Friday, April 24, 2015

Hard time goes high tech at Knox County Jail; contracts for bid

The Knox County Detention Facility holds more than 1,000 inmates. The average stay for most is 12 to 14 days. Those couple of weeks of hard time behind bars are now high-tech.

Gone are the old Hollywood images of the county jail that serves bread and water while only allowing inmates to make one phone call. The Knox County jail on Maloneyville Road features electronic touch-screen kiosks where inmates can video conference with family, order food, schedule haircuts, electronically manage their money, and handle medical services.

While buying snacks, having visitors, and receiving medicine is nothing new to jails, the high-tech methods of delivering these services are modern. The electronics are designed to reduce paperwork, keep better track of prisoners, and maintain up-to-date records.

The county has been able to implement these technological upgrades by contracting with private vendors.

"It has really brought the sheriff's office from manual to electronic over the last few years. And we've done that through contracting with no cost to the taxpayers," said Rodney Bivens, a Knox County Sheriff's Office assistant chief deputy who is over corrections and personnel for the department.

"Prior to these contracts... everything was done on paper forms and kept in files somewhere."

Now some major contracts are about to be up for grabs and the county aims to negotiate better bargains for the services behind bars. Bivens said he hopes the competitive bidding process will allow the jail to save taxpayers some money, but said it could also help generate more revenue.

"These are some huge contracts," said Bivens. "One contract is for the communications system we use for phone calls, video visitation, and electronic banking. Another contract is for the pharmacy and our electronic medical system. Then we want to put a request for bids on a third contract for our commissary."

You can read the rest of the story RIGHT HERE. The link also includes the two TV stories (yes, they're different!) that ran at 6 and 11 yesterday.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rodgers reappointed to serve as administrator of Knox Co. elections

Cliff Rodgers (Photo: Knox County)
The Knox County Election Commission on Thursday unanimously reappointed Cliff Rodgers to serve another two years as the administrator of elections.

“I’m pleased to continue this opportunity to serve the citizens of Knox County, and I’m very proud of what we’ve all accomplished during the last four years and confident we can continue to administer fair, open and honest elections,” Rodgers said. “I have a dedicated staff, and hundreds of hard working and diligent elections officials who help us ensure the integrity of the ballot box.”

The five-member commission also reappointed Chris Heagerty, a Republican, to serve as its chairman and Cassandra McGee Stuart, a Democrat, to serve as its secretary.

Rodgers, 61, first took over the office in April 2011, succeeding long-time administrator Greg Mackay, a Democrat, after officials ousted him over political differences.

Rodgers cited increased training for his crew as one of his top achievements during the past four years.

“We now have a pool of well-trained election officials and we will continue to have classes as we add people on,” he said.

Rodgers joked: “The other thing that stands out is that we really try to stay out of the newspapers. We don’t want to be in there for the wrong reasons and I don’t think we have been. We like to be in the newspaper explaining the process and let the candidates be on the front page. We like to stay it the background.”

Rodgers, who earns $121,564 annually, runs an office with a roughly $1.7 million budget.

This year the office will oversee two city elections and possibly one special election tied to state Rep. Ryan Haynes stepping down to serve as chairman for the state GOP. Rodgers said his office is working with the state to see if the special election can be held on the same day as one of the municipal ones.

Next year will feature the presidential and county elections.

Rodgers is a Knoxville native and long-time attorney whose past civil law practice focused primarily on state and federal litigation. During the mid-1980s through 2007, he served as a law clerk for the late Senior U.S. District Judge James Jarvis and Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier.

Rogers received his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law.

In addition to the appointments on Thursday, the commission also agreed to move Precinct No. 46 out of West Hills Elementary School and across the street to the Knoxville First Church of the Nazarene.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

BOE members raise concerns about balanced school calendar survey

And . . .  here we go again. If people would quit screwing around there would be a whole lot more trust going on.

Instead, we get a monkey survey. Or whatever. And not even a complete one at that.

