Thursday, June 30, 2011

End of fiscal year means job losses

Today was the end of the county's fiscal year 2010-2011, and that means five employees were officially laid off.

The county lost one full-time employee in its Legislative Delegation office, one full-time administrative assistant in human resources and one worker at a senior center.

Two part-time workers also left - one in the finance department, another in human resources.

In addition, one full-time IT employee will leave in October.

Another two workers, slated to leave, were transferred. One person in the parks and recreation department went over to air quality and a human resources worker who worked in the employee wellness program is going over to the health department.

Both of those employees start their new jobs on Friday, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

More on the grand jury probe

Apparently, the grand jury investigation into the Trustee's Office has been going on for at least a few weeks, but people are only starting to talk now because there's been quite a bit of activity happening over at the Deathstar.

And that always makes for good gossip. Heh.

(I posted a little about this yesterday.)

Anyhoo, testimony will resume tomorrow and at least one person from the Knox County Trustee's Office will meet with the jury. That employee, however, is not a target, and is expected talk more about office procedures.

I also talked to John Haun's attorney, John Valliant and former Trustee Mike Lowe's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs. (There were a few accusations thrown around about Lowe as you might recall.)

Valliant didn't say much, but his guy is expected to eventually testify at some point. Haun will probably be able to cut a deal, but he's also expected to be charged at some point for overpaying himself some mega-extra coin. He'll also repay the scratch from what his attorney has said in the past.

In the meantime, it's quite possible - after more than two years of the TBI investigating this (alleged) mess - that residents could finally have some answers. Or not.

Who knows. It's possible someone could get indicted. Then, of course, they go to court. If they win, they walk. And if they lose, well, do they really lose?

You do remember the Cynthia Finch trial, don't ya?

Regardless, we'll have a more complete story about this in tomorrow's News Sentinel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grand jury for former trustee

I might as well throw this out, even though it's about the worst kept secret of the day, yet no one wants their name attacked to it on the record. But, a couple of my sources have confirmed that:

The grand jury has convened to investigate former Trustee Mike Lowe or at least some of the funny stuff that went down during his tenure. There's a lot to recap, so I'll just throw out some story links right here and here and here.

One person expected to testify will be John Haun. I recently wrote a story about him and his laughable "willingness" to pay back some money he might owe the county. You can find that story here.

So, you wanna be a state senator?

The Knox County Board of Commissioners will accept resumes from those silly enough to want to be a state bench warmer, I mean senator, up until July 14. This is for Jamie Woodson's 6th District seat. You might recall, Woodson got smart and took a real job working/leading some educational organization that I'm too lazy to look up because I don't really care.

Send your no-doubt made up resumes to:

Office of the Knox County Commission
Suit 603, Deathstar
400 Main Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37930

You also can fax them to: 215-2038 or email to:

Also, before you send in your resume, make sure you meet the qualifications. You know, make sure you're a U.S. citizen, that you've lived in Tennessee for three years and lived in the county or district for at least one year, immediately preceding the appointment. Oh yeah, and the person selected cannot hold another office during the appointment period, which isn't going to be all that long.

Funny, the release that had all that information didn't say anything about how you probably shouldn't have a felony. Apparently, that's not a priority. To not have one, I mean.

The commission will interview the candidates on July 18 at 3:30 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the Deathstar. Officials will then appointment the new member during their regular meeting at July 25.

The meeting that never was

So around 9:30 this morning, I'm shuffling through papers, trying to find a place to hide, when the county's master of spin, Michael Grider, sends the media (or is it medium?) an email.

It stated:
"I meant to send this out yesterday. There is a Justice Committee Mental Health Subcommittee meeting scheduled for Tomorrow, Wednesday June 29 at 2 p.m. in the Commission Conference room near the sixth floor elevators here in City County Building."
Now, hell, I'm trying to do the least amount of work here as possible. (Did you see this brilliant piece I wrote today?) And then here comes the administration.

But there's a catch.

