Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 27, 2009 Jeff Gardner Appointed Election Administrator

The (well-founded) rumor that I reported on Thursday turned out to be on-the-money.

Jeff Gardner was indeed named Hamblen County Administrator of Elections at a public meeting on Friday of the Hamblen County Election Commission. The job pays $62,000/year plus all kinds of benefits.

The Trib posted an online report of the meeting here. [Usual Trib caution: The link only works for a short time. The Trib disables its links quickly so that people can only access online stories for a short period. Such a shame. The Knoxville News-Sentinel leaves its links up for weeks, months, and longer.].

The Trib reported that Gardner had resigned as head of the Hamblen County GOP at some time prior to the meeting. The Trib didn't report that Gardner had also turned in his resignation from his regular job at Allied EMS before his appointment yesterday. That seems like a newsworthy piece of information that was totally ignored by the Trib.

Gardner was obviously confident about what would happen during deliberations and discussion at the public meeting to go on and resign from his bread-and-butter job before being officially appointed. Actually, if the Trib report is correct, there were no deliberations or discussions about the appointment at the meeting. Nominate Gardner, wait a decent interval, close the nominations, and it's a done-deal.

Last week, the Trib reported that there were only 4 applicants and provided the names. Yesterday's article stated that there were 9 applicants but the names of the additional five applicants were not mentioned. There was also no mention as to whether there were any interviews of the applicants.

To help Mr. Gardner out, the Election Commission evidently approved paying Neal--at her current daily rate of about $250/day--to assist Mr. Gardner on occasion.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25, 2009 Has the New Administrator of Elections Already Been Determined Before Tomorrow's Public Meeting?

Tomorrow at 3:30 the Hamblen County Election Commission will select a new Administrator of Elections to replace Wanda Neal.

Last week, the paper said that there were four applicants for the $62,000/year post.

It is rumored that one of the four applicants already has the votes and knows that he is going to be appointed tomorrow. See my post listing the four applicants here.

I have also heard that this individual has apparently already resigned his former job in anticipation of his appointment as Administrator of Elections---all this before public deliberation and public discussion by election commissioners and before a single vote has been cast.

Imagine the suspense tomorrow as the paper waits to report the (foregone) results.

Since he has already resigned his other job, this man will be ready to take over right away and start drawing that $5,100+ per month government salary plus health insurance, retirement, etc. as he administers elections in Morristown and Hamblen County.

June 25, 2009 Crumley, Facing Majority Opposition on City Council, Is on the Way Out

A majority of city councilmembers are now apparently on board to remove City Administrator Jim Crumley.

A similar effort to remove Crumley last year was never able to get majority support.

New councilmembers Bob Garrett and Gene Brooks make no bones about their disdain for and distrust of Crumley. Since their election in May, Crumley has been scrambling to try to hold on to his position.

Through the budget process this year, longtime councilmembers Claude Jinks and Kay Senter have increasingly been open about their frustration with Crumley and Crumley's failure to be honest about city car allowances, shifting of money without informing council, initiation of projects without requesting council approval, and other issues. Click here for more.

Frank McGuffin generally says little about Crumley publicly but does express strong opinions about the city's handling of commercial garbage whenever that topic comes up.

Mayor Sami Barile and Doc Rooney have been and appear still to be solidly in Crumley's corner, depending on Crumley for financial information and advice. Click here for Barile's defense of Crumley and request that council keep its nose out of city business.

Mayor Barile was elected in a 3-way race in 2007. She was sworn in in May 2007 and promptly got a lesson in Crumley-economics as Crumley belatedly revealed to the new Mayor and Council that the city was in dreadful condition.

In 2007, Crumley told the new mayor and council that a 40-cent property tax increase (a 41% increase from $0.97 to $1.37) was needed just to keep the city going. This "revelation" came JUST ONE YEAR after Crumley's 2006 pronouncement that the city was in wonderful shape and that he anticipated no tax increase in the foreseeable future! Click here for my post and read Crumley's comments in the local "news"paper.

What the Mayor and Council should be doing is finding out exactly what happened between May 2006 and May 2007. If Crumley was telling the truth about the city's wonderful financial condition in 2006, then where did all the money go? Without a major recession or dramatic downturn at the time, how can you go from economic bliss to economic disaster in 12 months?

The Council "almost" did the right thing last year. I believe Crumley will resign or retire and leave this year--most likely by agreement and without forcing a vote on it. [If the city has to fund a Crumley buy-out or severance package, the money can come from the one-time excess sales tax revenues that are set aside for one-time spending. A Crumley buy-out, if necessary, would be a wise investment.]

The question then becomes what will the Council do to become more involved and informed about city business after a new administrator is hired? How will the city council prevent being kept in the dark when a new administrator comes on board?

No matter who is hired, the city council needs to limit the new administrator's freedom to spend and shift money wherever he wants to. CHECKS AND BALANCES. The city council needs to set new guidelines and require regular and detailed financial reporting from the new administrator and city finance director. ACCOUNTABILITY. The city council needs to ask questions about the city's debt. COMMON SENSE. The city council needs to hold all meetings at hours when the majority of the public can attend if they want to. OPENNESS. The city council needs to tape its meetings and show them on the government access channel. TRANSPARENCY.

