Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012 FIFTEENTH Morristown Utilities Commission Appointment on City Council Agenda

The Morristown City Council has the Mayor's fifteenth appointment to the Morristown Utilities Commission on its agenda today. MUC has vetted and submitted the names of three qualified people to the Mayor: Jo Ervin, John Hodge, and George McGuffin. 

Unfortunately, five members of council have created appointment gridlock for 8-9 months by serially rejecting every one of the Mayor's fourteen appointments to the MUC Board. 

The LeBel Five are Paul LeBel, Kay Senter, Bob Garrett, Claude Jinks, and Chris Bivens.

In November 2011, the five ran to Sen. Steve Southerland and Rep. Don Miller to get the state to pass a change to the appointment process and send it back to the Council so the Five can pass the "McGuffin Law" and continue McGuffin's lifetime appointment- 5 years at a time.

Since MUC controls who can be considered for appointment to the MUC Board, it is pretty much a closed group that perpetuates itself and its members unless something unusual happens such as when Herbert Bacon left the Board when it was found that he was ineligible to serve.

MUC has been strangely quiet about the rejection of the FOURTEEN people that MUC has submitted to the Mayor. 

There are several facts about the MUC appointment process that the "news"paper hasn't mentioned during the recent controversy.
1. MUC presented and pushed for the current appointment process in 2001 as part of a package of changes to the MUC Private Act.
2. Council debated the appointment process at length. An amendment was proposed but did not pass. Council finally voted unanimously on February 6, 2001, for a resolution sending the MUC changes, including the current appointment process, to the state legislature.
3. The state legislature passed the changes and sent them back for approval, as requested, as one question on the May 1, 2001, referendum.
4. Council's 2001 resolution stated that the result of that May 2001 election "shall prevail over any approval or disapproval by action of City Council."
5. MUC used ratepayer dollars (apparently illegally) for paid political ads and political signs in 2001 asking voters to vote FOR the changes to the MUC Private Act, including the current appointment process
6. MUC, in its paid political ads, called the proposed appointment process "an open process for selection of Board members." (Open? To whom? Not the 14 rejectees!)
7. The package of MUC changes, including the current appointment process, passed overwhelmingly (72% FOR) in the 2001 referendum
8. Two council members (Kay Senter and Claude Jinks) who voted FOR the resolution on all MUC changes in 2001 have now joined with Paul LeBel, Chris Bivens, andj Bob Garrett, to change the appointment process that was a part of the 2001 MUC Question that was approved by 72% of the voters.

Why does the council oppose a referendum in 2012?

Why did Sen. Southerland rewrite the appointment process--presumably to make it better--and then fail to vote for it?

Why is Rep. Miller adamantly opposed to letting the voters decide if they approve of the changes he and Sen. Southerland have made to the appointment process that was already voted on in 2001?

Why were the voters asked to vote on the appointment process in 2001 but are shut out in 2012?

Why hasn't the paper reported that a referendum on approval of the McGuffin Law could take place on August 2 at a cost of only $250?

That's some of the "rest of the story."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11, 2012 Sen. Steve Southerland and Rep. Don Miller Re-write the McGuffin Law But Still Shut the People Out--No REFERENDUM

The "news"paper reported that the McGuffin Law was introduced in the state legislature, but I haven't seen an article on the changes made by Sen. Steve Southerland and Rep. Don Miller.

The local "McGuffin Law" (SB 3787/Sen. Steve Southerland and HB 3860/Rep. Don Miller) was sent to the state legislature by the LeBel Five: Paul LeBel, Kay Senter, Bob Garrett, Claude Jinks, and Chris Bivens. The LeBel Five's appointment process (Nov 2011) had all MUC appointments bypassing the Mayor and coming directly to city council. 

Southerland and Miller had state attorneys re-write the "McGuffin Law" so it would provide that the Mayor gets three chances to please the LeBel Five by appointing the person the Five want and then, if the Mayor doesn't please the Five with any of his three appointments, the next MUC appointment comes directly to council and the LeBel Five can finally appoint McGuffin this year and any person they want in future years.

HB 3860 is here.

[Since the Mayor hasn't been able to please the LeBel Five with his past FOURTEEN nominations, the changes by Southerland and Miller will have little practical effect]

Southerland and Miller re-wrote the "McGuffin Law," but they are not willing to put their new and improved "McGuffin Law" to a vote of the people in a REFERENDUM--which is how the current appointment process was enacted in 2001

The LeBel Five don't want a $250 CITY REFERENDUM on the "McGuffin Law" on August 2, 2012, in conjunction with the county election----or at any time---and Southerland and Miller are leaving it where the LeBel Five don't have to worry about a referendum. The LeBel Five get the final say on approval of the "McGuffin Law." 

