Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Local GOP sets up meet-and-greet with elected officials at new Trump HQ

The following Knox County Republicans plan to attend the Aug. 29 grand opening of the local Trump/Pence presidential campaign headquarters:

Congressman John J. Duncan Jr.; Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett; state Sen. Randy McNally; Knox County commissioners John Schoonmaker and Bob Thomas; state executive committee members Julia Hurley, Jane Chedester and Ken Gross; and incoming county Commissioner Michele Carringer.

The event will be held at 11134 Kingston Pike in Farragut. It runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Armstrong seeks acquittal or new trial in federal tax evasion case

State Rep. Joe Armstrong is asking that a federal judge toss his felony tax evasion conviction or at least grant him a new trial.

A jury earlier this month found the long-time East Knoxville Democrat guilty of filing a false and fraudulent tax return, but declined to convict him on two other charges - conspiracy to defraud the United States, and attempting to evade and defeat taxes.

In court records filed Monday by Armstrong’s defense team, his attorney noted that the jury’s verdict was “inconsistent.”

MORE: Renewed motion for judgment of acquittal or new trial

Lawyer Gregory P. Isaacs said the jury shouldn’t have found him guilty of filing a false tax return if it acquitted him on attempting to evade and defeat taxes.

Isaacs argued that courts in cases where a defendant is charged with both "attempted evasion" and "filing a false return," then prosecutors “must show some distinct facts between the two in order to submit both charges to the jury.”

“In this instant case, the United States did not show any differentiation in the factual basis supporting Court Two and Count Three, rather one narrative of alleged conduct premised upon identical evidence and proof,” Isaac’s motion filed in U.S. District Court states.

Prosecutors, who have said they will seek prison time for Armstrong, have not responded to the motion.

During his week-long trial, the government contended that the 14-term state representative used his position to buy state cigarette tax stamps before an increase was passed by the state Legislature. He then sold them for a profit – about $321,000 – but failed to report tens of thousands of dollars of the income on his 2008 tax returns, prosecutors said.

The government said Armstrong worked in conjunction with his Kentucky-based accountant to hide the money from the IRS by funneling it through one of his accountant’s businesses.

The accountant, Charles Stivers, had pleaded guilty for conspiracy to defraud the United States and prosecutors offered him leniency to testify against Armstrong.

In his motion, Isaacs said the District Court “should give significant weight to the impeachment” of Stivers including “his repeated inconsistencies and false statements.”

“Based upon the credibility of Mr. Stivers, the District Court should totally disregard all of his testimony, leaving insufficient evidence to establish Mr. Armstrong acted willfully,” the motion states.

As a result of his conviction, the Knox County Democratic Party picked Rick Staples to replace Armstrong in the November general election for the 15th District House seat. He faces independent Pete Drew.

Armstrong’s sentencing is set for Nov. 30.

Knoxville Center mall sold; could become retail, residential hub

The Knoxville Center mall has new owners who say they want to work with the community to figure out the future of one of East Knox County’s long-time landmarks and work to create a “thriving retail and residential hub” for the area.

Knoxville Partners, LLC announced on Friday that it purchased the 964,000-square-foot mall at 3001 Knoxville Center Drive off Interstate 640.

The announcement, made through a press release, said the partnership is between “two companies with extensive portfolios in the real estate construction and redevelopment in commercial, residential and mixed-use markets.

Sources have told WBIR 10news that Knoxville-based Henry & Wallace, which manages development projects, is one of the companies.

The news release did not say how much the partnership paid for the mall. The paperwork as of Monday morning had not been filed with the Knox County Register of Deeds Office.

The mall, which sits on almost 50 acres, was appraised at $31 million last year, according to the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office.

“Knoxville Partners, LLC has a long-term commitment to renovate and redevelop the existing mall and surrounding land,” company officials said in a statement. “With a commitment to recruiting new businesses, tenants, and entertainment pieces, their end goal will be to reinvigorate Knoxville Center into a thriving retail and residential hub for this community.”

The mall opened in 1984 as East Towne Mall and was owned, managed and operated by Simon Properties.

Simon, however, turned it over to WP Glimcher in 2014, but continued to manage it.

The new investors have long been interested in revitalizing the property and approached Simon four years ago, according to the news release. The investors then began negotiations with WP Glimcher in 2015 after the company announced its intentions to sell the mall.

Rebecca Everhart, who is with Henry & Wallace, told WBIR on Monday that the partnership would release more information at a later date.

“We’re trying to get our feet under us,” she said. “We want feedback from the community. Like any development it will take a while to turn around but they are committed.”

The company, in its news release, said officials plan to meet with current and potential tenants, community groups, surrounding property owners and political leaders to further discuss the property’s future.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on Monday said he set up a meeting with those involved.

“I think it’s been underutilized and I look forward to seeing some more business growth in East Knoxville,” he said.