In order to find out what is really in the current budget, the city council needs to look at each line item of the city budget and then ask for a specific print-out of the checks written and charged to that line item. The coming year should be spent in learning what Crumley is/was really doing with city taxpayer dollars. Then procedures should be established to make sure that the council is never again left in the dark about the city's financial situation, contracts, debt, sewer, etc.

The Mayor and Council can not and should not blame Crumley alone for the current mess. Crumley could NOT have remained in his position and could NOT have exercised the power that he has without the permission (stated or tacit) of the Mayor and City Council.

The real problem is as much with the council and its policies as it is with Jim Crumley. And the same situation will repeat itself with a new administrator until and unless clear financial guidelines are set up and until and unless the Mayor and Council start insisting on financial reporting and actually examine those reports.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24, 2009 City Council Changes 3-year Sewer Increase To 8%, 8%, and another 8%

At yesterday's 11:00 am city council meeting, it was apparently decided to change the original proposal for an approximate 14%, 6%, and 2% rate increase over the next three years to an 8%, 8%, and then another 8% increase. See the original proposal by clicking here.

The city council met at 12:30 pm today for finalization of various budget ordinances and other business.

Just as an aside: Scheduling "public" meetings at 11:00 am, 12:30 pm, or other traditional work hours shows contempt for the public and is apparently designed to restrict public attendance and public comments. That is an issue to which the new council should give serious consideration. The question is, for whose convenience are meetings scheduled?

June 24, 2009 Wanda Neal, Administrator of Elections, Retires Effective June 30

At the county commission meeting on June 18 and in the June 19th edition of the local "news"paper, Wanda Neal's retirement from the position of Administrator of Elections in Hamblen County was finally announced.

I mentioned her retirement in several previous posts, here, here, and here.

The paper added the "news" that there are already four applicants for the $62,000/year position, that the position will be filled in a meeting of the Hamblen County Election Commission on June 26, and that others can still apply. The four current applicants are apparently Manny Bedwell, Nina Fullington, Jeff Gardner, and Stewart Leonard.

The paper did not state when the application process was first opened or if the position had ever previously been advertised to the public. The paper did not state how long these four applications had been turned in.

The article did state that others can still apply, but there was no deadline given for additional applications.

Friday, June 19, 2009

June 4, 2009 The "news"paper, the City, and Sewer Rates

I have held off on this blog post for nearly six months. Now that belated testing of the city sewer and multimillion dollars repairs are again before the Mayor and City Council, it is time to review the city's arbitrary policy of charging double sewer rates to outside customers.

When sewer rates were discussed by City Council on Tuesday, June 16, 2009, Bob Moore of the Citizen Tribune was present.  The next day, Moore wrote a front-page article on council's delay in making a sewer rate decision.  [Bob missed several budget meetings during the weeks leading up to the June 16 meeting. He did not attend the previous meeting on June 9 when sewer rates were discussed.]

Bob's June 17th report had some truth in it and several half-truths.

Bob's truths: 1) There was significant discontent from many individuals regarding sewer rate increases. 2) Outside customers pay twice as much for sewer service as inside customers.

Crumley's half-truth as reported by Bob: State law provides that municipalities can charge up to double the rate to sewer customers who live outside the city limits in situations where no rate study has been conducted.

TRUTH: State law provides that a municipality must submit its cost study to the state when it charges more than twice as much to outside customers.  The new law is solely about providing the city's cost study to the state when the proposed rate is more than double the inside rate.  The new law does not say that no rate study has to be performed if the city is charging is double or less. Whether a city provides its cost study to the state or not, a municipality can not just pull an outside rate "out of the air" even when that rate is double or less

Crumley's comment, quoted without any fact-checking by Moore, was a half-truth that implied that state law says the city does not have to have a cost study or cost justification if it wants to charge double rates to outside customers. Crumley's comment conveniently ignored case law and CTAS/MTAS opinions that say a cost study is a "practical necessity" in order to provide a cost justification for charging more to different classes of customers (e.g. inside v. outside customers).

CTAS/MTAS opinions on the "practical necessity" of a cost study apply in all situations.  MTAS is Municipal Technical Advisory Services, which is connected to U-T and provides advice, support, and legal research to cities across the state. CTAS is County Technical Advisory Services, which is connected to U-T and provides advice, support, and legal research to counties across the state.

Bob's truth: Moore notes that Lamar Dunn performed a rate/cost study for the City. Yes, he did and his rate study was an average of all customers--both inside and outside. What Moore left out: Dunn did not do a separate study for setting inside costs/rates and one for setting outside costs/rates. State law says you have to relate your water or sewer rates to your costs.   That means that if you are going to charge higher rates to one set of customers (outside customers), then you have to be able to justify those higher rates through a cost study. That's where the City conveniently drops the ball and just arbitrarily charges outside customers twice as much (by "policy") instead of doing a cost study to see if the cost of providing sewer service to outside customers is really twice the cost of providing sewer service to inside customers.

