Tuesday, October 25, 2011

That other green-waste contract. Or not.

Ah, yes, that ol' pesky green-waste contract. Or is it contracts?

On Monday the commission in a 7-3 vote approved two deals – one with the NRRT (under a different name and, yeah, it was all legal) and another with Knox Ag Inc. Shamrock Organics Products.

I'm not going into the specifics of it. Here's the first story I wrote awhile back – click right smack here – about NRRT winning a county bid (along with the other company) and here's the commission work session story from Oct. 17 – click right smack here.

I figure this was a rubber stamp. Maybe a little showboating here and there.


It took an hour. The five-minute “now shut the heck up” clock is really just a decoration.

Anyhoo, you can read my boy Anthony's story over here. Yup. Click right smack here.

I think what's key here is that Randy Greaves – the Shamrock guy – got pretty upset at one point and said he was backing out if the NRRT folks were awarded part of the contract.

I don't know if that was neck-talking or not. County purchasing Director Hugh Holt told me this morning he had one of his minions email Greaves, asking whether he really wanted to rescind his proposal and not enter into a contract with the county. He'll need that sucker in writing.

So far, Greaves hasn't replied.

If I hear anything, I'll let you know.

Carter school shovel-fest set for Nov. 9

About the worst kept secret. Naw, there's worse, I suppose. Whatever.

The county, school people and whoever else wants to ride county Mayor Tim Burchett's coattails to the glory (or debacle, depending on how you view it) of building the Carter community a new elementary school will hold a groundbreaking for the facility at 3:15 p.m. on Nov. 9.

Man, that was a loooong sentence.

According to the Bat-map, developers will build the East Knox school on Strawberry Plains Pike between McCubbins Road and South Molly Bright Road.

I think.

The groundbreaking will feature Burchett and a bunch of folks who worked hard against his plan to build the school. Folks will more than likely line up, smile and stick shovels into the dirt. Someone will take a picture and then the folks who are in it will put it in a frame and hang it in their office along with the pictures they have of themselves shaking hands or posing next to someone not even remotely famous (but they think they are).

Did that make sense?

Then, a few will pat each other on the back as they look for the soft spot to stab.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Commish to get raises. But not 7.6 percent

Knox County Commission on Monday night gave each member a 7 percent raise in an effort to make sure all county employees received an equal amount of scratch under one commissioner’s proposed pay hike.

Yeah, that almost happened. No kidding.

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners discussed County Mayor Tim Burchett’s proposal to give county workers – they said about 2,200 (but I think it’s closer to 2,300) – a 3 percent across-the-board raise.

Blah, blah, we’ve beaten this to death, I know.

Anyhoo, Commissioner Dave Wright offered a substitute motion/idea: Why not take the $1.5 million or so that would fund the raises (from Jan. 1 through June 30) and divide it equally among the employees. That way, everyone would get the same amount.

He argued that 3 percent for someone making $100k is way more than 3 percent for someone making $34K. OK, that’s true. He figured to just divvy it all up and every two weeks all employees would get an extra $60 in their paycheck.

At the same time, it was announced that commissioners – who make roughly $19k a year - also get the raises under any of the proposals. Now that was freakin’ news to me by the way. (Burchett is on record as saying he will not take a raise under the plan.)

So, take that $60 a week and it amounts – for this current fiscal year – as a 3.8 percent raise for county commissioners.

But next fiscal year? Yeah, if commissioners had gone along with Wright’s plan they would have received an overall 7.6 percent raise.


In the end it was shot down 8-2 with wright and Tony Norman on the losing side. (Amy Broyles missed this part of the meeting because she was at the doctor’s office.)

Afterward I talked to some of the commissioners and asked them if they realized what the raise would have done.

None of them did.

But, I think they were thankful that one didn’t fly.

The commission eventually approved Burchett's proposal. That, too, included the members. Commissioners Jeff Ownby and R. Larry Smith by the way said they wouldn’t take the increases (Ownby joked to me that he hated money, anyway.)

On a side note, I applaud Wright for (cliché alert) thinking outside the box.

The move, however, would have messed up the county’s compensation scale. But, still drinks would have been on Wright if it had passed.


Mayor to host November spin meetings

Oh man, glad to have Michael “Big Sexy” Grider back from vacation or wherever he took off to.

Was missing the spin releases he puts out about his boss, County Mayor Tim Burchett.

Apparently, the mayor will be holding some more one-on-one meetings with residents. He’ll start with an easy one at 2 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Carter Senior center. (More will be announced later.)

Can’t imagine those folks will complain too much. (You, know, Carter Elementary and the business park?)

