Monday, May 30, 2011

Have a nice Memorial Day, folks

Happy Memorial Day, readers. While you're enjoying your day off, grilling, drinking beer, spending time with the family, whatever, please remember why today is a holiday.

Anyhoo, the Sentinel yesterday published a column by county Law Director Joe Jarret entitled: "Memorial Day ceremony solves WWII mystery."

I think it's worth reprinting here. Enjoy.

It was on D-Day, June 6, 1944, that soldiers with the American 51st Infantry Battalion, 4th Armored Division, fought their way up a portion of the French coast, code named Utah Beach, under withering German machine gun and artillery fire.

Nine months later, on March 25, 1945, these same soldiers, now battle-hardened and advancing towards Hitler's Germany, engaged the enemy near St. Avold, France. Several American soldiers died in battle that day, among them Sgt. Freddy Jarret. He was 25. He was my uncle.

Little was known exactly what happened to my dad's beloved older brother. The family had to make do with a simple "Killed in Action" telegram. It was a mystery that haunted my father for decades: "Where was Freddy when he died?" "How did he die?" "What became of his remains?" Question after heart-breaking question was asked by my father, his mother and his father, all of which remained unanswered.

That all changed in 1985, when I found myself in uniform and, coincidentally, close to where Uncle Freddy died in service to this great nation. I was a U.S. Army Armored Cavalry officer serving along the then-West German/Czechoslovakian Border. A scant 200 meters from our outpost was an imposing Soviet tank battalion and motorized rifle regiment. We were outnumbered 10-1, but accepted what might have been our fate if hostilities between the two superpowers ever climaxed into war. And I guess it was fate that brought me to the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, a landlocked country in Western Europe bordered by Belgium, France and Germany.

My troops and I were in Luxembourg for a Memorial Day ceremony and, like so many visitors before us, took the time to stand next to the grave of Gen. George S. Patton, who died in Luxembourg in December 1945. While there, I struck up a conversation with a gentleman who would have a profound effect on the Jarret family.

A caretaker of those hallowed grounds, accustomed to hearing the mournful wail of taps and being peppered with questions from visitors, he casually mentioned that a large part of his day was spent assisting American visitors with locating the final resting place of their fallen loved ones. When I mentioned the plight of my Uncle Freddy, he remarked, "Our recordkeeping has gotten a bit more sophisticated since the war, lieutenant. Follow me."

I dutifully fell in behind the gentlemen, who brought me into a cavernous room containing large, leather-bound books (I've since learned that much of this information is now computerized) containing the names of the fallen. Within minutes of telling him my uncle's name and place of birth, he looked up at me and smiling said, "Your uncle is buried in the Lorraine American Military Cemetery in St. Avold, France."

And that was it. In the flash of an instant, what some would call fate, coincidence, or just plain luck, a 40-year-old family mystery was solved.

After receiving permission to verify the information, I drove straight through the night, arriving in St. Avold just as the morning mist rose lazily into the sun. And that's where I found Uncle Freddy, buried among his comrades-in-arms atop a green, peaceful meadow that twice in one century had experienced the ravages of war. Upon returning to my base in Germany, I called home, inquiring of my mother what she suspected would be my father's reaction to the news would be. She correctly surmised, "he'd be delighted son."

And he was. Two months later, I flew my parents over to Germany for their first and only visit to Europe. I took my dad to where his brother lay. Mom and I gave him time alone with Freddy. Today we call such experiences "closure." To dad, it was a chance to finally say goodbye to his beloved big brother. More than 400,000 Americans lost their lives in World War II. Lest we forget.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Some pension office 'boredom' news

Sat in the county's retirement and pension board meeting Monday. The big story that came out of it obviously was the board's move to shoot down a request from four civilian employees to join the upgraded pension plan for deputies.

I'm not going to recap it. (It's old by now.) And for the most part, the rest of this post is probably going to bore you, but I figured I'd get it on record anyway.(And I got nothing right now. Heh.)

Apparently pension board Executive Director Kim Bennett is looking to move her staff out of the Deathstar. (Can you blame her?). She's been looking around for some space which I believe will be in the downtown area, but I was dozing for part of the meeting, so I'm not positive. (Pension board Chairman Rick Trott suggested that she seeks space where retirees already go for services, which makes sense.)