While one might expect that costs of outside sewer service would be higher than inside, that is not necessarily the case. The costs of outside sewer service are not "automatically" twice that of inside sewer service.  Why? According to documents I received from the city, there are approximately 140+ or - outside sewer customers. 1) There was no cost to the city for extending sewer lines to 50 or so of these "outside" customers because the sewer extension to these customers was paid for by the county with county money and CDBG grant money ("Russellville Sewer Project"). 2) Other outside customers were allowed to tap onto existing city lines with no additional cost to the city for new lines. 3) There are numerous "inside" sewer customers who are much farther from the treatment plant than many "outside" customers, so distance from the treatment plant is not a factor for all outside customers.

It's time for an honest, independent cost study--not one that is designed to come up with a pre-determined result to justify the existing double rates.  An independent cost study would determine if there are any additional costs to the city in providing sewer service to outside customers as a group (additional costs would be unusual or extraordinary costs beyond those standard costs that all customers must bear); if there are additional costs, the amount of those costs; and, finally, determine the proper and fair rate for outside customers.

Bob's half-truth: "Linda Noe...renewed her call for city government to charge a uniform rate to sewer customers living inside and outside the city limits."  Moore conveniently left off the last part of my request. The TRUTH: I asked the city to charge the same rate for inside and outside customers until and unless they conduct a cost study showing what, if any, additional costs are incurred to provide sewer service to outside customers.  When there is an independent cost study, then one can examine it and see if higher sewer rates for outside customers are justified and, if so, what the outside rates should be.

According to CTAS attorneys (see above) a cost study such as the one that I asked the city to perform is a "practical necessity to properly and fairly determine and support the rate structure."  All I have ever asked is that the city "properly and fairly" determine the outside sewer rate without resorting to an arbitrary policy of automatically charging outside customers twice what is charged to the inside customer. That is not only  reasonable and logical, but, according to MTAS/CTAS, Councilman Garrett, and my own research, it is the proper way to set a fair and equitable rate for outside customers. The CTAS attorney's letter was given to Bob Moore and I cited it in my comments to council, but Moore apparently forgot to mention this part of the CTAS opinion in his article.

The City by its own admission and by its consultant's admission has no cost study "to properly and fairly determine and support the outside rate structure." [Moore wasn't at the meeting with the consultant but IF he wants the information, I have it. I also have the city's admission that it has no cost study relative to any additional costs for providing outside sewer service IF Bob wants that.

Bob's truth: Noe characterized the city's two-tier rate structure as "arbitrary." Why? Because it is. Because there is NO cost-basis or justification for charging twice as much to outside customers. That's about as arbitrary as you can get. You live get charged twice as much. If you ask "why?" the response from the City is "no particular reason but we have this special 'policy' that says we are going to charge you twice as much." That's arbitrary!

Bob's slightly irrelevant half-truth: Noe provided information to council indicating that the burden is on the property owner challenging the (sewer) rate. MTAS says that this burden is a "difficult" burden because courts start with the presumption that the rate is valid. It is true that a sewer customer who challenges the fairness and setting of sewer rates in court bears the burden of proof in the matter, and I presented the various court cases to the Council---along with all the information that says you have to have some kind of cost justification for setting a double rate (or any rate). Bob again ignored the fact that the court cases and CTAS/MTAS opinions say you have to have a cost justification for setting a double rate (or any rate).  Bob jumped the gun in talking about the burden of proof in court. This should never end up in court. There should be a cost-study. The City should be fair to ALL its ratepayers. The Mayor and City Council should not say to outside customers "sue me" over the city's arbitrary sewer rates.  But, sadly, that is the typical political reaction when facts are put before the council.

Bob missed the meeting with the sewer consultant, but he knows that the City commissioned and paid for a sewer rate study. If Bob had been at the meeting with the consultant, he would have known that the consultant was specifically asked if he separated costs into inside and outside costs to set inside and outside rates. The consultant said that there was no separation of costs. He just lumped all residential customers together and came up with an average.

Why no separation of costs so rates could be fairly and properly set? My guess is that the City either does not have or chose NOT to provide the consultant with inside and outside costs so he could determine inside and outside rates. Bob also forgot to add that the sewer lines for a large number of outside customers were donated to the city by the county as a result of the Russellville sewer grant. Other outside customers tapped onto an existing line with little or no additional cost to the city.

It's easy to "report" what you are spoon-fed. It's much harder to think about the situation and ask the "why?" and follow-up questions. But that is what a reporter is supposed to do.

Sewer rates--both inside and outside--affect a huge number of people. I would love to see Bob do a probing "series" of articles on sewer rates. Compare the detail of the last (1998?) cost study to the current cost study. Detail the $40M of improvements that Bryan Fowler says is planned. Look in-depth into the legality of rate-setting. Don't just take everything you are spoon-fed as gospel.

The series doesn't need to serve as a press release for quoting half-truths from elected and appointed officials and the editing of comments by others. Bob is savvy when he wants to be. He could (if allowed to) search for and report the truth himself or at least discuss the situation more fully with those who have expressed concerns about the legality of the situation. It wouldn't kill Bob to talk to me. I'll tell him what I know and he is more than welcome to verify it. He can talk to Crumley and then he needs to verify that as well.

