Thursday, March 31, 2011

Campfield only vote for term-limits

Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield, left, is certainly a polarizing figure.

But, he’s also the only member of the Legislature - given the chance Wednesday to move a bill that would term-limit state senators and representatives - to man up.

In fact, Democrats and Republicans voted against the measure. You know it wouldn't have killed the committee to sign off on the proposal and let the entire General Assembly decide.

Then again, maybe it would have.

Now we won't know where the rest of them stand.

But, I'm sure you can figure that one out.

According to News Sentinel reporter Tom Humphrey:

Committees of both the House and Senate on Wednesday rejected attempts to set term limits for state legislators.

On a bipartisan basis, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee soundly rejected SJR008 by Republican Sen. Mike Faulk of Kingsport.

It proposed to amend the state constitution to restrict representatives to four two-year terms and senators to two four-year terms, or eight years total for each.

Faulk contended that term limits would help legislators vote on the basis of principles, rather than popularity.

It would also "encourage turnover and a fresh set of ideas," he said, noting that eight years is the same term limit now in place for governors and the U.S. president.

But other senators spoke against the idea of term limits. It wound up getting only one yes vote versus seven nays.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, said term limits would tend to lead to a professional legislative staff that would "run the Legislature" rather than elected representatives.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said elections already provide term limits. About 60 of 99 state representatives and 13 of current state senators have served less than six years, he said, indicating term limits are unneeded in Tennessee. "I don't know what problem we're trying to fix," he said.

Only Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, voted yes on the proposal while seven senators voted no.

In the House State and Local Government Committee later in the day, a similar proposal, HJR62, by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, failed on voice vote. Though the vote was not recorded, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said all Democrats supported the measure while the Republican majority opposed it.

Make sure you click on the quotes by Sen. Mike Bell and Sen. Doug Overbey. I translated for you.

Apparently, term-limits are good enough for governors, presidents, whatever. But not Tennessee's senators and representatives.

In the meantime, maybe the voters should decide this issue.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fee office questions to ponder

A few questions that got me curious. The first is just a natural question a skeptic would ask.

Cause, you know, the glass is always half empty.
Think the worst.

Always better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.

There’s probably a plausible explanation. But, it doesn’t hurt to ask.


Authorities arrested Rhonda Gail Carter for allegedly stealing some coin from the county Clerk’s Office on Monday morning. The clerk, Foster Arnett, fired her that same day. Also, that same day the county commission was set to vote on a proposal that would give it more control over the fee office budgets. (Arnett is one of those offices although he’s on the record as saying he’d relinquish control.)


Did someone hold back this information?

It didn’t get out until Tuesday. Yes, the media could have missed this. That’s true. Deputies and police throw a lot of folks in the clink on a daily basis. But, typically the arrest of a public figure (or government employee) gets out rather quickly.

Now, it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference whether the commission did have more authority over the financial process. She could have (allegedly) stolen this money anyway and gotten away with it (if the suspicious resident hadn’t caught her for allegedly taking it.)

Still, it would be on some folks’ minds and could have swayed the vote. Instead, the commission – because they love me so much – tabled it until next month, so they could vote on it in front of me.

Cause I’m on vacation, and they wanted me there. Cause they love me and all.

OK, that one is out of the way.

Say the commission decides not to sign off on the proposal. So far three fee officers – county Clerk Foster Arnett, Trustee John Duncan III, and Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist – say they’re cool with the plan.


Would they still turn over their budgets if the commission didn’t demand it?

A lot of folks have been throwing around the “transparency” word. These three say they’re onboard. Will they put your taxpayer money where their mouths are? Will they voluntarily turn over their budgets? Sure, they wouldn’t have to. But would they?

Obviously, there’s no reason to do it.

But, I’m just curious.

On a side note, I know some folks in the media have taken sides on the issues, whether the fee offices should submit annual spending plans to county Mayor Tim Burchett and the commission.

I don’t really care what they do, so long as someone finally makes a decision.

I’m tired of writing about it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My fault officials delayed everything

I want to send a heartfelt thanks to the pension board members and some county commissioners for not taking care of business while I’m on vacation.

I mean surely that’s why the two panels delayed key issues many expected them to take a stand on Monday, right?

They were waiting for me to come back.

It’s not like the pension folks haven’t had some time to think about a proposal (to let to let four civilian employees jump onboard a retirement plan voters two years ago narrowly approved because they thought it was strictly for law enforcement and correction officers) since November.

Why not wait another month to make a decision?

Yes, the panel had some good reasons to initially delay it. That’s understandable.

The applicant’s attorney had some personal issues to take care of and had to bow out. But they’ve got a bad-ass attorney right now (the last one was pretty bad-ass, too, by the way.)

In fact, when the feds and Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones finally come crashing down on me, that’s who I’m hiring. Uh, that’s a bad joke – not reasonable cause. But I digress.

Anyhoo, according to News Sentinel Rebecca Ferrar – the poor sucker our editors tapped to cover a day’s worth of meetings for me – the good pension folks who love doling out money to lots and lots of attorneys (even though we have a pretty darn good group in the county law department that will do it for free) held off voting this time presumably because members wanted the pension board Executive Director Kim Bennett to write the county’s Top Cop and The Man with the Badge and ask him for details about the applicants’ duties, abilities and responsibilities.

I understand.

It’s tough, picking up the phone and making that call yourself. It practically killed me to do it when I wrote a story about this in one day. Tough stuff, folks. Tough stuff.

The board, according to my esteemed colleague, also must determine whether the four are deemed uniformed officers. That’s another tough one.

Because it is hard folks – hard I tell you – to call the merit office and ask yourself. It took me hours to muster the courage when I did it.

And, it’s also hard to look at these folks and determine whether they’re carrying guns and sporting shiny badges.


I tell, you, they’re just waiting for me to get back because they love me.

The commissioners love me, too – unless they read my blog – because they must want to share the glory of their decision-making with me.

Because the commissioners also delayed a key vote on a controversial isssue – whether to seize control of the fee office budgets.

Granted, it was a 6-5 vote to table the proposal, so – then again – maybe five of those folks don’t like me.

But, I understand this one, too.

These good folks only had a week – that’s seven days or 168 hours – to mull over an issue.

Maybe they really needed more time to digest it. Maybe it really isn’t about me. Could I be wrong?

I mean, it’s not like any of the local bloggers or media outlets during those seven days actually reported on the issue. Right? Do a google search. You won’t find anything. I’m sure. Really. Do one.

And it’s not like anyone – opponents, critics, crazies and others – called the commissioners, proudly claiming their stance. Just ask them.

And of course, no fee officers, like Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey or Circuit Clerk Cathy Quist – held public tours of their officers last week, even after the commissioners requested it.

(Feel the sarcasm, baby. Cause, as I recall, only Commissioner Amy Broyles took the tours, along with the media.)

Wait, did I just say there were more media folks taking the tours than there were commissioners?


I must not have said that. I must have rambled it.

My bad.

Oh well.

The public understands. Oh yes it does.

You never hear the public complain about public officials delaying votes. If it does, it does not understand the need for transparency and research. No sir. The public doesn’t.

And hey, even if the executive branch and legislative branch takes control of those budgets, it won’t go into effect until the FY 2012-13 budget, so everyone has more than a year to figure out how to count your coins and spend your scratch.

But really, we get it. The elected and appointed leaders wanted to wait on me.

They don’t want to study this thing to death. They don’t want to call in The Pope and seek input from him. They’re just, er, waiting.

Seriously, why decide today on something you can put off tomorrow?

In the meantime, I look forward to the fourth Monday in April when we get to hear the same information we’ve been hearing all over again.

Cause that’s when we’ll finally get a decision.

Or not.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fee offices, drug court on agenda

Today (or tomorrow – depending on whether this gets posted Sunday night) the county commission presumably will decide whether to take oversight of the fee office budgets.

Or not.

Word going around is the board will table it for a month before then approving it.

Anyhoo, I’m out of town, but figured I’d post a few words.

I talked to one of the fee officers, Clerk and Master of Chancery and Probate Court Howard Hogan, on Saturday.

He had a few interesting things to say in our brief conversation. And he’ll elaborate more during the commission meeting. He’ll also bring 12 years of monthly budgets and reports, showing all the money his office has taken in and paid out to that meeting.

Two big boxes, he said.

