the Committee to Support the Sales Tax Referendum for Education." Really?

The Tribune article is very careful to point out that County Administrator of Elections Wanda Neal said that the P-16/HC*ExCell group followed the law in registering as a committee prior to making any expenditures.

But what about the City tax-support committee? The Tribune fails to mention that the city violated election laws by spending money and putting up signs at the Courthouse and at the City Center (see above) well before the City filed to become a tax-support committee on January 24th. Ms. Neal knew that the City did NOT follow the law and did NOT register prior to making expenditures, so why was this fact left out of the article?

Totally amusing. (1) Frenetic forming of a "city committee" that will spend taxpayer dollars to tell voters to vote to increase the local sales tax. (2) Mass mailing of letters from County Mayor David Purkey and Commission Chair Stancil Ford, both of whom support the sales tax, encouraging a YES vote on the sales tax increase. (3) A never-ending series of Tribune articles from, of course, tax supporters.

Sort of like the last sales tax push in 2001 when one of the benefits touted by the Tribune was a "fish-and-release" pond.

The city and county on their own and with the considerable help of the school board are spiraling out-of-control with debt and more debt, overspending and overruns, and the only answer they can think of is more taxes.
This sales tax money grab is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, the city's historic 40-cent tax increase might become the city's historic 25-cent tax increase for a year--- and then watch those tax increases resume, bigger and better than ever. The county/school board tax increase is going to be astronomical next year.

No one is minding the financial store.

There are illegal biddings, wasteful spending, huge raises for the "select," huge car allowances, false documents, discrimination against bidders, friends put on county insurance, free lunches--- all on the taxpayers' dime. There are unannounced meetings to appoint, of all things, the Ethics Committee.

Do NOT hold your breath until the Tribune does a series of articles on the above documented allegations. The county is in a mess, the officials and employees involved in illegal biddings, falsified documents, money switching, and waste are all "protecting" each other, and the Tribune comes to meetings and just puts out a county press release.

How about cutting down on fancy SUV's and trucks with all the chrome? How about eliminating illegal bidding so you have true, competitive, legal bids and contracts? How about saving money by cutting out some of the supervisory layers at the city, county, and school board? How about looking for ways to save instead of coming up with a $100 million dollar city "wish list" and a $60-$100 million dollar school board "wish list"?

How about doing what the average person has to do every day, every month, every year? Live within your means!

Here's a reminder to all the borrow-and-taxers, the spend-and-taxers, and the tax-tax-and- more taxers.

There are a lot of people on fixed incomes in Hamblen County whose "wish list" is being able to put food on the table and pay for medicine.

City, county, and school board officials ignore these people and the middle class that also struggles to make ends meet. The elected are concerned with themselves, their $100 million dollar "wish lists," their never-ending dreams of exciting ways to spend new tax money on earlier and larger pensions, cars, car allowances, club memberships, and, of course, jobs, perks, and salary increases for themselves and family members.

The big push for increasing taxes by $2 million dollars is that it's "for the children." Well, if that's really why the city wanted the county to join in the sales tax increase, then the city should let the whole $2 million go toward the schools---put the City's $1 million with the Hamblen County Schools $1 million "for the children"!

January 27, 2008 Mayor Barile Begs the School Board To Get on the Tax Bandwagon

Morristown Mayor Sami Barile sent the above 2-page letter to Hamblen County School Board Chairman Janice Haun on December 28, 2007.

In her letter, Mayor Barile asks the School Board to please, please, please come out in favor of increasing the sales tax. And she wants the Board to state "publicly how it plans to spend the money" because she thinks that would give the referendum a better chance of passing. Barile is saddened that the Board has not taken a position on this issue.

According to Mayor Barile, the City "wants to support education" and is very concerned that if the School Board doesn't come out for the tax increase, then the School Board will have little or no credibility with the County Commission.

