The Rest of The Story....
BY: PAT HUNTER
Now that the dust has settled after Commission's big 20 cent property tax hike vote, several questions still remain, why did county officials show poor judgment when selecting inadequate public facilities, and why impose time constraints to muzzle the public? It's not as if Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron, County Commission, and school board didn't already know about the controversy. A joint commission-school board meeting, which was held at the Tech Center on May 23, 2011, and the June 30th, Special Called Loudon County Commission meeting, brought large crowds because of hot topic items including a 20 cent tax hike, Mayor Herron's proposed pay plan for some clerks, 1.6 % pay supplement for other county employee, and proposed changes to the county employee health insurance.
The meetings were packed with Greenback parents and supporters, school board members and employees, TEA Party, and concerned taxpayers. County employees were also in attendance after learning about proposed changes to health insurance benefits, and a new pay scale proposed by Mayor Herron, which included pay raises for some clerks, while the remainder of county employees were expected to receive a 1.6% bonus/pay supplement. County employee insurance benefits and pay increases remain on hold until a Commission vote on August 8, 2011.
Why didn't Mayor Herron and Commission schedule both public meetings at the newly renovated Loudon High School auditorium with ample seating and parking, and a public address system, to accommodate the anticipated large crowd, and press?
When a big turnout was expected for Senator Bob Corker's Sept. 3, 2009 Town Hall Meeting, the meeting location was quickly changed from the Courthouse Annex to the Loudon High Auditorium. Why wasn't there better planning?
Attending the June 30th Special Called meeting were two Sheriff deputies posted at each door of the Annex basement meeting room. While Mayor Herron sat in the comfort of a cool air conditioned room, a crowd gathered outside in long lines waiting for the door to open. School employees and county employees banded together in support of the 20 cent tax hike wearing Vote For Kids stickers. The Tea Party supporters wore light blue shirts, and displayed no tax hike bright yellow signs; concerned taxpayers wore No Tax Hike stickers. While in line, a school board member expressed frustration and couldn't understand why the Annex door was locked as the Sheriff Deputy guarded the door.
Normally, there is NO security at public meetings but that wasn't the case at the Special Called meeting. Assistant chief deputy Jimmie Davis was dressed in uniform for the meeting. Sheriff Guider and FOP rep were in attendance to address the Enhanced Sheriff Pension Plan, which Commission voted to approve.
At about 5:30 P.M., another sheriff's deputy started doling out a limited number of stickers and within 12 minutes the seating capacity reached 123. The door was then locked and the public and press was barred from entering the public meeting. Outside, stood reporters from the Knoxville News Sentinel, TV-8, and citizens; as a side room designed for extra seating remained closed while the Mayor's small table blocked off the area. When county personnel were asked why the extra meeting room wasn't open to seat the public, the response was the Mayor didn't want anyone sitting behind her.
Minutes before the meeting was about to start, the drama started to unfold when a Sheriff deputy approached Mayor Herron. The News Sentinel, TV 8, and citizens were locked outside and a reporter had asked to attend the public meeting, but the Mayor appeared to motion "No".
One has to wonder the real reason why Mayor Herron didn't want to let citizens and press into the public meeting given that there was additional seating capacity in the extra side room, which sat closed off to the public.
After a series of huddles and wrangling between Mayor Herron, Purchasing/Maintenance Director Bradshaw, and county attorney Bob Bowman, the curtain to the side meeting room was finally opened and the Knoxville News Sentinel reporter, TV - 8, and a stream of people were allowed into the extra room while a Sheriff deputy's stood nearby Mayor Herron and Commissioners Miller, Yarbrough, Harrelson and Duff.
Just in case you didn't attend the meeting, voting AYE for the 20 cent tax hike: Harold Duff, Bryan Jenkins, Steve Harrelson, Bob Franke, Sharon Yarbrough, and Don Miler casting the deciding vote. In 2005, Commissioner Don Miller voted for the largest property tax increase so his latest vote came as little surprise. Commissioners voting NO: David Meers, Earlena Maples, Roy Bledsoe, and Austin Shaver.
POOR PLANNING &
DISSENTING OPINIONS ...
BY: PAT HUNTER
As school board and county officials sat with ample room and space, the public did not fare as well. At the May 23, 2011 joint meeting, which was held between Loudon County Commission and Board of Education school board, a large crowd were in attendance. There were no Sheriff deputies, and no one doling out stickers with numbers to limit seating. It was standing room only at the Tech Center with both exit doors blocked. Many times during the meeting, people would shout out that they couldn't hear while others stood the entire time.
In stark contrast, when another joint meeting was held on Feb. 8, 2010, between the school board and commission, the meeting was held at the Loudon High School Auditorium. There was ample room and space, and parking.
Loudon County Mayor Estelle Herron hosted the May 23rd event with two featured speakers, Don Shell Community Tectonics, owner-architect and finance consultant- bondsman Scott Gibson (Cumberland Securities, Regions Bank).
Architect Don Shell spoke about the proposed Greenback School revisions. School board member Leroy Tate questioned why architect Shell did not provide information about the other school building projects.
Scott Gibson also spoke about the financing aspects, and long term debt of the school building project. He even spoke about wrap around debt. But nobody offered any explanation why other financing consultants such as Capital Alliance Consultants were not invited to discuss other finance options, other than long term debt proposals, and a tax increase. Capital Alliance had spoken and offered numerous financing options before the Budget Committee, months earlier.
Interestingly, Buddy Heins VP Merit Construction was not on the meeting agenda although Heins was supposed to attend the joint meeting to address Mayor Herron and Purchasing Director Bradshaw's concerns about the school board hiring Merit as the Construction Manager to oversee the school building projects. No explanation was offered for not wanting to discuss this matter in public. The county was recommending using a general contractor verses a construction manager. Some county commissioners have expressed concerns about Merit Construction. At a July 2010 joint meeting held between the Capital Project Committee and the BOE Maintenance Committee, Buddy Heins was called on the carpet for over- estimating by $1 Million grading and site preparation work for the proposed new Ft. Loudon Middle School. If Merit had over estimated one portion of the school project, what else could be expected?
After the two presentations by Don Shell and Scott Gibson and a question and answer period from commissioners and school board members, Mayor Herron asked how many people wanted to speak. With a show of hands, nine people expressed an interest to speak. Many were Greenback parents and supporters, and the remainder were Tea Party activists. Some of the Tea Party activists would be last to speak or so they thought.
Mayor Herron began with the Greenback supporters side. Herron imposed 3-minute time constraints and she used her gavel but when it came to the ninth person's turn to speak (Pandora Vreeland), Mayor Herron conveniently closed public comment, and concluded the meeting. It would appear, there was no place for dissenting opinions, or Freedom of Speech.