“I’ve always reported everything that I’ve done,” he said. “Someone in those 12 years must have looked at them. Yet, at no time has someone ever questions a nickel.”

He said the reports go to the county’s internal auditor, the mayor and the county commission.


There’s a touch of irony in that. The commission and mayor want more control, yet he’s never been questioned about it.


He added: “Every check that’s written to my office is written by the finance department and signed by the mayor. I do not sign any checks for my salary or the salaries I’m paying my deputy clerks. Each check is signed by the mayor. That’s transparency. If they’re writing the checks, they know where the money is going. They don’t need anything more for transparency.”

Don’t forget, all this mess is either about transparency, accountability, or money. Or whatever.)

Additionally, Hogan said that as part of the county’s judicial branch it should be separated from the legislative and executive side of affairs.

That is typically how things work, I suppose.

And speaking of the judicial branch.

The Drug Court Board of Directors met last Wednesday and – at county Law Director Joe Jarret’s suggestion – agreed that it was in the county’s best interest to consent to a fiscal audit of the drug court’s affairs and a clinical audit of the program.

No one believes they’ll find anything wrong. But they just want to make sure.

(Remember, Richard Baumgartner, the former criminal court judge who resigned and pleaded guilty to a felony charge of official misconduct, oversaw the drug court.)

The commission is expected to approve the request during its meeting.

The county’s internal auditor will then review the program from a fiscal accountability perspective. And Jarret said he’s contacted a member of the University of Tennessee, Social Work Program to assist him in conducting a clinical audit of the program.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More on election commission mess

I’m somewhere over Florida right now as I type this, on my way to see the big greed-head rodent in Orlando.

So, I got some time to kill.

Because if I don’t keep myself occupied, I’m going to throw a little snot-kid and his stoned-dad in front of me out of the plane.

Anyhoo, was thinking about today’s story (click right smack here for the bad boy), and what I’ve heard, since it came out. One rumor has it that - Rob McNutt - the Republican Legislative delegation’s pick to serve on the county Election Commission won’t accept the appointment.

I don’t buy it. The guy is passionate. He wants the job. And he’s got his party’s support. For the most part. He’s staying.

The other rumor is that the election office will turn over the information I reported (That McNutt voted out of his precinct seven times) to the District Attorney General’s Office.

Well yeah. What did you think would happen?

If Elections Administrator Greg Mackay and his right-hand man Scott “attached at the hip” Frith didn’t, then they would be breaking the law.

If it’s possible that someone violated state election laws, then the election folks will at least have some type of discussion with prosecutors. (Hey, Scott, just having a little fun at your expense.)

With that said, the issue won't go anywhere. Even if McNutt intentionally and maliciously voted in the wrong precinct, I’m sure there is some statute of limitations that’s expired by now. I’m guessing it would be a two-year limit. Some of his infractions were more than a decade ago.

Also, I know people are going to come down on Mackay if he does talk to Attorney General Randy Nichols. They’ll say he shouldn’t do it. OK, cool. Say he does nothing. Well, what happens if the next time someone screws up it’s a Democrat?

You think the local Republicans are going to give that person a pass? Hell no.

So, Mackay has to talk. He’ll at least hold a brief conversation with the AG’s office. Probably nothing more.

OK, some other thoughts, really in no particular order. Mostly, what I’m doing here is “cleaning out the notebook,” giving you some information that didn’t make it into the story because of space issues, or relevance, or whatever.

Enjoy. It’s free.

So, Steve Hall, the state representative and long-time friend of McNutt. The big rumor - and this has been going on for years now really - going around the county Deathstar is that Hall wants Mackay’s job. A few years ago when the Republicans were gunning for Mackay, he applied.

Apparently, it didn’t work out too well for him.

“I told (the Election Commission) that I thought Greg Mackay was going a fine job,” he said. “But there was an indication that there would be a change, and if there was going to be a change, then I would have liked to have had that position.”

Hall joked that he thinks his remarks made a lot of fellow Republicans mad.

“They told me that I sounded like I was doing a commercial for Greg,” he said laughing.

I asked if he was again interested in the job. The commission in the upccoming weeks will probably decide on Mackay's future - whether to keep him, fire him or take applications for his job. Or whatever it is they do. Maybe they’ll do nothing. (No, by the way, Mackay is not term-limited.)

Damn, I’m rambling here.

Hall said he was not interested and that he would not apply.

“Not in the near future,” he said. “Who knows 10 years from now.”

Anyway, a few more things to address. First, the quote by state Rep. Ryan Haynes, the local Legislative delegation’s big dog (‘cause he’s got the chairmanship spot).

Folks on the message boards have been sticking it to him for pretty much blaming “a little old lady for punching the wrong keypad” for the reason election folks should share some of the blame for McNutt voting in the wrong precinct.

The tone of his statement, however, was lost in the printed word. That happens. Unfortunately. But Ryan was somewhat chuckling when he said it. In retrospect, I could have paraphrased him, wrote something like: Haynes suggested elections officials should share some of the blame. Perhaps, he said, someone didn’t use the keypad correctly.


I'm not going to second guess muyself. I just don’t want people to think the guy stereotyped poll workers or doesn’t like little old ladies.

But, with that said, I don’t buy it. No one punched the wrong key in SEVEN different elections.

Second thing to address is how I got this story. I’m not telling. But don’t start thinking it was Mackay. (And it also wasn’t local attorney Dennis Francis – another rumor I heard going around today. He’s never given me a tip that panned out, so he’s been shut off. Kidding. About the shut off part. His tips, however, do suck. ) But, back to Mackay. It wouldn’t have been in his best interest to tip me off. Not now, anyway.

He’s smart enough to know the best damage gets released the day before the election - not now. And no, I’m not covering for anyone. I don’t care who the election administrator is. In fact, the administrator (new or old) could screw up multiple elections and I wouldn't care. So long as the person returns my calls.

Third thing to address: McNutt.

I enjoyed talking to him. I don’t take great pleasure - despite what many of you may think - in busting someone on 1-A. I like to know them for a while before I do that.


But seriously, he is a nice guy. He told me a few stories about how he’d take his children into the voting booths with him, when they were toddlers, and talk to them about the election process. (OK, no jokes here, please.)

He also seemed very passionate about community service, civic duty, whatever.

Again, I like the guy. (I doubt he likes me very much, but I digress.) And yes, the last thing on my mind - if my parents passed away three months apart and I was moving - would be to change my information with the election office. (Which is something he didn't do and is now subsequently in the limelight for.) However, it would be the first thing on my mind when I finally went down to the polls to vote. (Which also is something he did not do . . . .)

On a side note, I actually thought McNutt was living in the county and voting in city elections. Not that it makes much of a difference.

Last up is state Rep. Harry Tindell, a Democrat. I talked to him about for this story, but his comments didn’t make the paper. Not enough space. He wouldn’t touch it, though. Said that was all up to the Republicans. Smart guy.

I also called Republican state Senator Jamie Woodson for a comment on the story. Funny. I didn’t hear back from her.

On a final side note, I did mention county Mayor Tim Burchett in the story, but I was talking to him about McNutt's background. I never addressed the voting issues with the mayor.

Anyway, I’m out of town for a few. I imagine that I’ll still update, though.

In the meantime, I've got a mouse to catch tomorrow.

Update: I had some links connected to this post, mostly to bios, but Blogger is acting up today and I had to repost this without most of them.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quist: 'Go ahead, take my money'

As I sit in the metal shed on top of the hill, I can hear the hootin' and hollaring, the high-fiving and the whooooooohhhing taking place on the sixth floor of the Knox County Deathstar.

Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist has jumped shipped, and now sides with the administration and commissioners in their effort to gain more control over the fee offices budgets.

It's now even. Three of the offices are on board. And three - as I write this - are not.

But that doesn't really mean squat.

It takes six commissioners to pass this mess. And it is a mess. I haven't been able to do any real work, since the proposal hit the commission dais last Monday. I could be out covering a sewing circle right now. But, naw, I got to deal with this.

Anyhoo, from what I understand, it appears the commission is still set to sign off on the proposal. And Quist switching sides reaffirms this - to me, anyway.

(Read the initial story right smack here, I'm too tired, bored, whatever, to go into its history and give you the background about which side of the Deathstar wants to spend, I mean, manage your money. I've also got lots of posts on this if you just scroll down, too.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, it appears that the commission is still set to sign off on this (and if they do, I'm sure Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey is still gonna sue all their asses), but I have heard - from one fee officer - that "the tides are shifting."