Anyhoo, here’s Grider’s spin and, as always, it’s more accurate than a Martha Rose Woodward blog post (although that’s not saying much, but I digress):

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will host a series of constituent meetings to give citizens the opportunity to speak individually with him about issues that are important to them. These meetings are open to the public.

These meetings give citizens the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Mayor Burchett in their community, without having to travel downtown.

For more information contact Michael Grider by phone at 865.215.4750.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

November groundbreaking for Carter

So, after all this time, it's really starting to look like the county will build the Carter community a new elementary school. I've got to tell you, I never figured this would fly. But, whatever.

The Mayor and Superintendent (heh) Tim Burchett and his administration right now is talking to the school folks and some other people and whoever, and are hammering out a date to hold the official groundbreaking.

I believe the plan is not only hold a symbolic breaking (you know where the big to-do people wear the yellow hard-hats and use fancy shovels to twist a scoop of dirt around), but – from what I understand – they actually want to get real bulldozers out there and start real work.

Right now, the schedule is to hold it around the end of the first week of November. I've been given a date, but it's still a moving target.

The county will probably issue a spin release about it in the upcoming days. Or so.

The good thing is this: It will be more accurate than anything Martha Rose Woodward ever wrote.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

County taking Ethics Committee resumes

Whatever happened to the proposal to shake up the county's ethics committee, anyway?

Sorry, rhetorical question. Probably got shelved while the county commission formed a sub-committee to look into the committee.

Or something.

Anyhoo, The Knox County Board of Commissioners is accepting resumes from those seeking an appointment to the ethics committee. The application deadline is Nov. 1.

You can email, fax, mail, hand deliver or use a passenger pigeon for all they care, but send it to:
Office of the Knox County Commission
Suite 603, Deathstar
400 Main Ave.
Knoxville, TN 37902
(Phone: 215-2534)
(Fax: 215-2038)
(Email: commission@knoxcounty.org)
The commission will make a decision Nov. 21 at 2 p.m. in the Deathstar's Main Assembly Room.

If you apply, you might want to show up. You know, just in case commissioners want to ask questions. Seriously, you wouldn't believe the number of people who apply for these things, then don't bother to come. (And no, they don't get appointed.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

TCCA says screw the sunshine laws

Apparently, the Tennessee County Commissioners Association doesn't like the state's sunshine laws. I mean why else would else would it want to create new sub standards that would allow commissioners to operate behind closed doors?

Yeah, I know. A lot of cliches were thrown in there. Who cares? I don't.

Anyhoo, I doubt the Knox County Commission would consider the proposal, but apparently other county officials across the state are.

Here's what's going on:

The TCCA wants to allow any number of members of a commission, school board or city council to meet and discuss public business, so long as there is not a quorum. So basically, they're championing behind-closed door, secret, smoky meetings. And what they're essentially saying to the public is: "Up Yours!"

Think about it. You get a handful of folks to meet and figure out how they want to vote. Then a member of that group meets with a handful of other members.


Here's a release sent to me by Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Executive Director Frank Gibson:
The president of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association is mounting a statewide campaign to get the state legislature to weaken the state sunshine law.

Under the proposal by Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell any number of members of a county commission, school board, or city council – up to a quorum -- could meet and discuss public business. The public would only have to be given notice if a quorum of the body was present.

Under the proposal, for example, 26 members of the 40-member Nashville Metro Council could meet and discuss issues without it being considered a meeting. That’s because a quorum there is 27.

Commissioner Barnwell is urging county commissions across the state to endorse his proposal with resolutions that ask their local state representatives and senators to support the measure when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. He has reportedly secured a sponsor already.

TPA members should be on the lookout for action by local governing bodies and provide coverage so readers and local good government groups can register their sentiment.

The campaign surfaced in early September when the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reported on a regional TCCA meeting at Henry Horton State Park.

Barnwell complained there that local elected officials have to operate under rules that are different than rules that apply to the General Assembly.

Under the 37-year-old “sunshine law,” two or more members of a government body may not get together in private to “deliberate” toward a decision. If it can be proven in court that they did, the decision in question can be voided by a judge or jury. Under rules of the House and Senate, a quorum has to be present for a gathering to be considered a “meeting.”

Tennessee’s sunshine law was passed in 1974 and has been viewed as a model of government transparency. Nothing in the law prevents two members of a governing body from talking to one another. It’s deliberating and conducting public business that is restricted.

The law was presumed to cover the legislature for 26 years. In 2001, the Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled that the law did not apply to the General Assembly because of two provisions of the state Constitution.

Article II, Section 22, states: “The doors of each house and of committees of the whole shall be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.” The General Assembly has rules that limit the “when” to include matters of state and national security and parts of impeachment proceedings except when a legislator is subject of the ouster.

