Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Kinoxville' restaurant scores

R. Neal kills me sometimes. He has a hilarious post (click right here) about the state's so-called “award winning Legislative Information Services team.”

He talks about the new website Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey launched today. Or kind of launched. As Neal says: “There's a policy section but there's nothing there. Seems about right.”

Heh.

Anyhoo, it got me to thinking about a story I wrote back in July (click right smack here for it) about restaurant inspection scores. Someone called me up and said they couldn't access Knox County scores on the the health department's website.

That's because it takes you over to the state's site. When I went there, in bright red letters, it said; “Notice! Disclosure of Public Health records has been terminated by the State.”

WTF?

So, I called them. Got a bunch of BS, wrote a story. The next day, the Website said something like “temporarily disabled.” Or whatever. I can't remember. Anyway, the fella they had a contract with – someone out in North Carolina – called me that day to tell his story. I missed his call. Then he never returned mine. This went on for months.

I forgot about it.

Eventually, one day I called the state to get an update because the site was still down. Folks there didn't really want to talk about it. Now, keep in mind that when public officials don't answer questions, it means (a) they don't like you or (be) they have something to hide. (Technically, I suppose, it could be both.)

Well, I can't recall making anyone over there upset, so I suppose they're hiding something. You know, cause it's the state and all. And it's government. And whatever.

I'm getting long-winded here, I know.

But, after reading Neal's post (did I mention it's pretty funny?), I headed over to the state health department's website to see if they finally had the restaurant inspection scores back on line. Well, hell, it's hard to say. Click right smack here and you'll know what I mean.

It's either (a) not going to redirect you, or (b) redirect you to right smack here.

OK, got that, now look to the left and you'll see a list of cities. You, know, cause you might want to check out the scores. Now look for “Knoxville.”

They've managed to spell it three different ways.

I hope the crack pot team of award winning tomato cans isn't responsible for this.

Or our copy editors.

Heh.

Crews cleaning storm damage

I just checked my voice mail at work. Got a call from someone offended what I wrote about them here. You know what? Get over it. You're not as tuned in as you'd like to believe. No offense. (I'm probably not either for that matter. But, I'm right on this one.) Besides, you think you're the first person I used those phrases on? Whatever. Oh yeah. One more thing. Answer questions next time you get a call. Anyhoo, have a nice day.

The following is the latest press release from county communications manager Michael Grider. I thought about re-writing it for him, being a smart-ass. But that storm last night was pretty messed up. I hope everyone is OK. Here:

Knoxville, Tenn. — Knox County Engineering and Public Works crews are busy cleaning up roads and responding to calls today, after severe storms rolled through Knox County Wednesday afternoon and late into the night. Currently, at least 18 roads still closed due to downed trees, and in those cases, EPW crews are waiting for KUB or LCUB to clear downed power lines before the trees can be removed from the roadway. Two additional roads are closed due to high water.

“Our Engineering and Public Works crews will continue to work to ensure that Knox County’s roads are safe and clear of debris, but it is important to understand that with a storm like what we saw yesterday, this work takes time,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. “It is important that we all have patience and take all necessary precautions to be safe at home and when traveling the roads.”

The following roads are closed due to downed trees: Lynbrulee, Belt, Eddington, Whittower, Morefield, Nubbin Ridge, Tipton Station, Sevierville Pike, Sims, Berry, Early, Patty, Brushy Valley, Brock, Huckleberry Springs, Elkmont, Lakemoor and Bluff Point (one side of boulevard is open). Ebenezer and Brown are also closed due to high water on the roadway.

Already, EPW Highway crews have cleared trees from the following roads: Clapps Chapel, Kodak, Saratoga, Riverwood, Highland View, Happy Ln., Blue Grass, Rogers Island, Tanglewood, Fox Hollow, Whittington, Quarry, Cooper, Farrington, Keller Bend, Washington Pike, Sumac, Dry Gap, Choto, Sharp,Tedford, Westland and Rhea.

Knox County Engineering and Public Works isn’t the only department dealing with storm damage. The South Knox branch of the Knox County Public Library will be closed until further notice due to storm damage and water in the building. A site assessment is currently underway.

Also, approximately 20 trees are down in Concord Park, and crews are assessing other county parks for damage this morning.

“We want to be sure that our citizens see as little disruption as possible,” Mayor Burchett said. “The crews at Engineering and Public Works and in our other departments do an outstanding job.”

Anyone needing to report debris in the roadway or damage to a county park or other county facility should call the Knox County Office of Community outreach at 865-215-HELP (4357).


UPDATE: Jim Snowden, deputy director of Knox County Engineering and Public Works says:

The following roads are closed due to utilities still being in conflict (low hanging lines, safety concerns, etc.)but we have removed trees: Sharp, Topside (lake side), Montlake, and Neubert Springs

The following roads are closed due to trees and utilities: Brock, Berry, Sevierville Pike, Sims, Idumea.

The following roads are closed due to high water: Peters Road, Ebenezer Road and Woody Drive.

Total closed as of 11:30 is 12. We should have all trees removed by close of business today, however, we are unsure about when/if the utility issues may be resolved.

All others that were on the previous list have been re-opened to traffic.

Grider also says: Also, I just spoke with Parks Director Doug Bataille, and he says the number of trees down at Concord Park is now closer to 50. He also says the Cove at Concord Park is being closed because of downed trees and power lines.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Minor election memo, big mess

(Just some mindless scribblings about today's story. You should probably read it – click right smack here – or you'll probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Actually, most of my stuff is just mental patient-like ramblings anyway.)

It's rarely the crime that gets you. It's the cover-up. (I really wish I had come up with that line.)

And this one, the one in the elections office, just burned a bunch of folks.

Hell, I'm thinking about taking the “Deathstar” tag away from the City County Building. Maybe it now belongs to the Old Courthouse. The Elections Office.

Naw, forget that. They get a name. But not “Deathstar.” No. We'll stick with the Star Wars theme. But now we'll call it the “Mos Eisley.”

Heh.

Anyhoo, there's a point to this. I just forgot. Oh Yeah. Interim administrator of elections Scott Frith destroyed a document. A document written by his former boss, Greg Mackay, that alleged a number of unkindly things. And I don't really care if there were hundreds of copies of that document floating around. He took the one, given to him - “him” meaning the custodian – and shredded it.

Now, he says, HR Director Frances Fogerson didn't really care what he did with since "that wasn't the only copy." She admits that, too. Cause, you know, there was another floating around. Whatever.

(Don't blame Fogerson for this one. She wasn't even supposed to have the document to begin with. It got dumped on her. Heck, she's one of the most honorable people in the Deathstar.)

Here's what Frith told me (this is a longer quote than what ran in the paper):

“I really wanted to know what would happen to it. Greg had been terminated and there had never been an investigation. I just wanted to know what was going to happen to it. I wasn't going to frame it and put it on my office wall. I was hoping it would all go away – this whole issue. I didn't want it down there forever.”

So where exactly was it going to go then? Oh yeah, the shredder. He isn't taking it home with him. He's not keeping it in his car. So what else was there? Come on. Seriously. This sucker was getting trashed the second he got his hands on it.

And the sad thing? I knew about the document. Hell, what did I care? The allegations – at least the ones in that piece of paper – were unfounded. Speculation. Second-hand, third-hand, whatever, observations. It could have been political payback. Whatever. It was a non-issue. There was no investigation. Just because someone jots some crap down on paper, doesn't mean it's worth anything. Heck, you're reading this. You read the paper, right? (Heh. Don't say I don't take a shot at myself from time to time.)

But, no. There's a ton of documents that allege a lot of stupid stuff out there. It's when you destroy them, though. That's what makes it a story.

But, whatever. That's not what I wanted to post here tonight anyway. I was actually going to empty my notebook, put up some of the stuff that didn't make the paper. Then I got to beating on Scott. And I like the guy. But what he did was stupid.

Whether you agree that the memo should have been written or not.

And here's the irony.

You want to know how I finally got the document? I got a copy from Scott. No kidding. Because, supposedly Election Commission Chairman Chris Heagerty had the other copy. But, apparently he gave it to someone in the elections office. (He can't remember who.) But then today he says Elections Commissioner Bob Bowman has a copy. He'll get it from him. Fax it over. I'm still waiting for it.

In the meantime, Firth has hit the panic-buttons. He needs a copy. He gets one from Bowman. Today. He emails it to me.

And just think: If he'd never destroyed it? If I – or anyone in the media – had asked for it? Well . . . .

Whatever.

More ramblings. More thoughts. More drivel.