Of course the person who told me this is going to put such a twist on it that it makes even county communications manager Michael "The Spin Doc" Grider (he who manages one person) look like a school kid with a coloring book.


So, if you're interested in hearing the word "transparency" and "accountability" a few more times, then here's the press release. (And if you want tunnel carpel syndrome, head to the mayor's office where he's waiting to give you a fist bump.)

Knoxville, Tenn. - Knox County Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist today announced that, after studying the proposal to bring fee offices under budget, she believes that the resolution before commission truly is about transparency and accountability for Knox County taxpayers. She is happy to join Trustee John Duncan and Clerk Foster Arnett in supporting the proposal before commission.

"The public desverces nothing less than full transparency and accountability and a funding process that is unified across all of county government," Quist said. "I appreciate the efforts of Chairman Hammond and Commissioners Briggs and McKenzie for bringing this proposal tot he table, as well as Mayor Burchett's leadership in supporting this measure. I hope commission votes to approve this resolution Monday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Election Commission makeover

Sentinel journalist Tom Humphrey, the most kick-ass state reporter in Tennessee, broke the news today that county election commissioner Paul Crilly is out and Rob McNutt is in.

(By the way I don't believe Rob is related to Scott McNutt, the most smart-ass reporter in Tennessee.)

The move could mean the end for county Election Administrator Greg Mackay, a Democrat living in a Republican world. Or at least hanging out in and near a Republican courthouse, which many here consider the world.

Then again, maybe not.

Tom's story is here.

He essentially says the Republican legislators ousted Crilly who voted with the two Democrats on the commission a few years back to retain Mackay.

Today's vote was done via a spineless ballot. I mean, sorry, my bad. It was done via a secret ballot. And the vote totals were not announced, according to Rep. Ryan Haynes, chairman of the county Legislative delegation.

Knox County Election Commission Chairman Chris "Hag" Heagerty (long-time childhood trouble-making friend of county Mayor Tim Burchett) and Bob Bowman were both given new terms by the vote.

The two Democrats - whoever they are - also were reappointed awhile back.

As I've mentioned before, I don't have a dog in this fight. But it's pretty spineless to get rid of the one person who actually had a backbone (Crilly), and then decline to say how you voted. I hear the chickens clucking in the background.

You see, whether you agree with Crilly's stance or with Mackay's politics, the now-former commissioner at least showed that he couldn't be swayed by party politics. He voted for a person (Mackay), rather than just a party. He actually thought for himself.

I know. It's unheard of.

And no, I'm not trying to disparage Hag or Bowman. They might have made the right decision when they voted to oust Mackay.

I'm just saying.

You know, whatever.

I'm just glad there's something else to post today other than the fee office mess.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Robocalls? Hahahahahahaha WTH

So I get this call today. I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately. Heh.

So I get this call, and I’m told that some of the fee officers - who don’t want to lose their budgets to the administration and the county commission - and the sheriff (who is completely safe from this whole mess), and the property assessor (who’s also safe) met with Steve Hunley, publisher of The Focus.

Now, that’s cool. Public officials meet with newspaper people all the time. And Hunley writes about them. (Actually, he's been putting a walloping on some of them lately. Click here for the latest and scroll down.) But, I don’t really keep up with who meets with whom (or however you use those “who” and “whom” words). So, a meeting isn't really that big of a deal.

But, this tip was interesting. I was told that the group was either (a) asking Hunley to fund some robocalls (one of the dumbest terms I’ve ever heard) or (b) he was offering to fund some robocalls.

The idea, according to the tip, was that the fee officers – particularly Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey, Register of Deeds Sherry Witt and Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist – wanted to gain public support in their fight (initial story right here) against the nefarious establishment that wants to take them out of the so-called dark era of non-transparency and shed a little so-called light on their financial doings.

Or whatever.

So I made the calls (human calls - not robocalls). Hey, why not? If it’s true, it’d make for a good story.

First up was Property Assessor Phil Ballard. (Actually, I think he was the first to return a call.)

He verified that there was a meeting in Fountain City at Litton’s (which is purported to have the best hamburger around).

Phil, though, said he missed the lunch, arriving late because he was in his office. From what he understood, he said, was that the conversation focused (ha, get it? Focus?) around the fee offices, but he didn’t hear any talk of robocalls. He said everyone was leaving by the time he got there. He just made it clear his office wasn’t technically a fee office. Or at least not one that falls under the charter. Or whatever this whole mess is about.

“I won’t be affected no matter what happens,” he told me. “My role will stay the same.”

I also talked to Sherry Witt, register of deeds. (Always thought that was a cool title.)

She said: “I heard that too. I don’t know anything about robocalls. I don’t think it would be particularly flattering for us to make calls. This isn’t a campaign. We take this serious. We did meet. We did have lunch. Steve wrote an editorial about it last Monday (ha, boy did he ever), and he’ll do another one next week.”

(Personally, I can’t wait. You know, the whole entertainment at the expense of others. Whatever. I digress.)

Witt then said she is meeting individually with the commissioners to argue her case.

Now, I predicted that the commissioners would sign off on the plan to take control of the fee offices’ budgetary process, but she said “the tides are turning.”

She said a few of them claimed they were blindsided that it was placed on last Monday’s commission work session agenda at the last minute.

She also took issue with the mayor’s claims that he wants “transparency” and “accountability” but those are “words to run on during a campaign and if you look you’ll see that we’re accountable.”

She said if there was a problem, then the commissioners should call.

“But no one has ever asked as anything. Ever.” (She said.)

(By the way, Joy McCroskey pretty much echoed the same thing earlier today, but I didn’t hear back from her about the robocalls. Ha. I like writing that word.)

Cathy Quist agreed. Then said “anytime I get a robocall, it doesn’t take me long to hang up on it.”

You tell ‘em, Cathy.

But, “Our doors are always open," she said.

Actually, they were opened earlier today. She invited the commissioners over, but I think only Amy Broyles showed up.

Then she started on that whole kick about how the mayor and commission only want to oversee the budgets ‘cause it’s a “money-grab.”

Maybe. They got to find some way to pay for those fancy new squad cars they just bought the sheriff.

And speaking of the sheriff.

I also talked to the Man with the Badge, too.

He said he wasn’t at the meeting (everyone else verified that by the way), but said – and he stressed that he was only guessing – that Hunley would continue to side with the fee offices and that was nothing new. He also noted that the publisher campaigned against an amendment years ago that would have made the officers mayoral appointees rather than elected folks, which people are saying that this whole issue is the same thing, but it's really not the same thing.

(On a side note, I didn’t call Hunley because I initially wasn’t going to do anything with all this information, but then I got bored and started typing this drivel and, quite frankly, he probably doesn’t want me calling him at 11 p.m.)

Anyhoo, I doubt you’ll get any robocalls. Heh.

Just some rumor. Maybe. If there was some truth to it, I doubt it will happen now. 'Cause everyone is expecting it. And that’s no fun.

In the meantime, all that money that everyone is arguing over?

It’s kind of funny how possessive folks are about it.

You see it’s really not the mayor/commissioners’ scratch. Nor is it the fee offices’ coin.

It’s your dollars.

And there’s lots of ‘em.

And I’ll be happy to hold onto all of it until they get this mess worked out.

Fee office tour, salaries, more mess

The good doctor and Commissioner Richard Briggs told me the other day that the move to bring the fee office budgets under the mayor and commission would be as big – if not bigger – than the proposal to enforce term-limits for some elected leaders.

Privately, I scoffed at the suggestion.

But, it's certainly picked up some steam since Monday when the commission initially talked about it. (I wrote about it here.)

A lot of local papers and bloggers have touched on it, looking at all the angles, the perspectives, the whatever.

Anyhoo, Commissioner Amy Broyles asked some of the fee officers – Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey and Circuit Clerk Clerk Cathy Quist – if they'd give her a tour of the offices. (The two clerks noted to commissioners that they didn't know squat about how to run the departments, so they shouldn't be meddling with their budgetary affairs.)

The meeting was sun shined and Broyles was the only commissioner who made it. As McCroskey said: “No one has bothered to ever come up here and see what we do.”

Broyles asked McCroskey to “show me what you think I need to know about how you run things and what the differences would be be if we changed (the budgetary process).”

I give credit to Broyles for attending. Other than that, it was pretty boring.

