Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27, 2012 Kay Senter Attempts To Infringe on a Citizen's First Amendment Rights

In the first video (4/3/12) Carl Murphy is addressing council during the public comments portion of the meeting about the state legislature's discussion and votes on the "McGuffin Law." Councilmember Kay Senter does not like how Mr. Murphy is expressing himself and asks the Mayor to control Mr. Murphy's speech. She wants the Mayor to forbid Mr. Murphy from mentioning names. She also wants Mr. Murphy to be forbidden from offering a general description of individuals because the description might, gasp, identify a person.

If there's an attack on the Mayor, LeBel will join in. True to form, LeBel joins in to support Senter's attempts to control what Mr. Murphy says and, of course, to criticize the Mayor.  Mayor Thomas tries to calm LeBel down and accommodate Ms. Senter while allowing Mr. Murphy to complete his remarks.

Charles Cook was present at the meeting and discussed the attempt to control how a citizen addresses council with City Attorney Dick Jessee.  Mr. Murphy and I were also concerned and joined the discussion.  Mr. Jessee reviewed Mr. Murphy's remarks and said he didn't see anything wrong with what Mr. Murphy was saying. He added that he didn't say anything at the time because he wasn't asked.

In the second video (4/17/12) Carl Murphy is again addressing council. He specifically asks the Mayor to ask the City Attorney for an opinion if there are any further attempts to infringe on his First Amendment rights in a public forum. No one interrupts Mr. Murphy.

This is not Senter's first attempt to control public comments and input. Two months ago Senter was lined up with LeBel, Bivens, and Garrett in voting to put public comments, other than public hearings on ordinances, at the end of council meetings after all votes had been taken. She also voted for LeBel's proposal on 2/7/12 to reduce the time allowed for  public comments from three minutes to two minutes.

A letter from Mayor Thomas alerting citizens to the LeBel-Senter-Garrett-Bivens proposal went out. The council chambers were packed and overflowing when the LeBel-Senter-Garrett-Bivens proposal was up for a final vote. See the letter here.

With a packed house and the public speaking against the limitations on public comments, LeBel, Senter, Garrett, and Bivens backed down and amended their original proposal to add an opportunity for people to speak to council on agenda items before any vote. After an impassioned speech by Rev. Richard Crayne,  they also decided to leave the time allotted for public comments at three minutes. Click here.

It looked like they had seen the light. But two months later Senter is attempting to control and direct how a citizen, who is being perfectly respectful, expresses himself.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26, 2012 Morristown Utilities Selects Three Candidates for Its EIGHTEENTH List

Yesterday, the MUC Board (George McGuffin, Harold Nichols, Gene Jolley, Max Biery, and Lynn Elkins) met at 8 AM.

They selected a list of three candidates for the MUC seat currently held by longtime (34 year) MUC member George McGuffin.

The three candidates on this EIGHTEENTH list of candidates are: George McGuffin (18th time), Peter Cantwell, and Randy Harville.

Harville is the local manager of Holston Gases.

After Max Biery makes the nominations, he asks MUC Gen. Mgr. Jody Wigington if he (Wigington) knows Harville. Wigington laughs and says, "Yes, he's a competitor."

The reason that the MUC Board is submitting its18th list is because there are five councilmembers (LeBel, Garrett, Senter, Jinks, and Bivens) who think that George McGuffin is the ONLY person in Morristown who can serve in this position.

These five think that NO ONE in Morristown--not any of the previous 17 MUC candidates that have been rejected thus far and NO ONE ELSE that might be nominated by MUC in the future--is capable and qualified to serve on the MUC Board.

At the May 1 council meeting, these five will get to approve and officially enact the "McGuffin Law."  The McGuffin Law was proposed LeBel and Associates back in November 2011 and sponsored in the state legislature in 2012 by two local legislators: State Sen. Steve Southerland and State Rep. Don Miller.

The McGuffin Law changes the current appointment process--that was put in place by the voters as part of the 2001 MUC Referendum. After the five enact the McGuffin Law, it will let them officially put McGuffin back on the MUC Board a few weeks or months down the road. 

Of course, McGuffin never really left the MUC Board. He has remained on the Board as a "holdover" from the date his term expired on July 31, 2011.

Why is a Board appointment so important that state law has to be changed to ensure that McGuffin stays in place?

Certain positions (MUC Board) and certain people (McGuffin) are key to control and power in Morristown.

The MUC Board and McGuffin are two important pieces of the appointed/unelected local power (pun-intended) structure.

To keep those pieces in place, the "McGuffin Law" was sponsored and pushed forward in the state legislature by our local State Sen. Steve Southerland and local State Rep. Don Miller. It was signed by Governor Haslam and now comes back to the "LeBel Five" for final approval.

