Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chamber to host reception for Rogero

In their never ending effort to con, I mean, convince public officials that whatever they do is a good thing (and I’m not even sure just what the heck they do but I'm sure it is a good thing), Mike Edwards and the boys and girls at the Knoxville Chamber are hosting a reception for new city Mayor Madeline “You Can Never Have Too Many Flacks” Rogero.

Hey, better late than never. Right? Right?

The chamber plans to host the shindig on Jan. 11 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at its office in Market Square.

Click right smack here for the details, including something about free parking.

No word yet on just what the chamber is after. Heh.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Meeting notices to look a little longer

So, awhile back the Knox County Commission agreed that whenever two (or more) members planned to be at the same location then they’d notice the meeting at least 48 hours in advance.

There was quite a bit of debate about whether they should notice meeting for various clubs (i.e. West Knox Republican Club, Democrats R Us Group, the Whatever Shin Dig Meeting, you get the point).

But, the board finally agreed that those meetings, too, should be noticed.

So, here’s what an old notice looked like.

Here’s what the news ones will start looking like.

UPDATE: Here is Commissioner Jeff Ownby's schedule right smack here.

Merry Christmas, best wishes and all that

Good morning, folks, and Merry Christmas. If you don't celebrate Christmas, then "happy holidays" and all that.

I was going to go for something witty today, maybe invent a Christmas wish list for all those public figures out there.

(You know, Superintendent Jim McIntyre wishes for $7 million, county Mayor Tim Burchett and Chief of Staff Dean Rice wish for a third man - or woman - Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero wishes for a new flak - because she doesn't have enough - etc., etc.)

But, I'll play it straight (other than that funny picture someone sent me this morning). So, I hope everyone enjoys the day, stays safe and (fill in the blank cause I ran out of thoughts).

Take care.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Property assessor gives different bonuses

I’ve got a story in today’s paper that you can read online by clicking right smack here about county officeholders giving themselves and some of their employees some nice coin. Most of scratch is tied to a program administered by CTAS (too tired to spell out the acronym) and it is supposed to go to those who earn the designation “certified public administrator.”

Anyhoo, that’s not what this blog entry is about. I pulled a lot of information while researching the story that I didn’t use, either because of space issues or because it wasn’t quite relevant.

One example is that I didn't report about the bonuses that the county property assessor’s office gives workers.

Now, keep in mind the Knox County Commission approved these bonuses years ago, so that means it’s OK to get FREE MONEY.

Oh yeah!

But, also keep in mind that the bonuses are for $650 – not up to $3,000 like the other sports were getting.

“It’s a different program,” county Property Assessor Phil Ballard told me. “We went in front of commission in 2008 or 2009 and told them we had to fill some spots and we had to hire some certified people and have some people certified.”

Ballard said the state gives officials who achieve a “Level 5” certification in property assessing a 4.5 percent incentive (whatever that means). He said something about it taking a while to move up in steps and that he wanted to reward and encourage employees who do. So, the assessor’s office gives employees a $650 reward for reaching Level 1 and Level 2. After that the state takes over.

Last year, 14 of his workers got the extra coin, which amounted to a combined $9,100. This year, only one worker got the extra $650.

That kind of makes sense, since his employees are moving up and the state is now providing the money.

When I asked Phil about whether he participates in the “certified public administrator” program, he said that he didn’t. He added that if he did, he would not take the bonus.(Of course that's easy to say when you don't participate. Heh.)

Two of his employees are in the program and they did get some extra coin this year.

Again, you can read about all that by clicking right smack here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

School board candidate Oster is eligible

Knox County school board candidate Gina Oster, who is running for the 3rd District seat to replace Cindy Buttry (who decided not to run again), is in fact allowed to run.

According to a long-winded letter written in fancy lawyer talk, she is eligible.

Click right smack here for the letter.

Apparently, there was a issue about this because Oster works for the school system. (Click right smack here for the story.) I'm not up-to-date on it because I don't follow all this school stuff (hey, I got enough keeping up with the county), but the rogue blogger pretty much called this last week.