It's like, uh, well, here's the pretty office. There's the fax machine, there's a zillion old, yellow files (guess they haven't heard of electronic systems), there's a person clicking away on the computer, there's a nice room with a view, there's a stapler and there's a telephone.

Fascinating stuff.

I took off after 10 minutes, wading through some potential jurors in the hallway, listening to them talk about an upcoming criminal trial that they probably shouldn't have been discussing.

But I digress.

I'm rambling. I know.

I also recently asked the county bean counters to run me some numbers I wanted to know how much the fee offices requested in their recent salary suits and what the current salaries are. I also wanted to know about vacancies.

I got some back. Not everything. There's six fee offices. They listed five, but one was blank. Heh. What's up with that?

Anyway, for the number nerds:

  • County Clerk: Filed a $3.65 million salary suit and has $2.83 million on the books with four vacancies.
  • Trustee: Filed a $2.22 million suit and has $1.93 million on the books with four vacancies.
  • Criminal Court Clerk: Filed a $6.36 million salary suit and has $2.98 million on the books with 11 vacancies.
  • Register of Deeds: Filed for $1.58 and has $1.11 on the books and six vacancies.

The commission is set to vote on this Monday. I think they will. This will probably be the rare occasion where officials don't form one of those silly sub-committees that never gets anything done. (Or at least makes recommendations that never get approved.) They want to fast-track this bad boy. Why give opponents a chance to rally?

Still, that's not going to stop folks from trying.

This Saturday, the county's GOP party will apparently talk about a resolution opposing the issue, according to Brian Hornback. Click here for more. He's also got some other stuff about about the fee office debate.

There's also a post over here at the site run by my favorite hippie.

Joe Sullivan has a piece here.

And I blogged the other day about it here.

If I left anyone out, it wasn't intentional.

I've got to run. There's someone in the county Deathstar ducking me. And if they don't think I won't sit outside their office all day and haunt the staff, then they're really not paying attention. Which wouldn't surprise me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fee office proposal: one big mess

I don’t even know where to start with this post. Of course I usually don’t know where to start with any of them.

So how about: The sheriff is an instigator. The mayor, a puppet. The criminal court clerk is sue happy. The trustee, a chicken.

Yeah, figured that’d get your attention (to all three of my readers).

Here’s the deal: The county commission during its work session today talked about forcing the six fee offices to submit budgets – rather than file salary suits – to the mayor’s office. Probably sounds pretty boring. But what it does is it actually gives the administration a little control and the county commission a lot of control over how those officials – trustee, county clerk, circuit court clerk, criminal court clerk, clerk and master, and register of deeds – staff their offices.

In other words, they’re taking away the pocket book.

If they get the six votes needed.

If you watched this on TV (does anyone really do that?), then you pretty much missed the animosity going on in the background. The commissioners talked about the issue briefly, then listened to a number of fee officers tell them why they opposed it.

In the end, the commission forwarded the proposal to next Monday’s agenda without a recommendation. (No recommendation doesn’t mean anything. Just a formality. I’ll tell you how they’ll probably vote in a second.)

Meanwhile, county officials not on the dais were all over the place, forming factions, and trying to figure out just what was going on and why.

A little background for those who haven’t read the story (click right smack here for it):

County Mayor Tim Burchett, who constantly reminds everyone that he campaigned on transparent government (just ask him), recently asked county Law Director Joe Jarret whether it was possible for the commission to somehow take total control over the fee offices’ budgets.

(Right now, the offices do submit small budgets that cover minimal costs, like some contracts, supplies and Crayons. But, not the big bucks – not the coin that pays for all those employees who are somehow related to everyone but you and me. Kidding. That scratch is determined in the salary suits. Read the story. I’m not explaining again what a salary suit is.)

Anyhoo, Jarret said: “Yes, it’s possible.”

Now, what happened next is not exactly clear, because some of these stories are somewhat contradicting each other. The sequence of events, I mean. You see, the administration is saying this is a commission deal. Commissioners are saying this is an administration deal.

I’m saying it’s both. The driving forces, though, are the mayor, Commissioner Richard Briggs (who was absent today for reasons I cannot remember) and commission Chairman Mike Hammond (the two commission co-sponsors).

So, why are they doing it?


Depends on who you are talking to and when.

It’s for transparency. No, it’s for the money. No, it’s for the power, No, it’s for governmental consolidation.


I, personally, think it’s for the entertainment of the home viewing audience.

All arguments have merit, and there’s probably some truth to each side. (Even mine). No matter what they say. (Remember, the glass is always half-empty.)

Anyhoo (damn, used that word twice in this post), you probably want to get to some of the more gossipy-gossip stuff. Which is kind of unmanly, but whatever. (If you claim to not read the tabloid headlines in the check-out line then you’re fibbing.)

Soooooo . . . .

Some behind the scenes action from today’s commission work session.

Here’s some players, what was said about them and a little bit of clarity:

The Commission: My prediction is that this proposal is going to pass. It’s either going to be a close 6-5 or it’s going to be a blow-out, possibly unanimous. I don’t see one or two commissioners trying to make a point here. They’ll test the wind, but – regardless of how they really feel – I don’t believe they want to fall on the sword for this one. That’s no disrespect to the fee officers, but it’s just not the right fight to pick at this time. Here’s the breakdown that I put together from talking to commissioners and observers: Mike Hammond, Richard Briggs, Sam McKenzie, Jeff Ownby and Ed Shouse are for it. R. Larry Smith and Dave Wright are undecided but leaning toward supporting it. Amy Broyles, too, appears to be supporting it (but remember she’s no fan of the administration). Tony Norman is a tough one. People think he’s undecided, too. But the mayor kind of ticked him off on the whole hillside-ridgetop thing a few weeks back. Vice Chairman Brad Anders is another tricky one. He’s a police officer, so a lot of folks think he’ll side with the fee offices, if only because the sheriff is supposedly on that side (more on that in a minute). That leaves Mike Brown. You never know with Brown. At this point, he wants everyone from the Pope to the attorney general to research the proposal before making a decision. (Some say he’s stalling because he doesn’t want to approve it.)

Dean Rice: There were a lot of jokes going around today that the county’s chief of staff is actually the real driving force behind this. That he’s pulling the mayor’s strings. (Dance for me puppet!) I don’t think so. This has the mayor’s fingerprints all over it. But, it’s still funny. (On a side note commissioners in an unrelated matter asked him about 100 times if he bought a new truck.)

Joy McCroskey: No way in heck does the criminal court clerk (a fee officer) support this plan. In fact, when I was in the hallway after the commission mulled over the whole mess, she told some folks near her that if the legislative branch approved the measure, she would sue. Don’t think she won’t do it, either.

Sherry Witt: The register of deeds (a fee officer) also does not support the plan. She said she doesn’t want to wait 30 to 45 days to get commission approval if she needs to hire someone.

Cathy Quist: Go ahead and put the clerk of circuit court (a fee officer) in the “no way in heck am I signing on to this" category.

John Duncan III: Ah, the trustee (a fee officer). Now, Duncan is for the proposal. In fact, he was actually going to get up there today and publicly support it. But then he disappeared. Word going around was that he earned a little enmity from some of the other fee officers because he wasn’t on board with them. He didn’t want to deal with it, they said. He got cold feet. Yeah, well, so what? I don’t blame him. I mean, does anyone really want to be at a commission meeting?

Jimmy “J.J.” Jones: The sheriff! The man with the badge! The top cop! Folks said he was instigating (not the same as investigating) Witt, McCroskey and Quist, because he was in the back of the room, hanging out with them. They said he was stirring up trouble. You see, two years ago – when Briggs first proposed this plan (more on that in a minute) – the sheriff’s office was a target. Folks said “J.J.” hasn’t forgotten. Course he’s untouchable in all this (legal reasons that I can’t remember). And if he’s anything like me, then – heck yeah – I’d stir some stuff up, too. Because entertainment at the expense of others is always the best fun. Honestly, though? Who knows? He always stands in the back.

Foster Arnett: The county clerk wasn’t there today. But, he’s with Duncan on this one. Oddly enough, I’m apparently the only one who knew that. No one else bothered to pick up the phone and call him. On a side note, I talked to him the other day about his wife, who was diagnosed with cancer. Please say a prayer for her. (That’s my good deed request for the day, by the way.)