The Mayor indicates that she has been talking to county commissioners, and she quotes "several" of them saying, in effect, "If the School Board won't help itself by supporting the referendum, they'd better not dare to come to us asking for money for a capital program."

The School Board and Dr. Lynch responded to Mayor Barile's request, calling a special meeting on January 8 to give their stamp of approval to higher taxes for all Hamblen County citizens.

Although the School Board finally endorsed the tax increase, it ignored one part of Barile's request, refusing to state how it would spend the money. And how about the $5 million extra BEP dollars that the Hamblen County schools received last year? Does Barile know how that was spent?

Click on the images and you can read the entire letter.

If the City is so concerned about education, maybe the Mayor and City Council need to realize that they can appropriate or donate part or all of their portion of the sales tax to the schools any time that they want to.

And don't forget this interesting tidbit that gives insight into who really makes the decisions, "Over the past several months, a small committee made up of representatives of the City, the County, and the School System, along with the attorneys for each body, has met to discuss the matter. Representing the County were Mayor David Purkey and Commission Chair Stancil Ford. Representing the School System were Dr. Dale Lynch and Mr. Hugh Clement. City Administrator Jim Crumley and I represented the City." Did School Board Chairman Haun and other Board members not already know about this "small committee"?

If the three attorneys (Dick Jessee- city attorney, Rusty Cantwell -county attorney, and Scott Reams -school board attorney) attended even a few of those meetings, those were some mighty high-priced meetings.

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 2008 Purkey-Ford Send Out Tax-Us-More Letter

The letters are in the mail.

Hamblen County Mayor David Purkey and Commission Chair Stancil Ford want your vote FOR increasing the local sales tax in the referendum.

Purkey and Ford have sent out a "tax us more" letter using the old 2002 "pick your poison" wheel tax blackmail tactic.

"Pick your poison" was the Tribune headline during the 2002 wheel tax referendum when Commission Chair Maudie Briggs proclaimed loudly and clearly that voters could choose EITHER the wheel tax OR there would be a property tax hike.

Well, voters "chose" the wheel tax in May 2002, and Hamblen County Commissioners, no doubt laughing the whole time, took that $1 Million+ and then went ahead and increased the property tax by 15 cents anyway.

Predictably, the Citizen Tribune (a/k/a Jack Fishman) has endorsed the higher sales tax and, just as predictably, the Tribune is running a series of articles on the sales tax referendum---a series that so far has only included comments and interviews of people who support the newspaper's editorial stand.

Fair and balanced? Nope. Slanted and tilted toward taxes, taxes, and more taxes. Yes.

Ford and Purkey stated yesterday that the "education foundation" paid for the printing and mailing of the letter that they signed and that went out on county letterhead. Purkey and Ford were apparently referring to HC*Excell, a 501(c)(3) non-profit---but the letter itself doesn't provide the identity of the financier.

County Mayor David Purkey has already been quoted in the newspaper encouraging people to vote to increase the local sales tax and stating that the commission was unanimous in supporting the sales tax increase.

At yesterday's commission meeting, Commissioner Larry Baker pointed out that Purkey's statement about the commission supporting the sales tax increase was wrong. Baker said that he did NOT vote to support the sales tax increase; he only voted to put the sales tax on a referendum. Stancil Ford agreed that the only vote commissioners took was to put the referendum on the ballot.

School Board Chairman Janice Haun got her turn in the newspaper yesterday. Her message was the same old/same old-- send more money to the school board. Haun said that she ISN'T sure where the money will go, but she IS sure that she wants it and that Dr. Lynch will find a place to spend it. She never mentioned that the school system got an extra $5 Million in BEP money last year. Hopefully, Dr. Lynch was able to find a place to spend that!

Purkey, Ford, Haun...Who will be next in line to tell voters how to vote and to encourage a YES vote for a sales tax increase?

