Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mayor Rogero says city facing tight budget, rising pension contributions

Mayor Rogero
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year must somehow close a roughly $10 million gap tied to rising personnel and pension contribution costs, and yet also find ways to pay for capital improvement projects and reinvestment initiatives designed to enhance the city’s quality of life.

To do that, the mayor will more than likely be forced to either raise taxes, dip into the city’s reserve fund or cut services, she said.

Rogero will unveil her proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year at noon Thursday at Christenberry Ball Field in North Knoxville. The City Council will then hold budget hearings on May 21 in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building. The spending plan must be approved by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

“We’ve had some challenges in addressing the budget this year,” Rogero said. “It’s no surprise we have a big unfunded pension liability . . .  and it’s something we’re obligated for and something we have to address.”

Residents in 2012 approved changes to the city’s pension plans, voting in a hybrid plan that combines a traditional defined benefits pension with a defined contribution component.

Still, the city isn’t expected to see any savings for decades.

In the meantime, the budget that Rogero will present on Thursday has to cover some $23.4 million in pension contributions – up $7.4 million from the current fiscal year.

The budget also must include an additional $1.7 million to cover a 2.5 percent raise for roughly 1,600 employees, a salary increase that is guaranteed each year under the city’s code.

And, the city needs to find another $700,000 for increased health care costs.

In addition, Rogero noted that “inflationary costs” tied to buying equipment, supplies “and quite a bit of purchasing that we have to do to run a government this size” also have jumped.

“On the capital side there are many projects that people want in our city – things like greenways, sidewalks and bicycle facilities, road improvements, intersection improvements, street paving, garbage pickup – all the different types of things that we provide to the city,” the mayor said. “So, we look at the operating side and the capital side . . .  and from there we look at what is realistic and try to establish a budget around that.”

You can read the entire store right here.

Waggoner says campaign gaining momentum, touts big turnout at BBQ

Bobby Waggoner
Got this today from the Bobby Waggoner for Sheriff campaign. Waggoner is running against Sam Hammett and incumbent Jimmy "J.J." Jones in May's Republican primary for the seat. No Democrats filed to run, so the winner will be decided next month.

The sheriff earns roughly $140,000 annually and is in charge of about 1,000 employees and a $70.3 million budget. 

As always, send me your campaign stuff for publication.

Here's the release:
This past weekend, nearly a thousand Knox County citizens turned out to attend a BBQ at the Brasfield farm in Karns in support of Candidate for Sheriff Bobby Waggoner. The event provided BBQ, live music, demonstrations from the local K-9 unit training facility, and several activities for children ranging from pony rides, a train ride, and a water walk.
Those in attendance included Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, County Commission Chairman Brad Anders and several candidates running for other elected offices in the upcoming primary. Though parking was provided in a large field that had been cleared for the event, overflow parking had to be accessed to accommodate the large crowds.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Previous county lobbyist contracts

Amy Broyles
On Monday, Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles asked the board to postpone a discussion to talk about hiring a lobbyist to keep it informed regarding what goes on in Nashville.

Previous blog post right smack here.

Anyhoo, she noted that the county in the past had a number of contracts with firms and wanted board members to look over them.

Well . . . here ya go:

The county in September 2008 signed an agreement with Pratt, Pratt and Rice. Yes – that Dean Rice, the emperor of the Death Star, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s chief of staff. Heh. (Burchett wasn’t elected until 2010 by the way.)

The contract, which you can find right smack here, paid out $1,665 per month ($19,980 a year).

In July 2009, the county entered into a one-year contract, which you can find right smack here, with Farris Mathews Bobango that paid $3,750 per month ($45,000 a year).

I’m not sure how much each company actually received, but Burchett took over in September 2010 and I’m pretty sure that was the end – if it didn’t happen earlier – to any county lobbyist.

In the meantime, Broyles actually wants a lobbyist for the board only, rather than one who represents the commission and the administration.

Superintendent talks school budget and Commission goes on the attack

Jim McIntyre
Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim “Slim” McIntyre met with the commission (sitting as the finance committee) on Monday to talk about the budget.

Not a whole lot of new info. Or any. But there was some good back-and-forth by Commissioner Mike Brown that we can get to in a minute.

First off, though, Mac said the school board approved a $432.3 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. That’s up $12.5 million over the current one (or about 3 percent).

He said it was “tightly aligned to educational priorities,” and was a “no frills” plan within no new instructional initiatives.

