Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Commissioners, public: Some of Clerk's claims just not adding up

Clerk Foster Arnett Jr
Some thoughts on yesterday afternoon’s Knox County Commission meeting with Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. in regards to the roughly $476,000 in estimated deadbeat hotel-motel tax debt.

First, know that there’s way more than $476K out there. It’s probably closer to $800K (we’re talking a period that dates back to 2009 and the $476K only touches a couple of years.).

Commissioners are not happy. Not overall they’re not. Poll the majority and a lot of them were not pleased with Arnett’s presentation yesterday.

Some felt like the numbers they got were not on the up and up, others felt the clerk’s office has taken a lackadaisical – at best – approach to collections, and others wondered just what is really going on.

A lot of claims, they (and people in attendance) told me after the meeting, just were not adding up.

So . . . here ya go.

During the meeting Arnett blamed – in part – his office’s inability to collect the $476K in folding paper on a short-staffed office.


It appears that the majority of the commission isn’t buying this excuse. Seriously, this is an answer someone gives when they’ve had weeks to think about it. This is now an issue? Short staffed office? 

And the office has been short staffed for how long?

Commissioner Sam McKenzie said (I’m paraphrasing here): Spend some money to make money.

Don’t brag that you cut staff and expenses only to find out you’re not bringing in the coin.


How many people actually owe this money? Arnett said he sent out two letters last week and then six are going out this week to the scofflaws. That’s eight.

When asked how many are more than 30 days behind, he said 12.

In interviews after the meeting, he told the media that it was eight.

The audit report suggests somewhere in the low 20s.

Arnett has claimed there’s nothing he can do about the deadbeats. There is. He can padlock doors. He can sell property.

He says he doesn’t want to do this and put people out of jobs.


What do you think Knox County Trustee Ed Shouse is gonna say when Joe Blow tells him that he can’t pay his taxes? Is Easy Ed gonna give ol’ Joe a pass?

No, he’s not.

There’s no free passes here. Collect the money and quit making excuses.

Now, Arnett told the commission that he actually went down to padlock a door back in 2009. He said he had “chains in hand.” I wasn’t there, so we’ll just take him at his word. He said the owner came out and he promised that he’d cut him and check. Arnett said he did and that he’s been up to date since.

So, if this worked, then why aren’t we doing this every time?

Why is there $476K in coin out there?

Oddly enough, after the meeting, Arnett told reporters that he actually padlocked the door.

So which is it? Did you or didn’t you padlock a door?

OK, the local paper quotes Arnett as telling the commissioners: “If I’m not doing what needs to be done, there’s an election in three years, and someone else can take this over. We’re going by the law, by the book.”

That got a chuckle out of the back standing room. Talk about a red herring. Someone else is gonna take over his job in three years because Arnett is term-limited. (Of course he might have been talking about that long rumored run at mayor.)

There’s more.

Arnett tried an old political trick to soften the blow. Bait and switch.

He pointed out that his office during the past three years has collected more than $18 million in hotel-motel taxes and bragged about a 94 percent collection rate.

Um, this is called “doing the job.”

You’re supposed to have a 94 percent collection rate. Actually, when it comes to property tax collections, 98 percent is the average, so maybe 94 percent is low.

I don’t know.

I do know that that the manager at Tyson McGhee doesn’t brag that the airplanes over there all land safely.

You know why?

Because they are supposed to!

Now, people are going to think I’m picking on Foster. Heck, Foster is going to think I’m picking on him, and that’s fine. Whatever.

The ol blog is an equal-opportunity picker-on.

Just ask Foster’s last political opponent. We did a whole newscast on some of his claims.

In the meantime, I hope the people who owe the money pay up. I hope Foster doesn’t have to padlock doors, but if he comes to it, then he needs to.

Call up the media, bring out the cameras and chain the business.

That should get the others to listen.

The hotels.

The commissioners.

And the public.

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