Sunday, January 31, 2010

January 31, 2010 David Purkey, Still Wanting To Be Tennessee Safety Commissioner, Latches onto Gubernatorial Candidate Haslam's Coattails

The local "news"paper had an interesting picture on its front page on Friday, January 29. Gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam and his wife knocked on the door of Lynn Purkey in the Alpha Community, and a Tribune cameraman just happened to be there to record the event. 

The article then mentioned that Haslam was "flanked" in his door-knocking campaign by long time friend and supporter Hamblen County Mayor David Purkey.

[I'm not sure why, but the "news"paper forgot to mention that the Lynn Purkey who just happened to answer the door is Otto Purkey's wife and that Otto is David Purkey's big brother and that Otto is the former Sheriff of Hamblen County who lost his re-election bid in 2006 to current Sheriff Esco Jarnagin. Lynn Purkey's door was not randomly picked so an explanation of who Lynn Purkey is and her connections might be in order] 

I haven't decided whom I will support in the governor's race in Tennessee. This post is not about the governor's candidates but about the fact that David Purkey has grabbed onto Haslam's coattails with all his might in the hope that if Haslam is elected, David will finally get the dream job that he has always wanted---Tennessee Commissioner of Safety with power over the Tennessee Highway Patrol. 

To understand Purkey's dream, you have to go back to June 2006 when David was in the middle of what he had declared was his "last" run for County Mayor.  Although David had said that he wanted to serve one "last" term as mayor, ironically David ran off to Nashville and applied for Safety Commissioner right in the middle of that "last" campaign for County Mayor.

What was even funnier was that the local "news"paper either didn't know that David had applied for the Safety Commissioner job while in the middle of running for County Mayor OR the "news"paper knew and decided not to report this significant bit of news to its local readers.  Nope, the "news"paper never said a word about any of this until after I had a blog post based on a story in the Nashville Tennessean about David's application.

Click here for my June 26, 2006, post that was based on a June 22, 2006, Tennessean article. Then click here for the "news" story that the local "news"paper ran on June 27, 2006 (5 days after the Tennessean article and one day after my blog post).  Noe4accountability is a personal blog--not a newspaper with full-time reporters. There is something ironic about a local "news"paper that didn't know what the local Mayor was doing OR that chose not to report what the local Mayor was doing until five days after it had been reported across the state in the Tennessean. In fact, the local "news"paper only reported that the Mayor had applied for Safety Commissioner and had withdrawn one day after I finally went ahead and mentioned it on this blog.  How "news"y is that?

Of course, there is plenty of other "news" that the local "news"paper chooses not to report. The "news"paper decides what is "news" and how that "news" will be reported.   Bob Moore will cover up anything that Jack Fishman says to cover up.  Bob will slant anything as directed by his boss.  Bob will print just about anything that a government office or official tells him to ---without checking the accuracy of the information. Click here for one example of how Bob just publishes what government officials hand him and refuses to check on the accuracy of what he is provided. Some--but not all--front-page articles by Bob are little more than front-page press releases with a little flowery language added for that personal touch. Whether it's appropriate or not in a "news"paper article, I will admit that Bob's style of writing and word-choice are entertaining.

Frankly, I doubt that Haslam really knows much about David Purkey, the man who has always wanted-- and still wants--to have control of law enforcement in Tennessee.  I don't know the whole story about David.  I do know that he hates me because he couldn't control me while I served on county commission (2002-2006).  I know he hates that I brought in the state auditors to perform the county audit in 2003 when Hamblen County had more findings (29) than any other county in the state. Click here.  I know that he hates me because I pushed for openness and accountability throughout county government and for better control of spending.

This is a man who became upset and red-faced when I simply asked that a county decal be placed on all county taxpayer-provided vehicles (other than undercover vehicles or exempt law-enforcement vehicles). David wanted that county car, but he definitely didn't want a decal on it to let people know that it was a Hamblen County taxpayer-provided vehicle. The rest of the commissioners blinked.

And when I decided not to run again in 2006, one of David's first requests to the new commission was to ask for a car allowance of $7200/year---paid as a salary increase.  David had two goals in this. He would get the county to pay for a car that he could keep (no decal, of course) after he left office AND, by having his car paid for through a salary increase, his future government retirement pay would skyrocket since his retirement pay is partly-based on the highest five years of compensation.  With the car allowance/salary increase deal, Purkey upped his highest compensation from around the $83,000 he had been drawing as County Mayor to $90,000+ and upped his retirement for the next 20-30 years as well.

With David's continuing desire to be Tennessee Safety Commissioner, it's time to let the public know at least some of what the local "news"paper covers up about David Purkey, the lifelong politician and master of the cover-up, with help from friends in high places.

Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29, 2010 City Discusses Selling Long-Reel Track and King Park to Hamblen School Board

Director of Schools Dale Lynch and his assistant Hugh Clement came to the City Council Finance Committee meeting yesterday. The topic of discussion was the sale by the City of Long-Reel track and King Park to the Hamblen County School Board for the expansion of East High School.

There are two hitches in the sale-purchase proposal.

1. The sale of Long-Reel track involves getting state and federal approval. Without going into the details,  Parks Director Craig Price compared trying to sell Long-Reel Track to to trying to sell land in the Great Smoky Mountains Park. Not an easy process. Appraised value was $505,000.00

2. The sale of King Park is complicated by a provision in the deed of this property to the City of Morristown. The deed requires the property to be kept open for the use and enjoyment of the public. It was pointed out that sale of King Park may allow the heirs of the original grantors to reclaim the property.  Appraised value was $160,000.00. [There are many King heirs in Morristown as well as other locations. I am one of those heirs as are my sisters. My mother and her brother are heirs. My cousins--my uncle's children-- live in Morristown.]

Councilmember Claude Jinks said he would vote for whatever the School Board wants.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 29, 2010 And the Sewer Rates Are Going Up AGAIN

Another bad budget bites the dust.

In June 2009, the Morristown City Council adopted a deficit Fiscal Year 2010 sewer fund budget against the advice of its paid consultant Lamar Dunn.  [Dunn presented a rate study to council in June 2009 and told council that the FY 10 sewer rate increase should be 14% to cover sewer fund expenses. Council ignored the recommendation and instead raised rates by 8% in FY 10, adopting a deficit sewer budget] For more on adoption of the current deficit sewer budget, click here and here.

Now just seven months later, the Mayor and Council called Dunn to come to the Finance Committee meeting yesterday and give them a sewer "update."  Without saying "I told you so," Dunn's update reminded  the Mayor and councilmembers that they adopted a deficit budget (which they already knew) and that the city's sewer fund is in the hole as result (exactly what he told them would happen).

Solution. Pay Dunn for another rate study--since you ignored the last one you paid for.

Industries and residences better start socking away money--if they have any--for yet another big sewer rate increase.

Sewer costs are a major factor in the budgets of many existing Morristown industries and of industries that might consider locating here. With large sewer rate increases year after year, the City and Industrial Development Board (IDB)/Jack Fishman may at some point realize that spiraling sewer rates are one reason that it so hard to get new industry to locate in Morristown (without tax incentives) and that spiraling sewer rates have a negative impact on existing industries (that get no tax breaks).

And it goes without saying that skyrocketing sewer rates have a major impact on hard-pressed family budgets as well.

The new increase could be adopted right after Dunn's study is complete or it may be included as part of the adoption of the FY 2010-2011 sewer fund budget in May or June 2010.

[Dunn also told the Mayor and Council that the "unknown" regulatory cost that he mentioned in his June 2009 rate review is now a huge "known" regulatory sewer cost. Morristown is under a Commissioner's regulatory ORDER to fix sewer problems that were ignored for years and years, to develop and actually implement a maintenance plan, and to provide reports to the state for the next several years of compliance with the Commissioner's ORDER.  This known regulatory cost will be a factor in Dunn's new study.]

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 26, 2010 Sheriff's Deputies Running for Public Office

Several years ago, a large number of Hamblen County deputies asked the Hamblen County Legislative Body to adopt a civil service act that would protect them from routine firings when a new sheriff takes office. Hamblen County did so. T.C.A. 8-8-401 et seq.

Now some of those deputies (such as Ernie Burzell and also David Kitts) are finding that the local civil service act may be a double-edged sword with the state attorney general opining (October 2009) that a deputy who is covered by civil service (such as Hamblen County deputies) must resign prior to running for sheriff. 

Here's my previous post which includes a link to the October 2009 opinion on the subject of deputies running for the office of sheriff.

Yesterday, another Tennessee Attorney General's Opinion (AGO) was released on this same subject (click here). Yesterday's opinion not only discusses a deputy (under civil service) who wants to run for sheriff but also a deputy (under civil service) who wants to run for county commission. The opinion states that "under certain circumstances" a deputy sheriff would have to resign in order to run for county commission. 

This new opinion also repeats that a deputy (under civil service) who wants to announce his candidacy for sheriff must resign or be in violation of T.C.A. 8-8-419. The opinion adds that in certain circumstances the federal Hatch Act may prohibit an employee of a state or local agency from being a candidate for elective office "unless said election is nonpartisan."