I fired this email back to the county communications manager:
“Guess you just blew the adequate public notification rules, huh? Heh.”
A few minutes later, Grider calls, saying that county Law Director Joe Jarret said it's probably best to leave at least 48 hours between notifying the public and holding the meeting. (You know, that little thing called the Sunshine rules.)

Grider then sent out the following note:
"Please disregard this notice. The meeting has been postpone. When it is rescheduled, I will send out another notice.”
Now, you might think I'm picking on Grider. I'm not, actually. He did the right thing and I applaud him. I've gotten a lot of these notices at the last minute from some other county – and city – officials. And they don't really care about the rules.

So, normally I take a drink whenever Grider screws up (it's a game we play that he doesn't know about), but I won't this time. And in fairness - and to all the folks out there who will say I'm the pot calling the kettle black - I take a drink whenever we have to run correction.

That's probably why I'm stumbling around half the time.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Mayes calls out Salter. Again.

I guess county solid waste director Tom Salter thinks he’s a funny guy.

You know, supposedly making up email accounts, pretending he’s his own arch nemesis Brad Mayes, then sending a note to an attorney.

Funny stuff, I tell you.

Until you get caught.

And in one of the most ironic/dumbest ways possible (not that emails can’t be traced anyway).

You see, Brad Mayes, pictured above, talked (and still does) some trash about Salter. And Salter, I presume, got tired of it.

In fact, he got so tired of it, he decided to sue Mayes for slander. And therein lies the problem.

Lawsuits require depositions. And attorneys can pretty much ask anything in a deposition, even if it really isn’t that germane to whatever the heck the lawsuit is about. And you don’t want to lie in a deposition. Because then the opposing attorney gets you on the stand and – sort of – asks you the same question later on. And your answer better match up. (Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said if you never lie you never have to remember anything? But I digress.)

Anyhoo,Salter sues Mayes. Then Mayes' attorney turns the whole thing around on Salter.

Salter pretty much had to confess that he’s the one who sent out the email that was supposedly from Brad. It was back in 2008, under the fake account:

It was sent to David Draper, the attorney for Natural Resources Recovery of Tennessee, the county’s mulch operator. Mayes, right or wrong, has been pissing off NRRT and solid waste director Tom Salter for quite some time.

So, Mayes during today’s county commission meeting turned over part of that deposition to commissioners. The one where Salter – when asked about the email – said “I just thought it was funny.”

Heh. Heh. Hahahahahahaha.

Oh man. That’s rich.

Here’s the email along with a page of the deposition. You can decide whether it’s funny.

In response to Brad’s presentation, commissioner and good doctor, Richard Briggs, said:
“(Brad) has been criticized by members of this commission as being inappropriate . . . and I’d like to point out that in the (Pam) Reeves report (which laid out all sorts of screw-ups going on in the solid waste department – albeit mostly under Salter’s predecessor) and the audit report we received April 26, we found almost 500,000 the county did not receive that was pointed out by Brad Mayes, and Brad is like a rock in your shoe if you work for Knox County because he’s pointed out a number of things people are uncomfortable with, but he pointed out that there was 500,000 that is owed to the county . . and I know a lot of people make fun of him, but that is a fact.”
Here’s a story I wrote about NRRT and the solid waste department. It details that fairly scathing audit. Most of which Mayes investigated and found on his own.

Also during today’s meeting, Commissioner R. Larry Smith – just as county Mayor Tim Burchett was approaching the podium to address the commission on an unrelated matter – said: “We’ve got some real hard evidence about some things and we’ve had some hard evidence (in the past).”

He then asked Burchett what he was going to do about it.

The mayor, who had nothing to do with this mess because it happened before he took office last September, said: “We’re not stalling and we’re not covering up for anybody, commissioner. I ran on transparency and we’re going to get it. We’re going to get it all resolved.”

Said Smith: “We need to send some messages out to county employees. We’ve had some other things happen during this past week and this seems to be a lot more damaging.”

Yeah. No kidding.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burchett on threats, budgets, Beck

Had a few days off this week. Then got sick and went to one of those Urgent Care walk-in places, which are about as reliable as the flight schedules at McGhee Tyson Airport. My ear is killing me. Usually that happens when I’m in a county commission meeting. Not when I’m not in a meeting.

