Thursday, December 31, 2009

December 31, 2009 Happy New Year 2010!!

On this New Year's Eve, I wish a very Happy New Year to all readers.

And starting tomorrow.....we all have to remember to write or type 2010 on checks, correspondence, and forms---and blog posts!  

Thursday, December 24, 2009

December 24, 2009 Merry Christmas

On Christmas Eve, I wish to all a very Merry Christmas!

One of my favorite Christmas songs is The Little Drummer Boy.

The Little Drummer Boy and many other Christmas favorites (lyrics and videos) can found by clicking here.


Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

A new born King to see
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

To lay before the King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum

I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum

I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

That's fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum

The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum

I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum

I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22, 2009 Chief Justice Holder Gets Hacked (Almost)

For martial arts fans --and the just plain curious--click on the link below to see a video of Chief Justice Janice Holder, Tennessee Supreme Court, lying on a table while a martial arts instructor slices a bell pepper with a sword. 

Oh, I forgot to mention that the bell pepper in question is sitting on top of the Chief Justice's stomach...and the martial arts expert is blindfolded!

Click here to read the story and see the video.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

December 19, 2009 Lynn Wolfe Lawsuit Against Sheriff Esco Jarnigan Goes Forward

The long-running Lynn Wolfe v. Esco Jarnigan lawsuit is poised to proceed.  According to an article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel (click here), the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently turned aside Jarnigan's efforts to have the entire case tossed out before a trial.

The News-Sentinel articles often contain links to court documents. Magistrate Dennis Inman's memorandum and order is here.  The 6th Circuit's opinion is here.

December 19, 2009 Lawyer: Yes, I Bit Off Part of a Man's Nose. No, I Didn't Swallow It

A Memphis lawyer is being sued for $5 Million dollars for biting off part of a man's nose. Memphis attorney Mark Lambert admits to biting off part of the nose of Greg Herbers. Lambert denies swallowing it. Lambert is headed for legal stardom a la ear-biting heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson.

The incident occurred as part of an altercation that began in a men's restroom at a popular Memphis restaurant.

Herbers' complaint alleges that two individuals were occupying a restroom stall talking to Lambert while Lambert used a urinal. Herbers asked the two men to exit the stall since they were not using the toilet. That request precipitated a confrontation with Lambert who has admitted to biting off a part of Herbers nose but now claims self-defense.  

No point in describing this any further or commenting. The story is here.  Unbelievable.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 16, 2009 City Council Votes 5-2 To Proceed with ETPC Land Acquisition

In a tense meeting yesterday where there was at least some actual "public" discussion by councilmembers of an issue before the city council, the council voted 5-2 to proceed with appraisals and acquisition of land in the East Tennessee Progress Center (ETPC).

The head of the Industrial Board, R. Jack Fishman, was not present at this meeting. Previously, he had spoken twice to council about this land acquisition--once in a work session and once in a Finance Committee meeting held in a small conference room near the Mayor's office. Fishman did not choose to appear at yesterday's regular city council meeting to present the Industrial Board's case or to field questions about the proposal.

In light of the city's pathetic financial condition and the recent cutting of hours of city employees, Councilmember Gene Brooks asked where the money would come from for the appraisals and land acquisition. [The city was broke as of 6/30/08 and only recently paid back a $2.5 Million loan from its sewer fund that had helped cover up its dire financial status]. 

Mayor Barile mentioned that the city had recently sold some of its property to MUS (Morristown Utility Systems). She said that money could be used to help pay for the land acquisition. The property she was referring to was some acreage on Sulphur Springs Road that the city had acquired years ago to erect a public works facility.  Because of the city's financial condition, the Mayor negotiated a deal for MUS to purchase that property from the city for just over $300,000. 

Despite offering her assurances that the $300,000 could be used, the Mayor did not state where the additional $1 Million+ would come from for appraisal costs, land acquisition costs, and possible court battles if the city decides to invoke eminent domain on property owners who do not want to sell at all or who do not want to sell for the price that the City/Industrial Board/Jack Fishman offer.

More will follow in coming posts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

December 11, 2009 City Finance Committee Puts ETPC Land Acquisition by Purchase or by Eminent Domain on December 15 Agenda

The Finance Committee of the City of Morristown met at 3:30 PM yesterday in the little conference room near the City Administrator's office.  The room---which can only hold about 10-12 people comfortably--was full. The Mayor and councilmembers were seated around the table with Jack Fishman, Bobby Moore (Tribune reporter and employee of Jack Fishman), and a few department heads. Frank McGuffin, chair of the Finance Committee, was late in arriving.  Councilmember Kay Senter was not present. 

