Friday, July 29, 2011

Mayoral forum: Riddled with drivel

It was either the tranquilizers, the boredom or the ADHD, but something kicked in and I turned off last night's Knoxville mayoral forum, went outside and shot myself in the head a couple of times, before taking a nap.

I'm OK now; thanks for asking.

I can only comment – not that you asked, nor do I care, but you know who you are – on the first 17 minutes of the muck.

The four candidates (the fifth couldn't raise the necessary coin to participate so he was barred, banned and censored) were asked about their vision.

Madeline Rogero talked about working to create jobs, removing blighted properties, whatever. She also said something about “wanting a sustainable Knoxville” and installing solar panels on city buildings. Now THAT I would like to see. Heh.

Joe Hultquist started out his vision speech with some kind of cliché'. Something like (I'm paraphrasing): “A leader is measure not so much by what he's said but what he's done.” OK then, what have you done? He also said he “walked and prayed over the city I love.” (For some reason that gives me the creeps.) Then he rambled about the nation “teetering on the brink of insolvency” and I tuned that part out because I'm tired of folks bringing national crap into the local realm. He also said he'd focus on four key areas: economic development, accountability, transparency and a high quality of life. None of that really says much. He did say he's working with a company in Switzerland (something to do with transportation). And by “working” I think he means that he's had two conversations with the business in the past 10 years.

Mark Padgett once again bragged about some minuscule business he started that he has over and over and over and over again failed to really get into detail about, and how all that will make him a leader of some 2,000 employees. He said now is not “the time to make a U-turn.” Whatever the hell that means. I hope he wasn't talking to the dude riding the bicycle (the one carrying his “vote for me cause I started a business” sign) who almost crashed into a car on Gay Street. He also said he wants to recruit comparable businesses that already have a presence in Knoxville. HUH? Screw that, man. Go out and get businesses that we don't already have. Like a casino. A legal one. (Cause the Man with the Badge keeps busting up all the card games.)

Ivan Harmon also wants to create jobs and make Knoxville a place to raise families. He'd tap the resources of UT, the TVA, etc., etc. to do that. This observation for the highly obvious is truly remarkable. Come on. That's all you got? Oh yeah, he said he'd put a good team in place (that's actually a good idea because you wouldn't believe how many people wouldn't do this) if elected.

Bo Bennett said . . . . NOTHING. Click right smack here for a funny picture of Brian Moneyhun explaining why Bennett said nothing.

At some point, they got to pensions, since the city programs are expected to grow to as much as $30 million by 2019.

Pretty Boy Padge said he wanted an open and transparent process (lame); to honor the commitment made to the employees already on the program (no kidding dude – state law says you have to) and doesn't want reform on the backs of taxpayers. Seriously. Nice spin. The whole idea of reform is to NOT have it on the backs of taxpayers. Repeat the obvious. Be remarkable.

Ivan the Republican said he'd work with the task force committee that's already looking into the pension problem.

Rogero (who is my biggest fan) said she'd also let the task force do the job before drawing conclusions. Or something like that.

Sooooooo. In other words, neither of these three had the guts to publicly say how they feel about the city's pension plans.

Joe, however, did. He wants to start offering new employees a 401(k) plan. He even felt that the task force will “kick the can down the road so that the (pension problem) is not an issue right now.” Ah, like Mickey said to Rocky in Rocky II: “Ya got the heart kid, but you ain't got the tools. So forget it.” (No, Joe isn't going to pull off an upset.)

Finally, Bo said . . . . Oh yeah. He didn't get to say anything. Cause he wasn't invited.

There's my take on the first 17 minutes. I'm sure you all feel a little dumber now if you managed to get this far.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mayoral fist bumpin' continues on

County Mayor Tim Burchett continues his one-wrist-at-a-time-wrecking-machine-tour in August.

So far he's held constituent meetings in Fountain City (no one showed), Cedar Bluff (3.5 people appeared), South Knoxville (a whole bunch attended) and Hardin Valley (about 5 showed).

For the big spin and the upcoming schedule by the Spin Doc Michael Grider himself click right smack here.

There will be another meeting at the Corryton Senior Center, the Bearden Branch Library, the Burlington Branch Library and the Farragut Branch Library.

After consulting the Bat-map, it appears that the mayor has hosted or will host these fist-bumpin' sessions twice in the north; four times in the west; and one time each for the east and south.

Just saying.

“We can only do so many,” Grider told me.

Then, he laughed and added: “Are you trying to start problems where there isn't one?”

