THE HUNTER REPORT

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TRANSPARENCY OR BACKROOM POLITICS?

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SCHOOL BOARD'S REQUEST REMOVED FROM AGENDA

 

BY: PAT HUNTER

The Loudon County Board of Education will have to wait a while longer to learn what Loudon County Commissioners plan to do regarding their  recent request to send two school projects out to bid. Mum is the word.

It wasn't a commissioner that made the request to remove an agenda item from the Oct. 4 Commission Agenda, it was the County Mayor.  It was odd for the County Mayor to procedurally request the removal of a Commission Agenda item but that's exactly what happened. Without any explanation or comment, newly elected County Mayor Estelle Herron requested that item number 6 (c) be removed from the October 4, 2010 Loudon County Commission meeting Agenda. And without any public discussion, the Mayor�s request to remove agenda item 6 (c) was unanimously approved by voice vote by all Commissioners D-1 Brian Jenkins, David Meers, D-2 Earlena Maples, Austin Shaver; D-3 Bob Franke, D-4 Roy Bledsoe, D-5 Harold Duff, Sharon Yarbrough, D-6 Steve Harrelson, and D-7 Don Miller. School Director Wayne Honeycutt was present but did not speak.

The actions of Mayor Herron and commissioners were very puzzling given that at the Sept. 20th workshop meeting, Commissioner Harold Duff specifically requested clarification from Mayor Estelle Herron and commissioners.

Commissioner Harold Duff asked if this issue would be on the agenda for a vote by the full Commission at the upcoming meeting. Commissioner Don Miller quickly replied "Absolutely" while other commissioners chimed in "YES " and Mayor Herron (Budget Chair) said um-hum. Commissioner Harold Duff replied, alright ok I was just clarifying what I understood. SEE VIDEO BELOW.

Commission was scheduled to vote on agenda Item 6 (c) Consideration of a Request to Fund the Bidding Phase of a new Fort Loudon Middle School and Renovations to the Philadelphia School estimated cost of $18.3 Million. There were two opposing committee recommendations on the table for Commission�s consideration and vote. The Loudon County Budget Committee�s recommendation (N0) to wait, and the Capital Project Committee�s recommendation (YES) to move forward with next phase of bidding for two school building projects.

The school board�s funding request was first discussed at the Sept. 20 Capital Projects Committee when Capital Projects Committee Commissioner Harold Duff spoke in support of Phase 1 but he noted that nobody would not know how commissioners felt until a roll call vote was made. Commissioners Duff and Brian Jenkins and Purchasing Director Leo Bradshaw unanimously approved a recommendation to fund $60,000 to $180,000 for the bidding phase of the two school building projects. At the Budget Committee meeting, Budget Committee Commissioner Don Miller�s recommendation was not to approve going out to bids now. Miller said that he wasn�t against the projects but because the County did not have the funds to proceed with the projects, and to wait once the County gets the bids and is closer to when funding is in place. Commission Sharon Yarbrough, BOE Vice chairman Gary Ubben's spouse voted no. All other Budget Committee members voted AYE.

After both committee meetings, commissioners were informed about the two recommendations at the commission workshop meeting. Commissioner Miller reminded commissioners how the County was in a position to fund $18.3 Million for the two building projects before Commission voted to spend over $1 Million in yearly operating expenditures for the schools. Money came out of the debt reserves for that purpose. If the School Board and Commission had agreed to spend $500,000, the County could have funded both building projects at $18.3 Million without a property tax increase. Now taxpayers face a large tax increase because of this spending. (SEE VOTING RECORD BELOW)  

At the Oct. 4th Commission meeting, Commissioners Bledsoe, and Meers (Capital Projects Committee members) who were absent at the earlier Sept. 20 meetings did not publicly inquire about the Mayor�s request. Also absent at the Sept. workshop and committee meetings was Budget Committee Commissioner Franke; he asked "6 (c) is that being removed" but received no reply. Chairman Bledoe appeared to misinterpret Franke's question as a motion when Commissioner Meers said "so moved". And when Chairman Bledsoe asked for a second to Franke's motion, which was actually a question, Commissioner Meers seconded the motion but no commissioner came forward to say one word about the gaffe!