A couple things just didn't seem to add up, both on and off the record stuff (although the off the record mess I'm keeping to myself). So, some stuff got left out of the story. The facts are there. I don't (knock on wood) think anyone disputes what was written.

But, maybe read between some lines.

You got two key players. Both are powder kegs. For all that buddy-buddy show, the back-patting, joke-telling, BS the two put on, they really didn't like each other. That's now apparent.

It will be even more apparent tomorrow (or today when you read this. If you read this.) when the election commission picks a new administrator. Because Greg won't get it (although that's because he's no longer in the running). Nor will Scott. No way he gets the job. It's going to local attorney Clifford Rodgers. (Sorry, Victoria DeFreese, but you were a token pick. They needed a third person. They could have picked Steve Hill, but then they'd have to look their pal in the face and tell him “No.” It's easier to tell you. No offense. You're a nice person. Whatever. Dance for me puppet.)

No, Rodgers gets the pick. And then we won't ever have to write about the election office until the next election. Or redistricting. Or until someone digs up some dirt on Rodgers. Or more on Frith. Actually, I seriously doubt anything comes out on Rodgers.

Here's something else that bothered me. The mayor's role or lack thereof. It was no secret what was going on at the Cantina. No secret I – and I'll give Anthony over at WBIR some props – was working on the story. But, someone “in the administration” tipped Frith about it.

That's life, though.

I do, however, find it odd that some folks in the administration apparently forget about the incident. Oh yeah. They knew about this. You see, Scott found out about the memo in February. He went to see Frances Fogerson. Then Chris Heagerty goes to see her.

And then all of a sudden, Mayor Tim Burchett wants her in his office. And – ta-daa- he has a copy of the freakin' memo in his hand. Oh yeah, apparently Dean Rice, the administration's chief of staff, is in the same room. With said memo.

Of course, that must have really been Heagerty's copy that he was waving around. Because he doesn't have it anymore. Maybe he gave it back to Heagerty who gave it back to the elections office or wherever. (And what's the point of the mayor talking to HR about this anyway. It's not his problem. Like he said. HR “doesn't police the elections commission.” But I digress.)

Yet, somehow, the two of them had to be reminded today that all this took place. They forgot. Funny.

One more thing. Commissioners Heagerty and Bowman have long known about this. That's not a big deal, really. What's interesting, though, is they did meet with Scott back in either late July or early August. Mackay was there, too.

They all talked about it. They said Scott was a single, 30-year-old dumb ass and should have known better. He agreed.

Or something like that. Then, Heagerty tells Frith that nothing will go into his file.

Apparently, no one sent Heagerty the memo. The memo that said Mackay already filed that bad boy in Fogerson's office.

Yeah, Heagerty found out about that – along with Frith and Burchett – back in February.

According to Fogerson, he “stormed out” of her office.

Like I said: A lot of people got burned on this one.

Over something stupid.

But, don't kid yourself. It goes on all the time.

I happened to be in the mood tonight to share it with you.

And it all started with someone wanting to destroy it.

Irony, I suppose.

Final election chief candidates here

I just got off the phone with Election Commission Chairman Chris Heagerty. He said the top three candidates for the open administrator of elections spot are: attorney Clifford Rodgers, interim administrator Scott Frith and middle school teacher and former county commissioner Victoria DeFreese.

Seven folks applied for the job. The five-member election commission was tasked with picking the top three. The panel will interview the folks tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the Deathstar.

Here are the election commissioners picks (in no particular order):

Chris Heagerty: Clifford Rodgers, Scott Frith, Victoria DeFreese
Rob McNutt: Clifford Rodgers, Scott Frith, Victoria DeFreese
Bob Bowman: Clifford Rodgers, Scott Frith, Victoria DeFreese
Cameron Brooks: Greg Mackay, Scott Frith, Clifford Rodgers
Cassandra Stuart: Greg Mackay, Steve Hill, Scott Frith

Monday, April 25, 2011

Seven apply for election chief job

Only seven people applied for the open administrator of elections position – a stark contrast to the more than 40 applications submitted two years ago.

As it stands former administrator Greg Mackay, who was recently fired from the job, interim administrator Scott Frith, former county commissioner Victoria DeFreese, former Knox County school board Chairman Steve Hill, consultant Mark Hancock, attorney Clifford Rodgers and Leslie Petta, who owns a cleaning business, applied for the job, which will pay at least $95,000 a year.

The five-member Knox County Election Commission on Wednesday will interview three of the applicants and more than likely make a decision then on who will get the job.

The other day I posted about the early interest and put up the resumes.

Since then, Mark Hancock made it official and submitted his information. Click here for it.

So, too, did Leslie Petta. Click here for her application.

On a side note, Commissioner Cameron Brooks sent me his top three selections. He chose: (1) Greg Mackey, (2) Clifford Rodgers, and (3) Scott Frith.

Update: Apparently Commissioner Bob Bowman has selected Clifford Rodgers, Scott Frith and Victoria DeFreese.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wishing everyone a happy Easter

I think the title says it all. But happy Easter folks. And remember: Don't eat the brown jelly beans.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Commish to table fee office plan

I slapped this together for tomorrow's newspaper. Some commissioners held a meeting today (yeah, it was sun shined) to talk about items on this Monday's commission agenda. The Good Doctor, Commissioner Richard Briggs, said they would table a plan to talk about the fee office mess. Because happy hour was approaching, I left, so I could call county Mayor Tim Burchett and Register of Deeds Sherry Witt (to talk about the issue - not to hit happy hour with). Here's some variation of what will run in tomorrow's paper:

The county commission on Monday expects to table a proposal to take control of some fee office budgets now that the mayor and register of deeds – the one holdout to the proposal – are working through the issue.

“I think we both have the same objective and we’ve both been in government a long time and I think we can get a compromise worked out where we can both agree on the objective,” said County Mayor Tim Burchett, adding that he met with Register of Deeds Sherry Witt earlier this week. “We’re not that far apart, so if we slow down, we can get there a little faster.”

Witt agreed.

“I’m hopeful that we can all work together and we can come to a compromise that I feel comfortable with in regards to my duties as register of deeds, protecting my employees and protecting the taxpayers of Knox County,” she said.

At issue is a proposal by commissioners – and backed by the mayor – to take more control over the staffing levels and salaries for half the county’s fee offices - the trustee, the register of deeds and county clerk. The commission was expected to vote on the much-discussed plan during its regular meeting on Monday.

Now it looks like they’ll put it aside for 30 days, said Commissioner Richard Briggs, who is sponsoring the plan.

“I think (Witt) was concerned that there were things she needed to run her office and the money wouldn’t be there and it would fall negatively on her,” he said.

Right now, the fee offices file salary lawsuits in Knox County Chancery Court, outlining much of the departments' annual spending plans. The mayor as a matter of protocol signs off on the suits. Under the new plan, the offices – much like the school system and sheriff’s office – would submit budgets to the mayor first for initially review and then to the commission for final approval.

As it stands, Trustee John Duncan III and County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. support the plan.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What Roddy, Padgett really meant

Here's hoping Marilyn Roddy lets me write her speeches and Mark Padgett buys me beers.

Let's get started.

Apparently Knoxville mayoral candidate Mark Padgett wants to meet for a cup of coffee or lunch. I told his spin doctors I'd be happy to meet him for lunch so he pay for my brew. I never heard back.

Anyhoo, by now everyone should know that Marilyn Roddy pulled out of the mayoral race and is now running for Jamie Woodson's state Senate seat because she's leaving. Whatever.

But, Padgett – who would probably send out a press release commenting on Ground Hog Day if given the chance – just had to respond.

Then, as I was writing this nonsense, I got a statement from Roddy. So, let's look at what they said and then I'll translate this (in bold) for you.

We'll start with Padgett:

“Marilyn Roddy is a dedicated public servant, and I wish her nothing but the best.” Thank God she's gone! Now maybe I have a shot!

“I’m 100 percent dedicated to strengthening Knoxville’s economy and quality of life.” I'll help the area by paying by business license on time.

“The next Mayor of Knoxville is going to need the skills and ability to support existing local businesses, create jobs, recruit new companies, bolster emerging industries like solar, strengthen our neighborhoods, and continue the progress of downtown.” I'm going to use fancy words and tell you nothing!

“As the only small business owner on the ballot, I’m uniquely qualified to move Knoxville forward into a world-class city with a great quality of life and booming economy.” Next year I won't forget to pay my business license, but in the meantime I'm not so sure Knoxville is a world-class city with a great quality of life and booming economy because if it was, then I wouldn't say we have to “move forward into” it.

