Friday, January 30, 2015

McIntyre to testify next week before U.S. Senate committee about NCLB

Jim McIntyre
Federal leaders looking to revamp No Child Left Behind invited Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre to testify before them on Tuesday.

He is set to speak in front the U.S. Senate Committee on health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“I am truly honored to be asked to testify . . . and I am so proud that the Senators have asked to hear about the innovation and student success happening in our classrooms in the Knox County Schools,” McIntyre said. “I also appreciate the opportunity to represent our educators, our community, and our state in the critically important discussion on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – better known as No Child Left Behind.”

McIntyre will leave late Monday and return Tuesday afternoon. Knox County Schools will pay for the trip, which is expected to cost about $1,500.

When asked to provide insight into what the superintendent would talk about next week, KCS spokeswoman Amanda Johnson said at this point he is “soliciting input from a variety of sources including the Board of Education and looks forward to a robust discussion on innovation in education and reauthorization of ESEA.”

The trip will mark the second time in the past couple of years that McIntyre has testified in front of Congressional leaders.

He also appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education in February 2013 to talk about teacher evaluations and the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model, or TEAM.

That trip, which KCS also covered, cost just over $2,100 and included airfare and a one-night stay at the Hyatt Regency in Washington D.C.

For weeks now, a number of U.S. Senators, including Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander have said No Child Left Behind, a sweeping education law that expired more than seven years, will be at the forefront of discussions.

Officials have struggled to balance accountability with testing, and what role the federal government should play.

Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has said he expects several more weeks of hearings and meetings, but hopes to pass a bipartisan bill by the end of February.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

County receives $540K rebate check tied to P-card program purchases

A number of Knox County officials hung out today to get them one of those fancy check passing pics taken. Heh.

But seriously, Sun Trust Bank cut the county a rebate check for $538,329 under the county's P-card (I can't bring myself to calling them "E-cards") program.

Shiny happy people

There's some kind of formula that I won't bore you with, but essentially every time the county uses one of these charge cards, it gets money back (all paid at the end of the year).

The county last year got $447,000 check for 2103 spending.

In a released statement no doubt crafted by communications director (he got a promotion) Michael "Big Sexy" Grider, county Mayor Tim Burchett said:
“The E-commerce card rebate program continues to show that there is a real-dollar value to efficiency in government. I appreciate the Knox County Purchasing Department’s on-going efforts to identify tax-saving efficiencies through the E-commerce Card program. I’d like to specifically recognize Purchasing Program Manager Janice Orr and E-Card Coordinator Lori Holmann for their help in ensuring these substantial savings for Knox County’s taxpayers.” 
The release notes that during the past four year, the county has received more than $1.5 million in rebates and that "the Knox County Purchasing Department identifies opportunities to utilize the cards for various county transactions with third party vendors, and has saved Knox County millions through cost-avoidance by consolidating the E-commerce card program"

Funny, the school system is always crying about being in the poor house. Maybe if officials on that side of Main Street had used the P-card program sooner, they'd get a nice check, too. Instead of, you know, waiting until you discover that someone forgot to pay the credit card bills on time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Knox Commish to meet later in day

The Knox County Commission today voted to start its meetings later in the day.

Right now, the regular commission meeting is held on the fourth Monday of every month at 1:45 pm. On that same day, the beer board meets at 1 pm and zoning meetings are set for 5 pm.

Starting March 1, that schedule will change. The beer board will be meet at 4, followed by the commission meeting at 5, and the zoning sessions will move to 7 pm.

The group has talked about the possibility of moving the meetings for months.

Supporters wanted to make it easier for the public to attend the meeting be moving it later in the day.

Opponents worried that the later time would actually deter the public, especially in the winter months. In addition, they argued that it would cost the county more money by keeping county employees on the clock later in the day.

Rogero wants to look into E-911 vote; more thoughts about the process

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero wants her staff to look into the circumstances behind last week's effective decision by the Knox County E-911 board to scrap a multimillion-dollar proposal for an emergency radio communications system.

Rogero, a member of the board who had a proxy present Jan. 21, released a statement Monday.

"I understand the questions raised about the E-911 Board meeting last week," Rogero is quoted as saying. "This has been a long and complicated process, and we are gathering relevant information so that I can understand what happened and what the next steps are. I am committed to full transparency and ensuring that we have public confidence in the actions of the Board."

Monday's statement does not indicate how long the review might take or if there's a deadline.

You can read the full story RIGHT HERE.

Some thoughts about this. The mayor doesn't exactly have to look far. She can ask her proxy what happened. Or she could actually go to these meetings herself. They're obviously important. (That goes for county Mayor Tim Burchett, too.)

Now, on to what folks will find.