Howard Hogan: the clerk and master of chancery and probate court (fee officer) was not at the meeting. But he called me after it. Let’s say he isn’t on board with the mayor. Here’s what he had to say: “I’m baffled. No one asked the clerks and the fee offices about this – no one approached us and said ‘you’re doing something wrong and this isn’t transparent.’ Well, we (the fee offices) have more transparency than any other offices in this court house, including the (executive branch). We submit (revenues and expenditure reports) every month to the mayor and commission and we’re subject to annual audits. It’s a little frustrating to have something dropped on us like a bomb without any discourse or discussion. But, it seems to me, anyway, that it’s a power play by the mayor and Mr. Hammond to do what the voters in this county said they didn’t want to have happen, and that’s to make the fees offices under the direction of the mayor.” Hogan then said he didn’t like it that under the proposal the fee offices’ reserve tanks would go into the county’s general fund. “They want to get that money and balance the budget on the backs of our reserves.” He also said that it wasn’t very transparent of the commission and administration to talk about it today without a proper heads-up. (On a side note, it was put on the agenda rather quickly.)

Joe Jarret: The county law director takes a lot of hits. This is mostly because he represents the county – not one office, officer, department, etc. Now I know a lot of people don’t believe this, but if you look back on some of the decisions he’s made, they haven’t necessarily favored one side over the other. I figure if you’re making everyone mad, then you must be doing something right. (Today, I’m getting paid by the cliches. But I digress.) Jarret based his opinion on the county charter and the Tennessee Code. But, he also contacted the County Technical Assistance Service, which was created by the state Legislature and “promotes better government through direct legal and administrative assistance,” and sought an opinion from those folks. They agreed with him. Jarret, it should be noted, told me he has no opinion one way or another as to how the commission should proceed. He did say that if one of the fee officers sues the county, he’d have to step aside. That means outside representation. That means big bucks. That means your dollars.

Richard Briggs: The good doctor and commissioner was not there today. But I talked to him prior to the meeting. He tried this before. In March 2009, he and local attorney Tom McAdams put together a 16-page legal analysis that essentially said a 2007 state Supreme Court ruling that enforced term limits made clear that the county charter created many of the elected offices, which had previously been creations of the state. That meant, the two argued, the county commission could require the other elected office holders to submit all expenses, positions, salaries and other relevant information to the mayor for inclusion in the annual budget recommendation to commissioners.

Bill Lockett: Yes, the former county law director was there today – in spirit. You see, Lockett at the time disagreed with Briggs, saying the offices are creations of the state constitution, not the charter. (In fact, his opinion was announced exactly two years to Monday’s date.) He did not address the state Supreme Court ruling, but rather relied heavily on discussions by the 2006 Charter Review Committee, which crafted the ballot language regarding the offices. Subsequently, the commission voted down Briggs’ proposal.

Charter Amendment: The fee officers who do not support the proposal kept citing a November 2008 charter amendment that voters shot down. It was argued a number of times by a number of different people today that “the voters didn’t want it.” That’s hard to say. The voters did shoot down a proposed amendment that shifted control over the mayor’s office. But what it really did was take away the public’s ability to elect the fee officers. Instead the mayor would appoint them. That’s not apples to apples.

There’s probably a bunch of stuff I’m forgetting, but it’s getting late, and I’ve got to proof-read this mess, which I no doubt have crafted to include lots and lots of typos (this is my longest blog to date). So if you see any mistakes, blame the county for them.

In the meantime, this debate could turn into a real spitting match (they won’t let me say “p---ing contest” on the blog). And both sides could make it real miserable for the other.

The fee offices could sue. And that will cost a lot of money.

And maybe – just maybe – the administration and commission could boot the fee officers out of that big, pretty Knox County Deathstar. And somehow, that, too, will cost a lot of money.

But, remember: In the end, it’s really your money.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

No end in sight for Trustee probe

It seems on the surface, anyway, that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation moved fast when agents looked into former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner.

And the resolution was even quicker.

Less than a year after the TBI started its September 2010 probe, the long-time judge resigned from his post and pleaded guilty to official misconduct, a felony.

That was a few weeks ago.

So what the heck is going on with that investigation into the Trustee's Office? It's been kicking around for years, and a number of folks, including several county commissioners, have called me, saying they believe it's political.

I'm not sure about that, but it certainly seems to be dragging.

And, of course, state investigators aren’t saying much.

“It’s still an ongoing active investigation, so there’s nothing we can release,” Jerri Powell, special agent in charge of the TBI’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, told me Friday. “I’d say it will be a little bit (longer).”

And that was the extent to that conversation.

However, John Duncan III, the county’s trustee since September (who has nothing to do with the past allegations), provided some insight to me last week.

Although he acknowledged that “there’s no indication on when things will get wrapped up,” he did say that as recently as two weeks ago, “they were asking for old records.”

He didn’t elaborate on what. Either that or I forgot to ask. (Hey, it’s freakin’ blog, I can’t provide everything here. I got to save the good stuff for the paper.)

“My impression is that they just had one investigator and they had to pull her off the case and put her on other cases,” Duncan said. “But the last time they came in there were three of them.”

Well then, maybe something will happen soon.

Anyhoo, Duncan said they were looking at (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) “extra comp time payments and ghost employees."

“They requested documents for people who were supposedly out serving summons,” he said. “They were digging back eight to 10 years. I’m not sure how many (former employees) were involved.”

Well, that makes sense.

This whole mess dates to the Mike Lowe era.

Back in February 2009, Duncan’s immediate predecessor, Fred Sisk, asked the TBI to examine payroll practices in the trustee’s office after a $68,000-a-year employee received $195,000 in total 2008 compensation. (That would be operations manager Johnny Haun, whom Sisk fired by the way.)

The state also is looking into payroll discrepancies involving extra payments of overtime, vacation and sick leave. (Some of the would be under the Sisk-administration.)

Sisk also fired Sam Harb, the office’s delinquent-tax supervisor and online payment manager, in April 2010.

Harb, too was connected to the TBI probe. In fact, when the whole thing began, the agency seized three computers of employees, including his.

For his part, Duncan says he’s cleaned house (essentially two folks) of anyone who might have any connections to the investigation. (He actually got rid of a third person for unrelated reasons when he took office.)

“To the best of my knowledge there’s no one in my office being looked at,” he said.

When asked what he’s heard about the investigation (the state isn’t telling him a whole lot either, according to Duncan), he said: "You always hear different things that they’re supposedly looking into. You also hear about people doing political work on county time.”

Then, after saying that, he quickly stressed that he told his workers that he won’t accept any future campaign contributions and that they better not be doing work on county time.

He did say that a few of them asked whether they could support candidates in the city’s upcoming mayoral race.

He said that’s fine. As long as it’s after 5 p.m.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spin Doctor Grider Strikes Again

I love these press releases county Communications Director Michael Grider (he who manages just one person – himself) puts out.


I know it's his job to make county Mayor Tim Burchett look good. But, man. Seriously.

His latest piece of art has the mayor “reaching out” to Big Bill “The Gov.” Haslam, urging him to move quickly in helping local residents and business get some free coin to fix their busted up, rain-flooded properties.

Apparently Mayor Tim “explained” to Big Bill the importance of this.

Hey, I'm not downplaying the need to help. But . . .


Anyhoo, here's my translation of this (and below is the Michael “The Spin Doctor" Grider's version):

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in the next few days will determine whether Knox County qualifies for emergency financial assistance for residents and businesses, stemming from the recent rains that caused flood damages.

FEMA and Small Business Association representatives on Thursday wrapped up a preliminary assessment of reported flood damage, according to a county news release. Gov. Bill Haslam will use the information to determine whether enough damage exists to approve a disaster declaration.

The assistance, if approved would likely come in the form of low-interest loans that would allow qualifying home owners, renters and businesses to pay for their repairs, the release states.

The Big Spin:

Knoxville, Tenn. — Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett today reached out to Gov. Bill Haslam in order to urge him to expedite the process that could lead to emergency financial assistance for Knox County residents and businesses suffering from flood damage following recent rains.

"I talked to Governor Haslam this afternoon and explained that the need for emergency assistance for our citizens and business owners is significant, and I asked that he do everything in his power to expedite the process to determine whether local damage warrants a disaster declaration,” Mayor Burchett said. “Governor Haslam was very receptive, and assured me that he is working hard to get the assistance that we hope will be made available to those who need it.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Association personnel completed a visit to Knox County yesterday as part of their preliminary assessment of reported flood damage.

