Friday, May 29, 2015

BOE to vote on $15K speaker fee

I'm sure this is gonna be money well spent. Apparently the Knox County School Board will vote on whether to:
Approve agreement with Baruti K. Kafele to conduct a three-day training on July 22, 23 and 24, 2015 for the staff of Vine Middle School and staff of other schools who desire to attend at a cost of $15,000.00
Now, here's the catch: It's on the consent agenda, which is Latin for "rubber stamp."

Now, I'm sure Mr. Kafele is a good dude and means well. He's got a fancy website RIGHT SMACK HERE and he likes to refer to himself as "Principal" Kafele. (I like that. I'm gonna start calling myself "Reporter" Mike.)

Anyhoo, according to the contract agreement that the board will be asked to approve - find that bad boy RIGHT SMACK HERE - Kefele "will provide educations with specific strategies within the 'Closing the Attitude Gap Program and Framework' for closing the attitude gap toward the ultimate elimination of underachievement in their classrooms and schools."

He'll also be talking about "changing the intentionality of excellence."

Whatever that means.

And all for $5,000 a day!

Like I said: Money well spent.


Whiteside pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter, receives 21 years

Knox County political benefactor Troy Whiteside on Thursday pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment, roughly six years after he gunned down a business rival outside what prosecutors suggested was a gambling den.

He was sentenced to 21 years in prison and must serve 35 percent of it, or about 7 years and four months, before he is eligible for parole. However, he can get out earlier if he receives time for good behavior.

The deal, worked out by his defense attorney and the state, was approved by Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood. It was handled by the office of 3rd Judicial District Attorney General Dan Armstrong, whose district consists of Hamblen, Green, Hawkins and Hancock counties, since a number of Knox County judges and the Knox County District Attorney General's Office recused itself previously.
Whiteside, who fatally shot Reginald “Stacy” sudderth in August 2009, was immediately led away in handcuffs after the agreement was approved.

“Mr. Whiteside and his family are very sympathetic to the Sudderth family,” said defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs. “He is very remorseful that a life was taken, but he has accepted responsibility. At the end of the day, this was a killing based on provocation.”

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Haynes steps down, officials looking at Aug. 12 primary to fill seat

Ryan Haynes
The new leader of the Tennessee Republican Party has resigned from his seat in the state General Assembly, ending a decision-making process that had garnered some criticism from fellow Republicans.

Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, submitted his letter to the governor's office Wednesday. The resignation is effective immediately.

"I will always be grateful to the people of Knox County for their support," Haynes said in a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon. "It has been an honor to serve, and I am truly thankful for the friendship you have all given me during my time in the House of Representatives."

I just talked to Knox County Administrator of Elections Cliff Rodgers and he said his office is working to hold a special election to fill the seat on Aug. 12. This would be for the primary and it would be a standalone election.

He said they're also looking to hold the general election for that seat on Sept. 29, which would beheld at the same time as the Knoxville primary election.

State: Roughly $2 million in stolen public money remains uncollected

I got this in earlier this morning from the state and found it interesting, dear readers. Hear ya go:

Theft and misuse of public money continue to be a concern as outlined in two reports released today by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office.

The 2014 Report of Cash Shortages updates the status of money stolen and missing from Tennessee’s 95 county governments as of June 30, 2014. The report documents money stolen during the 2014 fiscal year, as well as previous fiscal years.

The state’s 95 counties began the last fiscal year with $775,221.12 in cash shortages that had not been recovered. During the year, $675,741.60 worth of new shortages were detected. Counties were able to recover $661,981.49 through restitution payments, insurance claims or other means. That left a net unrecovered shortage of $788,981.23 at the end of the fiscal year.

The Comptroller’s office also released its first report detailing cash shortages and other thefts for Tennessee municipalities, internal school funds, utility districts, housing authorities and other governmental entities. These shortages were reported in fiscal year 2013 and earlier.

Fiscal year 2013 began with $1,640,277 in unrecovered cash shortages. During the year, $4,485,021 in new shortages were detected. A total of $4,932,640 was recovered during the fiscal year, leaving an unrecovered shortage of at least $1,154,633 as of June 30, 2013.

“These reports show why Tennesseans should join our office in helping make government work better,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I am pleased to note the continuing efforts to recover substantial amounts of public money, but theft remains a problem. I encourage all government leaders to follow auditors’ recommendations and take the necessary steps to prevent fraud, waste and abuse of public money.”

Both reports provide explanations of how the shortages were discovered, methods used to steal the money, corrective steps taken to prevent future thefts and legal actions taken against those responsible.

CLICK HERE for the 2014 report on cash shortages.

CLICK HERE for the 2013 municipalities and other organizations report of cash shortages.

A look at Memorial Day traffic stats

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Budget talks focus on roads, schools

A preliminary Knox County budget discussion on Tuesday focused mostly on paving roads and building schools.

The Knox County Commission during its monthly luncheon spent about 30 minutes with county and school leaders talking finances – or the lack thereof – and whether officials should tweak Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

At this point, officials have said privately that they don't expect any major changes without a tax increase, and they don't expect that.

