Thursday, August 27, 2009

August 27, 2009 Crumley's Departure and Information That the Trib Doesn't Report

Sometimes, there is so much going on at home and at work that posts get postponed. [I like puns. If you don't, just give that last one the obligatory groan.]

Here's a quick catch-up post on the City Council meeting on August 18 with some interesting information that the Trib didn't report!

City Administrator Jim Crumley was "honored" at a reception at the City Center on August 18. At the council meeting that followed, Mayor Barile, Crumley's most ardent supporter, gave him a plaque and Crumley then gave his farewell speech to the assembled council and public. It was a whopper! He thanked the council and the staff for accepting his leadership and then said that there are issues of leadership in the current council.

Crumley added: "I forgive you all for the mistakes in judgment that you have made." He also offered his two bits (pun intended) of advice on the process for hiring a new city administrator. "You all have to find a leader...somebody who ends this 4-3 environment...You have got to stop the fear in your professional staff...You have got professional employees who are right now afraid to give you honest, professional recommendations because they are in fear of their jobs... I wish the City of Morristown the very best...This is not the time to hunker down. This is the time for our city to be moving." Not one person clapped.

The Trib reported Crumley's farewell speech.

What Bobby Moore, the Trib's city council reporter, did NOT report were some very interesting public comments made at the meeting.

One citizen stood up and said he was offended by the use of the term "railroad" job in reference to the firing of Crumley. [That was a term used by Mayor Barile to express her disgust at the firing/resignation that she then voted for.] The gentleman thanked the four who had removed Crumley and expressed his displeasure at Mayor Barile's removal of Kay Senter as chairman of the Finance Committee. He added that the local paper's reporting was so one-sided that it was like watching "MSNBC."

Steve Sublett also addressed council. He asked council if they knew that the Industrial Board was harassing his neighbors, wanting to buy their property. He also wanted to know if council has approached Jefferson County to let them know that Morristown is interested in property in Jefferson County. In an apparent reference to the East Tennessee Progress Center, Sublett reminded the council that "you've got 500-600 acres out there. I don't believe you need to harass people who aren't interested in selling."

He then mentioned another "pretty good rumor" that the city is interested in a new Exit 9, one mile past the current Exit 8. He asked, but received no response to his question: "Why would the city need an exit another mile up the interstate?"

Sublett added that the Industrial Board is interested in an Exit 6 as well. He mentioned that the city owns no property there. Why is an exit needed there? Most of the property being looked at is in Jefferson County. Sublett closed by saying that he'd like to know if the council "has a clue" about what is going on at the Industrial Board. No one responded, but after a long silence, Mayor Barile said: "The Industrial Board is always looking to bring in new jobs."

Sublett replied: "You already have 600 acres out there. The City is already 77 Million in debt. How are you going to buy more property? Who's going to fund that?"

No member of the council spoke. If they knew anything about discussions about purchasing property in Jefferson County and two next exits, councilmembers and the Mayor were not talking. Finally, Barile thanked Mr. Sublett and said: "I will talk with the Industrial Board and see what is happening."

She may do it, but I would suggest that no one holds his or her breath while waiting for Barile to find out and actually report to the council and to the public about what is going on at the Industrial Board in regard to purchasing property in Jefferson County or pushing for two new exits on I-81.

Hopefully, Mayor Barile has not signed any "confidentiality" agreement with the Industrial Board or others--like Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri did--where she has agreed to keep public business a secret from the public. [Jefferson Countians found out that their Mayor, Alan Palmieri, and two county commissioners signed confidentiality agreements with Norfolk-Southern railroad and thus agreed to keep information about public business a secret. Word got out in Jefferson County, but only after word leaked out that discussion and conduct of public business was taking place behind closed doors. Someone needs to get an understanding of what the meaning of "public business" is and what the Tennessee Open Meetings Act is about. Of course, Hamblen County has its own problems abiding with the Open Meetings Act. Here and here.]

The Jefferson situation has been reported extensively in the Knox News-Sentinel. Here. Here. Here. Here. The comments that follow each article in the News-Sentinel are usually worthy of reading regardless of your personal position on the issue at hand.

