Monday, December 31, 2012

Handcrafted in Hong Kong, baby

Saw this in an office over at the ol’ Death Star. I always thought that when a political party yapped about job creation, the politicians meant they were creating jobs here. Not in Hong Kong. Oh well, there's always a next time. Or not.

And just to be fair, if the Democrats have something like this, let me know. Entertainment at the expense of others and all that good stuff.

Have a safe New Year's Eve.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Well, it was only a matter of time. I got two lumps of coal for Christmas. Anyhoo, hope you're all having a good time, staying safe, staying out of the clink, staying  . . . blah, blah, blah. Have a good one.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Odds, ends for a slow commish week

Not a whole lot going on lately. On Saturday, we ran a story about the Knox County Commission’s plan to move ahead with a ballot question that would give residents a chance to expand the board’s size. Find it right smack here

Later this week, I’ll have something on the so-called education committee. In addition, we’ll have a piece about what a number of West Knox County neighborhoods would like to see down for Ebenezer Road.

I've got the week off, but I'm sure I'll pop up here on the da blog.

In the meantime, have a nice Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rogero celebrates one year in office

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, left, celebrated her first full year in office this month.

Gerald Witt has a story right smack here detailing all the excitement.

 Or non-excitement as there hasn’t been a whole lot (if any) of controversy during her rookie year. 

On a side note, I remember when she was running for office and the KNS knucklehead commentators kept saying she’d “divide the community” and she was “anti-business” and the city would just fall apart if she won the election.

Yeah, none of that happened.

I think most of the people who said that crap were either (a) intimidated by her because she’s a woman, (b) intimidated by her because she doesn’t flat out hate like they do, or (c) intimidated by her because she’s smarter than them.


Anyhoo, one year doesn’t make a mayor, but she’s certainly off to a good start.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Knox County office closings set

OK, here's the breakdown for Knox County holiday closings:

The executive branch offices will shut down for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

The Knox County Solid Waste Convenience Centers will close at 2 p.m. on Christmas Eve. They'll also be down on Christmas Day and Jan. 1. Regular schedule is planned for all other days.

Libraries also will be closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and all branches will close at 5:30 p.m. on New Year' Eve. They'll reopen Jan. 2.

In addition, the county's senior centers, health department facilities and veterans service office also will be closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Veterans outreach schedule announced

The county this morning announced it's schedule to hold outreach sessions to assist veterans with claims for service-connected disabilities, improved pension, health benefits, insurance programs, education programs, burial benefits and other programs. (That was a mouthful.)

The sessions are conducted by the Knox County Veterans Service Office and held at the county's senior centers.

Any veteran or veteran's spouse who can't make a session also can get assistance by calling the veterans service office at 215-5645. or you can click right smack here.

And to get a list of the January outreach schedule click right here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

County prepares for winter weather

According to my fancy calendar winter start Friday. Nice. Not really. 

AND, according to the fancy spin release coming out of the county's side of the Death Star, the Knox County Engineering and Public Works Department “is taking a proactive approach by preparing its fleet for colder days ahead."

This stuff cracks me up. A news release touting the department for doing something it should be doing???? Oh well. I suppose it could be the worse. You know, bunch of overpaid PR people sitting around doing nothing. And we don't have that in local government. No way.

Anyhoo, the release says the county's highway department is doing some stuff with brine tanks. Click right smack here for all the details.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Knox Commish to get 'magic' budget?

We're still a little ways away but county officials are already making plans for budget discussions.

According to top county bean counter Casual Chris Caldwell, the administration will hold a meeting with department heads on Jan. 10. At that point, directors will get whatever documents they need to prepare their budget requests.

In addition, the administration at the end of January will know just how much they have to contribute to pension funds for the upcoming fiscal year, which doesn't start until next July. (This current year it was $8.2 million for the three pension plans, including two that are closed.)

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett plans to present his budget on May 1 and then the county commission will vote on it June 6.