Folks, if you want your voice heard regarding the balanced school calendar, contact your school board member and don't participate in a rigged survey. Yeah, it's rigged. You can vote more than once. And plenty of people have.

On with the story:
A newly released Knox County Schools survey that seeks public input about a proposed balanced calendar has come under fire from a school board member.

They say the survey - RIGHT SMACK HERE - can be easily manipulated and taken over and over again by the same person.

In addition, they say, residents from outside the county, whose children don't attend the school system, can also take the survey.

Further, officials say the questionnaire fails to include a key option that board members championed this year: a longer fall break.

"It might have been beneficial if they sent a draft to the board members as well and asked for our input, recommendations, or any changes that the board may have wanted to see made before they sent it out across the county," said Board of Education member Patti Bounds.

School administrators didn't see a reason to put the other option on there.

"From my perspective that was never intended to be included in this survey as we are really trying to gauge interest in a balanced calendar model versus the traditional calendar," said Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Alves. "Having said that, the school board could always consider having a full week of fall break using our traditional calendar."
Rest of the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New report: Little if any mold found in Old Knox County Courthouse

Old Courthouse
An independent air quality assessment found few problems with mold in the old courthouse building downtown and suggested that it was safe for human occupation.

The investigation, conducted in late March and requested by the Knox County Mayor's Office, comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed against the county and the Public Building Authority by Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr., who says the building contains toxic mold that has hurt his health and forced him to do his work elsewhere.

PBA Executive Director Dale Smith said he asked Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to have a third party assess the air quality throughout the building, which includes the clerk's office, some courtrooms and the elections administration. The county's purchasing office and its safety manager then hired Knoxville-based ES&H to take and analyze samples on March 24 in a number of rooms, including Arnett's office.

ANALYSIS: Air Quality Report

WBIR 10News and one of the area's top air quality assessors reviewed the 39-page report. The review indicated nothing particularly alarming about the results in the 19th-century era building.

"If I was an occupant, I would say that it was good, it was safe," said Mark Smith, director of the Environmental Health and Safety Unit for the University of Tennessee. "Unless I had some unusual health condition, I would say it would be safe for occupancy."

Foster Arnett Jr.
Smith, who oversees similar air quality tests for university facilities, said employees in the historic courthouse building are at "a far greater risk outdoors," and said the building's inside "didn't seem too bad."

"There were signs of moisture infiltration either in the past or the present, and there were surfaces that were damp, but the actual airborne levels of mold were low, which is good, and even the indicator organisms . . . those were all pretty good," he added.

He said the air samples the company tested "were good," but that the report noted some "humidity-moisture problems" that could eventually lead to mold problems.

But, he said "there was no visible colonized mold and the lift tape (a way inspectors test for mold) came back zero, which is good."

"Nothing stuck out," he said.

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Some on BOE, law director question McIntyre's Broad grant acceptance

Knox County taxpayers are footing the bill for a Knox County Schools hire the county attorney says was conducted improperly.

Documents WBIR obtained show superintendent Jim McIntyre signed the grant agreement allowing for this hire, when County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong believes McIntyre has no authority to do so.

The grant agreement is between Knox County Schools and the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems, which runs the Broad Academy.

That, essentially, is a training program for people with executive leadership experience aspiring to become school district superintendents and other leaders within large education systems.

McIntyre himself was a participant in the Broad Academy, and now, some KCS Board of Education members say, he has created a pipeline for other Broad fellows to come take high-paying jobs with the district.

PDF: Law Director's Memo

In September of last year, McIntyre signed a grant agreement with the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. In it, the Broad Center agreed to give Knox County Schools a grant totaling up to $29,700, to be put toward the Broad fellow's -- or Broad resident's -- salary.

In exchange, the district would foot the rest of the fellow's salary, plus pay benefits on top of that.

The baseline salary for a Broad fellow, according to the Broad Academy in its grant agreement with KCS, is $90,000. The Broad grant would pay for up to $29,700 of that.

That means KCS - and therefore taxpayers - have to foot the bill for not only the difference ($90k - $29.7k = $60,300), but also for the cost of benefits.