Only if you were at the city council meeting would you know about the praise for the four councilmembers who pushed for Crumley's departure. Only if you were at the meeting would you know about the intriguing public comments by Mr. Sublett. Bob Moore of the Trib never mentioned the comments of either of these individuals.

Of course, Bob is the powers-that-be personal, if unofficial, press agent. Bob works for the only major newspaper in town and its owner is Jack Fishman--leader of the City's Industrial Board. Bob, if he wanted to be a reporter checking out leads, could have walked into Fishman's office on the day following the meeting and asked his boss if Mr. Sublett's information is correct. Of course, Bob may have already known about this whole deal. We'll soon see if Bob knew or followed up on this situation. When will Bob, the investigative reporter, confirm or quash the report that the city/industrial board is or is not trying to buy property in Jefferson County despite still having hundreds of acres of undeveloped land in the East Tennessee Progress Center?

Maybe that article is still to come?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11, 2009 Taxpayers Will Have To Continue To Pay for Unauthorized Car Allowances

Hamblen County is not authorized to pay car allowances to county officials. But Hamblen County pays them anyway.

Hamblen County is not authorized to provide a car or vehicle for full-time use of salaried county officials. But Hamblen County provides vehicles anyway.

And yesterday, despite state law and an attorney general's opinion, the county commission took no action to stop the unauthorized payment of car allowances and/or the unauthorized provision of vehicles for the full-time use of salaried county officials.

Instead, Hamblen County Commissioners voted to continue using taxpayer dollars to make car allowance payments while they "study" the issue.

State law regarding cars and car allowances has been on the books for years. The attorney general's opinion on cars and car allowances was made public in April 2009. The county attorney gave his opinion on cars and car allowances in May 2009. But in June 2009, the county budget was passed----WITH UNAUTHORIZED CAR ALLOWANCE PAYMENTS.

In July 2009, I asked the commission to stop the unauthorized payments. They did not do so. They sent the issue back to the August Finance Committee.

Yesterday the Finance Committee met and did not resolve the issue. Unauthorized taxpayer dollars continue to be spent while commission "studies" the situation. How long does it take to stop unauthorized payments? How many taxpayer dollars will be wasted while a study is made?

Who gets car allowances? Well, according to the county attorney, only three people get a car allowance: Assessor of Property Keith Ely ($169.32/month); Marsha Hopkins, an employee in Ely's office ($224.36/month); and Planning Director Danny Young ($350.00/month).

In the opinion of the county attorney, County Mayor David Purkey's $600/month "car allowance" is not really a car allowance. Why? Because when the Mayor requested a "car allowance," the "car allowance" was paid as a salary increase. So, in the county attorney's opinion, if someone requests a "car allowance" and if you make the "car allowance"/car expenses payment as a salary increase, suddenly it is not a "car allowance" at all.

Of course, to accept this line of reasoning, you have to totally ignore all the documents that say the $600/month is a "car allowance." The county attorney would even ignore the budget amendment-- prepared in the Mayor's office--that says "budget amendment for salary adjustment for car allowance at $600 per month."

UPDATE: See Post for September 5, 2009, for county commission's August 20 vote to stop unauthorized "car allowances" in order to come into compliance with state law.

Yep, in today's world of government entitlement and perks, in Hamblen County it all depends on what the meaning of car allowance is. It's a crying shame that a man making $83,000/year who rarely shows up in his office is so greedy that he demands an extra $7,200 taxpayer dollars so he can buy a car for himself, increase his retirement take, and make over $90,000/year plus insurance and other benefits.

Why can't the Mayor drive himself to work---like most workers do---and then check out a county car if he has county business to attend to? Or why can't he drive himself to work and then charge the county for mileage---like many county employees do---when he uses his own car for county business? Or, instead of giving the Mayor a $600/month car allowance, why doesn't the county use that $600/month ($7,200/year) to buy the county another car that can be checked out by the Mayor or others as needed?

And through it all Stancil Ford, the protector, runs interference for the County Mayor. Stancil and many other commissioners just don't understand what the average person in Hamblen County faces every day. The commission blithely gives $7,200/year of taxpayer dollars as a car allowance to a County Mayor who is already making $83,000/year so he can top off at $90,000/year and boost his already cushy state retirement.