Caldwell invited commissioners during their monthly luncheon to come hang out with him and his crew early next year. He said he'd provide a brief overview “about what we do in this process, what we do from start to finish and go over the projection process, so you can see what we do.”

He added: “I don't think it's bad to have too much information, and seeing how the process works may give you a better understanding of what we go through and let you see how some of the decisions are made.”

The Casual One was more than likely suggesting that maybe the board won't be so hard on the administration the next time revenue projections are off by, oh say, $24.2 million.

Caldwell later said: “Once we get all the requests in we're out $11 million to $15 million, so you'll get to see how we get there (balancing the budget), how we make that work. It's magic.”

Said Commissioner Mike Hammond: “So, I guess we can start calling you Magic Chris.”

Chris: “No, cause you're Magic Mike.”

Heh. Magic Mike. Heh. Hahahaha.

You had to be there.

County to recycle Christmas trees

Knox County won't offer mulch pick-up this year, but folks can drop off their unwanted, live Christmas tress throughout January at one of the six participating convenience centers for free, according to the latest spin release issued by the county by someone not named Michael Grider.

Just make sure you clean the tree of all ornaments, lights, wire, string, blah, blah.

Click right smack here for a list of the “treecycling” locations.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Casual' county coin report Part II

Chris Caldwell
Knox County's finance guru and head bean counter Casual Chris Caldwell met with county commissioners today to update the coin flow through the county coffers. Looks like we're in the red by about $8.1 million, although Caldwell says don't hit the panic buttons just yet.

He pointed out that general fund revenues are down about $432,000 compared to this point last fiscal year. The debt service fund also is down almost $13.7 million, although Caldwell noted that money hasn't been transferred to cover the school system's piece of debt.

Also, school spending is up almost $6 million compared to this point last year. Caldwell suggested that was mostly because of timing and because the system received all that extra coin from the county commission during last spring's budget process.

The brief discussion comes after commissioners in September said they were surprised to find out that the county had a $24.2 million surplus. (It's a long story, click right smack here for details.)

Stay tuned as most of this will balance out.

County develops app for codes folks

This in from county spin doc Michael “Big Sexy” Grider (and I thought I was long-winded):

"Rather than a clipboard, carbon copy forms and a digital camera, Knox County Codes officials now go to building and code inspection sites equipped with an iPad loaded with a special app developed by Knox County's Information Technology Department.

The app is being used in the inspection of new construction, as well as in codes enforcement efforts.

The app gives inspectors the ability to submit inspection reports and photographs from a single device in the field. By using the new iPad app, inspectors will be able to conduct more inspections and back-office staff can process them more quickly, increasing the efficiency of the inspection process overall."

You can read more from the release right smack here

From what I understand, county officials have shown their counterparts in the city this app. Not sure at this point whether they'll use it.

Cook lawsuit cost county $200,000

Apparently, the Barbara Cook lawsuit cost the county about $200,000, pension board members were told this morning. Or, rather: Attorneys for the pension board made $200,000 off the Barbara Cook lawsuit.


As you might recall several years back, Cook, a former employee, accused the county and its retirement board of of holding employee pension deductions a lot longer than neeed before depositing them into retirement accounts. At issue was whether the coin belonged to the county, the pension board or the employees.

She filed the lawsuit in December 2008, seeking to recover the interest on behalf of the employees. In late 2010 a judge ruled in favor of the county. (Her legal team dropped the county pension board from the lawsuit. I'm not going to get into how ridiculous a move this was, according to what some local lawyers have told me.)

Anyhoo, the issue was discussed because the pension board is looking to increase its insurance coverage. The board didn't take any action this morning, but its administration will look at it in the upcoming months.

Feb. election for two pension seats

The Knox County Pension Board will hold an election on Valentine's Day for two seats. Yeah, odd choice of days, but whatever.