The information they gathered will be used to determine whether enough damage exists to approve a disaster declaration, should Gov. Haslam choose to request one.

If approved, assistance would likely come in the form of low-interest loans that would allow qualifying home owners, renters and businesses to fund their respective repairs.

“The initial damage assessment conducted by the Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency indicated an estimated loss of just under $2 million from more than 200 homes and businesses," Knoxville-Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director Alan Lawson said.

Lawson says the list of damaged homes was generated from calls to the 311 center seeking an assessment, which was necessary in order to get FEMA and SBA to come to Knox County to conduct their own evaluation. He says it will likely be a few days before officials are certain whether Knox County qualifies for the aid.

It’s important that we get people and businesses back on their feet so they can get their lives back to normal,” Mayor Burchett said.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sunsphere Simpson's Museum? Yes

Apparently someone is floating around the idea of turning - or at least suggesting to turn - the Sunsphere into a Simpson's Museum.

They've even set up a Facebook page, championing the cause.

It points out that the "architectural relic" from the 1982 World's Fair can't keep a business for more than six months.

Yet, the Simpsons have stuck around for 22 season. (Personally, I've never been a fan of the show. More into the perverse Family Guy and American Dad, but - hey - why not do it?)

As someone who posted on the Facebook wall said: "Harness the creativity and make it happen! Talk about a fortune!"

Until I hear a better suggestion . . . .

School redistricting could get testy

Let's face it, the school board and county commission really don't like each other. No matter what they say.

I mean there's not necessarily an inherent hatred between the two bodies, but they just don't get along as much as they'd like to pretend.

So, when you see a school board member patting a commissioner on the back (or vice versa), it's not a sign of affection. The official is really just feeling for the soft spot.

To jab the knife into.

And I'm pretty sure the school board's early efforts to redraw its nine districts by the end of the year will be the latest example in the loveless relationship. (Which is cool because I'm tired of writing about Carter Elementary anyway.)

State law requires districts be redrawn at least every 10 years after the U.S. Census to make them as equal as possible, population-wise.

So, recently the good school folks who lord over the teachers who educate your children sought some clarity from the county law director's office.

They wanted to know whether the county commissioners (who lord over everyone else) really had the responsibility to redraw the lines.

Well, in a March 10 letter from Marty McCampbell to school officials, the attorney says: Yes, the legislative body calls the shots.

(Click here for the letter, which is mostly written in legal jargon if you really want to, or keep reading and I'll sum it up for you in Gorilla-ese.)

OK, still here?

McCampbell says “there is no constitutional provision that prohibits the Legislature from enacting laws which in some form or fashion are contrary to a local law set forth in a county's home rule charter.” (We operate under home rule by the way.)

She then cites a number of example where folks got their heads handed to them when they tried to challenge this.

Finally, she states (and this is great, especially the second sentence):

“All case law indicates that since the Charter and state law conflict, the state law supersedes the Charter. The final issue is whether the Commission wants to uphold the will of the people that voted for the Home Rule Charter and placed the power to redistrict in the hands of the Board.”


Now, six days later county commission Chairman Mike Hammond sent a memo to his buds on his board, saying:

“It is not my desire to have the Commission get involved or meddle in School Board districts; however, it is clear that any plan drafted by the School Board, by law, has to be approved by the Commission.”

(I love that “however” part.)

Hammond then says he's invited school board Chairwoman Indya Kincannon and school board member Cindy Buttry (who is the chair of the board's redistricting committee) to the March 28 commissioner luncheon to talk further.

And that, folks is where everyone will be patting everyone on the back!

You see, I'm thinking the school board members (at least some of them) want to have it both ways. They really believe they can redraw the district lines because the charter, they believe, actually trumps state law.

But, if that's truly the case, then the school board members should be subject to term-limits, which is what the charter requires. (Right? Maybe not.)

And, no, they don't want that.

But, whatever. It's just positioning.

Because, ultimately, what's happening is that the school board members want to base their districts upon school zone feeder patterns (elementary students go to such-and-such-middle school and then go to such-and-such high school, etc.) because they get their political support from the PTA's of those schools in those districts.

(Karen Carson was a former PTA president by the way. Not picking on her. Just saying. But obviously she'd want to redraw the lines along her political base.)

Politics. That's their real interest. It always is. Don't let them fool you into believing otherwise. Remember, the glass is always half-full.

So, what about the county commissioners? What's their rooting interest in all this? Why would they care how the school board redraws the lines?

They have their own districts, you ask. It won't hurt them, you say.

No. It won't.

But you don't think for a minute that some members won't use redistricting to settle old scores with the school board, do ya?


That's what I thought.

(For more information, the election commission has some redistricting fun facts, and meeting times and other stuff that no one probably cares about until it happens. Check it out by clicking right smack here.)

Vote for the 'Best of the Best'

The Metro Pulse is doing its "Best of Knoxville" contest again this year.

Click here for a ballot, or go pick a paper. The things are free, you know. And make for great gift-wrappings.

Anyhoo, it features six sections and lots and lots of categories. (You apparently have to fill out at least 25 for your ballot to count, and any ballot-stuffing goes into the "Extra Scrutiny Pile.")

I'm working my way through it right now.

Here's mine* (the ones in italics):

Best of the Best

Knoxvillian: (you must vote for someone besides previous winners Bill Haslam, Bruce Pearl, or Pat Summitt): Wait, Bruce Pearl won this????

Store: Walmart.

Restaurant: Calhoun's. Best ribs in America. Just ask Mike Chase. He'll tell you that over and over and over and over again.

Bar: Yeah, I wouldn't know.

Band: Tim Burchett and the Balanced Budgets.

Knoxville Life

Best Thing Knoxville needs: A $48 million weight room and a $200 million Neyland Stadium facelift during fiscally tight times. Oh wait, we got that.

Best Local Attraction: Bruce Pearl's wife's Facebook page.

Best Place to Meet New Friends: On the county's audit hotline.

Best Place to Take Your Kids for Free: To school.

Best Reality TV Show Contestant from Knoxville: I don't know. Who was the biggest disaster?

Best Way to Get Tim Burchett to Attend Your Meeting: Hold it at Wright's Cafeteria.

* I did have some input from others. Anything upsetting? That was them. Not me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The county's latest spin

Officials over at the Deathstar just sent out a news release.

I'll let someone else digest it. I think it's about the census, but I don't read these things. (It probably is good news. Maybe. Probably some hidden bad news that someone left out, too. Heh.)

I've got some other stuff to write about, trouble to stir. Blah, Blah. Whatever.

Here ya go (beware, there's lots of numbers in it):

Knoxville, Tenn. — Knox County is a good place to live and do business, if the most current U.S. Census data is any indication.

U.S. Census data released today for Tennessee shows that the population in Knox County grew 13.1 percent from 382,032 to 432,226 between 2000 and 2010. This means growth in Knox County led the “big-four” metropolitan counties in the state.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Shelby County’s population increased by 3.4 percent, Hamilton County’s by 9.3 percent, and Davidson County’s by 10 percent.

“The population growth over the last decade shows that Knox County is a place people want to live,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “Families come here because this is a great community that is business friendly, which positions us well for continued economic growth.”

January county unemployment numbers released last week show Knox County continues to have the lowest major metropolitan jobless rate in the state, and boasts the third lowest rate out of all 95 Tennessee counties.

“People born and raised in Knox County offer a wide range of skills and talents rooted in hard work, and those who move here only increase that level of talent and creativity, and that is good news for Knox County’s future,” Mayor Burchett said.

More ways to read the KNS

Personally, I think iPads are for women and children.

A real man lugs around a laptop. And preferably one that has nothing to do with Apple. Throw the Steve Jobs' stuff in the iToilet, I say.

(OK, that was stupid.)

Anyhoo, we – and by “we” I mean the people who run the paper and hopefully don’t pay attention to what I write about on this blog – are launching the KNS E-Edition iPad app. Apparently it’s in the app store now. Whatever that is.

For now, it’s free “for a sampling period,” although we’re going to bill you one of these days.

You can find the app (whatever that is) by searching for “Knoxville News Sentinel” in the app store. Apparently it takes a little while after the first time you download an edition of the paper. After that, it moves faster.

This fancy new product also lets users “flip through pages, zoom in by tapping a story with one finger, switch modes by tapping with two fingers and link instantly to hot-linked websites and e-mail editions,” according to an email the company sent me.