“I would be honored to become the next Mayor of Knoxville, and I look forward to running a campaign focused on the future of Knoxville and the issues that matter most to our community.” Give me that fat paycheck and I promise you that I will no longer have volunteers weave in and out of traffic as they ride their bicycles down Gay Street toting a sign with my name on it and nearly causing you to crash your car because they're such a freakin' distraction.

Now for Roddy:

“Knox County is losing a great leader (in Jamie Woodson) and advocate in the State Senate.” Awesome, now maybe I got a shot at winning something.

“As an educator and conservative I feel that I am well positioned to carry on Jamie Woodson’s legacy.” Hey, teachers: You're screwed!

“The State Senate offers the best platform to achieve the education reform necessary to attract 21st century jobs to Tennessee and Knox County.” Last week I was building bridges to the 19th Century. This week I'll build them for the 21st Century. And next week, we'll move to the 22nd Century.

“I believe that at this point in time I can best serve the citizens of Knox County in the legislature.” I read Mike Donila's blog and he advised me not to use this tired, tired, tired line – but since he's voting for himself and not me – I'm going to use it anyway!

Election chief resumes right here

OK, i finally got the applications/resumes/letters of interest that folks interested in the administrator of elections post submitted to the county's human resources department. (Just click on the names for them.)

We've got the former guy, Greg Mackay, the interim guy, Scott Frith, and then the usual suspects – Victoria Defreese and Steve Hill.

In addition, we've got Clifford Rodgers, a local attorney. I didn't have him in today's story.

Also, I talked to Mark Hancock again this morning and he sent me his resume (click here) and a statement about it (click here). He has not yet formally applied but he is interested.

Note, that for a job that will pay anywhere between $96,000 and $110,000, some folks didn't really take their time applying themselves.

Some of these cover letters are really half-ass.

But, you can decide.

Actually, the three Republicans on the five-member Knox County Election Commission can decide next Wednesday.

Update: Mackay submitted a formal resume right here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Are you serious or not, Roddy?

(Disclaimer: I just know I’m going to get flamed for this post. But, the story was really bugging me. And, whatever. I’m moving out to the county and voting for myself in the city race as a write-in candidate anyway. Cause, you know, apparently no one really cares where you live and vote in Knox County. Certainly not our state leaders. Certainly not our election commission. But, wow, I digress. What follows is my latest nonsense. If you want, skip it and scroll down to my next post for some really cool salary suit information.)

And I thought Knoxville mayoral candidate Mark Padgett was stepping in it left and right.

You know, accepting some donations maybe he shouldn’t have. “Using” the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley. Somehow forgetting to pay his business license. (By the way, you paid that yet?)

Whatever.

But I finally got around to reading Georgiana Vines’ story about Marilyn Roddy.

Apparently, she’s mulling a shot at the state Senate seat Jamie Woodson is giving up.

She’s going to pray about it, too. Divine Intervention, I guess.

OK.

Sure.

So, let me get this straight now. There’s a chance, that she’ll run for a new seat, after she’s campaigned for the mayoral one, and raised a bunch of money – a bunch of money - doing so. Now, she can't use that coin to run for a state race (the law won't allow it). But still, what do you say to your supporters?

Yeah.

Nice.

If it's true, well, I don't know. It all sounds kind of self-serving to me.

Still, what do I know? I hang out on the county’s side of the Deathstar. And no one over there is self-serving. Nope.

So, I probably have no idea what I’m talking about.

In the meantime, if she does bail on the mayor's race, I just ask her not to use this one line. Please. Do not say: “I can better serve the people of Knoxville and Knox County as a state senator.”

Because it’s tired. Almost as tired as wishy-washy politicians.

And that's not you, right? You do believe you can win the mayor's spot. Right?

So, uh, prove me wrong and stick with the that one. And keep it exciting.

Because Padgett hasn’t stepped in it lately.

UPDATE: Roddy to make formal announcement on this mess at 3 p.m. today.

Here's what a salary suit looks like

A lot of folks have made a big deal about whether the salary lawsuits that detail staffing levels and salaries that the fee offices file are not transparent enough.

Others, though, say they're less confusing to read than the county budget, which is a zillion pages long and can be found right here.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about – this whole fee office mess – then you can read the original story I wrote about it right smack here.

Anyhoo, most of the fee offices essentially sue the county mayor in Knox County Chancery Court. Typically, the mayor signs off on them. No reason to micromanage, I suppose.

So, as a public service, I'm providing copies of the most recent salary suits filed by the six fee offices – criminal court clerk, circuit court clerk, trustee, registor of deeds, clerk and master, and county clerk.

Note, that each one will be slightly different – not only because the officers draw them up differently – but because I'll show you various stages of the suits.

I wish I could be a little more literate here, but I'm kind of busy.

So, let's start right here with Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroseky's petition to sue. This is pretty much the first stage and goes immediately to the mayor and the law director.

For Hogan, I have the actual suit he filed in Knox County Chancery Court. Note, that Hogan's suit is extremely detailed compared to the others I'll put up, detailing job descriptions and naming contractors.

The document I have right here for Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist is the final judgment. It looks pretty much like the initial salary suit, but some of the legal mumbo-jumbo has been taken out. Additionally, it includes a letter to county Mayor Tim Burchett. Note, the final page - “Exhibit A - lists her deputy clerks and salaries. It includes the staffing levels but no job description. This is one of the issues some commissioners and Burchett have with the suits. They don't feel there's enough so-called “transparency.”

For Register of Deeds Sherry Witt, I've also included the final judgment of her most recent salary suit, signed in October 2010. Additionally, Witt post her salary suits, dating back 2007, on her website right here. Still, that's not going to stop the aforementioned county officials from trying to gain control of her operating budget. Good thing for her she hired local attorney John King to fight it.

County Clerk Foster Arnett doesn't actually file a salary suit. You see all this talk about these suits isn't really necessary, according to county Law Director Joe Jarret. You can also file a “Letter of Agreement Compensation of Employees” instead.

No, this is not the same thing as turning the budget over to the mayor and commission. It's more like a salary suit, but without the lawsuit part. And, yes, the county clerk is the only one of the six fee offices to do it this way.

Check out what Arnett's looks like right here.

Finally, I have a salary suit for Trustee John Duncan III. The example I have for him, however, is an amended judgment. You see, Duncan filed a regular salary suit like his peers.

But, he forgot to give his employees longevity bonuses, which are not necessary, but pretty traditional around some of the fee offices.

So, Duncan had to go back and sue again. I think it was for an extra $3,500. It's not actually mentioned in the suit.

Go figure. (Although it probably doesn't matter since the trustee - along with a couple other fee officers - plans to turn over his budget anyway.)

Anyway, here's the final suit right smack here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cameron Brooks resigns from board

As expected, Knox County Election Commissioner Cameron Brooks, left, announced this afternoon that he plans to resign, effective May 9, from the board.

It's because he's moving, though. Not because he's disgusted with some of his peers.

(Although he probably is. Disgusted that is.)

Brooks, a Democrat, was one of two who voted (along party lines) Friday to keep administrator of elections Greg Mackay's job. They lost.

I'm assuming the Democrats on the local Legislative Delegation will nominate another member to serve on the commission (which will be rubber stamped by the state because the state doesn't investigate anything). But, hell, I haven't looked it up. It could be like the county commission and the board just appoints one of its own.

Either way, it won't help the Democrats on the board. They're already outnumbered as it is. (The board chooses a new administrator April 27.)

Still, someone has an opportunity to get some of that goooood county health insurance and a little bit of coin.

Anyhoo, Cameron seemed like a good guy. All the best to him.

Here's the email he sent out:

April 19, 2011
Tom Wheeler
Tennessee Election Commission
312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue
9th Floor, Snodgrass Tower
Nashville, TN 37243

Dear Commissioner Wheeler:

This letter serves as my notice of resignation from the Knox County Election Commission, effective Monday, May 9, 2011. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of the state of the Tennessee.

Sincerely,
Cameron Brooks
Commissioner, Knox County Election Commission

Elected folks and their workers' coin

For absolutely no reason, other than people always like to know what county folks make, I asked the Human Resources Department to send me a list of the top five money-makers employed under our local elected officials. (The county people, that is. I don't care about the city.)

Additionally, I asked for Howard Hogan's people, too. Hogan, clerk and master of the chancery courts, isn't elected, but rather appointed by the judges every six years. I included him because his department is one of six county fee offices. The other five are elected. But, I figured that was fair.

In addition to Hogan, I've got County Clerk Foster Arnett, Attorney General Randy Nichols, Trustee John Duncan III, Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey, Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist, Law Director Joe Jarret, Register of Deeds Sherry Witt, Property Assessor Phil Ballard, Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones, Public Defender Mark Stephens and Mayor Tim Burchett.

