Citizens for Better Government
Blount County Tennessee
(Editors Note: This is a speech that was recently given by a lifelong Republican before a meeting of Blount County Democrats)
The Good Lord blessed Blount County with majestic mountains, sparkling lakes and a lush countryside. Some of you were lucky enough to be born here. Others are here by choice. Regardless of origin we care very deeply about the future of our county. Unfortunately, there is a seamy side to our county that is overshadowing what should be a very bright future. It is not pleasant, but we must talk about it and Do something about it. Let me provide a sampler of disturbing facts about the threats to the future of our County.
You are a woman in her 50’s. You have worked for an organization for years. Your boss calls you in. He tells you that: “your ass is fired, you get out of here”. He then tells you: “I’ll burn your house down, set your dog on fire and there won’t be a member of your family left, do you understand me? I won’t hire it done, I will do it myself! Do you understand me?” These are the words in a Federal lawsuit that were allegedly spoken by our Sheriff. What does this say about our future?
The editor of our local paper writes: “Stirring mistrust in government alone serves no one well.” He continues: “We would suggest that our newspaper has spent far too much ink publicizing those who are continually critical of county government”. Wasn’t one of this country’s founding principles a distrust of government? Isn’t journalistic integrity about presenting all sides fairly? What does this say about our future?
The Mayor implied a TBI investigation of the PBA was underway. A female reporter checked it out and said in her article that there was no such investigation. The Mayor fired off a letter to the publisher saying: “If (the female reporter) worked for me, I certainly would take her to the woodshed.” She left the paper shortly after that event. What does this say about our future?
Our County General Fund expenditures, driven by runaway Sheriff’s spending, are growing at 2.5 times the sum of population growth plus inflation, while expenditures for our schools and roads are barely keeping up. What does this say about our future?
The Sheriff has a fleet of approximately 250 cars to support less than 150 employees who could possibly need one. Yet, each year we spend nearly $1 million on new Sheriff vehicles. He is spending hundreds of thousands on a Police Academy. Yet, he wants a $2 million budget increase this year. What does this say about our future?
A comparison with similar counties in Tennessee shows that we are spending 15 to 25% more, as much as $10 million, in our General Fund. What does this say about our future?
The county paid hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the appraisal for an auto racetrack we didn’t need. More recently, the county sold Highway Dept. land in a transaction that was based on a four year old appraisal and may have left more than a million dollars on the table. Yet we are being asked to support a wheel tax. What does this say about our future?
Our Sheriff bought a $17000 phone, and at the very same Budget committee meeting, the Commission was forced to deny a $15000 request for funds to feed 25 needy Seniors for a year? What does that say about our future?
Our Circuit Court clerk and our Sheriff spent thousands of dollars of our money for bogus diplomas. The result? The Sheriff promotes one of the bogus university ‘students’ to train our new police officers. You can’t make this stuff up! What does that say about our future?
The Commission voted funds to put a Sheriff’s School Resource Officer in every school. The Sheriff, in violation of the law, used those funds for other activities, including such necessities as bogus diplomas, diving lessons and trips to resorts. Now the Sheriff is reportedly telling the Commission they have to vote another $400,000 to re-institute the SRO program. What does that say about our future?
Our Circuit Court Clerk hires his son to work for him. An underage girl is entrusted to him in his role as a Magistrate. His son allegedly intimidates the underage girl with the words: “you owe me”. His son is arrested and charged with sexual offenses, but no mention is made of possible case fixing. The mayor says: ”I don’t think there are any liabilities on the county’s part”. One month later, the mayor uses $45,000 of taxpayer money to pay off the girl’s civil claim against the Circuit Court Clerk’s son and the County. What does this say about our county?
After more than a year we still do not know whether the county was properly paid for Sheriff’s vehicles that have disappeared from the books over the last ten years. What does this say about our future?
One of the many Assistant Deputy Chiefs of the Sheriff’s department writes a letter telling citizens group leader she does “not have a clue” and calling her a “vampire”. When a Commissioner requests information on behalf of a citizen, the same Sheriff’s official writes another letter calling the Commissioner “stupid” and “a coward”. The information requested uncovered the misuse of funds for bogus diplomas. Who wrote the letter? None other than the Asst. Deputy Chief of Professional Standards. What does this say about our future?
A citizens group leaves information flyers in the proper place before a Commission meeting. A Sheriff’s Deputy grabs the material and throws it in a trash can with the comment: “this material don’t need to be here”. When asked why he threw the flyers away, the Deputy responded: “because I wanted to and because I can”. The Sheriff takes no disciplinary action. What does this say about our future?
A woman goes to court in a child custody case, only to find the judge questioning her about her religion. What does this say about our future?
Our Mayor says: “I have no desire to turn Blount County into a retirement mecca”. “They move here and start complaining.” Aren’t retired people the least demanding on our infrastructure? They don’t have children in schools, they don’t clog up our jails, and they don’t commute on our roads. What does this say about our future?
A frail 77 year old man, spoke at several Commission meetings questioning the number and whereabouts of Sheriff’s vehicles. After one meeting he was greeted in the hall by the Sheriff and told to be in the Sheriff’s office the next morning at 10:00. He did not comply. During another meeting the Sheriff waved him into the hall and threatened to sue him if he continued to ask questions about vehicles. As he drove home he was followed by an unmarked, black car. The car pulled into his driveway and parked. His wife was panic stricken - convinced that someone had come to kill him. He sat behind his door with a shotgun for four hours until 2:00am, when the car finally left. He suffered a mini-stroke the next day. Since then, he has been called to the courthouse for so-called problems with his deed, and asked to sign an affidavit. His wife accompanied him and was so upset by the proceedings that she just lost it. Now, a whispering campaign has been started, questioning his military service. What does this say about our future?
A Commissioner who asked a Sheriff’s official to treat this man with dignity was accused of an ethics violation for doing so. What does this say about our future?
I could go on for hours about the attacks on the Children’s Home, the Sister Cities Program, the infamous Nascar truck deal and many others – but you get the idea. If you are feeling uneasy about our future, you are getting the message.
How did we get here. There is plenty of blame to go around. Republicans have abdicated control of their party to the worst kind of political machine. Democrats have not even had the energy to field a full slate of county candidates. A ‘we’re Democrats so we can’t win here’ philosophy seemed to dominate. That ensured the continuation of one party, machine government, even as more Democrats move into the county.
The citizenry is aware of some of the problems. But, they fear the machine and, without strong leadership, will not come out to fight it.
Do you want to improve our future? Start by letting your neighbors know what a mess we’re in. Bring two friends to the next citizens group meeting. Come to Commission meetings. See the mess for yourself. Show a supportive face to the few Commissioners who are fighting to save this County’s future. Come to our citizens group meetings. Run for office. Be sure every race has a Democrat challenger. As a Republican, I ask you, please bring two-party government to our county.