Locally, at least four individuals (Sheriff Esco Jarnagin and Hamblen County deputies Ernie Burzell, David Kitts, and Wayne Blevins) are impacted by this new AGO--and a fifth individual (Deputy Roy Rucker) may be impacted if he decides to announce his candidacy for Hamblen County Sheriff. 

Deputy Ernie Burzell announced his candidacy for Hamblen County Sheriff with Sheriff Esco Jarnagin  allowing Burzell to take administrative leave in lieu of resigning.  Deputy David Kitts announced his candidacy for Sheriff in Jefferson County but thus far has not had to take administrative leave or resign--apparently because the candidacy was in another county. It is my understanding that Deputy Wayne Blevins is running, or is planning to run, for constable. That would involve announcing his candidacy for elective office and then he, too, could be seen as being in violation of the civil service act.

An article in the local "news"paper last week mentioned that county attorney Rusty Cantwell was asking  State Rep. John Litz and State Sen. Steve Southerland "to request an attorney general's opinion."

With the October 2009 and January 2010 opinions already in place, a third opinion from the same office on deputies under civil service announcing their candidacy for office would likely be a waste of time.  No matter how many "opinions" are issued,  a deputy who wants to run for Sheriff and who disagrees with these opinions could file a lawsuit and ask a court to make the decision.

The Hamblen County Civil Service Board, relying on the October 2009 AGO, has recently filed a complaint against Sheriff Jarnagin, Deputy Kitts, and Deputy Blevins with the Hamblen County Ethics Committee. If the paper is correct, the ethics complaint wants all civil service employees treated alike and asserts that Kitts and Blevins should be allowed to take administrative leave to run for office like Burzell did. 

If you are going by the October 2009 and the newly-minted January 2010 opinion, it looks like treating  Burzell, Kitts, and Blevins alike--as the civil service board wants--may actually mean giving each the choice of resigning or being fired if they seek elective office.

According to the "news"paper, Bill Brittain, acting-chairman of the Ethics Committee, said that the Ethics Committee is "going to wait until we get the attorney general's opinion...that's what we've been advised to do." Presumably, the advice to do nothing and wait on yet another AG's opinion came from county attorney/Ethics Committee attorney Rusty Cantwell. And the purpose of getting (another) attorney general's opinion is????  The AG has already released two recent opinions that say a deputy who is under civil service must resign before announcing his candidacy for sheriff and, in some cases, before announcing his candidacy for other offices as well.

This is a proverbial can of worms. Don't be surprised if someone--whether from Hamblen County or from some other county--ends up taking this to court to get a real resolution to this rather getting a third or fourth opinion.

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22, 2010 How Morristown Can Start To Get Its Financial Affairs in Order

A prior noe4accountability post notes Morristown Mayor Sami Barile's admission on Tuesday, January 19, that the City had no reserves and nothing in its rainy day fund as of 6/30/07 and that the City has just recently discovered this fact. There are many other financial facts that the Mayor and Council do not know about --in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

The major reason for this financial debacle was and is a total lack of checks and balances and a lack of accountability on the part of the Mayor and City Council. The Mayor once stated that the Mayor and Council shouldn't micromanage the affairs of the City. Well, how about just some kind of management?  How about paying attention?  How can you be accountable if you don't even know what's going on and don't try to find out?

After the Mayor's January 19th statement, I presented some commonsense suggestions to the City about how it might begin the process of gaining budgetary control and establishing some accountability for taxpayer funds.

1) Establish separate bank accounts for the city's main funds (general fund and sewer fund) as well as for minor funds (especially grant funds).  Presently, the city has one big bank account and all checks are written off that account.  The City should abolish the one big bank account system that has contributed to the current situation with repeated violations of state law as the City simply keeps writing checks and dipping into or borrowing sewer funds without local and state authorization when the general fund runs out of money or needs to be shored up.  Here is another suggestion that I did not mention in my comments to council: the City also needs to review its Charter and determine if the commingling of sewer monies and general fund monies in one big bank account is prohibited by the Charter. The Charter is on the city website, but one never knows if the online form is an updated and accurate version.

2)  Have timely presentation of budget amendments by the Budget and Finance Directors and department heads. You shouldn't be making one big budget amendment in late 2009 or early 2010 to figure out what happened on 6/30/09 which is the end of FY 2009.

3) Enact an ordinance that provides clear whistleblower protection to those employees or others who are willing to come forward with information about fraud, waste, abuse, suspected illegal money transfers, misuse of grant funds, etc.

