Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kincannon to kick off campaign tonight

As usual, I get no love from a school board member. Although that probably has more to do with me calling all of them "Lord McIntyre's disciples" all the time.

But, I digress.

Anyhoo, Knox County board of education Vice Chairwoman Indya Kincannon wrote a letter to the hippies over at R. Neal's blog - click right smack here - letting them know that she's kicking off her re-election campaign.

(Indya by the way once wrote a letter to the paper about me, but it wasn't very nice. Funny, though.)

Here's the kickoff info:
Dear Knoxviews Readers,

I'm running for re-election to the Knox County School Board and would appreciate your support. You're invited to a kick-off reception tonight, Wednesday November 30th, from 5-7pm, at the Whetsel Home, 1015 Luttrell Street, 37917.
Blah, blah, blah.

Indya also has a campaign website.

The election is March 6. The qualifying deadline is set for noon on Dec. 8.

There, that's my good deed for the day.

Finance department honored for its math

The Knox County Finance Department continues to add and subtract big numbers correctly and make it all look pretty.

The Government Finance Officers Association for the 16th year in a row – see, Screams from da Porch can count, too – honored officials with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the FY 2011-12 budget.

In a spin release, issued from the Deathstar's 8th floor of evilness, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett brags about finance director John Troyer, saying the honor is well-deserved because it makes him look good.

In return, Troyer brags about his staff cause they make him look good to the mayor.

“No, you're the best,” the mayor says.

“No, you are,” Troyer counters.

“We both are,” they say at the same time.

(Yeah, I made that up.)

To qualify for the award, the finance department needed to . . . . Well, I'm not exactly sure. The spin release doesn't really say, other than satisfy some national guidelines. Whatever that means.

Anyhoo, good job.

Now, get back to work, cause you've got next year's budget to do.

(Must be a slow news day or something.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

County hot line good thing, needs work

I’ll have a story in tomorrow’s paper about the county’s audit hot line, which I affectionately call the tattletale line.

I’ve posted about this thing before. No clicking right smack here cause I’m too lazy to look for the initial posts. Anyhoo, the focus of the story is mostly on some of the silliness and the potential for abuse that can come out of these things.

Now, granted it’s tough to tell what’s frivolous and what’s not. Especially with Knox County’s colorful political history. But, there is potential for abuse.

For instance: Say candidate “A” is running against an incumbent. “A” gets some of his buddies to call the line a few hundred times. Every call generates a report. Say the callers claim that the incumbent has stolen a bunch of crap. Or has some illegal sexual tastes. Or whatever.

Yeah, sure, county officials might not find anything. But once the investigations are done, all that information is public record. There is nothing stopping the candidate from releasing a mailer a week before the election that says: “(Insert name here) has been the subject of more than 300 tips, linking him to (insert whatever BS accusation here).”

And yeah, that will happen. Here.

So, the issue is going to get discussed. Again, I write about this tomorrow.

What I didn’t get to in the story, however, is that there is some good that has come out of these reports. Mark Jones, the county’s director of risk management, has been charged with going through them, referring them here and there and wherever. I’ve seen them. And although a lot of them have nothing to do with fraud or wasteful spending (the real reason the state asked counties to create these things), he has referred the reports to the proper departments. And from all indications the issues were corrected.

In addition, there could very well be some minor troublesome reports that officials substantiate. Initially, Jones was asked to go through the complaints and refer them to the proper official. The audit committee recently expanded his scope and now he’s checking to see what’s happened with some of them. So, we’ll know more soon.

(All too often, folks - myself included - lose track of some of the good that gets done and we forget to mention it. Believe it or not, most county employees do work. But I digress.)

In the meantime, I’m going to call the audit line and make up some stuff.

Cause I’m mature that way.

Mayor-elect Rogero announces spin team

OK, this sucker just came out of left field.

At first, anyway.

Jesse Fox Mayshark, former Sentinel reporter, former New Yorker and now former beer-drinking-hell-raising Metro Pulse editor, has taken a job with Knoxville Mayor-elect Madeline Rogero.

As I think about it, however, the whole thing makes sense. Hippies hire hippies.


Although he might not be looking the part much longer.

According to Wild Bill Lyons (who has lots of new job titles but still pretty much runs city government): "There might be a different look."

Anyhoo, no word yet on how much coin traitor Jesse will make. (Lyons said he didn't know at this point.)