Knoxville City Councilman Nick Della Volpe recently put out a survey to community groups in the northeast quadrant and said the results showed people want to see things like more women's and children's clothing options, boutiques, and bakeries.

Della Volpe said he hopes the new owners come in with some fresh ideas to turn the mall around.
"If the new owners listen what's being sought," he said, "I think they're going to succeed wildly."

Ronnie Collins, president of the Alice Bell/Spring Hill neighborhood association, said he remembers the mall thriving and packed with crowds more than 25 years ago, but he has seen a decline in the last seven or eight years.

Collins said he will be a part of a small meeting with the new owners to discuss ideas, which he believes is a step in right direction.

"These people are reaching out from the first day," he said. "That makes me feel real good and real positive about the way things are going to happen around here."

The partnership said ideas and comment can be sent to info@knoxvillepartners.com.

Ex-manager accepts $800K from Knox County, MPC over federal lawsuit

Knox County and the Metropolitan Planning Commission will pay a former MPC manager $800,000 to resolve what she alleged was a job retaliation case.

Dee Anne Reynolds of LaFollette filed the complaint in June 2015 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville.

Attorney David Burkhalter said the case was resolved Monday when his client accepted the defendants' "offer of judgment," presented earlier this month.

Private attorneys Benjamin Lauderback and Emily Taylor, on behalf of the MPC, and attorney Jeffrey M. Ward, on behalf of the county, presented the offer Aug. 8, according to records.

Reynolds formerly was MPC's finance manager and had worked there 12 years until being fired in June 2014.

She alleged she was fired by former MPC Director Mark Donaldson in retaliation for standing up for Elizabeth Albertson, an employee who complained she was a victim of sexual discrimination and unequal pay.

Reynolds was part of the MPC's management team.

She alleged that Donaldson became increasingly hostile toward her as she pressed Albertson's case.

In October 2013, according to Reynolds, she received a "trumped up written disciplinary warning" from Donaldson. She alleges he acted to retaliate against her for supporting Albertson.

Burkhalter said the county and MPC "swept under the rug" Albertson's complaint.

He said Reynolds never did anything wrong.

"She never should have been fired for doing the right thing," he said.

Donaldson left the agency in August 2014 amid growing pressure by some community groups seeking his termination.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Caldwell is 'administrator of year'

During today’s Knox County Commission meeting, Knox County Finance Director Chris Caldwell will be presented with the “Public Administrator of the Year” award from the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration. 

The society “is the largest and most prominent professional association for the advancement of ethical practice of public administration,” according to a letter to Mayor Burchett from former Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret.

“Since 1984, ASPA has promoted a commitment to the highest standards of professional and ethical practice by public servants,” the letter states. “Chris was chosen above other nominees due to the high ethical standards and professionalism he maintains through his service to the citizens of Knox County.”

Jarret is immediate past-president of the chapter and will present the award. He is currently a lecturer in Political Science at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Trump, Clinton setting up shop here

The Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton presidential campaigns are opening up offices in Knox County.

The local GOP announced that officials have set up a Trump/Pence headquarters at 11134 Kingston Pike in Farragut. It will be ope from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

"The Frost family has graciously given us the space," the local GOP noted on its Facebook page. "The only materials we have right now are signs which are $2 each."

The campaign is eventually expected to get buttons, bumper stickers, T-shirts, caps, whatever, soon.

The Clinton campaign will open shop a week from Saturday at the local Democratic Party headquarters at 311 Morgan St. in Knoxville.

The party will hold a kickoff at 2 p.m. on Aug. 27 and include buttons, shirts, yard signs and bumper stickers.

Staples picked to replace Democrat Armstrong in state House race

The Knox County Democrats last night picked Rick Staples to replace state Rep. Joe Armstrong in the race for the 15th District House seat.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you should know that Armstrong was recently found guilty of filing a false tax return, which is a felony, which means he's no longer in contention for the seat he's held for 28 years.

Anyhoo, it came down to Staples, who's lost two local races, Armstrong's wife, LeTonia, and former Knoxville Mayor and City Councilman Dan Brown.

Staples will take on independent Pete Drew in the November general election.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Knox Co. leaders sworn in Sept. 1

The recently elected (and re-elected) Knox County officials will take the oath of office at 9 a.m. on Sept. 1 in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

A reception with light refreshments will follow in the Small Assembly Room. The event is open to the public.

Political newcomers on the County Commission include: Michele Carringer, Evelyn Gill, Hugh Nystrom and Carson Daily. In addition, John Schoonmaker, Brad Anders and Dave Wright won re-election.

Newcomers to the Board of Education include Jennifer Owen, Susan Horn and Tony Norman. Mike McMillan won re-election.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Knox County expects $2.2M surplus

Some 2,000 Knox County government employees and members of the Sheriff’s Office are set to receive a $500 bonus thanks to an expected $2.2 million in surplus revenues and savings as local leaders officially close the financial books on last year’s budget.

