Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27, 2010 Hamblen County Mayor and Sheriff Candidates Debate on June 24

Morristown-Hamblen Citizens for Accountability is sponsoring debates between Hamblen County Mayor candidates Bill Brittain (R) and John Litz (D) and between Hamblen County Sheriff candidates Esco Jarnagin (R) and Ernie Burzell (D).

The two debates will take place on June 24, beginning at 6:00 PM, at the West Hamblen Volunteer Fire Department meeting room---located on the West A.J. Highway just west of the intersection of A.J. and Highway 160.  It is free and open to the public.

For more information and updates, visit the Citizens for Accountability website at

You can submit proposed questions for the candidates by e-mailing them to

And while you are at the CFA site, you can view videos of recent meetings and work and budget sessions of the Morristown City Council.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19, 2010 Mayor and City Council Are Called Upon To Quit Violating Their Charter and Ordinances

The Mayor and City Council and City Administrator have been violating the city charter and a city ordinance for years. The City Charter, which is the governing document for city government, states that Sewer Fund monies must be kept separate from all other funds. An Ordinance that was passed by the Mayor and Council years ago says the same thing.

Despite its own Charter and Ordinance, the City lumps its Sewer Fund monies in the same bank account with General Fund monies and other funds. Why? Would it be so General Fund expenses can be paid with checks drawn off the one bank account, thus accessing Sewer Funds to pay General Fund expenses when General Fund cash has been depleted as occurred in 2007, 2008, and 2009? Only the Mayor, Council, and City Administrator and staff could answer that question, and, of course, auditors who apparently made an "adjusting entry" for each illegal and unauthorized switcheroo.

I initially tried to get these violations addressed and resolved privately. I gave a copy of the Charter provision and the Ordinance to Administrator Cox shortly after he arrived, and I discussed the matter with Councilman Gene Brooks and Cox. At that time, Cox said he would "research" this matter. I waited several weeks on the "research," called Mr. Cox again, and was told that nothing had been done and that this situation was not a priority. Yes, a Charter and City Ordinance violation is not a priority for the City Administrator.

With no action being taken, I finally made my concerns public at the May 4 council meeting. Cox responded by repeating that he had more pressing things to take care of and planned to look into this later in the summer. Councilmember Senter said that the council was "aware" of the situation. Yes, the City Administrator, Mayor, and Councilmembers are aware of their violation of the City Charter and City Ordinances, but not one of them expressed any concern or took any action.

[And no, the "news"paper did not report my May 4 statement to council about its violations of its own Charter and its own Ordinance. And, no, the "news"paper never asked for documentation of this allegation when I first made it public on May 4. Apparently, the "news"paper thinks that violations of City beer ordinances are front-page material (see "news"paper article of May 6), but the "news"paper doesn't consider the Mayor and Council's violations of the City Charter and City ordinances newsworthy.]

Another two weeks passed and nothing was done, so at yesterday's May 18 council meeting, I repeated my concerns about the city's violations of its own charter and ordinances and handed the Mayor and each member a copy of the Charter provision found at

Sec. 4. Be it further enacted. That all proceeds received from the sale of bonds issued under this Act and all fees, rents, tolls or other charges received by the city from the operation of sewerage system...shall be paid to the city administrator, or in the absence of the office of the city administrator, the mayor, who shall not commingle any money so received with any other monies of the city, but the monies received shall be deposited in a separate bank account or accounts, in the name of the city.

And a copy of the Ordinance found at$FILE/morristown.t-18.pdf

18-308. Recorder to keep sewer charges in separate accounts. The recorder shall keep the funds received from sewer charges in separate set out in § 9 of the resolution adopted by the city council on May 15, 1959...


I asked council to uphold their oath of office. I asked the Mayor to uphold her oath and perform her duty to ensure that City ordinances are enforced:

It shall be the duty of the see that all the ordinances of the city are duly enforced, respected and observed within the city; [and] to take an oath of office before he enters upon the duties of the same....


Why is following these charter and ordinance provisions important?

1. Because a separate Sewer Fund might have prevented or could, at least, have provided advance warning that the general fund was in a deficit cash balance situation at the end of FY 07, 08, and 09.

2. Because separation of the Sewer Fund ensures better accountability for sewer fees and expenditures.

3. Because the Sewer Fund is a business enterprise fund or operation of the City while the General Fund is a government operations fund.

4. Because the Mayor, Councilmembers, and the City Administrator-- as much or more so than any other person in the City---should follow the charter and ordinances of the City of Morristown.

This is not rocket science.

The Mayor and Councilmembers took an oath of office. One of the specific duties of the Mayor is to see that the Ordinances of the City are enforced and respected.

For the Mayor and Councilmembers and City Administrator to follow the Charter and Sewer Ordinances requires no more than setting up a separate Sewer Fund bank account and getting checks for that account.

There is absolutely no excuse for the Mayor, Councilmembers, and the City Administrator to knowingly and willfully continue to violate the City Charter and City Ordinance(s).  [The City Attorney is aware of the Charter and Ordinance provisions and is also aware of the continuing violations by the Mayor, city officials and staff.]