In addition, Rogero hired Angela Starke. I don't know her. I heard she used to work for the Sentinel and served as a reporter at WVLT-TV. I don't read the paper and I do not watch TV news, so . . . . Never heard of her.

UPDATE: Benedict Mayoral-Shark just wrote, saying he will get a haircut and there are rumors that he'll go on a tie-shopping expedition. Personally, we must be vigilant on reporting who pays for the ties. There is ample opportunity for graft here.

Here's the official spin job released by the city earlier today:
Mayor-elect Madeline Rogero announced today that she has appointed two experienced Knoxville journalists to communications positions in her new administration.

Angela Starke, weekend anchor and reporter at WVLT-TV, will become senior director of communications, and Jesse Fox Mayshark, managing editor of Metro Pulse, will be communications manager.

“During my campaign, I promised an open and transparent administration, and these appointments will help me carry out that pledge,” Rogero said. “Angela and Jesse bring an understanding of what media organizations need to cover city government, and they share my commitment to openness and the public’s right to know.”

In their roles, Starke will help develop strategies to communicate the administration’s programs and initiatives, and Mayshark will be responsible for day-to-day relationships with the news media.

Before joining WVLT, Starke was a reporter for WJLA TV/ABC 7 News, the network affiliate in Washington, D.C., covering local and national stories. In 2008, she won an Achievement Award from the Time to Fly Foundation for stories on domestic violence.

She began her career at the Gainesville, Texas, newspaper and then reported and held editing positions for several newspapers, including the Washington Post and USA Today. She is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and has been active with the Society of Professional Journalists.

Mayshark is a former editor of Metro Pulse who returned to Knoxville last year to become managing editor at the publication. He first joined Metro Pulse in 1997 and became editor in 2000. He left in 2002 to become an editor in The New York Times news service department and while there contributed to the paper’s Arts section.

Prior to joining Metro Pulse, Mayshark was a reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

County might send residents to 'college'

Who knew commissioners actually brought something back when they attended those National Association of Counties (NACo) meetings?

OK, kidding. No, not really.

Anyhoo, county Commission Chairman Mike Hammond wants to implement a “Citizens' College” for local residents to learn about county government. (Yes, I know education isn't exactly a priority for many, but still . . . .)

Under the proposal, which he heard about at one of the conferences, commissioners select two people and the mayor's office picks three. They all meet up, hang out, drink beer, whatever, at a day long session over at the Deathstar.

Good stuff. And this time I'm not kidding.

The “college” give residents input into just how local government, and each branch, works. And a lot of people (just check out the KNS message boards) have no clue.

A session, for example, might include a presentation from the law director about ordinances; or the mayor about what he's responsible for; or a commissioner about monthly meeting agendas.

County Law Director Joe Jarret said he was involved in a number of these academies when he worked in Florida. Here's a copy of the plan that Polk County did. It includes reasons why someone would want to participate. Click right smack here for it.

And go get educated. (If the commission follows through with the idea.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

County mayor announces more meetings

In the latest of what county communications manager Michael Grider likes to call a “media advisory” but we at Screams from da Porch like to call “spin jobs” county Mayor Tim Burchett continues his never-ending quest to fist bump every man, woman and child in the county.

Click right smack here for the meeting dates.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Condolences to Co. Mayor Tim Burchett

My condolences to county Mayor Tim Burchett.

His mother, Joyce, passed away earlier today. She had been ill for quite some time and entered a hospice a few weeks ago.

I talked to Tim briefly earlier today and he told me that “she’s now in heaven.”

She was 87.

And she was really cool. I met her twice. A very nice lady and a career educator. She also knew how to fly a plane and did so in the 1940s!

She will be missed.

The mayor, understandably, will be spending time with his family.

In a released statement administration Chief of Staff Dean Rice said: This is certainly a sad time for the mayor and his family, as well as for the many people in Knox County who knew Mrs. Burchett. I hope the community will keep the Burchett family in their prayers in the days ahead.

Mrs. Burchett was married to Charles R. “Charlie” Burchett Sr., a longtime chairman of the old Knoxville school board and a retired dean at the University of Tennessee. He passed away in November 2008.

Mrs. Burchett was born Jan. 9, 1924 in Cheatham County and graduated from Cheatham County High School. She earned a degree from the University of Tennessee and later worked at TVA during World War II. But, she spent most of her career teaching at Young High School, Bearden High School and Knoxville College.