Trustee, fee offices give sweet bonuses

I don't normally like to scoop myself, but what the heck. I've spent the past few days working on a story about some bonuses that county officials get, in particular the Trustee's Office. So, I'll throw a little out there right now.

If only because there's so much conflicting information about this mess and TV will probably get it wrong. Heh.

Yes, Knox County Trustee John Duncan III gave himself and 7 other workers who are not "certified public administrators" each a $3,000 bonus. Call it an early Christmas present.

Four other people who have achieved the designation also got the extra coin.

Duncan, who already makes some pretty good coin, is not the only office holder to hand out the "free money" in 2011. He is, however, the only one giving it to those who don't complete the CTAS course.

Is it legal? Go buy a freakin' newspaper ya cheapskate and find out. Or check online later.

Or maybe come back here for a possible update.

On a side note, the Register of Deeds Office paid out $12,138 to six workers; the Circuit Court Clerk paid out $1,632 to one employee, the Criminal Court Clerk paid six a combined $9,138; and the Property Assessor's Office paid two employees a combined $5,600.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rep. Haynes looking into tattletale line

Just a quick update on the county's tattletale line.

Talked to state Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, last week about it. You might recall that he was asked by county officials and members of the audit committee to look into whether anything can be done about so-called frivolous calls made to the hot line.

Here's the original story right smack here.

Anyhoo, Ryan (at left in a picture I clearly lifted off the state's website) said he talked to the state comptroller's office and he's now working on legislation that he'll possibly introduce by mid-January.

One of the possibilities, he said, was looking into whether something deemed frivolous (or if there are no findings against the complaint) should become public.

Right now it is, so if you want to call up the hot line and make up all sorts of crap about someone . . . .

In the meantime, I'm hoping Ryan will introduce legislation that would require the state to have a hot line system that I can prank call on a regular basis.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Van Guilder to work for Trustee's Office

My boy Larry Van Guilder has taken a job with the Knox County Trustee's Office, continuing a recent trend of local reporters jumping paper ships to join the Deathstar.

Most recently, Angela Starke from some TV channel and Benedict Mayoral-Shark from the Metro Pulse joined Mayor Madeline Rogero's staff.

Anyhoo, Larry signed the papers today and starts work Jan. 16, according to his new boss John Duncan III. He fills a vacant staff accountant position. (He swears it was advertised.)

In a spin release, Duncan said: “We’ve carefully evaluated our needs over the past year. I believe Larry’s training and experience will prove a valuable addition to this office.”

He also said this is “another step forward in enhancing the services we provide” and blah, blah, blah.


Now, don't get me wrong, Larry can actually do this job. It's just fun to make fun of spin releases.

Here's the rest:
Van Guilder is currently editor of the Shopper-News. In addition to the institutional knowledge acquired during his years of reporting on Knox County government, Van Guilder has extensive accounting experience in the private sector working with Fortune 100 companies as well as smaller organizations. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, a United States Air Force veteran and a Knoxville native. He and his wife, Becki, reside in the Farragut community.
Larry told me his first full-time job was with Union Camp Corporation in Morristown (it's since been bought out by International Paper). He started off as a bean counter and then somehow took a job in the sales department because it paid more. He transferred to Decatur, Ala. but left cause his boss sucked. He worked for a few local companies, got burned out and went back to UT to study history.

He thought about teaching but realized that teaching 17-year-old kids sucks, too.

Larry, however, always dabbled in writing and by late 2005 he was penning columns for the Shopper-News. He later wrote features and was covering Knox County government by the time Black Wednesday hit.

That's the abbreviated story of his life. So far.

He'll be 62 in March and hopes to retire in three years, and then – if there still is a Scripps newspaper company – freelance for us in some capacity.

“Government isn't going to go away, but newspapers? We just don't know,” he said when asked about the new job.

In addition, Larry will also oversee some public relations for the Trustee's Office.