4) Do a complete and detailed audit for 2009.  The current audit is a typical governmental audit that is just a cursory sampling of a small number of revenue and expenditure items that are provided to the auditor. If the small number of samples looks OK, the auditors give an opinion that the financial statements fairly represent the financial situation of the city.  While a cursory sampling is all that is required by the state for a regular  annual audit, at this time Morristown desperately needs a full and detailed outside audit of virtually all transactions and financial procedures and internal controls. A new administrator, Anthony Cox, has arrived just in time to hear the revelations of past (2007 and 2008) and current (2009) financial switcheroos and violations of state law. The Mayor, councilmembers, and Mr. Cox should insist on a full and detailed audit and get this financial ship righted and then keep it right!

The City's situation reminds me of the county's situation right before I was elected to county commission in 2002. As a citizen I had been watching and gathering information as my concerns about rising taxes and new taxes (remember the "temporary" wheel tax) and school board construction program bid-rigging (multi-millions of dollar in one-bid contracts) grew. I knew there were violations of state law and financial shenanigans. I went to the Comptroller's Office in August 2001 and in mid-2002 state law was changed to stop the school board's version of construction management with its one-bid contracts.

Then I ran for county commission on a platform of open government, change, and accountability. Once elected, I made the motion to have auditors from the State Comptroller's Office perform the county's audit. The first audit by the Comptroller's personnel saved the county $18,000 AND resulted in a huge number of findings of violations of state law and financial irrregularities. In fact, Hamblen County had more findings that any other county in the state. While the initial audit by the state auditors reflected badly on Hamblen County financial operations, the end result was better controls and fewer violations in future years. Click here for a short post on the first audit by the State Comptroller's auditors.

Morristown needs to take its medicine and get a new set of auditing eyes NOW and for the future. Getting a new set of auditing eyes is not a direct reflection on the current city auditors [who, incidentally, were the county's auditors in 2002 before the Comptroller's personnel came in].  Auditors need to be changed routinely every 3-5 years.  It is hard for a local auditor to be truly independent when he or she lives in the same community and goes to church with and belongs to the same clubs as the elected officials and governmental employees being audited.  That's human nature, but it can be eliminated by getting outside auditors and rotating auditors periodically.

What I did from 2000-2002 in prompting a change in state law to address the local school board's bid-rigging scheme and its construction management system of paying people to manage themselves made me no friends on the school board.

What I did in county government from 2002-2006 in exposing waste and abuse and demanding accountability for county taxpayer dollars made me no friends in high places.

And those enemies among the politically, socially, and financially high and mighty continue to attack and attack.

Well, so be it. I'm not going away. There are large numbers of Americans across this beautiful country who are just now waking up to the waste, corruption, lies, and conflicts of interest in government at every level. I had my awakening years ago.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

January 20, 2010 Mayor Barile: The City Was Broke in 2007 But We Just Became Aware of This in Recent Weeks

At yesterday's City Council meeting, Mayor Barile was asked to answer a question that she had been asked some time ago: What reserves (fund balance) did the City of Morristown have at the end of FY 2007 (6/30/07)

Mayor Barile: The city had NO reserves in 2007 but we just became aware of this in recent weeks.

Mayor Barile and councilmembers, that information was in the 2007 audit that you were given in 2008! If you just became aware of this "in recent weeks," it must be because YOU didn't look at the 2007 audit,  YOUR auditor failed to discuss this audit factoid with you, and YOUR esteemed former City Administrator Jim Crumley didn't tell you that he had driven the city to bankruptcy and was covering it up by illegally switching money around. 

Hint to Mayor Barile and council: Now you need to look at and READ the 2008 audit. Check on available fund balance as of 6/30/08. You might "become aware" of more disturbing news. Click here for more on Bankruptcygate.

And if you pay attention and ask questions and end the feel-good spending, you might be able to stop the bleeding that has been going on right under your nose.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19, 2010 Tennessee Financial Info at Your Fingertips

Someone has done a lot of work to make it easy for Tennesseans to access loads of financial information.

Check out
Created by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

January 7, 2010 Mayor and City Council Caught in Web of Unauthorized Money Shifting in Violation of State Law

[Updated 1/8/10: See my note at the end of this post]

At the end of the January 4th City Finance Committee meeting, Councilmember Kay Senter said, “It is what it is.” Her comment came at the conclusion of a remarkable meeting that showed how little the Mayor and Councilmembers know about the city’s finances and what little effort they put forth to find out what's going on. The meeting also provided a glimpse of how much money shifting (plenty!!) has gone at the City Center to cover up mismanagement and financial problems.

I will try to summarize the major item of discussion but lots more will be said later.

Short and sweet version: The City’s General Government Fund had a deficit of over $1.2 Million dollars as of 6/30/09! Unlike the federal government, local governments in Tennessee can not end their fiscal year in a deficit situation. To remedy this “cash flow” problem, the City was planning to let the Sewer Fund loan $1 Million + to the City’s General Fund. After all, that’s what the City did in 2007 and 2008–illegally and without authorization –when the General Fund had a deficit.