Anyhoo, the move could save between $27,000 to $40,000 a year. Right now, the office spends almost $139,000, which includes overhead, spaces, maintenance and phones. Low estimates, according to some numbers Bennett passed out Monday would cost the office around $98,800. The predicted high is about $112,000.

The office currently operates in about 2,100-square feet and are looking for a little more, using 3,000-square feet as the baseline. (Yeah, I told you this stuff wasn't exactly thrilling.) The board, though, would probably still hold meetings at the Deathstar.

If the office moves, the city will get a first look at the open space.

Just figured I'd bore you today.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Internal auditor is staying for now

The Knox County internal audit department – a $260,000 a year operation – isn't going anywhere for awhile.

Audit Committee officials initially had kicked around the idea of looking into whether they could outsource the office. But, earlier today Law Director Joe Jarret told them that the county commission would have to amend the code to even get permission to take bids for the department.

Now, it appears that the commission during its June 6 meeting will talk further. To go ahead with the proposal, they'll need to enact an ordinance, which requires two public readings. (That's two more months.) Then craft a request for proposals. (Another few weeks.) Then bid it. (Another month). Then study the vendors (if any apply). Then form another committee. (Kidding. But they do like their committees.)

In other words, we're probably six months away from learning that it will probably be cheaper just to keep internal auditor Richard Walls and his staff. That's local government.

Still, it's worth a look anyway.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sheriff makes case for pay raises

The last time the Man with the Badge took the podium to address Knox County commissioners he knew beforehand that he had the six votes needed to get his request passed. (Some folks still think it's five votes and that's why they're not on the winning end.)

That was when Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones asked officials – after county Mayor Tim Burchett said “no” - to replace his busted up patrol cars. They did.

So, when he asked commissioners on Monday to give his deputies raises, I'm pretty sure that he's not only got the six he needs, but the seventh to override a veto the mayor is no doubt planning if the request is approved.

(From what I understand county Law Director Joe Jarret says you need seven votes. The actual number for a super majority is something like 7.2. To me, it would make seem like you would need eight votes, but I'm not a lawyer – I just call them when I'm in trouble. But, I digress.)

Anyhoo, I talked to the county people (in other words Michael "spin doctor" Grider) this morning and was told that a 2.5 percent to a 3.5 percent across-the-board raise for deputies and the other workers who fall under the executive branch purview would cost between $2.5 million and almost $4 million.

Most rank-and-file county employees haven't had raises in three to four years. I'm not advocating for them one way or the other, just pointing this out.

Additionally, I want to note that JJ's deputies are quite capable of asking for a raise themselves, so he might not be behind the push. (And even if he wasn't, he's a smart guy, so he's going to the podium to advocate for it anyway.) But, remember. Not too long ago – right after the mayor sent JJ a proposed budget for his office – the sheriff said he was happy with it.

Except for one thing. It didn't include pay raises.

Update: Just got in the official cost numbers if across-the-board raises are given.

2.5 percent increase - $2,570,846.72
3.5 percent increase - $3,442,487.88
2.5 percent increase + 1 percent uniformed officer pension plan- $2,861,362.74
3.5 percent increase + 1 percent uniformed officer pension plan - $3,735,728.79

Sunday, May 22, 2011

County Commission meets Monday

Just watched about five minutes of the Billboard Music Awards and now I feel a lot dumber. Anyway, on Monday the commission hold its regular monthly meeting, beginning at 1:45 p.m. in the big assembly room inside the Deathstar.

Here's the agenda right smack here.

It looks like it could be a pretty quick meeting. Relatively speaking.

I noticed that Chairman Mike Hammond has a hillside/ridgetop mess discussion item on the to-do list. I'm not sure if there will be a lot to discuss, since the commission has scheduled a June 9 meeting with the Knoxville City Council to talk further about the issue. But, you never know.

The commission on Monday also will talk about paying legal fees to commissioners. This stems, in part from former Commissioner Paul Pinkston defending himself from an ouster suit. He was successful, and the county reimbursed him to the tune of roughly $23,000. But, Commissioner R. Larry Smith also has a bill from a few years back when he had to go before the ethics committee. I can't recall how much it is, but it's not cheap.

And, of course, there's the budget.