On a personal note, I wish him well. I like the guy and I will miss his sharp wit and good-natured humor. Good luck, buddy.

Friday, December 16, 2011

2 judicial commish candidates don't vote

Just got off the horn with Knox County Commissioner “Our” Larry Smith who isn't too happy with some of the candidates seeking that sweet judicial commissioner job.

Apparently, some of them want to serve the county, but they don't like to hit the ballot boxes.

“Taxpayers are paying for this judicial position and it's almost $65,000 (a year in salary), so I was wondering if they were doing their civic duty themselves,” Smith told me. “I found out that five of them aren't, yet they want taxpayers to pay their (salary).”

OK, according to Smith, Alex Brown and Scott Tsakeres are not registered to vote.

He said Charity Miles and Arun Rattan are registered but don't vote.

He added that “there was not sufficient information on Marks Woods to determine whether he was registered.”

Fifteen folks applied for the spot and the commission will make a decision on Monday. But, earlier this week, the county sessions court judges narrowed down the list, so the commission is really faced with just eight candidates.

Brown and Miles are on the list of eight.

The county overall has five magistrates. They are charged with reviewing applications for warrants and summonses and conduct the initial court appearances of prisoners via closed-circuit television.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Like' law firm, help the Salvation Army

Local law firm Ralph Brown and Associates will donate $1 to the Salvation Army (up to $5,000) for every "like" the firm receives on its Facebook page.

Yeah, it's corny. But what the heck. Once they get 5,000 likes and donate the coin, you can always "unlike" them. Heh.

So, check it out at

Right now, the firm has about 580 hits, so that's $580 in coin.

Think of it as your good deed for the day. And go "like" a lawyer.

Duncan takes credit for Carter, raises

In his never-ending quest to collect and deposit every check the county has, Knox County Trustee John “Triple 3” Duncan has outdone himself.

Cause now he is taking credit for the administration's plan to build the Carter community a new elementary school and give employees raises beginning on Jan. 1.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who spearheaded both moves, called the Carter claim “ridiculous”. Then he chuckled in disbelief.

Here's the deal and how all this started:

Earlier this month, Duncan posted the following on Facebook:
"I'm so proud of the work of my staff! We have operated at 49% under last year's budget, yet revenues are at an all time high. I was pleased to hear State Officials remark that the Knox County Trustee's Office is the model for all others in the State to follow."
Now, I'm reading this and scratching my head. Cause this sounds a little misleading. (The 49 percent part – I just figure his aunt is the “state officials” he refers to. Heh.)

So, I sent him an email, asking what's up.

Here's his response:
Last year, the office had spent $235,744 in operating costs at this point. This year, we have spent $121,151.

For the whole year, we are now working with a $272,354 budget, as opposed to $387,735 last year.

We're trying to run everything as lean as possible and have tried to cut everything from contracted services to supplies and materials. So far, we've been very successful.

Despite the cuts, collections are higher than they've ever been. Last year, we set a new record for revenues, which allowed the Mayor and Commission to give employee raises and build Carter a new elementary school. This year, we have outpaced that number by over $1.8 million at this point.
Couple things here. Apparently, the salary suit the Trustee Office files each year – you know that lawsuit that is the budget for salaries – doesn't count as a “budget” budget. So, yes, I suppose the Trustee's Office is operating “at 49 percent under last year's budget” if all you're talking about is the money used to buy office supplies. Because that's pretty much the budget Duncan refers to.

The salaries are something else.

The other thing: You'll note the trustee says his office “set a new record for revenues” that “allowed” the county to build the Carter community a new elementary school.

Uh, that's not exactly how some other folks who work over there in the Deathstar see it.

The county could have collected $5 this year, and it was still going to build a new school.

As it stands, the administration has designated $11 million of the $13.9 million it needs to build the school.