Me: “Yeah.”

Grider: “I'm going to sic Randy Neal on you.”


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Knoxville mayoral race drivel

I always get a kick out reading articles about so-called public polling initiatives during election time.

Only weirdos answer those things. Only weirdos talk to phone solicitors. Only weirdos . . . whatever.

Anyhoo, apparently Madeline Rogero, whose campaign is riddled with so much inner turmoil right now it’s shaking like a junkie who lost his last fix (from what I’m hearing, anyway), says she’s kicking ass by a 2-to-1 margin over Mark Padgett, who is campaigning on the fact that he can run a city of several thousand employees, since he can runs his own business which has a grand total of about two. (That’s with a plus or minus 10-person margin.)

Here’s the Rogero story right smack here.

In the meantime, “vote for me because I’m the best looking and I promise I’m not a Republican” Padgett’s spin doc (Laura Braden) released another tired cliché from her camp, quoting Padgett as saying that his polling numbers put him only seven points behind Rogero.

Whatever. Seven, 7,000 or 7 million. You’re behind. Coming in second just means you’re the first loser.

By the way, here’s another quote from Padgett’s spin doc that says little or nothing: "I’m the only candidate with a plan to create jobs and economic growth, and the experience needed to move Knoxville forward.”

I mean WTH does that mean? Does that mean the current governor - in his seven or eight or how many years as mayor moved us backward? Whatever. Don't answer that. Just give us some real examples, slick, instead of this Ragsdale-like drivel.

“I’m the only candidate with a plan” to blah, blah, blah.

Man, I’m going to laugh my ass off if Ivan Harmon wins this thing from his hospital bed and the $5 he’s raised so far. (Laugh even harder if either Bo Bennett and Joe Hultquist wins. Heh.)

The nonpartisan primary election is Sept. 27.

Do yourself a favor and just write in my name.

Update: Rogero has a 2-1 lead over Ivan - not Padgett - according to her latest pollings. My bad.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ivan Harmon heads to hospital

Knoxville mayoral candidate Ivan Harmon (who will tell everyone he meets that he's the only true Republican running for the city's highest elected office) plans to check into the hospital today as a routine precautionary measure.

Ivan, left, should be back on the campaign trail this Tuesday. You might recall that toward the end of May, Harmon was in the hospital because of a blood clot it in his left leg. We wrote about it right smack here.

I don't have a dog in this mayoral race - I pick on all the candidates equally - but I do wish the guy well. And knowing Ivan, he'll be campaigning inside the hospital.

Here's the official press release right smack here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jeff Roth new MPC commissioner

There's been quite an uproar about Mayor Big Dog's appointment to the Metropolitan Planning Commission – a group of folks who are nothing more than a RECOMMENDATION panel.

A panel, I might add, that the county has pretty much dismissed in recent months. You know, the Midway business park proposal. Or that Ridgetop/Hillside protection plan thing. (I'm not saying it's a bad panel, but it makes makes only recommendations.)

Anyhoo, Big Tim Burchett decided he wasn't going to reappoint Rachel Craig, who was serving out the remaining two years of City Councilman Nick Pavilis' term. Craig posted her thoughts on "that obscure liberal blog," which you can read right here. She's not mad about the mayor stiffing her. But, she – and a lot of folks – are upset that Burchett didn't appoint someone who lives south of the river.

We wrote a story about the issue (click right smack here) and county Commissioner Mike Brown stopped just short of calling the mayor a D-bag. The Metro Pulse wrote a story about it (click right smack here) and pretty much put a dunce cap on the mayor's head and sat him in the corner.

Of course it didn't help that, according to the story, the mayor admitted to getting a list of “potential South Knoxville replacements for Craig” and then “looked at the list but chose to ignore it.”

Personally, I don't think he ignored the list. I bet he looked at it; thought what a great paper airplane it would make and then threw it at Dean “The Emperor” Rice's head.

But, here's what's been bothering me: So far, no one has bothered to call the mayor's pick – Jeff Roth. So, he doesn't live in south Knoxville anymore. But, doesn't anyone want to hear what he has to say? Apparently not.

Sooooooo, I got bored, like I often do when I eat horse tranquilizers, and I called the guy last night. He was out, but he got back to me early this morning and we talked about his appointment and ties to south Knoxville.

Let me say that first off, sometimes tone gets lost in the printed word. So, if some of his comments seem sarcastic, they weren't. The guy was funny, sincere and a tad humble. Also, this post isn't about taking a side or not on Burchett's appointment, but rather a chat with Roth. (And as a disclaimer, I live in South Knoxville and do think that in the past few years local government has treated it like a turd.)