It's way too risky to let the people vote again, so the LeBel Five will use their FIVE votes to change what 3,202 people voted for in the 2001 REFERENDUM. No REFERENDUM in 2012 as in 2001. Just shut the people out this time.

The irony here is that there have been many votes at the state level to prevent voter fraud, such as the requirement that voters present a Picture ID before voting---and I absolutely agree with the Photo ID law.

But who protects the votes and the integrity of a referendum election after it has taken place? 

It appears that the integrity of the 2001 REFERENDUM and the votes of 3,202 PEOPLE don't count when politicians and George McGuffin are scrambling to ensure that McGuffin continues on the Morristown Utilities Commission.

Why have local officials decided that having one particular person--and no one else--on the MUC Board is so important that:

(1) They have to go to the State to get the MUC Private Act changed;
(2) They are willing to overturn an appointment process that was approved by 72% of the voters (3,202 people) in a referendum; and
(3) They are acting like it would be the end of the world if the McGuffin Law didn't pass?

And why has George McGuffin decided that his power and position on the MUC Board are worth creating appointment gridlock for eight months, having his name submitted fourteen times, and going to the state to get local officials to overturn the current MUC appointment process that was overwhelmingly approved in the 2001 REFERENDUM?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

March 7, 2012 LeBel Five Reject FOURTEENTH MUC Nominee Banker Joel Hice

MUC sent its FOURTEENTH list of three names to Mayor Thomas as qualified candidates for the MUC Board of Commissioners: Jo Ervin, Joel Hice, George McGuffin.

Yesterday, Mayor Thomas submitted the name of Joel Hice from that list to council for approval or disapproval. Hice is a local banker.

Paul LeBel immediately moved to "reject" Hice's appointment. Bob Garrett, 42-year former employee of MUC, seconded the motion. The LeBel Five (LeBel, Garrett, Senter, Jinks, and Bivens) then voted to reject Hice.

Mayor Thomas and Gene Brooks supported Hice.

This is the FOURTEENTH person that has been on an MUC list and whose name has been submitted to council by the Mayor for appointment to the MUC Board who has been quickly rejected by council. The nominees include bankers, contractors, former councilmembers, plant managers, businessmen, CPAs, engineers, etc. 

What do the LeBel Five think is wrong with these fourteen people who have all been vetted and selected BY MUC?

These fourteen are not George McGuffin, so they are automatically rejected. George McGuffin, who has been on the MUC Board for over 34 years, has made it clear that he wants to hang on to what has become the "McGuffin seat.".

Let's see if the "news"paper asks Joel Hice if he is disappointed in being rejected by five councilmembers?  Was Joel asked to be cannon fodder for rejection by the LeBel Five or did Joel volunteer to take one "for the team"?  What about the 13 other rejectees? What were they told by MUC Commissioners before their names were submitted to the Mayor?

And what about the MUC Board? Are they concerned or secretly happy about the rejection of the FOURTEENTH person whose name THEY submitted to the Mayor?  The members, other than George McGuffin, are Harold Nichols, Gene Jolley, Lynn Elkins, and Max Biery.

Are the LeBel Five and the MUC Board just waiting for the McGuffin Law to be passed in the state legislature to let the LeBel Five override the votes of the 3,202 people (72% of voters) who approved and put the current appointment process in place in 2001 in a referendum?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

March 6, 2012 The Bank Levy on the City of Morristown: What Next?

Yesterday, I posted the writ of execution that was issued by the U.S. District Court authorizing seizure of City of Morristown funds in the amount of $573,632.84.

Now that those funds have been seized by the U.S. Marshals, my guess is that Morristown has sobered up and is having some serious discussions with Plaintiffs' lawyers to settle the attorney fees, litigation costs, and/or civil penalties that were assessed against the City in the Stephens, et al. v. City of Morristown case. In this mix may be the dismissal of the City's appeal to U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a case that was brought only after Morristown refused to acknowledge problems with the Witt sewer line and refused to repair and rehabilitate that line, the City spent thousands in attorney fees for its lawyers, had to pay attorney fees and costs for the Plaintiffs' lawyers, and ended up under a court-order to fix the Witt line. [The Tennessee Municipal League (TML) paid initial attorney fees but that stopped at some point and then Morristown was directly on the hook for paying the City's defense team]

All this money was spent because the City ignored a serious problem with the Witt sewer line that was brought to its attention as soon as Koch Foods hooked up to the Witt line around 2005.

