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Dandridge, Tennessee

February 27, 2012 www.jeffersoncountypost.com

First Vote Plagued With Concerns Of Ethics Violations
Staff Photo / L-R / Jessica and Kaianna Burleson, McCoy and Dave Patterson - H.A.B.I.T Program at The Jefferson City Library.

Citizens and Officials File Complaints

In a letter to Commission Chairman, Marty Mills, Elisha Hodge with The State of Tennessee Comptroller of The Treasury, Office of Open Records Counsel, stated - "I cannot say whether or not the members of the County Commission violating the open meetings act, because I have no firsthand knowledge of what it was that the eleven Commissioners discussed or what the content of the conversations between the Chairman and Commissioner Estes were; however, based solely upon the information that has been presented to this office, it does appear as though open meeting violations may have occurred."

The Jefferson County Commission will once again face the issue of funding renovations to Jefferson County High School, when they convene in March. Commission Chairman Mills will add the item to the agenda for consideration, following correspondence with the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

Jefferson County Mayor Palmieri had declined to sign general obligation bond issuance for the renovation project, due to ethical concerns regarding actions of some Commissioners and a possible violation of the Open Meetings Act. Mayor Palmieri sought a response from CTAS legal counsel, Libby McCrosky, as well as the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to the question of the Commission’s compliance with the law. Included in his request was a recorded copy of the portions of the February 6, 2012 meeting that he felt were ethically questionable. Elisha Hodge, Open Records Council for the State of Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, responded to the inquiry in a February 17, 2012 letter to Commission Chairman Mills. Hodge stated that her office had received several complaints and inquiries regarding the February 6, 2012 Jefferson County Commission Meeting in reference to the Open Meetings Act. She outlined the information that was presented for consideration which included previous failed vote to renovate the Jefferson County High School, the petition for a Special Called Meeting for the purpose of discussion and action on the renovation of Jefferson County High School and a resolution for general obligation bonds for the project. The petition for the project was only circulated to 11 of the 21 Commissioners, the remainder of which were unaware of its existence. Also noted were exerpts of the recorded meeting that included statements from Chairman Mills, who stated that he had been in contact with Commissioner Estes, who prepared the bond resolution. He stated that when Estes spoke with bond council (the appropriateness of which had been questioned earlier in the meeting) he informed Mills both before and after those conversations and that there was never a time that he “freelanced” what he did. Hodge further noted Commissioner Beeler’s comments regarding Estes’ conversations with bond council. Beeler stated that Estes did not act on his own. He continued to say that eleven Commissioners signed the petition and they chose him because he is an attorney. 

Hodge stated that it is the policy of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to inform the Chairman of the entity that is the subject of a complaint or inquiry, when one is received. She stated that Tennessee Code Annotated requires that meetings and deliberation be open to the public and that even chance meetings and contact should not be used to deliberate and decide public business in the circumvention of the spirit of the act. Both Hodge (TN Open Meetings Counsel) and McCroskey (CTAS), stated that without firsthand knowledge they could not make a determination on the violation, however Hodge stated that based on the information provided to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, it does appear that a violation may have occurred. Hodge advised Chairman Mills that a citizen may take legal action against the Commission and that the actions taken at the meeting could fall under Tennessee Code Annotated 8-44-105, which could make any vote taken void.

In a phone interview with Hodge, she stated that, as of mid last week, there had been five citizen and elected official complaints and inquiries regarding the February 6, 2012 Commission meeting. Hodge said that her correspondence to Chairman Mills was a result of viewing the meeting video and interviews with citizens in attendance. Hodge stated that the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office did not address ethics violation and that Jefferson County should have an ethics committee that would begin initial investigations. The State of Tennessee also has a Bureau of Ethics to handle complains of that nature. She said that readdressing the renovation issue in the March meeting will offer a cure for any voting violation, however it does not exempt the County from an independent citizen filing suit for any open meeting violation. In a conversation with CTAS administration, they asserted that CTAS is advisory only and would leave any determinations of violations to the appropriate County and State agencies. The Tennessee Comptroller’s office will not continue to probe the February 6, 2012 meeting and their involvement is complete with Hodge’s correspondence to Chairman Mills, however they are the appropriate office to file complaints of this nature, either via their web site, by letter, or phone.

Jefferson County Facilities Committee

Staff Photo / L-R / Facilities Committee Member Russell Turner / DOE Director of Maintenance, Transportation and Capital Projects Michael Phagan

The Jefferson County Facilities Committee met on February 21, 2012 at the Historic Jefferson County Courthouse.  The Meeting was Called to Order by Committee Chairman Tabor. Absent was Committee Member Griffith.  Committee Member Turner made a motion to approve the agenda and minutes from the last meeting. Passed.

Director of Maintenance, Transportation and Capital Projects for the Department of Education Phagan stated that bids are going out to have the Jefferson County High School track resurfaced. He stated that there has been a problem with erosion that must be taken care of and they are working to address the water drainage issues. The track will remain 6 lanes and the current location cannot accommodate 8 lanes. They are also looking to address the pole vault and long jump areas. Commissioner Turner questioned how much it would take to due more than basic repairs. Phagan stated that the decision would need to be made if the track will stay at the current location long term before any determination could be made regarding costs. The Committee discussed the quickly changing and vastly improving technology that could shortly be available for track upgrades.