Mrs. Burchett, who married her husband after the war, was a member of Ossoli Circle, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Bearden Retired Association of Teachers and Grandmothers at Prayer.

She is survived by her daughter Joyce Burchett High and her husband; son, Charles Burchett Jr. and his wife; son, Tim Burchett and his wife; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held in the sanctuary of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, 9132 Kingston Pike, on Monday at 7 p.m.

In lieu of flowers the family said donations can be made in her memory to:

Christian Academy of Knoxville

“Charlie and Joyce Burchett Tuition Assistance Fund"

529 Academy Way

Knoxville, TN 37923

Or donations can be sent to:

Salvation Army

“In Memory of Joyce Burchett”

P.O. Box 669

Knoxville, TN 37901

Lobetti has two years to pay back coin

Yesterday, I noted how I had a bunch of scribblings left from Monday's pension board meeting. Good stuff. Heh.

Anyhoo, awhile back political operative Robert M. “Mose” Lobetti had a little debate with the board over some coin members say he owes.

Halls Shopper reporter Betty Bean wrote about it right smack here.
Essentially, Mose, who has worked behind the scenes (and not so behind the scenes) on a number of political campaigns, including the recent failed effort by Mark Padgett to gain the Knoxville mayoral seat, is on the Uniformed Officers Pension Plan.

Yup, same plan that voters thought was for deputies, jailers and overall ass-kicking law enforcement officers out there risking their lives every day because they don't make a whole heck of a lot of money. But, yeah, he's on it, cause bailiffs (which are technically called courtroom security officers) are on it.

(Forgot one thing: Mose has also been involved in some Congressional races for the Duncans, but, uh, a trained monkey could run that family's campaign. They don't lose. In fact, if a Duncan doesn't get 80 percent of the vote, it's an upset. But, I digress.)

Soooo, some folks were pretty shocked that he's on the plan and owes some money. Again, read Bean's story for the background because I'm just jumping into what followed on Monday. Cause it's silly. And we like silly at Screams from da Porch.

Entertainment at the expense of others and all that.

(By the way, this guys is more connected to the incestuous relationships inside the Deathstar than then brick and mortar that hold the building together. So, if you think I'm picking on him – and I'm not – I don't really care. Public figure and all that. Plus, he goes around, wanting people to refer to him as “The Godfather.”)

So, the pension board/office wants the old dude to pay pack $13,000. (He should have paid it back a long time ago but, due to an “oversight,” he wasn't informed until – I think – earlier this year.)

That's the $11K he took out, plus some interest and 7.5 percent rate of return on investments even thought – during the lifetime of the UOPP – the rates have come in at negative 3.12, according to third quarter – it ended Sept. 30 – reports. (That was a mouthful.)

Heh. Good deal for the pension system. Bad deal for Mose. Now, Mose, 82, doesn't want to pay this back. And I don't blame him. But, if he doesn't, then he's not going to get the full benefits of the UOPP until the coin gets returned.

His attorney, Steve Sharp, also doesn't want him to have to pay it back. Can't blame him, either, since he's paid to not want Mose to have to pay it back.

Said Sharp: “Mr. Lobetti is not a wealthy man and $13,000 is a lot of money.”

Now, the pension board is willing to work with them. Members suggested giving him two years to pay it back. In monthly installments. (That would be $531.666 a month.)

Mose, visibly disgusted, didn't like that.

“They (the pension office) have known this for four years and didn't tell me, but I'm not blaming anybody,” he told the board.

Say what?

Mose, who makes $44,116.28 in annual salary, added: “It's going to be rough if I have to pay back (the money) every month. It may put me in bankruptcy.”

Now, historically, officials said, those transferred to the UOPP “had six months to repay any distributions to reinstate the time in the UOPP.”

Mose at one point also asked whether he could pay back part of the coin with a $10,000 life insurance policy or something or other he's had since 1950 when he served in the U.S. Navy.

Pension Board attorney Richard Beeler told him that wasn't gonna fly – no, he can't sign over a policy to the county.

Apparently frustrated, Mose told the board that when he joined the pension plan he turned over $130,000.

He made this out to be a big deal. Let me tell you something: That $130,000 isn't jack.

Under the Sheriff's Office defined benefit plan he's going to get $33,087 a year in retirement, plus a 3 percent cost of living adjustment each year. That's 75 percent of his total salary.

