Open Records

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.

– Bobby Franklin
September 11, 2008

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10 responses to “Open Records

  1. Butch Huber

    Folks,

    The open records issue is one that affects each and every one of us regardless of whether or not you ever ask for a record or not. I say that because unless we are allowed to access public information without having to overcome the watch dog every time, we may miss something of importance that will rob of us our time, money, or rights.

    Right now I am locking horns with Randy Robertson because he is violating my rights. However, let’s not forget the public records request that touched this whole thing off in the first place. Please pay close attention: The city had a one year health insurance increase of about 38 percent! Folks, that is a lot of money! You should be very, very curious as to what caused that increase. I am taking the time to try to figure that out, and if I am successful, I may be able to save you money. So far, I (and others) have been successful in stopping the city from wasting our money on the YMCA deal. Hopefully we will be successful in stopping them from wasting our money in this health insurance debacle as well. But that isn’t all there is to it. If they are forced to keep an open policy toward citizen access to public records, perhaps we will be able to stop them from future waste and abuse as well.

    Open records, or in the case of Mt. Juliet, “Closed records” is a major issue that affects us all.

  2. Looking Toward The Future

    Hey Butch,
    Speaking of open records, know of anything about a current city commissioner up for re-election who has a large sewer and/or water bill connection fee that has not been paid?

  3. Butch Huber

    Yes, as a matter of fact, I do.

  4. Butch Huber

    Chris, I found out today that you have been doing web searches on me and my family. I find that funny as hell. Keep digging, Chris. And I am the one who isn’t “stable”.

  5. Chris Sorey

    Butch, What are you talking about? I haven’t, don’t know any names of anyone in your family, have no reason to, and most of all I really don’t care. Someone googled your name a while back and posted it on here when you slandered him on this site for the simple reason that he worked at city hall. I didn’t care then and don’t care now.

    Sounds to me like another case of hubris, or Huberis. OK, so please explain to me how this came about, or was it that you had nothing better to imagine up?

  6. Butch Huber

    I just got a call from Chris Sorey, he says that he doesn’t know what I am talking about regarding searching the web on my family. He sounded sincere. If I am able to make a screen shot of the site that alerted us that someone was checking on us I will post it here. It does say “Chris Sorey”, but I guess that could have been anyone disguised as Chris Sorey. Like Chris said, it could have been my wife (crazy as that would be) or it could have actually been Chris (he denies it), or it could be some nut job posting under Chris Sorey’s name.
    I guess this is the price we must pay for being willing to put our names out there for the public.

    I will e-mail the screen shot to Chris as well.

    If someone is out there masquerading as Chris Sorey, have a nice look see.

  7. Butch Huber

    I couldn’t do a screen shot, but a did copy the information and paste it here. This is what it says. I don’t know who it was that was looking, but in fairness to Chris, I posted it here. Maybe Chris can figure out who is using his name.

    Good news, Lisa
    We may have found your 1 lost connection!
    Now with unrivaled access to 700 million profiles, your chances of finding anyone you’re looking for are better than ever!
    Chris Sorey
    Age: 35 State: –
    See more info

    Reunion.com – Find Everyone from Your Past.™
    Copyright © 2008, Reunion.com, Inc.

  8. Pingback: Depositions postponed in former City Planner’s lawsuit - City withholding emails « Radio Free Mt. Juliet

  9. Butch Huber

    Hey folks,

    I went to the county finance department today and asked for a copy of their budget for this year. You know what happened? They gave me a copy of the budget! I didn’t have to give them a pint of blood or a pound of flesh, they simply handed the budget book to me. I was so shocked I had to ask them if they were really giving it to me. I am not used to government being open, after all, I have been dealing with Mt. Juliet most of the time. Actually, all of my dealings with the County have been very cordial and I have gotten everything I wanted from them every time I have wanted something, but to walk in and be handed exactly what you want without any questions is wonderful. I didn’t have to tell them who I am, I didn’t have to tell them “who I am with”, I didn’t have to tell them “why I want the information”, I didn’t have to tell them “what I intended to do with the information”. They just gave me what I asked for and they didn’t charge me a penny!

    Now, don’t think I am blaming the city employees (Except Randy Robertson and Jason Holleman) for my difficulties in obtaining information in Mt. Juliet, the employees of Mt. Juliet are just as professional and just as courteous as can be, but their boss is not living up to the standard they set.

    The contrast between the County government and the city government is stark, but it wasn’t always that way. When Rob Shearer was at the helm in Mt. Juliet anyone asking for information from the city would be inundated with information, they would not only recieve the information they wanted, they would be given any background information that was pertinent to the requested info and a breifing on it if necessary. There was nothing to hide in Mt. Juliet back then, back before the iron curtain was brought down in the city between the lakes. Those were the good ol’ days. Oh, how I long for the good ol’ days.

    You know what they told me before I left the finance director’s office? They said, “if you need any other information just give us a call”. Imagine that!

  10. Butch Huber

    It is time for this city to begin to post every agenda item in its entirety online. It is also time to post the outcome of the vote on that agenda item, discussions, regarding that agenda item, and the final resolution or ordinance, in its entirety, online. This should all take place as soon as possible before the commission meeting in reference to agenda items and proposed ordinances and resolutions, and as soon after a meeting in reference to votes, discussions, and passed or amended ordinances and resolutions. When there is a proposal that would require appropriations of budget funds there should also be certifications signed and posted so we can see what they are up to. It is no longer enough to only see the captions of the resolution or ordinance, we need to see everything.

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