Committee Member Turner stated that the curve in front of the new elementary school on Dumplin Valley is a concern for neighbors in the area.. Phagan stated that moves had been made to widen and straighten parts of the road. Committee Member Carmichael stated that the County Road Superintendent was not consulted on the project and that appropriate considerations had not been made for the condition of the road. Phagan stated that money was a issue when dealing with plans. Committee Member Carmichael stated that, though the project may have had some added expense, it would have been much more neighborhood friendly and could have eliminated some safety concerns.

Phagan stated that the School System is planning to widen only the part of the road that is in front of the new Freshman Academy and that they do not have the budget for additional road work. He said that the new elementary school is on schedule and should be open at the beginning of school next year. When questioned by Committee Members about a contingency plan, he stated that there is not current contingency plan in place and that the project is on time. Furniture bids will soon be going out for the new school.

Renovation to Jefferson County High School will not begin in full until the Fall, according to Phagan. Roofing on some pods can begin as soon as school is out. Committee Member Turner stated that he would like to see the portables removed from JCHS as soon as possible. 

Jefferson County Facilities Longmire stated that a 20 year plan is too distant for maintenance and that capital projects cannot always go that far out, as situations change and needs arise. He stated that he would like to see a building behind the Justice Center for all County offices and to turn the Historic Jefferson County Courthouse over to the city and the historical society. Phagan stated that the School System is still looking at more present needs. Committee Member Turner stated that the County is already late for long term plans and that the County needs to look beyond present needs to plan for future expenses. Phagan stated that his priority for the remainder of this and next year is on going projects and that any long term plan must meet the approval of the Director of Schools and the School Board. Committee Member Turner stated that roofing would be an example of large expense maintenance needs. The Committee agreed that maintenance needs often fall to the side due to funding and that there needs to be a logical plan in place to fund future needs.  The Meeting was Adjourned.

Early Voter Turnout

Lagging Behind With Feb 28th Deadline Approaching

Jefferson County Early Voting Primary numbers continue to lag behind 2008 Early Voting Primary numbers, despite an increase in voters late last week. In the 2008 Early Voting Primary, Jefferson County residents cast 2010 ballots. This Early Voting season, the County has cast 957 Early Voting ballots and a total of 1062 including mailed in and absentee ballots. The number of votes did pick up speed last week with each day showing an increase over the previous day, cumulating in a voting high of 181on Friday, February 24, 2012. Speculation is that the highly contested Republican Presidential Primary may have some voters waiting until the final Early Voting days to cast ballots, though the low turn out thus far may be as much the lack of locally contested races as any influence from the National stage. This voting year is significant in Jefferson County because it is assumed to be only the second time that County Democrats have called for a primary. Traditionally a strong Republican County, the recent rise in census numbers have brought a surge to the Jefferson County Democratic Party. According to Secretary of State Hargett’s Unofficial Early Voting numbers, around 10% of early Jefferson County voters (as of February 21,2012) voted in the Democratic Primary. Early Voting continues through February 28 and the regular voting date is March 6, 2012.

Tennesseans Invited to Vote Early 
Secretary of State Tre Hargett invites Tennesseans who plan to cast ballots in the March 6 presidential primary to vote early if they wish.

The early voting period continues through Feb. 28 and citizens may vote Mondays through Saturdays until that date.

“What we have discovered is that early voting provides a convenience that many people like to have,” Secretary Hargett said. “Early voting gives people with busy schedules more flexibility about when they cast their ballots. In the last presidential election, about 58 percent of Tennesseans voted early and I suspect we will see a similar percentage voting early in the upcoming primary.”

Whether they vote early or on Election Day, Tennesseans should remember to bring valid state or federal photo identification with them to the polls. For questions about what types of ID are acceptable, visit www.GoVoteTN.com or call toll free 1-877-850-4959.

Click for Voter Id Public Service Announcement.

Tennessee’s 95 counties conduct early voting at their local election commission offices. Some counties also offer early voting at satellite locations. For early voting locations, hours and sample ballots, contact your local election office. Contact information for election offices can be found at http://tnsos.org/elections/election_commissions.php 

Afgan Ministry Shooting

By: Jake Depew, Jefferson County Post Staff Writer

On Saturday, February 25, 2012, a gunman shot and killed two American officers inside of the Afghan interior ministry. In light of the attack, Gen. John Allen has ordered all military advisors with the International Security Assistance Force to withdraw from government ministries within the Afghan capital of Kabul. The action has been deemed “unacceptable” and “condemned in the strongest possible terms” by Defense Department press secretary George Little. Reports claim that the shooting was carried out by a single gunman, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack. NATO and Afghan officials have begun investigating the attack and have not found any evidence to indicate the motive behind the attack, nor evidence as to the guilty party.

President Karzai of Afghanistan has called for dialogue and calm between the Afghani people and Americans, stressing that the attack was, in no way, supported by the country’s government: a message that is welcomed by American officials both inside and outside of Afghanistan. The identities of the two officers killed have not been released, although it is known that one man was a major, while the other man was a colonel. The attacker is not believed to be an outsider who managed to infiltrate the ministry, indicating a planned attack. As of this writing, no motives behind the attack are known and the gunman remains at large.

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