Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30, 2011 What a Waste! (Pun Intended)

If you are on the City of Morristown sewer, you are facing or have already noticed another increase in your sewer rate.  Let's look at one area where the experienced leadership in Morristown City Government has contributed to this mess....

As far back as 2005, the City knew that there were serious odor problems along the Witt sewer line. The City did nothing.

With an arrogant "I'm untouchable" attitude, several of the elected and appointed officials in City government just ignore or plow over people and then say "sue me if you don't like it."

The Witt/Roe Junction residents took the City's "sue me" attitude at face value.  They never wanted to sue the City. In fact, they asked politely and repeatedly for the City to fix the Witt sewer line and stop the overflows so there wouldn't be an expensive lawsuit. The residents' requests fell on deaf ears. 

Only after they were repeatedly ignored by council did the Witt/Roe Junction residents obtain legal counsel and file suit against Koch Foods in 2007 and later against the City of Morristown.

Their attorneys were able to take on City Hall and achieve what the Mayor, City Council, and City Administrators never expected. The residents won. The Witt sewer line will be repaired. The odors will stop.

As of early May 2011, the City was ordered to pay $8,500 to two of the residents.

The City was fined $105,000.

The City was ordered to pay attorney fees of the Witt residents' lawyers totalling around $489,674.00.

Plus the City was ordered to pay the litigation costs of the Plaintiffs close to $56,629.00.

[The City is going on and fixing the sewer line as ordered, but it has decided to spend more money and appeal several issues, such as attorney fees]

The above costs do NOT include the attorney fees that the City has had to pay to its own attorneys.

Originally the City's attorneys were provided by TML (Tennessee Municipal League). Later, the "free" TML legal services were exhausted months ago, however, and the City has now been paying the TML attorney bills, its own attorney's (Dick Jessee) bills, and its other legal expenses.

The City ignored a festering problem and it took an expensive lawsuit plus an Order from a Federal Judge to force the City to make the $1,600,000+ in repairs that should have been made years ago and could have been made years ago for far less.

What a waste of time and taxpayer money. That's a lot of money to spend just to delay making repairs that were inevitable all along. 

And what about the Lakemoore residents who have been ignored by Council for decades despite horrific odors in that area?

If odors and repeated sewage overflows had occurred in the Country Club area, would those citizens' complaints have been ignored by councilmembers?  NO. Would Country Club residents have to get a lawyer to sue the City to get serious health and environmental concerns taken care of?

Monday, August 29, 2011

August 29, 2001 Ohio Congressman Has Police Confiscate Small Cameras at Public Event

It looks like the Morristown Utility System Board of Commissioners is not alone in trying to keep its meetings from being videotaped. See yesterday's post here.

Knoxville blogger Michael Silence reports here about "camera police" at a Congressman's town hall meeting in Cincinnati.

Aides to U. S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, had the police confiscate small cameras that were being used to tape a town hall meeting held by Chabot.  The cameras, which were allegedly operated by Democrat activists, were taken up "to protect the privacy of constituents."

Media cameras were not confiscated "because they can be expected to respect people's privacy." 

The aide who had the cameras confiscated later said no cameras would be seized at Chabot's next town hall meeting.

The link to the report is here.

On the local government scene, the "news"paper has started videotaping city council meetings.  It sure would be interesting if the local  "news"paper tried to spread a little more Sunshine by attending and taping the next meeting of the MUS Board in September.

Wonder if Gene Jolley, George McGuffin, Harold Nichols, Lynn Elkins, and Max Biery would tell managing editor John Gullion to put his camera up?

And just why is the MUS Board concerned about citizens videotaping the actions and deliberations of a public board in a public meeting? 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

August 28, 2011 MUS Board Puts Carroll Fowler on the List of Candidates for MUS Commissioner. Refuses To Allow Meeting To Be Videotaped.

The MUS Board of Commissioners met Thursday, August 25, at the MUS Office on Main Street.

One agenda item was the submission of another list of three names to Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas from which Thomas will again (third time) nominate one to council for a position on the MUS Board of Commissioners. 

