Citizens for Better Government
Blount County Tennessee
You, our members, do have an impact.
Back in January we asked the Commissioners why, according to the State Audit Report, the Sheriff needed 263 vehicles when he only had 268 employees. Since this total employee number included more than 100 jail guards, cafeteria workers, clerical and other workers who have no need for a county vehicle, we observed that the number of vehicles seemed extraordinarily high. We also pointed out that Sullivan county does essentially the same law enforcement job with 130 vehicles.
Our confusion, turned to serious concern when the Sheriff told the News Sentinel, in a January 20th article, that: “the department has a maximum of about 180 vehicles”. Repeated requests to the County Finance Department for an explanation of the difference in Audit Report number and the Sheriff’s number went unanswered. In March, the Mayor joined the fray to “set the record straight”, but only added to the confusion.
At the end of February, we wrote a letter to the State Comptroller requesting help from the state auditors in getting to the bottom of this problem. At our subsequent meetings, we requested that our members also write to the Comptroller requesting his help. Your letters worked.
The state auditor arrived in the County a few weeks ago. That is the good news.
The bad news, according to our sources, is the auditor found that the Sheriff has 239 vehicles, including 24 additional cars he bought last January. The county books said he had 263 plus 24, or a total of 287 vehicles. The auditor was able to find only 239. What happened to the other 48 vehicles? We have called the county Finance Director, David Bennett, several times seeking a detailed reconciliation of the disposition of every one of these 48 missing vehicles. Mr. Bennett has not returned our calls.
Our sources tell us the political “spin” that will be put on this problem is that paperwork problems are to blame. That is a lot of spin. Yes, a paperwork problem might explain one or two missing vehicles – but not a whole parking lot full of vehicles. That takes a major breakdown of the Sheriff’s office and county financial control systems. That also may be one reason why law enforcement in Blount county costs 39% more per person than in Sullivan county.
So where are we now? The Audit report said the Sheriff should have 287 vehicles (263 plus the 24 new ones). The Sheriff said we have no more than 180. The latest auditor says the Sheriff has 239. And, no one is answering questions about the missing 48 vehicles.
But the Sheriff wants the taxpayers to support a tax increase, so that he can have even more money to spend next year. Does this make sense to you?