County Commissioner Frank Parker, under indictment for two Class E felonies (theft over $500 and official misconduct), filed for pre-trial diversion (June 18) and then resigned his commission seat on June 19. In his letter of resignation, Parker made no mention of the indictments, instead saying that he was resigning because he was "uncomfortable" having to abstain from votes involving Cherokee Park where he continues to serve as Park Director.
Morristown City Administrator Jim Crumley was honored as City Manager of the Year. The Tribune links usually don't stay up very long so catch it while you can. This type of award--with an "administrator" telling elected officials and the public (2006) that city finances are great followed by the revelation of the true financial disaster the next year (2007) and then getting a wonderful award for his superior "management" from his peers (2008)--is so commonplace as to be laughable.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, upheld the Second Amendment and the individual's right to bear arms. In a lengthy opinion with a vigorous dissent, the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling that overturned Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns and on self-defense in the home. Here's a shortened version of the holding in District of Columbia v. Heller. I was pleased with the ruling and the analysis of the majority but find it distressing that the vote was so close (5-4).
The Hamblen County School Board tossed out figures of $68-$81 million to address building costs for local high schools--depending on whether a new East High is built or whether the old East High is renovated. Commissioner Stancil Ford wants to meet with Director Dale Lynch, Mayor David Purkey, and Trustee Bill Brittain to see how much more debt the county can service. The School Board then added Board member Roger Greene to the group.
How much more debt can the county service? Well, right now we have close to $70 million of debt and for years we've been making interest-only payments on a large part of that debt. Maybe the first thing Stancil and other members of the group should address is "truth-in-debt."
The figures tossed out by the School Board--$68-$81 Million--do NOT reflect the true and complete cost to the taxpayers of these projects. Interest will also have to be paid on that "debt." Conservatively, the county will likely obligate itself to pay the principal back over 20 years + or -(based on past bond issues). This means that the "true" cost to the taxpayers of borrowing $68-$81 Million could be as much as a $110-$125 Million payback or more depending on the interest rate!
And even that staggering payback could be higher if the county (like the 1998 commission on which Stancil Ford served) again sets up the school bonds with interest-only payments for the first 8-9 years, thus passing the entire principal debt and still accruing interest onto our children. Again, it's a Tribune link so it may not be active very long.
Stancil and other members of the group, you can tax, license, and "fee" the poor and middle-class residents of Hamblen County into oblivion if you want---and you, with help from the City, the state, and the national government, are doing a great job of that.
People are already taxed when they earn, taxed when they spend what's left of what they've earned, taxed for stormwater, taxed when they operate a business, taxed when they own property, taxed when they sell property, taxed for licensing a car (wheel tax and state license), and taxed when they buy $4/gallon gas for their car (if they can afford the gas at all). Taxed, taxed, taxed! "Tax, fee, license, permit"--it's pretty much the same.
Speaking of county debt, the county's financial advisor Cumberland Securities told the county this month that most of the county's bonds are with companies whose financial ratings are being downgraded---meaning the county's interest rates will likely go up. Joe Ayres of Cumberland Securities recommended that the county refinance $59 Million of its $69 Million of bond issues.
County Mayor David Purkey is quoted as saying, "We are in a good position to deal with our debt." Oh, yeah, sure we are. And Mayor Purkey probably thinks that if the lenders would just let the county make interest-only payments forever, we'd be in an absolutely great position with our debt! [The Mayor's quote is in a Tribune link, so catch it while you can. Updated information on continuing interest-only payments by the county as found in the 2007 audit can be found in a previous noe4accountability blog post.]
Statewide, the federal corruption trial of former State Sen. John Ford is finally set to get underway in Nashville on June 30. Ford, a Memphis Democrat, is accused of taking $800,000 in consultant payments from TennCare contractors to promote those private companies' interests while he held elected office. [Last year Ford was convicted of bribery for taking $55,000 in the 2005 Tennessee Waltz scandal to promote legislation for a fictitious FBI company.]
After a major change in pro-tax campaign tactics, the sales tax increase referendum passed in the City of Morristown. Morristown businesses will now charge customers 9.75% sales tax on top of the product purchase price. The City has now maxed out the local sales tax rate---at least until the state legislature raises the limit in the future.
Already, individuals only get to keep a portion of what they earn after payment of social security, medicare, and income taxes. Now when they go to spend what they were allowed to keep, they have to pay an additional 9.75% sales tax. Pretty soon the government will tax you when you breathe in and again when you breathe out! Already on the horizon: a "county only" referendum in November to max out the county's sales tax rate as well. If at first you don't succeed, do an end-run and force it down their throats.
The Tennessee Open Records Act was updated to provide that records custodians have seven days to provide records or explain why there is a delay. It also provides that the Office of Open Records Ombudsman will be funded and will operate within the State Comptroller's Office.
An editorial appeared in the local paper supporting the addition of a paper trail to voting machines to preserve the integrity of the ballot. Well, it wasn't really a local editorial. Like most editorials in the Tribune, it had been copied from some other newspaper, in this case the (Sevierville) Mountain Press. Technology and touch screen voting have their benefits, but having a verifiable paper trail is vital. Hamblen County faced problems with new voting machines and discrepancies in reporting vote tallies in 2006. [Tribune links are usually deactivated quickly. Catch it while you can.]
June---quite a busy month.