Anyway, checked in with the big guy, county Mayor Tim Burchett, to see what’s going on in his world. Death threats, budgets, Beck Center, whatever. (By the way, his power has been out for more than 24 hours. Hey, KUB, what’s up with that? I don’t recall him cutting any money to your budget.)

I was really curious about what was supposedly said to him. Threat-wise.

He wouldn’t budge, other than to say he “takes them (the threats) all serious but if you let it alter your life, then they win.” Then he added that “the guy will think he’s real tough when the deputies are dragging him out the door by his mullet.”


Still, I don’t know. I think it’s a good excuse to employ a kick-ass, armed entourage. Kind of like the last guy did. Except for the armed part. And the kick-ass part.


Anyhoo, I asked him what else was going on. Apparently, the administration is already working on next year’s budget.

“You don’t want to wait until the last minute,” Burchett said. “I don’t like surprises.”

That’s rich, actually. In other words, when I cut more stuff don’t come crying to me that you got bamboozled out of the blue. Nice.

He also touched on the “Employee Compensation Committee,” which the county commission on Monday will probably create. The idea is find a way to give raises to county employees next year, mostly focusing on deputies and general government workers who earn $40,000 or less a year.

Commission Chairman Mike Hammond and Vice Chairman Brad Anders, I believe, are the driving force behind the initiative, but it appears to have support from – at least –the majority of the commission.

The mayor was a somewhat cagey when I asked him his thoughts on raises, although I think he realizes something has to give between now and May 2012 when the commission approves the next budget.

“It’s fully within the county mayor’s job description that I’m supposed to be the one in charge of salaries,” he said. “They’ll make suggestions and we’ll compare (the wages) to the market based on job descriptions and duties. But, I really want an apples to apples comparison.”

Burchett, though, added that he’s worried about salary compression.

“If you just pay the lower end and don’t raise the middle and upper salaries, then people who have just started will be making the same as people who have been there almost 10 years,” he said. “But, we’ve got to come up with a plan.”

During our conversation, the mayor also addressed the potential audit of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The commission will again talk about this on Monday and could more than likely seek an audit of the dollars the county gave the organization during the past couple of years.

It can’t, however, force the center to turn over all its financial records, so the audit will never really provide a complete picture. So, really, what’s the point? And, even if it does come back all nice and pretty, it doesn’t matter. Does it?

Buchett says he’ll veto any attempt to restore some $138,000 that he cut this year from the program. Still, it’s worth a try, I suppose. That’s what the mayor is doing with Carter Elementary, which no-doubt will be a fun time for all when the school board meets in early July to talk about that.

Anyway, I’ve got to wrap this up before I bore you to death.

Here’s Burchett’s final words (for now) on Beck: “It never had anything to do with their inability to fill out a financial form or make a report. It had to do with what I think is appropriate on where the taxpayers’ dollars should be going. If I was after them, then I would have just zeroed them out. They got what all the other historical museums got. To say it’s unfair? They’ve received over 90 percent of their money from taxpayers. No other organization is like that, that the county gives money to.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

'You're not from around here'

When I first moved here, a colleague told me: You'll be reminded over and over again that you're not from around here. Remember that.


No big deal to me, really. I've enjoyed meeting the people I've met so far, even the ones who hide behind anonymous names and insult me. Whatever.

But, I've been here a little over a year now. I like Knoxville. I wouldn't mind staying for awhile.

Anyhoo, someone brought up the whole “he's not from around here” issue the other day. They weren't talking about me. This time.

It got me thinking about it: Who is from around here? And who isn't? I put together my own list. (I had a little help, I admit, from someone who is from around here.)

I've got 25 names. If you didn't make the list, don't worry, you will. Heh. If you did? Don't take it personally. Just having a little fun. At your expense.

Here ya go:

County Mayor Tim Burchett: Born and bred in Knoxville. Damn straight he's from around here.

