Tuesday, October 13, 2015

AG won't issue opinion on gun ban

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to issue an opinion about the gun ban at Chilhowee park during September's annual Tennessee Valley Fair.

"Our office has a longstanding policy of not opining on questions concerning matters pending before the court," he told us today. "This question will ultimately be decided by a Judge, so it would be inappropriate for our office to intrude on that process."

Earlier this month, a Loudon County woman sued the city over the matter.

A number of local leaders had requested an opinion from Slatery.

Bridge dedicated in veteran's memory

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, Commissioner John Schoonmaker and others will formally dedicate the one-lane bridge on Coward Mill Road over Beaver Creek in memory of the late Donald Caldwell.

The event will take place today at 1 p.m. at Ben Atchley State Veterans’ Home Parking Lot
9910 Coward Mill Road.

Caldwell was active in the Karns and Hardin Valley area, and worked to preserve the bridge that is now being dedicated in his memory. Members of his family will also be in attendance.

For the safety of participants and attendees, the bridge dedication program will be held on Ben Atchley State Veterans’ Home property located near the bridge. Members of his family will also be in attendance.
In the late 1980s, Caldwell and others organized an effort to preserve the historic bridge, one of only five in the state, and it remains in use today. He also helped pioneer the effort to plant daffodils and redbud trees along Pellissippi Parkway.
In addition to serving his community, Caldwell was an Air Force veteran who served in the Korean War, prior to moving to Knoxville to work for the Knoxville Utilities Board.

He passed away in May 2014 at the age of 84.

9 seek open Tn Supreme Court seat

Nine men are applying to take over the Tennessee Supreme Court seat vacated last month by East Tennessean Gary Wade.

According to the Administrative Office of the Court in Nashville, the nine are: Matthew P. Cavitch of Eads; Thomas R. Frierson of Morristown; Mark A. Fulks of Johnson City; Ted M. Hayden of Gallatin; Robert D. Meyers of Memphis; Herbert S. Moncier of Knoxville; Robert H. Montgomery Jr. of Kingsport; Roger A. Page of Medina; and Larry Scroggs of Germantown.

The Governor's Council for Judicial Appointments will consider the candidates Oct. 27. The council interviews any who apply and then nominates three candidates for the governor to consider.

Gov. Bill Haslam, by order, can pick from among the three nominated or require the council to submit a panel of three additional nominees.

The chosen candidate can come from either West Tennessee or East Tennessee. The five-member court already has two justices from Middle Tennessee.

Wade, of Sevier County, retired Sept. 8 to become vice president and dean of Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law downtown.

From the Knoxville area, Moncier is among the most high profile candidates. He has practiced law for decades and his clients have included accused serial killer Thomas D. "Zooman" Huskey. He also filed litigation in the 1990s challenging then Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison as well as the failure of officer holders to comply with a local prohibition against serving more than two elected terms.

Moncier's ability to practice in federal court was suspended for several years but he continued to practiced in state court.

Lawsuit: Jail censoring inmate mail

A nonprofit that advocates for prisoners' rights says Knox County is censoring its mail to inmates, and it's seeking a court order to stop the practice.

The non-profit Prison Legal News filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Knoxville. It claims the Knox County Jail has censored at least 147 items it has sent to inmates since November 2014.

Jail policy says all personal mail to inmates must be on standard-size postcards with preprinted stamps.

The suit claims that policy serves no legitimate government interest and violates the plaintiff's free-speech rights to communicate with inmates.
The lawsuit names Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones, Assistant Chief Deputy Rodney Bivens and Knox County as defendants.

Prison Legal News, an advocate for prisoner's rights that sends its publications to more than 2,600 correctional facilities across the country, wants a temporary court order to stop the censorship while the case makes its way through the courts.

A spokeswoman for the Knox County Sheriff's Office says they don't comment on pending litigation.

"As part of its organizational mission, PLN engages in core protected speech on matters of public concern, such as prison operations and conditions, legal updates on prison litigation, prisoner health and safety, and prisoners' rights," the lawsuit states.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Public meets to talk business park

Don't kid yourself: The votes are there. This is getting approved.

Residents at an East Knox County meeting Thursday night brought up issues ranging from sewage and lighting to a cemetery that could be impacted by a proposed business park off Interstate 40.

The public was invited to a meeting at Carter Elementary School to discuss the project in the Midway area near Midway Road and Thorn Grove Pike. Presenters also went over feedback received at a similar meeting last month.

The Development Corp. of Knox County acquired the site about 10 years ago.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission and Knoxville Utilities Board were on hand to address concerns and share new information about the project.

Business leaders stress it's among the last large tracts available that can be used to promote business park developments.

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Three Coliseum workers fired, one retires in wake of investigation

The City of Knoxville’s general manager of the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum retired and 3 other employees were fired today after a Knoxville Police Department Internal Affairs investigation discovered financial irregularities involving almost $4,800.

General Manager Dale Dunn retired today, and Assistant General Manager Robert Sandoval, Stage Manager Tom Kelly and Financial Analyst Salina Garrett were terminated.

