Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Knoxville cmployees among the many rushing help to Sevier County: 3,100 hours at fire scene by KFD, KPD

Many communities rushed help in all forms – firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, food, supplies, prayers and charitable donations – to Sevier County communities devastated by the Nov. 28 wildfires.

Knoxville families, schools, churches and businesses contributed generously.

The City of Knoxville, alongside many other cities and agencies, lent its firefighting and emergency management expertise and equipment.

The Knoxville Fire Department dispatched more than 100 firefighters throughout the week as part of the State Mutual Aid System to battle the wildfires and help with the search for missing persons. The first Knoxville firefighters arrived within hours of the fires reaching Gatlinburg structures.

KFD also sent six pieces of firefighting apparatus – engines, tankers, a ladder truck and a 4-wheel-drive smaller truck specially designed to battle brushfires in hard-to-reach areas, along with 11 support vehicles.

KFD’s chaplain also was in Gatlinburg last week, helping to comfort displaced families as well as the First Responders.

In total, KFD committed more than 1,400 hours to battling the Sevier County fires and assisting families.

The Knoxville Police Department also sent help. Starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, KPD began rotating shifts of 12 to 15 officers, who initially assisted Sevier County law enforcement with emergency street closures.

By the end of last week, KPD chaplains were supporting families and First Responders. KPD’s Search and Rescue Team was deployed, and KPD investigators were working with federal task forces.

All told, 200 KPD employees were on the scene in Sevier County last week, contributing more than 1,700 employee hours.

At the start of the Dec. 6 City Council meeting, Mayor Madeline Rogero thanked the City employees who helped battle the fires and also praised the “huge outpouring of compassion, concern and generosity from so many people opening their hearts and their homes and making donations.”

“The fires were a disaster and a tragedy, but the response to them really shows the deep sense of community we have here in East Tennessee – the Volunteer Spirit at its best,” the Mayor said.

There are plenty of ways that Knoxville residents can help Sevier families get back on their feet.

Want to contribute or find out the best ways to help the fire victims? Call 2-1-1. The 2-1-1 phone line is run by the City’s 311 Call Center under contract to the United Way, and staffers answering the line can help connect people in need with resources - or provide information on ways that donors can contribute to relief efforts.

Also, the Sevier County Economic Development Council, in conjunction with Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, has created a new website to coordinate all of the relief and resources. Visit

Friday, December 2, 2016

McQueen to visit Knoxville to talk about new education ESSA law

Federal lawmakers last year approved the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a K-12 education law that replaces No Child Left Behind.

It goes into full effect during the 2017-2018 school year.

The Tennessee Department of Education has been working on outlining its transition to this new law and will soon release a draft plan for public comment.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will be in Knoxville next week for a town hall meeting to provide updates on the ESSA state plan, as well as to get your feedback.

The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at West High School, 3300 Sutherland Ave. If you cannot attend, the department will have an online feedback form that will mirror the questions asked at the meeting. It will be available on the department’s ESSA website:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Haslam: Neighbors helping neighbors

It’s been a very tough month for our state.

At least eight counties in Tennessee experienced tornadoes and severe weather Tuesday night. We know of two fatalities in Polk County and injuries in Polk, Marion and McMinn counties, along with extensive property damage in the region.

Tuesday afternoon, I went to Sevier County to be briefed and see damage from wildfires – the largest fire in Tennessee in a hundred years. The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed seven fatalities as a result, and there are a number of injuries and individuals missing or unaccounted for. More than 400 personnel and almost 100 fire apparatuses are supporting the firefighting effort in Sevier County. As governor, I am incredibly grateful for the way people have worked together across departments and local, state and federal government. The cooperation has been incredible.

The state is doing and will continue to do everything we can to support Sevier County. I’ve received calls from the governors of every neighboring state offering their help, and President Obama, President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence have called to offer their sorrow and pledged to do everything they can to help.