MUS is sending the names of George McGuffin, Wally Long, and Carroll Fowler to the Mayor for consideration this time.

[George, Wally, and Glenn Thompson were on the last list. Mayor Thomas nominated Thompson but council voted "NO."   See video here.  George and Wally are back on the list, and Carroll Fowler has been added.]

The MUS Board would not allow the meeting to be videotaped with a very small hand-held flip camera. No reason was given.

Board members are George McGuffin, Harold Nichols, Gene Jolley, Lynn Elkins, and Max Biery. Gene Jolley was the most vocal opponent of allowing the meeting to be filmed.   

City Councilman Bob Garrett, a former and longtime employee of MUS, attended. Garrett, an MUS retiree, is a leader and voting member of council's "only George" club.

MUS Attorney Dick Jessee, who is also attorney for the City of Morristown, was present. Jessee is George McGuffin's brother-in-law.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 21, 2011 Gene Brooks Exposes Bob Moore's Millennium Square Reporting. Brooks Prevented an Illegal Bidding that Could Have Cost the City $1.3+ Million

Since taking office in May 2009, Morristown Councilmember Gene Brooks has endured constant attacks from local "news"paper reporter Bob Moore. On Tuesday, August 16, Brooks apparently had had enough and decided to set the record straight on at least one matter-the Downtown Millennium Square project.

[In a nutshell, the Millennium project is where the City took Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) grant funds of roughly $1.3+ Million that had been intended for street, lighting, and drainage improvements around the Morristown College area with a greenways trailhead and parking at Kyle Park and moved that money to the downtown Millennium Square Partners group for the construction of a privately-owned retail shell and storefront. To get TDOT to go along with this, the City/Millennium group decided that the roof of the retail space would be called a "greenways trailhead" and have 22 or 23 parking spaces leased to the City. Click on the label Millennium Square at right for past blog posts on this topic.]

Brooks was responding to a July "news"paper article where Bob Moore allowed David Wild, one of the principals in Wild Building Contractors and a partner in the Millennium group, to attack Brooks and all the others who saw illegalities and violations of federal law in the Millennium deal.

Moore quotes David Wild as saying: "If it had not been for the unwarranted involvement of two or three individuals, this project would have already been finished...."

Translation: "I hate those people who raised valid legal questions about our nifty sweetheart deal. Councilmembers who try to protect City grant funds and make sure that everything is done legally don't have any right to do that." 

David Wild was reacting--not too kindly--to the fact that Brooks had pointed out the core conflicts of interest in the Wild/ Millennium Square/Brewer, Ingram & Fuller connections to TDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

David and Tim Wild wanted to wear Millennium Square Partners hats to get the $1.3 Million taxpayer-funded TDOT grant to build their MainStreet retail storefront/rooftop "trailhead' parking. Then David and Tim Wild wanted to put on their Wild Building Contractors hats to submit a bid and collect all the money for building their own Main Street storefront/rooftop "trailhead" parking.

Brooks got the big guns riled up. Brooks was attacked and made out to be the bad guy who was messing everything up. Todd Morgan with the City wrote to TDOT. Dan Brewer with the project architects Brewer, Ingram & Fuller wrote a letter to Todd that also went to TDOT.  Knoxville attorney Robert Noell with Woolf-McClane represented Wild Building Contractors and tried to refute Brooks' allegations in a lengthy letter to TDOT, claiming that there were no conflicts.

After all the dust had settled, TDOT found that Brooks's core allegations of conflicts of interest were, in fact, correct. TDOT disqualified Wild Building Contractors (David and Tim Wild) from bidding on the Millennium Square Partners (David and Tim Wild and others) Downtown project.  

In the video (above) Gene refers to Bob Moore's July 2011 article where Moore stated--falsely--that Wild had submitted the low bid on the project. MOORE:  "Wild Building Contractors submitted the low bid earlier this year, approximately $600,000 less than the second-place bidder."