I have been concerned about the City's arbitrary sewer rates since I first became aware of them during the time I served on county commission. During the Russellville low-income sewer grant process, several individuals came to county commission and informed us that outside sewer customers were charged twice as much as inside sewer customers. That meant that the Russellville sewer grant recipients would get a "free" sewer hook-up but they would then be stuck with "arbitrary" DOUBLE monthly sewer rates from the City of Morristown. Sort of like being given a free Hummer and then being told that you have to provide the gas every month. But at least with the Hummer, you could sell it.

And there are other outside customers--though not all that many--scattered throughout the county. The extra that these outside customers pay in DOUBLE charges to the city is a drop in the bucket in relation to the millions spent through the sewer fund. But sewer increases and DOUBLE charges have a huge impact on each individual or family budget.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 18, 2009 And the New Hamblen County Administrator of Elections Is....

Rumor is that the meeting of the local 5-person election commission will be held soon to appoint a local Administrator of Elections. Wanda Neal is the current Administrator. Click here for the names of the Election Commissioners and other background information.

Joe Swann serves as chairman of the Commission. Click here for the post on Joe's April resignation from the Hamblen County Commission in order to achieve his "lifelong dream" of serving on the Hamblen County Election Commission.

With the recent switch in all 95 counties to a Republican-majority local Election Commission, many counties already have a new Administrator of Elections or are in the process of appointing a new local Administrator.

In Knox County, the new Republican-majority election commission opened up the process and allowed interested individuals to apply for Knox County Administrator of Elections. Forty-five people submitted applications. The list will be narrowed down by the election commissioners and then actual interviews of the finalists will take place in about two weeks prior to taking a vote and making an appointment. Click here for the Knoxville News-Sentinel article.

I must have missed the article in the local "news"paper where interested individuals were asked to submit applications for the local $62,000/year position of Hamblen County Administrator of Elections.

Or maybe, after the next meeting of the Hamblen County Election Commission, there will be an announcement that the position is open and then applications will be requested and interviews conducted.

Or maybe the discussions have already taken place, someone has been selected, and there is no need to waste time taking applications and interviewing people.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17, 2009 City Council: 2010 Budget, Sewer Rate Increases, Amendment to 2008 Budget, 2008 Audit

If City Council planned a routine meeting yesterday, it turned out to be anything but routine.

No one spoke during the public hearing on the 09-10 city budget. The budget was adopted on first reading 7-0.

A budget amendment to amend the Fiscal Year 2008 budget passed with four "aye" votes (Mayor Barile, Frank McGuffin, Doc Rooney, and Kay Senter) and three abstentions (Gene Brooks, Bob Garrett, and Claude Jinks). And no, "2008" is not a typo. The council in June 2009 was actually still "amending" its budget for the year that had ENDED on June 30, 2008. Nobody discussed the amendment. With all the computers and staff around, no one flashed the amendment on the screen so that you could see what it was.

A vote on an Ordinance to increase sewer rates was postponed. During the public comments portion of the meeting, I spoke on this issue and asked that the City discontinue its current policy of charging "outside" customers TWICE as much as is charged to "inside" customers until and unless the City conducts a cost study to show that there is a reason to charge outside customers TWICE as much. Currently, the city has no cost study showing that there is any extra cost whatsoever for serving its outside customers more than its inside customers.

I provided the Mayor, Council, City Administrator, and City Attorney Dick Jessee with a letter, legal opinions from CTAS (County Technical Advisory Services) and MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Services), and court cases on this subject. In a nutshell, MTAS and CTAS attorneys say that rates for sewer customers must be fair and equitable. You can charge different rates but only where the costs or expenses of providing water and/or sewer justify differential rates.

The City has NO cost analysis showing that there are costs or expenses to justify higher sewer rates for outside customers. In fact, sewer lines for many of the city's outside customers were paid for by the county through a grant for the Russellville area. By agreement, the lines were then given to the city. There are other outside customers who simply hooked onto existing city lines.

The CTAS attorney noted that the law requiring that rates and revenues must be related to costs makes a cost analysis to justify differential rates "a practical necessity." However, the City has no cost analysis to justify different rates for inside vs. outside customers. What the City does have is a "policy" that says it will automatically (without a cost basis) charge outside customers TWICE as much.

In concluding my remarks, I asked the city to end the policy of arbitrarily setting the rates for outside customers at twice the rate of inside customers until a cost study is completed showing what, if any, additional costs are incurred in providing sewer service to outside customers as a group.

After several other individuals spoke on others topics, Patricia Stephens, an outside sewer customer who has being paying DOUBLE sewer rates for 10 years now, asked the council to consider the impact of sewer rate increases with the current policy of DOUBLE rates for outside customers.

No one is saying that the City can not charge higher sewer rates to different groups where there are different and additional costs involved in providing service. But all the case law says that those rates must be "fair and equitable." How can an automatic DOUBLE rate be "fair and equitable" when the City can not show through a cost study why it is charging TWICE as much to the outside customer?