Please note, there was no mention on how in the world you’re going to be able to use this sucker as fish-wrap.

But, hey, it does store several editions of the paper (just no screams from the porch stuff).

We’ll also – within a week or two – begin adding a related video and photo gallery each day. And, we have some plans to use an RSS feed (whatever that is) to add breaking news to the app, too.

Like all online-related things that newspapers do, this continues to be a work in development and we’ll be adding more interactivity soon.

And somehow, someway, I just know this will mean more work for me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Duncan to Tindell: Keep collecting

Apparently Chad Tindell, left, is earning his keep.

Since coming on board with semi-new Trustee John Duncan III in early September, the office’s attorney and now No. 1 phone solicitor has collected $5,897,655 as of late February.

(No word yet on whether the former Knox County Republican Party chairman is going after fellow GOP-mates or just beating up on broke-a$$ Democrats.)

During the same time frame – from September 2009 through February 2010 – local law firm Hodges, Doughty & Carson brought in $3,195,257.

Now, I have to tell you, when Duncan and Tindell first met with me back in August to say that the office would no longer outsource this job, I was somewhat skeptical. (I still am by the way, because the glass is never half full.)

At the time, the dynamic duo said they’d save the county $250,000.

That’s because Albert Harb’s firm has overseen the process since 1994 and kept a percentage of the collections as a fee - about $300,000 a year.

And Harb was a good collector.

Duncan said he was hiring Tindell for $106,905 – a $1 less than what he earns (there’s no way King Trustee is letting one of his minions get more coin) – to call people, collect scratch and file lawsuits.

Under the past process, the county charged a delinquent taxpayer $10 for every $100 the person owed. That money - typically $300,000 a year, but as much as (well, I don’t know – a lot) went to the actual collector. Under the new/current plan, the county still charges the surplus fee, but the money now will go into the county's general fund.

Here’s some more information for the number nerds:

  • From July 2009 through June 2010, the office collected $8,210,0001 in delinquent taxes.
  • From July 2010 through February 2011 (which includes some months that Harb worked), the office has collected $8,009,329.

Duncan said that in addition to cracking the whip on Tindell, he expects the office to bring in even more money when it has the Big Auction - or as the money-grabbers like to call it, the "right of rescission"sale - sometime in the spring.

That's where the county sells property that has back-taxes owed on it, but still gives the original owner a year to buy it back for the sale price.

On a side note, local leaders actually debated for years whether using a collections attorney outside the trustee's office was the most efficient way to collect taxes. Duncan’s predecessor, Fred Sisk, long-defended Harb and the practice, saying no other lawyer had the expertise to collect delinquent taxes at the same rate.

Right now, it looks like Tindell is a bargain. But I suck at math, so who knows.

I was going to ask Tindell, who chaired the Knox County GOP in 2003-04, about it, but he’s on vacation, Duncan said.

Maybe he’s enjoying Spring Break with the judges.

When the judges are away Part II

I'm going to get in trouble one day for this blog. But it's so much fun taking shots at others as I sit safely behind the computer - much like the anonymous posters on the KNS website message board do every day.

(Kidding guys and gals. I love you. Maybe.)

Anyhoo, as noted here, the local judges are out celebrating Spring Break (no, really they're at a judicial conference), so the nice ladies in "General Session Criminal Court" are hosting a jewelry sale (click on the picture for more information).

Now, I'm not sure if this is an OK thing to do for workers over there on the judicial side of the Deathstar, but it wouldn't fly on the executive side.

Just flip to page 16 of the Knox County Employee Handbook.

It states, in part:

“Solicitations by Knox County employees made to other Knox County employees are permitted only in non-work areas and during non-work hours.”
The handbook says non-work hours include “before and after scheduled work hours, lunch periods and approved breaks.”

Well, this shin-dig is set for noon to 2 p.m. on Thursday.

So do these folks get a two-hour lunch break?

Do they not have to follow the handbook?

If so, I want that gig!

I'd sell jewelry, Avon and Tupperware.

When the judges are away . . .

Saw this down at the Knox County Deathstar.

Apparently some local judges this week are at a judicial conference. So, the staff is having a jewelry sale in the "General Session Criminal Court."

Now, there's no phone number, so I couldn't get any additional information, but I do know that no one actually says "bling, bling" anymore. 'Course that was a stupid phrase anyway.

But I digress.

Monday, March 14, 2011

TV show to film in Knoxville

A television show will film in Knoxville sometime soon.

However, no one at this point feels too inclined to talk about the details.

County Mayor Tim Burchett apparently meets today with some of the folks to learn more about it, but I doubt he's going to talk if only because producers and and TV media relations folks like to pretend that they actually earn their paychecks, so they'll want to make the announcement first.


Anyhoo, Burchett confirmed something will happen. So, too, did another county official who said the show - he thinks - is somewhat reminiscent of the “Amazing Race.”

Let's hope it's better than that.

Reality shows are stupid.

No hotline for Ethics Committee

It doesn't appear that the county's Ethics Committee will start up a tattletale hotline like its counterpart, the Audit Committee, did recently.

Mostly because the “ethics” folks don't want to deal with anonymity.

(You don't have to leave your name when you call the audit people.)

The Ethics Committee only looks into complaints that are notarized, which is kind of a pain in the ass to do, but they don't want to waste time chasing ghosts. They don't want to hear so-called baseless accusations. They want you to pay the freight.

And that's means giving your name.

That said, they also acknowledge that coming forward publicly most likely hurts the system overall.

Still, don't expect it to change.

On the other hand, officials on the nine-member board said during a meeting last week that they probably will reorganize to an all-residents panel. They hope that will keep the politics off the board.

Of course, I think the current members forgot that politicians will still make the panel's appointments.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Local GOP Party inside baseball

Brian Hornback, the great agitator of all things related to Scripps and the News Sentinel, published a few interesting posts recently on is blog about some inside baseball going on in the Knox County Republican Party and its move to reorganize.

Now, I did hear a week or so back that the reorganization was set for next Friday, also the day that the school kids will be on Spring Break and the building will be closed. I guess they’ll just pay a janitor to show up in let them in. Or not.

Anyway, I confess to not knowing all the intricacies about what’s going on, so you should probably check out his post here.

Local GOP Party chairman Ray Jenkins also posted a note here on the organization's website.

(By the way, what's up with excluding county Law Director Joe Jarret - a Republican - from the site? All the other local Republican officeholders are on there, even a few I think are really Democrats in disguise.)

Anyhoo, a few days later the Scripps agitator talked about a TN GOP probe into the local Republican Party for possible bylaw violations in this post. It all has something to do about when a meeting was supposed to be advertised in the KNS.

He wrote:
“It is clearly 3 days late of the TN Republican Party bylaws. State Chairman Chris Devaney has referred this item to the bylaws committee. It seems that the spin to Chairman Devaney is that the News Sentinel delayed publishing the notice.”
Even Hornback, who can’t stand the paper, says this is crap.

I’ve got to agree.

We need the money.


So we’ll publish a legal ad as soon as possible. We don’t like losing customers.

Although I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who would argue with me on that one.

On a side note, I'm not a big fan of just linking to other blogs without doing my own research first. But it's Sunday night and I just ate a bunch of horse tranquilizers, so I'm lazy.


Or not.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bills look at local gov't dynamics

State Sen. Stacey Campfield, left, and state Rep. Frank Niceley are sponsoring a couple of bills that, if approved, could potentially impact the dynamics between county mayors and county commissions.

Whether the proposed legislation goes anywhere, remains to be seen.

But right now, Campfield, the primary sponsor, said (in an email to me which I imagine will be posted on his blog) that he's not actively moving either one forward right now.

“You never know what may come up that our county mayor might need and with the (way the) system (works) in Nashville, if a caption of law is not opened in the first few weeks of session then nothing can be done for the issue later on,” he said.

In other words, if it's not proposed now, then it can't be later. Actually, not a bad move. Pro-active and all.

As introduced, the first bill “deletes the authority of the county legislative body (the commission in our case) to confirm appointments made by the county mayor (Tim Burchett in our case) to county boards and commission and department heads.”

This makes sense. It's not like Burchett gets to sign off on appointments made by commissioners to various boards.

The other bill “changes the required vote of the (commission) to override the veto of the county mayor from a majority vote to a two-thirds vote.”