Allison Burchett: The mayor says his wife was born in Maryville. I don't buy it. Everyone knows the world's prettiest ladies come from Georgia.

Dean Rice: Born and bred in Knoxville, but no way he's from around here. Washington, D.C. more like it.

County Law Director Joe Jarret: No matter how long Joe lives here or when he moved here, when he's 90 years old, senior citizens will say: “Joe? Yeah, he's an OK guy, but he's not from around here.”

Gov. Bill Haslam:
I don't care if he is governor. Have you seen gas prices recently? He's not from around here.

Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones: He's from wherever he says he is. That's The Man with the Badge you're talking about.

Dolly Parton: Yeah, she's definitely from the mountains.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe: Silver spoon found in his mouth at birth is now on display at the convention center, where no one will ever see it. He's from around here.

Chamber CEO Mike Edwards: Good ole' boy, good ole' boy. Damn straight he's from around here.

Johnny Knoxville: Sold his soul to MTV. But you can tell from his stupid antics that he's from around here. South Knoxville to be exact.

Commission Chairman Mike Hammond: Ran a countywide campaign. Runs the county commission. Running for mayor? Must be a spy from Nashville.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre:
Tells parents that it's their choice whether kids go to school in the snow. Then insults them when they don't. Yeah, he's definitely not from around here.

Derek Dooley:
He wants to run the UT football program without lying or cheating. He's not from around here.

Cuonzo Martin: He wants to run the UT basketball program without lying or cheating. He ain't from around here, either.

Bruce Pearl: He used to be from around here.

Lane Kiffin: Was definitely from around here.

Trustee John Duncan III: He's from here. Whether he admits it or not.

R. Neal: Easy. He's from Haight-Ashbury. Freakin' hippie.

Jesse Mayshark:
Former News Sentinel Reporter. Now raising hell as editor of the Metro Pulse. Must be a New Yorker.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield: Like Mr. Wrestling II, he's from parts unknown. Heh.

Bpaone: Use to be from around here, but he's been banned. Over and over and over again.

# 9: He lives in Farragut. But he's from left field.

Megan Fox: She used to be from around here. I wish she still was.

Cormac McCarthy: Once wrote a novel set in Knoxville that included a bat-catching redneck with a fondness for watermelons. He's definitely from around here.

Mike Donila: Sarcastic and irreverent. A true a$$****. He wouldn't admit to being from around here, even if he was.

The next batch will be up soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paul Pinkston looking at Senate seat

How does “state Sen. Paul Pinkston” sound?

Oh yeah. Heh.

The former Knox County commissioner, left, and well-known rubble-rouser just called, saying he's probably going to email commissioners and tell them he wants the 6th District seat that Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, will vacate in July.

“I just feel like they'll give it to some political hack and since (the county) needs the money, why not give it back,” said Pinkston, who was working in the lawn when he called. “I don't think anyone should be paid for this job for not doing anything and staying at home and just saying they're a senator.”

Pinkston, the sharpest dresser on the commission for six years (he left last September)who operated a business with his brother, said he doesn't expect to get the job, but hopes to put pressure on whoever does to not accept the salary.

The county is accepting resumes right now. Once Woodson leaves, the commission will interview candidates. The top selection will serve until the election. The county hasn't set an actual date yet for the appointment process.

“I really don't want the job,” Pinkston said, laughing. “You think I'm kidding, don't you?”

The job is pretty much a bench-warming, resume-padding position. Heck, even Pinkston knows that. But it is kind of cool to have folks calling you “senator.” And technically you get a pro-rated paycheck for whatever the annual salary is. (I think it's about $20,000 a year.)

Anyhoo, Pinkston said if – miraculously – the governor did call an emergency session then he'd still work for free, but he'd like the state to pick up the tab for his hotel room while he hung with the Nashville lawmakers. He said he'd pay for his own food.

“I've got to eat,” he said. “But why should someone be paid when they're not doing any work?”

Good point.

As it stands, a couple folks have already decided they want to run for the seat for real. None of this appointed, bench-warming stuff.