May 19, 2010 Scott Purkey Is No Longer a Member of County Civil Service Board

Rusty Cantwell, Hamblen County's attorney, and Jeff Taylor, attorney for the Hamblen County Civil Service Board, have reviewed the case law and citations that I provided to Taylor about a month ago and have agreed that Scott Purkey legally gave up his position on the Civil Service Board last fall when he accepted appointment to the Construction Board of Appeals. 

Scott Purkey is the nephew of County Mayor David Purkey and former Sheriff Otto Purkey. Scott was  appointed to the Hamblen County Civil Service Board in early 2009.

Although state law says that a member of the civil service board can not hold any other elected or appointed position in the county, Scott accepted appointment as a member of the Construction Board of Appeals in the fall of 2009.

When I pointed out to the Hamblen County Commission that Scott's membership on two boards was a violation of the civil service act, Scott tried to resolve the problem---and hold onto his Civil Service Board position--- by resigning from the Construction Board of Appeals. [And, no, the local "news"paper didn't report this intial allegation during the public comments portion of a Hamblen County Commission  meeting]

The problem with Scott's violation of the law and his attempt to fix it by resigning from the Construction Board of Appeals---as I mentioned in several earlier blog posts--is that there is case law that when an individual accepts a second "incompatible office,"  he automatically gives up the first office.

Scott was appointed to the civil service board first. When he accepted appointment to the board of construction appeals at a later date, he voluntarily and automatically gave up his civil service position since he could not serve on both and chose to accept the board of construction appeals appointment.

Click here, here, and here.

But never fear, Scott is launching a campaign to get re-appointed to the Civil Service Board. And  there are several county commissioners who will do whatever Scott and his uncles (County Mayor David Purkey and former Sheriff Otto Purkey) ask as the Purkeys continue to nip at Sheriff Esco Jarnagin's heels because Jarnagin defeated Scott's Uncle Otto and David's brother Otto in 2006.

A lot of people think that county commissioners would not and should not appoint people who have been and who are active opponents of the Sheriff to the Civil Service Board.  Independence and fairness should be the hallmark of service on the Civil Service Board.

Because current Sheriff Esco Jarnagin defeated Scott's Uncle Otto Purkey in 2006, appointing Scott Purkey to the Civil Service Board that handles grievances against Sheriff Jarnagin is like stacking a jury with friends of the Defendant. 

Civil service was adopted as a means to help remove politics from the Sheriff's department. Scott Purkey should not even ask to be appointed to a Board that handles grievances against the man who defeated his Uncle Otto, but he will. 

Scott Purkey's  first and now this second effort to get on the Hamblen County Civil Service Board is tainted and compromised by his political and family ties to the man (Otto Purkey) who lost a heated political race to current Sheriff Esco Jarnagin in 2006.

But this is Hamblen County, and the Purkeys, who still haven't forgotten and haven't moved past Jarnagin's victory over Otto in 2006, continue to try to make things difficult for Jarnagin. It will be interesting to watch the politics of Scott Purkey's push to get back on the Civil Service Board where he can vote on issues involving the man (Esco Jarnagin) who defeated his Uncle Otto Purkey.

It will be interesting to watch as commissioners put on blinders to vote for Scott Purkey, ignoring the political and family ties that naturally compromise and raise questions about Scott's independence and fairness in anything involving Esco Jarnagin. 

If the shoe were on the other foot, wonder how many commissioners would appoint someone with strong family and political ties to their opponent(s) to a board that handles grievances against commissioners?

If a commissioner were a defendant in a trial, how many commissioners would want to have the trial before a judge or jury with strong family and political ties to their opponent?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 12, 2010 State Comptroller Sends Letter to Mayor Barile on City's Violations of State Law and Audit Compliance Issues

The local "news"paper and its city and crime beat reporter Bob Moore have run several stories about the May 4, 2010, council meeting. Bob has taken a week to gradually cover bits and pieces from the May 4th meeting!

Despite taking a week to cover the May 4th council meeting, there hasn't been a front-page article about the April 20, 2010, letter from the State Comptroller to Mayor Barile (click on each page above to enlarge and read) regarding the city's loan application (TRAN) and the City's continuing violations of state law and audit compliance issues. [5/14/10: See UPDATE below]

At the May 4th meeting, a portion of the 4-page letter from the State Comptroller to Mayor Sami Barile was read aloud by Administrator Cox at the direction of the Comptroller. The entire letter describes  numerous violations of state law by the city as well as audit compliance issues.

The letter adds that state approval of the city's current application for a loan/line of credit (TRAN) is conditioned on the City coming into compliance with state law, paying the "loan" back by June 30, 2010, submitting a proper budget for 2011 no later than 7/31/10, and addressing issues in the 2009 and 2010 audits as required by the Comptroller's Division of Municipal Audit. 