Up for re-election are Joe Snyder, who represents school employees who are not in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, which covers state employees, public school teachers, etc., and Nick McBride who represents county employees under the traditional retirement plans and the Sheriff's Office plan. (There's certainly more detail in what they do and who they represent but this is about the easiest way to describe it, and let's face it, most of you really don't care about this stuff.)

The election, which will include voting locations at the Death Star, the detention center and some libraries, among other locations, is for county employees only. It will cost about $5,000 and the county's finance department and human resources department will cover it.

From what I understand only a couple hundred people out of a possible 5,000 typically vote in these.

Yeah, big surprise there.

 I'm figuring Joe and Nick will seek re-election.

Those wishing to run can pick up those petition things in the county's retirement office on Jan. 3. You need to get 25 signatures from employees who participate in the retirement system. They forms are due on Jan. 31.

The retirement office will have more info early next year.

 The pension board is comprised of nine members. Four are county commissioners. Two come from the school side, one from the county mayor's office and two come from the general employees side. You can find out more stuff right smack here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Odds and ends on some county news

Just a few odds and ends as the week kicks in. The commission meets tomorrow, beginning with its monthly luncheon. Not sure who’s on the hook for that one. Then, it's the voting meeting. Don’t expect this to go more than an hour or two.

During the luncheon, county bean counter and finance guru Casual Chris Caldwell will present the casual coin report. Also on the agenda is a discussion to talk about creating a task force that would debate the pros and cons of expanding the commission’s overall size. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One argument against an increase is that the voters only in the past few years agreed to shrink it from 19 to 11 members, which actually didn’t kick in until September 2010. Some feel that it’s way too soon to decide whether the smaller number is better. They figure that the community should give the board a chance at its current size.

I don’t necessarily disagree (nor am I an advocate for a large, unwieldy group), but the earliest the board could increase is somewhere around 2016. (The law says you can't interrupt a commissioner's term.) So, let them talk.

Besides, it’s another committee. It’s not like they’ll actually meet more than once anyway. Heh.

OK, someone pointed out to me the other day that Trustee John Duncan III didn’t use his title in his recent engagement notice. That’s not a big deal. But, it was noted that his dad is a U.S. Congressman. Typically, engagements don’t include what the parents do for a living. Anyhoo, figured I’d point it out.
Also, congrats to John on his upcoming wedding.

One last thing, Melissa Copelan, has gone back to using her maiden name. So, if you see “Melissa Ogden” pop up in news stories as the Knox County school system spokeswoman it does not mean that the county has hired ANOTHER flak. 

In the meantime, here’s the commission agenda for Monday.

I’m out.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Elementary school shootings in CT

(Update: Looks like our site is back up)

Why don't these pieces of $&#! just stay at home and shoot themselves in the head?

Right now the KNS website keeps crashing (or reverting back to yesterday's page) as readers try to keep up with the horrific school shootings in Connecticut. Keep checking; we're getting it back up, and we've got a lot of coverage, including some stuff Gerald Witt is working on.

Additionally, Randy over at Knoxviews is following the event with a number of media updates throughout the country.

In the meantime, prayers should go out to the victims' families.

Festival of Lights starts tonight

Don't forget: Knox County kicks off its annual Festival of Lights tonight at the Cove at Concord Park off Northshore Drive. Is starts at 5:45 p.m. With Knox County Commission Chairman Tony Norman flipping the light switch.

Yes, I know, da Porch previously reported that Mayor Tim “Bigfoot” Burchett was going to host, but he's been under the weather for awhile and turned responsibility over to Tony. 

Check out the video from promotional sponsor WVLT Volunteer TV:

Anyhoo, county Communications Manager Michael “Big Sexy” Grider says the event will include free Papa Murphy's Pizza samples and a live musical performance. Non-perishable good donations for the Love Kitchen are appreciated.

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Death Star petition gets signatures

Thanks no doubt goes to all the loyal Porch readers who helped secure the needed 25,000 signatures necessary to get a formal response from the White House in our effort to build another Death Star.