Now, how much a year do you think he's gonna get with that $130,000, which no doubt would be worth about 5 cents (give or take a penny) right now because of the stock market?

That's what I thought.

Now, people might think I'm being harsh, but, seriously, quit your whining.

Additionally, some folks at the meeting (and Mose a few months ago) made it out that Mose just HAD to take that $11,000 payout – that it was just forced right on into his wallet.

Nope. According to pension board executive director Kim Bennett, he received the minimal required distribution, but because he was employed, “it technically wasn't required that he take it.”

So, round and around we go.

Now, Mose says he doesn't understand “why I have to pay the interest.”

Uh . . . . Huh?

He said if the board gave him two years, then he'd pay back the $11,000. (Screw the interest or whatever, I suppose.)

Huh? So, make up your mind. Do you have the coin or not? What are you gonna do between now and then to raise $11K?

Never mind, don't answer that.

Eventually county commissioner and pension board member Richard Briggs wanted this mess to end. He said $13K was “a big chunk of money if you don't anticipate it or get blindsided by it.

He suggested giving Mose two years to repay it “with one stipulant (that's French by the way for “stipulating”): That he can't die in two years.”

He was kidding.

If Mose does, then the coin (which we will now refer to as “debt”) will be taken out of his death benefits that will be passed along to whoever.

So, the board – which at one point had no idea what it was voting to approve – agreed to give the guy two years to pay back what will eventually be more than $13K. Mose said he'll pay it in one lump sum at that time.

Bennett said her office will recalculate the coin and come back with the exact amount of scratch later. It's going to be more than $13K, but she has two years to come up with the new number.

In the meantime, Mose ain't gonna die. He'll make sure Congressman Jimmy Duncan gets a law passed to prevent that from happening.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ownby calls Lakeshore meeting - early

Commissioner Jeff Ownby sun shined a meeting today – roughly 193 hours ahead of time.

Heh. Take that! (If you know not what I'm talking about, then you should have seen yesterday's county commission meeting debate about publicly noticing meetings.)

Anyhoo, Jeff has scheduled a meeting with employees and residents to talk about the closure of Lakeshore Mental Heath Facility. (Lakeshore is in his commission district.) The meeting is set for next Wednesday (that's Nov. 30 for you) at 5 p.m. At West High School.

Here's a story (click right smack here) by Sentinel reporter Kristi Nelson about Lakeshore.

Jeff said that some employees called him, hoping he could set something up with the City Council, County Commission and the two mayors. (Cause he's the freakin' man.) He said he couldn't guarantee they'd be there, but he'd put out the word.

(Last week, the folks met with state lawmakers. I'm sure we wrote about it, but I don't read our paper, so . . . .)

“It's a big hit,” Ownby said. “It's close to 400 jobs that will be gone. And the patients – the ones who can't be treated elsewhere – will end up on the streets.”

Well, that's what happens when people decide to cut costs at the expense of quality mental health care and public safety. Er, that's what I read on a blog somewhere, anyway.

And if it's on a blog, folks. Then it's got to be true.


Retirement plan audits to cost $42K

Sat in the pension board meeting Monday for more than two hours. Exciting stuff, I'll tell ya. No, really. Good stuff. Heh.

Anyhoo, I've got a notebook full of information, most of it will never see print because we don't have the space, so I'll start dumping some of it here on the ole blog.

The County Commission recently (it might have been Monday when I was sleeping) signed a four-year contract with Pugh and Company, which will serve as its external auditor. The Knoxville-based company also will work with the pension board.

Some officials, particularly Knox County Senior Director of Finance John “Mad Dog” Troyer, have been itching to get someone to audit the county's six retirement programs.

Now, don't go and get too excited. For someone who operates with the glass half full, even I seriously doubt they're going to find anything. (Other than investment returns kind of suck. But that's true pretty much everywhere.)

In fact, Troyer called it a “straight forward vanilla” audit. (Although he might have said a “Donila” audit.)

The IRS looked over some of the plans (if not all of them) not to long ago and didn't find anything. (As I recall there were some payroll issues or something to do with the county not putting in interest or whatnot, but the plans were pretty much clean.)

The pension board will pick up the tab – about $42,000 for the first year's audit. Executive Director Kim Bennett said the scratch will come from a pot of coins set aside to purchase new software.(She hinted pretty hard Monday to the board that if she uses this money for the audit, she'd still need the software in 2013. In other words, fellas, don't be surprised if I put some extra coinage in there 18 months from now!)