So far, Knoxville City Councilwoman Marilyn “I can't make up my mind” Roddy, Sertoma Center Executive Director Becky “I'm a Duncan so you should vote for me” Massey and former Knox County Commissioner Victoria “Dance for Me, Puppet” Defreese are gearing up to run for the spot.

RINO Woodson will step down July 9 to become the CEO of a statewide education initiative.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mayoral veto needs seven votes

This should probably get cleared up before the commission votes tomorrow. You know, just in case they actually change anything in the budget.

There's been a lot of talk about how many members it takes to override a mayoral veto. The whole super majority thing. County Law Director Joe Jarret says seven. I've heard a lot of people say eight. And yes, I've made some cracks myself about eight, but always went with seven because lawyers get paid to argue and I get paid to listen, then scribble crap down.

So, here's the deal: It's seven.

The county charter doesn't even talk about a so-called super majority. It says that in order to override a veto, the commission needs a majority plus one. That's seven.

A simple majority for the 11-member commission obviously is six.


Now I'm curious as to whether the mayor will even have to use his veto power. I mentioned a long time back – click right smack here – that we were going to hear a lot of rhetoric from the time the budget gets presented to the time it passes, but more than likely few – if any changes – would be made.

It still takes a majority of commissioners to make approve the plan and there are quite a few who have been silent lately. Maybe enough to sign off on county Mayor Tim Burchett's budget as he proposed it without any of the proposed amendments.

Proposed budget amendments

The county commission tomorrow at 3 p.m. inside the Deathstar will vote on county Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed budget.

There's been a lot of talk about this one, but there should never have been any surprises. Burchett said he was going to cut the heck out of a lot of things when he campaigned. And cut he did.

This morning the mayor and the county's Financial Minister, John Troyer, were on the radio talking about the budget. A few minutes later, Commissioner Amy Broyles and The Man with the Badge, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones got on to talk about some of Broyles proposed changes that would give employees raises – something they haven't had in four or so years.

In the meantime, there's a number of other proposed budget amendments that commissioners have thrown around, not the least of which is Mike Brown's idea – I don't think anyone has talked about this one yet – that would give employees the summer off.

This morning, the fine folks at the county commission office/department, sent me over the “2nd Revision” proposed budget amendments. It was dated last Thursday (June 9).

So, in case you're not keeping up, here's a look at the proposals:

Chairman Mike Hammond: Reinstate each commissioner's $3,000 slush fund, I mean discretionary fund. But, they won't get to spend this coin at will. Items must be placed on the agenda for commissioners to vote. They also must be put on the commission website. And each request must define how the money will be used.

Commissioner Sam McKenzie: Add $138,000 to the Beck Cultural Center; reinstate $50,0000 to KAT Seniors Ride Free Program; reinstate $66,000 to the slush fund; add $25,000 back to commissioner's travel to reinstate the $300 a month in coin they used to get until the mayor cut it and suggested they fill out mileage reimbursement forms. He also wants to cut $364,000 in additional money to the engineering department that was supposed to pave roads – none of which will be in his district, since it's city-inclusive. And, he wants to suspend the $2.8 million Outlet Drive project. He says the net savings will be $85,000.

Vice Chairman Brad Anders: Eliminate the Great Schools Partnership Budget ($2.6 million) to use for a 2 percent employee pay increase. He also wants to reinstate the commission travel allowance.

Commissioner Amy Broyles: She wants to add a 3 percent step increase for county workers, increase the Ijams budget, revisit the Legacy Parks budget, revisit employee layoffs; eliminate HOPE Resource Center budget and reinstate $75,000 to the KAT program. Broyles' plan would take about $3.5 million from the additional $5 million the mayor's budget proposes to pay down the debt.

Commissioner Mike Brown: He wants to cut payroll expense by letting workers leave at 2:30 p.m. and/or by letting them take off for the summer. (There are so many things wrong with this plan if you're a county worker, I couldn't even begin to describe them. If you're a resident, then be happy because it would actually save a whole lot more money than Brown anticipates, since the employees won't be getting insurance, either. Ever.) He also wants to add a 2 percent increase for county workers by taking money out of the rainy day fund.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ron Peabody in Knoxville race

I don't usually write about Knoxville stuff. Because it's boring mostly.

