Friday, October 24, 2014

Knox County to again host local 'Wreaths Across America' program

The county Mayor's Office is again spearheading the local Wreaths Across America initiative, according to a release and conference from earlier today. The effort raises funds to place wreaths on the graves of veterans buried at three veterans cemetery locations in Knox County.

According to the release:
A $15 sponsorship will pay for a wreath made of live greenery to be placed on a veteran’s grave at either the Old East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Lyons View Pike, the New East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Governor John Sevier Highway or the Knoxville National Cemetery on Tyson Street near Old Gray Cemetery.

“If you simply sponsor one wreath or choose to sponsor 100, you are honoring veterans and families who have honored our community with their service,” said Mayor Burchett. “Whether the men and women buried in our veteran cemeteries were lost during combat or after living a long life, we do this for the family members who are still living.”
There are more than 15,000 veterans buried at the three veteran cemetery locations in Knox County.

To sponsor a wreath click RIGHT SMACK HERE and then clock on the "Wreaths Across America" banner. The organization is also offering a “three-for-two” sponsorship special, which means they will donate a wreath for every two that are sponsored.

The wreath sponsorship cutoff deadline is Dec. 1, and the wreaths will be placed on the graves on Dec. 13.
During a news conference this afternoon, Burchett talked about the program. Also in attendance was Kim Harrison, who lost her son, Army Pfc. Daniel Harrison, when his Humvee was attaced on Dec. 2, 2004 in Mosul, Iraq.

To find out more about Daniel, CLICK RIGHT HERE

Student K-2 test headed to a vote

Well, it looks like a number of the new Knox County Board of Education members are following through on some campaign promises to look into student testing and teacher evaluations.

The BOE could quite likely hold a special called meeting next week to determine the fate of the K-2 assessment, formerly called the SAT-10.

You can read the entire story, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

The timing of the vote is interesting, and there's a number of ways to look at it.

Some officials say they want to put it to vote now rather than in early November, since that meeting already has a packed agenda (particularly with the IB program discussion) and they probably don't want to hang out in the A.J. Building together for another six hours. Heh.

Another thought is that it's good to go ahead and vote now before the tests are ordered. Keep in mind, however, that the tests haven't been ordered yet and that they can be returned. The Knox County school district doesn't pay for the tests, but the state does. And don't forget: The state is always complaining that it doesn't have money.

Third thought is that the current board - which includes interim member John Fugate - would more than likely kill the test than a board that included Tracey Sanger, who is running for Fugate's seat. I don't buy this one.

Even if Sanger won, she's not taking over the seat until the election gets certified, so that means her first meeting wouldn't be until December. The board could still put the measure to vote during the early November meeting without her. The election isn't an issue this time around.

That won't stop folks from turning it into one, though.

In the meantime, here's a survey regarding the SAT-10, RIGHT SMACK HERE. It's kind of like voting, folks. Don't complain if you don't participate.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early voting up compared to August

We're now at the halfway mark for early voting, and more than 220,000 folks across the state have cast votes in the Nov. 4 election.

Of those, almost 19,000 are from Knox County. And that's up slightly from the almost 16,000 who voted early by the halfway mark in the August election.

Still, it lags the November 2010 election (20,000 at the halfway point) and the November 2006 election (23,700), which also featured a gubernatorial contest.

Early voting wraps up Oct. 30.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Burchett to host 10 constituent meetings during October, November

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will host 10 constituent meetings during October and November to give citizens the opportunity to meet one-on-one and speak individually with him about issues that are important to them, according to the office's latest release. These meetings are open to the public.

This series of constituent meetings will be held throughout Knox County.

The next two are set for Oct. 27 from 11 a.m. to noon at the Burlington Library on Asheville Highway; and Oct. 30 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Bearden Library on Golf Club Road.

You can find the complete list, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Monday, October 20, 2014

School IB forum set for tomorrow

Knox County Schools has scheduled a community forum to talk about the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) for tomorrow at 6 p.m. at the Bearden Middle School auditorium.

The purpose, according to a release, is to provide info about the program and answer questions.

