Wednesday, November 25, 2015

City Council approves Regal deal

Knoxville City Council members agreed Tuesday to spend up to $9 million in support of moving Regal Entertainment Group to a vacant office building along the South Knoxville Waterfront.

The vote by council was unanimous to approve the money. Council Nick Della Volpe, however, expressed reservations.

"Economically, it's a little weak in terms of the return to the taxpayers for their money being taken from their taxes in this building," Della Volpe told 10News.

"They're basically going to pay taxes on the building to the Industrial Development Board, the IDB, but they're not going to pay rent for 10 years on 178,000-square feet," Della Volpe continued. "If they stay and don't buy the building, the next 10-year period from 10 to 20, they're going to $1 a square foot, and if they stay the third period, they're going to pay $2 a square foot. That's way below market rate."


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

City seeks new food truck ordinance

After 20 months of successful experience with a pilot program for food trucks, the City of Knoxville’s Office of Business Support is seeking public feedback on a proposed Mobile Food Unit (MFU) ordinance.

The proposed ordinance has been posted on the City’s website at The period for public comment will run from Nov. 24 through Dec. 9. The City administration and staff will consider the comments and adjust the proposed ordinance as needed. The ordinance is scheduled to be sent to City Council for first reading on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Since the City launched its Mobile Food Vendor Pilot Program in April 2014, 24 MFUs have completed the application and inspection process to operate in the City.

“Knoxville has really embraced food trucks,” said Patricia Robledo, the City’s Business Liaison. “The pilot program gave us all a great opportunity to explore best practices and evaluate feedback before adopting a permanent ordinance. This ordinance will provide vendors, customers and citizens with guidance and certainty on the safe and reasonable operation of Mobile Food Units.”

The ordinance makes several significant changes to the pilot program, including the following:
  •  Reduction in Permit Fee and Renewal Fee. The pilot program included a tiered permitting fee system; MFUs operating only on private property paid $200 annually, and those operating on private property and in designated zones in the public right-of-way paid $400 annually. Under the proposed ordinance, all MFUs will pay $200 annually and the renewal fee is only $50. The City believes that $200 is a fair fee that covers the costs of administering the MFU program and coordinating and monitoring the activity of MFUs within the City.
  • Addition of Temporary Permit. Under the pilot program, any unit operating within the City had to pay the same permit fee regardless of where the vendor was based. Oftentimes, in addition to local vendors, events use vendors from outside of the City. Additionally, some local vendors desire only to operate at one or two events within the City per year. Therefore, the City is offering a temporary permit for MFUs as part of the proposed ordinance. The temporary permit costs $75, is valid for three consecutive days, and can only be used by a vendor or unit two times during the same calendar year. Vendors applying for a temporary permit must adhere to the same regulations as vendors holding a regular permit. This temporary permit allows single-time or infrequent vendors to operate their MFUs while ensuring that those MFUs are just as safe for the employees, customers, and citizens.
  • Expansion of Allowable Zoning Districts. The pilot program allowed MFUs to operate only in commercial and form code districts. The proposed ordinance allows MFUs to operate in more districts: Commercial Districts, Industrial Districts, Office Districts, Open Space Districts, and Form Based Code Districts. The only restrictions to operation in these districts apply to property within a certain distance of residentially zoned property, but these restrictions can be waived with permission from certain property owners.
  • The ordinance allows MFUs to operate in residential districts only as part of a special event that is sponsored by a neighborhood association, by a homeowners’ association, or by the City of Knoxville or another governmental entity (such as the Knox County Health Department or the Transportation Planning Organization). The expansion of the zoning districts gives MFUs flexibility in reaching customers, while also minimizing impacts in those areas where residents could be affected.
  • Addition of Appeals for Permit Revocation. Similar to the pilot program, the proposed ordinance provides that a permit can be revoked if (1) an applicant obtained the Unit Permit by knowingly providing false information on the application; (2) the continuation of the vendor’s use of the Unit Permit presents a threat to public health or safety, or if the vendor otherwise presents a threat to public health or safety; or (3) the vendor or MFU violates regulations of this Article or any other City of Knoxville ordinance. The proposed ordinance provides a process by which the permit revocation can be appealed and reconsidered by a three-member board of City staff.
  • Reduction in Insurance Policy Limits. In addition to requiring proof of other types of insurance, the pilot program required vendors to obtain commercial liability insurance with limits of $2 million with an aggregate limit of $3 million. After evaluating these limits, the City has reduced the limits to $1 million/$2 million in the proposed ordinance. These requirements are referenced in the ordinance and can be found on the MFU Permit Application.
There are other, minor changes throughout the ordinance. All of these changes are a result of feedback the City received during the course of the pilot program.