Some Predictions:

Morristown City Mayor Sami Barile and/or City Administrator Jim Crumley, both of whom are adept at overspending, raising taxes by 40% in one year, and then dreaming up the sales tax increase to get county taxpayers to help city officials lower the city tax rate.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Thom Robinson keeps a somewhat low profile but would be good for a pro-tax soundbite.

Director of Schools Dale Lynch will surely jump in and push for more money. The schools got an extra $5M in BEP funding last year. But, of course, that can't be enough. More, more, more!

HC*Excell Director Tish Jones will be pushing for higher taxes of all kinds as she constantly repeats "it's for the children, it's for the children, it's for the children."

Alex Rom-Roginski, newly-elected Chamber of Commerce president and Tish Jones' husband, would gladly speak in favor of higher taxes as he has before.

Commissioner Ricky Bruce, who has been telling Hamblen Countians for years that they are undertaxed, should be giving his enthusiastic support for this tax increase and the next and the next!

Commissioner Joe Spoone, whose wife, sister, and brother get school system paychecks, might say something, but he usually likes to remain quiet and let others vote for the tax increases that end up benefiting him and his family.

Commissioner Joe Swann, whose wife is a school teacher, thinks you just can't tax people enough "for the children" no matter where the money goes or what happens.

A smattering of P-16 officials, industry leaders, and perhaps even a current or former principal or teacher would round everything out nicely.

By the time the newspaper series ends, everyone should know exactly how to vote (remove tongue from cheek).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 20, 2008 $40M Hamblen County Debt: Interest Only Payments

The image above is Page 131 from the 2006 Hamblen County Audit. At the very bottom, it shows that the county issued $40M of debt in 1998-99-00-01. It also shows that as of June 30, 2006, NOT ONE PENNY OF THIS DEBT HAD BEEN PAID DOWN.

Most of this debt (about $35 Million) was for the 1998 School Building Program. The rest was for the Courthouse Addition and other small projects.

You can link to the entire Audit and scroll down to Page 131 to get a much better view of this page and the debt information.

The State of Tennessee is moaning about an impending "revenue shortfall." With the government, it's never "overspending." It's always a "revenue shortfall."

Morristown and Hamblen County? Same story. "Revenue shortfalls." We can manage to pay for new cars, SUV's, fancy trucks, computers, free (taxpayer-provided) lunches, and other perks for elected and appointed officials. But what does the lowly taxpayer get? Property tax increases, wheel taxes, new fees, increased fees, new permits, more costly permits.

And now just a few months after city officials zapped city taxpayers with a 40-cent property tax increase and county officials zapped county taxpayers with a 10-cent property tax increase, they are encouraging taxpayers to vote for a .25% sales tax increase to go with the 9.5% sales tax rate we already pay.

Is anyone minding the store at the city or the county?

The City of Morristown doesn't have a clue about its revenues, but the City has a really nifty $100 million dollar "wish list" according to a December Tribune headline and article.

Hamblen County muddles along adding more spending for SUV's and other vehicles, $600/mo car allowances, salary increases close to 10% for a few select employees, and on and on.

The School Board is asking for $57 Million or more for another school building program when we haven't even paid a dime on the old $35 Million building program. See the Audit above.

Who devised this brilliant "interest only" plan? The old 1998 county commission.

It's sort of a fiscal Ponzi scheme--nobody is quite sure who will get left holding the bag, but the idea is to pay interest only, postpone paying the debt itself, and hope someone else is left holding the bag.

While the School Board is talking about $57 Million or more for renovations to East and West High, County Commission Chair Stancil Ford apparently thinks the total may be $70-$100M. Nobody is quite sure what the plan really is or what the cost will be. A new East High? A new East High and renovations to West High? Renovations to East and West?

And, of course, nobody has asked why the School Board--just four years ago--built a new library that just sticks out like a sore thumb at East High for about $1.3 million and now that same Board is contemplating building a totally new East High somewhere else. Who is doing the planning at the Board offices?