Interestingly, at the end of the Commission meeting, Mayor Herron invited all county, school board and city officials to a meeting to be held on November ? 2010 when the county attorney will speak about open government matters including Ethics, Open Meetings, and Open Records.  Although News Herald Editor Greg Wilkerson attended the Oct. 4th Commission meeting, to date this information has not been reported in the paper or anywhere else! How many times have we heard that newspapers are supposed to report the facts and keep readers informed, and serve as watchdogs for open government and democracy?

It's one thing for local government officials to promote and talk about how they believe in open honest government, open meetings and open records but its a horse of a different color when it actually comes to local officials practicing what they preach or purport to believe in. Whatever happened in the backroom is anyone�s guess; but one thing is for certain the full Commission was scheduled to discuss and vote on two Committee recommendations regarding the school board's request 6 (c) before it was removed by Mayor Herron and Commission agreed to do so without a public discussion and commissioners didn't bother to use the Commission Online Forum website. Many questions remain unanswered and one has to wonder if the new County Mayor and Commission is serious about practicing transparency in how local government conducts the public�s business! The public has a right to know exactly what goes on when public officials transact the public�s business, as well as, the end results. 

 

 

CLICK TO SEE TRANSPARENCY OR BACKROOM POLITICS? VIDEO CLIP - WMV FILE  

Streaming video may load at different speeds depending on your web service (partial transcript below)

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SEPT. 20, 2010 COMMISSION WORKSHOP MEETING

Sept. 20, 2010 Loudon County Commission workshop - Partial Transcript

(Commissioner Steve Harrelson...until we start working on the budget for next 2011- 2012 I guess the school building
issue is dead. Is that what you're saying?

Budget Committee Commissioner Austin Shaver ... without the money for it, which is where we are...

Unless you raise taxes - Budget Committee Commissioner Don Miller.
Capital Projects Commissioner Harold Duff... I don't think that's right.
Commissioner Steve Harrelson ... That's what they're saying.
Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough ... That's what they're saying.
Commissioner Harold Duff...I know that's what they're saying...But what the request was to put it out for bid... And we passed it on from the Capital Projects to the Budget Committee... The Capital Projects said "YES" and the Budget Committee said "NO" but isn't the next step Mayor to put that on the Agenda for a vote of the full Commission?

Commissioner Don Miller "Absolutely" other commissioners "YES " Mayor Herron (Budget Chair) Um hum. Commissioner Harold Duff, alright ok, I was just clarifying what I understood.)

Budget Director Tracy Blair (l), Mayor Estelle Herron (r)

OCTOBER 4, COMMISSION MEETING - Partial Transcript

(Mayor Herron requested adding an item to the agenda, a Proclamation for Children's Health Week and to remove item 6 (c).

Mayor Herron ... And also I would like to take off under Item C number 6. The consideration of a request to fund the bidding process. I would like to remove that please.
Commissioner Bob Franke: C6 is that being removed?
Commissioner Meers: So moved.

CHAIRMAN BLEDSOE ... Second by Commissioner Meers. Discussion. All in favor please say Aye. AYE. Any
opposed? Motion carries by voice vote, all in favor.
 

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VOTING RECORD

Budget Vote

June 28, 2010 Loudon County Commission meeting

Loudon County Commission vote to spend $1million+ for the FY 10-11 School Operating Budget.

Aye - Commissioners Harold Duff, Chris Park, Wayne Gardin, David Meers, Earlena Maples, and Roy Bledsoe.

NO - Austin Shaver, Bob Franke, Nancy Marcus and Don Miller.

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VOTING RECORD

Budget Vote

April 15, 2010 Loudon County Board of Education meeting

Loudon County Board of Education's vote regarding the FY 10-11 School Operating Budget.

AYE: Bobby Johnson Jr., Bill Marcus, Gary Ubben, Larry Proaps, Leroy Tate and Steve Harrelson. (Note: Steve Harrelson ran and was elected as 6th District Commissioner effective Sept. 1, 2010).

NO: Van Shaver, Lisa Russell, Craig Simon, and Scott Newman.

 

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10-30-2010