Friday, March 27, 2015

Mubarak's state trial moved to Oct

The state felony theft trial for former Knox County Trustee's Office "ghost" employee Ray Murbarak, who also faces unrelated federal fraud charges, has been delayed until the fall.

Murbarak, who worked for the county from 2004-08, was initially scheduled for trial April 6.

However, earlier this month, Mubrarak, his wife and a business associate were arrested by Internal Revenue Service and FBI agents on charges of bank fraud.

They pleaded not guilty to those crimes and were given a May 5 court date.

On Friday morning, Murbarak's attorney Tom Dillard and state prosecutors asked Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword to delay the state trial.

"I'm not sure either side is ready, and he has other matters he needs to address," prosecutor John Gill said.

Sword set a trial date for Oct. 13. All sides will meet again July 9 for an update.

Dillard, after the brief hearing, agreed that his defense team needed more time and that they were "still working" on the case. He declined to elaborate further.

Mubarak faces a number of state felony theft charges alleging he benefited as a "ghost employee" for former trustee Mike Lowe, receiving pay for work he did not do.

Lowe cut a deal with the state earlier this month and received a year in jail and has to pay back $200,000.

Last year, a jury convicted co-defendant Delbert Morgan of theft. Morgan, who also was paid to do little if any work, received an eight-year term, all but 30 days of which are to be served on probation.

Mubarak and Morgan worked in the Knox County Trustee's Office from 2004 to March 2008.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trustee Shouse to undergo surgery for cancer; Could return in week or so

Ed Shouse
Knox County Trustee Ed Shouse will undergo surgery Monday to have his prostate removed and should be back to work the following week.

Shouse, a former Knox County commissioner, said the prostate was in the early stages of cancer.

He said his physician tells him there's an estimated 93 percent recovery rate, and he feels confident.

"I hope to be back within a week and I have a great staff that will be able to take care of the office while I'm out," he told 10News.

Shouse said he put off the surgery until after tax season ended.

The Trustee's Office is open Monday-Thursday next week and closed next Friday for Good Friday.

Shouse was elected last year to the office.

In an email to his employees, Shouse said: "The cancer is small and has been caught early so my prognosis is very good. I just need to get it out so that I can move on with life. I would appreciate your thoughts and, of course, your prayers for a quick recovery. Additionally, I thank you for all that you do for the Trustee’s office and the citizens of Knox County."

Knox County Clerk's recent U-Turn revives gasoline allowance debate

In a November 2013 interview, Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. spoke proudly about his move to do away with his office's monthly gas allowance program. Eliminating it saved the county more than $50,000 since he initially took office years prior.

At the time, Arnett told 10News the allowances were nothing more than "free money" for some officials who took the blanket payment but did not actually drive anywhere. Arnett and his employees started using the same template as the federal government's reimbursement system – currently 57.5 cents per mile – to cover gas.

Things have since changed. Specifically, the changes include Arnett's health, his driving habits, and his desire for a monthly up-front allowance payment for gas.

Records show late last week, Arnett received approval from the county Mayor's Office to reinstate his gas allowance. That will amount to some $700 per month and $8,400 a year. That's the equivalent of driving 1,200 miles a month under the federal reimbursement template.

Arnett said he is now routinely hitting the road as he operates out of five satellite offices scattered across the county. That's because he says the main clerk's office in the Old Courthouse building in Downtown Knoxville is infected with black mold that threatens his health and survival.

The full story RIGHT HERE.

These travel allowances have always been controversial. The long-standing argument is that if government is going to pay for your gas, then why not fill out the slip? The answer? Convenience.

Foster Arnett

I don't necessarily fault Foster for taking the check because it is a pain to fill out those forms, but I'm also not convinced that he'll travel 1,200 miles a month, either. I do, however, believe that if he re-locates back to the Old Courthouse, he will cut the payment again and go back to the reimbursement system. It's safe to say the guy doesn't want to be sick and actually wants to work out of the downtown building.

In the meantime, the city has 21 employees, mostly department heads, get more than $5,800 annually to cover gas. You can see the full list RIGHT SMACK HERE. From what I understand, the policy was put in place under former Mayor Victor Ashe, who wanted to give pay raises to some of his buds but not necessarily have them on the books. (If you ask to see someone's salary, the gas allowance doesn't show up.)