“It's a little funny that there's so much controversy about this – I didn't realize being a volunteer would bring that out,” said Roth, 47. “It's the MPC. We're not raising taxes or redistricting property lines. We're just a recommendation body.”

Roth said he was born in Baptist Hospital and attended South Knoxville Elementary (and spent sixth grade at Galbraith Elementary School).

His parents divorced when he was five. When his mom later remarried, they did move out of South Knoxville. After high school, he joined the Army and then went to UT where he earned a degree in business administration and marketing.

Yes, he has lived in Karns since 1985, he said, but “I'm not completely out of touch with South Knoxville.”

His uncle was the owner of Gravely Tractor, off John Sevier Highway, for more than 30 years. He has a cousin who teaches South Doyle (forgot to ask whether that was the middle or high school).

“I want to represent the whole county – that will be my goal,” Roth said. “I certainly don't want to go into any situation with a biased opinion or predisposition about how I'll vote on a particular issue. I want to walk in with an open mind.”

I asked why he'd want a thankless job like that.

He gave me the typical “I want to contribute and serve the community" answer.

“The bottom line is, I think, the reason Mayor Burchett appointed me is that he has faith in my ability to make decisions that are non-biased and based on what we hear in our meetings,” he said. “I don't think geography has a lot to do with that. I feel Knox County is all one group of people, so I don't tend to make a distinction between people who live in one area or another. I'm looking forward to serving. I told Tim I'd do a good job and do the best I can and do what needs to be done up there.”

I also asked him his thoughts on whether it's important – in his opinion – to have representatives (what are there? 15 on the MPC?) – from all parts of the county.

He responded: “Up until my appointment, I never gave it a whole lot of thought. The quick answer is 'no I don't think it's necessary.' It's set up so that the mayors make the appointments and I think you have to give those guys the benefit that they'll do a good job. I know several people on the commission and it's a good group, and I think we can make decisions based on education and not about being biased.”

Roth owns Knoxville-based Quality Machine and Welding Co, Inc., which his grandfather founded in 1966 and his father took over 10 years later. He grew up in the business and said at one point it employed 130 people, but is down to 66, mostly because of the economy. (Not the best time to be in construction, I suppose.)

Finally, I asked him his thoughts on the ridgetop/hillside issue.

“I'm going to have to educate myself a little more about the details,” he said. “Certainly, I'm not as familiar with the details (as other people are), but development is important in bringing businesses to Knoxville. My employees depend on us to do that – to have jobs. But having said that, we need to be cognizant of the communities, subdivisions, people and of the environment. We don't want to go paving paradise. But we also have to keep in mind that development is good for economic growth.”

So, those are Roth's thoughts.

I'm not saying Burchett was right or wrong about not appointing someone from the south. (Remember, the glass is always half-empty. He was probably wrong.) But, maybe there's still some South Knoxville in the boy.

I mean at this point, everyone will be squarely focused on what decisions he makes because it will reflect on the mayor.

Roth is in the spotlight right now.

And so is South Knoxville.

And that might not be a bad thing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mayor to host fist-bumpin' session

County Mayor Tim “Big Dog” Burchett, in his never-ending effort to ensure that anyone he comes in contact with develops carpel tunnel syndrome, will hold another fist-bump, meet-n-greet with residents on Thursday (that's in two days, bub).

The 6 p.m. event will be held at the South Knoxville Senior Center on Martel Lane, an area of the city/county typically treated like a red-headed, booger-eatin' stepbrat. The mayor held a similar gathering on July 7th at the Fountain City Library Branch and no one attended. (So, does that count?). And another last week at the Cedar Bluff Branch Library and only 3 ½ folks showed up, if you count the kid.

The good spin doc – county communications manager Michael Grider – says the poor attendance must be because no one has any complaints, since they give residents – or as the press release calls them, “constituents” - a chance to “speak individually with Mayor Burchett about issues that are important to them.”

Personally, I think it's because people fear the fist bump.

Math books to cost $3.4 million

Apparently solving a math problem around here costs about as much as solving crime.

The county commission - pretty much without blinking – yesterday agreed to let the school system take $2.9 million in coin out of its reserve funds to buy new textbooks.

(Yeah, I know the commission really doesn't have a lot of stroke over how the school spends its money. Whatever. Remember Carter? Sure as heck didn't let them issue bonds for that project, now did they?)