But, anyhoo, I just got off the phone with Ron Peabody. I'm sure you've heard of him. He hates the homeless. No, I'm kidding. But he has been against the local Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and is recently working with Compassion Knoxville to help redesign it. Or something.

But, I'm rambling. He just filed his appointment for political treasurer (he picked Ruthie Kulhman) for seat C. (That's a city-wide seat by the way.)

Other candidates currently running for that seat are Terry Milligan, Finbarr Saunders (who has long championed the TYP) and Sharon Welch.

Peabody said he'd issue a news release about his candidacy tomorrow morning. He also said he'll resign tonight from Compassion Knoxville.

Trading roads for the Beck Center

In yesterday's earth-shattering, trailblazing, groundbreaking interview with the Knox County Mayor Tim “Mag Dog” Burchett (inside joke), we talked briefly about a proposal some commissioners (mostly Sam McKenzie) have about using at least some of the additional $364,000 that went to the engineering and public works department under the administration's proposed budget and sending to the Beck Center, the KAT and commissioner slush funds.

Yeah. The mayor isn't on board with that one.

So, I got some engineering records, the to-do list, the whatever.

Here's the deal (according to interim public works director Dwight Van de Vate):

The county has about 2,000 miles of roads. About 10 percent of them need immediate resurfacing. In 2000, the department resurfaced 95 miles worth. Between 2000 and 2004, the county resurfaced about 86 miles annually. In 2005, that number dropped to 65 miles and has declined ever since. Last year, the department resurfaced about 12 miles. The proposed budget for this year calls for 17 miles of resurfacing.

Nice. No wonder the roads around here suck.

You can read Dwight's memo to the mayor and Dean “The Emperor” Rice right smack here. It also includes another 10-12 pages of street names, dollars, coin, whatever, where work needs to be done. It's actually pretty detailed. I put it up here because I know you want to read it. So, again, click right smack here.

Now, here's where we get into the interesting stuff. Dwight wrote out (hope you can read his writing) a list of streets/roads/drives that are at the top of the to-do sheet. There's 11 of them, totaling a little more than $2 million. Now, the county isn't going to do all of them. But, if ANY additional funding is sliced from the engineering department, two roads - Amberset, located the 5th District and Coppock, in the 8th District - get cut first. They cost $117,000 and $218,000, respectively.

I don't know why those two get the hangman's noose. I didn't ask. Dwight probably has some good reason.

Now if you look at that list, which you can find by clicking right here, you'll notice something else: There are no roads slated for resurfacing in the 2nd District, which Amy Broyles represents, nor in the 1st District, which Sam McKenzie represents.

Well then, apparently McKenzie has nothing to lose by cutting the engineering department's street resurfacing coin. It's not like he's getting any help.


I'm curious, though, about what Dave Wright (8th District) and Richard “The Good Doctor” Briggs (5th District) think about the proposal. They've been usually quiet so far.

And they're the ones who could end up riding on those never-to-be-resurfaced bumpy, broke roads. Forever. Along with their constituents.

Something to chew on, I suppose.

UPDATE: Commission Vice Chairman Brad Anders pointed out to me that the reason there are no road projects in the 1st and 2nd Districts is because they are all in the city. Makes sense.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Burchett weighs in on proposals

OK, so I'm checking out today's story - “Amendment would aid Beck” - that details a number of commission proposals that would rearrange money in the administration's proposed budget to fund a number of things like the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and pay raises for employees.

I decided to look for some reaction and gave county Mayor Tim Burchett, at left, a call. He weighed in on each of the proposals.

So . . . .

Me: Commissioner Sam McKenzie wants to use at least some of the additional $364,000 that went to the county's engineering and public works department to help out the Beck Center and restore $75,000 to the Knox Area Transit's senior rider program. Your thoughts?