This time, though, it was third strike and you’re out. Citizens and others have caught on to the city’s old scheme of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”  Citizens for Accountability.

See my earlier post discussing the illegal transfer/loan of $2.5 Million from the Sewer to the General Fund to cover up the 2008 General Fund deficit and the auditors November 2009 e-mail to Interim Administrator Lynn Wampler "explaining" the auditors involvement/non-involvement. That illegal transfer/loan was not reported as an audit finding in the 2008 audit by the "independent" auditors. [Interim Administrator Wampler has a copy of my e-mail to the State Comptroller’s Office and Mr. Dycus' reply e-mail stating that David Bowling, State Comptroller's Office, must approve inter-fund loans and that they must first be passed by the city council.]

Faced with another General Fund money shortage in 2009, Mr. Wampler and Budget Director Brian Janish  talked to Mr. David Bowling and to MTAS Consultants to see if the City could pass a local ordinance in January 2010 for a Sewer Fund to General Fund loan that would be “retroactive” to 6/30/09 and would erase the current deficit in the 6/30/09 audit.

According to Janish and Wampler, MTAS consultants and the Comptroller’s Office have thus far said “no” to the 6/30/09 retroactive loan--just as they probably would have said "no" to the 2007 and 2008 retroactive loans IF the City hadn’t just slipped the earlier loans through without a word. 

[The 2009 audit has been delayed AGAIN. There are rumors that the City and its auditors are still trying to figure out a way to handle the 2009 General Fund deficit without an audit finding. Apparently, the city and the auditors are talking to everyone to try and come up with a "solution" to the violation of state law. Surely, the auditors can't ignore or gloss over these illegal, unauthorized transfers a THIRD TIME.  Since cities and counties often get "help" from higher up to cover up violations of law, it remains to be seen what the city and its auditors will be allowed to do to cover up what is actually a third  violation in a row of state law. One idea that has been floated around--see below--is to simply call the loan a "payable" and a "receivable."

For two years (2007 and 2008), the city just illegally shifted money from the Sewer Fund to the General Fund without even making an effort to get required local and state approval. I have little doubt that a third illegal money shift would have taken place quietly in 2009 had former City Administrator Jim Crumley still been around. Jim pulled the wool over the Mayor and Council ’s eyes in a lot of ways. Because the Mayor and Council did not pay attention and have not taken care of taxpayers’ and ratepayers’ sewer money, citizens are stepping up to do what they can. [Click on the Citizens for Accountability link for the website of the new citizens group that will be providing information to the public and holding local city and county officials accountable for the actions. Citizens for Accountability.]

Bottom line. The City illegally shifted money (Sewer Fund to General Fund) to cover up or lessen the General’s Fund’s poor financial situation in 07 and 08. Jim Crumley (former City Administrator) and Brian Janish (Budget Director) and Buddy Fielder (Assistant Administrator) and Dynise Robertson (Finance Director) did not report this situation to the Mayor and Council. The local auditors (Craine, Thompson & Jones) did not report this situation to the Mayor and Council nor did they report these unauthorized loans as an audit finding in 2008. The Mayor and Councilmembers obviously did not examine the 2007 and 2008 audits or one of them surely would have spotted these unapproved transfers and would have seen that the money shown as general fund balance or surplus was not really general fund money at all but was largely a temporary loan of money to the General Fund.

The gig is up.

This year the City is “caught” with a 6/30/09 deficit that it can’t erase with another illegal, unauthorized loan. Aas mentioned above, one idea to "get around" the violation is to have the auditors report that “$1.2 Million is due from the General Fund to the Sewer Fund” and “$1.2 Million is due to the Sewer Fund from the General Fund.” That's a loan but it just doesn’t use the word loan.  After all, it all depends on what the meaning of "loan" is! If your auditor will report a loan as a "receivable" and a "payable" and if the State will accept this new way of reporting loans, then maybe Morristown will have once again broken ground with a way to "legally" violate state statutes. And then other cities and counties who find themselves with a deficit can also cover it up with this new auditing angle.

Regardless, this three-year fiasco highlights a number of serious problems at the City Center:

1. Auditors that have allowed illegal, unauthorized loans (Sewer Fund to General Fund) for 2007 and 2008 without reporting them to the Mayor and Council.

2. Budget and Finance Personnel who have been a party to these illegal, unauthorized loans without reporting or seeking approval of the Mayor and Council.

3. A former City Administrator who was the major player in these illegal, unauthorized loans without reporting or seeking the approval of the Mayor and Council.