Anyhoo, I found a handy dandy letter that Lord McIntyre wrote to his disciples on July 1 that further detailed the issue. You can click here for the note.

But essentially, Jim McIntyre says the schools need the math textbooks and materials to “be aligned to the new curriculum and support high quality instruction under rigorous math standards” adopted by “the State of Tennessee.”

Uh. OK.

I didn't know the philosophy of math changed all that much. I mean two plus two still equals four, doesn't it? Someone told me that maybe the fourth graders will learn some things fifth graders are learning. Not sure why they just can't give them the fifth grade books. Or visit a used book store. Oh well.

The textbooks – which we all know are nothing more than a racket (look what the snake oil folks charge college students) – cost between $50 to $70, the superintendent told commissioners yesterday. He wasn't sure how many they'd need. The actual price (because the school system had some extra scratch under the couch cushions) actually cost $3,423,300, according to that letter you should have clicked on a few paragraphs up.

That $2.9 million, though, comes from what is essentially the school system's rainy day fund.

Anyway, just for the sake of argument, let's pretend the books all cost $70. So, I take my $2 calculator and divide that big price tag by 70 and it comes to 48,900 (I'm using round numbers here, and I'm also not factoring int he fact that shipping will cost $97,000 - no kidding, so I don't want to hear any whining out of the post office).

I think we have 56,000 students, so that looks about right. I guess. If some books cost $50.

Oddly, though, McIntyre said these books will come with some fancy stuff that has something to do with getting online or whatever. (I got quit surfing the Internet when this guy talks.) He also said something like maybe we won't even need books in five years. Well, if that's the case, then . . . .

Soooooo, it cost the county $2 million to buy The Man with the Badge 65 squad cars, and it's going to cost $3.4 million for books. Nice.

In the meantime, the school system faces what county commissioners say is a $7 million shortfall, since federal stimulus money expired.

Commissioner Jeff Ownby reminded the good school folks of that.

(Probably doesn't matter. I imagine the school folks will find some way to lay off teachers, keep the administration, outsource custodians and then beg the county for more money in next year's budget, at which point the mayor and commissioners will acquiesce and give them whatever they want, but I digress.

“I don't mind buying the books – it's digging into the rainy day fund that concerns me,” Ownby told me this morning. “We just bought math books six years ago. I don't know how out-of-date math can be. It's not like history.”

He added: “Although we probably need them – with the shortfall – I wonder if spending the money right now is a wise decision when all they have in there (the reserve tank) is $15 million. I would rather find cuts somewhere else to find this money than dig into the reserves.”

(Of course, Ownby must have forgotten that the county has about $37 million in its own reserve tank. Hint, hint.)

In the meantime, if we're only going to have these books for another five years, maybe we can build the Carter community a new school out of them. Cause, you know, those books would probably be in better shape than that busted up building that we're still waiting around to either renovate or rebuild.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Property assessor finances released

On Friday, the good folks at the elections office sent me the campaign financial disclosure statements for Property Assessor Phil Ballard and his opponent, former assessor John Whitehead.

So far, they're the only two to announce their intentions to run for the office. The primary will be next March.

Personally, I don't see anyone else jumping in that has a spoiler's chance, but you never know. I hate calling elections early, but the word - at this point - is that it's Ballard's race to lose.

But, I will tell you, this is going to be a dirty, mud-slinging race. These two do not like each other, and already I've been given a bunch of information about each of them that doesn't paint pretty pictures.

I've checked out some of the rumors and haven't found anything. I still have a list of things to go though. I'm not sure when I'll write an actually story on the race - remember, we've got some time - so, I'll probably throw everything that does pan out into one big story.

Then again, maybe they'll be nothing. Maybe this will be a clean race. I somehow doubt it, though. That's no disrespect to either men. But, again, they are not exactly pals.

In the meantime, the two released their latest finance reports. (I think I already said that, but whatever.)

Ballard has almost $54,300 cash on hand. You can check out his most recent report by clicking right smack here.
Whitehead has a little more than $24, 400 cash on hand. You can check out his most recent report by clicking right smack here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hey, how much ya got on you?

I know this is a few days old, but I can't resist. Apparently the mean ol' Metro Pulse (i.e. Carie and the beer-swillin' yankee who used to work at the News Sentinel) decided to ask Knoxville mayoral and city council candidates how much coin they earned each year.

Click for the story right smack here.

I think the story has merit. But that's just me. (For the record, I make $5 a year. But the company picks up my Friday night tabs, so I call it even. I do this blog for free because I'm stupid.)