The investigation showed that Sandoval had used a false name to submit payment records for working events at the Coliseum that he was already being paid to work as a salaried employee. Dunn and Kelly had signed the forms, and Garrett submitted the paperwork, all knowing that Sandoval was being paid additional money by a third party for working the shifts. There is no indication that Dunn, Kelly or Garrett benefited financially.

No City funds were lost in the extra payments. Sandoval, a salaried City employee, also is a member of the International Alliance Theatrical Stage Employees union. To be paid by an event promoter for working a Coliseum event, Sandoval is alleged to have submitted a form with the fake name to the City while sending two copies of the same form to the union that reflected his real name.

The payments to Sandoval from event promoters through the union, typically about $65 each, totaled $4,755.50 over 4½ years.

The KPD investigation found no evidence that any other employee had used a fake name.

The investigation into financial irregularities involving the promoters’ payments to Sandoval began due to internal oversight measures in the City’s Public Assembly Facilities Department, which oversees the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum. Additional safeguards have since been instituted.

“We’ve taken extra steps to enhance accountability,” Public Assembly Facilities Director Greg Mackay said. “We’ve changed how the form is reviewed and processed to prevent this from recurring.”

Meanwhile, Mackay said that experienced Civic Auditorium and Coliseum staff members will manage already-scheduled events at the facility and will continue booking new events.

“The Knoxville Civic Auditorium and Coliseum will continue to offer entertaining and well-managed events,” Mackay said. “Changes in management will not affect the experience of fans who will be cheering on the Ice Bears or families who will be enjoying ‘Disney on Ice’ or any other upcoming events.”

Court Clerk: Money from Knox County bail bond agencies pouring in now

The Knox County Criminal Court Clerk's Office has collected roughly $78,500 from East Tennessee bail bonding agencies that owed the state because their Knox County defendants failed to show up for court.

The uptick in collections comes just weeks after a WBIR 10News investigation revealed that more than a dozen of the companies were on the hook to the justice system for more than $141,000.

The Clerk's Office reports some of the debts go back two and three years, some maybe even more than that.

The money – called a bond forfeiture – is a source of revenue for the state. But it falls under the purview of the Clerk's Office and the local General Sessions and Criminal Court judges to monitor, collect and enforce.

When someone is arrested and jailed, a magistrate or a judge often sets a monetary value of bail. It's meant to ensure a defendant will come to court if given his freedom pending prosecution.

The defendant is typically kept in jail until the full amount of bond is posted, usually by someone acting on his behalf.

Once the defendant's case comes to a resolution, the person will get back the money – minus any fees, penalties or court costs.

In addition, a defendant wishing to pay bail can purchase a surety bond – or premium – through a bonding company. That cost is typically 10 percent of the overall bond amount, and the defendant does not get the money back.

By agreeing to bond the person out, the bonding agency becomes responsible for making sure the defendant goes to court for trial.

If the defendant skips a court date, the judge issues an arrest warrant and forfeits the bond. The agency then owes the court the full bond payment.

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond said seven bail bonding companies have paid a combined $78,500 of the total debt as of Oct. 7.

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Knoxville, mayor sued over gun ban

The Park!
Wait, so the plaintiff is scared to go to the Tennessee Valley Fair because she can't bring her gun.

But she will go to the same park for a gun show because they have armed security.

And yet the fair has armed Knoxville Police Department officers serving as security.

Yeah, makes a lot of sense.

Whatever. It was bound to happen. Here ya go:

A Loudon County woman has sued the city of Knoxville and Mayor Madeline Rogero after local leaders declined to allow guns inside Chilhowee Park during September’s Tennessee Valley Fair.

The LAWSUIT, filed Wednesday in Knox County Circuit Court on behalf of Pandora Vreeland, requests that the court issue a declaratory judgement to allow those with valid carry permits to "possess their firearms" inside the park.

The lawsuit says Vreeland "could not safely attend" the fair since she was not allowed to bring her gun.

"Because Mrs. Vreeland is unable to carry her firearm as permitted under state law, she will not be going to any future events other than gun shows, which have armed security and are generally quite safe events . . . ."

Vreeland also noted that "gun free zones are uniquely susceptible to violent crime."

The lawsuit was not unexpected. Attorneys suggested last week they were preparing litigation.

At issue is a Tennessee law that says someone with a gun carry permit can bring a weapon into a state or city park so long as it’s not close to a school. City leaders and fair operators, however, said the law does not apply to the fair.

They noted that the park is an “entertainment and public” facility, so the law – signed by Gov. Hill Haslam in April – does not apply.

During the fair, no one challenged the ban at the gate, according to Rogero. Several people were found to have weapons. They put them away before entering the fair, according to Rogero.

Rogero said fair organizers also had asked that gun-carriers be prohibited from bringing weapons into the fair.

"Chilhowee Park, although its name would indicate it's a park, it's really not a park," Knoxville Law Director Charles Swanson told WBIR 10News in September. "You will see on our website we have a list of 81 parks that our Parks and Rec Department maintains, and Chilhowee Park is not one of those."