Yes, check it out, right smack here.

Now we just need an estimated $852 quadrillion. And some more Bothan sacrificing.

AMR ends ambulance contract protest

Well, looks like the whole ambulance contract services bid thing is over.

American Medical Response declined to take its protest to the next level Wednesday afternoon when it opted not to appeal to county finance director "Casual" Chris Caldwell.

Mike Cohen, spokesman for the company, confirmed it for me in an email.

The contract, which Rural/Metro won, is good for five years with two, five-year extensions. From early discussions most people figure it will roll over each time, so Rural/Metro will be around for another 15.

In the meantime, from the brief discussions I've had with commissioners, most are glad it's over as they didn't want a repeat of the mess/headaches from 10 years ago.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finance office wins fancy award

The Knox County Finance Department won the 2012 Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the FY 2012-13 budget. (That's the current budget by the way.)

“This award is the highest form of recognition in governmental budgeting,” GFOA top dog Stephen J. Gauthier wrote in a Dec. 6 letter to Casual Chris Caldwell, county finance director. “Its attainment represents a significant achievement by your organization."

The county has won this thing for the past 17 years, according to Michael “Big Sexy” Grider, the most underpaid communications manager in the county. The official release is right smack here.

Apparently a bunch of math-heads read through the proposed spending plan and made sure it includes certain things. (I imagine it's got to balance, too.)

So, congrats, Chris.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Festival of Lights starts this Friday

Knox County kicks off its annual Festival of Lights this Friday at The Cove at Concord Park off Northshore Drive. The initial event takes place at 5:45 p.m. with Knox County Mayor Tim “Bigfoot” Burchett flipping the light switch. (No kidding.)

The “sparkle and entertaining” light show (as the county’s spin team puts it) runs through Saturday, Dec. 29 (except for Christmas Day) from 6-9 p.m. 

On Dec. 21-23, Santa (probably the mayor in disguise) will visit, and there also will be a Holiday Market with local vendors and crafters selling Christmas gifts and food.

The county notes that this event has grown during the past few years with new displays, fancy lights coordinated to music, blah, blah, bonfires, marshmallows and lots and lots of lights.

The event is free, but the county will collect a non-perishable food item for The Love Kitchen, which provides meals, clothing and food for the homebound, homeless and unemployed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Another Death Star? Vote now!

Now, everyone who reads the ol' blog knows that we have a Death Star right off Main Street where our local politicians make much of the day-to-day heavy hitting decision.

But now there's a petition to build a new one.

Yup. According to the Washington Post, a “petition posted to the White House Web site – the administration created a forum that allows people to post petitions and promises a response to those that garner more than 25,000 digital signatures – is seeking the construction of a Death Star by 2016.”

The petition, in part, says by “focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.”

You can find that bad boy right smack here. So far, it has just under 4,000 signatures, so get signing, so we can blow up some stuff.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Knox Mayor Burchett out of hospital

I'm off today, but figured I'd update the ol' blog anyhow. Just got word from county communications director Michael "Big Sexy" Grider that Mayor Tim Burchett has been released from the hospital.

I figured it would be a little longer. Glad I was wrong. I talked to Tim briefly yesterday. He got to watch his nephew and Christian Academy's quarterback Charlie High lead his team to another state championship, so he was in good spirits. He figured he would be out today or tomorrow. (I should note that he watched the game on TV.)

Now, if only UT will take a look at the kid. They might actually win a game or two next year. Course he'll probably need to get some tats and a criminal record first. Heh.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Comparing ambulance transport costs

So, Rural/Metro got the ambulance contract. Conspiracy theories start in 3. . . 2 . . . 1 . . . .


Anyhoo, I'm curious just how much these ambulance companies make off the contracts. I mean really. We report that it's more than $60 million over the life of the five-year deal, but I've heard it's as much as $50 million A YEAR!