The Knox County Finance Department, Armstrong said, generally uses a figure of 30 percent of an employee's salary to calculate the additional expense for benefits and taxes.

That would put the Broad fellow's position at a total of $117,000. The center is paying for nearly $29,700 of that, putting taxpayers on the hook for the remaining $87,300.

BOE member Amber Rountree said that's a dollar figure that, roughly, could support two teacher hires.

"Is it the best way for us to spend limited funds?" Rountree said to WBIR in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. "We need to be making wise decisions with what little funds we have."

Armstrong, however, believes the contract is unenforceable, since he says McIntyre has no authority to accept a grant, especially one that requires matching funds.

In a memo to board members this week, Armstrong said, "The superintendent, under statute, is given no authority to unilaterally accept grants and to sign grant contracts. Further, the statute requires a resolution by the BOE and notification to the County Commission."

But McIntyre says he was acting in accordance with Knox County Board of Education policy and that the document he signed is "a grant agreement, not a procurement contract."

In an email to WBIR, he wrote, "Through written School Board Policy, the Board of Education has delegated the acceptance of grants, in some circumstances, to the Superintendent. In accepting this grant, I acted in good faith and in accordance with my understanding of School Board policy."

You can read the rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Attorneys clash over Knox Co. Schools superintendent evaluation, law

Jim McIntyre
So, if I had a boss who told me just how I was going to be evaluated, the first thing I'd do would NOT be to run off and get a lawyer to argue otherwise. But, I'm not a superintendent.

Last night's story:

Attorneys for the Knox County Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre are at odds over who calls the shots about how to conduct the evaluation for the school system's top leader.

The disagreement comes as a superintendent evaluation committee, which is comprised of BOE members, is meeting to develop a new process to evaluate McIntyre for the next school year.

When Patti Bounds was elected to the school board last year, she said she wanted to see the board implement a more rigorous and data-driven evaluation in order to more accurately measure the superintendent's progress.

"The best solution is to come up with a very fair and rigorous evaluation protocol for Dr. McIntyre and future superintendents that he would agree with and that he finds acceptable to him, and then everything's OK," Bounds said.

A clause in McIntyre's contract states the board "shall evaluate and assess" McIntyre's work once a year, looking at job performance, student achievement, and his relationships with staff, personnel, board members and the community. The evaluation is an annual process mandated by Tennessee law.

Bounds chairs the committee tasked with recommending improvements to the evaluation process, which met for the first time in January and the second time Wednesday. Its third meeting is in May, and Bounds said she hopes to have a revised evaluation process recommendation to board members by August.

McIntyre's contract also says the evaluation "shall be in writing" and in a form that "is mutually agreeable" between the board and the superintendent.

When that came to Bounds' attention, she wondered whether "mutually agreeable" means McIntyre can reject an evaluation process he doesn't like, so she consulted Richard "Bud" Armstrong, the board's attorney and county law director.

As detailed in a memorandum to Bounds earlier this month, Armstrong concluded the clause is illegal and makes McIntyre a "super-majority of one."

"The effect of this contract clause is to grant a power to the Superintendent to veto an evaluation plan developed and passed by the Board of Education," Armstrong opined. "The Superintendent has no such power granted to him by statute."

State law, he said, gives the school board "the sole authority to create and implement" the superintendent's job performance evaluation.

The rest of the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Barbour to speak at Lincoln Dinner

The Annual Knox County GOP Lincoln Dinner is set for 6 p.m. May 4 at Rothchild’s Conference Center, with guest speaker Haley Barbour.  

He served two terms as the Governor of Mississippi, and six years as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.   

School Board approves budget, seeks new middle school for Gibbs area

The Knox County Board of Education on Monday approved Superintendent Jim McIntyre's school system budget for the upcoming fiscal year, making one major change: Suggesting that the county foot the bill to pay for up to $30 million to build a school for the Gibbs community.