Sevier County is a special part of our state and a special part of the world, and it remains that. Our hearts are broken at the loss of life and loss of property, but there is good news, too. The people who settled this area were pioneers, and they still have that spirit. They are already hard at work taking care of each other and getting their lives and businesses back up and running. Millions of families have visited Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and they will continue to.

TEMA and the Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster have set up a call center (866-586-4483) for information about donating goods and volunteering to help survivors. For the latest updates on the situation in Sevier County, visit


Last week, I visited Woodmore Elementary and Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, following the tragic bus crash that claimed the lives of six young children.

You’re not supposed to have elementary classrooms with empty desks. The sorrow all of us feel is incredibly deep.

I couldn’t be more proud or more grateful for the way Chattanooga and Hamilton County responded – teachers reassuring children with familiar faces, neighbors coming out to hold kids’ hands, first responders who saw things no one wants to see, medical professionals at Erlanger treating children, and the community filling up the school and hospital with food and toys and almost crashing a community fund website with their support.

This tragedy has raised a lot of questions about school bus safety. The state is taking a comprehensive look at the issue, everything from how local school boards select contractors, to how drivers are hired, to ensuring the safety of the equipment, to whether seat belts are appropriate. We need a fresh conversation about how to keep students safe.


Let me mention a few other things from the past month:
Finally, I know the thoughts and prayers of this state are with our neighbors who are suffering. As I’ve traveled to Chattanooga and Sevier County over the past week, I’ve seen and heard countless examples of neighbors helping neighbors. The way Tennesseans respond to tragedy is incredible, and I couldn’t be more proud to be your governor.


Cades Cove re-opens; Blount Co continues volunteers efforts

The National Park Service announced that the Townsend, Tenn., entrance to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has re-opened for visitors Thursday. Both the Cades Cove and Oconoluftee Visitor Centers in North Carolina have re-opened.

“We express deep sympathy for all the citizens in Sevier County for their loss and disruption of their lives during this week’s fires,” said Kim Mitchell, Director of Tourism for Blount County. “We vow to help with volunteer relief efforts. Currently the need is for monetary donations rather than physical supplies. We are asking anyone that can donate to please do and show the great volunteer spirit of this state.”

In addition, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and trails remain closed from the Gatlinburg entrance along Highway 411 to Smokemont, near Cherokee, N.C.

Places taking monetary donations include:

Gatinburg Relief Fund
P.O. Box 1910
Pigeon Forge, TN 37868
Call 865-453-2650 for more information.

American Red Cross
Call 865-862-3519 to donate
People can make a $10 donation by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999.

Online donation at

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Knox County Schools organize myriad of Sevier County relief efforts

Tragedy struck this week in the mountain towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and schools in Knox County are stepping up in a number of ways to offer support to our afflicted neighbors. Below is a list of some of the specific relief efforts being organized across the county.

· Blue Grass Elementary has asked their students to donate spare change for the Red Cross. One student brought in $300 of his own money to help the cause.

· Byington-Solway CTEC has organized a drive to collect items to help those that have lost belongings, including water, clothes and essential items like toothpaste and toiletries.

· Career Magnet Academy has organized a collection drive for water and snacks for the first responders. The first load was delivered on Nov. 29 and a second load will be delivered tomorrow, Dec. 1.

· Carter Elementary is collecting bottled water, Gatorade, lip balm, wool socks and cereal bars for first responders. They are also collecting diapers and wipes, cat and dog food for displaced residents. The items will be delivered on Friday.

· Cedar Bluff Elementary’s Nature Club is spearheading a collection of supplies and money/gift cards. The donations will be dropped off on Friday.

· Central High School’s P.E. Department is collecting donations for the Sevier County Animal Shelter to help care for the many displaced animals and pets.

· Christenberry Elementary: Encouraging students on Friday, Dec 2 to wear their favorite hat and/or pajamas to school and donate $1 toward those affected by the Sevier County fires. The school is also collecting new items to donate. All items can be brought to the school and staff volunteers will deliver them to local agencies directly helping those displaced.