My guess? A big fat nada. There more than likely is no conspiracy. The cops and the sheriff's office flat out did not want to use the Harris communications system. That's it. They don't need a secret handshake, a sneaky wink or an under-the-table thumbs up/down.

I'm not saying it's right. Not saying it's wrong.

Just saying they don't want to go with Harris. And you're not going to find the smoking gun.

Granted, it's a little sketchy because it's public dollars and there's that whole bidding thing.

Does it look right? No. It doesn't. 

Now, there's a lot of talk about the process. The truth is no one wanted to verbally disparage any of the radio companies publicly. The old "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything" code.

It was easier for those on the board to walk away from the non-vote last Wednesday and not say anything. Again, not saying it's right.

Now, Motorola did file a protest letter. And a lot of what they said didn't hold water, and county purchasing director Hugh Holt made sure they knew it.

Shortly after, the company withdrew it's letter, but not without one final salvo.

Here's the protest letter RIGHT HERE. The county's response RIGHT HERE. And Motorola's withdrawal letter RIGHT HERE.

Now, from what I understand will happen next is that the board will move to issue and RFP (request for proposal) for the system again. However, the RFP will include a checklist and a price tag. Whichever group can check off EVERY requirement and comes in at the lowest will get the contract.

Also, it will probably move a lot quicker than 18 months if in fact they can issue something like this.

We'll see.

Voting begins for TDOT 'dynamic' overhead sign message contest

Voting begins today to choose the winners from TDOT’s first ever Dynamic Message Sign Contest. Over the past two weeks, TDOT has received more than 3,400 entries for possible safety messages for the overhead signs located across Tennessee.

The entries were narrowed down to 15 messages that cover safety issues such as distracted driving, seatbelt usage, impaired driving, speeding, and aggressive driving.

Vote RIGHT SMACK HERE until Feb. 6.

Full news release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Hopson seeking top KCEA seat

Just ran across this, but it's been out there for awhile.

Apparently today is the first day teachers who are members of the Knox County Education Association can vote for a new president.

Now, this probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but it actually is. You see Lauren Hopson, who hasn't taken any bull from any of the school administrators, is challenging incumbent Tanya Coats, who one time actually called some administrators and gave them a heads up on a story we were working on. (A few of us reporters were less than happy to find out about that.)

So, as some people have characterized it to me, it's probably another election that comes down to whether you'll be subservient or ask questions. 

I don't know. Just throwing it out there. I can't vote. From what I understand some 2,000 teachers belong to KCEA. And if this election is like any other in Knox County, it probably means that about 100 of them will vote.

Anyhoo,  the the elections last until Feb. 6.

Betty Bean over at the Shopper has more details about this. I don't want to steal her thunder. You can find her story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Did E-911 board legally select its chairperson or is do-over needed?

OK, so, um, I’m pretty sure the E-911 board didn’t properly pick it chairman – or this this case, chairwoman – correctly.

If I’m wrong – which is like super rare (or never – heh) – I’ll update here.

But, no one seems to know how Linda Murawski became the chair.

Now, is this important? Sort of.

You have a board that oversees the entire E-911 communications system in the county and dictates how the millions . . . and millions . . . and millions are spent.

So, if you can’t properly elect a chair, well . . . .

Here’s the deal:

Right before the beginning of last Wednesday’s meeting – you know, the infamous “non-vote” meeting in which no one seconded the radio systems contract – the interim chairman, Jason Lay, was told by an E-911 finance member that Linda was now the new chair.

Jason, who is actually a proxy for county Mayor Tim Burchett, said he’s attended all of the meetings (they have four a year), and they never voted on this. (Linda, by the way, attended all of one regular meeting in 2014.)

I confirmed that with a number of other board members, including county Commissioner Brad Anders, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero (through her spokesman), and Bill Cole, who was the chair of the 911 board’s personnel committee.

There also is no mention of it in the meeting minutes.

Oddly enough, the board’s attorney Don Howell says he thinks the board voted on it in October and that he would get me those minutes. I already got them. They didn’t vote.

I also asked Linda about it.

She says that last year Bill Cole sent her an email asking if she would like to be chair. She said she would. A few months ago the board sent its members a director list and she was noted as the chair.

OK, this is NOT how you do things.

The state code says the BOARD “shall have complete and sole authority to appoint a chair.”

Heck, even the attorney said “absolutely” the board would have to publicly vote in a chair.

I’m not even going to get into the fact that if what Linda says is true then it appears that the members probably violated the state Sunshine Laws through the email communications.

So, what happens next?

Well, if Linda was illegally appointed to the chair position, then the board should properly vote her in during its next meeting.

But, in the grand scheme of things – other than making the board like sideshow act – it probably won’t mean a whole lot.

The board’s attorney told me that the action, or non-action, taken Wednesday is still good, even if Linda was not correctly appointed.

