Tuesday, July 28, 2015

This year's Boomsday to be the last

This will be the final year for Boomsday. Visit Knoxville made this announcement at a press conference held at their offices today.

"This decision was not an easy one, and it was not made without serious discussion with our board and input from community members," stated Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville.

Bumpas went on to say, "For the past several years, Visit Knoxville has been pleased to present Boomsday - one of the largest Labor Day weekend fireworks shows in the nation. Like many of you, I look forward to this event every year. As a longtime Knoxville resident, I am tied to its history."

In the past, Boomsday was funded entirely by Visit Knoxville and corporate sponsors. In an effort to fund and "save" Boomsday last year, Visit Knoxville attempted to create a ticketed event. This attempt was met with insurmountable obstacles that hinder future efforts.

Bumpas added, "We have looked at various ways to continue the event, but ongoing funding issues related to lack of interest prevents us from obtaining the proper level of sponsor dollars to make the event sustainable."

Knox County Clerk apologizes for 'offensive' Facebook posts

Foster Arnett Jr
Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr on Monday apologized for sharing on his personal Facebook page what the local Democratic Party called "highly offensive, hateful views."

The two-term Republican, who deactivated the private social media account, also told critics who might consider any ethics investigations against him to "bring it."

Arnett said the postings, which he removed soon after they were made public, came in the wake of the July 16 mass shootings at a Chattanooga military center that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy sailor.

Arnett said he was "deeply moved" and in the day that followed he "shared some things" on his Facebook page that went viral.

"If those comments offended someone, I'm sorry," Arnett told WBIR 10News on Monday.

The posts criticized politicians including President Barack Obama and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

One post shared on his page used a derogatory term for Muslims. Another called people who voted twice for Obama "stupid."

And one stated: "Ladies – If your (sic) man doesn't know how to fire a weapon, you have a girlfriend."

Read the complete story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Aug. 6 date for House seat debate

Carson, left, Zachary, right
The West Knox Republican Club will be hosting the sole debate between the two candidates seeking the 14th District Republican nomination in the upcoming special election.

The 14th District General Assembly seat was vacated by Ryan Haynes earlier this year after he was appointed as Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. The two candidates vying for the seat are Karen Carson, a nurse and Knox County School Board member, and Jason Zachary, a local small business owner. Early voting will take place July 23rd through August 7th, and Election Day is August 12th.

The Republican Primary Debate will take place on Thursday August 6, 2015 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Farragut Town Hall board room located at 11408 Municipal Center Drive, Farragut, Tennessee 37934. The event is free and open to the public. Doors to the board room will open at 6:15 p.m. and seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The local media is encouraged to attend.

The debate will be moderated by Alexander Waters, the president of the West Knox Republican club, a local attorney with Long, Ragsdale & Waters, P.C. and a regular panelist on Fox43’s “Heavy Hitter” segment.

The candidates will be given three minutes for an opening statement. Each candidate will be given two  minutes to answer each question asked by the moderator and one minute of rebuttal time. At the conclusion of the questioning period, each candidate will given two minutes to give a closing statement. No questions will be taken from the audience.

The West Knox Republican Club hopes that many members of the 14th District, Farragut and Knox County communities will attend the debate. The Club has reached out to various local Republican clubs, including the Farragut-Concord Republican Club, as well as nonpartisan groups such as the Knoxville Chamber, Farragut Chamber, Realtors Association and League of Women Voters of Knoxville/Knox County to promote the event.

“The West Knox Republican Club is very excited to host this political debate between two active Republican candidates,” said Alexander Waters. “We look forward to facilitating a civil discourse with the candidates on topics important to the 14th District and East Tennessee. We hope the debate will not only educate the community but encourage higher voter turn-out in this crucial election.”

Boomsday set for Sunday, Sept. 6

Visit Knoxville will present the 28th edition of Boomsday on Sunday, Sept. 6 at Volunteer Landing along the Tennessee River.

"We're working daily on creating a weekend of events that will culminate with the Boomsday festivities our community looks forward to seeing each year," stated Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville.