4. A Mayor and Councilmembers who did not take the time to examine the yearly audits, ask questions, and get answers. [The cash poor condition of the General Fund was evident in the audits--but you had to actually open the audit and look at a few key pages to see that unauthorized loans were being recorded in the audits to "cover up" the dire financial condition of the City].

Elected office is not just a fancy title with a nameplate and special parking place. It is a high calling when you are entrusted with other people’s money. Elected officials ask to be put into office. If given the opportunity to serve, they have an obligation to give whatever time it takes and to do whatever is necessary to see that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and legally.

[Update 1/8/10. I have deleted my 1/5/10 post which was almost identical to this post. My e-mail (left) requesting info on procedures for inter-fund loans was to Mr. Dennis Dycus in the Comptroller's Office. I sent the e-mail to ensure that my understanding of the procedures for such loans does require local and then state approval.  In his reply, Mr. Dycus confirmed that a local resolution or ordinance must be passed first and then Mr. David Bowling, Division of Local Finance in the Comptroller's office, must give approval to any inter-fund loans between the sewer fund and the general fund. In 2007 and 2008, the City violated state law and just made these transfers without council approval AND without state approval in order to give a quick "fix" to the general fund deficit.  The "independent" auditors reported this "fix" (a/k/a unauthorized and illegal transfer) in the 08 audit as a "loan" even though there was apparently no documentation of a loan in either year. 6/30/09: the city AGAIN has a general fund deficit and the audit is delayed while the city and the "independent" auditors  AGAIN try to find a way to "fix" the mismanagement once more.]

Monday, January 04, 2010

January 4, 2010 E-mails from Dubai, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates

It looks like overseas e-mail scams are revving up again. 

Just this past month, I have received several e-mails purportedly from a man or woman or government official in Dubai, Nigeria, or the United Arab Emirates who somehow just happened to pick me to handle hundreds of thousands and in some case millions of dollars for them.

While this scam is not new, it seemed to die down for a while before picking up renewed steam recently.  Click here for more info on this con game.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

January 3, 2010 Sewer Neglect Catches Up with City--Expensive Testing, Expensive Repairs, and More Sewer Rate Increases Are Coming

Bad news about the city's sewer continued to unfold at last month's Finance Committee meeting on 12/10/09. While the exact dollar amount of testing and repair is not known, what is known is that more increases for ratepayers are just around the corner. Finance and council meetings really should be televised--then the public might actually know at least a little bit about what's going on in the City of Morristown.

In December, Lamar Dunn of Lamar Dunn & Associates presented his "Engineer Review." In the Review, Dunn addressed the state's fines, multiple directives to the City, and state timelines/deadlines for corrective action on a long list of sewer deficiencies. Dunn discussed sewer overflows, development and implementation of a capacity, collection, and treatment program for new sewer connections, development of a Comprehensive Management, Operations, and Maintenance Program, a CAP/ER action plan (including an analysis of the reliability of each pump station and a hydraulic model of the collection system) and annual progress reports to the state that begin in 2011 and continue until 2017.

Dunn's plan involves lengthy and expensive investigative testing of manholes and sewer lines as well as an action plan to address the findings and state concerns. Dunn's plan only addresses the Turkey Creek plant. Lowland was not discussed in December.

At the conclusion of his power-point presentation, Dunn mentioned that these state directives were the "unknown" regulatory issue and future "unknown" costs that he spoke to council about in June 2009 when sewer rates were hiked by 8% a year for the next three years. Dunn, apparently referring to his proposal to hike sewer rates by 14% the first year (click here), said that council adopted a "deficit" (sewer) budget in June 2009. Click here for that 11:00 am sewer rate meeting.

Dunn estimates that $828,000 would be required for manhole testing over a period of 467 days. The smoke testing is estimated at $1,007,424 over a period of 475 days. To pay for at least some of the testing, Dunn  thinks some money can be pulled from an already existing SRF (state revolving fund) loan.

A lot of these problems were apparently known back in 2006 and 2007.  Dunn mentioned a 2006 contract he had with the city where he outlined much of this work years ago. Councilmember Bob Garrett asked Bryan Fowler, head of wastewater for the city, why Dunn's study had been ignored. Fowler had no answer except  to say that the 2007 plan was "too costly" to implement so the city did nothing.   Fowler never said what the cost to fix the problems in 2007 would have been, and no one asked.

The testing is expensive, but it is only the tip of the sewer iceberg of neglect.  It is likely that there will be major costs associated with addressing the problems that are found through testing. Dunn predicted that the city will not know the full costs of the sewer problems or the full impact of those costs--another round of sewer rate increases--until 2012.  The city will then have to perform corrective work from 2012-2017.

