Friday, February 27, 2015

I.C. King Park closed through May

KUB and its contractor, Southeast Connections, will close I.C. King Park starting Monday, March 2, and lasting through May 2015, as work is completed in this area for the South Loop Natural Gas Pipeline Installation Project, according to a county news release.

In cooperation with Knox County Parks and Recreation, and to ensure the public’s safety, the entire park will be closed as construction is in progress. Barricades and signage are in place at the park’s entrances to notify visitors of the closure.

This project will provide a portion of the connecting pipeline that will allow the University of Tennessee to convert its coal-fired steam plant to natural gas by late 2015. This plant conversion will remove the second largest source of airborne pollution in East Tennessee, and will be the equivalent of taking 7,000 passenger vehicles off the road each day. Additionally, this pipeline will improve the overall reliability of KUB’s natural gas distribution system, and allow for future natural gas demands.

KUB will post regular updates throughout the project on its website at www.kub.org, and on the KUB Facebook page. Additionally, KUB has set up a blog RIGHT HERE to keep customers informed about project milestones. Customers can send their e-mail address to blog@kub.org (please reference South Loop in the subject line) to receive updates on the project. Customers can also call 558-2331 after normal business hours to leave a message that will be followed-up with a call from a KUB representative by the end of the next business day.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parker appointed to replace McNutt on Knox County Election Commission

Republicans in the local Legislative delegation appointed Hannah Parker, a media relations expert, to the Knox County Election Commission.

Parker, who worked for Bill Haslam when he was mayor and governor, replaces Rob McNutt on on the 5-member panel.

The state lawmakers on Thursday also re-appointed the commission’s chairman, Chris Heagerty, and Robert Bowman, both attorneys, to fill the other two slots Republican slots.

“It was a very close vote and there was a lot of discussion,” said state Rep. Ryan Haynes, chairman of the delegation.

Haynes declined to say how members voted.

“I’m tremendously honored for the opportunity to serve and look forward to working to ensure that elections are conducted fairly and with integrity,” Parker told WBIR 10News Thursday. “I don’t have any reason to believe that hasn’t been the case, but that was my main reason for wanting to participate (on the commission).”

The Democrat members of the Legislative delegation will make their appointments in the coming days.

Cassandra McGee Stuart, who works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and lawyer Tammy Kaousias currently represent the party on the commission.

Under state law, the political party that holds a majority in the General Assembly also holds a majority on local election commissions. The local delegation makes the appointments, which are then rubberstamped by state Election Commission.

Parker joined Knoxville-based PR firm Moxley Carmichael in June 2014. Prior to that, she served in Gov. Haslam’s administration as deputy for operations. She also worked in the Office of Policy and Communications for Haslam during his tenure as Knoxville’s mayor.

She will take over as director of community relations for the Emerald Youth Foundation on March 9.
In her cover letter to state lawmakers, she noted: “As a lifelong Knoxvillian, I genuinely care about our community. Should I have the honor of being selected as an election commissioner, I will serve with the utmost integrity, putting policy over personality and always seek to maintain the public’s trust in our election process.”

Local political insiders expected the delegation to keep Heagerty and Bowman, but McNutt’s appointment was in question.

A number of insiders felt he was picked back in 2011 only to help oust then-Knox County Elections Administrator Greg Mackay, a Democrat.

A few years prior, Republicans attempted to replace Mackay, but then-commissioner Paul Crilly voted with the two Democrats to retain him. Upset, the delegation replaced Crilly with McNutt.

The commission, with McNutt on board, then ousted Mackay in a 3-2 vote, and later hired current administrator Cliff Rodgers.

Rodgers has since been unanimously retained once and is expected to be kept the next time the commission votes, which more than likely will be in April.

A number of state lawmakers were upset with McNutt after it was revealed that he voted outside his precinct more than half a dozen times prior to his appointment on the commission.

His strongest supporter on the delegation was former state Rep. Steve Hall, who lost his re-election bid last year.

The commissioners and the administrator of elections serve two year terms, although the administrator serves at the pleasure of the panel. Neither is term-limited.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Recent inclement weather costing Knoxville, Knox County major coin

As the snow continues to pile along area roads, so, too, are the bills for local government.