Boomsday 2015 will kick off at 3:00 p.m. with live music, games, food vendors and more. The evening will wrap up with more than five tons of dynamite lighting the sky to a soundtrack featuring your favorite music.

Boomsday will wrap up a Labor Day weekend featuring FREE events open to the public. Details available RIGHT SMACK HERE

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hopson to McIntyre about KCS evals: The shoe is now on the other foot

So, if I'm understanding this correctly, Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre fears his upcoming evaluations will be subjective and he won't have the chance to challenge the scores. That's according to teacher union president Lauren Hopson.


Cause, you know that's sort of how it is for teachers right now.

Below is Hopson talking about this during last night's BOE meeting and the superintendent's response, which was actually more like a red herring because it didn't address the issue.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Surprise flaws in old facility bring higher costs for UT but project OK

A University of Tennessee project to revamp an old industrial building on Sutherland Avenue has met some unexpected challenges.
The structure at 2000 Sutherland is the former home of the Southeast Precast Corp., which made concrete. Before that, in the early 1900s, it was built to house the Knoxville Marble Co.

UT bought the land in 2013 near Concord Road, and is converting it to house their Facilities Services division.

"We're trying to maintain the feel of what this looked like, so if you came through the doors you can imagine what this looked like, once upon a time," said Justin Dothard, the project manager for UT.

The $18.7 million project is an investment in Knoxville's history, said Vice Chancellor of Facilities Services Dave Irvin.

"You could probably go out and build a building from scratch for less than that, but it certainly wouldn't have the character, the quality, or the history we're getting with this reuse," Irvin said.

But it hasn't been easy. Once UT acquired the property, officials found serious issues with the ground: sinking soil had been filled with scrap marble for decades, creating a porous and unstable base. That delayed the project by weeks.

"The nature of sub-surface conditions is you don't know you have a problem until you dig up and find that you do have a problem," said Dothard. "So that was really something that had to be taken care of on the fly."

Parts of the structure rested on the shoddy ground.

"There needed to be some serious structural reinforcement above ground and below ground to make sure this building would be adequate," Dothard said.

To remedy this, they pumped urethane, essentially liquid plastic, into the ground. There, it filled in the cracks and hardened.

Dothard said that was cheaper than digging everything up.

They also discovered sections of the structure that had been built without a foundation, a throwback to looser building codes.

"The way part of this building were built, you would not be able to build it that way today," Dothard said.

All told, the repairs cost between $1 million-1.5 million. However, Irvin said that was all covered by contingencies built into their budget. They were prepared for issues; they just weren't sure how they would arise.

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

McIntyre: Everything fine and dandy

Well, according to KCS Superintendent Jim McIntyre, the school systems appears to be right on track with this year's budget.

As one of my WBIR colleagues reports:

It's a plan that includes two new schools for the county.

McIntyre presented a report Monday night to the County Commission about the schools' budget as of May 31st.

Knox County is set to build two new middle schools in Gibbs and Hardin Valley.

McIntyre says both revenue and expenditures are on track and generally similar to past years.

Knox County Schools saw a $5.4 million dollar surplus in sales tax revenue which gives them more flexibility.

Mcintyre says "We're feeling okay about where we are and we're actually feeling very good about the fact that we're seeing a slight increase in the trend on sales tax revenue, so that's good news as well."

The commission expressed some concerns about revenue collected for drivers' education and Medicaid reimbursements, but McIntyre says he expected to fall short in Medicaid because it's still a work in progress.

He says he doesn't anticipate any problems with drivers' ed.

I hope he's right but I'll believe it when I see it. Glass is always half full.

Courts to feature bilingual speaker

I thought this was pretty cool. There are probably some other county (and possibly city offices) that should make similar hires. (I'm not sure of the salary. Hey, I'm on vacation, it's not like I'm gonna be busting it this week. Heh.)

From Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond:

“Since I have been in office, I have seen a need for someone who is bilingual to assist our Spanish speaking community,” Hammond said.  Ms. (Laura) Avalos-Evon has worked in the Juvenile and Circuit/ Sessions Court Clerk’s office in Jefferson County for eight years. 

"She is bilingual in English and Spanish and will be available to assist persons in each of the three Clerk offices which includes 4th Circuit, Criminal Sessions, and Criminal Court.  Her first day will be July 13th. 

"She is a member of the Jefferson Memorial Hospital Board of Directors and the 2004 Jefferson County Leadership Class.  Prior to joining the Clerk’s office in Jefferson County she worked with Safespace in Newport as an advocate to the Hispanic Community about Domestic Violence."

2105 Back to School Bash announced

School starts in about three weeks, and that means Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s Back to School Bash is just around the corner, according to a county news release.  The annual event is an opportunity for students to get free school supplies and health screenings, and to enjoy activities, special programs, vendors and more. 
Thousands attended last year’s event. The event will be held from 3-6 p.m. August 10 at the Knoxville Expo Center on Clinton Highway.

Officials are still looking for vendors. There is no fee, but you'd be required to hand out a school supply, which makes sense. If interested, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Office of Redevelopment changes

With the impending retirement of Office of Redevelopment Director Bob Whetsel, Mayor Madeline Rogero announced today two promotions to fill the top jobs in the department.

Effective Aug. 31, Dawn Michelle Foster, Deputy Director of Redevelopment, will be promoted to Director, reporting to Deputy to the Mayor and Chief Policy Officer Bill Lyons. Anne Wallace, the department’s Project Manager, will become Deputy Director.

“We are fortunate to have two such skilled and experienced professionals to move up into these positions,” Mayor Rogero said. “Dawn Michelle and Anne bring a wealth of knowledge, and they are already deeply engaged with the community. These well-deserved promotions will ensure continuity in our many ongoing projects.”

Foster, who has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Tennessee, joined the City in 2012. Prior to that, she worked for 22 years as a senior transportation planner and construction project manager for Wilbur Smith Associates (now CDM Smith), the international transportation and infrastructure engineering firm. As Deputy Director of Redevelopment, she has had primary responsibility for the South Waterfront and Magnolia Avenue corridor.

Wallace has a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Auburn University and is an AICP certified planner. She worked as a planner for the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission before coming to the City in 2008. As Project Manager, she has overseen the Cumberland Avenue Corridor and Downtown Wayfinding projects, as well as redevelopment efforts in the Downtown North area and brownfield assessments at former industrial properties across the city.

In addition, the Office of Redevelopment will be filling two Project Manager positions: one to replace Wallace, and one that was approved in the current year’s budget to handle the volume of projects under way and anticipated in the near future.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Seven show interest in AJ Building

As of Wednesday afternoon, Knox County officials are one step closer to something they've been discussing for years: the sale of the Andrew Johnson Building downtown.

The structure serves as Knox County Schools headquarters, housing all the district's central offices.

At exactly 2 p.m. Wednesday, Knox County Purchasing officials opened the office's bid box and sorted through letters of interest from companies hoping to purchase the AJ Building.

Originally known as the Andrew Johnson Hotel, the building was constructed in 1928. It's located on the south end of downtown Knoxville's bustling Gay Street.

Seven companies responded to the county's Request for Information (RFI).

Ben Sharbel is real property coordinator with Knox County Purchasing. He opened the letters of interest Wednesday and explained they're neither formal proposals nor bids.

"It's just for us to review and test the waters, see what's out there," Sharbel explained.

Five of the companies are based in Knoxville. Those are Dover Development Corporation; Graham Corporation; LHP Development, LLC (formerly known as Lawler Wood Housing Partners, LLC); Dominion Development Group; and Rentenbach Constructors Incorporated, which is based in Knoxville but an affiliate of Lansing, Mich.-based Christman Capitol Development Company.

One company - Heritage Land and Development, LLC - is based in Memphis. The other one, BNA Associates LLC, is based in Nashville.