The reactions to the requests are great. Entertainment at the expense of others. But the BS'ing Carie got was even better. The "dog-ate-my-homework" kind of funny. Or sad. Or ridiculous. (Although many folks obliged and provided the info.)

Anyhoo, the story is good, but what's even better is the epilogue:

A bunch of damn hippies arguing about it.

Click here for that.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Burchett on land sale: hero or goat?

Knox County is on its way out of the mulch business, now that county Mayor Tim Burchett sold the Solway plant.

So, is he a hero or a goat?

(Damn, I just can’t resist that quote. County Property Assessor Phil Ballard used it the other day, I blogged about it, and , yeah, I like Phil, but that quote? Hahahahaha. That was a good one. But I digress.)

Anyhoo, where was I? Oh yeah, earlier today, Natural Resources Recovery of Tennessee was the high bidder ($2 million in scratch) to buy the 160-acre Solway plant.

And people reacted.

Some loved the deal; some used it to attack the mayor.

Interestingly, I talked to a number of Burchett supporters who didn’t like it, some opponents who did, and vice versa and all that.

In other words, it was a polarizing move.

Some thought (and rightly so) that the economy wasn’t right to sell the land. But, they also felt that the county – besides the bad timing – didn’t get enough for what it put into it. They didn’t, however, mention NRRT and some of the controversies that have surrounded the company in the past.

The other school of thought is that the mayor did the right thing. And in fact – because he got $800,000 more than the land was appraised – he REALLY did the right thing.

Here’s the deal:

The county, including the initial land purchase, has spent $4 million on the property during the past 12 years. That includes the upkeep, improvements, fixing sinkholes, whatever, that ran about $245,000 a year. The county received, on average, about $72,000 a year under the contract it had with NRRT.

So, it’s easy to see why folks don’t think it was a great move. But, as the county’s financial minister – John Troyer – pointed out: That IS one heck of a reason to get rid of the property!

(On a side note, the county commission awhile back debated whether the property could be used for anything other than a recycling facility and felt it couldn’t. But that’s a different argument.)

Putting the property back on the tax roll at this point means about an extra $18,880 in coin that heads to the county coffers. That’s not a lot when you compare it to the overall budget, which is somewhere just south of a zillion dollars.

But the plan is to use the money from the sale to buy the Carter community a new elementary school (this is also a different argument about whether it should be used for that), which will run close to $14 million. So, the top bid – that $2 million? – that is a lot if you want to purchase a new school.

So. Hero? Goat? Or just another dumb blog post?

(Heh. I know the answer to this one.)

Ballard: 'I'm the hero, not the goat'

The story that's been trickling around the Deathstar since last week is that Knox County Property Assessor Phil Ballard, left, reinstated his travel allowance on the backs of his lower paid employees.

Ballard says that's not the case.

“I'm the hero of this story – I'm not the goat,” he told me last Friday when I asked him about it. “I saved jobs.”

Here's the deal:

A state grant somewhere in the neighborhood of $433,429 that the department used to receive apparently expired. (It was some kind of reappraisal thing or something to pay for some folks who work in the field.) So, the administration told Ballard it'd pick up the bill. But, officials wanted something back.

So, Ballard was told to cut $70,000 from his budget. County Mayor Tim Burchett really didn't care where the cuts came from – he just wanted them made. Hey, that's a fair deal right? I give you $433K and you give me $70K. Doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but anyway.

Ballard's people met with the mayor's finance people and tell them that maybe the staff could reduce its hours from 37.5 to 30 hours per week, which would enable them to keep their benefits. (By the way, the whole idea of cutting hours was apparently based on county Commissioner Mike Brown's proposal that never got further than an email sent to the his fellow buds on the dais. But I digress.)

Now, Ballard says he held two meetings and asked for volunteers. He said six folks said they wanted to do it while another three said they “preferred to say but would cut their hours if it comes down to it.” (I keep hearing there was a tenth person wholater refused.)

OK, in the meantime, Ballard says before that he say cut his auto allowance from $7,200 to $3,600 – about the same as the county commission's allowance (and if you recall, commissioners made a big rumble about reinstating all of the mayor's cuts, but really only reinstated their own gas money.)

Soooo, Ballard says The Big Dog (that's Mayor Burchett to you) without telling him cut his auto cut down to ZERO. And he didn't find out about that until Burchett publicly unveiled his proposed budget back in mid-May. (That mayor. Funny guy. Heh. Didn't tell Ballard he took away his allowance. Heh.)