I consider this separate from the actual commission meeting. This part might not go by so quickly. Commissioners aren't Happy about some of county Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed cuts. Heh.

There's been a lot of bickering, public and private, between the county's legislative and executive branch. That's pretty common. Happens every budget season. And usually the commission signs off on the budget as it was initially crafted anyway.

I'm not so sure about this one, though. But we'll see.

They don't plan to approve it until (I think) June 13, so there's plenty of time to work through it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Team Spin chasing the rumors

This is rich. Apparently, the good spin docs over in the mayor's office hear that “a few commissioners” are “reportedly discussing the possibility of a tax increase."

Uh. No. They're not.

Here's the deal. Commissioners Amy Broyles and Sam McKenzie met with some deputies Wednesday night (yes the meeting was sun shined) to talk about employee pay raises.

This morning, Commissioner Mike Brown – on 100.3 FM – was asked about the pay raises and ta ax increase, the latter which he said he'd support as a last resort.

In the meantime, Team Spin – chief of staff Dean Rice and communications director Michael Grider – designed what I supposed was some type of preemptive strike against a rumor that no one in the administration bothered to follow up on. Or perhaps, they're all overworked and it was the voices they were hearing.


Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the administration said Broyles, Brown and McKenize were behind the discussions. They've all denied it.

“That is a lie,” Broyles said.

Man, I love this stuff.

Anyhoo, here's the spin release:

Knoxville, Tenn. — A few Knox County Commissioners are reportedly discussing the possibility of a tax increase to fund pay raises for Knox County Government employees and sheriff’s deputies. Friday, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett released the following statement indicating his strong opposition to such a move:

“I truly appreciate that some commissioners agree that we must be fiscally conservative and put taxpayers first.

“Our employees and law officers do a great job and work hard for the citizens of Knox County. However, at a time when private-sector employees are not getting pay raises, and many families are struggling, it is not right to take even more of their money so Knox County’s employees can get a pay increase.

“I’ve stated very clearly that, as a fiscal conservative, I am very much opposed to raising taxes in this economy or raiding our general fund’s emergency reserves. On May 2, I presented a proposal that would balance the budget without either a tax increase or a withdrawal of funds from the emergency reserves. I also proposed an additional week of paid vacation for fulltime employees as a way to show appreciation for the work they do.

“Our first priority must be the Knox County taxpayers. This simply is not the time to raise taxes. We must not increase the tax burden on our citizens in this economy, especially when those same taxpayers are already funding a defined benefit pension plan for Sheriff’s Department employees and a minimum 6 percent contribution match for county employee retirement accounts. Those benefits simply don’t exist for many private employees.”

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mayor to seniors: Start walking

As commissioners continue to pick through county Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed budget, they continue to find more and more cuts that are ticking them off.

The latest?

A large reduction to the KAT Senior Initiative. That's where the county issues coin to the seniors to ride the bues for free. I believe Burchett's predecessor, Mike Ragsdale, initially added the money to the budget early on in his first term of office.

Last year, the county funded the program at $75,000. It's currently down to $70,000 and Burchett proposes dropping that to $25,000. From what I understand, there will be some discussion about the move on Monday when commissioners address the proposed spending plan.

“It's a very tough year and it's a year to make touch decisions,” Burchett told me today when I asked him if he hates seniors. “In lieu of a tax increase, this would be much more tolerable. A tax increase would be more detrimental to the seniors.”

Well, you certainly can't say the mayor is playing politics on this one. Seniors like to vote.

School Board to look at travel fund

Apparently Knox County School Board Chairwoman Indya Kincannon didn't forget.

Credit to good memory. Because I pretty much did.

So, I'm going to eat my slice of humble pie. Probably have some bacon with it. Cause, you know, bacon is awesome and it goes with everything. Ice cream included.

Anyhoo, yesterday I posted a note about whether the school board would address its travel allowance. I was actually more curious to find out if something I posted here would get back to the board. Wouldn't you know it. Indya checked out the site and called me a few hours later.

All of this dates back to a story I wrote about how much coin the county pays for gas. County Mayor Tim Burchett, when he was sworn into office, cut travel allowances for almost every employee under the executive branch purview. In his proposed budget he cut it for the county commission, and it appears that members will go along with the proposal. At least that's what six of them told me. And six is the magic number on a board of 11. (I think some elected officials forget that from time to time.)

