There's been quite an uproar about Mayor Big Dog's appointment to the Metropolitan Planning Commission – a group of folks who are nothing more than a RECOMMENDATION panel.
A panel, I might add, that the county has pretty much dismissed in recent months. You know, the Midway business park proposal. Or that Ridgetop/Hillside protection plan thing. (I'm not saying it's a bad panel, but it makes makes only recommendations.)
Anyhoo, Big Tim Burchett decided he wasn't going to reappoint Rachel Craig, who was serving out the remaining two years of City Councilman Nick Pavilis' term. Craig posted her thoughts on "that obscure liberal blog," which you can read right here. She's not mad about the mayor stiffing her. But, she – and a lot of folks – are upset that Burchett didn't appoint someone who lives south of the river.
We wrote a story about the issue (click right smack here) and county Commissioner Mike Brown stopped just short of calling the mayor a D-bag. The Metro Pulse wrote a story about it (click right smack here) and pretty much put a dunce cap on the mayor's head and sat him in the corner.
Of course it didn't help that, according to the story, the mayor admitted to getting a list of “potential South Knoxville replacements for Craig” and then “looked at the list but chose to ignore it.”
Personally, I don't think he ignored the list. I bet he looked at it; thought what a great paper airplane it would make and then threw it at Dean “The Emperor” Rice's head.
But, here's what's been bothering me: So far, no one has bothered to call the mayor's pick – Jeff Roth. So, he doesn't live in south Knoxville anymore. But, doesn't anyone want to hear what he has to say? Apparently not.
Sooooooo, I got bored, like I often do when I eat horse tranquilizers, and I called the guy last night. He was out, but he got back to me early this morning and we talked about his appointment and ties to south Knoxville.
Let me say that first off, sometimes tone gets lost in the printed word. So, if some of his comments seem sarcastic, they weren't. The guy was funny, sincere and a tad humble. Also, this post isn't about taking a side or not on Burchett's appointment, but rather a chat with Roth. (And as a disclaimer, I live in South Knoxville and do think that in the past few years local government has treated it like a turd.)
“It's a little funny that there's so much controversy about this – I didn't realize being a volunteer would bring that out,” said Roth, 47. “It's the MPC. We're not raising taxes or redistricting property lines. We're just a recommendation body.”
Roth said he was born in Baptist Hospital and attended South Knoxville Elementary (and spent sixth grade at Galbraith Elementary School).
His parents divorced when he was five. When his mom later remarried, they did move out of South Knoxville. After high school, he joined the Army and then went to UT where he earned a degree in business administration and marketing.
Yes, he has lived in Karns since 1985, he said, but “I'm not completely out of touch with South Knoxville.”
His uncle was the owner of Gravely Tractor, off John Sevier Highway, for more than 30 years. He has a cousin who teaches South Doyle (forgot to ask whether that was the middle or high school).
“I want to represent the whole county – that will be my goal,” Roth said. “I certainly don't want to go into any situation with a biased opinion or predisposition about how I'll vote on a particular issue. I want to walk in with an open mind.”
I asked why he'd want a thankless job like that.
He gave me the typical “I want to contribute and serve the community" answer.
“The bottom line is, I think, the reason Mayor Burchett appointed me is that he has faith in my ability to make decisions that are non-biased and based on what we hear in our meetings,” he said. “I don't think geography has a lot to do with that. I feel Knox County is all one group of people, so I don't tend to make a distinction between people who live in one area or another. I'm looking forward to serving. I told Tim I'd do a good job and do the best I can and do what needs to be done up there.”
I also asked him his thoughts on whether it's important – in his opinion – to have representatives (what are there? 15 on the MPC?) – from all parts of the county.
He responded: “Up until my appointment, I never gave it a whole lot of thought. The quick answer is 'no I don't think it's necessary.' It's set up so that the mayors make the appointments and I think you have to give those guys the benefit that they'll do a good job. I know several people on the commission and it's a good group, and I think we can make decisions based on education and not about being biased.”
Roth owns Knoxville-based Quality Machine and Welding Co, Inc., which his grandfather founded in 1966 and his father took over 10 years later. He grew up in the business and said at one point it employed 130 people, but is down to 66, mostly because of the economy. (Not the best time to be in construction, I suppose.)
Finally, I asked him his thoughts on the ridgetop/hillside issue.
“I'm going to have to educate myself a little more about the details,” he said. “Certainly, I'm not as familiar with the details (as other people are), but development is important in bringing businesses to Knoxville. My employees depend on us to do that – to have jobs. But having said that, we need to be cognizant of the communities, subdivisions, people and of the environment. We don't want to go paving paradise. But we also have to keep in mind that development is good for economic growth.”
So, those are Roth's thoughts.
I'm not saying Burchett was right or wrong about not appointing someone from the south. (Remember, the glass is always half-empty. He was probably wrong.) But, maybe there's still some South Knoxville in the boy.
I mean at this point, everyone will be squarely focused on what decisions he makes because it will reflect on the mayor.
Roth is in the spotlight right now.
And so is South Knoxville.
And that might not be a bad thing.