He said the budget emphasizes three priorities:
  • It will sustain the “educational improvement efforts we’ve put in place,” such as Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s early reading program (which the county actually covers).
  • It will cover opening new Magnet Career Academy at Pellissippi State
  • It will “enhance teacher salaries” by 2.5 percent (which isn’t necessarily true because he didn’t propose a budget that actually had the funding to pay for salary increases).
Mac noted that funding the raises would cost about $6.2 million and it will require the community “to stretch a little bit.” (The school system didn't budget for $4.5 million of it.)

He said officials needed to “reallocate resources to make the budget work,” and that some central office positions would be cut through attrition. He didn’t expect any layoffs.

Mac said they were working to preserve teacher and teacher aide positions.

It’s an “educationally focused and student centered” budget,” he added.

When asked whether teachers would get a raise if the commission couldn’t find the money to pay for it, Mac said the budget does include a step increase that amounts to “a 4 to 5 to $600” range based on the step.

Mike Brown
Overall, the commission seemed fairly unimpressed, especially board member Mike Brown.

He said that Mac has placed teacher priorities “at the bottom of the list.”

“If a general on a battlefield doesn’t feed his troops, he’s liable to get shot in the back,” Brown said.

He reminded Mac that he just asked the community to “stretch it,” but wondered “why doesn’t the school board stretch it?”

Brown noted that all county departments have been asked to trim spending but “it’s always with the school board: ‘Give me more, give me more, give me more.’”

He also took issue with the Parthenon Group’s so-called “smart study” plan, which cost taxpayers at least $180,000. He said UT probably could have conducted it for $800.

He said the money paid to the Parthenon Group could have “gone a long way to fund teacher raises.”

Brown also asked Mac whether the school system would cover raises if commission wouldn’t appropriate the funds, but the superintendent wouldn’t give a straight answer.

Instead, Mac said he wanted the commission to first look at his proposed budget.

Said Brown: “Wish in one hand and pour sand in the other (and see which one fills up first).”

Commissioner Tony Norman also suggested that more than teachers would get raises.

He also said that Mac claimed that “there were no new initiatives.”

But, he said the superintendent wasn’t “responding to the teacher concerns” that were raised in recent months during long and, often testy, school board meetings. One example, he cited, was the teacher coaches.

Mac said “I think we have in a variety of different ways listened to our educators,” and noted that there is now a committee comprised of officials and teachers “that’s been very productive.”

The two then got into it, but at this point, I’m bored typing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Another candidate faces legal action

Jason Hunnicutt
Another Knox County candidate who is running for the criminal court clerk’s seat is facing civil action.

Records show that a summons has been issued for Jason Hunnicutt, a prosecutor who works in the county’s District Attorney General’s Office. The action was brought by the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, which says he owes the operation $486.64 and another $162 in court costs.

Hunnicutt faces Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond and local attorney Steve Williams in the Republican primary. Incumbent Joy McCroskey opted not to seek re-election. No Democrats filed to run, so whoever wins on May 6 will begin serving a four-year term at the beginning of September.

On Friday, Hunnicutt told 10News that “all my bills are paid.” When asked why the hospital would seek money from him, he said that in the past he had disputed a bill regarding emergency room services “because of the deductible, but it’s been paid.”

His court date is set for May 7.

Earlier this month, WBIR 10News first reported that the federal government has levied tax liens against at least two judicial Knox County candidates and a civil judgment was issued against a third.

Records show that one of Hunnicutt’s opponents, Steve Williams, owes a combined $24,562.89 in taxes from 2003-05. Records show that Williams didn't pay federal unemployment taxes for his business, individual income taxes and he faced penalties for failing to file the correct information.

Williams said he's paying off the tax debt and he owed about $16,000 at this point.

He said his wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, and that the medicine she needed was expensive.

Also, Blount County's Tennessee Endoscopy Center in May 2013 received a judgment against him for $2,368.58.

A civil judgment also was issued against Clarence "Eddie" Pridemore, a Republican attorney who will face Daryl Fansler, a Democrat and incumbent for the Chancellor, Part II seat in the August general election.

GE Monday Bank in May 2011 received a judgment against Pridemore for a Lowe's credit card debt totaling $3,709.66.

Further, records show that Patti Jane Lay, a Republican seeking the circuit court judge Div. IV seat, owes a combined $58,069.11 in individual income taxes from 2000 through 2003. The federal lien was filed against her four years ago, according to records in the Knox County Register of Deeds Office.

One lien is against her and husband, John Baugh, for $46,700. The other is against her for $11,300.

Lay called the liens "a clerical mistake" that "involves a partnership return prepared and filed by someone else that contains other individual's tax information."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Commish candidate Smith sets up site

Well, better late than never. Looks like 3rd District Knox County Commission candidate Randy Smith got his website up and running this weekend. You can find it right smack here.