Brooks points out in the video that Bob either made this up or was given false information. Wild never submitted the low bid on the project.  Wild never submitted a bid at all because Brooks was able to prevent them from illegally bidding on the project.

Brooks's remarks end by making the public and the other councilmembers aware that had Wild been allowed to submit a bid and, by chance, had Wild gotten the contract, then TDOT could have made the City pay back ALL the grant funds that had been received for allowing an illegal bid and award.

In the City's current financial mess, the City could not have absorbed a $1.3 Million dollar hit for improperly handling grant funds.

Gene Brooks was not only right, but he showed great courage in standing up to months and months of  criticism by very powerful people in order to ensure that an illegal bid was not submitted and that the City did not end up having to pay back $1.3 Million dollars of grant money.

1. The "news"paper has yet to correct Bob's front-page error on the Millennium project. [Usually, the paper runs a correction on Page 2 after incorrect statements have been made and pointed out.]

2. The "news"paper has yet to report anything about Gene Brooks's statement at the council meeting about Moore's biased--and even false--reporting on the Millennium deal.

3. The "news"paper has yet to report that Brooks's actions not only stopped an illegal bidding but saved the City $1.3 Million +.

So what did Moore do after Brooks's statement? After the meeting, Bob Moore headed straight for  Brooks. Moore did not say that he would check the article again for accuracy and correct any errors. Moore did not mention his incessant attacks on Brooks over the past 2+ years.  Moore did not apologize to Brooks for the reporting error.

Instead, Moore first asked who Brooks's lawyer is---because Brooks had said he would be glad to meet Moore to discuss Millennium but that Brooks would bring his lawyer to this meeting. Then  Moore started asking Brooks about the Hearts of Christ Ministry which Brooks supports and with which Brooks's wife and sister-in-law are involved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August 17, 2011 MUS Appointment (VIDEO): CPA Glenn Thompson Voted Down by City Council

George and Judy McGuffin showed up at yesterday's council meeting with the McGuffin flash mob  (employees, friends, and business associates).  The flash mob appeared to ensure that certain councilmen (Jinks and Bivens) voted against CPA Glenn Thompson's appointment to the Morristown Utility System (MUS) Board of Commissioners to replace George McGuffin.

The McGuffins want to prevent anyone--other than George McGuffin--from being appointed to the MUS Board. Yesterday, they were successful---for the second time.

Yessterday, Mayor Thomas renewed his nomination of Glenn Thompson to the MUS Board.  Councilman Bob Garrett, a former employee of MUS, made a motion to reject Thompson. Voting To Reject Thompson: LeBel, sidekick Garrett, Senter, Jinks, and Bivens.   Voting For Thompson: Brooks and Thomas.

The "only-George" group, led by LeBel, sidekick Garrett, and Kay Senter, and joined by recruits Jinks and Bivens is bent on preventing the appointment of anyone other than George McGuffin to the MUS Board. 

Now, some of the members of the "only George" group are toying with the idea of changing the City's Private Act on MUS. They want to alter the current process of Mayor's nomination (from a list submitted to him by MUS) and council's approval or disapproval.

Why does this group suddenly think that the current process of Mayor's nomination/council's approval needs to be changed?  Because they think that the only acceptable nominee that has been or will ever be sent to Mayor Thomas by MUS is George McGuffin and they are ticked off that Mayor Thomas has chosen other individuals.

Back in July, the Mayor nominated Mike Minnich who was on the MUS list.  He fell one vote short of election when Bivens abstained. Click here for that vote.

On August 2, the Mayor nominated Glenn Thompson, a local CPA, who was on the MUS list.  No vote was taken on Thompson on August 2. Click here.  Yesterday, Thompson came up for a vote and was voted down.

These five councilmembers apparently think that men such as Mike Minnich and Glenn Thompson are not good enough to serve on the MUS Board.  No one is good enough for these five except George McGuffin. The MUS Board must submit another list of three names to the Mayor within 14 days.

Some people have jokingly said that the next list of three will be George McGuffin, Frank McGuffin, and Patrick McGuffin.