Here's how county is paying for the new school (information courtesy of the finance department):
  • School Board contribution: $2.5 million
  • E-911 District early repayment for the center facility: $3.4 million
  • Solway land sale: $2 million
  • City repayment for Young-Williams Animal Center: $943,819
  • SEC settlement: $892,551
  • Marble Alley – initial four parcels: $771,000
  • Bond refinancing 2011-12 – county's share of savings: $511,685
The bill comes due in late spring 2013.

As for whether Duncan played a role in county employee raises? He could make a case for that. So, too, could the economy. And Burchett. And all the people who paid their bills on time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Burchett, state to meet about Lakeshore

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Tennessee Department of Mental Health Commissioner Douglas Varney plan to meet tomorrow afternoon to talk about the state's proposal to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute.

The meeting, which was confirmed earlier this morning will be the first time the mayor and the County Commission – which also was invited – have a chance to ask questions about future plans.

“I wanted to get him in here as soon as possible,” the mayor said. “The commissioners have a lot of questions and the sooner we can get him in, the quicker we can find solutions.”

The mayor said officials will not vote during the 4 p.m. Meeting, but rather Varney will be asked “to give us the plan on how the closure will take place as they see it.”

Varney in mid-November announced that the state plans to close the facility by the end of the fiscal year, as part of a plan to outsource mental-health care to private inpatient facilities and community-based programs.

County commissioners say they were blindsided by the proposal and want answers. A number of them said during Monday's work session that they tried to reach Varney and have not heard back.

Now, they're asking the local legislative delegation to step in and see what it can do.

"I've talked with some people involved in mental health in Knox County and the question I've asked is: 'What's the plan?' and no one seems to know," Commission Chairman Mike Hammond said. "That isn't to criticize anyone, but if Lakeshore closes, we don't know the plan."

The commission, at the request of Commissioner Jeff Ownby, agreed to ask a number of state leaders, including Gov. Bill Haslam, to delay closing the facility for at least two years. Officials said they are concerned the community doesn't have enough programs to serve many of the patients who end up at Lakeshore. They also said they expect a rise of mentally ill in the homeless and jailed populations if Lakeshore closes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Former official Bill Tallent passes away

Fred Brown of the News Sentinel reports that former county official Bill Tallent passed away on Sunday.

Here's the story:

A former Knox County official and World War II veteran whose wartime experience included an escape from a German prisoner of war camp has died.

William C. “Bill” Tallent, left, was 88.

He died Sunday at the Ben Atchley State Veterans Home.

Mr. Tallent was with the 28th Infantry Division serving with an intelligence unit when he was captured near Hosigen, Luxembourg, in December 1944.

His eventual escape from his German captors was the stuff of movies. He won the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Last year, Mr. Tallent was honored for his life of service to the community and veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Knoxville was renamed the William C. Tallent Veterans Outpatient Clinic in his honor.

Mr. Tallent was a former county commissioner of finance and also had worked as a court officer in Knox County Criminal Court.He was bailiff in Knox County Criminal Court, Division II, from 8-16-93 until Feb. 29, 2008.

More details as they develop online and in Tuesday's News Sentinel.

Commission against Sunshine changes

Tom Humphrey – Tennessee's most ass kicking state government reporter – wrote a story the other day about a plan by some county commission somewhere that would screw with the Sunshine laws.

However, Gov. Wild Bill Haslam, according to Tom, is against it and “sees no need for changes . . . .”

You can read that bad boy by clicking right smack here.

In the story, you'll note a comment by Knox County Commission Chairman Mike Hammond (I actually fetched this quote for Tom) and his thoughts.

“Are you kidding me,” Hammond practically screamed.


Anyhoo, the commission is now set to take it another step. During today's work session, members will talk about writing a letter to the county's Legislative delegation, asking that members oppose any changes to the law.

(The proposed changes by the way would let members of a commission – so long as it was less than a quorum – meet without notifying the public.)

Here's a rough draft of the resolution right smack here. It's sponsored by Commissioner Ed Shouse.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

March Knox County primary races set

The deadline to qualify for open seats in the March county election passed this afternoon, and the races are now set.