[NOTE to anonymous commenters-to-be. Yes, I discovered and know a lot about the 1998 school building program. I was a teacher, pushing for school improvements in 1997, and then I saw it become a money grab, a bidding set-up, and a give-away of taxpayer dollars. When two entities---and it doesn't matter who they are---get 35 of 36 contracts where they "bid" for the work, something's going on and that something is not competitive bidding.

Besides, if the Board was so sure that it was all legal, why in the world wouldn't they let anyone see the 1999 letter that their lawyer Scott Reams wrote to them about letting the construction managers bid and get paid two, three, or even six ways on a school job? Surely that letter just explained how very legal it all was. Or did it?

The whole thing was a bidding set-up that circumvented the requirements of competitive bidding, so I met with the State Comptroller in August 2001 to explain face-to-face what was going on. The construction managers were set up with a huge bidding advantage by the Board--the construction management fee and reimbursables. Because the Board didn't provide this money/bidding cushion to other bidders, no other bidder wasted his time trying to bid against the (favored) construction manager. The managers knew they had an advantage. That's why they bid for lots of work but never tried to bid against each other. Result: The "managers" got paid to do the work under one or several contracts and got paid handsomely to manage themselves under another contract.

Stancil Ford was at the August 2001 meeting as our State Representative and Commissioner Larry Baker was there, too. The Comptroller prepared the new legislation, and the General Assembly UNANIMOUSLY passed the new law at its next session, making it clear to even the Hamblen County School Board that you don't let the fox guard the henhouse--and you sure don't pay the fox to guard the henhouse!]

Well, what are county commissioners saying now about taxes? Nothing. The only official who has mentioned the "T" word (taxes) is the county trustee who has said that it will take a 45-cent tax increase just to make INTEREST payments on a new $100 million dollar school building program. Yes, the trustee is talking about making INTEREST ONLY PAYMENTS AGAIN. Is that a great plan, or what? Is anyone ever going to pay the debt off?

The county goes 8+ years making "interest only" payments on a $35 Million dollar school building program, and now there is talk about borrowing $100 Million with "interest only" payments again. Who thinks up this stuff?

Spend, Spend, Spend! Tax, Tax, Tax!

Voters may have a short memory, but it really hasn't been that long since the infamous 2002 "pick your poison" wheel tax referendum. County officials tricked voters into voting "YES" in the wheel tax referendum by telling them via a Tribune article that it was either the wheel tax or a property tax increase. Then, just three months after the voters made their "choice" and voted for the wheel tax, the county enacted a 15-cent property tax anyway.

Today, there's a sales tax referendum on the ballot. And officials, just as they did in 2002, are telling taxpayers to vote YES in the sales tax referendum. If you vote YES, you will have the privilege of paying another 1/4 cent sales tax on top of the 9-1/2 cents in sales tax that you already pay for every $1 purchase. I think I'll vote NO.

Of course, some people will listen and respond to the city's version of "pick your poison." The city is telling its taxpayers that if the sales tax increase passes, then the City will take away 15-cents of last year's 40-cent increase. Really? For how long?

The county commission isn't offering to take away any of last year's 10-cent property tax hike. Commissioners are encouraging county taxpayers to vote YES to more sales tax (1) so the county can help boost city revenues and give city taxpayers tax relief and, of course, (2) to help the School Board get more money to shift all around "for the children."

You really can't make this stuff up!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 17, 2007 Public Records: Questions from a Reader

I received these questions from Sid, an individual who read my post on Hamblen County Purchasing Director Sharee Long's denials of my request to see the Cherokee Park Boat Ramp bid documents -- public documents that Ms. Long had publicly opened and read aloud just three days before.

After talking with Sid, I posted his comments. Since others might have questions similar to those that Sid asked, here are his questions and a short version of my responses followed by a longer explanation.