A few people managed to find a seat inside the room, others stood inside the room, and still others, including some city department heads and sewer consultant Lamar Dunn, stood in the two doorways or in the hallway.

[Despite the larger council chambers right next door and a large community room upstairs in the multimillion dollar City Center, the Finance Committee meets in a cramped conference room that is probably not larger and is likely smaller than the City Administrator's office. This conference room is also a secluded meeting place for unannounced meetings of the Mayor and Councilmembers to discuss and deliberate on public business privately prior to walking into the council chambers to vote, but that is a separate issue that I will address more fully in the coming weeks.]

Jack Fishman, who is the longtime head of the Industrial Development Board and President of the company that owns the local newspaper (the Citizen Tribune), wants the City to go ahead and approve acquisition of privately held land in the East Tennessee Progress Center (ETPC). 

Click here to see the previous post about the private land that Fishman wants the city to purchase from willing owners or take by force through eminent domain from any who don't want to sell their land.

Fishman said that he recently obtained local employment figures for 2002 and 2009 from the state employment office.  He said that these figures show a "startling" loss of 5,000 local manufacturing jobs during that time, explaining that there were about 13,000 manufacturing jobs in the area in 2002 and in 2009 there are just over 8,000.  Most people are not startled by that figure. Most people have known about and have been concerned about the exodus of local manufacturing plants to Mexico and China for a long time.  Many of these same people have lost their jobs because of the "sucking sound" of jobs leaving this country for cheap labor, less regulation, and lower taxes.

Fishman said, "Our situation is not good." He added that the Industrial Board had been through a 2-year "hiatus" of no prospects.  Apparently, there are now two new industrial prospects (1 foreign company and 1 domestic company) along with a possible plant expansion of an existing industry.  Fishman used code words for the two new prospects that have completed preliminary surveys.  He said that they each would require about a 90-acre site if they eventually decide to locate here. He added that Thom Robinson, director of the Chamber, was not present at the Finance meeting because he was working with a prospect and "I sent him to 'bow'."

[Fishman added that most companies start by selecting about five states and then checking out four locations in each of those 5 states. The company then does a preliminary evaluation of those 20 sites, conducts additional research, narrows the choices down, and, of course, makes site visits before making a selection.]

A map of the Master Plan for the ETPC was flashed on the screen.  Randy Corlew, engineer for the Industrial Board, discussed the Master Plan. Fishman said that he doesn't want to invite industry to our community if "I don't have a place to put them." 

Claude Jinks said that he can't believe what has happened in the past two years.

Mayor Barile said we can see the problems in the increase of people at the Daily Bread.

Bob Garrett said, "Put it on the agenda." Then he said (jokingly), "I want to thank Mr. Fishman for coming and bowing to us."

Fishman said the Industrial Board could probably have an appraiser by February. The appraiser will determine Fair Market Value for the property, an offer will be made, and then the purchase/sale will "close."  Neither the Mayor nor any councilmember asked what happens if a private property owner does not want to sell. Of course, they already know that Fishman's answer to that question would be--- "Take it" through eminent domain. They also already know that Fishman has prepared an ordinance for them to pass that provides for just that-- "taking" the property of anyone who does not want to sell through eminent domain proceedings.

If eminent domain is used, this could end up being a negative for industrial prospects. Often new industry is hesitant to come and locate on land that has been taken from its owners agains their will. If there are several industrial locations available, most companies would prefer to locate on land that has been developed without the ill-will created by the use of eminent domain.
In light of recent city cutbacks of employee hours and other financial concerns, Gene Brooks asked Fishman how the city could pay for the private land that is currently appraised at about $1.3 Million.

Fishman first said that he is not the Finance Director for the city. Then he added that he would recommend  borrowing the money through the issuance of bond anticipation notes over the 3-year phased acquisition period.

Perhaps Fishman should have stayed to hear more about the city's situation, but he left before the city's sewer meltdown was discussed.

Monday, December 07, 2009

December 7, 2009 Pearl Harbor Day

Pearl Harbor Day. December 7, 1941. 
The day after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt inspired the nation with a moving speech before Congress. See and hear the speech here.