It is my hope that everyone on the current council will review the situation and recognize that you don't just pull a number out of the air when it is time to set outside sewer rates. The Mayor and Council requested a cost study to set inside rates. If outside rates are to be different, then a cost study needs to be performed to set a fair and equitable outside rate. Why? Because the city is required to be fair to all customers. Because the city is required to show a relation between rates and costs. The requirements of the law supersede any local policy.

[I first presented this info to former City Mayor Gary Johnson in 2005. Nothing was done. I also discussed this in front of the entire council years ago after completion of the Russellville sewer grant by the county. Nothing was done. I discussed the double rates again in front of the entire council in early 2009 and gave the CTAS/MTAS packet to Mayor Barile. Nothing was done. Months later, Mayor Barile said the packet was still "on her desk." I gave the packet to the city attorney. Nothing was done.]

Now is the time to do something. A policy to automatically charge one class of customers DOUBLE rates--without a cost basis--is, in my opinion, unfair and arbitrary rate-setting. The law clearly states that rates must be related to the costs of providing service. The City has not shown that the costs of providing service to outside customers is double that of providing service to inside customers. The City does not need to draw a line in the sand and say "sue me" over the double rate policy, resulting in additional costs to taxpayers and/or ratepayers for legal fees. It would be refreshing to see the City voluntarily do what's fair and legal in setting newer rates simply because it is the right step to take.


Eddie Fuller was awarded an architectural services contract for renovations of the new public works facility at the former Roy Widener Truck Lines location on Liberty Hill Road. The architectural fee is 8%.

The council approved executing and paying half of a $55,000 contract with Buxton for a retail sales study to see what companies would be a good fit for Morristown. Only four properties will be evaluated with the four landowners paying the other 1/2 of the $55,000 cost. As the discussion began, City Administrator Jim Crumley said five landowners wanted to share in the study and have their land evaluated, but when Paul Lebel (who worked out the contract) spoke, he said four landowners had signed on.

[Later in the meeting, Dwight Frazier spoke and said that he had been contacted by phone by Lebel and asked to participate but that he had been told a different and higher cost figure. Frazier also said that he wasn't given enough information in the brief phone call with which to make a decision. Frazier said this should have been advertised so that other commercial landowners could have had the opportunity to participate. Council seemed somewhat surprised by Frazier's remarks about the process. Some councilmembers asked whether others could still be added as contract participants. Crumley said he thought there was a portion of the contract that would allow for additional participants. I haven't seen the contract and I don't know if Council was given a copy before the meeting. Unless the evaluation process is very easy, it would seem surprising to find that Buxton could come in and evaluate 20 properties for the same cost that they could evaluate 4-5. The real problem presented to council is the failure of the process to open up the opportunity to all landowners who might have wanted to participate in the city's cost-sharing contract.]

The current city auditor Tom Jones (Craine, Thompson, and Jones) was present but apparently no one on council had yet received a copy of his recently completed FY 2008 audit. Discussion and/or review of the audit was postponed. And, yes, the audit that Jones is belatedly presenting to the Mayor and Council is for the year that ended JUNE 30, 2008! See my previous posts on the city audit situation here (toward the end of the post) and here.

Finally, City Attorney Dick Jessee presented his opinion on Jim Crumley's proposed moratorium on commercial garbage service to new businesses. Jessee stated that you can have different classes of customers as long as there is a rational basis for the classifications. He added that you must treat the members of each class fairly. Bottom line: you can't keep giving commercial garbage service to existing businesses and refuse to give commercial garbage service to similarly-situated new businesses. Scroll toward the end of my previous post on the meeting where this legal issue was first raised.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15, 2009 Knox County Takes Applications (45) for Election Administrator Position

As a follow-up to Friday's post about the likely change in the local Administrator of Elections post, I see that Knox County recently took formal applications for the Knox County Election Administrator position. Forty-five individuals applied.

Click here for the News-Sentinel article and there's even a link (top left of story) to the complete list of applicants for the Knox County Administator of Elections post. Knox County's current Administrator of Elections Greg Mackay has applied for re-appointment to the position.

In Hamblen County, the rumor is that Wanda Neal, current Administrator of Elections, will resign rather than seek re-appointment from the new Republican-majority local election commission.

Click here for my previous post on the $62,000/year Hamblen County Administrator of Elections post.

Lots of rumors have been going around since January about individuals with various political connections who want the local Administrator of Elections job, but I haven't seen any advertisement or request for applications for the local position.

When the position does open up, will applications be taken? Would a current employee of the Election Commission with experience in day-to-day operations of the office be given a fair shake if he or she applied? Or will this just be a plum position that is handed out as a reward to a "deserving" politico?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

June 12, 2009 New Hamblen County Election Administrator?

There is a rather persistent rumor that Wanda Neal, current Hamblen County Administrator of Elections, will resign soon and open the way for the new Republican majority on the Hamblen County Election Commission to appoint a new administrator to the post.

The local position of Administrator of Elections is a plum appointed position with pay of around $62,000 plus health insurance, benefits, retirement, etc.