And the City would likely still be ignoring the problem today if several gutsy Witt residents hadn't  hired a lawyer after deciding that they had taken enough of the City's stonewalling and odors and overflows.

During the lawsuit, Judge Greer blistered the City in discussing the City's "malfeasance" in handling its finances, making illegal money transfers, failing to provide critical documents, ignoring recommendations of its experts, etc.

With two consecutive years (2009 and 2010) of the sewer fund being "in the red," you have to wonder if the City's appeal of the attorney fees and other costs was just another in an ongoing series of delaying tactics to avoid acknowledging the financial morass that has been present for years and years.

Whatever the reasons or motivations on the part of the City to ignore the Witt problems and to appeal the attorney fees, etc., the City's tactics cost sewer ratepayers dearly, highlighted the mismanagement of the City's funds, and caused a federal judge to note the City's financial "malfeasance."

Monday, March 05, 2012

March 5, 2012 Bank Levy Takes Money From City's Bank Accounts at First Tennessee

A bank levy in the amount of $573,632.84 on the accounts of the City of Morristown in First Tennessee Bank was apparently carried out recently pursuant to a writ of execution issued by the United States District Court/Eastern District of Tennessee.

A copy of the writ is shown prior to its signature and return by the U.S. Marshal(s). Click on the image to enlarge. The money was removed from the City's checking accounts on February 28 and apparently placed with the District Court.

The execution is for Plaintiff's attorney fees and litigation costs in the case of Stephens, et al v. City of Morristown, E.D. Tenn No, 2:08-CV-96.  In that same case, the City is under a Court Order to rehabilitate the Witt Sewer Line, and this rehabilitation is underway.

A bank levy on the City of Morristown. This may be a first.  Unbelievable!    

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March 1, 2012 MUC Nominates George McGuffin, Jo Ervin, Joel Hice as 14th Slate of Candidates for MUC Board

The Morristown Utilities Commission (MUC) held its regular meeting on February 23 at 8 AM.  Included on the agenda was selection of a 14th slate of candidates for the MUC Board seat currently held by George McGuffin who has served over 34 years on the Board.

McGuffin's term expired July 31, 2011, but he is serving as a "holdover" until someone is officially appointed to the seat. McGuffin himself wants to be that someone, and he has refused to step aside for a new appointee.

McGuffin is at the head of the table and sounds a little sarcastic as he introduces the "resolution that we all know by heart, the fourteenth time" that we have to submit three people for consideration as a Board member.  McGuffin briefly has trouble remembering the name of the 13th and last rejectee (Chris Horne) but one of the Board members helps out.

Max Biery then nominates McGuffin, Isaacs, and Joel Hice. Biery forgot that the Isaacs (both Steve and Jerry) were booted by LeBel and Company months ago. Lynn Elkins says it's "Jo Ervin." After some discussion, Biery confirms that his motion is to nominate George McGuffin, Jo Ervin, and Joel Hice. McGuffin says the list will go to the Mayor for the next meeting.

It's an odd situation.  The MUC Board selects qualified people and then says nothing when (City Councilman) LeBel and Company automatically reject every (non-McGuffin) MUC candidate including bankers, contractors, businessmen, physical therapists, CPAs, plant managers, former city councilmen, etc.

It's all a little game of MUC going through the motions of selecting "qualified" people and then abandoning that person and hoping that that person, if it's not George McGuffin, is rejected by the Council.

It's odd that "news"man Bob Moore has never put a quote from one of the many rejectees in the "news"paper.  Not even one of those statements that "so-and-so was contacted but had no comment."

Was the rejectee concerned about the rejection? Did the rejectee approach a member of the MUC Board about serving on the Board? Did a Board member contact the rejectee and ask if his name could be put on the MUC-candidate list before the nomination was made?  Did a Board member tell the rejectee that if he was nominated by the Mayor, he wouldn't be approved?

It's odd that "news"man Bob Moore has never put a quote from an MUC Board member in the "news"paper.  Not even a mention that he tried to contact a Board member for comment.

Is the Board shocked and concerned at the continuous rejection of THEIR candidates, or is the Board a part of the game and content and pleased to see each non-McGuffin candidate rejected?

The 14th list of candidates--selected by MUC--is at the City Center.  LeBel and Company are sticking by George, and George is sticking by LeBel and Company. No one else matters.

On the far left in the video are the five MUC Board members (from L-R):  Lynn Elkins, Max Biery, Gene Jolley, Harold Nichols, and Chairman George McGuffin.