So, awhile back, Indya told me that if the commission cut its allowance, she'd ask the school board to look into it, also. I figured she was just saying that.

She wasn't.

“Not only will we choose to follow what the commission does, we're compelled to,” Kincannon said, referring to the county charter. “If they chose to give themselves a raise, we'd take it (also) whether we wanted it or not. But if they choose to change something, then we'll do the same.”

She said looking into the travel allowance is “a reasonable thing to do and could ultimately save some money.”

She said once the county commission approved the overall budget, which includes school system funding, the board will talk about the allowances, so long as commission does eliminate its own.

“What I would suggest is to keep the amount in the budget and see if the reimbursements are the same or less than – and hopefully not more than - the allowances to see how it matches up next year.”

School board members and commissioners get an extra $300 a month for travel allowances. Most employees under the executive branch now submit reimbursement forms for gas money. They get 51 cents per mile traveled.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What about school board travel?

OK, I want to try something here. I'm curious to see whether the school board takes action on a blog entry. I doubt it, but I wonder if it gets back to them.

I'm not going to report about it – I don't cover the school system. But I can ramble right here.

Anyway, awhile back I wrote a story about how much the county spends on gas. It's a lot. Click right smack here for the masterpiece.

But county Mayor Tim Burchett – when he took office – eliminated pretty much all of the travel allowance for officials who operate under his purview. Well, in his proposed budget he also axed the county commission's travel allowance.

Initially, I thought they'd complain about it. But it looks like a majority will go along with the mayor's proposal and fill out the travel reimbursement forms instead of collecting the $300 a month. Now, I don't know which one really saves the most money. I'd be willing to bet, though, that you spend more on allowances, if only because folks don't want to go through the hassle of recording every mile and submitting a form.

But, whatever.

Anyway, part of the story talked about the major coin paid out to school employees. A small part of that – very minor – goes to the school board members. They each get $300 a month.

Now, I'm sure board Chairwoman Indya Kincannon forgot about this, but I still got my handy dandy notes where she said if the commission was willing to get rid of its travel allowance, then maybe the school board should look into it, too.

“It's not anything the (school) board approved,” she said at the time. “The county commission approved it for themselves and because of the charter we get the same identical compensation.”

OK, well, it looks like the commissioners are doing away with it.

Will the school board talk about getting rid of their travel allowances, too?

Naw, probably not.

It would probably go over about as well as their plan to limit the public from speaking.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Random thoughts on county stuff

So, did you miss me? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Been pretty busy lately. Hate that I didn’t update here, but I mostly do this stuff at home, and really – quite frankly – just didn’t feel like it.

No, what happened was Blogger, the platform or website or whatever this is that I use, went down. It deleted some posts, etc., so I didn’t want to put up anything else until the kinks got worked out.

Or whatever it is the greed-heads over at Google do when they’re not in a spitting match with Facebook.

Anyhoo, so I had a bunch of stuff, but I didn’t put anything on paper or monitor, so what you’re about to get is, ah, just some random shots, I suppose, while I wait for my pizza and put in the first season of Nurse Jackie. Is the show any good?

In other words, you get the quick ramblings instead of the long ones. Or whatever.

First up: I noticed the other day that county Law Director Joe Jarret started a Facebook page “Joe Jarret for Law Director.” Jarret, a Republican who was appointed last year by the county commission to replace Bill Lockett (man that was a disaster, wasn’t it), hasn’t filed an appointment of political treasurer form with the election office yet. And, petitions to run in next March’s election won’t be available until September. As it stands, though, he’s the first to – while not technically official – throw his hat in the proverbial political ring. I’m sure others will step up. I remember during interviews for the job I heard a lot of “he’s not from around here” BS from the other applicants. That attitude alone will bring out candidates.

Next up - and this one is to Laura Braden, who sends emails on behalf of Knoxville mayoral candidate Mark Padgett. I think she’s running his campaign or something. Laura, if Mark is too cheap to buy me those beers, then just say so. And that means actually picking up the phone and calling – not sending emails, cancelling his lunch appointments every time you/him/whoever run into “scheduling conflicts,” which oddly enough happens every time I pick on one of Padgett’s silly “news” releases. Oh well.