The costs to take care of problems that were known but not addressed in 2007 was apparently HUGE. Now after additional years of neglect, sewer customers (residential and industrial) can get ready for another round of sewer rate increases--on top of the large increases just approved 6 months ago.

And woe be the customer who lives outside the city but is hooked to the sewer. Outside customers will  automatically pay twice every increase that is voted.  In this case, automatically=arbitrarily and capriciously. And illegally according to councilmember Bob Garrett and according to my research of this issue over a period of several years.

See Bob Garrett's comments here. Garrett, former head of the water department, knows that water and sewer rates have to be based on the cost of providing service, not just on some arbitrary "policy" of charging some customers twice as much as others. Water and sewer are fee-based services to customers. Taxpaying and non-taxpaying customers are to be treated alike unless there are specific cost differences for providing services to one group.

If it costs twice as much to serve outside customers, then a double fee is justified. The City, however, doesn't even attempt to provide a cost justification for double outside sewer rates because of these facts about its 140+ outside customers: 1) The sewer lines for the largest group of outside customers--about 50--were given to the city by the county as part of the county's Russellville Sewer project.  No cost to the city to extend lines there but those double fees are charged. 2) Many other outside customers simply hooked onto existing city lines. No cost to the city to extend lines there but those double fees are charged. 3) Many outside customers are actually closer to the treatment plant than a lot of inside customers. No or few additional costs to get outside sewage to the treatment plant but those double fees are charged.

Council's failure to provide any cost justification for double outside rates and council's failure to answer questions about its automatic double increases for outside customers were documented at the council meeting on July 7, 2009. Click here for a summary.

This is another of those issues that the local "news"paper (Citizen Tribune) will not tackle. Why? Well, the local reporter for the Tribune is Robert Moore.  Moore's employer is R. Jack Fishman, president of Lakeway Publishers, which owns the Tribune.  Fishman, wearing his City Industrial Board hat, recently asked the city council to provide money for the acquisition of additional land at the ETPC (East Tennessee Progress Center) at I-81. Fishman has also asked that the city use eminent domain to force the sale of any land that is not willingly sold by the owner.

Moore and the Trib can't and won't investigate the issue of arbitrary and illegal sewer rates and other city issues (like the transfer of $2.5 Million dollars from the sewer fund to the general fund without the required local or state authorization) because the end result would be to expose years and years of arbitrary and unjustified double sewer rates charged to outside customers by the Mayor and City Council.  Moore and Fishman and the Trib are more concerned with getting what THEY want than with a search for the truth about those 140+ "outside" sewer customers who automatically get charged double sewer rates by the city month after month, year after year.

I don't recall Moore and the Trib never reporting Bob Garrett's statements on the illegality of automatic double sewer rates. Wonder why? Apparently, personal conflicts of interest and political agendas cloud and compromise whatever journalistic integrity may exist at the Trib.

Do Moore and the Trib care about double sewer charges?  Do Moore and the Trib care that many of these double-charged customers are low-income households? If the Trib didn't put its own agenda in front of the needs of others, it would have Moore out making calls and investigating and getting information about this situation on behalf of a paper seeking to become a part of the solution instead of simply parroting those who make false statements or tell half-truths.

January 3, 2010 Consultant Tells Jefferson County: Align with Knox Area Instead of Morristown-Hamblen County

The Jefferson County Standard Banner headline on December 29, 2009, reads: County Should Align Itself with Knox Area. 

Jefferson County's Industrial Development Board hired an Atlanta consultant, Jay Garner, to assemble information and statistics about local economic development and to recommend ways to improve how county handles business recruitment and growth.

Garner's study notes that almost as many Jefferson Countians commute to Knoxville for work (5000) as Jefferson Countians who stay in the county for work (5353).  Based on this greater "synergy" with Knoxville, Garner recommends that Jefferson County should try to be removed from the Morristown MSA (metropolitan statistical area) and seek to be included in the Knoxville MSA.

Garner also suggests that Jefferson County be a part of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley as an effort to bring high-tech jobs with good salaries to Jefferson County. According to Garner, Jefferson County's per capita income is currently $25,200---$8,000 below the state average.

Garner's 72-page report will be reviewed at the Industrial Board's January meeting.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

January 2, 2010 Where's the City Council Agenda for January 5, 2010?

The City of Morristown provides its agenda online so people with internet access can find out what is to be discussed or voted on at its meetings. Those without internet access are left to guess or make individual calls to the City (581-0100) to find out if an item of interest to them will be on the council's agenda.

The Tuesday agenda is usually put on the city's website on the Thursday or Friday prior to the Tuesday meeting. Those who have accessed the council agendas online know that normally there is a link to the full agenda for the upcoming city council meeting beside the date of the meeting.You click on the online link to the agenda and then you can see the full agenda and decide whether you want to attend.