FYI: Sen. Southerland sponsored the McGuffin Law in the State Senate but refused to vote on it! Rep. Miller was asked by local citizens and later by state legislators to allow a referendum for approval of the McGuffin Law. He refused.

These five councilmembers (LeBel, Garrett, Senter, Jinks, and Bivens) and these legislators (Sen. Southerland and Rep. Miller) asked for your vote when they ran for office, but they refused to write the McGuffin Law or to make changes to the McGuffin Law to allow the people to vote on approval or disapproval in a referendum.

Why are these seven afraid of letting the people whom they serve "vote"?

Why were the people "good enough" to elect these people and "good enough" to put the current  MUC appointment process in place as part of the 2001 MUC referendum question, but the people are not "good enough" in 2012 to vote in a referendum on whether to change that appointment process by voting to approve or disapprove the McGuffin Law? 

When politicians act in an unusual way---and refusing to allow their constituents to vote IS unusual---it typically goes back to power and fear of losing control. If you are unsure about the result of a referendum or fear that you can't totally control a referendum, then you just do what you want to do without a referendum. And you try to cover yourself by blaming others for the problem!

When crazy things are happening and politicians refuse to let the people they serve vote, follow the money/power trail.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April 19, 2012 C.L. "Buddy" Jones III Rejected by City Council

In near record time, Paul LeBel, Bob Garrett, Kay Senter, Chris Bivens, and Claude Jinks rejected Mayor Thomas' nomination of businessman/pharmacist C.L. "Buddy" Jones, III, to the Morristown Utilities Commission.

Jones, son of C.L. "Bud" Jones, thus becomes the seventeenth rejectee.

Current MUC member George McGuffin refuses to bow out gracefully and become an advisor/chairman emeritus to the MUC Board. 

Instead, McGuffin has spent nine months "letting" his name be put on seventeen MUC lists, resulting in LeBel and associates rejecting seventeen other good and qualified people.

While rejecting anyone and everyone else for the MUC seat, LeBel and company decided to push for a new law, the McGuffin Law, that would get rid of the current voter-approved appointment process that just isn't working for McGuffin.

Governor Haslam signed the McGuffin Law yesterday. Now the McGuffin Law comes back to City Council for final approval to officially let five council members cancel out the appointment process that was approved by 3,202 voters as part of the 2001 MUC referendum question.

We have serial rejections of many good people, actions to overturn the voter approved appointment process, and votes to change the local MUC Private Act just so George McGuffin, who has been on the MUC Board for over 34 years, can serve til ???

The message from the money/power group is clear. A referendum for the little folk is fine AS LONG AS THE RESULTS WORK FOR US (the-powers-that-be)!

But if we, the-powers-that-be, decide later that the referendum results are NOT working for US, we'll use 2 state legislators and 5 councilmembers to wipe out the votes of 3,202 people and change the law FOR US.

Coming soon...more on MUC and the McGuffin Law.

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16, 2012 MUC Selects Three Candidates for MUC Board as McGuffin Law Moves Forward Without Voter Input in a Referendum

Three of the five Morristown Utilities Commissioners (Harold Nichols, Lynn Elkins, and Max Biery) met last week to select three candidates for the MUC seat currently held by George McGuffin. This is the SEVENTEENTH list MUC has prepared during the last nine months.

Two MUC commissioners (Gene Jolley and George McGuffin) did not attend.

The three nominees are Peter Cantwell, Buddy Jones III, and, of course, George McGuffin. McGuffin has held the current seat for 34 years.  McGuffin could pull his name from contention now, but he won't. Keeping this MUC position has become much like a life-and-death power struggle for McGuffin.

Keeping McGuffin in place is also vitally important to the five councilmembers (LeBel, Senter, Garrett, Bivens, and Jinks) who voted in November 2011 to change state law for McGuffin.

The Five asked our two local state legislators (Rep. Don Miller and Sen. Steve Southerland) to push a bill through the state legislature to change the current appointment process that was put in place by 3,202 people (72%) in a 2001 MUC referendum. 

BUT the five councilmembers would not agree to put their proposed MUC appointment changes on a referendum in August 2012 and LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE if a change should be made.

The two state legislators agreed to re-write the appointment process but they, too, would NOT agree to put their appointment changes to a vote OF THE PEOPLE in an August 2012 referendum.

In an incredible move, Sen. Southerland made changes to the local bill and sponsored the local bill but did NOT vote for it.