Incumbent Law Director Joe Jarret and Property Assessor Phil Ballard, each, will face competition from former elected officials in the Republican primary. Current Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword, however, has no challengers.

In addition, two of the four school board members also face challengers for their non-partisan seats. Cindy Buttry, who represents the 3rd District, opted not to seek re-election.

Instead, Bobby Edington, Doug Harris and Gina Oster will vie for the seat.

Additionally, no one opted to challenge current school board Vice Chairwoman Indya Kincannon for the 2nd District seat.

Karen Carson, the 5th District incumbent, will face Elaine Davis, who serves on the county’s Ethics Committee. In the 8th District, incumbent Mike McMillan will face Conley Underwood, a vocal supporter of the movement in East Knox County to get a new Carter Elementary School built.

Also, former county Commissioner Richard “Bud” Armstrong will square off against Jarret; and former Property Assessor John Whitehead will challenge Ballard.

The general elections will be held in August.

School board candidates need to get 50 percent plus one of the votes cast to move on.

County did actually pay waste water fine

Yesterday I posted – click right smack here for the riveting conversation – that the county did not pay a fine for waste water stuff. Apparently, that's not the case. (Thanks, Michael Grider.)

County folks got back to me last night (actually, Grider got back to me last night), letting me know that – yes – the county did actually pay some coin.

And it was due to our old pals at Natural Resources Recovery of Tennessee. I think

Grider said the details are outlined in the Consent Agreement and Final Order between the company and the county. You can read that bad boy by clicking right smack here.

Look under section II.

The county – according to Public Works and Engineering Director Dwight Van de Vate via Grider – paid $4,000 and NRRT paid $8,000.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

County utility district (or something) fined

So, I’m sitting around at home, doing nothing and another reporter emails me a story. You know, because he didn't want to do the work. Or something.

Anyhoo, it’s a story out of Atlanta, claiming that the EPA fined Knox County $12,000 for violating the Clean Water Act.

It states: “Waste water utilities in 14 municipalities were penalized for failing to provide biosolids reports and/or otherwise failing to comply with Section 503 of the CWA covering requirements for land disposal of sewage sludge.”

It then lists Knox County, as well as a bunch of really crappy places in Georgia and Florida.

However, the federal branch of hippies has not fined the county, according to Michael “Big Sexy” Grider, the county’s one-man spin-machine.

Our conversation:

BS: “Knox County doesn’t deal in waste water. Knox County deals in storm water. Knox County was not fined.”

The hero of this blog: “So, who was?”

BS: “I don’t know. That’s an EPA question.”

The hero of this blog: “Screw that. I got better things to do than call a bunch of hippies.”

BS: “Uh . . . they would know. It would be easier to call the EPA than all the districts.”

The hero of this blog: "Yeah, but I don't care. I just want to pad my blog posts for the day before I do that really good one I got planned for either tonight or tomorrow."

BS: "Uh . . . ."

The hero of this blog: "Never mind."

And at that point, I quit taking notes. Essentially the utility districts (I think we have about five of them) are governed by state law and overseen by a board of directors. So, you the “taxpayer” might not pick up the bill. But you the “rate payer” will.

If you’re still with me, then here’s the original story (Be warned, it's boring as heck):

(ATLANTA – Dec. 6, 2011) Over the past fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 30, 2011), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 4 issued Consent Agreements and Final Orders (CA/FOs) against 25 entities throughout the Southeast for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA). As part of the settlements, the responsible parties in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee agreed to come into compliance and pay $184,317 in civil penalties. Additionally, these entities will spend an estimated $284,791 to come into compliance.

"By taking these enforcement actions, we are sending a strong message about the importance of protecting rivers, lakes and streams,” said Gwen Keyes Fleming, Regional Administrator. “By addressing the violations noted in our inspections, these entities will prevent millions of pounds of pollution from entering the environment, in addition to protecting the quality of life for families across the Southeast.”