But, the money, folks, isn't made off those trips to the ER, it's made off transports to the dialysis centers. And we got plenty of those here.

The county, though, in the bidding process, did make the three companies that bid on the contract disclose some stuff, like transport fees. Its not a lot of info, but it provides some insight into how much you or your insurance company is going to shell out.

Here's the numbers for Rural/Metro:
  • Advance Life Support Emergency Service: $755.25 base charge and $8.73 a mile
  • Advance Life Support Non-Emergency Service: $755.25 base charge and $8.73 a mile
  • Basic Life Support Emergency Service: $755.25 base charge and $8.73 a mile
  • Basic Life Support Non-Emergency Service: $326 base charge and $8.73 a mile
  • Critical Care Transport: $936.64 base charge and $8.73 a mile
American Medical Response (AMR) was runner-up in the bidding process, so here's a look at their rates (please not that the rate costs were just one of a number of things the evaluation committee studied):
  • Advance Life Support Emergency Service: $825 base charge and $12 per mile
  • Advance Life Support Non-Emergency Service: $695 base charge and $12 per mile
  • Basic Life Support Emergency Service: $575 base charge and $12 per mile
  • Basic Life Support Non-Emergency Service: $353 base charge and $12 per mile
  • Critical Care Transport: $825 base charge and $12 per mile
Third place was Falck. Here ya go:
  • Advance Life Support Emergency Service: $750 base charge and $9.95 per mile
  • Advance Life Support Non-Emergency Service: $750 base charge and $9.95 per mile
  • Basic Life Support Emergency Service: $595 base charge and $9.95 per mile
  • Basic Life Support Non-Emergency Service: $325 base charge and $9.95 per mile
  • Critical Care Transport: $750 base charge and $9.95 per mile
In addition, Falck had some ad-on fees, charging $75 for each of the following: oxygen administration, EKG, IV administration, medication administration (really?), and “treatment no transport.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Meetings set for audit department

Apparently, Joe Carcello likes the Copper Cellar. The chairman to the county's Audit Committee has scheduled three meetings at the Cumberland Avenue restaurant to talk about the bidding process for internal auditing services.

You might recall that the county is looking into whether it's cheaper to hire outside help or keep Richard Walls and his crew. (I'm here to tell you keeping this in-house is not only going to be cheaper, but more convenient, particularly with the amount of mileage county commissioners get out of the office.)

Anyhoo, the meetings are in December and open to the public. I'm betting that you have to pay for your own food. Click right smack here for the list.

Knox Mayor Burchett still in hospital

Mayor Burchett
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is still in the hospital where he's being treated for pneumonia (no, I don't believe any of the dumb a$$ conspiracy theories going around - it's pneumonia). It also doesn't look like he's going to be getting out any time soon.

I'm thinking at least another four or five days minimum. I have no inside info on this, it's just my guess from talking to people who have been treated for pneumonia.

Don't forget, back in early April, Commissioner Ed Shouse checked into Parkwest Medical Center for 16 days for the same thing. Doctors initially thought he'd be in there for five at the most. Then they moved him to ICU.

The dude has had a rough year: motorcycle accident (probably sabotage); divorce, mom passing away,  etc.

The silver lining, I suppose, is that pneumonia does go away. So, figure in another month, Burchett will be back on the Bigfoot hunting trail.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Annual Lightfest this Saturday

The Knox County Parks and Recreation Department and the Concord Marina Captains Club will host the fourth annual Lightfest for Tots, a lighted boat parade, this Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The public is obviously invited because this information comes from one of those county spin releases and the event is free. But new, unwrapped toys and cash donations will be accepted for the Toys for Tots program (that's a hint there, folks.) You can view the boat parade at the marina, 10903 S. Northshore Drive.

The event also will have bonfires and free hot drinks, hot dogs and Santa gifts for children.