Anyhoo, Ballard says he made the savings when he made the salary cuts. Now, human resources records show that if he reduced the salaries to 30 hours, then it would save $61,900. That's not the $70,000 that the mayor asked for, but whatever. Maybe there's some Social Security contributions or something thrown in.

(By the way, the nine people make between $28,000 and $48,000, as I recall, according to some documents that I don't have in front of me at the moment.)

Anyway, Ballard then goes and talks to the fine folks in the county's finance department and asks if he can reinstate his auto allowance. They tell him: “Sure.”

So he does.

Truth be told, Burchett really doesn't have the power to cut his allowance. And Phil mentioned that many, many, many, many times in our conversation. But, I was curious why he didn't just file for mileage reimbursement, like almost all of the folks in the executive branch and some of the fee officers now do.

“It's hard to keep up with,” Ballard told me. “And I didn't want to get into an argument about whether it's filled out correctly. Sometimes I'm at a store and someone asks me to come by and look at their property, and I didn't want to argue whether I was working or this was private thing or it was political or whatnot. Also, If I did reimbursement it would cost (the taxpayers) more because I drive around a lot – my office covers the entire county.”

Then he said that Burchett's proposal to cut the $70,000 really meant the mayor wanted him to cut two jobs. (Burchett denies this.)

“I'm taking care of my people,” Ballard said. “I saved jobs. This should make me a hero and not a goat.”

The mayor, though said: “It's unfortunate that he chose to take that route when families across the country are cutting back.The government allow him to reimburse himself and (the method) is cleaner and shows where we travel and puts it all on record.”

(Remember, Burchett hates the whole auto allowance thing. I wrote a kick-ass story about it right smack here.)

Ballard's says he technically took a pay cut when he cut his auto allowance in half.

I asked him if he had any savings left over after that, would maybe be spread it around to increase the employee hours, at least give an hour back if anyone wanted it.

He said he might.

Brian Hornback over at Shock and Awe had a post about the issue right here the other day. He's not buying anything that Ballard is selling. He thinks there's something else going on. He doesn't think Ballard is the hero.

He thinks he's the goat.

Me? I just like to throw this crap out there. See what sticks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hurley explores first grader options

Well, at least state Rep. Julia Hurley managed to keep her clothes on.

Here’s the latest on Lenoir City’s Republican representative, pictured left. Click here for stupid human tricks.

(Go on, click the link for the story. I don’t want to recap it here.)

Usually when I do something like this I chalk it up to the horse tranquilizers. Especially at 1 a.m.

So, uh, what’s your excuse, Ms. Hurley?

“I wasn’t thinking straight,” she told the media.

Hmmmmmm. Heh. Hahahahahahahahaha. That happens, I suppose. Heh.

Then she added: “I don’t understand why it’s news, and I don’t want to talk about the desk.”

Uh, yeah it is news. It’s called vandalism. (Now granted, it's not nearly has bad as half the crap politicans do. But they're usually getting away with it. And have better excuses. Sheesh.)

Oh well.

Next thing you know, she’ll be wearing wrestling masks to UT football games.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

County bond debt really $1 billion

You know I make a lot of jokes about how the administration is running scared of the big bad bogey man called "debt."

(I'd link to some of my previous posts about it, but, well, I'm too lazy. I encourage you to read the archives anyway.)

Anyhoo, the administration always reports it as $628.5 million. But, it's actually more. Try $1,057,700,000, according to a long-term debt obligation worksheet I asked the finance office to send over because I'm bored. Yeah, that's just over one BILLION dollars. If you include bonds issued for pension plans, capital projects, P-card reimbursements (OK, kidding on that last one), then the total principal comes to $691.2 million. Then throw in another $366.5 million in interest, and you're on the hook for some mega-coin.

Granted, this is scratch that will be paid off over the long-term. But they payments represent 10 percent of the county budget. (So, let's hope that county Mayor Tim Burchett keeps his campaign promise about not assuming more debt in the near future. Personally, I think he will, although he has an escape clause for Carter Elementary.

But, still, if I was running the show - and I'm not only because the News Sentinel pays me way to much money to quit and run for mayor (oh, and no one would vote for me anyway) - I wouldn't be selling the whole $628 million debt thing.

Hell, no. I'd be telling everyone we owe a BILLION.

But, that's just me. What do I know?

That's my free advice to the administration for today. Tomorrow, I'll figure out a way to kick them in the nads.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Burchett cuts judges' auto allowance

I have to give it to county Mayor Tim Burchett. The guy’s got a pair of brass ones. He wasn’t kidding about that whole auto allowance thing. You know, wanting to eliminate it and all.