Further, if the commission did raise taxes, Burchett has promised to veto the move.

In the meantime, commission Chairman Brad Anders said the county needs to invest more into paving and sealing roads. He said the county is on pace to resurface about 30 miles of the county's 2,000 miles of roads per year.

"We're one of the fastest growing counties in the state . . . and we can't continue a 30-mile a year pace – it's not feasible," he said. "It's not even changing the oil in the car."

Burchett's budget this year sets aside $2 million for paving – up $1 million from the current budget. The county spends about $100,000 per mile to seal and resurface.

County leaders on Tuesday also met with Knox County Schools Assistant Superintendent Bob Thomas, asking him whether the board of education has looked into rezoning school districts instead of building new schools.

The questions come as the BOE proposed building three new schools – something Burchett declined to do, saying he wouldn't take on new debt to pay for the construction.

Thomas told commissioners that rezoning "is a pretty complicated process" that requires community meetings, and that it would take at least a year to find a solution. He said school leaders aren't opposed to the discussion, but wouldn't be able to finish it before the commission voted on the budget.

He also noted a recent study that looked into rezoning suggested that schools in the west would still be overcrowded.

Thomas noted that in the next half decade about $5.3 million in debt will drop off and the school system could apply those monies to new debt to build at least two schools – a middle school in the Hardin Valley area and an elementary school in the north central part of the county.

However, he conceded that not enough debt would fall off that the school system could use money to cover the operating expenses, which could cost as much as $3 million per school.

Overall, Burchett's spending plan, unveiled earlier this month, stands at $747.2 million. That's up about $20.2 million with half the increase dedicated to the school system.

Of that, some $435 million is set aside for general purposes schools, which is roughly $14 million in new revenues for the system. However, the school system asked for $441.5 million, an amount above and beyond projected revenues.

The commission will vote on the budget on June 15. A public hearing will be held a week prior but officials have not yet ironed out the date.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day: Honoring U.S. soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice

I saw this story from our affiliate in St. Louis.

Here are 10 fast facts about Memorial Day, a holiday honoring American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country:
  1. Even though numerous communities had been independently celebrating Memorial Day for years, the federal government declared Waterloo, N.Y. the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo first celebrated the holiday on May 5, 1866.
  2. Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30 for decades, but in 1971, Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May and a federal holiday.
  3. Memorial Day originally honored military personnel who died in the Civil War (1861-1865).
  4. Roughly 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War — making it the deadliest war in American history. About 644,000 Americans have died in all other conflicts combined.
  5. President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act on Dec. 28, 2000, designating 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day as a National Moment of Remembrance.
  6. It wasn't always Memorial Day — it used to be known as Decoration Day.
  7. Red poppies are known as a symbol of remembrance, and it's a tradition to wear them to honor those who died in war.
  8. Even though Memorial Day began as a holiday honoring Union soldiers, some states still have Confederate observances. Mississippi celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on the last Monday of April, Alabama on the fourth Monday of April, and Georgia on April 26. North and South Carolina observe it on May 10, Louisiana on June 3 and Tennessee calls that date Confederate Decoration Day. Texas celebrates Confederate Heroes Day on Jan. 19 and Virginia calls the last Monday in May Confederate Memorial Day.
  9. The crowd that attended the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery was about the same size as those that attend today's observance: about 5,000 people
  10. Here are the number of casualties in each U.S. war:
  • Civil War: Approximately 620,000 Americans died. The Union lost almost 365,000 troops and the Confederacy about 260,000. More than half of these deaths were caused by disease.
  • World War I: 116,516 Americans died, more than half from disease.
  • World War II: 405,399 Americans died.
  • Korean War: 36,574 Americans died.
  • Vietnam Conflict: 58,220 Americans died. More than 47,000 Americans were killed in action and nearly 11,000 died of other causes.
  • Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 148 U.S. battle deaths and 145 non-battle deaths.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom: 4,422 U.S. service members died.
  • Operation New Dawn: 66 U.S. service members died.
  • Operation Enduring Freedom: 2,318 U.S. service members have died as of May 12, 2014.

Friday, May 22, 2015

County, Board of Ed talk finances

In a joint meeting Thursday night, the Knox County Board of Education and Knox County Commission discussed the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The board requested $441.5 million for operational costs but is currently slotted to receive $435 million. That represents roughly $14 million in new revenues for the school system but it's not enough to cover what the board hoped to get.

At the center of the debate Thursday night - how the two governing bodies can bridge the $6.5 million gap and also come up with a way to build and fund three new proposed schools.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is declining to take on debt to cover construction of the schools.
"We all want a good education system," said Brad Anders, chairman of the Knox County Commission. "It's just a matter of how you pay for it, and how you get there."

BOE members voiced concern about the possibility of cutting a proposed 3 percent pay raise for teachers if the additional money is not added to the school system budget.

"We're very fortunate to have truly professional, expert teachers who care about our kids and are providing great education, and we need to make sure that their compensation reflects that success," said Dr. Jim McIntyre, superintendent of schools.

The county has trimmed the general fund side of the county budget over the last few years, Anders said, so there is not a lot of room to make more cuts.

