Friday, January 27, 2017

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Aides deny report that Alexander will step aside for Manning Senate bid

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander's office on Friday denied a report published in Politico that he will not seek re-election. The same report suggested that "several Republicans are wondering whether Peyton Manning will run" for that seat.

In fact, Tom Ingram, a top aide in Sen. Alexander's office and one of his longtime campaign leaders, told 10News he and the senator have already begun discussing the 2020 re-election bid.

Even though he has made no formal decision to run, Senator Alexander has already begun fundraising for that campaign, according to a statement from David Cleary, his chief of staff.

As to the mention of legendary Vol quarterback Peyton Manning, who retired from the NFL last year, he has not indicated any interest in getting into politics.

Manning did speak at a GOP retreat on Thursday, though that event was not open to the press.

Manning, a popular figure in Tennessee, owns property in the state where he played college football before heading to the NFL.

Cleary acknowledged Manning's popularity in his statement, though didn't comment on his political aspirations.

“Like everybody else in Tennessee, Senator Alexander is a big fan of Peyton Manning," he said.

Knoxville reaches compromise in one Chilhowee Park handgun lawsuit

Knoxville leaders have worked out a compromise with a Loudon County woman who sued the city in October 2015 after officials declined to allow guns inside Chilhowee Park.

The lawsuit, filed in Knox County Circuit Court on behalf of Pandora Vreeland, requested that the court issue a declaratory judgment to allow those with valid carry permits to "possess their firearms" inside the park.

It was filed after the Tennessee Valley Fair, which operates each fall at the park, concluded.

At issue is a Tennessee law that says someone with a gun carry permit can bring a weapon into a state or city park so long as it’s not close to a school. City leaders and fair operators, however, said the law does not apply to the fair.

City leaders noted that Chilhowee Park’s name indicated it was a park, but that it was actually an exhibition center.

The agreement between the city and Vreeland was reached Thursday afternoon.

It essentially says that handgun permit holders are allowed to carry handguns in all outdoor facilities of Chilhowee Park so long as there is not an event.  Guns are prohibited in the public assembly buildings like The Muse, the Jacob Building, the Kerr Building, Homer Hamilton Theater and Golden Gloves Arena.

Guns also are prohibited in Chilhowee Park’s outdoor facilities during events so long as the event includes an admission charge, armed security and entrances that are marked with signs stating that firearms are not allowed into the event.

In addition, handguns are prohibited in Chilhowee Park when the outdoor facilities are limited only to those who are invited to the event by a sponsor, such as a private club using the area. Again, however, for such events, the entrances must be secured against entry by the general public and marked with signs stating that firearms are not allowed inside for the event.

The Tennessee Firearms Association filed a similar lawsuit against the city. That one hasn’t been settled.

City to hold Feb. 10 budget retreat

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and her staff will present updates to the City Council, including a mid-year budget review and status reports on major city initiative from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 10.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the public works center on Morris Ave.

Anyone needing a disability accommodation to attend the budget retreat should contact the City’s ADA Coordinator, Stephanie Cook, at or 865-215-2034. For an English interpreter, contact the City Law Department at 865-215-2050.

Black Wednesday focus of Inside TN

Schmid, Harmon, Barker
Black Wednesday.

Say the words to anyone who follows local government and they’ll know just exactly what you’re talking about.

It was a special called meeting of the Knox County Commission that took place on Jan. 31, 2007. At the time, the board was tasked with filling 12 term-limited offices.

The meeting was riddled with accusations of vote-trading and marked by numerous restroom breaks as officials sneaked off to cut deals. At one point a newly appointed commissioner was even secretly sworn-in, so he could help cast a deciding vote for another officeholder and hook up a political friend.

In the end, the board was found guilty of violating the state’s sunshine law.

However, there also was some good that came out of that meeting.   
This Sunday’s edition of “Inside Tennessee” on WBIR 10News focuses on Black Wednesday and its aftermath.

The guests are Knoxville News Sentinel editorial page editor Scott Barker and former county commissioners Mark Harmon and John Schmid.

The 30-minute political and public affairs program, which was taped Thursday, kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WBIR.

Panelists include WBIR reporter Mike Donila, attorney Don Bosch and governmental relations specialist Susan Williams.