Randy, a Republican, is running against Billy Stephens (who I believe does not have a website). No Democrats filed, so the winner will be decided next month. Early voting is currently taking place until May 1.

As always send me your political stuff.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

BOE member's pal destroys newspapers, then brags about it in public email

Well, this is certainly an interesting development. Well, not really. It's election time and silly season is in full gear.

Cari "Mean" Gervin on some campaign shenanigans (yes this was absolutely political), and the ridiculousness that follows local elections:
You might remember the name Kristi Kristy from a couple of months ago, when she filed an ethics complaint with the Knox County Schools Board of Education because board member Mike McMillan had forwarded an email that Kristy had sent to board member Pam Trainor with instructions to send it to the entire board, which meant it then became public record -- anyway, it was a mess. Kristy eventually withdrew her complaint, which makes sense because McMillan didn't do anything wrong to begin with. Now, however, it looks like Kristy might be the one on the wrong side of ethics -- and, possibly, the law. 
You can find Cari's complete story, and - wow - it's been a talker recently, right smack here.

In addition, someone over at the hippie's blog, posted a link - right here - regarding newspaper theft and why it's not a good thing to destroy them even if they're free. And apparently - right here - you will find some federal case law regarding newspaper theft.

Davis releases ad, stresses values

Just got this one in from the Kristi Davis camp. She's running against Billy Stokes and Ray Jenkins in the May 6 Republican primary for the Circuit Court Judge (Div. I) seat. No Democrats qualified, so it's winner take all next month.

Here's what her camp had to say (video below):

Kristi Davis released her first campaign advertisement today, focusing on her life-long connection to Knox County and the values she would bring to the bench.

“I am very excited to be able to get my message out to the voters of Knox County. My campaign has tremendous momentum, and being able to speak directly to the voters will keep the campaign moving forward,” said Davis.

Check out her website right smack here.

Early voting began on April 16 and runs through May 1.


Brooks endorses Jenkins for judge

Ray Jenkins
OK, so everyone gets one free post for an endorsement. Heh. This one is from the Ray Jenkins camp. Ray is running against Billy Stokes and Kristi Davis for the Circuit Court Judge (Div. I) seat in the May 6 Republican primary.

There are no Democrats, so it's winner take all next month. Early voting started Wednesday and runs through May 1.

Representative Harry Brooks (R – Knoxville) today announced his endorsement for Ray Jenkins for Knox County Circuit Court Judge.  Brooks says Jenkins’s wide breadth of experience with a proven track record of successes qualify him as a strong candidate for the position.

“Ray Jenkins is the best person for the job,” said Harry Brooks, four-term state representative and chairman of the House Education Committee. “He is a constitutional conservative with experience as a lawyer, a community leader and a business leader. We have been long-time friends and he has had impressive successes in every position he has held.”

In addition to successful stints in business and politics, Jenkins has a wide variety of legal experience, representing all levels of clients from Fortune 500 companies to families and everything in between. 

These experiences have prepared Jenkins to be Circuit Court Judge, as these judges have a heavy role in the general jurisdiction of a variety of legal matters.

Jenkins expressed appreciation for Representative Brooks endorsement and said, “The support of Representative Brooks means a great deal coming from a legislator of his caliber. He has done a great job for Knox County and for Tennessee,” he said. “I’m excited for the opportunity to serve Knox County and to apply the law to real people in real situations in our community.”

A Knox Co. native, Jenkins is a graduate of Tennessee Tech where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Jenkins took an analyst position with the Navy in Virginia after graduation, returning to his home state three years later for a job with the Air Force at Arnold Engineering Development Center where he continued to work while attending law school at the Nashville School of Law. 

Check out his website, right smack here.

BOE candidate responds to editorial

Tamara Shepherd
The Paywall Paper, which is always predictable in its election endorsements, endorsed Terry Hill for the Dist. 6 Board of Education seat.

Hill by the way apparently supports creationism being taught in high school. Good, Lord. Heh. But I digress.

Anyhoo, last week one of her opponents, Tamara Shepherd sent the media and some other folks her thoughts on the endorsement. I meant to post this awhile ago, but like other things, I was working on some scoops. Heh. (I should mention that the other two candidates in this race are Bradley Buchanan and Sandra Row-Your-Boat-Cliff.)

Here's what Tamara had to say:

This morning’s endorsement by the Knoxville News-Sentinel of my opponent Terry Hill was not unexpected and that they offered the comments they did on my own candidacy is fine with me, too.  Really, I appreciate the contrast they drew between Ms. Hill’s candidacy and my own.