Burchett: That's where we've been taking money from the past (the engineering department) and that's supposed to repair out roads. When we talk about infrastructure and what we're doing for jobs, I think that is a vital role of government. It doesn't make headlines, but filling in the potholes and patching the streets – that's important. And right now our roads are showing it because of the freeze we had this fall. We haven't made those repairs in the past and now they're catching up to us.

Me: It looks like commission Vice Chairman Brad Anders proposed cutting $2.6 million from the Great Schools Partnership to give employees a 2 percent raise.

Burchett: That's our (Teacher Advancement Program) money - and although it's one area where we do have control over the school system - from all indications, it's been very successful, so I would hate to see us lose that program. I don't think it's a wise move right now. With the money from the Great Schools – that goes with paying teachers on their performance and that's what people have demanded. That we reward the teachers.

Me: Commissioner Amy Broyles is looking at restoring the $100,000 cut to Ijams Nature Center.

Burchett: Yes, we took that money out and they're talking about putting it back in. Well, we've got to make cuts and that's an area where we think we should. It's better than cutting people.

Me: What about dipping into the reserves?

Burchett: Ah, no. That's just bad news. We need to be very careful about that. We have to have at least $26 million that we can't touch to balance out against our debt, which is a best practice procedure – what the bonding agencies told us. So that means we have $10 million. If there is an emergency, a tornado, then we'll need that. We need it for real emergencies. We did that once before with the sheriff's automobiles over my protest. Members said that was one-time deal, but how many one-time deals are we going to have.

Friday, June 3, 2011

County spin: date, debt and more

The county commission will move its special called budget meeting date one day ahead, but if you read the mayor's spin release you'd think this was some insanely breaking news item.

In the latest Michael “Communications Director” Grider spin, county Mayor Tim Burchett “stresses the need to pass a fiscally responsible “ blah, blah, blah, budget.


Start digging into those reserves, mayor. Heh.

Can't forget that the spin release also mentions Burchett's bogeyman – the county debt. There's not a whole lot of fist-bumping going on in that office when you talk about the debt. Even though, Knox County has super low taxes and fat reserve tank.

In a quote that is no-doubt cooked up by Grider and the administration's chief of staff, Dean Rice, the mayor is attributed with saying: “When I visited all nine commission districts to discuss this plan with taxpayers, citizens consistently said they agreed with the need to eliminate unnecessary spending . . . “

(I say that because Burchett is much more quotable.)

Whatever. You can read the mess yourself.

On a side note, the commission meeting has been moved to June 14, although you wouldn't know that because it says “May 14." It's also at 3 p.m.
Knoxville, Tenn. — At the request of the Knox County Commission, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s special called budget meeting that was scheduled for Monday, May 13, has been moved to Tuesday, May 14, at 3 p.m. As discussions about Mayor Burchett’s FY2011-2012 general budget proposal enter into their final two weeks, Mayor Burchett stresses the need to pass a fiscally responsible budget focused on decreasing our debt and preserving our emergency reserves.

Since Mayor Burchett presented his budget proposal to Commission, the board has heard from department heads and other elected officials who represent more than 92 percent of the entire budget, and they all said their proposed funding was sufficient to maintain services in Knox County.

“I appreciate the way Commissioners have engaged the public in the budget process, and I’m thankful that they have taken time to meet with me and my staff to go over the details of this proposal,” Mayor Burchett said. “When I visited all nine commission districts to discuss this plan with taxpayers, citizens consistently said they agreed with the need to eliminate unnecessary spending, pay down our debt, keep taxes low, protect our general fund emergency reserve, and efficiently providing services to our taxpayers.”

Since 2001, Knox County’s debt has more than doubled, and is now higher than the current year’s operating budget of $647 million.

“That is not healthy,” Mayor Burchett said. “However, my budget proposal puts Knox County on pace to reduce our debt by more than $100,000 over the next five years. If you’re a private citizen raising a family and meeting a household budget, you’re tightening your belt and trying to avoid debt. That is what Knox County should be doing.”
UPDATE: Grider sent this out shortly after: "My apologies for not making it clear, but the location of the meeting is unchanged, it will still be held in the main assembly room." No mention yet of the date.