Third - and this is an old one, but I’ve wanted to say it forever. A few folks in the Deathstar forgot the Golden Rule: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Fourth - and this one goes to county Mayor Tim Burchett. The next time you propose full-time job cuts – and actual bodies get laid off – try to make sure they’re not all minorities and seniors. It just doesn’t look good when they are. Or when most of them are. (I imagine once this one gets posted I’ll get a call from communications manager Michael Grider refuting it. Update to follow. Heh.)

Fifth (and I’ll probably get slammed for this one but I don’t care): I was at the county commission meeting briefly today. Sentinel reporter Rebecca Ferrar was filling in for me, but I had to stop by to interview some folks. Apparently 20 people attended the budget hearing to speak out against the proposed funding cuts – about 92 percent – to the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

The mayor has proposed a reduction from $150,000 to $12,000. Wow, that’s some major coin. Now, I know people are going to turn this into a West vs. East (where the center resides) issue or a black vs. white issue, or a whatever issue.

It’s not.

Look, Burchett is a Republican. And that’s not to disparage the guy, but – and I’m stereotyping here, I know – Republicans cut this kind of stuff. (At least more so than Democrats.) The administration is slashing prices throughout the Deathstar’s parking lot. (Except for schools because it really can’t, and in public safety because it doesn’t want to deal with The Man with the Badge).

And yeah, cultural centers, non-profits, whatever enhance the makeup of communities. But, they’re also the first things axed when looking for savings. Burchett campaigned on smaller government. He’s doing it (or attempting to) right now.

That’s a fact. He didn’t hide it. He said he was going to make some cuts people wouldn’t like. And he said he was going to lay off folks.

But I digress.

Anyway, the Beck Center and the county – under the Mayor Mike Ragsdale administration – had a deal where the county would help fund it, if Beck officials turned over the property (and go through the process like other non-profits). That never happened. In the meantime, the Beck Center received a ton of money. The county eventually backed out when Center officials didn’t hold up their end of the deal.

To Burchett – I’m assuming here, I admit – the Center is now a private, non-profit entity. And I think it’s an important center that serves the black community, but it’s not a county-funded operation, like – for example - a senior center.

Also – and I don’t know the answer to this – but I think you have to keep in mind just how much money the Center brings in. What is its economic impact (which is actually a silly way to measure things because most people just juice the numbers anyway)? If it doesn’t bring in the scratch, then It’s not going to get the coin.

I know it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. And people aren’t going to agree. (Hey, we all know where to cut the budget, right?) But, whatever. We’ll know more shortly.

The commission next week will continue picking through Burchett’s proposed budget, and I’m sure – no, I know – the issue will be revisited.

I had a few more items to ramble about, but it’s getting late.

And I want to see if that show is any good.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

'New' $45 court fee to return

I got a call from the city side of the Deathstar, telling me that state lawmakers just signed off on a bill that would let Knox County collect a court fee that could provide a ton of coin to the Knoxville Family Justice Center.

Back in mid-April I wrote about the problem. Click right smack here for the masterpiece.

Anyhoo, to sum it up:
Commissioners in June 2008 approved a resolution that lets the county - under Tennessee law - tack on a $45 "victims' assistance assessment" fee to most offenders convicted of crimes where the minimum punishment is at least $500.

Of that, $42 would go to a victim assistance program - in this case the Knoxville Family Justice Center, which provides victims of domestic violence access to advocacy and other services. The remaining $3 would go to Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey's office for processing and handling costs.

The problem, however, is that the assessment fee is subject to a portion of state law that Knox County doesn't follow, in part, because it operates under a charter form of government.

The county, some officials say, can't honor the commission resolution.
The state's move today, however, should clear all this up.

In theory, anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some senior center outrage

The word I’m hearing is that some commissioners aren’t too happy with the administration’s reluctance to tell department heads how many – and which of their people – were getting laid off. I believe the number is around eight actual bodies. As noted right smack here officials weren’t informed until after the proposed budget was made public.

I’m not sure how all this will translate. The county commission on Monday (from noon to 2 p.m. at the Deathstar) will begin picking through the annual spending plan. At that time, however, they’ll be talking about schools, the sheriff’s office, the health department, and engineering and public works.