WBIR reporter Michael Crowe serves as the show’s moderator.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Haslam to detail 2nd piece of agenda

Gov. Bill Haslam tomorrow plans to announce the next piece of his NextTennessee legislative plan, policy proposals aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

His first part included raising the gas tax by 7 cents.

Following the brief announcement, Haslam will join Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen at 10 a.m. for “Clear and Guided Pathways for High School Students,” an event to highlight Tennessee’s Drive to 55 and efforts to support students from K–12 to college to career.

Ex-State Rep. Armstrong sentenced to probation, house arrest fined $140K

Former longtime state Rep. Joe Armstrong was sentenced Wednesday to three years of federal probation for tax fraud and ordered to pay back the money prosecutors say he failed to report to the IRS in 2008.

In addition, Armstrong will spend six months on house arrest and wear an electronic monitoring device. He'll also have perform 300 hours of community service.

In total, the ex-state House member will pay $99,943 to the IRS; another $40,000 in fines; and the cost of prosecution.

After the 90-minute hearing, defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said he was “very pleased” for Armstrong and his family, noting that “the courtroom was packed with his friends, supporters, family members that traveled from all over the country, community leaders.”

“I think it was a very fair and just result based on the applicable considerations under federal sentencing,” Isaacs said. “There were two different sides of the courtroom, obviously the United States thought the sentence should be higher because he was an elected official public official, our position was much different. Joe has been a public servant. He’s not a professional politician, he’s someone that helped individuals tirelessly in his community for 28 years. And those are factors the court is required to consider.”

Armstrong, too, weighed in, saying he wanted to “thank the people for their support, prayers and reaching out particularly not only to my family my church family and the community, for their entire support.”

Prosecutors were initially seeking as much as three years in prison for Armstrong.

Last month, however, the U.S. Probation Office – using guidelines to determine his sentence – calculated a much lower penalty range based on the amount of taxes lost to the IRS.

PREVIOUS: State Rep. Joe Armstrong found guilty of filing a false tax form

RELATED: State Rep. Joe Armstrong retires in wake of felony conviction

Prosecutors argued Armstrong cheated the government out of more than $100,000, an amount that carries a stiffer sentence. The court, however, sides with Armstrong, finding that the lost was just under that at $99,943.

That $57 difference meant the ex-state representative was looking at a maximum of 21 months in prison.

A federal jury in August found the East Knoxville Democrat guilty of filing a false and fraudulent tax return, a felony, after prosecutors argued that the ex-legislator failed to report taxes on a $312,000 profit he made from selling cigarette tax stamps in 2008.

A month later, Armstrong officially retired from his 15th District the state House seat that he held for almost three decades.

Because he's a felon, Armstrong can no longer hold public office again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

County offers free flu vaccinations

Influenza activity has increased over the past month, and it is expected to continue in the coming weeks. To help protect the community, the Knox County Health Department will offer free flu vaccinations beginning today while supplies last.

“If you haven’t had a flu vaccine this season, it’s not too late,” said KCHD Director of Clinical Services Dr. Kelly Cooper. “In fact, the CDC recommends flu vaccination as long as the virus is circulating in the community. And, vaccination is still the best protection available from this virus and its potentially serious complications.”

Free flu vaccinations are available at KCHD’s main location, 140 Dameron Ave.; the West Clinic, 1028 Old Cedar Bluff Rd.; and Teague Clinic, 405 Dante Rd. Appointments can be made by calling 865-215-5070.

Sheriff Jones for mayor? Possibly

Word traveling around the City County Building is that Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones is contemplating a run for the county mayoral post.

Jones is term-limited and cannot run for sheriff again. He can, however, run for mayor. Incumbent Mayor Tim Burchett also is term-limited.

As it stands, county commissioners Bob Thomas and Brad Anders, and local GOP Chairman Buddy Burkhardt, who works for the sheriff's office, are set to square off in the May 2018 Republican primary.

If Jones does decide to run, expect an announcement in the next couple of months.

Commission approves River Sports lease renewal for the Cove

River Sports Outfitters will  keep its location at the Cove in Concord Park.

Knox County leaders approved a 10-year lease renewal for the business during Monday evening's commission meeting.