For the Tuesday, January 5th meeting, there is no agenda available online at this time.  Maybe after this post appears, an agenda will appear at the last minute on Monday or maybe someone will be called in to take care of this even before Monday.

This is what was copied from the City's website today with italics added:

1/4/2010 Finance Committee City Center, Mayor's Conf. Room 3:30 PM

1/5/2010 City Council City Center, Council Chambers including Work Session 4:00 PM

The City website is here.
Oh, the Finance Committee meeting that is scheduled for Monday (1/4/10) at 3:30 is not a regularly scheduled meeting. The regular Finance Committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday, December 31, but there was a classified newspaper announcement that ran on December 31 ON THE REGULAR MEETING DAY stating that this meeting had been cancelled and re-scheduled for 1/4/10.
Now most people get their paper in the afternoon or in the evening after work. Announcing ON THE DAY OF THE MEETING that a meeting has been cancelled shows little planning and little concern about the public.
There is no agenda available online for the Finance Committee meeting.  For some reason, a Finance Committee agenda is rarely, if ever, posted.  A few months ago, I called the chairman of the Finance Committee to see what was on the Finance Committee agenda. On the evening before the meeting, the Finance Committee Chairman Frank McGuffin said that he did not have a printed agenda.
When I asked if he knew what would be discussed, he was able to tell me a few of the items that he knew would come up. When I arrived at the actual meeting the next day, lo and behold, there was a printed and lengthy agenda.  I'm not sure when it was printed, but my guess is that it was probably printed on the day of the meeting because an agenda, if there was one, would surely have been e-mailed or sent to the chairman of the Finance Committee more than 24 hours before the meeting??!!
Not providing an agenda or making people call to find out what is on an agenda is a way to keep the public uninformed. It is also a good way to keep people from attending or participating in meetings. If they don't know or can't find out what will be discussed, they will be more likely to stay home.
Of course, the 3:30 PM Finance meeting times and the 4:00 PM Council meeting times are an additional deterrent to public participation. Click here to see the vote on changing meeting times. 

January 2, 2010 Todd Morgan, Morristown Planning Dept, Nominates Morristown College for Historic Preservation

The Knoxville News-Sentinel recently ran an article on the nomination of the Morristown College site to a list of endangered, historical buildings in East Tennessee--East Tennessee's Endangered Heritage.

Todd Morgan, a member of the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance and City of Morristown Economic Development employee, made the nomination. The article is here.

Sadly, the City of Morristown passed up the opportunity to acquire this site many years ago when preservation would have been more feasible and economical than it is now. Unfortunately, the current owner has done little or nothing to maintain or develop the site.

The Morristown College site, overlooking the city, is beautiful. After 15 years of neglect, however, many of the buildings are in a state of complete disrepair and the other buildings would be far more costly to renovate today than would have been the case years ago.

The site would have been a beautiful, central location for the Morristown City Center and related operations. Not to mention providing a wonderful location for a community center at some point in time with the added advantage of preserving an important part of Morristown's historical heritage.

However, instead of acquiring the Morristown College land and renovating one of the existing buildings for a city center, the City tore down its City Hall at the northeast corner of Henry and Cumberland, paved over that land, and then spent $10-11 million dollars on a new and lavish City Center a few hundred feet away.

Tearing down historical buildings is not exactly new for the City and County.  Allowing demolition of the downtown train depot is one of the most unfortunate examples of a failure to appreciate and preserve the history of this area. [If my recollection is correct, the city is now discussing plans to erect a "replica" of the old train depot at Fred Miller Park.  Nothing like tearing down the real thing and erecting a replica years later.]

And there's nothing like building a fancy, schmancy new City Center instead of renovating a historical building on a beautiful hilltop site that has room for all kinds of parking and expansion.   

Friday, January 01, 2010

January 1, 2010 Former Lt. Gov. John Wilder Dies

Former Tennessee Lieutenant Governor/Speaker of the Senate John Wilder died at 12:10 am on this the first day of January 2010. Wilder had been hospitalized since Monday after suffering a stroke.

The News-Sentinel has a brief story here.

The Tennessean has a more thorough recap of Wilder's remarkable career here.

The high point for Wilder was his ability to hold onto the position of Lt. Governor for 36 years.

One very low point for Wilder was the Tennessee Waltz political corruption/bribery sting in 2005.

As indictments were announced and arrests of state senators were made in Nashville, Wilder did not express concern over the corruption and bribe-taking by his colleagues.

Instead, Wilder took to the well of the senate to pray against those who "wrongly" offered money to his fellow senators. Click here.