By the end of Tuesday, 10 days of inclement weather is expected to cost Knox County roughly $405,000, and the city well-over $300,000.

The majority of the money is tied to the salt placed in the brine to make the roads more navigable during the snow and ice storms. The rest is mostly for overtime to pay the city and county road crews.

County spokesman Michael Grider said salt costs $115 per ton, and so far the county has put down 3,000 tons. The county also has spent another $60,000 in overtime.

At this point, there are no additional county costs, Grider said, but officials will have to repair some equipment, including snow plows and the spreaders used for the brine.

“We started with 4,000 tons of salt, so by the end of the day we will have used 75 percent of it,” Grider said.

Knoxville at this point is on the hook for about $305,500 in weather-related costs as of Sunday night, said city spokesman Eric Vreeland, adding that during the past 10 days through Sunday crews put down 1,800 tons of brine.

About $250,000 of the city’s costs so far are for salt; another $54,000 for public service employee overtime; and $5,500 for the overtime, labor and some equipment costs in the city’s fleet services department.

City crews Monday night and early Tuesday morning placed another 500 tons of brine on the roads, but those costs have not been factored into the bottom line.

City leaders should have the final numbers in the coming days.

City and county officials both said the storms so far have not affected their overall spending plans for the current fiscal year, since the budgets do factor in some storm costs. Both governments said they’re nowhere close to tapping reserve funds.

Monday, February 23, 2015

GOP lawmakers to pick their election commission members on Thursday

Over the weekend, Georgiana Vines posted a pretty good story about the local Legislative delegation's meeting Thursday to pick three of the five Knox County Election Commission board members.

(Republicans, because they're the majority, get three picks and Democrats get two.)

Bob Bowman, Chris Heagerty and Rob McNutt are the current Republicans. I suspect the delegation will keep Heagerty and Bowman, but probably not McNutt.

The later was pick by then-state Rep. Steve Hall, who is no longer around. You might recall that McNutt also (allegedly) illegally voted - and for Hall - a number of times. There was some serious egg on the face of the delegation when that one came out.

Still, they didn't bother to do anything about it, and McNutt's sole purpose for being appointed was to serve as the swing vote to out then-Election Administrator Greg Mackay. Now that Hall is gone, I expect McNutt to join him.

Vines reports that Ruthie Kuhlman, current Knox County GOP chair, and local attorney Tamara Boyer are interested in a two-year term on the board.

Cassandraw McGee Stuart and Tammy Kaousias are currently the Democrat reps on the panel. I figure Stuart sticks around, I don't know about Kaousias. Vines notes that then-state Rep. Gloria Johnson backed her two years ago, but Johnson is now out.

Once picked, the board will then vote on an election administrator. Regardless of the board's makeup, I expect then to retain Cliff Rodgers for another two years.

KPD to change style of uniforms

Well, this is interesting.  Just got a note from the city that Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. tomorrow to announce a change to KPD's uniforms. The note didn't say a whole lot.

Although it mentioned that the move is only the fourth time in the department's 166-year history that it's happened. No clue what they'll look like. The picture above is the current style.

Knox Co. Clerk sues PBA over mold

Arnett
Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Public Building Authority because "toxic mold spores" in the courthouse where he works has caused his health to deteriorate.

"I didn't want to do it – it was a last resort," he told WBIR 10News Saturday. "As you can see in the complaint, two of my doctors say what I've got is life-threatening."

Filed in Knox County Circuit Court late Friday, the complaint does not seek punitive damages, but rather requests that the PBA remediate the building, and cover Arnett's legal and medical bills.

"We're asking the judge to immediately close my part of the building and get us out of there and into somewhere safe to work," Arnett said.

The Clerk's Office operates out of the Old Courthouse on Main Street in downtown Knoxville. It's the keeper of records for the Knox County Commission and it's where residents go to get a number of licenses, including marriage licenses, car tags or passports, for example. The Clerk's Office, like most county and city offices pays the PBA a sort of "lease" each month to take care of the building and provide security. The clerk's office pays $7,000 a month, which is not uncommon in local government.