I didn't ask for the commissioners because they have three underpaid (if only because they have to deal with commissioners) folks in their office. And I forgot about the judges.

Also note: Under Burchett, the folks are actually employees under his overall purview - not necessarily in the "Mayor's Office."

On just a quick glance, it appears that Hogan's workers make the least out of the officials. Not surprising since he's not elected. Go figure.

Heh.

Burchett's workers came in at the most. But, most of them are department directors, not deputies (with the exception of his chief of staff.)

Next up was Jarret. But, attorneys make a lot of money. Unless of course, you work in the public defender's office.

Anyhoo, the document is right here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Odds and ends from the meeting

I’ll have a story tomorrow in tomorrow’s paper about what the commissioners did regarding the fee office tug-of-war.

In the meantime, here’s a few things that won’t make it because of space.

Early on in the meeting, the administration rolled out some organization – the PFM Group, I believe – to talk about the county’s “benchmarking and debt analysis.”

Apparently, they were asked to provide “an independent assessment of debt profile, ways to save money and looking for specific risks in the financial profile.”

Uh, OK.

Despite having roughly $620 million in debt, we’re in pretty good shape, group members said.

Like I said: Uh, OK.

I’m actually still scratching my head on this one. I’d think the administration would rustle up someone who would talk about how bad off the county is. Because you know, the debt scares the hell out of county Mayor Tim Burchett and his right-hand-man Dean Rice.

But, they didn’t.

Of course, this could be one of those moves where officials wanted to brag about how all that refinancing they did back in September makes them look good. Former county Mayor Mike Ragsdale refinanced a bunch of debt, too, during his first year. (Course he also racked up a bunch.)

Still, with this news maybe they should have given Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones a couple extra cars if the future is so bright.

Anyhoo, some other notes:

Carter Elementary School: The evaluation committee that will determine which of the six bidders who wants a shot at trying to convince the county why they should get paid $13 million to $15 million instead of the PBA to build a new school on the county’s eastern side will meet Wednesday and Thursday. By early next week, officials will make the choice public and it will go before the IDB on May 10. Apparently, the bidding/request for proposals process so has cost the county about $4,600. I’ll try to figure out what it was spent on. I imagine it was advertising the bids.

NRRT: The county is going to auction off some 157 acres of Solway Greenwaste property. Remember, the county is cutting ties with Natural Resources Recovery of Tennessee on July 31. I wrote about that some time back. I’m not sure whether the land is any good. Commissioner Mike Brown said: “I wouldn’t consider it a building lot. I’m not sure I’d even want to raise my cattle on it.”

Fee Offices: During the meeting to discuss the fee office mess, local attorney John King (who isn’t cheap) spoke on behalf of Register of Deeds Sherry Witt. A lot – and I mean a lot – of folks were immediately asking me whether the county would pick up the tab. Apparently, they were asking Commission Chairman Mike Hammond the same thing. Because, he asked King. (So did I, but it was after the meeting). King said “I have a fee arrangement with her.” He also said county money won’t be used. Witt told me after the meeting that it will come from her own pocket. She also said she won’t use campaign money. I hope that puts that one to rest. But, there’s one other thing. I wasn’t in the back of the room when this happened (I usually sit up front), but Brian Hornback caught an interesting tidbit involving some of the fee officers who oppose the commission’s plan to take control of their budgets. (You can read about it right here.)

Senate seat: The county commission will begin taking applications soon to fill Jamie Woodson’s state senate seat. It should be up on the Deathstar’s web site maybe as early as tomorrow, which is good considering it hasn't updated its spin in over two weeks. I’ll post more when I know.

Scott Frith: I’ve asked the interim election administration twice to comment on some things I’m working on. He’s given somehow managed to use the word “focus” about a dozen times. When I called him out on it, he said that tomorrow the words of the day will be: “concentrate, pinpoint, direct, knuckle-down, fixate, hone-in . . . “

Good deal. No matter what you say about the guy, at least he returns calls. There are a number of folks in this area – elected or appointed – who don’t. Not a lot of transparency when you can’t return a call. Not a lot of guts, either.

Later.

Scott Frith likes to say 'focus'

Interim Election Administrator Scott Frith, left, says he’s going to keep on keeping on.

Or something like that.

I just had a brief conversation with Frith, who is standing in for his old boss Greg Mackay (fired by the Knox County Election Commission on Friday).

He said that he hasn’t talked to Mackay nor does he plan to.

“It’s just not appropriate,” he said. “My job is to be focused on the next election and running this office and that’s it.”

He added that he does plan to apply for the job.

But, right now he’s “not hiring or firing anyone – that’s not my job.”

“I’ll work with the staff I have as long as I’m interim (administrator). That’s what I understand the charge (the election commission) gave me.”

He also addressed rumors that Mackay and he would switch jobs. In other words, Mackay would take his $83,000-a-year deputy administrator job and he’d take the $96,000 to $110,000 administrator job.

“Those are just rumors,” he said, again adding that he doesn’t plan to call Mackay. “Right now I’m focusing on the (upcoming City of Knoxville) elections.”

I asked about redistricting.

“Yeah, and redistricting and all the other duties of the office, too,” he added. “I’ve been focused on keeping us all focused on the job.”

He sure does like to use the word “focus.”

He said he also told the staff to “continue doing the professional job that they’re doing.”

“The most important thing is that I told them for the next week and a half or however long I’m the interim administrator, we need to keep the ship on course and that’s what I’m going to do.”

In the meantime, folks have until 9 a.m. April 26 to apply for the job.

A few notes before the meeting

A couple things before I head out to today's County Commission work session. Click here for the agenda.)

Over the weekend, Georgiana Vines wrote about a number of folks interested in taking (soon-to-be-former) state Sen. Jamie Woodson's seat. You can read about it here. Also, local blogger Dan Andrews makes a case why he should get the temporary gig here.

And this morning, I had a note forwarded to me from Jim Boyer, who left the House seat in 2002 after serving as Republican caucus chairman, saying that he, too, also is contemplating the seat.

And of course, county Commissioner R. Larry Smith says he might look into it, as well as commission Chairman Mike Hammond.

Note, however, that there's a difference between taking the seat early or waiting until the election. While there's an obvious advantage to getting your name on there now and running later, if you're a county commissioner – and you really like your job – you might be taking a chance to jump in now.

Since you'd have to resign and all. And you're not guaranteed a win.

The other thing. The commission work session starts at 2 p.m. today in the big room just past the metal detectors as you make your way through the Deathstar. So, unless you're a cop, deputy or Lumpy Lambert, don't bring a gun. (OK, bad joke.)

The first big items is a proposal to give control of the budgets for three of the non-judiciary fee offices – that means the register of deeds, the trustee and the county clerk offices – to the mayor and the commission. It looks like officials might drop the judiciary ones – clerk and masters, circuit court clerk and criminal court clerk.

This will be moved to the top of the agenda because Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey needs to head to Nashville to meet with state Rep. Ryan Haynes. They're supposed to find a way to get her office under a state statute that will allow her to collect assessment fines that will go toward the helping the Knoxville Family Justice Center. (I wrote a story about that mess right smack here.)

Also, the Hillside Ridgetop Protection Plan item is on the agenda, although it's under the Planning and Zoning section. Presumably, officials won't talk about it.

But, you know how that went the last time chairman Hammond said no one was going to speak.

Heh.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who's going to be election chief?

I wasn’t going to post anything this evening, but I've got some time to kill before Family Guy comes on.

Yeah, it’s probably no surprise that I like that show.

Anyhoo, just two days after the election commission gave administrator Greg Mackay, who actually ran the show, the boot, there’s a few names floating around to replace him.

Which isn’t really surprising. People like to gossip in the Deathstar. And in 2009 roughly 45 people applied. (Hey, who wouldn't want that sweet job? It pays well and you get that goood county health insurance.)

I throw these out for now.

Scott Frith, the interim administrator is one. But I don’t think he’s going to get it. He takes law classes at night and I think commissioners want someone with a stronger commitment. Not to say he isn’t committed. But, I just don’t see it. Plus, there’s some other issues there.

I do, however, see him sticking around. Someone has to tell the new guy/gal how to run the show. Of course, this is Knox County politics we’re talking about. And the smartest decisions aren’t always the norm.

But I digress.

The second name is Josh Burnett. He’s Trustee John Duncan’s chief of staff. And he’s in tight with a lot of those guys. He also considered applying a few years ago when the commission took applications, but didn’t. However, Josh told me tonight he’s not interested.