[George McGuffin has already served on MUS for 30+ years. The five councilmembers apparently think McGuffin should have a lifetime appointment ---five years at a time].

It really looks like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates would be rejected by these five if the right calls were made by the right people--and the McGuffin flash mob showed up.

Sadly, Mr. McGuffin won't step aside graciously and acknowledge the great honor of having been allowed to serve for 30+ years on the Morristown Utility System Board.

Instead, McGuffin continues to pressure councilmembers and has his money/power friends inundate councilmembers with calls and appearances at council meetings as he desperately tries to get another 5-year appointment to keep anyone else from taking the "McGuffin" seat.

Money and power have a lot of influence. Money and power can change votes.

Very few people have the integrity and strength to withstand social, economic, and political pressure and  remain true to their core beliefs when it is so comfortable--and often very rewarding--to go along with the money and power group.

August 17, 2011 LeBel, Garrett, Senter, and Bivens Pass Resolution To Stop Use of City Staff and City Resources for Department Evaluations by Mayor Thomas's Top Down Committee

Prior to yesterday's city council meeting, I posted the resolution that some councilmembers had requested in an attempt to prevent Mayor Danny Thomas's top down committee from using any city resources or staff time to evaluate city departments. Click here.

At yesterday's 5:00 meeting, Councilman LeBel took ownership of the resolution and Councilwoman Kay Senter  voiced her firm support.  The resolution passed 4-3 (LeBel, sidekick Garrett, Senter and Bivens: YES. Thomas, Brooks, and Jinks: NO)

When asked by Councilman Brooks if there were any problems with this type of restrictive resolution aimed at the Mayor, City Attorney Dick Jessee replied that the resolution was on a "fine line," but that it probably could withstand a legal challenge as drafted.

Before the vote was taken, Mayor Thomas stated that the top-down committee was inactive.

L-R: Gene Brooks, Bob Garrett, Claude Jinks, Mayor Danny Thomas, Chris Bivens, Paul LeBel, Kay Senter

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 16, 2011 Unnamed Councilmembers Try To Limit Mayor's Committee

Some City Councilmembers are sponsoring the resolution at left in an attempt to curtail Mayor Thomas's Committee that was formed to perform a top-down evaluation of city departments, looking for efficiencies and cost savings.

Click on the image to enlarge and read.

These councilmembers want to put a leash on Mayor Thomas and his plans to send the City, which has been plagued by years of fiscal mismanagement, on a different path.

The resolution states in part that "...City resources, including staff time, shall not be expended in furtherance of the Mayor's Committee in performing a top down evaluation of the City's departments, pending further official action of the City Council."

If they get away with this, next from this unnamed group will be a resolution stating that Councilmember Gene Brooks can not ask for documents and can not ask questions in council meetings. 

NOTE: While I support Mayor Thomas's attempt to review and evaluate the city departments, I think that the Committee is likely subject to the open meetings act, and I have told him this. And even if one could argue that the committee is not subject to the open meetings act, it is still wise to announce and open the committee meetings to the public that foots the bills.

Friday, August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011 State Attorney General (TN) on Traffic Camera Changes

Tennessee State Attorney General Robert Cooper has issued an opinion on the new state legislation regarding traffic enforcement cameras and the effect of the legislation on contracts between cities and red light camera companies.

Click here for Morristown's rushed renewal of its contract with RedFlex on June 7 in an attempt to beat the July 1 effective date of the new laws.

Click here for a brief discussion by Legislative Reporter Tom Humphrey.

Click here for the full opinion.

Click here for Sen. Stacey Campfield's blog with a link to an article about Oak Ridge and red light cameras and safety.

Click here for recent action by Los Angeles removing red light cameras due to problems in collecting on the citations.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

August 4, 2011 "News"paper Puts Massey's Resignation Online 8 Hours After Blog Post

Yesterday morning, I mentioned Tommy Massey's resignation from Hamblen County Commission, 14th district. Click here. Massey had resigned several days before that, but the paper wasn't reporting it.