The program is already in place at West High School could expand into Bearden Middle School. The IB MYP is apparently a set of challenging program standards that teach and incorporate intercultural understanding, lifelong learning and rigorous assessment.

School board members talked briefly about it last month after Superintendent Jim McIntyre brought it to them, but later opted to table it for a month to do more research.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Commissioners to host public forum

Broyles, left, Ownby, right
Knox County commissioners Amy Broyles and Jeff Ownby will begin hosting regular community forums that give the public the opportunity to ask questions about local government, and let officials collect input on current issues.

The first one is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 23 at West High School’s small auditorium. The two said they expect state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, to attend. But, they said at this point they do not expect her Republican opponent in the Nov. 4 election – Eddie Smith – to be there.

Ownby said he reached out to his campaign and was told he had something else scheduled.
The plan, according to the commissioners, will be to host the meetings either monthly or bi-monthly in various districts across the county.

Broyles said the two got the idea during a National Association of Counties meeting they attended in Washington, D.C. this past spring. At the time, they were told by some Florida officials that the forums were a big draw when jointly hosted by Democrats and Republicans who sit on the same board.

Broyles is a Democrat, and Ownby is a Republican.

“It’s more like a town hall style where the public can come in and ask questions about county business and we can offer our perspectives,” said Broyles. “I think it’s a great thing to do.”
Ownby agreed.

“It will get some questioned answered,” he said. “A lot of people can’t make regular meetings, so this is a chance for them to be able to talk about concerns and issues that don’t always get airplay. It also gives them a chance to bring us issues and let us get out in front of them.”

Broyles said since the first meeting runs concurrently with early voting, they wanted to bring in a number of candidates in state races.

In addition to the 13th District race that features Johnson and Smith, they plan to ask 7th District state Senate candidates Cheri Siler, a Democrat, and Richard Briggs, a Republican, to come.

Broyles and Ownby said they will hammer out more details in the coming days.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Broyles said. “I enjoy working with Jeff even though, politically, we are often at the opposite spectrum on a number of political issues. But, I think this is a good thing for the commission and I think it’s providing a good public service.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

KCS wants nutrition dept. audit

You might recall back in mid-September when we broke the story that the state is investigating Knox County Schools Executive Director of School Nutrition Jon Dickl for allegations connected to the misuse of funds.

We were told at the time that the probe is tied to the use of two $500 gift cards that were given to food services and into ties that a school vendor has to a car dealership that possibly sold Dickl a deeply discount vehicle.

(Dude makes more than $100K annually by the way. He's currently on paid administrative leave.)

Anyhoo, the school system today issued a release, saying that it is requesting that the county's internal auditing department conduct an audit and an independent risk review of the KCS School Nutrition Department.

According to the release:
Internal Auditor Andrea Addis has been apprised of the school district’s request that her office conduct a financial audit of the school system’s nutrition department as well as providing an independent risk review of that department’s financial operations. Any work conducted by the Internal Auditor would need to be authorized by the Knox County Commission.

“This is a needed step to ensure that the school system’s food service department has a sound financial operation,” said Mike McMillan, Chair of the Knox County Board of Education. “While the department receives an annual financial audit, this review would examine the daily financial management of the department. Pending the Commission’s approval, I look forward to receiving the auditor’s report and to sharing it with the Board of Education.”

“I appreciate the Internal Auditor’s willingness to potentially work with us to take a hard look at the financial operation of our School Nutrition Department and identify any weaknesses in the department’s processes and internal controls,” said Superintendent Jim McIntyre. “I think this is a prudent and necessary action in light of the ongoing investigation into allegations that have been made about the KCS food service director. If the Commission agrees, we will work with Ms. Addis in the coming days to develop a complete project scope of services, and I look forward to initiating the work as soon as possible.”

The Knox County Schools School Nutrition Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 is $27.5 million. The department receives no local or state funding but operates on revenues received from the sale of meals as well as reimbursements from the federal government for meals provided to students of limited economic means. By statute, the food service budget and fiscal management are separate from the school system’s general operating budget that provides for the daily operation of the school system.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What the??? No more Metro Pulse? Layoffs lead to reorganization

So, apparently a bunch of boring newspaper peeps are now tasked with putting together the snarky alternative.

