Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 2012 Hamblen County Commission Approves Revised School Budget, All County Budgets, Tax Rate, and Non-Profit Funding

After extended back-and-forth between the Hamblen County Commission and the Hamblen County School System, the School Board went back to the drawing board, revised its budget, and presented a new budget document to the Hamblen County Budget Committee at 4:30 on June 21, 2012.  [See video below]

A few commissioners still had questions about the estimates, costs, and square footage of the next West High building program. In addition, several commissioners have expressed concern in earlier meetings about the school system taking "leftover" money from construction projects and then spending that money on other projects as it wishes. It appears likely that the school board's handling of yet another school construction project will come under close scrutiny as bids are taken for new West High projects and work begins.

The Hamblen County Commission then met in regular session at 5:00 PM (video below) and approved the school budget, the county budget, the county tax rate, and funding for numerous non-profits.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24 Witt Sewer Lawsuit Ends With City Paying Attorney Fees and Fines Reduced Through Negotiations

The Witt Sewer Lawsuit appears to be at an end. 

Last year, Federal District Judge Ronnie Greer ruled in favor of the Witt residents, ordering the City to repair the Witt sewer line, make monetary payments to two Witt residents, pay attorney fees of the Witt residents' attorney Gary Davis, and pay fines for violations of the Clean Water Act. Click here and here.

The City appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals but later entered into negotiations with the Witt residents--negotiations that recently resulted in an agreed settlement with a reduction of the attorney fees and fine.

In the video (above) City Administrator Tony Cox reports that Federal District Judge Ronnie Greer approved the negotiated settlement of the attorney fees that will be paid by the City to the Witt residents' attorney and approved a reduced fine to be paid to the US Treasury for the City's violations of the Clean Water Act.

The City will finish the repair work on the Witt sewer line and will also make the monetary payment to two of the Witt residents.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23, 2012 Freedom Energy Diesel Asks for Time To Go Overseas for Financing (video); City Grants One-Year Extension (video)

Above: Video of the City Council June 19 vote to give Freedom Energy Diesel (FED) another year to start construction on its coal gasification plant in the East Tennessee Progress Center.

Background. Just over a year ago, the Industrial Development Board of Morristown and Freedom Energy Diesel (FED) announced that FED would build a coal gasification plant in the East Tennessee Progress Center. The projected cost of the plant and equipment was over $400 Million dollars.

At that time, the IDB asked the City to move quickly to sell 116 acres to D4 Capital, the parent company of FED, so construction could begin according to FED's "aggressive" schedule.

The City sold 116 acres to D4 Capital in June 2011 at a deeply discounted rate with a provision that if actual construction on the Freedom Energy building had not begun by June 27, 2012, the land would be deeded back to the City at no cost to the City.

As the June 27, 2012, deadline approached and with no construction on the building taking place, FED representative David Wild met with the IDB on June 5, 2012, to ask the IDB to ask the City to give FED another year to get its financing in place and start construction. At that time, FED informed the IDB that it was working on securing overseas financing for the project.

Below: Video of the June 5 IDB meeting at which Freedom Energy asked the IDB to recommend that the City give FED another year to start construction. FED also stated that it would be going overseas to seek financing. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22, 2012 Developer Pulls Masengill Springs Development from City Agenda

The Masengill Springs Development and Rezoning was pulled from the City Council agendas at the beginning of the June 19th meeting.  Developers Don Bunch and Mike Bunch are proposing moving the current Food City on West AJ Hwy across the street along with other development in the area of the old tobacco warehouse.

The proposal met with considerable opposition form residents in the North Economy Road area at a previous Planning Commission meeting where the development was sent on to city council on a 4-2 vote with one abstention.

Even though the proposal was pulled from the agenda at the start, many residents from the area were at the City Council meeting and spoke about their concerns about drainage problems and traffic problems in having an exit from the development onto North Economy Road.

There will be more discussion at a future date.