· Corryton Elementary is having a collection on Friday, Dec. 2 for needed items such as food, water, toiletries, pet food, and more to be taken to Sevier County over the weekend.

· Dogwood Elementary staff is collecting supplies to be delivered at the end of the week.

· Farragut Middle is taking up monetary donations for the American Red Cross and collecting toiletry items and protein bars.

· Farragut High School SGA is taking up donations in first block classes.

· Gibbs High’s Criminal Justice classes have organized a schoolwide effort to take up bottled water, Gatorade, snacks, protein bars, eye drops, and more for first responders in Sevier County. The other students and members of the community have been helping with donations, collecting items and assisting in taking the items to Sevier County.

· Halls Middle’s Random Acts of Kindness Club is collecting donations and will deliver them to the Ford Dealership in Sevierville to distribute.

· Hardin Valley Academy is doing a schoolwide drive for items listed on WBIR’s website as needed for pets in particular, but is also collecting cash donations and water. The effort is being coordinated through the Planned Acts of Kindness Club.

· Karns High is requesting that students and staff bring needed items for the Gatlinburg Relief Fund.

· Karns Middle is collecting toothbrushes and toothpaste through its student council; the girls’ basketball team is collecting monetary donations; and the school has a hat day scheduled with earmarked for animal shelters and the care of animals.

· Northshore Elementary is hosting “Dimes for a Disaster” with a goal of raising $1,000 in support of relief efforts.

· Powell High is serving as a collection hub for the Powell community. The intent is to donate directly to Gatlinburg-Pitman High School to help displaced faculty, staff and students.

· Powell Middle is working with its PTSA to host a Food/Water/Supply Drive through Friday for the American Red Cross shelter in Sevierville, where many victims are currently staying.

· Ritta Elementary is conducting a money drive on Saturday, Dec. 3 during its holiday craft fair. Students are also being asked to bring in other needed items in the upcoming weeks.

· Sam E. Hill Preschool is making cards and collecting water and power bars for first responders as well as gathering games and activities for small children.
South-Doyle will be taking donations for Gatlinburg this Friday night at the first home basketball game. A case of water, pack of Gatorade, box of protein bars, a bag of dog/cat food or other needed items equal free admission into the game. All donations will be taken to the drop off point in South Knoxville.

· Sterchi Elementary is having hat day on Friday. Everyone who wants to participate can donate $1 with money raised donated to the relief effort.

· West High is collecting items for the relief effort with a special focus on the needs of first responders. It is gathering Chapstick, water, energy bars and gum. In addition, they are collecting donations of pet food, diapers and other items of necessity.

· West Valley Middle is hosting a donation drive through next Wednesday, Dec. 7 for the Red Cross.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Three essentials: healthcare, food and education focus of 'Inside Tn'

Stan Brock
It’s typically a political and public affairs program, but this Sunday’s edition of “Inside Tennessee” focuses on three charities in East Tennessee and three basics of life: healthcare, food, and education.

WBIR 10News anchor and the show’s moderator, John Becker, calls it perhaps the “most revealing” edition of “Inside Tennessee” this year.

“We cut to the core of the need across our community for the very basics of survival,” he said. “It is hard to overstate the influence these three charities have had on improving the lives of people across East Tennessee. I think our viewers will appreciate the challenges ahead and will be interested in the role Washington politics may play in shaping their future.”

The guests include Stan Brock, the founder of Remote Area Medical; Elaine Streno, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank; and Emmette Thompson, the executive director for Mission of Hope.

“(We) want to offer a glimpse into the lives of people on the frontline of topics that often take a political turn,” Becker said. “We spend some time talking about the influence of the November election and what they’re expecting in the coming Trump administration.”

For example, Becker noted, Brock offers his take on the one change lawmakers in Washington, D.C. could make the would open up more people to dental and vision care across the country.

Sunday’s guests will answer the question: Are we better off now than we were a decade ago when it comes to meeting the basic needs of people in healthcare, food, and education.