There is never a thought to the fact that part of the Mayor's car allowance and salary comes from the widow living on a fixed income of $550/month ($6,600/year) in social security benefits, from the recently laid-off worker, from the individual who has no health insurance, and from the family that scrimps and saves to get by while the government throws more money and more perks at the richest government officials and employees.

In October 2006, only one person on the commission opposed giving the Mayor an extra $7,200/year. That person was Ricky Bruce. Ricky and I have disagreed and still disagree on many spending issues, but this is one where Ricky clearly got it right.

When the county commission said "no" to raises for county employees this year, they said "yes" once again to giving the Mayor $7,200 for a car allowance. IF that money is to be spent at all, take away the car allowance and buy the county a car instead of giving the Mayor money to buy himself a car at taxpayer expense.

Oh, and the county attorney added that the Mayor and others who get a car allowance don't even have to drive their own car on county business. They can take the car allowance and do what they want with it and then check out a county car and drive it on official business. That's one heck of a deal. The Mayor gets a car allowance salary increase but he can still use county cars or have others--like Eric Carpenter in his big new county Ford Expedition--drive him to Nashville and other destinations unknown.

August 11, 2009 Barking Dogs Get Commission's Attention Again...Another Meeting Is on the Way

At yesterday's meeting of the Public Services Committee of the Hamblen County Commission, there was lengthy discussion and many public comments about barking dogs, bark collars, coon dogs, an allegedly weak and/or unenforced nuisance ordinance, limitations on the number of animals per acre, and all things dog-related.

The Sheriff, a current Animal Control Officer, the former head of animal control for the City of Morristown (Gene Honeycutt), and several individuals who voiced complaints about constant barking in their neighborhoods were at the meeting.

The problem is easily stated. Crafting a solution that satisfies everyone will be impossible.

At the end of the meeting, it was decided to have another meeting.

Monday, August 10, 2009

August 10, 2009 Two Enter Democrat Primary for Hamblen County Sheriff

The field is getting more crowded in the race for Hamblen County Sheriff in 2010.

Democrat Ernie Burzell's recent announcement that he would be running for sheriff in 2010 was quickly followed by Democrat Freddie Kimbrough's announcement that he would be running for sheriff in 2010 as well.

Two Republicans, Sheriff Esco Jarnigan and Brett Kilgore, have already announced that they will be battling it out in the Republican primary in 2010.

August 10, 2009 Last-minute Addition to Today's Hamblen County Committee Agenda?

There is a strong rumor from several sources that a last-minute addition will be made to a Hamblen County Commission Committee agenda today. [Maybe Finance Committee?]

It seems that a few officials and maybe a commissioner or two have been involved and have been "in the know" about the availability of some money for school capital improvements. Today, the rest of the commissioners may be let in on the information.

This looks like it may be one of those rush-rush deals that is thrown at commissioners with the dire warning that this must be done right away. You always wonder how decisions involving millions can be made on the spur-of-the-moment.

But, then again, our Congress passes bills involving billions and trillions without reading them, so why shouldn't our local county commissioners approve loans and refinancings and appropriate millions on the spur-of-the-moment?

[Post meeting update: Tennessee is to receive millions in stimulus funds and school districts across the state can apply for construction loans. The Hamblen County School Board is going to apply for about $13 Million in school construction loans. As it was presented, the loan has to be paid back but with no interest. The deadline for the application to be submitted in Nashville is around August 21. I believe it was mentioned that 1/10 of the funds received have to be spent within six months. You can bet your bottom dollar that school districts will be slapping loan applications together to get at all the money floating around.]

August 10, 2009 Tribune: Double Stories, Double Pictures, and a Front Page Headline Problem

If you were reading the Tribune yesterday, August 9th, you may have done a double "double-take"!

The Trib put the same exact article in two different sections of yesterday's paper. Tommy Bible, general manager of the Jefferson-Cocke County Utility District, received the Tennessee Gas Association's Silver Flame Award. The Trib decided to let you read about Bible's honor on page C-8 under the headline Tommy Bible winner of TGA Silver Flame Award or, if you missed it there, you could read it again on page D-2 under the headline Bible earns TGA Award. Same story, same wording, same report from an unidentified source. [Congratulations, Mr. Bible. Congratulations, Mr. Bible.]