He said a tax increase is inevitable in the coming years because Knox County has not had a property tax increase since 1999. But that is most likely not an option County Commission will consider this year.

"Do our teachers deserve more pay? Absolutely," Anders said. "But so do our law enforcement, so do our health department employees. So under these revenues, it's gonna be tough to do all that."

For the rest of the story, click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

You know, I initially thought there was a slight chance that the commission would bridge some of the $6.5 million gap (no matter what some commissioners say, there is some money there), but after thinking about it more, I don't believe it will happen.

Anders makes a good point: Essentially, he says, if there's money around for schools, then that really means there's money around for the county.

As for a tax increase? Not happening while Burchett is in office. He won't do it and there's probably not enough on the commission who would. And there's certainly not enough to override a veto.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Baumgartner Vs. United States is 'petition of the month' for May

In March, we broke the news that lawyers for disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, arguing federal prosecutors went too far in trying to apply an arcane area of the law.

Don Bosch and Ann Short submitted their bid, called a petition for certiorari, to the court. They're waiting to hear if the U.S. solicitor general, which oversees U.S. litigation before the court, responds. An April 3 deadline has been set for the response.

You can find the story RIGHT HERE.

It should be noted that the attorneys are not arguing whether the ex-judge is innocent (we all know the dude pleaded guilty), but rather whether the feds had any right to meddle in the case.

Well, the Supreme Court Press, which touts itself as the legal brief preparation and printing for the U.S. Supreme Court, has selected it for "Petition of the Month" for May.

You can read about it RIGHT HERE.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cost to determine school calendar

I don't really feel like dwelling on this, but Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre says he will make a decision by July whether to recommend the district move to a "balanced calendar."

The phony baloney online survey that allowed people who don't live in the county to vote multiple times came back about two-thirds in favor of moving to the new system.

That's fine. Whatever. Personally, I don't think it's that big of a deal, although I am skeptical, if only because of the recent push. (Survey Monkey ruse. Heh.)

Anyhoo, it's all going to come down to cost, and I don't think the money is there.

McIntyre says he'll come back with the amount, but there's already some numbers getting kicked around, including as much as $10 million. Now, I'm not so sure it's that high, but if it's above and beyond the school system's expected revenue - and requires a tax increase - I don't see Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett supporting it.

Now will the Knox County Commission. Not if it's going to cost a ton of coin.

Further, there's a number of BOE members who are skeptical (and I'm not talking about the usual crowd). Doug Harris, according to Jack's birdcage liner, for example suggested that if we have the folding paper to cover a balanced calendar then perhaps it should first be used for teacher raises and new technology.

Good point.

Anyway, don't plan on a shorter summer break during the 2017-18 school year.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Former 'ghost employee' to plead guilty to bank fraud, conspiracy

Ray Mubarak
A former Knox County trustee's office employee accused of stealing money from the county will plead guilty to federal charges of bank fraud and conspiracy in an unrelated case, according to court documents.

IRS and FBI agents arrested Ray Mubarak, 54, his wife, Dianna Mubarak, 52, and Blythe Bond Sanders III, 35 in March. A federal grand jury indicted the trio after investigators say they tried to defraud five banks from 2007 to 2011 through fraudulent loans.

Court documents show the trio used false loan applications, forged documents and filed false tax returns in order to receive lines of credit and loans from Pinnacle National Bank, SmartBank and Bank of America.

The loans added up to more than $6.7 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Mubarak originally pleaded not guilty. He will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, three counts of bank fraud and one count of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

Prosecutors will ask the judge to dismiss the remaining counts against him as part of the plea deal.
Mubarak is set to appear in court on Monday.

The agreement doesn't include a sentence. Each bank fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in prison, a fine of up to $1 million and restitution. The charge of unlawful money transactions could earn Mubarak up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution.

Mubarak is still awaiting trial in the Knox County case. He's accused of serving as a so-called "ghost employee" and receiving pay for work he didn't do. A judge granted a delay in that case after the federal charges were filed.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Knox Co. issues RFI for AJ Building

Andrew Johnson Building
Knox County leaders want to see if anyone is interested in buying and re-developing the Andrew Johnson Building in downtown Knoxville.

The county purchasing department issued a request for information, or RFI, for letters of interest in purchasing the building. Submissions must be received by 2 p.m. on July 15.

The 18-story building sits at 912 South Gay Street and currently houses Knox County Schools' central offices. It was built in 1927-28 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Knox County Board of Education discussed a possible move for the central offices at its work session earlier this month. Superintendent Jim McIntyre sought approval to ask for letters of interest from property owners or developers interested in providing administrative office space to the school system.

This isn't the first time the possibility of selling the building and moving Knox County School's offices has come up for discussion.

Back in 2013, McIntyre talked to the owners of the former Standard Knitting Mill about the possibility of renovating the building and moving the offices there, but those plans didn't come to fruition.

Mayor Tim Burchett has expressed interest in the past in selling the building so it can be returned to the tax rolls and generate income for the county.

Anyone interested in buying and redeveloping the Andrew Johnson Building can download the specific RFI instructions on Knox County's website.