Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27, 2010 Hamblen County Commissioner Guy Collins Passes Away

The longest serving county commissioner in the history of Hamblen County and in the State of Tennessee has passed away. [Update: Guy, according to the Tribune, was actually #2 to some other county commissioner somewhere in the state. No name or county was provided about the other commissioner. Guy was #1 in Hamblen County and #2 in the State in terms of total years of service on what was the old Quarterly Court which later became the modern Hamblen County Legislative Body or Hamblen County Commission.]

Guy, who represented the 11th District encompassing Witt and Roe Junction, died at home several weeks  after being released from the hospital after an extended stay. He attended the last Committee meetings on October 18.

Several years ago when I was on the Commission, we attended a meeting of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association in Knoxville, TN. Guy was honored back then for his long years of service.

Everybody knew then that Guy would keep on running and keep on being re-elected as long as wanted to.  I don't think anyone doubted that Guy would be serving on the Hamblen County Commission until the day he died. And that is exactly what happened.

I'm sure that there will be a special moment of silence and many well-deserved words of praise for Guy during tomorrow's County Commission meeting at the Courthouse at 5:00 PM and in the days to come.

More in a future post.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23, 2010 Rockwood, TN and Morristown, TN: Illegal Loans From Utility Funds

Morristown City government is not alone in violating state law in making illegal loans from one fund to another.   

Recently, the Utility Board of the City of Rockwood--in Roane County--got busted by the State Comptroller's Office for making illegal loans from its gas department to its sewer and water departments. Click here for the news article.

Rockwood city officials have now abolished their misbehaving Utility Board and City officials will oversee these departments and pay back the illegal loans of $1.3 Million--or officials could face ouster proceedings.

Morristown City officials have done the same thing for years! Illegal loans from the sewer fund to the general fund and from the sewer fund to the stormwater fund. The difference in Morristown is that it was the CITY ITSELF that was violating the law instead of some board that City officials could ceremoniously abolish to "solve" the problem.

The Comptroller's Office found out about Morristown's shenanigans in the last year.  Morristown's violations had gone on for several years before that, however, but were NOT reported as audit "findings" until the 2009 Audit was issued by the local auditors Craine, Thompson, & Jones in early 2010.  

With citizens' reviewing audits and asking questions, the gig was up in 2009, and an audit finding appeared.  As people became aware of the illegal loans, an auditor's e-mail was sent admitting that an auditor (Tom Jones) had been in a meeting with former City Administrator Jim Crumley and Finance Director Dynise Robertson during which Crumley directed that the illegal loans/transfers be made to cover up the poor financial situation of the City.

See Auditor's e-mail here. "Mr. Crumley suggested the entry due to the general fund's cash situation looking poor. He authorized the entry in a meeting with Dynise Robertson and Tom Jones." Both Terry Winstead, who wrote the e-mail, and Tom Jones, to whom Winstead refers, are auditors with Craine, Thompson & Jones, the city's longtime auditors. Winstead's take is that Jones was in the meeting and knew that Crumley ordered the loan/transfer, but, since Jones didn't actually pick up a pencil and make the entry for the illegal loan, there is no auditing independence issue.

But what about 2007 and 2008? Craine, Thompson & Jones were aware of and reported multiple fund loans/ transfers/switcheroos in the audits for those years.  Why did CTJ fail to issue audit "findings" on illegal loans/transfers/switcheroos in the 2007 and 2008 audits?  Click here for a fuller discussion of the illegal loans and other problems with the 2009 Audit.

Of course,  members of CTJ are not only the city's auditors but they are also members of Millennium Square Partners, a lucky group that recently received an $890,000+ grant from the City of Morristown to help Millennium Square Partners build stores on Main Street where the old Gazette-Mail used to be.

But I digress. The Millennium Square deal is enough fodder for several separate the public waits to hear that two of the Millennium Square partners (David and Tim Wild/Wild Contractors) have managed to submit the low bid and win the contract to build Millennium Square Partners' new stores on Main Street and the City will pay $890,000 of the costs through a grant.  Sweet!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010 How To Fix Congress ---Adaptable to State Legislatures, County Commissions, City Councils, School Boards, etc.

Congressional Reform Act of 2010 (Excellent ideas received in an e-mail)

1. Term Limits.

   12 years only, one of the possible options below..
   A. Two Six-year Senate terms
   B. Six Two-year House terms
   C. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms

2. No Tenure/No Pension.

    A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3. Congress (past, present, & future) participates in Social Security.

    All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future
funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective 1/1/11.

   The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen. Congressmen made all these
contracts for themselves.

Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, serve your term(s), then go home and back to work.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20, 2010 Morristown Budget Mess: $116,000 Due for 2010 Appraisal Costs But ZERO Is in the Budget To Pay This

During the City Council work session yesterday, another city budget shoe dropped, putting the City Administrator, Mayor Barile, and Council in a pickle as they try to find $116,000 to pay for the 2010 re-appraisal costs!! 

The Hamblen County Assessor completed re-appraisal of all property in the City and County in early 2010. On July 30, 2010, Hamblen County billed the City of Morristown $116,000+ for the city's share of the re-appraisal costs. Yesterday, the City Council was told that the City budget that they passed in June 2010 contained exactly ZERO to pay this bill.

No one asked and no one offered an explanation as to why City Administrator Tony Cox and (former) Budget Director Brian Janish put ZERO in the 2010-2011 budget to pay for 2010 re-appraisal costs. No one asked why there was a delay of nearly three months (late July to mid-October) in bringing a bill for unbudgeted costs of $116,000 to council's attention!

Tony Cox was not at yesterday's meeting. He apparently took or was getting ready to take a trip to  California to attend a meeting. Hopefully, it is a meeting that tells City Administrators how to make unbudgeted bills go away! In fairness to Cox, he came here from Virginia in early 2010--maybe he didn't understand, didn't ask, and wasn't told that the City would get a bill from the County for the re-appraisal costs.

Everyone else involved in the budget process, however, knows how the re-appraisal process goes. Budget Director Brian Janish was around during the last appraisal cycle in 2005 and knew that the City would get a bill. Of course, Janish was not at yesterday's meeting. He resigned or was "let go" by the City a few months ago, taking his vacation days and officially leaving in August after coming under fire for harassing Finance head Dynise Robertson and for numerous budgeting errors through the years.

Buddy Fielder, assistant City Administrator, was present yesterday but said nothing about the failure to include re-appraisal costs in the budget. His major "job" seems to revolve around the local airport.

According to Finance head Dynise Robertson, failing to budget for re-appraisal costs is not exactly new around here. Former City Administrator Jim Crumley and his buddy Brian Janish apparently didn't put anything in previous budgets to pay for the 2005 re-appraisal costs.  Robertson said that when the bill for the 2005 re-appraisal costs came in, Crumley just miraculously "found" money to pay the bill in the Finance Department's budget. Of course, Crumley was always finding money or shifting money around and making illegal transfers between funds.

The Mayor, City Council, and City Administrator Tony Cox may have trouble  "finding" $116,000 to pay for the re-appraisal in the current budget. To make it easier, I know where some money--maybe as much as $80,000--can be "found" in the current budget.  Take $30,000 from the City Administrator's new slush/contingency fund (or whatever is left in that line item) and take approximately $50,000 from the Council's new $100,000 slush/contingency fund (or whatever is left in that line item) and put that money toward the City's re-appraisal bill. 

Then eliminate retreats and travel by the Administrator, Mayor, and Council for the rest of the year and apply that to the bill, too. These are the people who forgot to budget anything to pay the re-appraisal bill, so most or all of the money to pay for the re-appraisal ought to come out of their budget before they make other departments pay for their mistake.

MORE BACKGROUND: Re-appraisals in Hamblen County generally take place every five years. The previous re-appraisal year was 2005.  Back then, Hamblen County billed the City for its share of the 2005 re-appraisal costs (approximately $71,000) just like Hamblen County billed the City for 2010 re-appraisal costs ($116,000). If it's a re-appraisal year, everyone at the City knows this and knows that a bill will be coming! Yesterday, no one could explain why ZERO is budgeted to pay this bill.

Election years present the same situation. In election years, Hamblen County pays the election costs and bills the City for the costs of the City election. The City knows which years are election years and the City DOES put money in the budget to pay those costs. 

Why do you budget for elections in election years, but you don't budget for re-appraisals in re-appraisal years?

Friday, October 01, 2010

October 1, 2010 State Representative Candidates at CFA Debates

State Representative Candidates Don Miller (R) and Larry Mullins (D) are pictured with their #1 supporters after last night's debate at the VFW in Morristown.

The candidates gave opening statements, fielded approximately 11 questions, and then gave closing statements.

The debate was sponsored by Citizens for Accountability.  A video of the debate will be on the CFA website in just a few days.

October 1, 2010 State Senate Candidates at CFA Debate

State Senate Candidates Steve Southerland (R) and Jack West (D) are pictured with several family members and supporters after last night's debate at the VFW in Morristown.

Each candidate gave an opening statement, fielded approximately 11 questions, and then gave a closing statement.

The debate was sponsored by Citizens for Accountability. Video of the debate will be available for viewing on the CFA website in just a few days.