He's been going after the fee offices, the commission, the whoever, the whomever, the whatever in regards to the gas scratch. (He’s left Lord McIntyre and his nine school board disciples alone, but don’t think the mayor and his chief of staff, Dean Rice, aren’t in their six floor offices of the Deathstar looking at the AJ Building through their binoculars, plotting ways to piss them off, too.)

Anyhoo, I got a copy of the travel allowances as of June 21, 2011 – the latest document I could get under the open records, since they haven’t created any other stuff yet. I’m rambling, I know. But, as of now – since the new fiscal year started July 1 – the general sessions judges won’t get a check for gas money, either.

Unless of course, they want to fill out reimbursement forms, which, I believe, is still about 51 cents a mile. (Do they actually drive anywhere other than to and from work?)

This cut affects judges Charles Cerny, Geoffrey Emery, Andrew Jackson, Patricia Long and Tony Stansberry. According to county records, the five judges each received $4,000.10 in annual allowance, which was broken down to $153.85 bi-weekly.

So, Mad Dog Tim fought against Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones (that’s the Man with the Badge to you, folks) when he wanted new squad cars (the mayor lost that one), and now he’s taken the travel allowances away from judges.

Guess you could say he’s fighting the man. Or not. Whatever.

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting.

Earlier in the year, I wrote an extensive story about the auto allowance coin county officials received. Click for the awesomeness right smack here.

It was a ton of scratch by the wway. Big Tim cut pretty much everyone under his executive office purview. (There were a couple of guys in the parks and recreation department who got a minimal amount because they live out of the county or something. I can’t remember. I’m sure it made sense at the time. But I digress.)

Anyway, when the administration crafted this year’s budget, officials cut out the allowances for a number of folks. As you might recall, the county commission – in all its glory and so-called efforts to help restore all the other cuts the mayor made, but didn't – reinstated their own gas money checks.

Although, on Friday, one of the county’s finance gurus – Chris Caldwell – said that Commissioner Jeff Ownby won’t accept his and will instead file for reimbursement.

(Commissioners by the way, get $3,600 annually, broken down to $150 bi-weekly.)

In the meantime, Property Assessor Phil Ballard will get almost $3,600 a year. Now, this is a funny one. Phil actually cut his before budget time from $7,200 annually down to $3,600.

The mayor went ahead and brought that bad boy down to ZERO. Then Phil turned around and put it back in. Heh.

Also, Clerk of Circuit Court Civil Sessions and Juvenile Court Cathy Quist will keep her $9,600 annual check (also broken down bi-weekly); Criminal Court Clerk Joy McCroskey will keep her annual $8,400 pay day and Register of Deeds Sherry Witt will continue pulling in her $9,100 allowance. (These folks are elected fee officers.)

In addition, Keith Stump with GIS will get about $4,300 annually, but all that mapping stuff is kind of split with the city and county and kind of strange and whatever, so I think the mayor just gives him a free pass. The same with MPC’s head honcho Mark Donaldson, who also will get almost $4,300 annually.

So, there you have it. The new update on travel allowances.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Joe Jarret to run for law director

As expected, Joe Jarret, left, wants to keep his job. (Hey, who doesn't want to keep their job? Er, doesn't answer that.)

The interim law director sent out the following spin, I mean release, this morning.:

"Incumbent Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret announced today that he's a candidate for Knox County law director on the 2012 ballot. A veteran who spent ten years on active duty military service, Jarret was appointed law director a year ago to replace Bill Lockett. He began serving Knox County in 2008 first as the chief deputy law director and then as the interim law director before being unanimously appointed by the county commission in June, 2010 to the position he now holds. He has been practicing public sector law for 21 years and has litigated cases before the Tennessee Supreme Court, lower Tennessee State Courts and federal courts. This is the third time in his legal career that he has served as a law director for a public entity. He is a federal and Tennessee mediator who teaches local government law to attorneys across the state of Tennessee. He also teaches graduate students at the University of Tennessee, Graduate School of Public Administration. Jarret has published over 85 articles in various professional journals and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, a master’s degree in public administration, and the juris doctor degree."

As reported in late June, former county Commissioner Richard "Bud" Armstrong also is running for the spot.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Story of John Hancock's signature

Hey, folks, happy July 4th. Don't do anything I'd do. Anyhoo, I just saw this story and thought it was kind of cool. It's about John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Here's part of the excerpt:

"There are a lot of stories surrounding the Declaration of Independence. One of the most famous concerns John Hancock and his comically large signature. According to legend, the founding father signed his name bigger than everyone else's because he wanted to make sure "fat old King George" could read it without his spectacles.