“I love what I’m doing but I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I’ll stay as long as John Duncan will have me.”

Finally, Steve Hill and Victoria DeFreese are the others. (I'm not including Mackay because I don't think he'll apply. The Republicans rigged it so that he doesn't have a chance of getting an interview.)

My show is about to start, so don’t have time to comment on the last ones.

But I do want to add this final note.

Election Commissioner Cameron Brooks is leaving – probably at the end of the month because he's moving.

So, I’m assuming the Democrats on the local Legislative delegation are going to nominate someone for his seat.

Wouldn’t it be a kick in the ass if Greg Mackay got the appointment?

Heh.

Sure, he’d be only one vote in the minority. But he’d have a few questions to ask his fellow commissioners, the ones who technically run the election office and set policy.

Right? That is what they do, isn’t it?

I imagine the first thing he’d like to ask them is: “What’s your stance on voter fraud?”

I’m sure it will be directed to one member specifically.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The deck is now really stacked

I have to hand it to Knox County Election Commission Bob Bowman.

He’s had two years to think about how to get rid of (now former) Administrator of Elections Greg Mackay.

And he made sure to cover all their asses when he did. He made sure he's really gone this time. He made sure it wasn't about politics, but rather state law. Or at least how he interprets it. Because that's what good lawyers do.

(Of course, if Mackay sues . . . . well that’s another story.)

But, he made sure to also cover the commission on the application process. Because even if Mackay does reapply for the position, he’s not getting an interview.

No. Not like March 2009. You see last time 45 people applied and 12 got interviews.
This time only three get interviews – the top three selections that get the most support out of the five commissioners.

Sure, Mackay – if he applies – will get support from Cameron Brooks and Cassandra Stuart – the two Democrats. But don’t think for a minute that the three Republicans are ranking him any higher than No. 4 on their lists.

He’s gone.

The Republicans made sure of it when they gave Paul Crilly the boot because he jumped ship in 2009 and voted for the Democrat. They made sure to replace him with someone who was expected to vote for the Republican.

Oh well.

I don’t care. I don’t vote anyway.

I am, however, curious about one thing.

You see the commissioners – after they ousted Mackay gave his right-hand-man, Scott Frith, the gig. For now anyway. And Frith will apply for the job, just like he did two years ago.

Oddly enough (actually it isn’t odd), Mackay hired Frith, a Republican. And don’t let anyone tell you he didn’t do it to protect his own ass.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He knew this would happen one day. So, you might as well hire someone you like and prep them to do what you do. (And Scott was second on the list in the interview process back then. I won’t debate whether the list was stacked.)

But, and this is what gets me.

Why didn’t Frith, go into Mackay’s office as he was packing his crap and tell him: “Hey, man. Don’t leave. You’re my new deputy administrator.”

Ah, the politics of it all.

Well, at least she didn't kill anyone

Cynthia Finch was sentenced just now.

If you can actually call it that.

I'm starting to realize you can pretty much do whatever you want around here, so long as you work in county government and don't kill someone.

Finch, genius that she is, gets probation for defrauding and ripping off taxpayers.

We had some other folks who somehow managed to charge major coin to purchasing cards and no one bothered to punish them. Oh yeah, they didn't have the receipts to cross reference. And that whole statute of limitations thing.

Good work.

And what's up with the two-year-old TBI probe into the Trustee's Office?

Yeah.

Might as well just let these clowns go, too.

So much for tough on crime.

They might as well give up on this effort, too.

Broyles: He needs to step down

Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles weighs in on the election commission, which meets today at 4 p.m. (By the way, this is a quick update. Scroll down and you'll see another post I just put up about some elected folks getting some retro-coin.)

Here's her letter (This could actually be a fun meeting. You know, if it doesn't interrupt happy hour):

Commissioner Amy Broyles
316 E Scott Avenue
Knoxville, Tennessee 37917

Senator Jamie Woodson
Senator Randy McNally
Senator Stacey Campfield
Representative Ryan Haynes
Representative Bill Dunn
Representative Harry Brooks
Representative Steve Hall
Representative Frank Nicely

April 15, 2011

Dear Senators and Representatives:

Thank you all for taking the time to meet with me this past Wednesday (I am sorry I was unable to meet with you, Frank and Randy – I missed seeing you both). I enjoyed our conversations, and felt I came away more informed than when I arrived.

As you know, I am tremendously concerned about the appointment of Mr. McNutt to the Knox County Election Commission, as are a great many of my constituents. This Commission is charged with ensuring the integrity of our electoral process. A Commissioner who has knowingly voted seven times outside his district calls that integrity into question. I understand from my conversations with a couple of you that Mr. McNutt isn’t overly concerned that he violated election law; this raises a tremendous red flag that should not be ignored.

I also understand that Mr. McNutt no longer enjoys the support of the majority of the Republican Legislative Delegation. I respectfully request that you publicly ask Mr. McNutt to step down, as private requests have, to this point, been refused.

For the past two and a half years, we in Knox County have been working tirelessly to restore the public’s trust and faith in our local government. This entire situation calls that trust and faith into question, and frankly is a setback to those of us who have been working so hard. A public request for Mr. McNutt to step down may indeed be ignored by Mr. McNutt and his supporters; however, it will let the people who elected you know that you have taken this seriously, and that you have done all that you can to rectify this situation.

I am very grateful for your time and your continued service to the people of our area.

Very truly yours,
Amy Broyles
Knox County Commissioner

Some officials to get major back pay

A few days ago I wrote a story about some state-mandated pay raises 12 Knox County elected officials. (You can read the masterpiece right smack here.)

What I didn't get into, however, was that three fee officers actually get some retroactive coin.

A lot.

I didn't have the space.

But I do now.

So, here's the deal:

Officials with the six fee offices – criminal court clerk, circuit court clerk, clerk and masters, trustee, register of deeds and county clerk – are supposed to get paid the same now. That would be $106,906.

Good money.

But the three judiciary office holders – Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey, Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Quist and Clerk and Master Howard Hogan – get an additional 10 percent because they also have additional court responsibilities.

Or something like that. I can't remember.

The issue is that they essentially all have the $106,906 base. Or they should now that the county's population increased. (It's a state thing. Just click on that initial link to the story if you need to know more.)

They're all going to get that now, if they don't already have it.

But there's a catch.

Three officers – Register of Deeds Sherry Witt, Quist and Hogan – weren't paid what they were supposed to get under this formula, which is retroactive to last April.

So, they all sent notes to the mayor, payroll, the law director, whoever the heck will hear them out.

And they're going to get their money. One big lump sum.

Witt is down for $22,493. Here is her letter of request.
McCroskey gets $21,501.67. Here is her letter of request.
Hogan also should get $21,501.67. Here is his letter of request.


Yes, all of this is legal. The real question is why the others were making a higher class of pay. Nothing said they couldn't. But, they probably should have received less pay prior to the county's population jump.

In the meantime, the administration – never afraid to weigh in – had some thoughts.

“They're entitled to it, but it's an odd time to ask for $22,000 in back pay,” said administration Chief of Staff Dean Rice, taking a shot and reminding everyone just how much some folks want more control over the fee office budgets.

Heh.

Election Commission meets today

The Knox County Election Commission meets at 4 p.m. today.

I hope it doesn't cut into happy hour.

Here's the sun shined agenda:

At the call of the Chair, the Knox County Election Commission will meet on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 4 p.m.. The meeting will be held in the Small Assembly Room of the City/County Building, 400 Main Street, Knoxville, TN.

Among the agenda items are reorganization and certification of the Town of Farragut election.

I expect elections administrator Greg Mackay will talk briefly, then turn it over to his five bosses. At that point, I figure - if they attend - the League of Women Voters of Knoxville-Knox County are going to want to speak about the newest commissioner, Rob McNutt.

Because, you know, there's some issues about where he voted and when.

The commission will reorganize. I figure they'll keep Chris Heagerty as chairman. (That spot automatically goes to a Republican since they have the majority in the local Legislative delegation.)

The secretary spot might go to Cameron Brooks. Cassandra McGee Stuart has it now, and since they're the only two Democrats (the party that gets the seat automatically), she might let him have a shot.

Or not.

I'm not sure if we'll get much action on Mackay's job at this point.

I don't think he's getting fired today.

At the most, I think they may briefly discuss whether to take applications for the job.

Then they'll agree to meet soon to discuss it further.

Kind of like the county commission.

Why do something today, when you can put it off for later?

I figure Mackay is safe for another few weeks

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dave Wright for state senator?

Ha ha. It's started folks.

The rumors are trickling in.