After her initial appointment and throughout the years that the Democrats continued to have a majority in the state legislature and thus a majority on the local election commission, Wanda was reappointed by the Democrat majority Hamblen County Election Commission.

With the new Republican majority in the state legislature and thus on the local election commission, it appears that Wanda's re-appointment will not take place and so she is going to resign/retire.

If she retires, there will not be a court fight as is occurring in a few counties where longtime Democrat-appointed administrators don't want to give up their position despite the change in election commissions across the state.

At various times, I heard that one of the current Republican election commissioners (Judy Blackburn) wanted Wanda's job and that at least two other individuals wanted the post.

With the recent appointment of Hamblen Election Commissioner Judy Blackburn to the state election commission, it's up in the air as to whether she still wants the Administrator's post or whether either of the two other Republican election commissioners (Lyle Doty and Joe Swann) might decide to seek the Administrator's job.

Of course, things can change rapidly. Nobody knows for sure at this point. It's possible that Wanda might keep the job or that a well-connected "outsider" might emerge as a dark-horse appointment.

Members of the Election Commission are Gayle Bruce (D), Dwaine Evans (D), Judy Blackburn (R), Lyle Doty (R), and Joe Swann (R).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 11, 2009 City Attorney Dick Jessee Will Give Opinion on Crumley's Commercial Garbage Moratorium

Tuesday's City Council meeting included a third major item that was not mentioned in Wednesday's "news"paper.

[The "news"paper ignored two other items of importance that were discussed at Tuesday's meeting. One of those items was City Administrator Jim Crumley's admission that he gave car allowances to four employees by "mistake" for three years or so, costing the city around $19,000 during each of those years. Click here for my post on the car allowances. The other item that the paper has ignored is the statement made by Councilman Bob Garrett during sewer rate discussions that charging some sewer customers twice as much as others without a cost study is "illegal." Click here for my post on sewer rates.]

The third news item that the "news"paper did not mention is that another Crumley action or policy is apparently going to be shot down at next week's council meeting.

In a previous post, I mentioned that Crumley announced in May a new city "policy" that no garbage cans or city garbage pickup would be provided to commercial businesses that request a can or cans in the future. Crumley added that all commercial entities that already have a can or cans could keep theirs and continue to have city garbage pickup.

In that same post, I stated and explained how such a policy could in fact be seen as discriminatory, resulting in unfair treatment of a new business (no garbage cans and no city garbage pickup) as opposed to very different and more favorable treatment of an old business (garbage cans and city garbage pickup).

Even if you could somehow ignore or get around the legality issue, it is simply not good policy to even consider treating similar businesses differently in regard to provision of city services.

Tuesday, Councilman Frank McGuffin indicated that city attorney Dick Jessee would soon be giving an opinion on Crumley's "policy" of refusing to provide city garbage service to new businesses while continuing city garbage service to old businesses.

Crumley has apparently talked to Jessee as well and is aware of the coming opinion. On Tuesday, Crumley stopped talking about his commercial garbage moratorium, explaining that Dick Jessee just "might" say that such a policy is discriminatory and can not be defended.

Yep. Overall, the City has to serve all similarly situated businesses equally and fairly. The City can cease all garbage services to all businesses or provide a certain uniform level of garbage service to all businesses, but Crumley's previously announced policy of giving garbage services to one business and denying those same services to a similar business is discriminatory and unfair and would be very difficult to defend if challenged.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

June 10, 2009 City Car Allowances and Crumley's "Mistake"

At the end of yesterday's city council meeting on sewer rates, Councilmember Claude Jinks brought up car allowances and the 33% cut in car allowances that City Administrator Jim Crumley had earlier proposed in the current budget.

It appears that Crumley's 33% cut only applied to employees who are still getting a car allowance, but that Crumley completely wiped out the car allowances of four parks and rec employees although this fact was never mentioned during the budget discussions.

From what I could gather, Crumley added $400/month car allowances for four parks and rec employees (Derwin Helton, Jerri Crockett, Paul Barger, and Jennifer Gentry) around 2006.

Yesterday, Crumley stated that giving these employees a car allowance was a "mistake." He added that he had run across his mistake during preparation of this year's budget and had corrected the "mistake" by taking away 100% of the car allowances that these employees had been getting.

A lengthy discussion about honesty followed with Crumley saying that these car allowances were included in his (Crumley's) contract negotiations with (deceased) former Mayor Gary Johnson and that at least some of the current councilmembers knew about all this. At that point, he said it had been a mistake on his part in giving these employees a car allowance years ago.

With the information that these four employees had been getting a car allowance, Kay Senter suggested that while these car allowances may have been given by "mistake" by Crumley, nevertheless, they should not be suddenly and completely eliminated. Senter's position, which was backed up by Bob Garrett and Claude Jinks, was that this was a matter of fairness and that the car allowances of these four employees should be reduced by 33%--as was done with all other car allowances--instead of being eliminated.

NOTE: It seems like a lot of agreements--such as increases in car allowances--were made in "negotiations" between Crumley and former Mayor Gary Johnson years ago. Now, no one is quite sure who knew about these negotiations, what exactly was agreed to, and who was told about these agreements.