“I really appreciate all of the vendors working with us to develop this program,” Robledo said. “We have all learned a lot, and the ordinance reflects that.”

Superintendent McIntyre's evaluation summary puts focus on the positive

A composite of Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre's evaluations - put together by the 9-member Board of Education - paints a pretty picture of the KCS leader.

Interestingly enough it leaves out a whole lot as well.

As noted RIGHT HERE the board members' evaluations told two different tales - one good, one bad - of McIntyre.

This one is fairly glowing and leaves out most of the negative. You can read it - RIGHT SMACK HERE.

"In short, under Dr. McIntyre's tenure, and working with our excellent teachers, students have made significant academic progress, and a solid foundatin and culture of learning is in place," it notes.

The report cites a number of recent achievements, including slight bumps in test scores and the graduation rates.

It does note that KCS needs to remain docused on the number of third graders rading at or above proficient level.

And it does say McIntyre needs to do a better job communicating with folks.

The 6-page summary was put together by BOE Chairman Doug Harris.

Again, check it out.

McIntyre is asking the board to extend his contract by two years during a special called meeting on Monday. My guess is that he gets it, or at least one additional year.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

BOE members' evaluations tell two different tales of superintendent

The leader of Knox County Schools is seeking a two-year contract extension. Whether he gets it is largely dependent on what the school board members think about him, and their evaluations tell almost two completely different tales: Dr. Jim McIntyre is either a leader or he’s not.

He’s steadily improved communications among staff and personnel or he hasn’t. Increased graduation rates and test scores are good, or they don’t mean anything.

The 9-member school board turned in their evaluations on Monday. McIntyre completed his own last week. The board will talk publicly with the superintendent about them during a called meeting on Nov. 30.

“I take the performance evaluation process very seriously,” McIntyre said in a statement. “I appreciate the School Board members’ feedback, and always seek ways to improve and enhance my leadership so that the Knox County Schools can continue to provide an exemplary education to the children of our community.”

You can read each board member's evaluation RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Commish candidate Ashley fires first shot in campaign against Anders

John Ashley, who is running for County Commission to represent the Northwest Knox, Hardin Valley, and Karns areas against 6th District Commissioner Brad Anders, sent out a release on Friday.

I talked to him briefly. He's a Knoxville native, married with two children. He's 36, works for a payroll company, and said he wanted to run because he doesn't think "we have proper representation for someone listening to the community."

He said Brad has his own agenda and it's "time for someone to step up and listen to what the community wants."

"We're being too reactive - we need someone who will make decisions and not pass on votes."
In his press release, he noted a reprimand Brad received back in the summer of 2013, but then asked me not to include it to; instead, he wanted to focus on more current issues. Er, OK.

Here's the rest of the release.
Then this year (2015) alone two instances have come up to question the current commissioner’s decision-making abilities.  Elected officials are put into office to make tough decisions on issues that are facing our county.  They are elected to make those tough decisions.  

The rezoning proposal was dismissed before anyone could take a stance, given the opportunity I would have taken a stance to stop the rezoning.  The dismissal was wrong and done without the communities input.   There was no strategic plan for the placement of the proposed building to be built.  I believe as a leader you step up and take your place when something is not right.   

More recently the Knox County E-911 Board has spent nearly $40,000 on a study that concluded the $8.9 million proposal by the Harris Corp., which was recommended by the board and a private consulting group appointed by the board. Your commissioner declined to vote because he didn’t feel the initial bidding process was “clean”. We are spending our tax dollars for a decision to be made.
I think it is time we start getting some accountability and answers to these questions. What really happened in 2013? Where does the current County Commissioner stand if the rezoning issue arises again?  What will he do when it comes time to vote again on the 911 communication issue and the same result is the Harris Corp. recommendation?
The rezoning John mentioned was tied to the proposed land swap at Nicholas Ball Park that would have potentially led to a new Walmart.

I'm not sure what he's complaining about. The deal is dead.

In regards to the E-911 board vote, yeah, Brad is going to be answering that one for a long time to come.

Anyhoo, send me your political/election stuff for publication consideration.

I'm out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No surprise McIntyre seeking two-year contract extension through 2019

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre is seeking a two-year extension on his contract.

His current deal, which expires in December 2017, pays him $222,800 annually. He also receives $800 per month for travel expenses and almost five weeks of paid vacation.

McIntyre will ask the Knox County Board of Education during a special called meeting on Nov. 30 to extend it through December 2019.

This is a smart play by McIntyre and similar to the one he did several years ago. Four seats are up for election next year and that doesn't bode well for him.

Here's why:

Right now, he generally is on the favorable end of a 5-4 voting bloc.

Of the four seats who typically vote against him on major issues, only one seat is up - Mike McMillan's 8th District post. McMillan is not expected to lose.

Now, that means three of the five seats that vote in the superintendent's favor are up.