I think the school budget is pretty much set. The Man with Badge told me that he’s content with his proposal, although I know he wants some raises for his deputies (they haven’t received any in at least four years). The health department folks? I don’t know what they’ll do. And, I seriously doubt interim public works Director Dwight Van de Vate will say much, because he got hooked up this year. Or about as hooked up as the administration is going to give any department that isn’t the school system or law enforcement.

With that said (you knew this was coming, didn’t you), I talked to a resident yesterday who also is not happy about the administration keeping quiet on the layoffs.

In fact, Jean Coleman told me that she has started a petition to get the funding re-instated for a staffer over at the Frank Strang Senior Center. Apparently, they have a three-person operation over there. Come July 1 – the start of the new fiscal year – they’ll have a two-person deal if the budget is approved as proposed.

Not all the senior centers took hits, but Strang did. The largest. Almost $30,000. Here’s the link to the budget right here. The senior center numbers are on page 17, so you have to do a little scrolling.

It could get interesting. Cause, you know, seniors love to vote.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Political Leverage done but not Dan

“Parkinson's drains you mentally, physically, financially and emotionally. To give you insight I used to type like 100 words a minute. Now I am down to 10 and use a voice dictation system.” – Dan Andrews

Dan Andrews, left, has always been very kind to me. So when he announced that he was shutting down his blog, Political Leverage, because of his deteriorating health, I felt bad. (And that takes a lot. I really don’t have a conscience.)

I wanted to write a nice, little send-off piece; something witty, something profound about him. Maybe even something kind. Return the favor.

But, words, often, are too small to fill the worth of some circumstances.

So I really don’t know what to say.

When I moved to Knoxville, Dan was one of the first people I met, who hung out the Deathstar, didn’t work there and actually enjoyed it. (The guy loves his local politics.) I didn’t really know a whole lot about him, but he was usually taking pictures, usually talking about current issues. Granted, I didn’t always agree with what he said – or with his angle for that matter – but he did do his research.

Hell, when the mayor said he was going to cut jobs, Dan called it almost on the nose. I’m still scratching my head over the bizarre formula he used, but, wow, he got the numbers right. Dean Rice, the county’s chief of staff, later told me he that he, too, was surprised. (The administration certainly wanted to keep it under wraps until the budget was released.) So, way to go, buddy.

But, I digress.

Like I said, Dan was one of the first folks I met. He’s also the first person – and to this day – only person I’ve met that has Parkinson’s. Sure, I’ve seen Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox, in televised interviews, struggle with its effects. And I’ve read about it. But, it’s not until you see the disease upfront, in person, that you realize just how debilitating it can really be.

“Some days I’m fine, some days I’m shaking like a leaf,” he told me the other day.

Dan is in his 30s. That’s not really fair. If it was me, I’d be bitter. And maybe he is. But, he’s never let on. No, he kept pecking away at his keyboard, typing out his blog.

And taking pictures. Some pretty good ones, too.

But, back to his blog. I never really read the local stuff until work mandated that I do my own. So, during the past few months – every morning – I read through a handful of them. And Dan’s was one. (Shock and Awe, Humphrey on the Hill and Knoxviews are some of the others.)

I have to say, it was always interesting. He had surveys, video interviews and some inside baseball that you don’t often find anywhere else. (I suppose that’s what blog are about.) But, he also had a passion to cover minor meetings in the nooks and crannies that other reporters (my paper included) don’t reach. So that was cool, too.

I wish he left all that stuff up. But he didn’t. The only post left is his departing message. I encourage you all to read it. In fact, I also encourage you to read Brian Hornback’s post about Dan if you haven't already.

Here is some of what Dan says:
“My original goal was to have this awesome successful blog that would cover my rising medical bills. Ooops, that didn't happen. With time gas and energy the reverse was happening. This blog was actually costing me money. The thing with Parkinson's is the medical bills don't go down. My pipe dream was I could cover politics and save my life. Ha, ya unrealistic now that I look back on it but hey it was worth the shot.”
He then goes on to write about how the disease is affecting him. Again, please read it.

In the meantime, Dan is going to still to hang at the Deathstar and he’ll still pop up at a political rally or two. And from what I understand, he’ll still work as a freelance photographer. I also told him that if he shoots video, I’ll post some stuff here.