I think that this level of discontent among teachers, parents, and students calls for solutions and I'm pleased to tell you that I've spoken with several prospective constituents who've told me--as recently as at the Concerned Citizens forum last Thursday night--that I am the *only* candidate in this race they've heard actually suggest any.

Yes, my position that it is now necessary to sue the State Board of Education over a faulty teacher evaluation model is "extreme." However, given that this law may be changed by only the legislature or the courts AND given that we have waited over three years to see it changed by the legislature, it is not unreasonable to now turn to the only other remedy available to address the problem. In fact, teachers have now beaten the BOE to the draw and begun filing their own lawsuits, which TEA assures they will continue to do.

I therefore continue to challenge my opponents to tell me how they will address the problem--and they'd better not answer "with a Teacher Work Group," because that's a fantasy. A Teacher Work Group is unable to change a state law, period.

And yes, I have called for Dr. McIntyre's dismissal (and I did so again in this morning's Inside Tennessee segment, if you watched). What I said in my response to the Metro Pulse questionnaire is this:
“He has used Knox County Schools as a conduit for the experimentation and profit of others whose interests are not the school system's students and teachers. He has farmed out the district's strategic plan to the Chamber of Commerce, its employee compensation plan to Battelle for Kids, and its resource allocation plan to The Parthenon Group. It is not clear why these plans were not produced internally by system staff and it is doubtful that the system can afford to repeatedly pay such costs going forward.”
You will note that at least two of these actions--to have delegated the KCS strategic plan and to have delegated the KCS "resource allocation" plan--were not the result of any state or federal mandate to do so, but were the result of Dr. McIntyre's independent decision to do so. Really, he was likely able to have deviated as well from Tennessee's promise in our RttT grant app to use an entity like Battelle for Kids, had he chosen to do so.

I therefore continue to press that these and other of Dr. McIntyre's policy and procedure decisions (like excessive testing, too) are NOT rooted in state or federal mandates but are instead rooted in his own vision for "corporate reform" locally, contrary to the vision it appears teachers and parents embrace.

So again, I appreciate this opportunity afforded me by the KNS to distinguish my candidacy from that of Ms. Hill’s, I do not shrink from my assertion that it's time for someone to offer viable solutions, and I'll be asking voters to discern who it is that's offering them.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Burchett says no to all pay raises

Mayor Burchett
I meant to put this up yesterday when we first reported it, but I was out of town working on a big scoop. Heh.

WBIR's John Henry talked to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett about the school system's request to fund a 2.5 percent increase for teacher pay raises, which would cost about $4.5 million.

There's all sorts of stuff to say about this, but, really, I think everyone sees that the school board is trying to use teachers as political pawns in a financial game of tug-of-war. (I'm all for teacher pay raises by the way.)

Burchett notes that the school system could find money in its own budget to pay for the raises. (He's also said he doesn't plan to give general county employees raises, either.)

That's an interesting point. The school system's budget includes funding to tack on two additional days to the school calendar, an odd move since a state study recently said there's no proof that a few extra days really helps students (read: It doesn't).

Anyhoo, certainly something to think about. Here's John's story:
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is reacting to Knox County Schools' proposed budget.

The Knox County Board of Education approved a $432 million budget Monday night.

The school system made way for a 2.5 percent raise for teachers, but in order for that raise to happen, the board must receive more money from the county commission.

Mayor Burchett questioned why the school board failed to reorganize the budget to make the raise happen without having to ask the county for more money.

"There simply isn't enough revenue to fund the school's request this year. Of course we can't dictate how the school administration spends its money, but out of the $427 million in revenue that the school system is expecting, surely they could find 2 or 3 percent of that to fund the raises," he said.

Under the current board budget for raises, the school district needs another $4.5 million.

County commission must ok the budget. They have until the end of June.

18 workers get $143K in sick leave, now McCroskey wants in on the fun

Embattled Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey is seeking as much as $10,000 from the county for unused sick leave she accrued before taking office more than five years ago.

The request stems from a county policy that took effect last July. So far, 18 employees have been paid a combined $143,140.

Another four workers, including McCroskey and her chief deputy, Janice Norman, have submitted payment requests. Norman, who joined the county in 1968, said her last day is Aug. 29, and McCroskey is leaving Aug. 31.

County leaders, however, say the neither should be eligible, based on the ordinance that established the policy to pay for unused sick leave. Some officials also took McCroskey to task, saying her attendance in recent years is already suspect at best.

The ordinance was approved by the Knox County Commission last spring. At the time, its sponsors, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Commissioner Amy Broyles said they created it to increase productivity and reward long-tenured workers.

For the complete story, right smack here.