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15, 2012 Commission Adjourns After Public Comments Since There Is No School Budget

June 14, 4:00 PM. Hamblen County Budget Committee approves county portion of budget without a school budget. Moves two-cents of tax rate to county debt service--dedicated for West High.
June 14, 5:00 PM. Hamblen County Commission meets in special session to vote on complete  county budget on first reading, hears public comments, and then adjourns because, without a school budget, there is no complete county budget to approve

There is no school budget because the Hamblen County Budget Committee gave tentative approval to a school budget on June 12 at 4:00 PM but later that same day the Hamblen County School Board approved a different budget at 7:00 PM. Video of each meeting is here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12, 2012 County Commission Gives Contingent Approval to School Budget; School Board Rejects County Plan

After yesterday's joint meeting of the Hamblen County Budget Committee and the Hamblen County School Board, the County Budget Committee met at 4:00 PM today to approve a school budget.  

Commissioner Stancil Ford made the motion laying out the county's position on the school budget.  The motion passed 10-3 (NO: Paul LeBel, Doe Jarvis, Nancy Phillips) but was to take effect only IF the School Board met a few hours later and revised its budget in line with the county's proposal.  Click on arrow for video.

The School Board met three hours later (7:00 PM) but proposed and passed a different school budget, thus rejecting/modifying the county's plan. School Board member Carolyn Holt made the motion which passed 7-0. Click on arrow for video.

The Budget Committee is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, June 14.

The original plan was for the Budget Committee to finalize the entire county budget (county and schools) and then recommend the county budget and tax rate to the full Commission which was to meet in special session on Thursday and pass the complete county budget on first reading.

In light of the dueling budgets, whether the county will be able to pass a budget and tax rate on Thursday is unclear at this point.

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012 Hamblen County Budget Meeting with School Board

The Hamblen County Commission Budget Committee is composed of all 14 members of the full Commission. The Budget Committee has been meeting to go over the Hamblen County budget for the past several weeks. 

At its May 31 meeting, the Budget Committee voted on the Hamblen County Schools budget, recommending a 5.1% or $3,495,000 increase in school funding for FY 2013 year.  Despite the nearly $3.5 Million increase, the school system left that meeting upset because the nearly $3.5 Million increase is $272,000 shy of the increase that the school board wanted and expected.

After the May 31 committee vote on the school budget, Director of School Dale Lynch apparently met with County Mayor Bill Brittain and Finance Director Joey Barnard and appeared at the June 7 Hamblen Commission Budget Committee meeting (video above) to ask for another meeting/ work session with the Commission.

The joint meeting/work session will take place tonight at the Courthouse (Chancery Courtroom) at 6 PM.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

June 9, 2012 Freedom Energy Diesel Going Overseas for Financing

Above is a video of a meeting of the Industrial Development Board (IDB) of Morristown. The meeting took place at 8:30 AM on June 5 in the lower level of the Chamber of Commerce building on West First North Street.  Jack Fishman presided.

The main topic was Freedom Energy Diesel, a project dubbed "Project Victory"when the IDB announced one year ago that FED was coming to Morristown. 

In June 2011, the City sold 116 acres in the East Tennessee Project Center to FED at a deeply reduced price with the provision that the property would revert to the City on June 27, 2012, if FED had not begun construction on its building by thar date.

Construction on the FED building has not begun, so FED representative David Wild, a local contractor, came to the IDB to ask that the IDB recommend that the City give FED another year to get its financing in place and start construction. 

Wild said that a lot of gradework has been done, but final gradework has been halted while FED goes overseas to try and obtain "final" financing.

The IDB Board voted unanimously to send a recommendation to the City of Morristown asking that the City give Freedom Energy Diesel an extra year to get its financing in place and start work on its building in the East Tennessee Progress Center.

The recommendation will go to the City Council for a vote on June 19.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

June 7, 2012 LeBel's One Concern: Why Isn't the MUC/McGuffin Law Appointment on the Agenda?

At the June 5 Morristown City Council meeting, Paul LeBel was strangely silent, pretty much confining himself to pushing buttons to vote.