Right now the Knox County charter says the 11-member commission needs a majority plus one to override the mayor.

And yes, these two bills could potentially impact Knox County even though it is under the charter form from what I understand.

(Although I'm thinking that our charter – a majority plus one – could be the same as two-thirds. But, I'm not sure. I suck at math.)

Campfield said lawmakers could adjust the bills later should the need arise.

I was curious about whether the Burchett administration asked for the changes (the mayor said he didn't).

Campfield said no one in local government directly contacted him about the proposals.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tattletale line loads of fun

I love the county's so-called fraud hotline.

It caters to my smart-ass sensibilities. (Uh, not that I've called it or anything.)

It's entertainment at the expense of others.

And that's the best kind of fun.

But, really, this thing in and of itself is a waste, and someone needs to report it.

Then send the bill - $8,000 the first year and $2,000 each additional year – to the state lawmakers who mandated the thing in the first place. (By the way, does the state actually have one of these things?)

You see, folks aren't really using this thing correctly. You're supposed to call the hotline to report government waste, fraud or abuse – associated with coin, scratch, money. Whatever.

You're not supposed to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. (Love them cliches.)

Or as county Mayor Tim Burchett says: Don't hide behind your mama's skirt and throw rocks. (Yeah, he really did say that. Heh.)

Anyhoo, a bunch of wild tips came in this past week. And, yes, I did check up on them. (I can't speak for the county. They move a heck of a lot slower than I do.)

But, I didn't find anything. Still, I'll keep looking and feel free to send me – not that silly hotline – any tips you have.

I'm rambling. Sorry.

In the meantime, enjoy the anonymous tips folks so far have left on the hotline service, and my side comments.

(Also, please remember, I'm more professional in real life than I am on this company-mandated blog for which I am not getting paid any extra to do.)

Here ya go:

  • “One of my friends who works for the county says that Allison Burchett (the mayor's wife) was hired to work there but never actually comes to the office, and didn't even go to law school.” (Well, one of my friend's cousins who kind of knows Allison but really doesn't says he disagrees. Human resources also says the mayor's wife isn't on the payroll. And county Law Director Joe Jarret wouldn't put up with that crap anyway.)
  • The caller said the Knox County law director was involved in fraudulent activity. (Tell Jarret's political opponent to have another one. Unless he or she was talking about the last law director. Then, they're only a year or so too late.)
  • “A friend of mine who is a jailer said there was a detail of DUI prisoners sent to the mayor's house to plant bushes and clean out brush. And I also heard the same jailer took prisoners to the sheriff's mom's house to paint the house and fix the back porch.” (I can't testify to whether JJ hooked up his mom with a new paint job, but if the prisoners worked on the mayor's landscape, they need to be sent back to jail. Because they seriously did a bad job. Last time I checked, Tim Burchett's mayoral manor didn't have any new bushes there. Unless the caller was talking about those dead things by the mailbox.)
  • “My buddy at KPD said he heard over the police radio that Mayor Burchett was pulled over for drunk driving last weekend but the sheriff got him out of it. If I got a DUI, I'd lose my job! This is the same crap we here in Knox County had to put up with for 10 years.” (Uh, if I'm not mistaken, the mayor is a teetotaler. He's probably had more booze spilled on him then he's drank. But nice try. On a side note, I'm not sure I trust a person who doesn't drink. But I digress. Again.)
  • The caller said four employees (names unknown) slept while working at the park. (Are you sure they weren't working for the school administration? If one of them looked like guy or this gal, let me know. Heh.)
  • The caller said the employees should not drive Knox County vehicles when they are not performing work-related activities. (Yeah, they shouldn't do a lot of stuff in life. Truly remarkable observations. You got anymore details?)
  • “(Chief of Staff) Dean Rice just got a new truck and I understand it is actually paid for with county money. This is wrong and I think it's ridiculous.” (Dean owns a gas-guzzler and petrol prices are skyrocketing. That in itself is ridiculous. But unless you're talking about his taxpayer-funded paycheck, he didn't use “county money” to buy it.)
  • “I keep hearing that Dean Rice gets paid $200 a week for mileage that he claims he drives for official county business. But there's no way!” (Are you sure you weren't thinking about schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre. Or Clerk of Circuit Court Cathy Quist?)

OK, all the rest of the reports are all true, so I'm not going to post them. Kidding. My fingers are tired and this blog wasn't all that witty to begin with.

On a side note, I encourage people to call the audit hotline (866-858-4443 ), especially late at night after you've had a few.

And, again, feel free to send me tips. I do check them out no matter how fantastic they might sound.

You never know.

Anyhoo, I need to run. I have to make more calls to the audit hotline.

Niceley: Pay superintendents less

(The dynamic duo of state Rep. Frank Niceley and state Sen. Stacey Campfield are co-sponsoring a number of bills. Here's the last one I wrote about. And I've got a few more coming.)

Either county mayors aren't making enough coin, or school superintendents make too much.

So, Campfield and Niceley filed a bill declaring that a school superintendent cannot be paid more than the county mayor.

Apparently Campfield (who hates the KNS, and probably me by default and won't call us back) is driving this train. Niceley said he joined because his counterpart in the Senate needed a House version of the bill, and he supports the proposal.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that county Mayor Tim Burchett emphasizes that he doesn't have anything to do with it. In case you're wondering.

Still, the mayor weighed-in: “I'm sure my wife would like it, but I'm very satisfied with what I'm making right now.”

Burchett pulls in $154,300.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre makes $222,800.

I don't expect this bill to get very far. And if it does, I'm not exactly sure how it would work.

Does the mayor get a raise. Or does McIntyre take a hit?

And what does the proposed cap mean for recruiting the best qualified candidates?

“Well, this wouldn't prevent you from giving bonuses based on performance,” Niceley said. “But, really, I can't see any need for the county director to make more than the mayor, especially in tight budget times.”

Niceley said the bonuses would encourage the school directors to crack the whip, I mean, work, to make sure test scores improve.

“This will give them an incentive,” he said. “We spend billions on education, and it's supposed to be for the students, not the administration.”

He must have checked out the Knox County school system payroll before he made that last comment.


Niceley: Elect superintendents

Talk about an unlikely alliance.

Apparently state Rep. Frank Niceley, left, and the Tennessee Education Association are working together to get school superintendents elected, rather than appointed.


The two sides haven't exactly seen eye-to-eye in 20 years. (His words. Not mine.)

“When a conservative like me and the TEA both agree on something, then it's time to take a look at it,” said Niceley, who represents parts of Knox County and most of Jefferson County. “This is one of the first times the TEA and I have worked together.”

I guess something most have frozen over.

Anyhoo, lawmakers should discuss the bill further next week.

Here's the gist:

If two-thirds of a county commission calls for a referendum and the voters sign off on it, then it's possible that we'd one day – again – hold elections for superintendents. (Back in 1992, the General Assembly phased out elections for school directors, letting school boards instead make the appointment.)

By the way, state Sen. Stacey Campfield is co-sponsoring the Senate version of the bill. (Yes, click on that – it gives you more detail.)

Niceley, the House bill sponsor, said he was recently in Union County when “the TEA – the teachers – asked me: 'Frank, what can we do. We need to have a director of schools that last more than a year.'”

Apparently, it's not uncommon for school superintendents to tick off school boards in some rural counties. They don't last long when that happens.

“Some of these counties are paying three (superintendents) at one time, kind of like a UT basketball coach,” Niceley said.

(Great quote!)

The state representative said “80-plus-percent of the people” in Jefferson county favor the proposal. He did, however, admit that Gov. Bill Haslam told him recently that he didn't support it.

(Not sure how he got that number, but I digress.)

“When 80 percent of the people want to do something and the experts say you can get just as good of a person through an election as appointing one, then we should do it,” he said. “There's no evidence from the test scores to suggest that one (way) is better than the other.”

This issue comes up a lot. But, I expect it will at least get out of committee this year.

Here's a note from Knox County School Board Chairwoman Indya Kincannon opposing it.

(My esteemed colleague, Scott Barker, a member of the KNS editorial board, sarcastically added: "Emulating Mississippi on education is the way to go."

Here's some reasons to change it.

Personally, I'm concerned that elections limit the hiring pool, since candidates would have to come from the area. (Although that probably doesn't upset all the “you're not from around here, are you” folks.)

But, it could stop the revolving door of directors, too.

We'll see.