BNA Associates LLC developed and now owns and operates connected downtown Knoxville businesses Tupelo Honey and the Oliver Hotel, on and near Market Square, respectively.

The various companies proposed a variety of uses for the AJ Building.

"Anywhere from a boutique hotel to, you know, some retail and things like that," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. "I think a mixed use is probably going to be the best for it, but we'll see. That's all we asked for this, to get some new ideas. But I'm very encouraged by it."

From this point, Burchett will decide whether to issue a request for proposals or put the building out for public auction.

"The market's really going to decide, in my opinion, the value of it and what it's used for," Burchett said, adding, "a big concern of mine, of course, is to continue working with the school system."

He and Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre are working together, Burchett said, to find a new location for the district's central offices.

"We're aggressively looking at places for them to go. We're not just kicking them out," Burchett said.
Selling the AJ Building was a topic of discussion as the men prepared a mutual memo of understanding this spring.

Returning the AJ Building to the tax rolls, Burchett said, will be good for county coffers.

"The residuals from that will be huge, I think," he said. "The tax dollars, long-term effect, after I'm long gone from this office, is what I'm looking forward to."

He said moving out the existing offices, selling the building and having the buyer renovate it will not be a speedy process.

"The reality is, we're probably looking two to three years for the complete process," Burchett said. "People in this office have talked about this for years, doing something about it. I'm just excited that it's come to bear some fruit right now."

Friday, July 10, 2015

In age of online booking, taxpayers footing bill for KCS travel agent

Looking to book a trip?

Thanks to the Internet, more people than ever are doing it themselves, online and for free.
Knox County taxpayers are still footing the bill for a travel agent, however.

County purchasing records show from fiscal years 2011 to 2015, the school system submitted almost 1,155 invoices for a combined $648,793 dedicated to travel expenses for various conferences, seminars and training sessions across the country.

Of that, $34,650 went to a company called World Travel Services, which charges the county $30 for each itinerary.

In addition, the county submitted 311 invoices for a combined $176,002 in travel, with WTS receiving $9,330 during the five year period, figures show.

Also, the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee, a public agency funded by the city and county, submitted 90 invoices during the same time period for $50,177 in overall travel, with $2,700 going to WTS.

Local leaders say about 10 years ago the county did have a contract with WTS, but as do-it-yourself online booking became more widespread, officials opted not to renew the contract.

Use of the agency, however, continued, particularly by the school system.

"We encourage the departments to use online booking resources," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said Thursday. "They're often the cheapest, but not everyone's comfortable with that."

Because of that, he said, some county employees still opt to book travel through WTS.

"It's just a tool that's available to all of us," Burchett said. "I'd rather them use the most cost-effective method, is what I'd prefer."

In a statement to WBIR, Knox County Schools budget director Lizabeth McLeod said it's not unusual for large organizations to use a travel management service.

"While employees are not required to use this service, it helps provides a 'one-stop shop' for travel arrangements and helps identify cost-effective rates in a time-efficient manner," McLeod wrote. "It also allows for customer support and assistance when unanticipated or last-minute travel changes might occur, plus helps arrange for multiple travel needs that may arise (airfare, hotel, rental car, etc.)."

She said using a travel service may be an easier option for employees, allowing for "central billing and payment so that our employees do not have to personally carry the burden for upfront travel costs while waiting on reimbursement to occur."

The district has approximately 8,000 employees, some of whom require travel from time to time.
Considering that, McLeod said, "this is a valuable resource to have should the need arise."

County officials in mid-June issued a bid for "travel management services." The deadline to submit a proposal is 2 p.m. July 15.

Because it's still widely used by KCS, the county finance department said it reached the "threshold" in which the service needed to be bid out.

"The request for proposals is to help secure travel management services for both Knox County Government and the Knox County Schools," McLeod said. "As discussed publicly in the May 2015 Board of Education work session, the Knox County Schools and Knox County Government are partnering for the purpose of aligning our travel policies and procedures. We believe it is an excellent enhancement to our travel program and appreciate the partnership we have with Knox County Government."