At the end of the meeting, however, he did have a question. Why was the Morristown Utilities Commission (MUC) appointment pulled from the agenda?

Mayor Thomas answered, and Paul went back to his IPad.

Actually, the agenda as it was posted on the city's website and printed out for meeting attendees did not have the MUC appointment on it at all. So there was no Mayor's appointment to pull. 

LeBel was ticked, but he contained himself better than usual.

What LeBel really wanted to ask, in my opinion, was "look, the McGuffin Law is in place thanks to the efforts at the state level of Rep. Don Miller and Sen. Steve Southerland in helping me, Kay Senter, Claude Jinks, Bob Garrett, and Chris Bivens overturn the appointment process adopted by the votes of 3,202 people in the 2001 MUC referendum, so when do I get to vote for the 20th time against the mayor's nominee from the MUC list and finally set it up to  vote for George McGuffin--the only person in all of Morristown who I think is capable of sitting in what is now and for 34+ years has been the 'McGuffin' seat on MUC?"

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

June 6, 2012 Lakemoore Residents Demand Action To Address 30+ Years of Sewer Odors

A large group of Lakemoore residents showed up at the City Council meeting yesterday to present their concerns and to demand that action be taken on the decades-old sewer odor problems in that area.

Here is the presentation of a petition from the Lakemoore residents to council which was followed by several individual requests for help.

June 6, 2012 City Budget Passes on First Reading 5-2

Before yesterday's vote on the FY 2013 City of Morristown budget, Carl Murphy spoke about the budget and the budget "hearings."

Later in the meeting, the budget passed on a 5-2 vote with LeBel, Senter, Jinks, Garrett, and Bivens voting YES and Brooks and Mayor Thomas voting NO.

Friday, June 01, 2012

June 1, 2012 Charging Councilmembers for City Government Documents

At Morristown City Council's May 1 meeting, a resolution was passed that allows some City  officials to charge other City officials (City Councilmembers) for City Government documents.

Tony Cox describes the resolution, but he never says who is behind it or what prompted it. Cox doesn't explain the "need" to charge elected City Councilmembers for "non-routine"(?) City government documents.

Only Gene Brooks and Mayor Thomas commented on the resolution. Brooks and Thomas later cast the only votes against the resolution.
Brooks states that this should be called the "Gene Brooks" resolution as it appears to be retaliation against him for sending Millennium Square documents evidencing conflicts of interest involving Wild Contractors to state and federal officials--resulting in Wild being prohibited from bidding or performing work on the project. *See end of this post for a further explanation of the conflicts.

Mayor Thomas notes that this resolution is contrary to open and transparent government and that documents are often the only way that information can be gathered to make informed decisions.

Mayor Thomas asks if others have comments.

Total silence from Paul LeBel, Kay Senter, Bob Garrett, Claude Jinks, and Chris Bivens.

No one stands up for this resolution or explains why it is good, why it is needed, or how it will promote open and transparent city government.

*Brooks sent Millennium documents and information on conflicts and insider information to TDOT (Tennessee Department of Transportation) and to the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration). The State then postponed the initial bidding to allow the conflicted owner (Tim and David Wild)/ contractor (Wild Building)/project estimator (Wild Building), to respond to the allegations.  Wild obtained an attorney to provide its response. Todd Morgan, the City's pointman for the Millennium project, responded on behalf of the City.  Brewer/Ingram/Fuller, project architects, also responded. The State determined that conflicts of interest and insider information did exist and that Wild Building Contractors would be prohibited from bidding on the project. Federal law on conflicts-of-interest was cited.  More on Millennium is here and here and here. For other info on the Millennium project, scroll down on the right side of this blog and click on the labels: Millennium Square Grant or Millennium Square Partners.

After the conflicts were addressed, the project was bid in April 2011. The low bid was considered too high.  The project was re-designed to reduce costs, and bid for a second time in May 2012. In May only one bidder submitted a bid which again was considered too high. No contract has been awarded at this time.