Another constitutional provision says one legislature cannot bind a subsequent General Assembly. Article II, Section 12, states: “Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings…”

The lawsuit stemmed from a series of closed meetings by House and Senate finance committee members when a state income tax was being actively discussed.

The principal difference of the bodies is that the legislature was created by the Constitution, while local governments are creatures of the General Assembly.

Barnwell’s proposal resurfaced in early October when he persuaded his own county commission to endorse the proposal.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” the Times-Gazette quoted Barnwell as saying.

This issue came up last in 2007 when an open government study committee of legislators, local government officials, media and citizens groups considered the quorum standard. Proposed by Shelby County, the study panel subsequently rejected it after city and county mayors around the state objected to small groups of commissioners and city council members getting together in secret before meetings and ganging up on them and their initiatives.

Even though some county commissions endorsed that proposal, county mayors said those discussions should be held out in the open as the sunshine law required.

- Frank Gibson

Tony Norman: They're drinking what??!!

Sometimes the county commission meetings crack me up. Like yesterday's meeting. Or all of them actually.

Yeah, I'm rambling. OK, during yesterday's work session – as commissioners were reading through the consent agenda (those are the issues they rubber stamp) – Commissioner Tony Norman, also a teacher, asked about a school item.

Apparently, the school board is set to approve an annual contract for $750,000 “with Coca-Cola Refreshments for water, flavored water and low calorie isotonic beverages.”

Huh? What the $&!! is a “low calorie isotonic beverage? And no, I'm not going to Google it. It was a rhetorical question. But I still don't know the answer.

Anyhoo, Norman asked why the board wants to spend money on flavored water and “not just water.”

I don't think he knows what a low calorie isotonic beverage is, either. Heh.

But, Lord Jim McIntyre, superintendent of the Knox County school system, was on hand. And he knows the answer. I think.

McIntyre explained that the contract is part of the Schools School Nutrition program (whatever that is) and it includes soda, water and sports drinks. He said the program is funded by a variety of things that I didn't bother to write down because the guy talks super fast.

(He said something about Powerade, which is a Coke product, so I guess students drink that. But, I digress.)

What's key here, is that whole thing is self-financing so it's not a major cost to the county or the school system.

And, heck, it's all about variety. (kind of like my liquor cabinet.)

Norman, however, wasn't so sure.

“It sounds like water to me and we probably have some of the best tap water in the United States,” he said. “And regardless of how it's funded, it's still money.”

Commissioner Mike Brown, at that point, chimed in: “I just want to go on record as saying I favor RC Cola.

(Heck yeah!)

Commissioner Amy Broyles also chimed in. I can't remember what exactly she said, but it sounded like she hates strawberry and chocolate flavored milk as much as Norman doesn't like Powerade. Or she doesn't want the students to have them. Or something.

Referring to water, she said she'd rather see the students “turn on the tap.”

The whole mess was eventually recommended for approval.

I know feel a little dumber telling you all about the commission's drinking preference. Or how what they think others should drink.

Or whatever.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Commission postpones public notice talks

The Knox County Commission this afternoon postponed a proposal to revisit the way it notifies the public when individual members want to meet with each other.

However, a number of commissioners, meeting as the Rules Committee, appear ready to implement a 48-hour notice. But, they said they wanted more time to research the issue. They’ll take it up again in November.

“I’d just like to put (a 48-hour notice) in our rules,” said commission Vice Chairman Brad Anders, who is spearheading the proposal. “There is no mechanism for punishment (if someone violates it), but it’s something the voters can see that reinforces confidence.”

Commission Chairman Mike Hammond agreed, saying “every person here ran on a 'more transparency' platform as I recall and I know I’m in favor of it.”

County Law Director Joe Jarret said “the courts have given inconsistent rulings on how to notice meetings,” but he suggested that “the safest way is to give at least 48 hours.”

He added that the law does not provide for emergency situations, something Commissioner Amy Broyles wants officials to look into.

This afternoon’s discussion, which lasted about 15 minutes, comes after officials said they were caught off guard in late September when Broyles, and commissioners Ed Shouse, Richard Briggs and Dave Wright held a small meeting to discuss county business at a Panera Bread restaurant on Kingston Pike.

Broyles sent notices to some officials and the media on a Friday evening – about 44 hours before the 3 p.m. gathering on Sunday, Sept. 25. But, many commissioners didn’t find out about it until Saturday morning.

Officials have not accused the commissioners of violating the Sunshine Acct, but do want to reach a consensus on how they notify the public. If they reach a decision, they will enter it into the body’s official rules.