Rep. Miller took the bill to the House State and Local Government Committee and there publicly refused a request to consider an amendment to provide for a referendum to let the PEOPLE SPEAK and give direct approval or disapproval at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, McGuffin is keeping a low profile as he waits for the "McGuffin Law" to be signed by Governor Haslam and returned to city council so that the LeBel Five (Paul LeBel, Bob Garrett, Kay Senter, Chris Bivens, and Claude Jinks) can give final approval to put the McGuffin Law into effect.

Then, a short time after the McGuffin Law is in place, the FIVE who have chosen to override the 2001 referendum and WHO HAVE REFUSED TO LET THE PEOPLE SPEAK in a referendum in 2012 can officially appoint McGuffin to MUC and keep the good old boy system in place.

After all, politicians just need the people briefly at election time.  After that, the special interests and money people take over.

The McGuffin Law overturns the appointment process that MUC, headed by Chairman George McGuffin, asked the council and the voters to approve in 2001.  But when the law doesn't work for you later---even if it's a law YOU previously supported and that the PEOPLE overwhelmingly voted for--you just change it to what works FOR YOU.

What about the referendum? What about the people?

There are very few instances when a referendum is permitted in Tennessee--approval of a local Private Act is one of those instances.

What does it tell you when seven elected officials (LeBel, Senter, Garrett, Bivens, Jinks, Miller, and Southerland) unite to refuse to let the people speak through a $250 referendum?

We have reached rock bottom in the City of Morristown when seven elected officials oppose LETTING THE PEOPLE SPEAK IN A REFERENDUM.

Of course, you have to remember that four of these (LeBel, Senter, Garrett, and Bivens) also wanted to put public comments from the people at the end of city council meetings and to reduce the time allowed for public comments from three minutes to two minutes.

Thankfully, there are two elected officials--Mayor Danny Thomas and Councilman Gene Brooks--who show respect for the 2001 REFERENDUM results and who are willing to abide by the results of that referendum until proposed changes to the appointment process are submitted TO THE PEOPLE in a new REFERENDUM on whether to change the 2001 voter-approved MUC appointment process. 

Friday, April 06, 2012

April 6, 2012 John Hodge is MUC's SIXTEENTH REJECTEE

Morristown City Council, same tune, SIXTEENTH verse: "Nobody else can sit in the McGuffin seat on the Morristown Utilities Commission."

In the video, above, council takes all of one minute at its April 3, 2012, meeting to reject John Hodge's appointment to the MUC Board.  The vote was 5-2 in favor of rejecting Hodge.

Voting to reject Hodge were: Paul LeBel, Bob Garrett, Kay Senter, Claude Jinks, and Chris Bivens. Voting for Hodge were Mayor Danny Thomas and Councilman Gene Brooks.

Hodge's name was on the most recent list of three candidates sent to the Mayor BY MUC and deemed qualified BY MUC, but deemed unsuitable by five councilmembers. The other candidates on the sixteenth MUC list were Peter Cantwell and, of course, George McGuffin.

Hodge's name is not McGuffin, so he can't really sit in the McGuffin seat and, thus, his quick rejection.

Do you think that MUC Commissioners George McGuffin, Harold Nichols, Lynn Elkins, Gene Jolley, and Max Biery are concerned that SIXTEEN candidates selected by MUC have been rejected by the City Council?

There is no concern by MUC over this series of rejection because the commissioners are quite happy that another person (#16) took it on the chin so George McGuffin can continue to hold his MUC seat.

Now, MUC and the LeBel Five are waiting for Governor Bill Haslam to sign the McGuffin Law that was recently passed by the state legislature under the sponsorship of local Sen. Steve Southerland and local Rep. Don Miller. Then the LeBel Five get their turn to vote for the McGuffin Law, and it's done.

The McGuffin Law allows five councilmembers to override and change the current MUC appointment process that was approved by 3,202 people (72% of voters) as part of the 2001 MUC Referendum Question that MUC supported

Ironically, it was MUC that came up with and recommended the current appointment process to the city council back in 2001, and MUC supported and encouraged people to vote FOR the MUC Referendum Question that included the current appointment process in 2001.

Now MUC and the LeBel Five and Rep. Miller and Sen Southerland have decided that five people should be allowed to change the appointment process that was approved by 3,202 people in 2001. 

The McGuffin Law will eventually enable the five councilmembers who have caused appointment gridlock for the last 8-9 months--on behalf of George McGuffin---to "officially" put McGuff back on the MUC.

Watching state legislators and councilmembers sponsor legislation and vote to override a local referendum in order to change a local Private Act for one person is amazing.

And Sen.Southerland, who sponsored the McGuffin Law, didn't vote for it and wouldn't amend the law to call for a $250 referendum for approval!

And State Representative Don Miller, who sponsored the McGuffin Law, wouldn't allow an amendment to provide for a $250 referendum for approval!