All this brings up the need for more accountability in city government. If there are contract negotiations, the council needs to know what is going on and the council needs to approve the final contract instead of giving someone else such authority.

No one should have free rein to spend city tax dollars without first going before the Mayor and Council. The Mayor and City Council---not the City Administrator---set the tax rate and approve the city budget. The Mayor AND City Council need to know what's been put in the budget and they need to approve all contracts that involve the spending and budgeting of city money!

Again, it comes back to the basics of checks and balances and accountability. Elected officials have to pay attention and ask questions in order to provide for checks and balances and accountability. You can't just sit there and be a rubberstamp for someone else.

June 10, 2009 Morristown Sewer Rate Increases

The City of Morristown continues the pattern of large increases in sewer fees.

Yesterday, the Mayor and City Council heard a presentation by Lamar Dunn and Associates regarding sewer costs and rate increases for the next three years for sewer customers.

Dunn is recommending that the city increase its sewer rates by just slightly more than 14% in the upcoming fiscal year (7/1/09-6/30/10) and then increase rates by 6.2% the next year (7/1/10-6/30/11) and 2.0% in the 3rd year (7/1/11-6/30/12).

NOTE: Sewer customers who live outside the city limits are "automatically" charged twice as much as customers who live inside the city limits so the dollar amount of these rate increases is automatically twice as much for outside customers. At yesterday's meeting, recently elected Councilman Bob Garrett stated that automatically charging outside customers double the inside rate---without a specific cost basis---is illegal. I will have more on this in a future post as I stated the same thing to the former Mayor and Council in 2005 (no action) and again to Mayor Barile and the previous council in early 2009 (no action). According to Bryan Fowler, the City has a "policy" of automatically charging outside customers twice as much. Well, as I have said before, you just might have an illegal "policy."

Dunn indicated that it would be difficult to accurately project what the rates should be beyond that. He suggested that the City start looking again at its rates in year two (7/1/10-6/30/11) of the increase--with the hope that the economy is on the rebound at that point.

Jim Crumley added that sewer rates had increased 57% in the previous 10 years and that he expects a similar increase in the next 10 years. [With a hefty 22% increase in the next three years alone, it is certainly possible that the next 10-year increase could easily exceed Crumley's 57% prediction.]

Bryan Fowler, who is over the city sewer, stated that he has a $40 Million capital improvements plan for the next 10 years.

Purchase and operation of the Lowland treatment plant is included in the projected sewer rate increases.

Monday, June 08, 2009

June 8, 2009 Radio Announces That The School Board Will Meet at 7:30 AM This Morning

I just happened to be listening to the local radio this morning when a local public meeting was announced.

It appears that the Hamblen County School Board has scheduled a meeting at 7:30 AM this morning at the Central Office to vote on budget revisions to present to county commission.

I'm sure that this announcement/meeting time works wonderfully well for the citizens and taxpayers of Hamblen County.

Friday, June 05, 2009

June 5, 2009 Instead of Making Other Cuts, School Board Makes Raises the Issue

The Hamblen County School Board did little cutting to its original budget at a meeting on Wednesday, June 3.

Based on the report in Thursday's Tribune, it appears that all the School Board and Director Lynch did at the meeting was political posturing while ranting and raving at the county commission for the impact of the current economic situation.

[If you click on the Tribune link above, you might or might not see the article. Unlike the Knox News-Sentinel and many other papers with an on-line presence, the Tribune doesn't leave its online "news" available for very long.]

Instead of making real cuts, the school board apparently pulled money from its fund balance to pay for busses that were included in the original budget and then said we'll send it all back to county commission and let them tell our employees that the commission won't fund the approximate $400,000 or so that we are still out of balance.

The School Board is trying to say that it's the commission that is trying to "make" the school board cut raises out of the school budget.

Some commissioners may have suggested that particular cut, but the school board was never required to make that cut. The School Board can make cuts wherever it wants or--as it did on Wednesday--it can simply pull from fund balance to pay for its full budgetary desires and present that revised budget to commission.

The School Board is so out-of-touch with reality that it is pathetic.

Reality: In another front page article on Thursday, the headline was "Vacumet announces closing" with 103 people losing jobs.

Reality: In the classifieds on Thursday. there were about 12 (twelve!) foreclosure notices.

Maybe Dr, Lynch and the School Board don't see or feel the problems of others. Many people in Hamblen and across the state are hurting, losing jobs, losing homes, losing insurance, and losing all benefits, or just managing to keep jobs but getting no raises and often losing or having to pay a larger portion of their insurance coverage.

School Board member Jim Grigsby talked about letting commission "tell our employees they can't have a raise."

School Board member Clyde Kinder said, "I don't think we need to balance the budget on the backs of our custodians and bus drivers."

If the School Board wants to give a raise, it can pull from fund balance (which is NOT a good idea) or it can make cuts ELSEWHERE and leave the raises in.

It is pathetic and typical school board posturing to set this up as though the commission is taking away raises.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

June 4, 2009 City Budget: What about the Sewer Rates?