“It won’t make anything null and void,” Howell said. “Whatever the board did as a board would not be affected by that. There was a quorum of the board there. It wouldn’t change any of that. Whoever the chair is, basically they’re just presiding over the meeting. They don’t have any more than any other member.”

Well, actually that’s not exactly true.

The chair cannot second a vote.

That’s not in his or her power.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Official hints political motivation behind E-911 radio system vote

Knox County's top purchasing agent on Thursday suggested that the county's E-911 board declined to approve a contract to replace the area's outdated emergency broadcasting system because of political motivations.

His comments come a day after board members said they wanted a do-over after an evaluation team spent more than 18 months overseeing the bidding and negotiation process.

"I've been in this business for more than 25 years and the (Knox County Purchasing Department) director since 1998 and every once in a while there comes along an acquisition that lends itself to politics and political influence, and sometimes your natural inclination as a procurement (official) kicks in and you think: 'I don't think things are going to work out as they should,'" Hugh Holt told WBIR 10News on Thursday. "But, it's part of it and sometimes decisions aren't made about what's the best business decision."

Holt said "99 percent of the time, when you do everything right, you typically get the result you expect."

The purchasing director said he didn't take the board's decision personally, but that his department followed the county's procurement code, which the E-911 board adopted more than 20 years ago.

"There's 11 people on the board and there's 11 opinions, and the majority of them may not have seen what that (evaluation) committee saw and what I saw," he said. "The bid process was managed correctly and the proposals were fully vetted."

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

E-911 board declines to approve radio systems contract, requiring do-over

Knox County-Knoxville evaluation team spent more than 18 months overseeing a bidding and negotiation process to replace an outdated emergency radio broadcasting system that is used by thousands of local first responders.

But on Wednesday, the Knox County E-911 board of directors declined to approve the $9 million contract, opting instead to send it back and have officials start over.

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pension board election set for 2-12

The Knox County Retirement and Pension Board will hold an election for two of its employee representative seats.

These elections are confined only to county employees, so if you don’t work for the county, then you can’t vote.

Which really doesn’t matter, since most of you probably don’t vote anyway.


Anyhoo, the 9-member board is comprised of four county employees who represent different retirement plans (ie. school plan, sheriff's office plan); four county commissioners; and the county mayor, although the county’s finance director typically serves as his proxy.

Seat “A” currently held by Robin Moody, who serves as the board’s secretary and works in the school system’s benefits department, and Seat “B”, currently held by long-time member, Knox County Sheriff’s Office and current board chairman Rick Trott, are up.

According to a memo – click for it RIGHT SMACK HERE – potential candidates can obtain a qualifying petition from the retirement office.

The election is set for Feb. 12.

I’m not sure how much the election will cost, but probably not a whole lot. According to the election commission, the pension office folks will use their people to work Election Day, and they’ll use paper ballots to save costs.

(The election office will count ballots and provide locked ballot boxes.)

The last time the pension board held an election (It think it was a few years ago), a whopping 190 county employees voted in it.

Knox Co. vets respond to possible cuts to state tax relief program

Following our story yesterday, Rebecca Habegger talked to veterans about the tax relief program that is in possible danger. You can find her story RIGHT HERE.

Essentially, Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to cut funding for the program from $33 million to $29 million at a time when local officials say it actually needs another $5 million to maintain the status quo.

The plan – dubbed the "Property Tax Relief Program" – provides property tax rebates statewide for more than 150,000 disabled veterans and their surviving spouses, and senior citizens who earn $28,270 or less annually.

Under the plan, low-income seniors receive tax relief for the first $25,000 of their assessed property. Veterans who were disabled while serving get relief on the first $175,000 of their assessed property.

Here's our initial story RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tax relief plan that helps a number of seniors, veterans in jeopardy

A state property tax relief program that helps disabled veterans and low-income senior citizens in Knoxville and Knox County is in financial danger as Tennessee lawmakers face a tight budget and recovering economy.

Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to cut funding for the program from $33 million to $29 million at a time when local officials say it actually needs another $5 million to maintain the status quo.

The plan – dubbed the "Property Tax Relief Program" – provides property tax rebates statewide for more than 150,000 disabled veterans and their surviving spouses, and senior citizens who earn $28,270 or less annually.

Under the plan, low-income seniors receive tax relief for the first $25,000 of their assessed property. Veterans who were disabled while serving get relief on the first $175,000 of their assessed property.

Residents apply at the local trustee's office and city tax collections department. If approved, the county and city then bill the state for the difference.

Last year, the program served 416 Knox County veterans and about 4,500 local seniors, providing for a combined $962,000 in relief.

Knox County's seniors got up to $145 in county taxes and $170 in city taxes docked from their tax bills.

Veterans got up to $1,015 in county relief and almost $1,200 in city relief.

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.