The News-Sentinel has an article on an 86-year old man who enlisted in the navy as a teenager just five months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, Ed Johann was serving as a seaman, ferrying passengers to and from the USS Solace, a hospital ship moored at Pearl Harbor. He saw planes coming toward the harbor and thought they were American planes conducting drills. Johann only realized that they were Japanese planes when the explosions began and the screams of American sailors could he heard.  Johann will return to Pearl Harbor for the first time today.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

December 5, 2009 Public Notice: City Announces Three Different Early Closing Times on Fridays

According to a new public notice just a couple of days ago in the Tribune, the City of Morristown now has three different early closing times on Fridays.                                                                                       Click on the notice at left to enlarge. The City Center will close early at 3:30 PM on Fridays. The Public Works Department will close early at 2:30 PM on Fridays. The Parks and Recreation Department will close early at 4:00 PM on Fridays.                            

Thursday, December 03, 2009

December 3, 2009 City Council Meeting: Sewergate To Cover-up Bankruptcygate?

In a previous post (click here), I mentioned the City of Morristown's illegal transfer/loan of $2.5 MILLION dollars from the city's sewer fund to the city's general fund in the fiscal year ending 6/30/08. Former City Administrator Jim Crumley apparently authorized the transfer to cover up the "poor" cash situation of the general fund.

The city's auditor is Craine, Thompson & Jones. Terry Winstead of CTJ (click on e-mail below) states that Tom Jones of CTJ was present in a meeting when Crumley authorized the transfer but that CTJ's auditing "independence" and objectivity were not lost because while Jones knew about the entry, he (Jones) didn't physically  make the entry himself.   So Jones was in the meeting where the entry was authorized. Jones then completed his audit of the city's books and recorded the $2.5 MILLION switcheroo as an inter-fund loan.  BUT Jones did not report that this $2.5 Million "inter-fund loan" had not been approved by council (as is required). AND Jones did not report that this $2.5 Million "loan" had not been approved by the State Comptroller's Director of Local Finance (as is required).

At left is Winstead's e-mail to Wampler describing how the $2.5 Million "entry" for fiscal year 2008 came about and then disavowing any direct involvement by auditor Tom Jones-- Jones just happened to be there when the entry was authorized.  On the November 2009 e-mail, there is also a written notation by Wampler stating that Dynise (Robertson), the city's finance director, informed Wampler that the $2.5 Million 2008 sewer to general fund transfer was "transferred back last week."  No mention of who authorized the transfer-back or why the transfer-back, like the initial transfer, did not go through council.

The scariest part of the note is Wampler's second statement: "We will have to transfer most of that money back to the General Fund before the end of the fisical (sic) year."   Why? To cover up a poor financial situation again?  After the whopping property tax increase of 2007, after the sales tax increase of 2008, and after red light cameras were installed for even more revenue, is Wampler's comment a warning that the city may still not have enough funds for general government operations at the end of FY 2010 (6/30/10) and will somehow need another sewer loan as a cushion?

At city council yesterday, Charles Cook asked Mayor Barile if she knew about this $2.5 Million sewer fund to general fund transfer in 2008. She said she didn't recall being told at the time.

Cook then passed out an e-mail that I had received from the Director of Municipal Audit (Dennis Dycus) in the State Comptroller's office in response to questions about (1) whether a temporary transfer of money from the sewer fund to the general fund could be made (no) and (2) how an inter-fund loan from sewer to general fund should be handled (carefully).  [Cook had blacked out my name on the e-mail so the city officials could concentrate on the contents of the e-mail itself.  By now, the Mayor and/or some members of the council or others have probably called up the state to find out who was asking questions when in reality it is the Mayor and the councilmembers who should have been asking this and many more questions all along.]

Mr. Dycus, Director of Municipal Audit, simply confirmed the obvious. There has to be local approval of an inter-fund loan by the city council. Then the loan is sent to the Division of Local Finance in the State Comptroller's Office for approval.  Dycus twice notes that any loan of this type has to be an arms-length business transaction and that the going rate of interest has to be paid by the fund that is borrowing the money. In the city's case, the general fund (largely funded by taxes) borrowed the money and should have paid interest to the sewer fund (largely paid by ratepayers) that made the $2.5 Million loan. Click on the e-mail below to enlarge.

Because of the illegalities of the handling of the funds transfer/loan and because the whole thing was cleverly orchestrated to cover-up the dire (essentially bankrupt) financial situation of the city's general government fund, Cook referred to this matter as "sewergate."  Maybe it was "sewergate" to cover up Morristown's "bankruptcygate."

