Headlines from the Chronicle & The Mt. Juliet News, September 17, 2008

County commission OKs tax hike
It was a long and crowded County Commission meeting. Crowd estimate was 500. “Teachers reasoned, children cried, and parents insisted. . .” The school board had submitted a budget that would have required a 34 cent property tax increase. The County Commission responded with 25.89 cents of additional funding (20 cents from a property tax increase and 5.89 cents transferred from the sanitation fund). West Wilson Middle School Principal Wendell Marlowe spoke strongly in favor of the full 34-cent increase. It’s a long and complex story – well written by the Chronicle reporters, Tomi Wiley and Connie Esh. Includes a detailed recap of how all the county commissioners voted.

First MJHS home football game: what you need to know
It’s more complicated than the votes on the school system budget.

Cosby learns fate with MJPD today
He got fired.

Neighbors protest ‘sloppy’ sewer work

Cleanup work on the Nonaville Road sewer project has not been done to the citizens’ satisfaction.

Elam’s law license on ‘administrative suspension’
Says she’s made steps toward reinstatement and believes opponents are ‘running smear campaign’

Elam said the fact this news has been put out is a ‘smear tactic’ related to her bid for re-election.

Mt. Juliet police officer indicted for April traffic stop
And was terminated on Wednesday morning (after the papers went to press).

Decision to pay $5,000 for fireworks at MJHS football game wrong call

Timing of vote for city commission’s increased compensation was wrong

Not the vote itself. Just the timing.

County Commission approves 20-cent property tax increase

– Publius



Filed under Uncategorized

3 responses to “Headlines from the Chronicle & The Mt. Juliet News, September 17, 2008

  1. Bobby Franklin

    There is much that is troubling about the Mt. Juliet City Commission right now. Special Meeting contracts, YMCA land gifts, and the repeal of the adopted MTAS Ethics Ordinance are all things to be very concerned about.

    It is hard to choose the worst thing this Commission is doing right now. I guess for me the city’s resistance to allow access to public record is the most alarming. Public access to information has never been this difficult in the 26 years I have lived here.

    Butch Huber is not the only person having trouble getting access to public records. Many requests are being met with resistance. Let me give you the examples I am aware of:

    The first is related to my termination last summer. When the city terminated me they also denied my state unemployment benefits. I was forced to get an Attorney and request the production of public records in order to make my case in a state appeals tribunal hearing. My Attorney subpoenaed a number of easily accessible records from the City of Mt. Juliet. That subpoena was ignored and the City didn’t even attend the hearing. Needless to say, I won my complaint against the city. I followed up by requesting email records from the city through the Tennessee Open Records Act. The first response from then Attorney Paula Flowers was to try and charge me 3000 dollars!

    If I were just any citizen that would have probably stopped me from gaining access to those records. But I had worked there. In fact, I helped set up the exchange server that handled all of the city’s email. The Information Technology Department reported to me! So I explained how getting the information off the exchange server would take only 15 minutes, not 120 hours.

    Sonny Griffin encountered resistance when he asked about YMCA funding availability. State law requires a statement of available funds from the Finance Director prior to the approval of any amendment to the city’s budget. He wanted to see the Finance Director’s statement that the city had available funds to pay for the giveway of land to the YMCA. The City Manager had refused to communicate with Sonny Griffin through email.

    When the city quibbled with Sonny he just showed up at City Hall and asked to inspect the records in person. State law requires that public records be made available for the public to view. He took County Commissioner Fred Weston along with him as a witness. Sonny didn’t haggle over price or format of duplication (as the city tends to do) he just went to look. No one could produce a statement of available funds. Two weeks later Kim Vollett, the Finance Director resigned. Linda Elam publicly blamed “irresponsible citizens” for running off a good employee. Inspecting public records is now irresponsible?

    According to Chris Sorey’s posts to this site, Randy Robertson tried to harass and intimidate him when he asked for public records. Robertson (according to Sorey) took him to an office and grilled him repeatedly about why he wanted the records and what he was looking for.

    Butch Huber was also given the “Mt. Juliet public records run around” on a request for a complete copy of the 2008-2009 budget. He had requested a copy of the electronic budget spreadsheet files. (Files that had been posted on the city website from 2001-2007) If you remember, several city officials were blaming the previous City Manager for current budget discrepancies. The column totals did not match the actual summary. Huber’s posts to this site indicate it took months before Robertson finally produced the file – after telling Mr. Huber it didn’t exist! And of course, Butch found the spreadsheet errors in just a few minutes. Perhaps Ms. Vollett resigned in embarrassment.

    These are examples of how four citizens of Mt. Juliet were treated who simply attempted to access public records. I feel sure there are more cases. These are just the ones I know about.

    I have lived here since 1982 and have always been involved in the community. I served as Director of Planning for the City from 2001 to 2007. My record request found email communication proving Acting City Manager Sheila Luckett and Mayor Linda Elam both knew that the charges made in a termination letter sent to me were false. The letter stated I had tried to defraud the state of Tennessee in a grant application. The truth is, I did not fill out the grant application or supply any of the disputed information. The emails revealed they had resolved the population number discrepancy with the person who did prepare the grant months before I was accused of defrauding the state. I used this evidence to win the appeals tribunal hearing.

