Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jarret vs. CTAS vs. Attorney Tim

I was kind of thinking about being a *#$% and taking a shot at the County Technical Assistance Service, or CTAS for short, over the whole fee office issue.

(I mean I’m still a *#$%, but anyhoo.)

However, in a rare moment of lucidity for the KNS message board, I read a post by a reader that actually made sense, wasn’t demeaning and stayed on topic.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

But first:

A lot of folks are coming down on county Law Director Joe “you ain’t from around here” Jarret. He’s taking some hits today because a legal opinion he issued – based on whether the mayor and commission can legally yank the coin from the fee offices and make the directors submit budgets to them – got reversed.

The problem here is that CTAS didn’t reverse Jarret. CTAS reversed itself.

Jarret issued his initial legal opinion only after he talked with a CTAS attorney and let them do the legwork. This was intentional. Yeah, Jarret gets paid some heavy scratch (more than $150K), but in this instance he had to step aside.

His office represents the entire county. That includes the mayor’s office (heh- I’ll get to that one in a minute, too), the commissioners, the school board and the purchasing department whenever a reporter tries to get ahold of public documents and they don’t want to provide them.

Oddly enough, Jarret’s department doesn’t represent the pension board. Nooooo. They pay three lawyers (including two former law directors who used to do it themselves when they were in office) hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though Jarret’s office could represent them.

But I digress.

Anyway, back to the issue.

Jarret’s office didn’t take this on itself because of the potential conflict of interest. And it’s not unusual to farm out work. The office does have a budget for that.

So, Jarret went to CTAS, which our wise, sage-like 1973 state Legislature formed because “county officials wanted an agency to provide prompt, accurate, technical assistance on a daily basis to Tennessee’s 95 counties."

CTAS crafted a plan, then dropped the ball. Because the plan kind of sucked.

But, there is some good news.

It got caught before the commission actually voted on it. Because if it did, we’d have some lawsuits rocking.

So, I was initially going to rag CTAS for this one. (Actually, I think I just did, but whatever.)

I deal with a lot of arrogant folks, and I put that organization right smack at the top. And when that arrogance turns to humility – like it did when I talked to a number of folks over there today – you know something is up.

Now, CTAS will say: “Well, gee there, partner, we might have reversed our decision, but we haven’t had a lawsuit over what we were basing it on in over 20 years.”

Well, yeah, because no one knew you were freaking wrong. Until now.

Oops. My bad. Sorry.

You see, Knox County isn’t the only county exempt from the state statute that CTAS miraculously discovered in the eleventh hour Wednesday afternoon that led to it reversing its own decision. No, there’s more counties. So guess what could happen?

That’s right. Bye, bye perfect record.

And by the way, how many other statutes have you forgotten about?

(One more thing: A CTAS official I talked to today said to go ahead “and rely on your county attorney” for now. Ouch.)

OK, enough.

Here’s what the poster (named “pinhook”) wrote on the KNS message board about the issue:

CTAS is an arm of the University of Tennessee. It used to be housed in the Institute for Public Service. Its job is to provide technical assistance to the 95 county governments. It follows in longevity, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service that provides technical assistance to Tennessee towns and cities. It is funded by the state sales tax, city and county portions and by other sources.

Neither CTAS nor MTAS has any authority over cities or counties. Their staff members tend to be very good professionals - maybe a little academic oriented for some. Most have held high level positions in their specialties.

The CTAS lawyer probably did a quick and dirty search of recent law and said that he could find nothing to prevent the action. Later he may have felt uncomfortable with his research and looked in greater detail. He could have been encouraged to look further by someone.

The additional research may have turned up the new information and he called, emailed or whatever the county and informed them of the newly found law. Most good lawyers do not have the entire code memorized. I am saying that CTAS is not the villain or hero either in this case. They were doing what they do every day.

In other words, people f--- up sometimes.

Let’s be happy we caught it. Let’s not be too harsh and start playing the Blame Game.

On a side note: I’m pretty sure the further research done by CTAS was probably at the urging of some of the fee office holders who are opposed to the plan to give up their scratch. But it really doesn’t matter. Someone was going to discover the mistake sooner or later.

Now, with that said, the issue isn’t done.

Noooooo.

Uh, uh.

Right now, county mayor Tim Burchett and his right-hand-man, Chief of Staff Dean Rice, are up there on the sixth floor of the Knox County Deathstar figuring a way out of this mess.

I mean, they don’t have enough battles to lose – I mean, fight – right now, so they’re going to continue taking this one on in the name of transparency.

It’s also not like the administration hasn’t taken two steps back and one step forward during the time they’ve spent on this issue. (And the sarcasm drips, baby. Yeah.)

Sooooo.

They are no longer “mayor” and “chief of staff”.

They are now: Attorney Tim and Big Dean, esquire.

And they aren’t buying the legal opinions they got. So, they’re going to shop around.

And the best place? Well, if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.

So they're hitting the books, digging through codes, statutes, whatever.

They believe that the commission can still force at least three of the non-judiciary fee offices – the trustee, the register of deeds and the county clerk – into turning over the budgets. Those offices are listed in the charter. And we operate under a very confusing charter form of government. There’s this whole “Jordan Decision” thing. But let’s skip that for today.

And, they feel that it’s even possible that the judiciary offices – clerk and master, criminal court clerk, and circuit court clerk – could fall under commission control, too.

When I asked the mayor - I mean Attorney Tim - about the next step, he said: “We’ll talk to (Jarret). The story will probably be me and him not agreeing. But it will probably be up to CTAS, and when you have a law that says you can’t be transparent, then I think you have a problem with the law.”