UT professor to take on Campfield

The Metro Pulse in this week's edition has a piece on “early starter” Brian Stevens, a 30-year-old UT statistics professor who looks about 12. He's already campaigning for Stacey Campfield's state Senate seat, which isn't up until 2014.

Find the story right smack here.

I'm not sure what the big deal is. Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs has been running for this seat since last year. Heh.

Mayor hospitalized with pneumonia

Mayor Burchett
Knox County emperor Dean Rice is now in charge as Mayor Tim Burchett recovers from pneumonia. No really.

The mayor is in a local hospital (he asked that I not say which one). He's not sure when doctors will release him, and his staff has canceled his appointments through the end of the week.

Short story right smack here.

The dude sounds pretty bad. I talked to him briefly. He tried to joke that he put Casual Chris Caldwell in charge and then he trailed off. 

(In the meantime, Big Sexy Michael Grider has taken over Dean's office. He's kicked back with his feet on the desk as I type.)

No word on how the mayor caught pneumonia. Might have been Bigfoot hunting or metal detecting. Regardless, da Porch wishes him a speedy recovery.

Future of Norquist Pledge bleak?

Was reading the rogue's blog last night about the Norquist Pledge. He's upset that U.S. Sen Bob Corker is backpedaling on his promise. Yes, it always sucks when a politician reneges like that.

Anyhoo, the pledge – a Republican promise not to raise taxes – is going to be at the forefront of politically wonky conversations. Soooo, I figured I'd provide a few links and some info about it.

Right smack here, ABC has a great blog post about what it is and how it got started.
“The pledge began in 1986 under the aegis of president Ronald Reagan.

Grover Norquist, a Republican and former staffer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had launched Americans for Tax Reform in 1985 to advocate for tax reforms Reagan was pushing in his second term. The group was financed largely by corporate sponsors such as Kraft, the Associated Press reported at the time.

In the midterm campaign year of 1986, Norquist rolled out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge as a way to pressure candidates to support Reagan's tax agenda, and as a cudgel for Republicans to wield against Democrats on the campaign trail.”
It was so successful that the GOP lost U.S. House and Senate seats that election cycle. Heh.


Actually, that's more entertainment at the expense of others. I'll support an initiative that gets an iron clad signed-in-blood promise out of a politician. That way they can't blame the “liberal media” when they're caught lying. You know, like (former?) pot-head stoner, adulterer Rep. Scott Desjarlais.

But, I digress.

As I said earlier, Shock and Awe noted that Corker was ready to backpedal on his promise. I have a feeling there's gonna be a lot more.

Most politicians are, after all, natural born liars.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Usual suspects garner write-in votes

Clint Eastwood for president? How about God? Or Han Solo? Then again, perhaps, the cartoon character Elmer Fudd floats your boat.

Those were just a handful of the names Knox County residents took the time to write in as candidates on the Nov. 6, presidential ballot, according to the 40-page list (2,318 names) officially approved this week by county election officials.

As always, some were funny, other creative and a few too lewd, crude and rude for a family blog.
It should also go without saying that none of the write-ins won.

The biggest race on the ballot – the one for president – garnered the most: a total of 528.

On that list included: Captain America, Bill Halsam, Bill Clinton, Ham Sandwich, Mickey Mouse, Rosanne Barr (always a popular one in Knox County elections for some reason); Peyton Manning, Ted Nugent (when was the last time this guy had a hit?) and Terry Bollea (that's Hulk Hogan to you!), just to name a few.

In addition, some folks made sure Jesus was accounted for, as well as county Commissioner Richard Briggs, Willie Nelson (another local favorite) and Zombie Eisenhower!

Ron Paul, however, led the race with about 270 folks either wasting their vote, having fun or just plain making a point.

Over in the U.S. Senate race, Park Overhall took the lead with about 80 write-in votes (she still lost), but we'd be remiss if we didn't point out votes for “A Decent Person,” Buggs Bunny, Beagle Dog, Batman Villain Harvey Dent or “Yo Mama.”