Doug Harris has said he's not running. Tony Norman, a former Knox County commissioner and long-time thorn in McIntyre's side, is running for that seat.

Tony has a better than great shot of winning.

Guess what? Yep. You got it. 5-4 the other way.

And that's not counting the fact that there's two more seats in that bloc McIntyre could lose.

Karen Carson isn't running, so that seat is wide open. Incumbent Tracie Sanger is, but she's not expected to walk right on it.

So, in March, we'll more than likely know the makeup of the new school board. But, those members won't get sworn in until September 2016. That gives McIntyre about 15 or so months on his contract.

Here's the deal.

If the board flips - and Tony Norman is involved - there's a good chance the board will then move to get rid of McIntyre. It's an easier pill to swallow if you have 15 months on your contract than if you have two years and 15 months on your contract.

Remember: If they get rid of him, they're going to have to pay him something. I doubt it will be the full amount - I don't care what the contract says - but it will be something. It won't be cheap.

Now, as for Nov. 30? My guess? The school board hems and haws, people complain, blah, blah, blah, and the board - no surprise - in a 5-4 vote renews his contract.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Trump in town tonight, but not asking for help from state or local GOP

Republican presidential candidate and real estate billionaire Donald Trump is running in a traditional party with what many would describe as a nontraditional campaign.

Trump is scheduled to speak in Knoxville at 7tonight at the Knoxville Convention Center, but he is reportedly not using help from the county and state GOP.

Ryan Haynes, the Tennessee GOP chairman, and Buddy Burkhardt, the Knox County GOP chairman, said they both found out about the event through the Internet.

"I found out through Facebook, which obviously is a very non-traditional way of finding these things out," Haynes said. "A lot of the campaigns have contacted us directly when they're coming to town."

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Knox Sheriff: E-911 radios safe

E-911 Center
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones on Thursday addressed what he said are misleading accusations about the safety and reliability of the county's decades-old emergency radio system.

Twice this year, the Knox County E-911 Board has declined to approve an almost $9 million contract that would replace E-911 communication operations.

The bidding process took nine months and officials expect to restart it in January. Then, it could take another year to get something new in place.

Some officials say they are upset and disappointed about the board’s failure to move on the contract.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, an E-911 Board member, said: “Our first responders in the field are relying on increasingly outmoded technology, which puts them and the general public at risk. I hope the board can work quickly to identify our next steps in a way that is transparent and responsive to the needs of our public safety agencies.”

But, the area’s top cop disagrees. He says local emergency personnel and Knox County residents are safe.

“We all know that it needs to be upgraded, and we all know that there needs to be some changes but it isn’t like the public is in jeopardy or any officers are in jeopardy,” said Sheriff Jones. “There are replacement parts – the radio system is not in shambles.”

MORE: Letter from Motorola sent to E-911 Board members

He added: “There’s been so much representation that this radio system is on its last leg, smoking, dying, getting ready to implode, and that’s just in fact not true.”

At issue is the E-911 Board's quest to replace the current emergency broadcasting analog radio system with a 20-channel digital one that would also meet a number of federal recommendations such as allowing multiple responding agencies, such as police, fire and medical, to communicate amongst themselves.

Harris Communications won the bidding process earlier this year, but the board has declined to sign off on a contract.

Jones on Monday was one of five E-911 Board members who voted against supporting Harris. Instead, he and others on the board want to hook onto the state-operated system that uses Motorola Solutions equipment – the same equipment that has served the E-911 Center for more than 25 years.

He called joining the state system – Tennessee Valley Regional Communications System that is based in Chattanooga – “the wave of the future.”

“Criminals don’t know any boundaries,” he said. “If they’re breaking into your house on Alcoa Highway, it could be Blount County, Knox County or inside the city limits, so me being able to communicate with another agency, to me, is ideal and that’s where I want to go when we start talking about this again. I want to be part of a state-wide system where we can talk to any other agency when we need to, to do our jobs on a daily basis."

When asked whether the long wait to put a new system in place would be an issue, the sheriff said he wouldn’t put his personnel on the streets “with a system that didn’t work.”

Jones also turned over a letter from Motorola’s vice president to WBIR 10News that detailed the current system’s performance. The letter was sent to all E-911 Board members and sheds more insight into why some board members don’t appear worried about a breakdown.

“The system performance is measured by a percentage of reliability. Since initial installation in the late 1980s this reliability factor has been measured at 99.99983 percent, which is higher than both the current and proposed contract require,” wrote Motorola’s VP Randy Johnson.

Johnson added that – despite reports to the contrary – the county has a “substantial inventory of spare and replacements costs at no charge (for) Knox County.”

“The system is in no eminent danger of failure,” Johnson told board members in the letter.