For the two of you in the Knoxville area who don't know, the Metro Pulse, the local alternative weekly, shut down today under some kind of reorganizational plan or other.

And, parent company E.W. Scripps, which also owns the Knoxville News Sentinel, laid off the entire staff. (In addition, KNS laid off a number of its own employees.)

You can follow the Metro Pulse mess on Twitter, RIGHT SMACK HERE. Also, folks are commenting OVER HERE and wishing the former staffers well.

In the meantime, the new plan is have the KNS newsroom produce the Pulse and distribute it inside the Sentinel and in free-distribution racks.

Here's the rest, according to an email, by head KNS editor Jack McElroy:
"A bit more information to go with the note (Publisher) Patrick (Birmingham) distributed and the story on Knoxnews:

Effective immediately, Amy Vellucci will be directing our local news operations as city editor. She will be looking to promote someone within the local staff to assistant city editor to support her.

Amy Nolan will become News Sentinel business editor as well as editor and publisher of the Knoxville Business Journal. Josh Flory will report to her as assistant business editor and will continue as News Sentinel data editor.

Vivian Vega will move into the newsroom and continue to direct special publications. The newsroom will provide production support, but newsroom writers will not be producing any advertorial content.

Chuck Campbell, Susan Alexander and Lori Wilson will be working with the combined features and entertainment staff on a merger of and Metro Pulse, which will be produced by the newsroom and distributed in-paper and in free-distribution racks. Jennifer Dedman will be assisting in this project.

Department meetings will be scheduled in the next few days to discuss plans further."

City to light Henley Bridge red

Tonight (Oct. 15), the city will light the Henley Street Bridge in red in support of the Redeeming Red Project and Dyslexia Awareness, according to a county news release.

Apparently, today is World Dyslexia Day and local officials are "Redeeming Red" in support of the roughly 20 percent of the population that is affected by the learning disability.

Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby has been instrumental in the effort here in the area.

For more info, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

City study shows below average pay for Knoxville police and fire

Knoxville city leaders plan to meet in December to discuss government employees' wages.

This comes after a study (2014 General Employee & Public Safety Total Compensation Studies) revealed pay for firefighters and police officers in Knoxville is below the market average.

The city of Knoxville paid Segal Waters Consulting $215,000 to complete the study. It broke city pay into three categories: general employees, police and fire.

PRESENTATION: Power Point report of study

The study showed Knoxville's police and fire wages are about 12 percent to 13 percent below market average.

Segal Waters Consulting looked at both base pay and total compensation costs which includes health and retirement benefits.

With base pay and benefits, a Knoxville Police Department (KPD) recruit makes about $45,392 compared to the market average minimum of $46,363. The gap is much larger higher up the ladder; a KPD Police Captain makes about $86,570 compared to the market average of $99,399.

Rest of the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Gov Big Bill releases first TV ad

Republican Governor Bill Haslam released his first television ad for the general election today. Check it out below:

His campaign peeps noted that this is a full-on broadcast and cable statewide ad, so I figure it wasn't cheap.

The election is Nov. 4. He's taking on a Democrat named Charlie Brown.

I'm not kidding.

As always, send me your election stuff for publication consideration.

Emails: Safety concerns led to Knox Co. school secretary's paid leave

The latest in the Tina Needham saga. If you've been under a rock, she's the Knox County School secretary who has been on paid administrative leave for more than two years. The same person who has filed an EEOC complaint and thus will probably remain on paid administrative leave for another year.

Anyhoo, story, which details what actually led to her going on paid leave, is RIGHT SMACK HERE.

We asked the school system why she was placed on administrative leave and not on medical leave (as they've suggested that's the real reason she's not working).

In a statement from Jim McIntyre, the superintendent said administrative leave was the only option available to the system and that any other type of action must be initiated by the employee.

That is not the case. I'll leave it at that.