The Knoxville Police Department provides security for the 10-day event.

Part of Cumberland to be repaved

From the city: Anticipate overnight alternating lanes closures beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday on Cumberland Avenue between Alcoa Highway and West Volunteer Boulevard as a contractor repaves and restripes the road.

The repaving work will be finished by 6 a.m. Friday.

The Phase I work – upgrading aging utilities, improving traffic flow and adding Streetscape amenities on the western section of Cumberland Avenue – remains on schedule for completion by the end of 2015.

The overnight repaving will level rough or uneven spots through the Cumberland Avenue reconstruction zone. A second, more permanent repaving will be performed as the Phase I work is finished.

The City’s $17 million reconstruction of Cumberland will modernize aging infrastructure and change the existing four-lane street to a three-lane cross section with a raised median and left-turn lanes at intersections.

Sidewalks will be widened and landscaped, and utility lines relocated, to create a more attractive, safer, pedestrian-friendly corridor.

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Baumgartner case; matter closed

The nation’s highest court has declined to hear the federal case against disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that justices will not hear arguments as to whether federal prosecutors overstepped their boundaries after Baumgartner pleaded in state court.

Lawyers for the former judge had argued that the prosecutors went too far in trying to apply an arcane area of the law.

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

Once convicted in federal court, Baumgartner lost his state pension.

Defense attorneys Don Bosch and Ann Short in March submitted their bid, called a petition for certiorari, to the court.

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

In September 2014, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned down an appeal by Baumgartner in what amounted to a split decision. In October, the lawyers' request for a full or "en banc" review by the appellate court was denied.

Baumgartner, who presided over such high profile cases as the Thomas D. Huskey serial killing case and the prosecution of four people in the Christian-Newsom homicides, stepped down in early 2011 as details began to emerge that he had carried on an affair with a woman in the drug court that he supervised, using her to secure prescription pills for a drug habit.

He admitted to official misconduct and received a diversionary sentence in state court. He was allowed to keep his state pension.

Then, federal authorities stepped in, securing indictments against him for what's called misprision of a felony, for which a jury convicted him in 2012. His state pension was now in jeopardy.

Misprision of a felony is an old area of the law, dating back more than 200 years in the United States. Simply put, it means someone was aware of a felony, concealed that and failed to report it to the proper authority.

It's generally been applied to circumstances when someone explicitly tried to hinder a federal investigation, Bosch and Short argued.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case, the matter is officially over.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Knoxville to celerbate 225th B-Day

The City of Knoxville turns 225 on Oct. 3 next year.

So, starting in January, Visit Knoxville will collaborate with numerous art, historical, and cultural organizations to highlight Knoxville's unique past.

The 2016 Knoxville Visitors and Relocation Guide will have a heavy focus on the 225th Anniversary, offering current residents, newcomers, and out-of-town guests the opportunity to explore and actively engage in our history and culture.

Visit Knoxville is coordinating all events and information regarding the 225th Anniversary. For more information, go to 225.visitknoxville.com or call (800) 727-8045.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Knoxville Mayor makes changes to staff, brings on former BOE member

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero has added former Knox County School board member Indya Kincannon to her staff.

Kincannon, who will start Oct. 5 and earn $60,000 annually, will oversee community agency grants and appointments to city boards and commissions. She also will manage special projects for the Mayor, and serve as the mayor’s liaison to the school system.

“Indya brings a wealth of experience, leadership and talent to the mayor’s office,” Rogero said in a released statement. “Her 10 years of outstanding public service on the school board and strong record of community service make her an ideal addition to my staff. She understands our city and the importance of building strong community partnerships. We are fortunate to have her join us.”

Kincannon served as a school board member from 2004 to 2014 before teaching writing, history, Spanish and drama to international students in Slovenia in 2014 and 2015.

She’s also served as Beaumont Magnet Academy PTA president, a Fourth and Gill neighborhood leader, a Habitat for Humanity group leader and Mayan Families Project volunteer in Guatemala, and a volunteer AYSO soccer and Baby Falcon basketball coach.

Kincannon will replace Jackie Clay, who served as the mayor’s project manager since December 2011. Clay, who also will earn $60,000 annually, was promoted to a position where she will manage a community crime reduction program targeted to two specific Project Safe Neighborhoods that work to reduce violence and create opportunities for boys and young men of color from the ages of 15 to 24.

“Jackie brings a social worker’s heart and an organizer’s laser focus to address one of the biggest challenges in our city,” Rogero said. “She has been an asset in the Mayor’s Office these past four years and is the right choice to manage this new targeted effort to create opportunities for success for our young men and boys of color.”

Clay, who lives in the Parkridge community, has been a community organizer and an instructor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work.

She serves on the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Commission, as board chair of Girl Talk Inc., as the nominating committee chair for HomeSource East Tennessee, and as vice president of the Freedman Mission Historic Cemetery Committee.