MORE: Copy of the lawsuit

Arnett said his attorney, Darren Berg, will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Monday at his firm Butler, Vines & Babb to talk more about the matter.

The lawsuit notes that Arnett filed "numerous complaints" with the PBA during the past year, but the problem wasn't fixed. He also said that the mold is affecting some of his employees.
PBA Director Dale Smith could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The lawsuit says the PBA did test for mold but the levels were within acceptable limits and that the mold was not alive. Arnett, however, had a third party take swabs of the office and discovered that the area walls where he works is "loaded" with black mold.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Knox County hopes 'unclaimed funds account' brings financial windfall

Chris Caldwell
It’s a little-discussed fund, but it can often bring in big bucks for the Knox County.

The Knox County Commission on Monday is expected to sign off on a request to let the administration receive some unclaimed funds that have been placed in the State Treasurer’s Office for more than a year.

Officials won’t know how much is there until July, but last year the county got almost $150,000, and the year before that it received $287,100.

“It varies from year to year and you never really know what you’ll get,” county Finance Director Chris Caldwell said.

To get the money, the board must ask for it through a resolution.

“That allows us to do two things,” said Caldwell. “It requests the money back from the previous year’s report and also lets the state know that we’re going to file for the current unclaimed property as well.”

The money the county seeks this year is technically from 2013.

Here’s how it works:

Every check the county cuts to someone that isn’t cashed after one year is forwarded to the state where it will sit for an additional year. The county can then file a claim for it – after it has again tried to notify the person or vendor and give them a chance to reclaim the money.

Most of the money that goes unclaimed is tied to jury duty, mileage or other reimbursement checks, or medical deductibles, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he isn’t sure why the checks go uncashed, but suspects it’s because people have moved and didn’t provide the county or post office with a forwarding address.

The money will be placed into the county’s general fund, which covers much of the county’s day-to-day activities.

To be on the safe side, the county typically underestimates the amount it will get, so the revenue is considered a windfall if it is more than $25,000, Caldwell said.

Commish meeting on for Monday; lobbyist, boat slips lead talks

Knox County Commissioners are expected to meet Monday for their regularly scheduled voting session and plan to talk about two contracts, one tied to hiring a lobbyist and the other to securing a boat slip that will cost the sheriff’s office double what it currently pays.

The commission canceled its Feb. 16 work session due to inclement weather and will not make it up. 

Work sessions are generally designed to provide officials with the first opportunity to talk about issues, but any votes taken are recommendations only.

Monday’s board meeting is set for 1:45 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

Part of the discussion is expected to focus on whether the commission should hire a lobbyist or lobbying firm that spends some of its time in Nashville and reports back to the board.

The move, according to Commissioner Amy Broyles, would keep officials apprised of proposed legislation that would affect the county and to provide an outlet that lobbies on behalf of the commission.

A number of local governments across the state, including Knoxville's administration, employ lobbyists.

MORE: Commission to discuss hiring lobbyist

MORE: Proposed KCSO boat slip to cost double

Currently, the city pays lobbyist Tony Thompson $55,000 a year, according to his contract. The city also shares a lobbyist – Jane Alvis – with Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. Her services are funded from a piece of the $30,000 in dues the city pays The Tennessee Municipal League.

Knox County employed a lobbyist for years until Burchett took over as mayor in 2010 and cancelled the contract.

The commission also plans to talk about the sheriff’s office proposal to get a better spot on the Volunteer Landing Marina to dock its boat along the Tennessee River.

The sheriff says the proposed move, which would secure a boat slip closer to the office's Main Street headquarters, is about "response time, location and safety."

But, it comes with a steep price tag.

The department currently pays the Volunteer Landing Marina $3,650 per year to dock one of its 23-foot long Sea Rays at the eastern end of the marina.

The new location would cost $8,400 a year and require a 10-year lease agreement, according to the proposed contract. The slip under consideration is about a half mile away from the current one, and at the far west end of the marina near Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ULI report: Knoxville's success lies in downtown core's redevelopment

The Urban Land Institute has given city leaders its final report, a 36-page study that focuses on the downtown core and provides a series of recommendations "for Knoxville to begin work on immediately to guarantee (its) ongoing and future success."