And a picture on page A-3 of yesterday's Trib of two lovely father-daughter duos buying dance tickets might have made you think "Wait, didn't I see a picture of these same people buying dance tickets in the Trib on August 7th." Relax. You aren't going crazy. The same people, in a slightly different pose, did appear in the August 7th and the August 9th Tribune.

The article that accompanied each picture was similar but with one major difference. On August 7th, the article written by Mike Williams said that the individuals were buying tickets for a father-daughter dance at All Saints' Episcopal Church as a fundraiser for Stepping Out Ministries. On August 9th, the article "from Staff Reports" said that the individuals were buying tickets for a father-daughter dance at All Saints' Episcopal Church as a fundraiser for the Imagination Library book program.

Both pictures included the same people: Melissa Carson of Stepping Out Ministries with the father-daughter duos of Bob and Maggie Vick and Landon and Alyssa Gibson.

Finally, expect a correction on yesterday's front-page headline that read: West announces candidacy for county clerk. Teresa West is not running for county clerk, a position currently held by Linda Wilder. West is running for Circuit Court Clerk, a position currently held by Kathy Mullins who is not seeking re-election in 2010. The article "from Staff Reports" had the right information but the headline, well, it was a mess.

By the way, if you have ever wondered why so many Trib articles don't name the local reporter, it is my understanding that the Trib will not put the name of the same reporter as a by-line for two articles on the same page. Bobbie Young may write two front-page stories, but the Trib will only put her name/by-line on one of her stories and her second story will show "staff reports" as the by-line. Of course, some "news" articles are just press releases or info that has been sent in by city or county government or the school board and these, too, may have a "staff reports" or "contributed reports" by-line.

[UPDATE: The Trib's correction on the Teresa West article appeared in little print on page 2 today. The paper apologized for the error and said that West is running for Circuit Court Clerk.]

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

August 5, 2009 Drugs, Planning Commission, Koch Foods Sewer Bill, Interim City Administrator, City Audit, Sheriff's Race in 2010

Drugs: Mexico to Morristown (via Atlanta). The Knoxville News-Sentinel report is here. [Here's the Trib link. Catch it while you can---- the Trib disables its links quickly.]

John Cahill recently resigned from the Morristown Regional Planning Commission. He was appointed to the post by former Mayor John Johnson. Mayor Sami Barile appointed Katy Tindall to replace Cahill.

Koch Foods is contesting its huge sewer bill. According to the Trib, the Koch Foods administrative hearing will take place on August 28 (no time or place was mentioned). This involves a dispute over months and months of unpaid sewer bills for the Koch Foods chicken processing plant in the East Tennessee Progress Center. Apparently, Koch Foods is disputing the city's calculation of charges. Koch claims that it is being billed for all wastewater coming out of the East Tennessee Progress Center near I-81 and all wastewater coming from businesses at Exit 8 near I-81.

Buddy Fielder was recently appointed as interim City Administrator by departing City Administrator Jim Crumley. Fielder will serve until a new permanent city administrator is named.

The City, after considering switching audit firms, has decided to stay with Craine, Thompson & Jones. CTJ will be paid $36,000 for the annual audit and promises to get the fiscal year 09 (FY 09) audit in on time if MUS turns in its numbers by December 1, 2009. Several months ago, Crumley blamed the auditors for the lateness of the FY 08 audit that was not available until June 2009. CTJ in turn blamed MUS. It is my opinion that auditors should be switched about every 3-5 years as a matter of policy. See my May 12 and April 29 posts.

On top of the $36,000 direct cost of the CTJ audit, CPA Joe Swann will again be paid to help city staff "close the books" at the end of the fiscal year. Swann was reportedly paid $10,000 last year for helping city budget staff close the books. It looks like the more fancy accounting software and gadgets you get, the more help you need in using them.

With its budget and financial staff, why does the city have to hire and pay Joe Swann or anyone else $10,000 to "close the books" at the end of the accounting year? If city personnel don't know how to close the books, the city should ask for help from the software supplier (MUNIS) or pay for the training that would enable the staff to "close the books" and save the city taxpayers $10,000 per year.

And Ernie Burzell has announced that he will be a candidate for Sheriff in 2010 in the Democrat primary.