So, that’s cool, too.

As a final note, if you’re feeling a little charitable, why not throw a few dollars over to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

I know I will.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Carter proposal is not off track

I was hoping I wouldn't have to address this, but oh well. I'll still make happy hour.

Anyhoo, county law director Joe Jarret sent out an email this morning:

"As you are aware, the above Bill (State Senate Bill 1916-New School Constructions) as introduced, was designed to authorize local boards of education to enter into capital leases and build-to-suit capital leases of real or personal property for the use, construction, repair or renovation of school buildings and facilities. This is the Bill that Mayor Burchett had vetted to the Board of Education. Please be advised that Senator Dolores R. Gresham deferred the Bill to the first calendar for 2012, to wit, the second week of January, 2012. As such, it will not make it to the floor for a vote this legislative session."

I got it sometime around 10 a.m. I talked to him about the ramifications on the mayor's plans to build a new Carter Elementary. Initially, he felt it could kill the deal. I reminded him that awhile back – when the state Legislative angle was first broached – that the county supposedly found a way around it by using the Industrial Development Board as a middleman.

He said he'd look into it. He did. A few hours later, he called to tell me that yes, in fact, this will have NO ramifications on Carter.

The Bill was – is, whatever – a backup proposal. Nothing more.

'Unprecedented' press release

Oh, ho ho. Ha, ha, har. The latest from the good spinster Michael Grider, the county's communication manager, who manages no one. Heh.

Knoxville, Tenn. — In a move that is unprecedented in Knox County, Mayor Tim Burchett met with taxpayers in all nine Knox County Commission districts this week to discuss his FY 2011-2012 general budget proposal, which he presented to Commission Monday morning. The public budget meetings began Monday and will continue through the month of May.

Unprecedented????? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA Oh, I like Grider. I do. Seriously. But this stuff kills me. I'm going to call the History Channel and get someone from TV down here to cover this groundbreaking moment. It's got to be on one of those "100 greatest discoveries" lists.



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Few more details on county layoffs

So, on Tuesday I called over to the Deathstar to get an exact list of the folks – the real bodies – who would lose their jobs under county Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed budget.

No, I wasn't going to name them. But, I did want to list the positions, the years worked and the salaries. Well, the administration didn't want to provide the list. Or they couldn't. I can't remember. It's supposedly in flux. Which I'm not buying. Because they knew who was/is getting laid off.

Here's the real reason that list wasn't turned over: The top dogs on the sixth floor didn't bother telling their department heads who was staying and who was going. Sure, during the past few months, they've met with the directors. And they've talked about the offices' respective budgets.

But, it wasn't until Monday that they actually publicly released them. So, even the directors – the bosses of the people getting the ax – didn't know. I hear a lot of talk about running government like a business. I'm not sure this is the way businesses do things. Usually the employees know before the paperwork – in this case, the budget – is made public.

I'm rambling here, I know. Anyway, I don't have the details of the bodies. But there appears to be eight full-time people, two part-time and someone they'll keep through October.

The departments hit include: the legislative delegation (1 FT), human resources (3 FT), senior centers (1 FT, 1 PT), finance (1 PT), park maintenance (1 FT) and information technology (2 FT – one which will be funded through October).

The rest of the cuts (a little more than 30 total) come from vacant positions.

Here's a better breakdown right smack here from a sheet I ordered up from the county.

The total savings, including benefits, is $1,745,525.86.

Now, when you look at that document (again – it's right here) you'll notice that the mayor's office has eliminated one position. Don't let them kid you. That job was really cut a long time ago. Burchett did it when he took office. Admirable to do it? Sure. Admirable to claim it now? No.

By the way, I talked to the administration's chief of staff, Dean Rice, about why they didn't tell directors before Monday about the specific cuts.

i didn't get much out of him.

“Those are conversations we're having with our department heads this week,” he said Tuesday. “It's not easy to have these conversations. There's no perfect time.”

He's right. There's never a perfect time.

But timing is everything. And the wrong time is to do it too late. Like any time after Monday.

More silly spin from Mark Padgett

The only thing I ever really knew about Cinco de Mayo is that it was always a good excuse to get drunk.

But, for Knoxville mayoral candidate Mark Padgett, it's a good excuse for you to give him $500 in coin.