1. Why did they add the licensed contractor specification after the first round of bids?

The county will have to require that all bidders be licensed contractors when the project is re-bid. According to state law, a contractor's license is required in order to submit a bid where the work involved is over $25,000.00. Ms. Long did not include in the Advertisement for Bids the requirement that bidders submitting a bid over $25,000.00 must have a contractor's license. See the answer to Question #3 below for a further explanation.

2. Why did Ms. Long think the bids were not public records once opened?

Good question! Ms. Long would have to answer that, but I don't think any commissioner, the local newspaper, or anyone else will ever ask her that question or provide her answer. After all, what possible reason could she give to explain why she decided that no one could see BIDS THAT HAD ALREADY BEEN PUBLICLY OPENED? None.

That's why Ms. Long never even attempted to provide a basis for her statement to me that the already publicly opened bids were no longer public. Instead, she just kept repeating (twice) that they wouldn't be "public" until the committee meetings.

I spoke to Commission Chair Stancil Ford today, and I asked him to please consult with county attorney Rusty Cantwell so Ms. Long and other county employees who respond to public document requests can be better informed when handling document requests. I wonder how many people have walked in and asked for "public" documents in the Mayor's Office only to be told in error--as I was-- that they are not public.

3. Why were all bids rejected?

All bids had to be rejected for two reasons--both of which relate to the actual cost of the project. All bids were over $25,000.00.

$25,000.00 is a magic number. When a project is over $25,000.00, the design plans and specifications require an architect/engineer's involvement and stamp PLUS all bidders have to be licensed contractors.

Neither the plans nor specs for the boat ramp project had an architect's or engineer's stamp. The Boat Ramp "plans" that were used consisted of an 8x10 sketch of the proposed ramp. The "specifications" had been copied from some source and typed out by Ms. Long.

The advertisement for bids that Ms. Long prepared did not state that a contractor's license was required if a bid over $25,000.00 was submitted.

Both of these irregularities go back to the handling of the bid procurement process and poor advice about the estimate of costs.

Now the county is out the cost of the advertisement and wasted time of county employees who were involved in this procurement.

The bidders who picked up the "plans" wasted time and money in estimating and preparing bids that ended up being rejected. Of course, another unfortunate complication of the mishandling of the bid process is that the bid of each of the three bidders is now known to the other bidders.

And, of course, a lot of time has been lost---the boat ramp probably will not be re-bid until the late summer or fall when lake levels start going down again permitting ramp construction.

Thorough and proper planning are very important on capital projects.

UPDATE I: Following my original post of Sid's questions, I contacted Commissioner/Cherokee Park Director Frank Parker to get more information to fill-in-the-blanks about the bid process. Frank was very up-front about the whole situation.

It turns out that Frank was the individual who came up with the "under $25,000.00" estimate of costs. Purchasing Director Sharee Long then apparently pulled ramp specs from an internet source, copied and typed them up, and put the project out to bid without requiring that bidders have a contractor's license.

The boat ramp project? Looks like it's right back at square one and several months off.

UPDATE II: Were the bids that were opened even close to being under $25,000.00 as Commissioner Frank Parker, who also serves as Director of Cherokee Park, had estimated? No. Not close at all. The three bids rounded were $52,000.00; $59,000.00; and $80,000.00.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 14, 2008 Hamblen County Mayor's Office Denies Access To Records, Then Relents

The Purchasing Department in the Hamblen County Mayor's Office handled the recent bid process for the Cherokee Park Boat Ramp. Bids were opened on January 8.

I went to the Mayor's Office on Friday, January 11, and asked to see the Boat Ramp file. I was immediately told by Purchasing Director Sharee Long that I could not see the bids that had been opened.

Ms. Long said the bids would not be public records until they were presented to the Finance Committee today.

[NOTE: To put it mildly, Ms. Long and her boss County Mayor David Purkey don't care for me and don't like to have to answer for their handling of county finances.

Their anger goes all the way back to 2002 when I pushed for state auditors to come in and do the annual county audit. The very first audit performed by state auditors--instead of the local county auditing firm--produced more findings (27) than the audit of any other county in the state.]

