Thursday, August 25, 2016

Knoxville signs new mulch contract

Photo: Nature's Best Organics
Knoxville leaders have cut ties with the green waste management firm at the center of a week-long mulch fire that broke out in 2012 and cost the city roughly $100,000 to put out.

Knoxville City Council earlier this month approved a contract with Nature’s Best Organics of Tennessee to dispose of residential yard waste such as brush, leaves, and grass clippings. The move is expected to save taxpayers at least $200,000 annually and provide more locations to process the waste.

The new company replaces Shamrock Organic Products, which had the contract for more than two decades.

City leaders said the 2012 fire did not play a role in the selection process.

Instead, officials said, Nature’s Best can provide three sites – as opposed to one – and will do the job cheaper.

In addition, the company will make its mulch in more rural, less dense areas where the smell won't affect residents, officials said.

“Really, the fire didn’t have anything to do with it,” said David Brace, senior director of the city’s public works department.

The contact went out for bid this spring because it was set to expire at the end of September. Three companies submitted proposals, with a vetting committee picking Nature’s Best.

Shamrock placed second and Kellems Excavating out of Maryville came in third.

Nature’s Best will begin work on Oct. 1.

“We’re excited about it and looking forward to doing business with the city,” said Blake Brian, owner of Nature’s Best.

He declined to comment further.

Randy Greaves, who owns Shamrock, also said little.

“There’s no story here – it’s just a bid,” he told WBIR 10News on Wednesday. “I did everything the city asked me to do – in spades. I was always in compliance. I did everything they asked. It is what it is.”

LOOKING AT THE COSTS

The city collects yard waste, like brush and leaves, set at the curb by some 60,000 households.
The debris is taken to a contracted processing site where it’s typically turned into mulch or wood chips. The idea, officials have long said, is to keep the waste out of the landfill and increase the city’s recycling rate.

According to the five-year contract with Nature’s Best Organics of Tennessee LLC, the company will use three facilities: an East Knoxville site on Rutledge Pike, a West Knoxville site on Joe Daniels Road and a central site on Proctor Street.


 The proposed rates are priced lower per ton than previous years. Depending on the site, the city will pay Nature’s Best between $18.84 to $23.84 per ton.

The current cost is $28.82 per ton, according to records.

In 2015, the city spent $833,850 on almost 29,000 tons, and $942,200 on 32,700 tons in 2014.

Under the new contract, the city estimates paying a little more than $652,700 per year.

CHANGES SINCE THE FIRE

On April 15, 2012, the mulch fire broke out at Shamrock’s 9-acre site on Ailor Avenue.

Officials have long suggested that the city “overwhelmed” the site with debris, most of it collected from a series of storms the previous year. The piled up debris caught fire on its own, a hazard of storing mulch.

Roughly 50 tons were dumped on the site at the time when the fire started.

The Knoxville Fire Department worked 24 hours a day at the scene. The city paid firefighters a combined $60,000 in overtime pay. The city also paid another $38,000 for water.

The air quality in the weeks following the fire was adversely affected and polluted water from the scene drained to Third Creek, killing more than 1,000 fish.

After the fire, the city made a number of changes.

It contracted with a second vendor to help if the debris built up too much; it required more monitoring and reporting; and it had Shamrock install a fire detection system and add cameras to the area.

City officials said they didn’t have any issues with Shamrock after the changes were made.

Nature's Best contract can be extended for three additional five-year terms before the city has to bid it out again.

Seniors invited to county picnic

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will host the 10th Annual Senior Appreciation Picnic on Sept. 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at John Tarleton Park.

The picnic will include lunch, live music by The Chilbillies, animal exhibits and a vendor expo.

The event is free to all Knox County seniors. Any senior planning to attend is asked to RSVP by Sept. 9 by calling 865-215-4007.

A limited number of event t-shirts will be available on Sept. 1, 2016 to seniors registering for the picnic at one of the County’s six senior centers, while supplies last. A list of centers and their locations can be found online at http://www.knoxcounty.org/seniors.

Commissioner Ownby farewell speech

Jeff Ownby
(Outgoing Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby submitted his farewell speech to the ol' blog. I've included it below. In addition, outgoing Commissioner Amy Broyles submitted a speech to Knoxviews. You can find her speech right SMACK HERE.)

I first want to thank the people of the 4th District and Knox County for allowing me to serve you for the past 6 years, it has been my privilege and honor to do so. In my six years on commission I fought to try to keep Lakeshore Mental Hospital open. I knew if the hospital closed it would mean more mentally ill people on the streets or in our jails – and that is exactly what happened.

We need to build the Safety Center to take care of and help the mentally ill in our community get the services they need. I have always felt that the role of Government is to take care of the ones that can’t care for themselves. To me, that would be the mentally ill, our seniors, children, and our veterans. I have spent my time on Commission trying to help those that need it most be heard. I have fought for the students, parents and teachers to give them a voice for better Knox County Schools. I wasn’t the leader of the movement, but was glad to help give them a platform to speak from.

In the last six years this Commission and County Mayor Tim Burchett increased the schools budget by over 76 million dollars and paid down the County’s debt by over 90 million dollars during the same time period. We did this without raising the taxes of the citizens of Knox County. We also built 2 new schools (Northshore Elementary and Carter Elementary) paying cash for Carter Elementary. We approved the building of two new middle schools (Hardin Valley and Gibbs) and approved the expansion of several others, including Ball Camp Elementary and Pond Gap Elementary – all without raising taxes.

I have also worked hard in my district on such projects as the new guard rails on Lyons Bend Drive, which we have needed for years. I proposed and helped pass a resolution updating our Pet Ordinance, which mirrors the City Ordinance, to better take care of our four legged friends – protecting them from extreme cold and extreme hot weather.

In my six years on Commission, I have answered every phone call (or returned the call) of every citizen who ever contacted me – never asking where they lived, because I felt that I served the County not just one District. I know that my decisions and votes have not always made everybody happy, but they were always thought out and researched before making a decision. I believed and still do believe in growing this County with good development, good paying jobs and with companies relocating to Knox County. Our Home Builders and the Knoxville Chamber have done a great job in finding great Companies that have chosen to make Knox County their home.

I have made some good friends on Commission over the last six years. First, my total opposite, Commissioner Broyles. We may not have always agreed on issues, but personally she has been a great friend, and our friendship has grown over the last 6 years. I look forward to continuing our friendship. Second is Commissioner and current Chairman, Dave Wright. He has been a good leader for our commission (probably one of our best) and an even better friend. I will miss your friendship, Dave. Some of our new Commissioners, I wish I had more time with. Commissioner Smith and Schoonmaker, I wish you all the best. I have enjoyed your friendship this short time. To the ladies in the Commission Office, thank you so much for your friendship and for always taking care of anything I needed done.

I will still be involved in the community and will continue to be the voice for individuals and issues that need me. I love this community and want to see it continue to get better and better. I have made a lot of friends in the last six years and hope to continue to help them and be there for anybody that needs me.

I have also made some political enemy’s because my votes were my own – more independent thinking, and not always along party lines. I felt not everything is right or left, Republican or Democrat. Some would say I wasn’t involved enough, which is not true. I feel I was very involved and always tried my best to make this community better. I hope I left my district and our county better than when I found it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

UT football cancels city court

Ha ha, priorities.

Apparently, city court scheduled for Sept. 1 has been cancelled "due to conflicts with the University of Tennessee’s football home opener and anticipated traffic slowdowns in downtown Knoxville."

Soooo, if you were set to appear before Judge John R. Rosson Jr., you'll probably get a notification that your court date will be reset.

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'

Caldwell
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.