Some community members spoke against the renewal because of trash and building conditions. They also claimed taxpayer money is being used to pay for repairs to the facility.

River Sports Outfitters owner Ed McCalister told the commission that's not the case and that he's followed the rules.

The commission signed off on the proposal in a 10-1 vote with only Commissioner John Schoonmaker dissenting.

"The Cove at Concord Park is our premiere park in Knox County. We want everybody to come there and use it,"  Schoonmaker said. "But if there's questions regarding the…a vendor that's providing services to our citizens, I think that's important."

The park will post a sign at the Cove to let people know how they can share feedback on the lease and the location.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Commish at-large seats heating up

The Knox County Republican Primary is still a good ways off, but already one at-large commission seat is getting some interest.

Larsen Jay, the founder of Random Acts of Flowers, filed his appointment of treasurer documents with the Knox County Election Commission on Friday. He named his wife.

Jay is running for Seat 10, which is one of two at-large seats on the 11-member board. Incumbent Bob Thomas will not seek re-election and is instead running for county mayor.

In addition, Justin Biggs said he, too, plans to run for that seat. He will probably make a more formal announcement in the coming months.

Biggs is the son of Eddie Biggs, a well-liked chief deputy in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

The Republican Primary isn’t until May 2018.

In addition, former Commissioner R. Larry Smith in November announced his intentions to seek the other at-large seat (No. 11). He named Donald Henderlight as his treasurer.

Incumbent Ed Brantley doesn’t plan to seek re-election.

Another former county commissioner, Ivan Harmon, also is rumored to make a run at one of the at-large seats.

Gas tax hike to fund Chapman fixes

As Gov. Haslam calls for a gas tax increase to help fund road improvements, one major project on TDOT's wish list is Chapman Highway.

Anyone who regularly drives the 10 mile stretch of Chapman Highway from South Knoxville into Seymour knows it needs upgrades.

TDOT cites "safety" as the reason.

Every day, tens of thousands of drivers flood that corridor. TDOT says more than 30,000 vehicles travel the north end on a daily basis and more than 22,000 vehicles pass through the southern portion.
The corridor in question stretches from Blount Avenue in South Knoxville, just across the Henley Bridge, to Boyds Creek Highway in Seymour, touching parts of Knox, Blount and Sevier counties.

"We have a lot of traffic flow on this highway and makes it a very dangerous highway," Tim Geagley said.

He would know a thing or two about safety. He's a firefighter and advanced EMT with the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department, as well as a Sevier County 911 dispatcher.

"Chapman Highway is one of those roads where we have worked an accident, like, every hundred yards along its length," Geagley said. "There's been an accident at some point along the whole length of this highway."

RELATED: Haslam plan calls for 7-cent gas tax hike, cuts to grocery sales tax

With no designated left turn lane along much of the route and some tight bends and hills, it's no wonder why TDOT lists "safety" as the reason for needed improvements.

"I believe we work at least one to two accidents per week on this stretch of road," Geagley said.

RELATED: Gov. Bill Haslam speaks on gas tax, legislative agenda

Haslam is proposing a gas tax increase - the first hike in nearly 30 years - of 7 additional cents for a gallon of gas and 12 extra cents for diesel.

"I'm in favor for that," Geagley said. "If it's going to, you know, help with the safety on this road, yes."

John Linsenbigler wears two badges. He's the Seymour Volunteer Fire Department's executive administrator and president of the Seymour Area Chamber of Commerce.

In both roles, he said, he's in favor of improvements to this stretch of Chapman Highway.

"There's a lot of commercial property that's available on the Chapman corridor, from John Sevier down to Highway 411," he said. "If they get this done, get the left turn lane in, that would open up more businesses for safe travel."

It won't be a swift process, however.

"Any time construction goes on, local businesses usually suffer because of reduced traffic," Linsenbigler said. "I look forward to the finished product ... It's not going to happen quickly because of the amount of below utility and infrastructure they have to put in."

TDOT estimates the cost of the Chapman Highway improvement project at nearly $45.3 million.

Altogether, Haslam said, the gas tax increase would raise an estimated $278 million to fund 962 road projects across all of Tennessee's 95 counties.

The governor hopes to have most of the backlog construction projects at least underway within six years.