Something that has been mentioned once or twice but never actually discussed at Morristown City Council meetings is the city sewer fund and upcoming changes in city sewer rates.

There was supposed to be a presentation and discussion of the results of a sewer study last Thursday. That didn't happen. Yesterday, when City Administrator Jim Crumley was asked when the sewer study would be presented and new rates set, Crumley didn't give a date.

From what I can gather--and part of this is second-hand information-- it appears that sewer rates are scheduled to go up about 12% in the upcoming budget year and about 8% in the next year. That would be about a 20% increase over a two-year period. And that is on top of previous sewer rate increases!

No wonder Crumley wants to keep this fund--and this study--under wraps as long as possible.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

June 3, 2009 After TWO Large Tax Increases, Morristown Is In Deep Financial Trouble

Yesterday's budget session at city council was lengthy as City Administrator Jim Crumley presented cuts of $1,775,700 to the previously proposed 2009-2010 general fund budget. I have already outlined most of those cuts here.

Police officers were in attendance--occupying about one-half of the seats. Several officers spoke out in opposition to a city budget that contains no raises for employees but does have cuts in perfect attendance bonuses, cuts in holiday pay, cuts in longevity pay, and cuts in educational supplements.

It appears that no one is very happy.

Now if we think back to 2006, Crumley was proclaiming that city finances were in great shape and that there would be no tax increase "in the foreseeable future." Click here for Crumley's statements. Be sure to click on the newspaper articles to enlarge them and read for yourself exactly what City Administrator Crumley said in 2006 and then in 2007.

In 2007, Crumley announced that the city was in dire straits and a 40-cent property tax increase was needed. [Yes, the city was about to collapse in 2007--- only one year after Crumley had proclaimed that there would be no tax increase "in the foreseeable future."]

That 40-cent tax increase in 2007 passed under threats of impending doom and collapse.

Then the city, desperately wanting to roll back part of the enormous and historic property tax increase, promised to shave off 15-cents of the increase if city voters would support a sales tax increase in 2008 ("pick your-poison"). The City left 25-cents of the property tax increase on the backs of the taxpayers.

When you put it all together....the City (allegedly) was in great shape in 2006, then the City was in disastrous shape in 2007, and now in 2009 the City---AFTER a property tax increase of 25-cents and AFTER a sales tax increase---is all gloom and doom and making cuts everywhere.

Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?

As I have said before, there needs to be a detailed review of city and county finances by the city council and the county commission. No one needs to be using the old worn-out "I relied on so-and-so" to give me financial information. No one needs to be saying "We are audited." Audits look at just a few of the previous year's financial transactions, so audits at best can only catch a few problems and the problems that are spotted are usually reported at least 8 months--and sometimes 20 months-- after-the-fact.

Questions--probing questions--need to be asked need to be asked at every budget session.

But the simplest and most informative way to find out what's going on would be to institute true zero-based budgeting in both city and county.

I have consistently pushed for this budget model (zero-based) because it allows for a COMPLETE review of each department and justification of each line item at the time the budget is presented. Zero-based budgeting prevents one-time money that is budgeted for a specific purpose in one year from becoming a recurring budget item that is then spent on who knows what in future years.

With zero-based budgeting, you recognize and take one-time budgeted money out of the budget when a temporary employee position is eliminated or when a one-time piece of equipment has been purchased.

An added bonus is that zero-based budgeting is almost like doing an audit or review of the previous year's spending at the same time that you prepare a spending plan for the next year.

Now that would be a nifty way for the Mayor and City Council and for Hamblen County Commissioners to earn their pay, their insurance, their benefits, and perks while they find out what's really being spent and for what!

Council members and commissioners already spend a lot of hours at budget time listening to others "explain" the budget. If council members and commissioners used those same hours to do a true hands-on examination of their respective city and county budgets, they would know far more than they could ever know from just listening to those who have led the city and county into big spending, BIG debt, layer upon layer of administration, and departmental kingdoms with perks, perks, and more perks.

When you run for office and are accountable for millions of dollars, you need to be willing to put in the time!

Monday, June 01, 2009

June 1, 2009 Claiborne Sheriff David Ray and Community Service in Hamblen County

It's been almost ten months since CLAIBORNE COUNTY Sheriff David Ray signed a diversion agreement in HANCOCK COUNTY in which the State of Tennessee agreed to suspend its prosecution against Ray of charges of statutory rape and statutory rape by an authority figure.

Part of Ray's diversion agreement stipulated that the Sheriff would perform 250 hours of community service in HAMBLEN COUNTY. [At the time of the agreement, it was a tightly-guarded secret as to where in Hamblen County the High Sheriff of Claiborne County would be performing his "community" service.]

After the diversion, Ray got in a bit of a jam when he shot a deer at the Claiborne County Fairgrounds. Click here for that story. The problem was that Ray did not have a hunting license. After his involvement in this incident came out, Ray put out the spin that he had shot the deer illegally for a good purpose---"to feed the inmates."

Now if Sheriff Ray has been performing 25 hours of service to Hamblen County each month, he may be through working in Hamblen County and is able to devote all his time to keeping crime out of Claiborne County.