With Jamie Woodson stepping down from her state Senate seat, some folks are already speculating about who will send an application to the county commissioners for a spot in the Tennessee General Assembly.

I got two quick calls today - right after Woodson made her announcement - that a fellow has been lobbying commissioners to appoint Dave "the commission's sharpest dresser" Wright (pictured above).

I'll let you guess who it was. The person lobbying for Wright, I mean.

So, I called 8th District commissioner and asked about the rumor.

"I hadn't thought about it," he said.

Hmmmmm.

He started chuckling then added: "I'm really satisfied with where I am. I'm going to have to search out this person who told you that - the person who think I should be in Nashville. They're trying to get rid of me."

He then said "it would be a step up" for either state Rep. Bill Dunn and state Rep. Harry Brooks if one of them wanted a shot.

(Is he already lobbying for one of them?)

Of course, as Wright pointed out, Woodson's successor would have the seat for only a few months and then have to run in a special election.

I don't know.

It would certainly look awfully odd post-Black Wednesday for Wright to get the gig.

He is well-liked in East Knox County, though, but Woodson's district covers a lot more than that. A lot.

Still, I wonder if he could/would vote for himself?

Stacey doesn't like "Tennessee"

I meant to put this up the other day.

It's a post by the hippie over on Knoxviews.

And it's freakin' hilarious.

Well, you know. To me anyway.

Apparently, state Sen. Stacey Campfield doesn't want "Tennessee" by John R. Bean as a state song. Over on his blog he posted this, saying he wasn't going to vote on a song by Roy D. Mercer.

Uh, OK.

Whatever.

I know people make mistakes. I get that. So I can't fault the good senator for that one.

I figure the wrestling mask was on too tight. And he didn't hear the name correctly.

Again, R. Neal explains it better.

Commission to pick senate seat

I think by now – even though it just broke – most folks (or a lot of folks) know that Senate Speak Pro Tempore Jamie Woodson is leaving office.

That means the county commission – for the second time in roughly six months - will appoint someone to serve on the state senate.

But, it's the real deal this time.

It's not like when they picked Steve Hill to serve as a seat warmer until the election. (Hill replaced Tim Burchett who stepped down to become county mayor. The new person will serve through 2012.

On a side note, it also means the local Legislative delegation will have two freshman senators on it.

The commission, according to chairman Mike Hammond, will make the appointment within 120 days of Woodson's official resignation. That means when she turns in her paperwork. Not from today. She's still sticking around for a little while.

The body will take applications, hold a public hearing then make an appointment.

I figure there are some mouths drooling for that job – and kick ass health care – right now.

Let the rumors start.

Update: The commission can take applications early, so someone is ready to step in the day after Woodson leaves. Also, the governor will have to call a special election, so technically this person could also be a seat warmer. But, we'll see.

Update II: Link to state law about special elections.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Here's your hillside plan votes

Let's face it, these so-called meetings to discuss the Hillside Ridgetop Protection Plan (older story about it right smack here) are nothing more than dog and pony shows.

You got one side sending out bogus emails, riddled with untruths.

And you've got a few on the other side posting under fake names on message boards across the county, making it look like they have more support than they do.

Then you have 11 commissioners on the dais – all of whom more than likely know how they're going to vote.

Come on.

Let's get this over with.

Now supposedly, the commission isn't going to hold a public hearing during its work session next Monday to talk about it, but we all know how well that worked during today's so-called workshop.

Yup.

Turned into a public hearing.

So, even if they make it through next Monday – without everyone saying the same thing over, and over, and over, and over and whatever again – there's still April 25.

That's ostensibly when they'll vote.

But, let's be real.

There will be a public hearing. Then it gets tabled. Commissioners will want to hold a workshop with their counterparts in the city. Then there will be more workshops.

Whatever.

Eventually, this sucker is going to get shot down. At least by the commissioners. (I don't cover the city so I don't care what the council does. And yes, they can approve different plans.)

Once it's voted down, the commission will then amend the whole plan, or rather have county law director Joe Jarret do it.

Or the board will form a subcommittee.

Actually, that makes more sense. The commission – and the mayor for that matter – they all just love these subcommittees.

By the way, how is that subcommittee charged with coming up with alternatives to the business park in East Knox County working for you?

Heh.

Thought so.

Anyhoo, here's my predictions on how the commissioners are going to vote on the hillside protection plan based on comments made today at the workshop.

And remember: I'm never wrong.

Because if I was, I wouldn't admit it.

It's going to flop, more than likely 8-3.

Here ya go:

Sam McKenzie: He votes for the plan. During the meeting, McKenzie said he figures “something will happen, but I'm not sure what.” He also stressed that he's tired of the opponents complaining about how long the plan took to create (three years) and how much it costs (something like $350,000). “If it's a quality plan then it's going to take some time,” he said.

Tony Norman: Oh man, I don't even have to respond to this one. It's his freakin' baby. He's voting a big “Hell Yeah!” against those “rascals”. (In other words, he votes for the plan, too.)

Jeff Ownby: He's voting against the plan. Ownby is a big “property rights” guy. Plus he made some comments questioning whether the county needs more regulations.

Richard Briggs: The good doctor votes against the plan, too. He said there are “plenty of laws in this country (or county – can't read my handwriting) and it's just a matter of enforcement.” He also suggested that developer put up a “significant bond requirement” when a project starts, so if the builder “does go bankrupt or something untoward happens . . . then there's a way to compensate the people or communities that have been harmed.” He added: “I'm not necessarily in favor of more rules, but I am in favor of more enforcement.”

Mike Hammond: The chairman votes against the plan. He was already hinting at it today. Just the manner of his questions to Metropolitan Planning Commission officials. He wanted to know if had to be voted up or down. And whether it could be amended. He was told yes for both questions. He smiled. He's ready to say no.

R. Larry Smith: Ha ha. As easy as Tony Norman. But the opposite. Put him down for a big “Hell No!” In fact – in between taking shots at the developers for “leaving the table” during negotiations and the MPC for including what he described as misleading pictures in the plan – he said so. “It's a property rights issue,” he said. “I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'm going to vote against the plan. But I'm going to vote 'yes' for more enforcement.”

Dave Wright: He's voting against the plan even though he said “I have been extremely on the fence on this.” He said most of the people affected under it live in East Knox County. Those are his folks out there. And a lot of them don't want it. Plus, a lot of them know that one day they might want to sell all that land out there and a developer isn't going to buy something he/she/it can't build on. He was, however, curious about what the current administration wants to do. Which, I overhead someone say what Wright really meant to say was: “What does Steve Hunley (mortal enemy of county Mayor Tim Burchett and publisher of The Focus) want the current administration to do.” (Burchett is against the plan by the way, but he doesn't vote, so what does it really matter.)

Mike Brown: He's voting against it. He stuck his finger in the air; felt the direction public opinion is blowing (at least vocal public opinion) and decided he's against it. “The No. 1 solution to the problem is better enforcement,” he said, adding that 95 percent of the phone calls and emails he's received have been from folks against the plan. (Of course, the same people are sending the same emails over and over and over and whatever again. But I digress.)

Amy Broyles: She's voting for it. Broyles wasn't at the meeting. I'm going through experience on this one. She likes to go against the grain on major issues.

Brad Anders: The vice chairman is voting against it. Anders wasn't at the meeting. He's a big “property rights” guy, too.

Ed Shouse: He's voting against it. Shouse also wasn't at the meeting. He had a prior appointment. I can't remember what it was. I also can't remember why I said he's voting against it. But he is.

By the way, here's a link to the MPC plan, so you can make your own decisions about it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Voter league upset with hire

Apparently some folks aren't too happy about the latest appointment to the Knox County Election Commission.

You know? Rob McNutt? The fellow who managed to vote a few times outside his precinct? He replaced Paul Crilly. That's the fellow who voted outside his political party.

Heh.

Here's the story right smack here.

After it ran, I asked some folks later about whether it would be an issue – whether the state would sign off on the Republican's pick. (Of course it did.)

No one seemed to mind. Even the members of the local Legislative delegation who didn't vote for him. (Here's the scorecard.)

Apparently, though, the League of Women Voters of Knoxville-Knox County care.

And now they're taking it to the state.

I have copies of emails sent to Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett – one from Jamey Dobbs, president of the local league, and another from Lillian Burch, a member of the organization.

Neither is very happy about the situation.

I'd scan then in, but I'm pretty busy, so I'll just paste them in this post. (Note that the delegation and election commission members were copied on the letter, but I took that out because of length.)