    Sonny Griffin has probably lived here 40 years or more. He owns a Mt. Juliet business and is an appointed member of the Mt. Juliet / Wilson County Development Board. He discovered that Kim Vollett had never written a statement of available funds for the YMCA budget amendment. This stalled the Commission from squandering 2 million dollars the city obviously didn’t have.

    I do not know how long Chris Sorey has lived here. Chris is now a Wilson County Commissioner. He discovered that Mt. Juliet Building inspectors had approved homes with inadequate fire rated walls and ceilings. You may have seen this on TV 5 news.

    Butch Huber was a member of the Mt. Juliet Payroll Advisory Committee. I am not sure how long he has lived here. Butch discovered why the 2008-2009 Budget numbers would not add up. It was due to a spreadsheet formula error.

    The public has a right to public records. You need to ask your elected officials why they are allowing this. They have done nothing to correct, reprimand, or give direction to the City Manager when he allows city staff to be rude, intimidating, and hostile to citizens who make public records requests. By sitting silently, Mayor Elam and the City Commission are endorsing and giving their approval to this lawless behavior of the City Manager and his staff.

  2. Chris Sorey

    I have lived here for 36 years, and I stand by my account of what happened when I went to get records from City Hall. Please keep in mind, the city attorney at the time was also present.

    Don’t feel bad, Robertson won’t return my calls either…

  3. Butch Huber

    This is something that is going on all of the time folks. I went before the city commission on Monday, not because I actually thought that they might do something, but so that it is on record that Mr. Robertson is denying my rights and trying to force me to pay a bill I do not owe. I want the public that attends the meetings and those who watch channel three when the meetings are being conducted to know first hand what is going on and I want them to see that this commission is condoning this behavior.

    The City Attorney has been contacted by the open records office, and while it appears that I may have been incorrect in the letter of the law on a few items (Although I am right in the spirit of the law on everything), it is clear that they can’t legitimately charge me for what they have developed under my request. Now, I want to be clear, the money that they are looking for at this point is not a lot of money, especially since they were originally trying to charge me more than $200, but it is the principle of the issue that I am concerned with. They wanted to develop a very large bill for me, kinda like “we are going to make this sting”. They are trying to charge me for something when I gave them clear instruction on how to fulfill my request in such a way that “no” bill could be generated and I even gave them follow up instruction advising them that they shouldn’t exceed the five free hours allowed by law and that they should not print my request to paper. I did everything I knew of to keep them from generating a bill, but they were hell bent on billing me. Now, I believe Mr. Robertson should be responsible for that bill.

    Let me put it another way. I own a home service business. Our Company provides homeowners with services like Carpet Cleaning, Window Washing, Pressure Washing, etc. If you hired my company to seal your driveway and I had our guys seale your driveway, clean your windows, and pressure wash your house, would you owe me for the pressure wash and the windows? No, not if you didn’t ask for it. Let’s take it a little further. Suppose you said, I would like for you to do my driveway, but before you start I want an estimate. If I don’t give you the estimate and instead I just go in and seal the driveway, do you owe me any money? No. Why? Because I didn’t do what you said to do. How about this? Let’s say that a friend gave you a gift certificate from us for $500. You call me, ask me to give you an estimate on your driveway, but instead of giving you an estimate I start working. You figure out that I have started work without giving you the estimate first and you tell me not to exceed the $500 and that you don’t intend to pay anymore than the $500? If I don’t listen to you and I do the work without giving you the estimate and I exceed the $500, do I owe you for the difference? No. In reality, I can’t even charge you for the $500? Why? I didn’t do what you said!

    Mr. Robertson did send me an estimate of sorts, but only after some of the work had already been done. I advised them not to exceed what they have to provide by law for free. They did it anyway. This is being done under Mr. Robertson’s direction, why on earth shouldn’t “he” have to pay the bill that he is trying to force on me?

    This is a clear case of government being hostile to citizens, myself and others, because they don’t want citizens checking up on them. Do they deserve our scrutiny? You bet they do.

    Mayor Elam is quoted in the paper saying that it is too bad that we have to live in the past. Yeah, it’s too bad for her. She had done a lot of things she shouldn’t have done while she has been in office. She should have to account for her actions. They created this mess, now they just want it to go away like it never happened. Randy Robertson is trying to run block for them. He is trying to turn the conversation from “why did health insurance costs go up 38% in one year” to “why aren’t you giving me public information without trying to cause me a lot of problems”. The conversation will return to the health insurance issue very soon, but we do have to settle this other issue as well. I will visit city hall with another public records request soon, and we will see if Mr. Robertson plans to make good on his threat not to provide me with public information. Based on how he is acting, I suspect we are going to find that Mr. Robertson is to blame for the increase in health insurance rates.

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