The report comes four months after the non-profit's advisory panel spent a week in the city investigating a number of key sites and conducting a series of interviews with more than 100 stakeholders, including business owners, nearby residents, developers and groups with key interests in the downtown area like Knox Heritage.

The Washington, D.C.-based research center on land use provided input for five locations: World's Fair Park, the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, the Supreme Court site, Henley Street, and the area where the McClung warehouse buildings once stood.

The study, which cost $125,000, was conducted to provide city leaders on ways to continue growing the downtown.

Full report RIGHT HERE.

Rest of the story with recommendations RIGHT HERE.

Knoxville to buy Old South High for $189K, seek proposals to renovate

The Knoxville City Council Tuesday night voted to acquire the long-dilapidated Old South High School and authorized officials to offer the owner $189,000 for it.

If the landlord, Bahman Kasraei, refuses, the city will move to condemn the property, which is located on the corner of Moody Avenue and Tipton Street.

City leaders last summer initially took steps toward restoring the almost 80-year-old building to its former glory by determining it a blight. That meant the council could take the necessary steps to acquire it.

Since then, it got two appraisals, and by law has to go with the higher number, which was $189,000, when making an offer.

Kasraei, however, will get only $134,000, since he owes $55,000 in back taxes and repair work the city performed on the property, city spokesman Jesse Mayshark said.

He paid $117,700 for 2.2 acre piece of property in 2008 in an auction. It was vacated in 1991.

The city, once it’s in possession of the historic building, will seek proposals from developers to renovate the property and determine its best use.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Power back on for 'substantial amount of customers' by midnight Wednesday

Scene from Southwest Knoxville
Some 13,000 Knox County residents are still without power as of 11:15 a.m. because of the ice storm that swept through the area, but KUB officials say they expect to have a “substantial amount of customers” back on by midnight Wednesday.

During a 15 minute news conference, Gabriel Bolas, an incident commander with the utility company, said KUB has 60 crews working rotating 16-hour shifts, but it’s taking some time to navigate many of the roads to get to the downed lines.

He said the company’s call centers also are fully staffed, but the payment centers are closed, so no one will be cut off due to a non-payment.

He noted that officials were looking at a “multi-day event” before everyone is back online and that at the peak, some 21,000 customers were without power. He said crews focused first on critical care facilities, which they’ve taken care of, and then mix in the areas with the largest outages and those that have been shut down the longest.

“Damage has been pretty significant,” Bolas said. “So far, we’re getting around OK, but it’s slower than normal.”

Bill Elmore, chief operating officer for KUB, said customers so far have been “appreciative” and “appear to be understanding.”

“The fact that it hit early yesterday morning and continued into the night meant the restoration effort was an ongoing one, and as we were restoring power, additional outages were occurring,” he said.

KUB also is working closely with the city, county and state Department of Transportation.

Full Story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Knox Co. schools, government closed Tuesday due to inclement weather

The Knox County Commission Office will be closed tomorrow and the board's regularly scheduled work sessions has been postponed. (It will be rescheduled as soon as possible, according to the board's Twitter account.)

In addition, Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has canceled school due to inclement weather.

Per county policy, since schools are canceled, so too, are courts.

The regular KCS school calendar has 10 "snow days" built into it that officials can use before having to add more days to the school year.

Earlier this year, school was delayed for two hours because of weather, but the delay doesn't affect the school calendar.

Also, the Knox County Sheriff's Office on its Facebook page said authorities are responding only to life and death emergencies, so don't do anything stupid.

Here's a list of what else is shut down for tomorrow:
  • Offices reporting directly to the Knox County Mayor, including Knox County Senior Centers, Libraries, Health Department, Veteran Services and Parks & Recreation.
  • Office of Knox County Clerk, including all satellite offices.
  • Knox County Criminal Clerk's Office and Criminal Sessions and Fourth Circuit Courts.
  • Knox County Circuit Court Clerk's office, including Civil Sessions Court and Circuit Court.
  • Knox County Trustee's Office, including all satellite offices.
  • Knox County Elections Commission.
  • Knox County Register of Deed's Office
  • Knox County Property Assessor's Office
  • All solid waste convenience centers