News Sentinel Columnist Sam Venable, Alfred E. Newman, Luke Skywalker and Homer Simpson were tapped to represent the 2nd District U.S. House seat.

As were the Dalai Lama, John Adams, Minnie Mouse, the Tazmanian Devil and Yoda for the 6th District state Senate post.

In other seats, Bob Marley, Kermit (of frog fame), Obi Wan Kenobi (Star Wars is popular these days!), Crom (that's from Conan) and Cthulu also received nods.

In addition, Strawberry Shortcake, Linda Snuffy Smith and “nobody” were somebody's choice.
“Anyone else” garnered some votes in a number of races, as did Mustang Sally, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Simpson and “None of the Above.”

And, no local election would be complete, of course, without “Yellow Dog” getting a vote.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy turkey day from da Porch

Hello, hope you all have a nice Thanksgiving. I'm headed down to KARM today to cover the luncheon for the homeless. Kind of a tradition. Anyhoo, I'll be back at work tomorrow, covering the county.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Burchett opposes JWP extension plan

Add Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's name to the growing list of top leaders who oppose the James White Parkway Extension project. (Yeah, I totally ripped off the idea of this blog entry from the hippie. Click right smack here for it.)

“I spoke with the Governor's Office and expressed my concerns and they share them, too,” Burchett said. “There are three main things with it. I'm concerned about the neighborhoods, of course, and also the fact that (the project) will cost $100 million. It will also pull traffic off Chapman Highway and those people, the businesses, are dying on the vine out there. We don't want to divert anything from the local entrepreneurs.”

Plus, he said, he doesn't want the state going in and tearing up Bigfoot's home. (No, I totally made that last part up.)

The mayor did say that he'd like to see the $100 million used elsewhere in Knox County, like widening Oakridge Highway.

He added, too, that he didn't think anything would come of the project. (The state is holding a two-hour public hearing at 5 p.m. on Dec. 6 at South-Doyle Middle School.)

“I don't expect any dirt to be turned in my lifetime,” Burchett said.

In the meantime, though, the mayor said folks shouldn't get too ramped up about this, saying “it's not the time for pitchforks and torches,” but, rather, to be civil.

Eh, I like the pitchfork idea personally.

Don't tase me! Contract approved

Mostly this blog entry is an excuse to run the video at the bottom, cause I think it's funny and I don't care if you don't think it's not funny. I just don't.

Soooo, the background:
The Knox County Commission unanimously approved a resolution that lets the Sheriff's Office purchase 285 electroshock devices from Taser International for almost $300,000.

The Tasers are good for five years and by buying them now, the county saved $15,000 to $20,000, said finance officials. Regardless, though, the department needed the updated tools, since the warranties on the ones deputies currently carry are about to expire.

“Taser (International) is getting ready to phase out the old tasers and right now they are the king of the mountain, they are the sole source, so it's not like we have a choice,” said Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones. “Once they phase them out, they won't honor any type of repairs on them.”

Jones said the devises have allowed his officers to use “less than lethal force when when there were times they could have used lethal force.”

County Finance Director Chris Calwell said the county will use $110,000 from surplus revenues received in the recently closed fiscal year's budget to cover part of the costs. The rest will come from a $500,000 earmark set aside in case of a major fuel price increase.

“I don't think we'll have to dip into that because the price of fuel has gone down but we'll continue to monitor the situation,” Caldwell said.
Now, all this got me to thinking about that goofball down in Florida awhile back. You know, the “Don't tase me,” guy. Click right smack here if you have no clue what I'm talking about. Anyhoo, I youtubed the thing and found this video.

Funny stuff.

Thanksgiving tips from the county

Starting to wonder if the spin crew over at the county has all that much to do. The latest? A news release on Thanksgiving safety tips. 

OK, to be fair the tips come from the health department, which from what I understand runs a pretty tight ship and since it's the holidays we give them the benefit of the doubt just this once.