ON A SIDE NOTE: Ann Acuff, who is pretty much second-in-command of the county's finance office is (or has) retired. I met her a few times and she has always been very pleasant and very helpful. Her effective retirement date is Dec. 1. She's leaving after more than 46 years.

That's pretty cool. So congrats goes out to her.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Commission passes Briggs Hillside plan

The Knox County Commission tonight approved the Richard Briggs Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan. (Or at least seven of them did.)

If you're confused, don't feel bad. That was one cluster-F of a meeting that was made worse because of all the hijacking that went on earlier in order to delay the meeting as late in the day as possible. (Hit me up on Twitter to see what I'm talking about. I'm about to get something to eat right now, so I'm too tired to bother with it.)

Anyhoo, a lot of folks want to know just what the Briggs amendment is.

Soooo, here ya go (and yeah, I'm typing this myself cause I love ya):
This plan and the principals, objectives, policies and guidelines included herein are advisory in nature and constitute non-binding recommendations for consideration in connection with development of steeply sloped areas. While this plan is being adopted as an amendment to the Knoxville-Knox County General Plan 2033, it is intended to provide background and supplemental information of an advisory nature and to serve as a guide to future MPC staff recommendations, but it not intended to form an official part of the General Plan which would be binding on future land use decisions by City Council, County Commission, MPC, the City or County Boards of Zoning Appeals pursuant to T.C.A 13-3-304. Any comparable provisions of the Knoxville-Knox County General Plan 2033 or any Sector Plan which relate to hillside and ridgetop protection shall also be considered advisory consistent with this plan.

Commission, school board retreat set?

Knox County commissioners and board of education members expect to hold their hug-a-thon in late January next year at the RT Lodge. Right now, they’re looking at Jan. 26 (an evening dinner) and then Jan. 27 (all day).

Oddly enough, the commission kept referring to these days as a Friday and Saturday. They’re not. (Try, Thursday and Friday.)

(UPDATE: I was just informed that the dates are Jan. 27 and Jan. 28, although that wasn't what they said yesterday. Heh.)

Commissioners talked about it briefly today during their luncheon today. The idea is hold a retreat and do a “let’s all just get along” kind of thing. Heh.

“We have some significant budget issues coming up, but we don’t want to turn this into something where we just talk about funding the whole time,” commission Chairman Mike Hammond said.

The Cornerstone Foundation in Knoxville will pay for the meeting and act as a facilitator.

The commission didn’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time on the issue. I mean, let’s face it, the members of both bodies like each other on a personal level, but . . . .

In the meantime, Commissioner R. Larry Smith said he wants to talk about vacant schools “where no one’s in them and they’re rotting.” He suggested bringing up the issue at the retreat and wondered whether – once again – the commission should form a task force to look at something (in this case, the abandoned schools).

Commissioner Tony Norman, an educator, however, wondered just what the meetings would accomplish. He’s not necessarily against them, but “the issues are so large – what would we really be dealing with?”

He added: “I’m for improving relationships and we could do that over a meal or some kind of scheduled thing. I just wonder about what can we really get accomplished in a weekend like this. We need a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting about educational issues, but that’s probably going to involve Gov. Haslam and some state level guys. Not just us talking about next year’s budget.

County Mayor Tim Burchett and Superintendent Jim McIntyre will be invited to the meeting.

Click right smack here for the original story I wrote about the retreat.

Oh yeah, at that time Burchett and McIntyre weren’t invited.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ridgetop plan tops commission agenda

The County Commission meets tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the Deathstar.

Here's the agenda - click right smack here.

It should be a fairly quick meeting. Until we get to that little thing called the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan. From there, the same people will futilely make the same arguments. My favorite: "Don't tell me what to do with my land."

Uh, yeah, right. Government has been telling you what to do with your land, since there's been land. What do you think zoning restrictions are? Heck, some people can't even build a swimming pool in their yard because they happen to have a protected tree in the back lawn. (I'm all for tearing up that tree by the way.)

Anyhoo, this sucker is passing 8-3. That's my call (although it could possibly be 7-4).

Remember, though, that this is not over by a long shot. The MPC has to approve it, too, which it will. But, then it goes back to the commission again. So, tomorrow really isn't the final call.

And don't forget the ordinances both the city and county will have to approve.

This battle isn't ever going to end, is it?