The letter (Page 3 at the top) notes that Stormwater, General, and Sewer Fund issues have not been  addressed  despite the Comptroller's direction to the City to contact Municipal Audit to resolve these issues. The General and Sewer Fund "issues" apparently relate to improper interfund loans in 2009.  NOTE: The local auditor reported these improper interfund "loans" with the 2009 audit----but failed to report similar improper "loans" in 2007 and 2008.

With the end of the City's yearly money-switcheroo gig,  the City is being forced to comply with state law in obtaining outside loans and in making any interfund loans.

Surely, a lengthy front-page article with a Bob Moore byline and a banner headline (City Violates State Law and Fails to Address Audit Issues) is coming soon to report on the Comptroller's letter. 

Nah, a "news" article now would be nothing more than a press release with a few pithy remarks from some "official" about how everything is being taken care of and it's time to "move on."  The official line/spin would be that we can't and don't want to find out who ordered the illegal transfers/loans; we can't and don't want to find out who, in addition to the auditors, failed to report that illegal transfers/loanswere being made; and we absolutely don't want to hold anyone accountable for years of illegal transfers/loans!
And would the "news"paper try to find out who approved the unauthorized transfers/loans, which individuals and employees knew of the unauthorized transfers/loans, why no city department head or employee reported the unauthorized transfers/loans, and why the auditors didn't report the previous violations?  Not likely. More to come.  For background click here.

[UPDATE 5/14/10: Yesterday, nine days after this "news" broke at the May 4 council meeting and just one day after my initial blog post on this topic, the Trib at long last ran a story on the Comptroller's letter.  Bob Moore's belated "news" article was full of official spin and quotes but did contain some very interesting statements.

If the article is correct, Budget Director Brian Janish and former/interim city administrator Lynn Wampler "executed" a $649,000 sewer to stormwater "loan" in late 2009 or very early 2010, apparently without getting council approval as required by state law and without first submitting the loan to the state as required by state law. Janish and Wampler took this action knowing it was in violation of state law and then graciously "reported" the issue and asked for state "guidance" about their knowing and intentional violation of state law. Just ponder that action for a while.

The article also briefly mentions a temporary "transfer" of $1.24 Million from the sewer fund to the general fund in 2009. The "news" article states that this transfer--carefully avoiding the word "loan"--was made "to avoid reflecting a negative cash balance" in the general fund? The article does NOT mention that this "transfer" was also a violation of state law.

The article adds that at the end of fiscal year 2009 "the money in the general fund ($1.24 Million) actually belonged to the sewer fund."  Can you say robbing Peter to pay Paul?

And the City executed these illegal/improper loans or transfers or money switcheroos repeatedly in prior years and then again in 2009 without required approval, without any oversight, and without any prior audit findings or reports about these and other violations of state law as noted in the Comptroller's letter!  Can you say cover-up?

Click here for more background. An e-mail was all it took to find out about the illegalities of all the money switcheroos and how to properly loan money from one fund to another. 

Is anyone going to be held accountable? Will there be a meeting where the tough questions are asked? Are any staff changes going to be made?]

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

May 3, 2010 Epps-Buchanan's Ad on "News"paper Rack Outside Entrance to Courthouse Violates the 100' Campaign-Free Boundary

This is a picture of the "news"paper rack beside the doors into the breezeway that connects the old and new parts of the Courthouse. The picture was taken from W. Second North Street about two weeks ago---during the early voting period for the May 4 primary elections.

Current Finance Director/Trustee candidate Nicole Epps-Buchanan had a political advertisement on this "news"paper rack during all of early voting. [Coincidentally, Epps-Buchanan also had a sticker on the paper itself on the day that this picture was made.] Click on the image to enlarge the picture.

State law T.C.A. 2-7-111 provides that election administrators mark off a campaign-free boundary at polling places as follows: The officer shall measure off one hundred feet (100 feet) from the entrances to the building in which the election is to be held and place boundary signs at that distance.

Since Epps-Buchanan's "'news"paper rack ad appeared to be in violation of the 100' campaign-free boundary specified by state law, I reported this apparent violation to local Election Administrator Jeff Gardner around Day 2 of early voting. Jeff said he would check with the state and get back with me. When I didn't hear anything for several days, I called the state Division of Elections to more fully explain the situation and to request their interpretation of 100' from "entrances to the building in which the election (takes place)."

Today, I called the state Division of Elections again to see what the final decision was.  It is my understanding that the state has advised the local election commission to establish a 100' boundary from the door(s) into the old part of the Courthouse.  In marking off a new, correct 100' boundary, Epps-Buchanan's "news"paper rack ad was found to be in violation of the 100' campaign-free boundary as was suspected.

Joe Swann, Chair of the local Election Commission, and Jeff Gardner, local Administrator of Elections, assured me that Epps-Buchanan's ad would be removed from the rack and that no political ads would be allowed on the rack at its current location.

I am grateful to state Election Division attorney Beth Henry-Robertson for her work in helping to determine  the proper 100' campaign-free boundary.  I also thank Swann and Gardner for going back and establishing  a new and proper 100' boundary for Primary Election Day tomorrow.

Good luck to all the candidates. Win or lose, all those who campaigned tirelessly for the past several months are to be congratulated.