Ten entities were cited for alleged stormwater-related violations of the CWA. Polluted stormwater runoff is a leading cause of impairment to the nearly 40 percent of surveyed U.S. water bodies which do not meet water quality standards. Over land or via storm sewer systems, polluted runoff is discharged, often untreated, directly into local water bodies. The settlements and associated penalties include:

  • Port of Mobile, for violations at its Buchanan Lumber Mobile, Inc. in Mobile, Ala. (civil penalty of $4,400)
  • The Allen Company, for violations at the Barnes Mill Road Improvement in Richard, Ky. (civil penalty of $7,200)
  • Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, for violations at its US 421 Widening PCN 09-1121 in Frankfort, Ky. (civil penalty of $8,000)
  • Mississippi Department of Transportation, for violations at its State Route 19 in Collinsville, Miss. (civil penalty of $44,000)
  • South East Development of NC, LLC, for violations at its Sierra Heights subdivision Phase 2 in Clayton, N.C. (civil penalty of $5,000)
  • Marion Retail Investments, LLC, for violations at its construction site Grandview Station in Marion, N.C. (civil penalty of $9,000)
  • YDV, Incorporated, for violations at its construction sites Compass Pointe Phase 2 and Compass Pointe Phase 3 in Leland, N.C. (civil penalties totaling $14,000)
  • City of Memphis, for violations at its Appling/I-40 Northwest Planned Development in Memphis, Tenn. (civil penalty of $2,000)
  • Shelby County, for violations at the Houston Levee Road Improvement in Memphis, Tenn. (civil penalty of $37,500)
  • Shelby County Schools, for violations at its Shelby County Schools Administration Building in Arlington, Tenn. (civil penalty of $10,000)

The above facilities were issued Administrative Orders requiring the facilities to come into compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and the CWA at an estimated total cost of $284,691. By returning to compliance, 7,831,700 pounds of pollutants (sediment, total suspended solids, nitrogen, etc.) were not discharged into the receiving waters.

One facility was cited for failing to comply with Section 122.23 of the CWA covering Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, including land-application requirements in accordance with its Waste Management Plan and its South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control permit:

  • Mayer Dairy Farms, Newberry, S.C. (civil penalty of $2,717)

An Administrative Order was issued to Mayer Dairy requiring the facility to come into compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and the CWA at an estimated cost of $100. By returning to compliance, 15,000 pounds of pollutants (sediment and nitrogen) were not discharged into the receiving waters.

Lastly, wastewater utilities in 14 municipalities were penalized for failing to provide biosolids reports and/or otherwise failing to comply with Section 503 of the CWA covering requirements for land disposal of sewage sludge:

  • Alabaster, Ala. (civil penalty of $1,800)
  • Sheffield, Ala. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Clewiston, Fl. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Plantation, Fl. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Lake City, Fl. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Starke, Fl. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Cartersville, Ga. (civil penalty of $2,000)
  • Greensboro, Ga. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Monroe, Ga. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Pembroke, N.C. (civil penalty of $900)
  • Knox County, Tenn. (civil penalty of $12,000)
  • Loudon Utilities, Tenn. (civil penalty of $5,000)
  • Newport Utilities, Tenn. (civil penalty of $7,500)
  • Springfield, Tenn. (civil penalty of $5,000)

Congress enacted the CWA in 1972 to protect the nation’s rivers, lakes and stream, as well as some of the more fragile and vital wetland habitats. The entities cited violated the CWA by either failing to meet the requirements of their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, and subsequently causing point source discharges; failing to comply with biosolids requirements; or by filling or dredging wetlands. Pollutants of concern include nutrients, sediment, oil and grease, chemicals and metals. When left uncontrolled, water pollution can deplete needed oxygen and/or otherwise result in the destruction of aquatic habitats, as well as the fish and wildlife that depend on them. Water pollution can also contaminate food, drinking water supplies and recreational waterways, and thereby pose a threat to public health.