In addition, surplus monies will cover 400 bullet proof vests for deputies and $200,000 for the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad.

The Civil Sessions Clerk will receive $70,000 for equipment and software maintenance and the Karns Volunteer Fire Department will pull in $75,000 to fulfill equipment needs.

The county also is prepared to give the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley $100,000 and the health department $135,000 for records remodeling and signage.

"By operating in an efficient manner, we are able to use these surplus funds for one-time expenses,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “This surplus was possible thanks to the hard work of our employees, and I'm happy we are able to offer them a one-time bonus as a show of our appreciation.”

As the county closes its books on the recently wrapped up fiscal year, the administration says it expects between $2.2 million to $2.5 million in surplus for its general fund, which covers much of the government’s day-to-day operations.

The money comes from an uptick in tax collections and overall departmental savings.

The county plans to spend most of it on a number of items that officials say will benefit the courts, emergency personnel and the health department.

The county also plans to use some $50,000 of the surplus to build a park in Karns for those who are disabled and $282,000 at the Foote Mineral site in southwest Knoxville for a park and horse trails.

“Thanks to their work and a fiscally responsible approach to government, we are able to also better protect our deputies by purchasing life-saving vests, purchase needed equipment, make facility improvements and support various emergency services,” Burchett said. “And best of all, we've been able to do this without raising taxes and while also reducing the county's overall debt."

The Knox County Commission will talk more about the surplus during its meeting on Monday.

Rest of story HERE.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Harrington to oversee schools' PR

Knox County interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas has hired former KNS business reporter Carly Harrington to serve as the school system's new director of communications and public affairs.

She replaces Melissa Tindell, who recently stepped down. Carly starts Sept. 1 and will earn $90,000. (If I'm not mistaken Melissa pulled in around $95K to $98K.)

To put that in perspective, the county's communication director earns $76,000 - after six years on the job.

And a teacher makes around $40,000.

In a letter, to school board members, Thomas says Harrington was recommended by Mike Cohen (himself), Amy Nolan (Knoxville Chamber) and David Keim (ORNL).

I actually worked with Carly for awhile over at the Sentinel. She's a good pick. 

In addition, Thomas announced that Sara McElfresh will serve as the school system's new open records coordinator.

"Sara's job will be to promptly and accurately respond to all requests for public records," Thomas wrote to board members in an email sent last Thursday. "As you know, this has been a challenge for us."

Heh. He's not kidding about that one.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dems to name Armstrong replacement

The Knox County Democratic Party next week will nominate a candidate to replace long-time state Rep. Joe Armstrong on the November ballot.

Armstrong, who was found guilty of felony tax evasion on Monday, can no longer run for the House seat he's held for 28 years.

The party will meet at it's Morgan Street headquarters at 6 p.m.

Whoever gets the nod will face independent candidate Pete Drew.

As it stands, at least three folks are interested in the 15th District seat, including former interim Knoxville Mayor and current City Councilman Dan Brown; former City Council and school board candidate Rick Staples; and Joe's wife LeTonia, who is a lobbyist.

Things are getting a little interesting from what I understand some factions within that district's political community are starting to build.

On one hand you have Letonia and some folks just flat out don't want a dynasty. On the other hand, you've got Rick, who has already lost twice. So, there's the argument that maybe the voters don't want him holding office. And then there's Dan, who is definitely an all around good guy and was a very competent mayor, but a few folks have privately questioned whether he would be up for the frequent back-and-forth drive between Knoxville and Nashville.

That said, they all have good qualities. 

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Parents scramble for money to reopen Powell Elementary School playground

With a new school year underway, parents at Powell Elementary are scrambling to raise as much as $12,000 to get the school’s playground up and running again.

The move comes after inspectors told school officials in early July that the playground’s mulch was no good and suggested shutting it down.

"It's going bad and it will be bad by the time this school year is over, so it needed to be replaced before this school year started," said Randy Smith, who works in the county's Risk Management Department. "The mulch eventually breaks down and turns to dirt.”

Since then, work crews have removed all of the old mulch, but school officials and parents are trying to figure out how to replace it and who should cover the costs.

Typically, the area’s various student-support organizations raise funds for playgrounds and the equipment. But, officials with the Powell Elementary School PTA say at this point they can’t afford it.

“Our operating budget is not even near what we need to fund the mulch and do the other things we do for our students,” such as family engagement activities, Halloween festivities, movie nights and staff appreciation events,” said Melissa Hammond, the school’s PTA president. “If we expend what this will take, we will have nothing left to do those other things for our school.”

Hammond said the organization each year budgets between $1,700 and $3,000 for the playground, which usually includes bringing in “a load or two” of mulch to top off what is already there.

Over the years, however, the mulch hardened and created a dangerous surface.

Replacing all of it will require at least four loads – maybe more – and cost between $10,000 and $12,000.

Rest of story right HERE.