Friday, October 14, 2011

County health insurance jumps for some

In October 2010, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett raised health insurance prices for a bunch of his employees.

You can read the story by clicking right smack here.

Now, he's implemented some more increases that have quite a few workers (I'd imagine that would be at least 1,000 or so) pretty upset.

The county offers three plans – call them Option 1, 2, 3. (I know, real original.) Most folks are on Option 2. Not many are on No. 3 cause it's pretty pricey. Anyhoo, the mayor implemented a 6 percent increase for the first two options for "family only" plans. (Individual and individual plus 1 is no increase, which is 59 percent of the employees.) And a 12 percent across-the-board increase for the third option, which is coincidentally 12 percent of the employees.

In addition, he reduced the amount of incentives employees can receive under the first two plans. (there were never any incentives offered under the third one. So, don't ask.)

Last year, employees under Option 1 could get up to $750 in incentives. Option 2 provided for up to $500. The max now is $250. (All this has to do with whether you smoke or how much you don't earn.)

Initially employees making less than $30,000 a year with dependent medical coverage could get a $300 inventive (Plan 1) or $200 a year knocked off (Plan 2). Under the new rules, both plans will knock off up to $125 a year for employees earning less than $50,000.

Also, before it was cool if your spouse smoked. You still got the bonus if you didn't. Now your wife or husband better not pick up a cigarette or chew the tobacco. Or dip. Or whatever.

Also, apparently, whatever, the mayor didn't consult with the Employee Insurance Committee for their recommendations about the new policy. That's got some people upset, too. But, in his defense, the mayor probably doesn't know such a committee exists.


Finally, I know I probably bored you to tears with this post, but whatever.

I figured I'd pass the information along.

Oh the shame: Sign targets a local doctor

Every morning I drive by the fancy sign on the left. And chuckle.

I think it's for the superintendent, but I'm not positive.

OK, that's a lie. I'm pretty sure it is for him. Heh.

Anyhoo, this morning, I got out and took a few pictures. Man, that's got to pi-, er, upset, the good doctor. I mean, it's posted right there in front of the A.J. Building.

Heh. He can't miss it.

In addition to the sign, is the spin brochure that the two union folks who sit in front of the sign pass out to folks who want to take pictures of it. It says: "Shame on Dr. McIntyre for Desecration of the American Way of Life."

It then goes on to talk about some kind of East Tennessee Carpenters union. Or something. I got bored reading it. (I initially thought they were protesting the proposal to outsource custodial services. But, no, it's about carpet.)

The brochure also has a picture of a rat eating the American flag, which is pretty funny. (Not the flag getting eatin', but the rat.)

I asked county Mayor Tim Burchett about the sign. Cause I was stuck in traffic and bored and figured he'd be at work.

He wants one, too.

"McIntyre has been here three years and I've been here 47 and I've yet to get something like that," the mayor said, laughing. "And he's not even sure how he got it."

Burchett added: I've been ticking people off for at least 40 of my 47 years. Who does he think he is? All I get are headlines in the newspaper. If I got a sign like that, I'd make it my Facebook profile picture."

Yeah. I don't think that's at the top of the superintendent's list right now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hammond plans school tour (good stuff)

Was sitting around, wondering when I'd get my next spin release. And then, like manna from heaven, baby, one magically appears in my email in box.

The county commission's top dog – Chairman Mike Hammond – didn't let me down.

Apparently, Hammond is about to tour all of the county's schools. Following in the foot steps of county Mayor Tim Burchett (Hammond swears he's not doing this as a bid for his own run at the county's top dog seat), the chairman will meet with underpaid teachers, richer-than-heck administrators and whiny, snot middle-school students who don't care about learning.

(He'll also meet with elementary kids and high school students.)

Hammond said he got the idea after meeting with schools Superintendent “Slim” Jim McIntyre and School Board Chairman Thomas “Deak” Deakins” about the “budget situation.” (The budget situation by the way kind of sucks, considering the school system is facing a $7 million shortfall next year.)

“We really need to address education in Knox County and the best way to find out what the real needs are is to get out there in the schools,” Hammond said. “My sense is that the needs in south Knoxville are different from the needs in west Knoxville and those needs are different from east Knoxville.”

He said that although the school system is looking at a long-range funding plan, he felt the county commission should, too. You know, cause that's who actually allocates the coin to the school people.

Oh yeah, almost forgot. As I said earlier in my mental patient-like ramblings, Hammond sent me a press release. It's pretty boring, so I didn't post it here. (Man, I can't wait for Big Sexy Michael Grider to get back from his junket, so I can get some fun spin releases.)

But, since Hammond is a good guy, I'll provide a link to it. You can get that by clicking right smack here.