On Friday, I went ahead and reviewed the portion of the file that Ms. Long thought was "open record," made a list of the copies that I wanted, and then asked again to see the actual bids.

Ms. Long again stated that they were not public and would not be public until today. After I insisted that they were public, she finally said she just didn't care and handed me the bids to review. I recommended that she talk with county attorney Rusty Cantwell about what is and is not public, and she replied that I got the documents and not to "start with her."

I have sent an e-mail to all county commissioners and copied to the County Mayor and several of his employees including Ms. Long outlining Ms. Long's unprofessional handling of my request and initial denials of access to what are clearly public documents.

NOTE: I understand that all bids will be rejected and the project will be re-bid with an architect and with the added requirement that all bidders be licensed contractors.

January 14, 2008 Feds 12- Tn Waltzers 0

Michael Hooks, Jr. of Memphis recently became the twelfth and last Tennessee Waltz defendant to be sentenced.

With Hooks' guilty plea and sentencing, federal prosecutors ended up with a clean sweep of 12 convictions.

In addition to being the last to be sentenced, Michael Hooks, Jr. has the dubious distinction of being one-half of the only father-son Tennessee Waltz duo.

His father, Michael Hooks, Sr., was sentenced over a year ago for taking bribes from the FBI's fictitious E-cycle company.

January 13, 2008 Death and Taxes

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes. Thank you, Ben Franklin.

In Tennessee, there's a little twist on Ben's quote. As of January 1, 2008, there was an increase in the tax on death as the sales tax for caskets went up.

Lots of other increases will be coming the taxpayer's way--especially with Tennessee's Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr's plan to increase tax collections by closing tax "loopholes."

Ben Cunningham is always on top of the tax games that politicians play. Check this video about the definition of a tax loophole. Is it really a loophole? Well, it all depends on which side of the loophole you are on.

For the revenue collector, a loophole is bad and reduces revenue collections. For the taxpayer, a loophole is good and is a welcome breath of freedom from otherwise oppressive government.

NOTE: In case you have forgotten, Reagan Farr is Tennessee's illustrious leader who sent revenue agents across the border with other states so he could try to catch border-jumping Tennesseans who were buying cheaper, lower-taxed cigarettes in other states instead of doing their civic duty and paying higher cigarette taxes "for the children."

After confiscating 31,000 cartons, Mr. Farr recently declared victory and decided to wind down his cigarette surveillance efforts! Now he's turning to loophole closing. Watch your wallet!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

January 6, 2008 ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: Congressman Davis Returns from the Border and Councilman Tucker Issues a Wake-up Call

ILLEGAL immigration, which has been a concern to people across the state and nation for many years, is a hot topic on the local, state, and national level.

Fortunately, opposition to ILLEGAL immigration is a high priority and focus of 1st District Congressman David Davis who just returned from a visit to our southern border. Davis opposes amnesty for ILLEGAL immigrants and echoes the sentiments of many of his constituents in stating "ILLEGAL is ILLEGAL."

Davis supports a temporary guest worker program which would require that a worker enter through proper channels, work for a period of time as a guest, and then, like all true guests, return to his or her home country.

At the local level, Morristown Councilman Mel Tucker has been pointing out what the majority of Hamblen Countians realized years ago: ILLEGAL immigration is NOT a net boon to the economy.

You can put all kinds of pretty wrappings on ILLEGAL immigration, but it is still just that--- ILLEGAL. And the net effect of massive, long-term ILLEGAL immigration is to depress the wages of less-skilled American workers while increasing the costs of healthcare, law enforcement, courts, and education.

For his efforts to educate the public about ILLEGAL immigration and to encourage local, state, and federal action and enforcement of immigration laws, Councilman Tucker is to be congratulated.

For his opposition to amnesty for ILLEGAL immigrants and his support of a border fence and a temporary, limited guest worker program, Congressman David Davis is to be congratulated!