It's a neat story about American brashness, but it isn't very accurate. The truth is a tad less dramatic. explains that Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, gave a super-sized signature not because he was itching for a fight with the king, but because, among other things, he happened to be the first person to sign the document.

Because Hancock was the first to sign, he did the sensible thing and put his name front and center. He was the leader of the Congress, after all. He didn't know his fellow patriots would sign their names on a smaller scale.

So, why are some of the other signatures high and to the left while others are down and to the right? The National Archives explains, "In accordance with prevailing custom, the other delegates began to sign at the right below the text, their signatures arranged according to the geographic location of the states they represented. New Hampshire, the northernmost state, began the list, and Georgia, the southernmost, ended it."

And it's worth remembering that signing one's name to the Declaration of Independence was no small thing. Those who signed the document were sure to be hanged for treason should they be caught."

You can find the rest of the story right smack here. Have a good one.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pilot ends welfare for smokers

So anyway, last Tuesday, after leaving the Metal Shed, and headed home, I stopped off at the Pilot gas station down the street. You see, the store has (or had) this awesome welfare program for smokers. You buy three packs and you get a free lighter.

Anyhoo, I laid down 9 or 10 cases of beer on the counter, and ordered up some Marlboro Red 100s. (Hey, if you're going to smoke, do it right. Don't smoke those girly-girl menthol cigarettes. Unless you're a girl. Or work on the sixth-floor of the Deathstar. Heh.)

So, I don't get my lighter. (By the way, the purple ones lasted the longest.) I joke with the cheery cashier (they're all really nice at that place, so props to them), and ask her about my lighter. She says that they're no longer giving them out. Then she said it had something to do with someone complaining that they were considered political gifts or something. She wasn't very clear about it.

I get to thinking: You know that would make a funny story (or stupid blog post) if some jack-leg actually thought Gov. Big Bill was giving away lighters to get votes. (You know, cause the Haslams own all the gas on the planet.)

I mean, I've heard of dumber things, but still. Lighters? Naw.

Still, I couldn't resist putting in a call to Dave Smith; he's one of the governor's flacks. He's also about a useful as a two-legged chair on a ridgetop or hillside. (Had to throw in a local reference there for those I haven't yet bored to death here.) Anyway, this guy has never been very helpful, and he makes the county's spin doctor – Michael Grider – look like Michael Clayton.

(OK, that last reference wasn't really fair. I like Grider, but, man, I've been wanting to use that analogy on someone since forever. Good movie. Check it out. But I digress.)

Anyway, Smith of course doesn't return my call. So I call him again Wednesday. He finally gets back to me. I explain what happened and want to know whether someone considered the lighters a political gift. He tells me to call Pilot.

I'm like: “No, I'm calling you, man. It might have to do with the governor and gifts.”

He rambles on like some kind of mental patient for awhile. I tell him: “Look man, I know you see the big guy around – he's probably up there in the mansion, strutting around. Go ask him.”

Smith: “No. It has to do with Pilot. I have no idea.”

Like I said: Useless.

So I call Cynthia Moxley. (Actually I had already called her earlier.) Moxley of Moxley Carmichael for those living under a rock are pretty good flacks. For flacks. They represent the News Sentinel, although if you asked me what they do for us, I'd answer with a blank stare. But, they also represent the Haslams or Pilot, or whatever.

So, I tell her the story. She laughs. Says either she or Alan Carmichael will check it out for me. (Oh yeah, at some point I called Big Jim, the patriarch of the Haslam family, but got his voice mail.)

So, Thursday evening Alan calls me back. He's finally gotten to the bottom of the story, although he wasn't very clear. But who cares. It's PR, rights?

He said the reason they stopped handing out lighters to anyone dumb enough to slap $15 in coin down for three packs of cancer sticks is because there's some state tobacco law that won't let you give away anything that would entice cigarette sales.

“It's a state prohibition against doing that and once they realized it, they said they can't do that,” said Carmichael.

Me: “So, uh, you're telling me they were breaking the law then?”

Carmichael: Long, uneasy silence.

Me: “Heh.”

Carmichael: “Let's just say they ceased doing that.”

Oh well, whatever. I guess the moral of the story is that every once in awhile Dave Smith is right. Naw screw that. He's not right. And gas prices are still too high.