A little over 8 hours after my post went up, the Trib put out a short report in its online edition! Click here and you might catch the Trib's 5:39 PM article before they disable the link.

And today, you can look for this days old local "news" in the "news" section of the print edition.

Oddity: While the "news"paper wasn't able to run a "news" article about the resignation yesterday, it was able to run a paid public notice from the County about the resignation in the Classified section.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

August 3, 2011 Commissioner Tommy Massey Resigns (14th District)

Commissioner Tommy Massey has resigned from the Hamblen County Commission. Massey represented the 14th district (Manley School voting precinct).

Massey's resignation letter was turned in several days ago but hasn't been mentioned publicly---probably so certain commissioners could get the replacement vote lined up before news of the vacancy was released by the "news"paper.

[I was elected as 14th district commissioner in 2002 and served until 2006 when I chose not to run for re-election. Click here. Massey ran unopposed in 2006 and was re-elected in a close race against Larry Carter in 2010.]

August 3, 2011 Mayor Nominates Glenn Thompson for Morristown Utility Commission Seat: Council Takes No Action

At yesterday's city council meeting, Mayor Danny Thomas submitted his nomination of Glenn Thompson to the Morristown Utility Commission Board to the City Council.

Thompson is a local CPA with the firm of Craine, Thompson & Jones.

Thomas asked for a motion to approve the nomination. There was none.

Thomas asked for a motion to disapprove the nomination. There was none.

At the previous meeting of council on July 19, Thomas had nominated Mike Minnich for this same position. While no motion was made, a vote on Minnich was taken and resulted in 3 FOR (Brooks, Jinks, and Thomas); 3 AGAINST (Garrett, LeBel, Senter); and 1 ABSTENTION (Bivens). Click here for the video of the vote.

The nomination by the Mayor is for the seat currently held by George McGuffin in what has turned out to be something akin to a lifetime appointment. McGuffin has been on the Board for over 30 years.

Just prior to the meeting, Attorney Ron Perkins, standing in for City Attorney Dick Jessee, provided the Council with a summary of the procedures for filling the position as outlined in the Private Act that established the Morristown Utility Commission. [Dick Jessee is the brother-in-law of George McGuffin.]

The important parts of the summary at this point:

A) The Mayor selects his nominee for the Morristown Utility Commission (MUC) from a list of three names provided to him by MUC. A majority vote of Council is required to elect the Mayor's nominee. Should Council fail to approve or disapprove a nominee within 30 days following notice to Council of the Mayor's nomination, the nominee is deemed to have been elected.

B) If a nominee is disapproved by Council or fails to receive a vote of approval by a majority of Council, the nomination procedure is repeated, except the Commission has 14 days from notice of the disapproval to submit the names of three more nominees--which list may include the two not previously selected by the Mayor.

There were numerous discussions taking place after the meeting regarding the effect of the lack of a vote on Thompson's nomination.

[Former Councilmember Frank McGuffin, son of George McGuffin, came to yesterday's meeting. Frank was also at the last meeting along with his father George and McGuffin supporters.]

You can bet there will again be visits and phone calls to the Mayor and councilmembers during the next two weeks--just like there were in the lead-up to the meeting on the Minnich appointment and in the lead-up to yesterday's meeting on the Thompson appointment.

This time the situation is clearer. 

If the Council continues to take no action to approve or disapprove Thompson, he will be deemed elected after 30 days. If Garrett, LeBel, and Senter want to continue to keep anyone else from ever taking the "McGuffin" seat, then they will have to take timely action to get a vote that gets Thompson out of the picture.

In one of the post-meeting discussions with other councilmembers and Attorney Ron Perkins, Kay Senter said she hoped there would be a consensus by the time of the next vote since, in her opinion, no one would want to take a position by "default," i.e. without a vote.

The Mayor has made the nomination. The election by "default" that Kay spoke of only comes about if Council fails to vote the nominee up or down within 30 days.

The ball is in the Council's court, but there are plenty of powerful coaches out there.