Whether that leads to a new facility remains to be seen, but it will definitely create more discussion in the coming weeks by the county mayor's office and Knox County Commission, which controls the purse strings. Already, McIntyre's proposed budget needs another $5.5 million above and beyond revenue projects to fully support it.

Now, the school board wants the county, and not the school system - to issue and pay for – debt to cover an 800-student capacity school that could end up costing $60 million over the next 20 years.

Overall, the board in a 7-2 vote signed off on a $441.5 million general purpose budget, which is a 3.9 percent increase, or about a $16.5 million jump, from the current school system spending plan. BOE members Amber Rountree and Patti Bounds cast the dissenting votes.

In an 8-1 vote, the board also approved McIntyre's proposed $19.15 million capital improvement budget – and the additional $30 million for Gibbs – with Gloria Deathridge casting the dissenting votes.

The rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Restaurants helping schools today

Roughly 35 area restaurants today with close to 70 locations throughout Knox County will donate 10 percent of their proceeds from the day to Knox County Schools. Participating restaurants will display the "Dine Out for Education" logo.

It's the 12th year for the event that supports Partners in Education programs such as the annual Knox County Schools Career Day, Teacher Supply Depot, Schooled for Success, Barney Thompson Scholarships and teacher recognition programs.

Find the complete list RIGHT HERE.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Haynes picked as new state GOP chair

Ryan Haynes
The State Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party today selected state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville to serve as the new TNGOP Chairman.

The special meeting was called after the March 23 announcement that Chairman Chris Devaney would be stepping down effective April 11.

Haynes prevailed on the first ballot. Other candidates for the position included SEC Member Rebecca Burke, state Rep. Mary Littleton, and Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain.

“I am excited to take on this challenge and humbled by the support of the State Executive Committee,” Haynes said. “I want to pick up right where Chairman Devaney left off: building our Party, maintaining and growing our strong financial advantage over our opponents, and getting as many votes as possible for our GOP nominees.”

Devaney said: “There is no doubt in my mind Ryan will be a fantastic chairman for the Party. The TNGOP is in as strong of a position as we have ever been heading into a presidential election cycle. It has been an honor to serve this organization and be part of its rise to dominance in Tennessee. I look forward to working with Chairman Haynes to ensure our success continues.”

Haynes, who is also the chairman of the local Legislative delegation, has said he would step down from his state rep seat. That means the Knox County Commission could appoint an interim who would serve out until a special election, which could be in September.

Ex-Trustee begins serving one year

Mike Lowe
Former long-time Knox County trustee Mike Lowe (who got rid of the hair plugs) reported to jail today to begin serving a one year sentence that will more than likely turn into seven months if he receives credit (he's expected to) for good behavior..

Lowe, 57, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony theft in Knox County Criminal Court on March 12. Judge Steve Sword sentenced him to 10 years of supervised probation, one year in jail and ordered him to pay restitution of $200,000 to Knox County.

Each felony theft charge could have netted Lowe a sentence of up to 12 years in prison.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state Comptroller's Office and the District Attorney General's Office began looking into accusations against Lowe and some of his employees in 2009.

Officials say he more than likely swindled at least $1 million in a scheme he concocted with a couple of ghost employees who were paid to do little if any work.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Superintendent endorses Hardin Valley middle school, passes on Gibbs

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has proposed building a new middle school in the Hardin Valley area to alleviate continued student enrollment in West Knox County. But he doesn't think there's a "viable need" to support a similar proposal for the Gibbs community in East Knox County, according to a letter he sent to Board of Education members Wednesday.

Instead, students near Gibbs can continue to commute "some distance" to Holston Middle School, where the education that students receive – "including personalized learning opportunities supported by instructional technology – is very high quality," the memo states.

He called the financial impact to build a Gibbs middle school "considerable," adding that the school – if paid for over 20 years – would cost almost $60 million.

"Such a financial commitment is challenging enough when there is a clear necessity, but I do not believe it would be fiscally responsible for the school board to take on such a significant debt obligation for a school that an independent expert has told us we simply do not need," McIntyre wrote.

The rest of the story RIGHT HERE.