UPDATE II: More from the spin doctor: "Ok, I would say it’s been a long week, but I was off Monday, so that won’t fly. The correct date of the meeting is JUNE 14, not May 14, as the first version of the release stated."

Three correction in one hour. Heck, you'd think a News Sentinel reporter wrote this spin release: "I promise this is the last correction – none of them should have been needed to begin with. In both versions of the release, I mistyped $100,000,000 as $100,000 in the last paragraph referring to the amount the debt would potentially be paid down."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Beck Center, emails and race cards

Apparently if you criticize the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, then you’re a bigot.


I guess some people can’t get past race. They forgot to get on that plane. You know, the one that flew (most of) the rest of us into a place called the 21st Century.

I figured it would come to this. I hoped it wouldn’t. But it did.

Last week, Sentinel reporter Rebecca Ferrar wrote a story that said county commission Chairman Mike Hammond will ask his fellow dais mates to consider auditing the Beck Center. Because the organization's accounting just isn’t adding up. That and folks have a heck of a lot of questions about how some county money the center got was spent. Or reported.

Anyhoo, in the story, Rebecca cited an email from Mrs. Terry Caruthers – a library worker who was assigned to the center when it operated under the auspices of the county library system – to the county commission.

Caruthers, who is white, had some fairly damning accusations about the center.

(The story is right smack here. And yeah, I know this is last week’s news, but I’m going somewhere. Hold on a second.)

Rebecca asked Beck Center Executive Director Avon Rollins, who is black, about his thoughts on Caruthers’ claims.

His response? Let’s say it was really classy.

“Blah, blah, blah,” said Rollins. “Ms. Caruthers is non-African American. I don’t know what her ulterior motives are. She might have a bias.”




Apparently Rollins’ ability to understand Caruthers is about as spot-on as the center’s ability to correctly file an IRS 990 tax form.

Cause, er, well, Mr. Caruthers happens to be black.

Here’s Mrs. Caruthers response to Rollins’ remarks in another email she sent to the county commission. (By the way, in the beginning of the email, she wonders how Rebecca got her first email. I gave it to her. And it's public record.)

Anyway, click right smack here for the new email.

And by the way, I have nothing against Rollings. But seriously, the whole race card - or even insinuations of it - is starting to get a little old.

Armstrong in the law director race?

Man, I've been out of the loop recently, working on some other things. Finally got around to checking out some of the blogs, reading the paper, whatever.

I noticed Brian Hornback had a post about a rumor that former District 8 County Commissioner Richard “Bud” Armstrong is “testing the waters for a possible candidacy for Knox County law director next year.”

In the brief months that our paths crossed (me joining the Sentinel and Bud leaving the commission) I always enjoyed talking to him. Although, I don't think he remembered me.


Anyhoo, I decided to give him a call this morning and ask whether he was interested in running for office again. County Law Director Joe Jarret has already announced on Facebook that he is seeking the spot.

When I told Bud about the post I read, he acted surprised, saying he wasn't “ready to talk about it yet.”

“I'm working myself to death right now,” he said, laughing. “My law practice is kicking in and I think the biggest problem in life is that I can't say 'no.'”

So are you interested, I asked again.

“I really don't have anything to say about it at this time,” he said. “I'm just practicing law. I don't know what I”m going to do in the future if anything. That's a true statement, but I'm not ruling out anything.”

Then he quickly joked that he wasn't even sure when the election will be held. (It's in March 2012.)

“That's how much I've looked at this,” he said.

Bud, though, did admit that he's been approached about running, but said that's to be expected, since he's an attorney and held an elected office in the past.

“I don't think that means a whole lot because if a county commission seat were to come open I'd probably get some calls,” he said.

I don't know, but it sounds like he's certainly interested in the spot. Obviously that doesn't meant he'll jump in. Running a countywide elections is tough, especially against an incumbent - even if “he isn't from around here.”