Here's the first, titled “League of Women Voters of Knoxville-Knox County concerned about Election Commission”:

The Honorable Tre Hargett
Tennessee Secretary of State
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-1102

Secretary Hargett:

As a citizen of Knox County, Tennessee, and president of the League of Women Voters of Knoxville/Knox County, I am deeply concerned about the selection process which led to the most current appointment to the Knox County Election Commission. Election commissioners are entrusted with our election process,which is at the very heart of our democracy. I understand that Tennessee’s process for choosing election commissioners requires that we trust our elected officials to vet the candidates to ensure that they are qualified both ethically and legally to serve in the position.

It was shocking to read in the March 26, 2011 Knoxville News Sentinel that our newest commissioner voted outside his voting precinct in at least six elections, apparently committing two counts of voter fraud each time. When asked about it, our legislators told the newspaper's Mike Donila the following:

“The lawmakers added that he [Candidate McNutt] contacted them to join the commission, and they talked to him a number of times. They didn't think about vetting his voting record."

"I think it would be extremely unreasonable for us as legislators - as we make a recommendation - to go through voting records and analyze addresses," said state Rep. Ryan Haynes, chairman of the delegation. "I don't think anyone would
imagine that we would do that. But it sounds to me that it's something we should correct." Haynes, who wouldn't say whether he nominated McNutt, added: "It sounds to me like whoever was running the election screwed up - having him in the wrong district. It's possible that it could have been an error. Maybe a little old lady punched the wrong keypad."

(Line to online article:
http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/mar/26/election-commission-pick-moved-didnt-change-his-ad/?partner=popular)

First, I feel strongly that a process that is so central to our democracy should not be taken so lightly. I urge you to put safeguards in place to ensure that election commissioners have not violated any voting laws in letter or spirit.

Second, I ask that you immediately take steps to ensure that the Knox County Election Commission meets those same standards.


Sincerely,

Jamey Dobbs, President
League of Women Voters of Knoxville-Knox County


Here's the second, titled “Knox County Election Process”:

The Honorable Tre Hargett
Tennessee Secretary of State
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-1102

Secretary Hargett:

I am concerned about the integrity of the election process and the current Knox County Election Commissioner appointment of Candidate McNutt.

How can a candidate be appointed when he violated the rules of voting himself? McNutt committed voter fraud at least 6 elections.

When he contacted lawmakers, they didn't think about vetting his voting record (Knoxville News Sentinel, 3/26/11). Our elected officials did not vet this candidate to ensure that he was qualified ethically and legally to serve in this highly important position in our community.

Please put safeguards in place to ensure that election commissioners have not violated any voting laws in letter or spirit.

Please ensure that our Knox County Election Commission meets the same standards.

Sincerely,

Lillian Burch, MA
Executive Director and LWVKKC member
disABILITY Resource Center


I'm not really sure what the emails will do. Or if they'll count for anything.

But, it's good to see people engaged every now and then.

I expect the league to be at the Knox County Election Commission's first meeting Friday.

They don't sound very happy right now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Office salaries: Burchett v Ragsdale

Some folks have asked me lately about the salaries and staffing levels in the mayor’s office, since the whole fee issue mess really got going.

How many employees does he have? What are the salaries? How many pals did he hire.

Etc.

I actually pulled this list back toward the end of February. Just haven’t done anything with it.

Yet.

Anyhoo, county Mayor Tim Burchett has nine (including himself) folks working directly in his department. They make about $580,652 in combined pay.

Here’s the record I got from the human resources department.

Toward the end of his tenure as mayor, Mike Ragsdale had (including himself and four part-time interns – or that’s how they’re listed anyway) 12 folks in his office between Jan. 1, 2010 and Sept. 1, 2010 - his last day in office. They made around a combined $648,933.

Here’s his file.

Burchett moved some people around and combined a few positions. The most obvious change was sending Dwight Van de Vate to the engineering department where he took a slight pay cut and replaced Bruce Wuethrich.

Despite talks about not creating any new spots, technically Burchett did when he hired Communications Manager Michael “Spin Doc” Grider.

That job, though, essentially replaced Susanne Dupes, who served as director of communications and media relations, but it’s a new classified position.

The pay isn't the same. But, Grider does get to hang out on Facebook during the day because he has one of the few county computers that doesn't block the website.

Dupes also served, in part, as a spokesperson for the mayor. Burchett and his chief of staff, Dean Rice, take their own phone calls, so they don’t need someone to speak for them.

Unless of course it involves a meeting for a board on which the mayor serves.

He tends not to make those.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hold off on the Hillside statement

A couple days back R. Neal posted this on his blog (which kicks ass by the way) about the county commissioner’s workshop where members will discuss the Ridgetop Hillside Protection Plan. Click here.

Apparently, some folks from the Realtors world (I think the Knoxville Realtors and Builders) want to read a statement during Wednesday’s meeting, which starts at 8 a.m.

Now, I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I have to say this is the wrong time to read the statement. That’s not taking a shot at anyone, but it’s a meeting for the commissioners. Yes, it’s open to the public, but they’re not taking public comments.

They've taken public comment a number of times. They've received all the emails and phone calls from folks. They know how you feel.

My thoughts?

Wait.

Sure, come to the meeting, but don’t try to speak on this one. It’s just going to upset the commissioners who want the chance to talk (publicly) amongst themselves and get the facts from the folks who put together the plan.

There will be a commissioner work session the following Monday. And then a regular meeting a week later. That’s the time to make a statement.

Plus, no one is going to go to the Wednesday workshop anyway. (or rather, there won't be a big crowd. Not like what you'll get at the work session and the regular meeting.)

Wait until you have a crowd to read the statement.

That’s just my advice. And, hey, I don’t always give out the best advice, so maybe you should ignore it.

Or maybe not.

Heh.

Also, keep in mind that the issue is probably going to be tabled again.

Why vote now, when you can deliberate later.

Right?

OK, seriously, it’s probably getting tabled so the commission can hold another meeting to talk about the proposal, this time with the Knoxville City Council.

And, hey, maybe that’s a good time to read the statement, too. If they have a public comments section.

Either way, I'll be at the meeting. So if it's read, we'll cover it.

Just some thoughts.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thoughts on the pay raise story

I was thinking today’s story that Tom Humphrey (the best state government reporter in Tennessee) and I teamed up on about state-mandated pay raises for some county elected officials.

The political enemies of those who get them are going to have a field day.
And really, they shouldn’t.

The issue is that these salary hikes exist.

Perhaps that should be changed. I don’t know. (Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyna, tried but then all his buds shut him down.)

But, you can’t fault them for taking the money. As county Register of Deeds Sherry Witt told me: “It’s probably illegal if we don’t.”

I think she’s right, certainly for county Mayor Tim Burchett.

The charter says he has to make more than any other county elected official. If he turned down the raise, then he’d violate the charter.

Not a good thing for him.

(On a side note, the mayor actually can get up to 5 percent more than any other elected official, although Burchett and his predecessor, Mike Ragsdale, only accepted $1 more.)

Burchett did, however, years ago vote for the pay hikes. But at the time – 2002 – I really don’t think he had plans to be mayor. Governor maybe. President even. Not mayor.

Anyhoo, the deal was that county officials each year would nag the state officials for the pay increases. It got to be such a headache, that they tied the raises to the census and the consumer price index. That way they wouldn’t have to deal with the pesky county officials.

Everyone – except for five state senators (including Burchett) and two representatives – approved it.

Then they all promptly forgot about it.

Until now.

And I doubt the issue is dead.

Far from it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Witt: You want transparency? OK

Sherry “I'm more transparent than you are” Witt just fired a shot across the bow.

Heh.

You'll know what I'm talking about if you've been following the whole fee office mess.

In a press release, the county register of deeds (pictured to the left during her September swearing-in ceremony) said she will now post all her office's monthly financial reports, operating budget and salary suits online right smack here.

I'm not going to sum up what's going on. You can click here for that. But Witt is adamant that she's not turning over her budget – the one that sets staffing levels and wages – to the commission or even county Mayor Tim Burchett.

She even hints that the whole “transparency” issue – a word that politicians just looooove to throw around – is a front for something else.

“If the recent debate about the fee offices really is about transparency, I certainly hope this will help answer some question the public might have,” she said. “If the debate is really about something else, then I'm sure there will be more to come.”

That's nice that she did this. How long has she been in office?

Anyhoo, let's see whether the other five do it. Or at least the other two – Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey and Clerk and Master Howard Hogan – who are not on board with the mayor/commission plan.

Cause, you know, it's all about transparency.

And the cheapest one got the boot

When the local Legislative delegation booted their one-time pal, Paul “I ain't voting for the Republican” Crilly, off the Knox County Election Commission, they got rid of the member that cost taxpayers the least amount of money.