OK.

The next time I take a “transparent” leak in the middle of the street and Sheriff Jimmy “The Man with the Badge” Jones comes after me, I’m going to tell him I have a problem with the law. I’m sure he’ll understand.

Heh. I kill myself sometimes.

But maybe the mayor is right.

Maybe Jarret – who is now researching the details between charter and state law – will find another old statute that reverses the last old statute.

And maybe they’ll all just get along.

Or maybe . . .

Nevemind.

Whatever.

Heh.

Oddly enough, these ramblings come right after I wrote a fairly positive piece about the mayor.

Well, I told you then that I would have to kick someone in the nads sometime soon.

12 comments:

Brian Paone said...

...and you're happy with yourself over this blog, Donila? I mean, you're comfortable with the way you present your "information" here?

Let me guess. You're one of those types that doesn't think blogs "matter", that you can say whatever you want in whatever tone you please and it's okay because "it's just a blog".

I'd guess this is what happens when one falls prey to the wiles of local politics, but who knows? You might have been like this before people started kissing your butt and whispering sweet nonsense into your ear.

The media in this town needs to grow the hell up, and FAST. Otherwise, it might be getting an overdose of its own medicine.

Political Leverage said...

great blog post!

Mike Donila said...

Brian, it's just a different tone and it's not for everyone. And it's different all the time. Some people like it. Some don't. The more serious side is shown in the news articles.

Brian Paone said...

I guess you are comfortable with the way you present things, then. Damned shame.

And for what it's worth, your "news" articles often show a blatant tilt in favor of whatever the Position du Jour happens to be for the ol' Metal Shed.

But I guess it's possible you and the editorial staff have just been on an incredible run of agreein' with each other lately. Great minds and all that.

Do you seriously believe your condescending writing style in "real print" and your pulled-straight-from-the-KNS-commenting-section blather on this blog actually HELPS further civic discourse? Why or why not?

Mike Donila said...

Brian, I completely disagree with you on a so-called "blatant tilt" in my news articles. Please feel free to call me on that if you want to talk about it further.
Regarding the writing style, helping further civic discourse? Maybe. Sometimes it does. But it's not the style that's supposed to do that. It's the information provided that should do that. And yes, I do. There's a lot of information I provide on here - some important, some trivial - but yes, it does provide discourse sometimes.
Please note, I poke as much fun at myself as I do others. It's the absurdities that I like to point out.
Again, this isn't a blog for everyone. And the people I write about know it's snark, rather than mean-spirited commentary. Again, feel free to call me.

Anonymous said...

"And the people I write about know it's snark, rather than mean-spirited commentary."

Absolutely sure about that, are you?

Anonymous said...

Mike, make sure you record the call with Brian.

Anonymous said...

Ignore that Paone punk! What a loser and he needs to get a life. People like him who keep the good people down. LOL. keep up the good work.

Brian Paone said...

So I not only fail to receive a phone call, but the last two (extremely benign) posts that I left are gone too?

Look Donila, if you didn't want discourse, then why did you bother? I mean, it's not like you believe any of this commentary is hitting close to home, right?

Or is that the problem? ;-)

Like I said before - YOU can call ME. I don't feel like wasting my time and energy on yet another person who screams "OMFG I WANT TO TALK THIS OUT WITH YOU GIVE ME A CALL" from their porch, only to let it ring to voicemail.

Oh... and I'm still willing to bet Sherry Witt hates you a lot more than she ever hated me by now. I didn't like her and she didn't like me, but at least I was fair with her in my coverage.

You clearly have a target.

Mike Donila said...

I deleted them because you put your phone number in it. (Nothing personal. Just didn't want you getting lots of calls that you didn't want.)

But, I've decided that I'm not going to call you because, quite frankly, I really don't care what you think about my reporting or this blog.

I tried to be civil, but . . . whatever.

You apparently have your thumb on the pulse of our entire community and know all.

I don't know nor do I care who hates me.

You included.

Brian Paone said...

In order:

* Thanks, but to be honest I've posted my number in dozens of places in the course of conducting business, and never an unwanted phone call.

Most internet commenters don't bother going that far. Too confrontational for most.

* Yeah, that's usually how it turns out. It's easier to ignore than argue anyway, isn't it.

* I don't agree with your assertions and you got a little taste of your own acerbic medication as I informed you of such. If that's what you call "civil", then I imagine you and Scott Moore would be great drinkin' buddies.

If that offends you, then... well, whatever, I guess.

* If I knew all, I'd not be on the internet wasting time looking for news and information. Then again, it's not like I'd ever know all - or anything noteworthy - on this site either. It's kind of like Brian's Blog, except more self-serving and arrogant. Or Knoxviews with a slightly less sensitive viewerbase. (Probably because there's not a lot of viewers, but hey - semantics.)

* I don't hate you. Hate is reserved for child molesters, murderers and whoever's responsible for ruining "Chuck" after the first season.

I pity you.

Have fun with the politics. You play the victim very well, so you should have no trouble. All the best. :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm a county employee and I've been reading your blog almsot since you started. Everyone in the city cuounty building reads it. In fact a lot of are referring to is as the Deathstar because we got it from you. But what I'm trying to say is that no one I know thinks you are intentionally being mean to anyonee.It is just funny. I also don't think anyone hates you, but you apparently don't care anyway. LOL. I also find information here that I don't find on other blogs (I read all of the others ones too but yours is my favorite) and in the newspaper. Ignore Brian. Don't change a thing. I look forward to your next blog!