A referendum where the people were allowed to speak through their votes wasn't scary in 2001.

What's so scary in 2012 about a $250 referendum where the people can have a voice, where there would be verification of voter status, and where there would be privacy in the voting booth?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

April 4, 2012 Rep. Don Miller Refuses Rep. Parkinson's and Rep. L. Miller's Request To Allow a Referendum on MUC Appointment Process

Rep. Don Miller successfully ushered his changes to the local Morristown Utilities Commission  appointment process through the Tennessee Legislature's State and Local Government Committee on March 27.

The voice vote was not unanimous, but Miller's fellow legislators were obviously prepared to stand with Miller regardless of their personal concerns about Miller's refusal to let the people vote on the change to the appointment process in a referendum in August 2012.

Having come out of committee, the MUC appointment process is ready for a final vote today during the House's 9 AM session. Unless Miller decides that HE wants to hear the voice of the people in a referendum, Miller's bill will let five people (Paul LeBel, Kay Senter, Bob Garrett, Chris Bivens, and Claude Jinks) override the votes of the 3,202 people who supported all MUC changes, including the current appointment process, in 2001.

The Committee was so lined up behind Miller that it wanted to refuse to allow comments by Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas. To his credit, Rep. Miller intervened to allow Mayor Thomas to speak briefly. 

Mayor Thomas, unlike Miller, supports conducting a $250 referendum to see if the PEOPLE want to change the MUC appointment process that was part of a group of changes requested by MUC in 2001, approved by council in 2001, passed by the state legislature in 2001, and then approved by 72% of the people in a May 2001 referendum.

During the debate on HB 3860, Rep. Antonio Parkinson and Rep. Tommie Brown spoke passionately about respecting the votes of the people and the results of the 2001 referendum.

Rep. Tommie Brown then asked Rep. Miller if he would accept a friendly amendment to provide for a local referendum for approval of the MUC appointment changes. [See below for two updates]

[Update: On March 27, both Rep. Tommie Brown and Rep. Antonio Parkinson wanted to allow the Morristown voters to decide whether to change the appointment process. It was Rep. Antonio Parkinson who asked Rep. Miller if he would accept a friendly amendment to pass the bill with the provision that it return to Morristown voters as a referendum.]

Rep. Miller refused and stated that he considered an amendment for a referendum, letting the people
vote, as a "hostile" amendment.

[Update: In a previous committee hearing, Rep. Larry Miller had also asked Rep. Don Miller if he would permit a referendum. Rep. Don Miller at that time said "no."]

Miller opposes an August 2 referendum. Instead, Miller wants approval of the MUC appointment changes to come back to city council where FIVE votes are all that is needed to override and change the appointment process that 3,202 people put in place in the 2001 MUC Referendum. Miller knows that the five votes are currently in place (LeBel, Senter, Garrett, Bivens, Jinks). Miller is not sure what would happen if the people were allowed to speak in a referendum.

And that is the amazing situation we are in today.

Our local state representative is asked to allow a $250 referendum to let the people speak on proposed changes to the MUC appointment process and he says "no." Why?

Why does Miller oppose a referendum to let the people express their opinion but turns around and says he wants people to express their opinions directly to him by responding to a questionnaire?

If Rep. Miller REALLY wants the people's opinion on the appointment process and wants that opinion to be binding and expressed in the privacy of a voting booth, a referendum is the answer--just as it was in 2001.

Sen. Steve Southerland, who sponsored the same changes to the appointment process in the state senate, also opposed amending the bill to provide for a referendum.  In perhaps the most bizarre action of all, Southerland refused to vote for his bill on March 8.

Why is our local senator sponsoring a bill but not voting for it? The statement that he doesn't want to appear "biased" is ridiculous. When you write a bill that affects your local government and you sponsor it, you own it. If you aren't willing to vote for a "local" act that you sponsored, you shouldn't carry the bill and ask other senators across the state---who aren't affected by it and whose constituents are not affected by it---to vote for it.

When a local senator opposes letting the people speak in a referendum, rewrites a bill, "sponsors" it, and then refuses to vote for it, who is behind this?

When a local representative rewrites a bill, "sponsors" it, says he wants the people to express their opinion to him but he does NOT want the voters' opinion in a referendum, who is behind this?

When five city councilmembers want to change a local law that was put in place by the people in a referendum but oppose letting the people speak again in a referendum, who is behind this?

It's not rocket science. It's George McGuffin.

It's McGuffin keeping control of MUC for another five years. It's McGuffin refusing to let anyone else be appointed to the MUC Board.  It's changing the law for one person.

It's raw power and politics. It's money and McGuffin.