They’ll also talk about their biggest challenges ahead.

“We hope viewers learn a bit more about these homegrown operations, the influence they have on our community, and why they do what they do,” Becker said.

The 30-minute program, which was taped Wednesday, kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WBIR 10News.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Take Hill to enter C.C. Building

Looks like if you want to enter the ol' Knox County Death Star you'll have to go through the Hill Avenue entrance, according to a memo sent out Wednesday.

The Public Building Authority closed the Main Street entrance "to address an issue with the concrete near the entryway."

The closure will impact member of the public through at least Monday. 

That's not too bad, however, since the building is closed until then for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Smith wants back on Knox commission

Former Knox County Commissioner R. Larry Smith, a Republican, this morning said he's running for the at-large commission seat No. 11.

Ed Brantley currently holds the post. The election isn't until 2018.

"I have always strived to be responsive and effective to the needs of my constituents, and I feel my leadership in the community will help me to serve on the (Knox) County Commission another term," Smith said in a release. "As an informed business and homeowner, I am aware of many of the concerns that the citizens face and will strive to make good and responsible decisions. I will truly be a voice for the people from across the entire county."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Debate over whether to merge Knox Co. criminal, circuit court systems

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond would like to put most of the county’s court system under one umbrella, a move that he says would help the offices “operate more efficiently” and “serve to once again generate excess fees” for local government.

His counterpart - Knox County Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Shanks - says the plan is "regressive" and the supposed financial benefits "are not realistic."

Hammond's proposal comes in the wake of a WBIR 10News investigation in late October that detailed the county Circuit Court Office's failure to turn over any money to the county coffers – for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in the past six years.

MORE: Hammond's memo to the Knox County mayor
MORE: Shanks' memo to the Knox County mayor
MORE: No extra fees from Knox Co Circuit Ct Clerk four years running

As it stands, the criminal court clerk is responsible for the criminal, sessions and fourth circuit courts. The circuit court clerk oversees civil sessions and juvenile court.

Hammond's plan, which was detailed in a 2-page memo marked “confidential” and sent to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on Nov. 8, provides two options. WBIR obtained a copy of the memo under the state's open records law.

You can find the rest of the story HERE.

Hammond: Won't seek mayoral post

I was talking with Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond this morning and he said he will not run for county mayor.

There had been some rumors that he would.

Instead, Hammond said he will either run for criminal court clerk again or for the circuit court clerk's gig.

As it stands, Knox County Commissioner Bob Thomas and Knox County GOP Chairman Buddy Burkhardt so far have announced their intentions to seek the county's mayoral seat.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is term-limited. His current and second term ends in the fall of 2018.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thousands of unemployed still waiting on TN Labor Department for help

Stephanie Ramirez
Stephanie Ramirez was prepared to dig into her retirement plan.

After 10 weeks without a job and no help from the state Labor Department, her 401(k) was a potential life preserver to keep her family afloat.

She was laid off in August and her husband, too, was about to join the unemployment line.

“I got really nervous because . . .  we are looking for employment but that assistance is there to help families just pay the bills and get along and find work,” Ramirez said.

As a last ditch effort, she reached out to her state representative, Roger Kane.

Two hours later, someone from the labor department got back to her. A day after that, her first unemployment insurance payment was deposited into her bank account.

“I believe I would not have received any benefits and so does Roger Kane’s office,” said Ramirez, whose family moved to Knoxville from San Diego 11 years ago. “But if (they) didn’t put a fire under them I probably really wouldn’t have a deposit today. I firmly believe that. That’s total speculation but no one was getting back to me about my claim. The timing is odd.”

Ramirez isn’t alone. She’s one of about a dozen people in the past few months to reach out to WBIR as part of its 10Listens program.

All say the same thing: They lost their job months ago and can’t reach anyone at the unemployment office. The department’s computer system isn’t that good and nor are the call centers. They haven’t received any money and they’re at wits end.

Check out the rest of our story RIGHT HERE.