When Bill Haslam took over, he passed it along to all the department heads, much like the private sector. From what I understand, it's now essentially considered a recruiting tool, although I suspect all the people who have the jobs they have would have taken those jobs without the bonus.

There are 18 county officials who have allowances although 11 of them are county commissioners. You can find that list RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mayor Rogero begins re-election bid

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero kicked off her re-election campaign Tuesday night at The Standard downtown and discussed her plans if re-elected.

Which is pretty much a given.

I don't expect her to get a serious challenger. In fact, I don't think she even needs to campaign. But, well, never say never.

Rogero, who took office in December 2011 and is the city's first female mayor, said she has a number of items she wants to continue, including wrapping up the Cumberland Avenue project and making Knoxville more sustainable.

"I laid out a plan when I ran for office and we followed it," said Mayor Rogero. "We've made good progress toward that. We still have more to go."

The primary, which is non-partisan, is set for Sept. 29 with a November general election.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Burchett to veto resolution honoring women's groups, abortion clinic

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett plans to issue a rare veto on a Knox County Commission-approved resolution, something he's done only one other time since taking office in September 2010.

The resolution, which the board passed unanimously Monday night, honors local women's groups in recognition of National Women's History Month.

It has no regulatory teeth but rather expresses the will and support of the commission by its approval.

Burchett acknowledges his veto is symbolic only.

Full Story RIGHT HERE.

Resolution RIGHT HERE.

Law to regulate door-to-door sales

Knox County Commission
The Knox County Commission on Monday approved a new law that lets the county clerk deny a door-to-door soliciting permit to someone who has an outstanding warrant issued against them or has been convicted in the past decade of a "crime of moral turpitude."

The move, which was spearheaded by Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr., comes as a thrice convicted drug dealer who was also convicted of murder sought a license. Arnett declined to give him one, but the county's law department said he couldn't refuse.

Arnett then appealed to the commission to pass legislation.

"I think part of government's responsibility is to protect its citizens and I'm not giving someone with that background a license to go door to door," Arnett said. "I don't think it's right. I'm not saying anything bad about this guy, but he's been convicted of serious crimes."

Commissioner Mike Brown agreed.

"It's hard to draw a line in the middle when you're talking about crime," he said. "We have the responsibility of protecting those citizens just as much as (the sheriff and police chief) do."

Commission passed the measure in a 10-1 vote, with member Sam McKenzie dissenting.

The ordinance, which must be approved again next month on a second reading before it becomes official, also gives the clerk permission to revoke a license if it is discovered that there is an outstanding warrant against a license holder or a license holder has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within the past 10 years.

State law defines moral turpitude as an offense that contains "elements of fraud, theft, intent to cause great bodily harm, and sometimes lewdness, recklessness or malice."

McKenzie said he was concerned that 10 years was too long a time for some of the crimes.

"We're talking about perjury being equated with murder and that's not the same," he added.
The door-to-door permit costs $55 per month.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Haynes seeks state GOP chair seat

State Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, announced his intentions today to seek the chairman post for the state Republican Party.

In a letter to SEC members, Haynes wrote:

As you know, Chris Devaney has announced his decision to step down as Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. Under the leadership of Chairman Devaney and the State Executive Committee, our party has reached historic levels of success. Our state is better off because of that dedicated service.

It is now time to look to the future. We must examine who our party will trust to have a clear vision and a set of goals to keep us successful. I want you to be the first to know of my intentions to seek the position of Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. Certainly this decision does not come lightly. This is a tremendous responsibility and I would be honored to serve a party that stands on solid principles and protects the values of Tennesseans.

Having served in the state legislature since 2008, I have seen first-hand the significance of having conservative leadership leading our party and our state. Together Republicans have cut taxes, increased efficiencies in state government, and spurred economic development for our citizens while holding true to our conservative beliefs. I have been fortunate to hold many leadership roles in the General Assembly during this time that include serving as the assistant caucus chair and holding the gavel as chairman of the state government committee. In addition I have been a proud member of the Republican Caucus Campaign Committee where conservatives have reached historic levels in the state legislature. My persistence, hard work, and loyalty to the Republican Party have resulted in significant improvements to our state.