Now click again and read Wampler's last statement in his hand-written note on Winstead's e-mail. "I will develop a fund transfer policy as soon as I can."  Transfers are not allowed.  No need for a transfer policy.

An inter-fund loan from sewer to general fund can be made, BUT it must be an arms-length transaction that is first passed by the council and then approved by the state. The Dycus e-mail pretty much outlines the procedures for such an inter-fund loan. Maybe the city should consider following state law as its inter-fund loan policy!

Of course, maybe the city would not have to borrow money from its sewer fund at all if the Mayor and councilmembers managed the taxpayers' money responsibly and didn't pass every nice-sounding spending proposal that comes around plus borrow and spend every penny that they can get their hands on.

Mr. Cook pointed out to the Mayor and Council that they could and should have known about the $2.5 million switcheroo (my word) if they had ever actually looked at the 2008 audit.  He also pointed out that they could and should have known that the city's 2008 general fund balance of $3,431.536.00 was all smoke and mirrors (my words) if they had actually looked at the audit. 

The $3,431,536.00 fund balance was largely a charade, but you had to ask questions or you had to be paying attention to see the charade.  Every penny of the 2008 "fund balance/rainy day fund" of $3,431,536.00 was  reserved or set aside (1) to pay back the sewer loan ($2,500,000.00), (2) to pay existing contracts ($995,419.00), and (3) to pay other bills owed by the city ($135,617.00). 

Real available general fund balance/rainy day fund as of 6/30/08. Zero!

Now how many times do you reach the end of the year (December 31) and your debts and bills are EXACTLY, down to the penny, what is in your checking account (fund balance) at that point in time?

Yet, that's what the city's 2008 audit would have the taxpayers believe. The audit suggests that the city's checking account (fund balance) had EXACTLY $3,431,536.00 in it as of 6/30/08 and that the city's current debts and bills just happened to total EXACTLY $3,431,536.00 as of 6/30/08.  An unbelievable coincidence? Smoke and mirrors? Or plain old local hoodoo economics?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

December 2, 2009 The Draft Contract for City Administrator Anthony Cox

The first image (left) is the first page of a 7-page draft of the proposed city administrator's contract that was approved yesterday at City Council. The other pages (2-7) of the draft contract are in order at the end of the blog text.  You can click on each image to enlarge it for reading.

At yesterday's council meeting, the "contract" was approved without a mention of the terms of the contract by the Mayor or any councilmember.  Click here for my earlier post about council's lack of "public" discussion in the "public" meeting to consider this contract ("public" business).

Page 1 is a general recital of the city's desire to employ Cox.  The 2nd page is Cox' Compensation (salary), Benefits, Vacation and Sick Leave. Page 3 is Retirement (Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System and ICMA Retirement (International City and County Management Association) and General Business Expenses.

Page 4 includes Termination and Severance. Page 5 is Resignation, Outside Activities, Moving and Relocation Expenses, and Indemnification. Page 6 includes Bonding, Other Terms, and General Provisions.  Page 7 is for the signature of the parties.

While the council did not "publicly" discuss the salary or benefits yesterday, you can view a draft contract and its terms on this blog, and you can read about most of the terms in today's Tribune article by Bob Moore.  Moore did not get the salary and benefits information for his article during the "public" portion of the council meeting because there was no discussion of those terms during the "public" meeting. Moore got his information from City attorney Dick Jessee who gave Moore a copy of a draft contract with handwritten notes made by Jessee. The link to Moore's article is here. But jump on it fast because the Tribune usually disables its links quickly.

December 2, 2009 Council Approves New Administrator's Contract But Never Mentions a Salary Amount or Benefits during the "Public" Discussion of "Public" Business at a "Public" Meeting

At yesterday's public meeting, the Mayor and City Council passed an employment contract to forward to Anthony Cox, the city-administrator select, for his consideration.

During the "public" discussion and deliberation of the contract, Mayor Barile and council seemed nervous. 

It seemed like they were talking in some kind of special, private code.

In most contract discussions, the contract amount is mentioned. Not so during yesterday's "public" discussion of the new administrator's contract.

In most contract discussions, there is discussion of other payments (like benefits, perks, car allowances, pre-negotiated severance terms). Not so during yesterday's "public" discussion of the new administrator's contract.

"Public" discussion of "public" business at a "public" meeting" has not exactly been a hallmark of city government lately.  Yesterday's "public" discussion of "public" business was unusual and that is putting it mildly.