On Monday, E-911 Center officials also downplayed several cases in the past couple of months in which radio system circuit boards blew, forcing emergency dispatchers to communicate with emergency personnel via handheld radios.

Again on Thursday, Jackie York, a communications unit supervisor, said it was still “business as usual” for a few hours, except dispatchers used radios rather than hand-free headsets.

“It’s just the matter of doing basically the same thing in a different way,” she said.

She said the overall operation also has enough back up parts, so that the “operations of Knox County continue on without interruption.

“We can still talk to officers and we can still talk to the public,” she added.

E-911 Board members meet again in January to discuss the re-bidding process.

MPC signs off on business park

The Metropolitan Planning Commission on Thursday approved zoning for a proposed business park off Midway Road.

The MPC is a recommending body. The proposal will now go to the Knox County Commission in December.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

City closes on purchase of former State Supreme Court site from state

The City of Knoxville formally closed today on the former State Supreme Court property on Henley Street, buying it from the state. The city now plans to start the bidding process for the 1.7-acre property, for commercial or residential development.

City Council voted in August to purchase the property, which occupies one square block of downtown real estate, for $2.47 million. The State Supreme Court relocated to the Post Office building on Main Street in 2003.

“This is a big piece of the downtown grid. Our first step will be to commission a marketing study for the site, to assess its potential for mixed-use development,” said Dawn Michelle Foster, Director of the City’s Office of Redevelopment. “Then we will have a public process to discuss the property, which will help us shape our Request for Proposals.”

The goal is to issue an RFP in 2016, so that redevelopment of the site can begin as soon as possible.

In the near term, the City will continue to operate the surface parking lot adjacent to the State Supreme Court building. The Public Building Authority will oversee the lot, which will be open for paid parking during weekdays and free parking after 6 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends.

The Office of Redevelopment is also planning next steps for City-owned properties on West Jackson Avenue between Broadway and Gay Street, which include the sites of the former McClung Warehouses. Last month, City Council approved an application for a brownfield cleanup grant for those properties from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal is to get the properties ready for redevelopment.

The timeline on issuing a Request for Proposals for the Jackson Avenue properties is dependent on several other factors. The state Department of Transportation will be closing a section of Broadway between Jackson and Depot avenues in the near future for the complete reconstruction of the Broadway Viaduct. TDOT will be using part of the Jackson Avenue properties as a staging and storage area. Meanwhile, the City is moving forward with streetscape work on West Jackson, and the aging Jackson Avenue ramps at the Gay Street intersection are scheduled for upcoming reconstruction as well.

“Realistically, we can’t begin redevelopment of the West Jackson Avenue sites until these crucial infrastructure projects are finished,” Foster said. “So we’re probably looking three years out. But in the meantime, we hope to complete any brownfield remediation, and work toward an RFP that can be ready to go when the time is right.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

County taking bids for two schools

The bidding process to build two Knox County middle schools – one in the Gibbs community and the other in the Hardin Valley area – has begun.

The county late Tuesday night posted its “request for proposals” on its purchasing department website.

Developers have until Dec. 15 to submit their bids.

The county wants the developer to build a school for 1,200 students in Hardin Valley, at the north corner of Conner Creek; and a school for 800 students on the property just west of the Gibbs Elementary School on Tazewell Pike.

Henley Street Pedestrian Bridge Improvements Nearing Completion

Crews will be installing new interior and exterior lighting to the Henley Street pedestrian bridge next week.

The night-time work will require temporary lane closures next week on Henley Street and closure of the pedestrian bridge from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., beginning the evening, Nov. 16. The bridge and lanes will reopen early Nov. 21.

The work is part of a $2.7 million infrastructure upgrade that is improving the experience of pedestrians approaching World’s Fair Park and the Knoxville Convention Center from two sides.

The project also will better connect Fort Sanders, World’s Fair Park and downtown while providing covered access from area hotels and parking garages to the Knoxville Convention Center.

The first phase – improving the area from University of Tennessee Conference Center to World’s Fair Park Drive at the Candy Factory – will be completed by the end of this year. A prominent piece of the Phase I work is the pedestrian bridge improvements.

The renovated Henley Street pedestrian bridge, first constructed for the 1982 World’s Fair and then modified in the 1990s during the construction of the Knoxville Convention Center, now features a frosted glass roof. Perforated stylized metal panels replaced the original metal cage fencing.

Also part of the Phase I work: The Clinch Avenue Viaduct over World’s Fair Park is getting a new look with Streetscape additions. Bicycle lanes were added on both sides, benches were added, and the viaduct will be landscaped.

In early 2016, Johnson & Galyon will begin working on Phase 2, which includes installing a new canopy at the intersection of Locust Street and Clinch Avenue and a new canopy over the sidewalk next to the Hilton garage.