I appreciate the history of our party and the efforts of those who have paved the way to where we dominate local, state and federal offices. However, I believe there is more work to do for our future. My four goals are simple and are as follows:
  1. Elect a Republican president in 2016 and send boots on the ground to other states that might need extra help to do the same
  2. Strengthen our numbers in the state legislature and the United States Congress
  3. Build on our Red to the Roots program
  4. Prepare a comprehensive plan to attract younger voters, women, and minorities to our cause.
I intend to travel our state seeking your advice and counsel, but most importantly work to earn your trust and support. I’m sure others will be interested in serving as chairman, but I can assure you no one will outwork me. In my first race for the state legislature I knocked on thousands of doors, followed my campaign plan, and did a lot of listening. I plan on doing the same thing as a candidate for state chairman. My passion for our party runs deep and I know that together we can continue to build on our successes of the past, and capitalize on opportunities for the future. I will do my part and I know you will do yours just as you have in the past.

Therefore, I respectfully ask for your vote and your support. I look forward to seeing you along the trail in the days ahead.


Ryan Haynes

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ex-Judge Baumgartner's attorney appealing case to U.S. Supreme Ct

Richard Baumgartner
Lawyers for disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner are hoping to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, arguing federal prosecutors went too far in trying to apply an arcane area of the law.

Instead, they contend, the matter should have remained as a state-prosecuted case.

Don Bosch and Ann Short have submitted their bid, called a petition for certiorari, to the court.

They're waiting to hear if the U.S. solicitor general, which oversees U.S. litigation before the court, responds. An April 3 deadline has been set for the response.

It typically takes four justices to agree to hear a case, and the court takes only a fraction of the petitions submitted to it.

There's no timetable on how soon the court might move - if at all. The court's docket is scheduled through the rest of the term, which ends in June., so if justices wanted to hear the case, it likely wouldn't be until at least fall 2015.

"We think this is an important issue that federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have been addressing," Bosch told WBIR 10News. "We hope they will also review Mr. Baumgartner's legal position."

Bosch declined to comment further because the case is on appeal.

Read the rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sheriff fires back at media critics

Sheriff Jones
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones last night fired back at the local paper's March 17 editorial entitled “Public officials should be clear on sunshine law.”

In the unsigned opinion piece, the writer(s) suggest that Jones and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch violated the sunshine laws when they discussed in emails an E-911 radio contract.

The editorial stated: “They cannot work out a backroom deal on a proposed communications system contract, as happened in this case.”

Well, the sheriff, who’s never been one to mince words, responded on his department’s official website.

Here ya go:
It’s Sunshine Week and the News Sentinel wants its readers to know that it’s time for “a clearing of the skies.” The editorial in Tuesday’s paper isn’t talking about the weather, but the Sunshine Law. A law that the newspaper trotted out when it failed to cover sixteen months’ worth of E-911 meetings concerning a contract for a new digital emergency communications system. The paper had obviously deemed the meetings not worthy of coverage until it was alerted by lobbyists and politicians who had a stake in the radio system.

The editors at the paper believe a “backroom deal” was brokered between Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and me. I hardly call it a backroom deal when the Police Chief and Sheriff of the third largest law enforcement agencies in the state cannot talk about the safety and security of their officers and citizens.

I am fully aware of the Sunshine Law and that’s why I contend there was no violation between Chief Rausch and me. The newspaper, however, is clearly hiding behind the Sunshine Law to distract from its failure to report on an issue that affects the entire community. I believe the law does need to be revisited when a major media outlet manipulates it to cover up its own inadequacies.

City secures developer; work on Cumberland Ave Strip set for June

Work on the long-delayed project to overhaul the Cumberland Avenue Strip near the University of Tennessee is expected to finally start in early June now that the city has a contractor that it can afford to pay.

After failing to find a developer during the previous two bidding attempts, Knoxville officials on Tuesday received proposals from two construction teams just minutes before the 11 a.m. deadline.