Or is $5?

Whatever. (Is he going to ask for another $5, or $500, on July 4, too?)

I just got another one of his silly “news” releases. It includes a no-doubt sappy Mother's Day message from the aspiring politico (haven't watched it because my work computer sucks), as well as a bold headline that reads: “Love Cinco de Mayo? Help us Raise $500 Today!

Right below that it says:

“Since it's Cinco de Mayo, we're asking you to help us TODAY by taking five seconds to donate $5 to our campaign.

Seriously? What the hell?

I got $5 that says he doesn't even know what the $*%$ Cinco de Mayo really is.

In the meantime, this whole message makes me want to keep my fiver (of $500) and go get drunk.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Proposed fiscal budget remarks

The county just sent over some information about Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed budget. Here's the story I just posted a little while ago.

Here's the county's spin, written by communications manager Michael Grider, although I'm sure the chief of staff, Dean Rice, was somehow involved. Heh.

Right here is a copy of the mayor's speech that he delivered to the county commission today. (Note: Commissioners Amy Broyles and Tony Norman were not there.)The mayor swears he wrote this himself. I don't know, though. It's absent a lot of his humor. But then again, laying off people isn't exactly a funny thing, either.

And, if you're really bored and you want to go to another budget presentation, the mayor will be meeting all week with the public. Here's the schedule.

Have fun.

Mayor proposes slush fund cuts

In early March I wrote this story.

Its starts off:

"Knox County commissioners plan to increase their office's discretionary fund, an account used to dole out money to the community.

In addition, the commission doesn't expect to cut auto allowances that the mayor has eliminated from other departments under his purview."

Well, apparently the commissioners at the time didn’t get the memo.

Or the budget. Heh. Something they just got a few minutes ago.

Those slush funds? Yeah. Gone. (And come on – don’t call them “discretionary” funds. Seriously.) Those auto allowances? Yeah. Kiss them goodbye, too.

Unless of course, commissioners want to put all that back in. Because they can.
County Mayor Tim Burchett just turned over his proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12, which starts July 1. Before then, however, commissioners will have a chance to pick through it and make whatever changes they want. (They’re subject to veto, I suppose, but the board – with enough votes - could override it.)

Back in late February or early March – during a commission luncheon – officials talked about increasing their slush funds from $3,000 to as much as $10,000 each. (As I recall, the good doctor and Commissioner Richard Briggs was the only one who said “the heck with that, we don’t even need them.” Or something like that.) They also decided over lunch that they weren’t going to the reimbursement system, like the executive officers. They wanted to keep the $300 a month check.

So, the commission submitted its budget to Burchett. Officials asked for $587,800. He’s offering $512,300. And zero for the slush. And travel. (Last year by the way, the commission – which had 19 members, not the current 11 – adopted a $653,300 budget.)


Maybe they should have thought a little harder when they decided to give the Man with the Badge those squad cars.

You know. When they tapped the reserves – against the mayor’s wishes – to the tune of $2.2 million to buy Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones 65 patrol cars.

By the way, the sheriff asked the mayor for another 35 cars; the mayor gave him 24. Jones, though, knows it takes 6 votes for a majority. Sometimes I think the mayor believes it only takes five.

But I digress.

Because this could actually get kind of interesting.

Update: After talking to more than half the commissioners, it appears that - at least at this point - they will do without the slush funds. Same with travel, although many say it will cost the county more to reimburse them.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Good riddance scum bag; rot in hell

Let's try not to make this about Republicans and Democrats. For once. OK? (Heh. With that said is there any way we can march his flea-ridden head - on a stake - through downtown New York?) Here's what the AP is reporting right now:

WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, is dead, and the U.S. is in possession of his body, a person familiar with the situation said late Sunday.

President Barack Obama was expected to address the nation on the developments Sunday night.

Two senior counterterrorism officials confirmed that bin Laden was killed in Pakistan last week. One said bin Laden was killed in a ground operation, not by a Predator drone. Both said the operation was based on U.S. intelligence, and both said the U.S. is in possession of bin Laden's body.

Officials long believed bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world, was hiding a mountainous region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak ahead of the president.

The development comes just months before the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, orchestrated by bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, that killed more than 3,000 people