You see, the job doesn't pay the folks who serve on the panel (and meet only a few times a year) all that much in the grand scheme.

(The chairman – in this case, Chris Heagerty – makes $5,000 per year. The other four get $3,900.)

But, it's the benefits that cost money.

And they get some of those gooooood county benefits.

Except for Crilly. He didn't take 'em.

Here's the easy breakdown (or click right here for the detailed version courtesy of the county's human resources department) for yearly benefits costs:

  • Chris Heagerty: $11,685.96
  • Bob Bowman: $11,617.32
  • Cassandra Stuart: $10,187.32
  • Cameron Brooks: $5,637.32
  • Paul Crilly: $242.32

New guy, Rob McNutt, who had some voting issues – seven times – hasn't completed the paperwork as of yet.

But, I'm betting he's going to get some of that good insurance, too.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jarret vs. CTAS vs. Attorney Tim

I was kind of thinking about being a *#$% and taking a shot at the County Technical Assistance Service, or CTAS for short, over the whole fee office issue.

(I mean I’m still a *#$%, but anyhoo.)

However, in a rare moment of lucidity for the KNS message board, I read a post by a reader that actually made sense, wasn’t demeaning and stayed on topic.

I’ll get to that in a moment.

But first:

A lot of folks are coming down on county Law Director Joe “you ain’t from around here” Jarret. He’s taking some hits today because a legal opinion he issued – based on whether the mayor and commission can legally yank the coin from the fee offices and make the directors submit budgets to them – got reversed.

The problem here is that CTAS didn’t reverse Jarret. CTAS reversed itself.

Jarret issued his initial legal opinion only after he talked with a CTAS attorney and let them do the legwork. This was intentional. Yeah, Jarret gets paid some heavy scratch (more than $150K), but in this instance he had to step aside.

His office represents the entire county. That includes the mayor’s office (heh- I’ll get to that one in a minute, too), the commissioners, the school board and the purchasing department whenever a reporter tries to get ahold of public documents and they don’t want to provide them.

Oddly enough, Jarret’s department doesn’t represent the pension board. Nooooo. They pay three lawyers (including two former law directors who used to do it themselves when they were in office) hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though Jarret’s office could represent them.

But I digress.

Anyway, back to the issue.

Jarret’s office didn’t take this on itself because of the potential conflict of interest. And it’s not unusual to farm out work. The office does have a budget for that.

So, Jarret went to CTAS, which our wise, sage-like 1973 state Legislature formed because “county officials wanted an agency to provide prompt, accurate, technical assistance on a daily basis to Tennessee’s 95 counties."

CTAS crafted a plan, then dropped the ball. Because the plan kind of sucked.

But, there is some good news.

It got caught before the commission actually voted on it. Because if it did, we’d have some lawsuits rocking.

So, I was initially going to rag CTAS for this one. (Actually, I think I just did, but whatever.)

I deal with a lot of arrogant folks, and I put that organization right smack at the top. And when that arrogance turns to humility – like it did when I talked to a number of folks over there today – you know something is up.

Now, CTAS will say: “Well, gee there, partner, we might have reversed our decision, but we haven’t had a lawsuit over what we were basing it on in over 20 years.”

Well, yeah, because no one knew you were freaking wrong. Until now.

Oops. My bad. Sorry.

You see, Knox County isn’t the only county exempt from the state statute that CTAS miraculously discovered in the eleventh hour Wednesday afternoon that led to it reversing its own decision. No, there’s more counties. So guess what could happen?

That’s right. Bye, bye perfect record.

And by the way, how many other statutes have you forgotten about?

(One more thing: A CTAS official I talked to today said to go ahead “and rely on your county attorney” for now. Ouch.)

OK, enough.

Here’s what the poster (named “pinhook”) wrote on the KNS message board about the issue:

CTAS is an arm of the University of Tennessee. It used to be housed in the Institute for Public Service. Its job is to provide technical assistance to the 95 county governments. It follows in longevity, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service that provides technical assistance to Tennessee towns and cities. It is funded by the state sales tax, city and county portions and by other sources.

Neither CTAS nor MTAS has any authority over cities or counties. Their staff members tend to be very good professionals - maybe a little academic oriented for some. Most have held high level positions in their specialties.

The CTAS lawyer probably did a quick and dirty search of recent law and said that he could find nothing to prevent the action. Later he may have felt uncomfortable with his research and looked in greater detail. He could have been encouraged to look further by someone.

The additional research may have turned up the new information and he called, emailed or whatever the county and informed them of the newly found law. Most good lawyers do not have the entire code memorized. I am saying that CTAS is not the villain or hero either in this case. They were doing what they do every day.

In other words, people f--- up sometimes.

Let’s be happy we caught it. Let’s not be too harsh and start playing the Blame Game.

On a side note: I’m pretty sure the further research done by CTAS was probably at the urging of some of the fee office holders who are opposed to the plan to give up their scratch. But it really doesn’t matter. Someone was going to discover the mistake sooner or later.

Now, with that said, the issue isn’t done.

Noooooo.

Uh, uh.

Right now, county mayor Tim Burchett and his right-hand-man, Chief of Staff Dean Rice, are up there on the sixth floor of the Knox County Deathstar figuring a way out of this mess.

I mean, they don’t have enough battles to lose – I mean, fight – right now, so they’re going to continue taking this one on in the name of transparency.

It’s also not like the administration hasn’t taken two steps back and one step forward during the time they’ve spent on this issue. (And the sarcasm drips, baby. Yeah.)

Sooooo.

They are no longer “mayor” and “chief of staff”.

They are now: Attorney Tim and Big Dean, esquire.

And they aren’t buying the legal opinions they got. So, they’re going to shop around.

And the best place? Well, if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.

So they're hitting the books, digging through codes, statutes, whatever.

They believe that the commission can still force at least three of the non-judiciary fee offices – the trustee, the register of deeds and the county clerk – into turning over the budgets. Those offices are listed in the charter. And we operate under a very confusing charter form of government. There’s this whole “Jordan Decision” thing. But let’s skip that for today.

And, they feel that it’s even possible that the judiciary offices – clerk and master, criminal court clerk, and circuit court clerk – could fall under commission control, too.

When I asked the mayor - I mean Attorney Tim - about the next step, he said: “We’ll talk to (Jarret). The story will probably be me and him not agreeing. But it will probably be up to CTAS, and when you have a law that says you can’t be transparent, then I think you have a problem with the law.”

OK.

The next time I take a “transparent” leak in the middle of the street and Sheriff Jimmy “The Man with the Badge” Jones comes after me, I’m going to tell him I have a problem with the law. I’m sure he’ll understand.

Heh. I kill myself sometimes.

But maybe the mayor is right.

Maybe Jarret – who is now researching the details between charter and state law – will find another old statute that reverses the last old statute.

And maybe they’ll all just get along.

Or maybe . . .

Nevemind.

Whatever.

Heh.

Oddly enough, these ramblings come right after I wrote a fairly positive piece about the mayor.

Well, I told you then that I would have to kick someone in the nads sometime soon.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hillside plan and upcoming talks

The county commission next Wednesday (that's April 13 if you're really taking notes) plans to hold a workshop to talk about the Hillside Ridgetop Protection Plan.

It's at 8 a.m.

I'll be there. (Maybe. I'm not sure I'm even human at that hour.)

Anyhoo, you might want to sit this one out. Because they're not going to let you talk.

Uh, uh. Not this time.

(Which means I'll probably be back at the office by 9 a.m. I hope.)

I'll let the commission's big dog explain:

“We've had a lot of calls from people, saying that we're holding the meeting at 8 a.m., so the public can't participate, but that's not the case,” said Chairman Mike Hammond. “It's not designed to be a public hearing. This is a workshop for the commission. If I've got a question and need to get it answered, well, that's what we're holding it for.”

In other words, this one time, they want to get the facts without the emotion and the personal attacks.

However, it is open to the public.

So come on down. Just don't say anything.

Additionally, the commissioners will talk further about the issue at the regular work session ( 2 p.m. April 18) and again on April 25 during the regular meeting.

Please note – because I understand people are spreading all kinds of rumors about this thing – that the commission will talk about it at 6 p.m. during the REGULAR meeting. No, it will NOT be moved to 2 p.m.. It is part of the zoning agenda. That means 6 p.m.

Now, with that said, expect it to get tabled. Again.

Heh.

Because a number of commissioners want to hold a joint workshop with the City Council, which also has to sign off on this mess.

And of course, these things never, ever can get done without getting tabled two, three, four, whatever, times.