The city now plans to move ahead with the company that came in at the lowest cost.

"First and foremost we are very excited to see this project come forward. It has been a long time coming," said Anne Wallace, a project manager in the city's Office of Redevelopment. "Merchants and folks who own business in the area have literally been envisioning changes to Cumberland for more than thirty years."

As it stands, Southern Constructors is the "apparent" winner, city officials said, submitting a proposed bid of roughly $16.87 million – about $400,000 lower than the proposal made by Blaylock & Sons.

The city's engineering department will still have to review the documents to ensure that everything is in order. Officials will then iron out a contract, which they expect to bring before the City County and the Tennessee Department of Transportation by the end of the month for approval.

If everything works out, construction crews should be turning dirt on the project's first phase by early June and wrapping it up by the end of the year.

The second and final phase will start soon after should finish up by August 2017.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Hammond, Brantley to take consulting gigs with Merle 96.7 FM in April

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond and Knox County Commissioner Ed Brantley – both long-time radio executives – have each signed six-month agreements to do consulting work with Merle 96.7 FM (WMYL).

Both will start April 1.

Hammond, a Country Radio Hall of Fame inductee who stepped away from his job at WCYQ when he ran for office last year, will help the station with programming and music.

Brantley, who spent almost three decades at WIVK before leaving in 2010, will help with programming, sales and community relations.

“Merle FM is a high-quality operation from the ground up,” Brantley said in a statement. “Merle sounds great, and it keeps strong relationships within the community among both listeners and advertisers. I am excited to begin working with the staff using the knowledge, experience, and relationships formed over the years and help move Merle FM to the next level.”

Brantley and Hammond each took office last September. The commission post is technically a part-time job. The criminal court clerk seat, however, is a full-time gig.

Hammond told WBIR 10News that his role with the station will not interfere with his elected duties and that he will consult only during the evenings and weekends when he is not at the City County Building.

He said the new role also wouldn’t require him to travel outside of Knox County.

"(The criminal court clerk job) is my focus each day, and I am proud of what our team has accomplished,” Hammond said in a statement. “Working with Merle on the weekends will be another extension of my public service as I work with artists and musicians to give them the chance to have their music heard on the radio.”

Hammond also will host a show on Sunday called “From Nashville to Knoxville.”

Commish to interview six magistrate candidates today to replace Brown

The Knox County Commission today will interview the six candidates to replace judicial commissioner Mark Brown, who announced his resignation earlier this month. (Note: judicial commissioners also are called magistrates.)

The county has five magistrates, often called judicial commissioners, who work 36 hours per week on a rotating schedule. The magistrates are charged with reviewing applications for warrants and summonses and conduct the initial court appearances of prisoners via closed-circuit television.

Here's a brief snapshot of the candidates based on their cover letters and resumes, which you can find RIGHT SMACK HERE):

  • Alexander Brown: A 20-year Knoxville residents and attorney since 2002, he has tried cases in state and federal courts and handled appeals as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s served as a substitute magistrate. He earned his law degree from UT.
  • Michael Cabage: An attorney since 2000 and a graduate of UT, he runs his own law practice, focusing on criminal defense, personal injury, workers’ comp, collections, family law and veterans’ benefits.
  • Dustin Dunham: Served as the primary substitute judicial magistrate since late December 2010, working more than 3,075 hours as a magistrate (this equals one year and six months on the job, Dunham notes). He worked as a personnel administrator for the United States Marine Corps from 1997-2001, earned his law degree from the University of Memphis in 2010 and has since then worked as a solo practitioner.
  • Sharon Frankenberg: Earned law degree from UT in 1998 and works as a lawyer and community speaker. Also published two federal appellate cases.
  • Rhonda Lee: earned law degree in 2012 from the Nashville School of Law and runs a solo practice, as well as teaches law courses at Pellissippi State Community College. Also, spent a year working as a supervisor in the Anderson County District Attorney General’s Office, and a year in the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office in the child abuse division.
  • Patrick Looper: An attorney since 2000, he’s also served as a police consultant since 1992 and worked for 11 years as a police academy instructor and a decade as a state trooper for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.