Soooo, click right smack here for two pages of common sense stuff, which basically says wash your hands well, don't mix raw meats, use separate cutting boards for meats and other foods, make sure to cook the food, blah, blah, blah.

There's also some info about fire safety and some other stuff.

You've been warned.

Campbell Station to close briefly

The county this morning said it is closing North Campbell Station Road, about one-third south of Yarnell Road, from Tuesday through Dec. 18, so construction crews can facilitate the new alignment the road and new bridge construction.

The road will be open for local access. The rest of you can take the Yarnell Road and Lovell Road detour.

There, that's my public service announcement for the day. Now back to insulting people.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Billboard ban extended. Once again

Well, the county's had a billboard moratorium in place for four years now. So, what's another two months?

Yeah, the commission yesterday decided to extend the ban through Jan. 31. Now, last week, they had agreed in theory (work session stuff) to hold a workshop on Nov. 29, extend the ban just one month and then vote on whatever it is they come up with in December.

Then Commissioner, Colonel, Doctor and overall bad a$$ Richard Briggs came back from a trip and told the dais that they'd be extending the ban two months. Yup, he told them flat up: It's a holiday period, we've spent a lot of time on it, so set it aside.Again.

So, they did.

But, get this, the board had to vote twice to do it. Yeah. First they extended it until Jan. 28. Then some commissioners realized that the board meets that day. So, they had to vote again to extend it to Jan. 31. Oh, man, entertainment at the expense of others. Heh.

By the way, the vote wasn't unanimous. The measure passed (both times) 7-3. Commission Vice Chairman Rrrrrrrrrr. Larry Smith, and commissioners Jeff Ownby and Dave Wright voted against it.

(Commission Chairman Tony Norman was out. His mother-in-law passed away, so he was at her funeral. Condolences to the family.)

So, when the board does meet in another week, they will talk about the three proposals that Briggs has touted for months now. But, they're not voting on them. Click right smack here for a prior back story about this mess.

Anyhoo, Commissioner Sam McKenzie again called out his fellow board members for stalling.

“How many more times are we going to put this thing off,” he asked them. “I still think the parties up here know what they are going to do . . . . I think we all know what we want this thing to look like in order to get (the six votes needed to win). It's not fair to both parties (to hold off any longer). The opponents or the proponents.”

He added: “And who knows what will happen in January. We're starting to get eerily close to budget season.”

In other words: Are you jokers going to postpone it again in January and blame it on the budget? (My words, not his.)

In the end, Briggs agreed that he was “tired of beating a dead horse,” but “I'm not sure what horse I'm beating,” suggesting that a compromise next week could change everything. “This is very important to our community and something that can affects us for the next 20 to 25 years.”

Provisional ballots now counted

Knox County Administrator of Elections Cliff Rodgers in an email this morning said the Central Provisional Counting Board (how exactly do you audition for this band?) has now finished counting the provisional ballots from the 2012 presidential and state general election.

Click right smack here for an updated copy of the unofficial cumulative election results for Knox County. And no, I am not going to tell you what they are. Other than the winners are still the winners. And the losers still lost.

The Election Commission will certify the results on Monday.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The 'casual' report on county coin

Chris Caldwell
Casual Chris Caldwell, the county's finance director, met today with the Knox County Commission during its monthly luncheon to talk numbers.

As you might recall, the county got about $24.2 million in extra tax revenues - it was announced in September - so everyone kind of faked surprise or outrage (depending on the elected office) and stomped their feet, and the Knox County Commission then demanded that the administration start providing quarterly reports, detailing revenue projections.

It's worth noting that the county's finance department used to give commissioners printed, detailed reports on its bank accounts. No one bothered to read these things. (I know most of mine are still collecting dust in a desk drawer.) Then, the commissioners – I think it was a few summers ago – asked that the administration put them online instead. You know, to save money on trees.

So, now we're back to where we were because no one bothered to read the online stuff, and Casual Chris now has to read it aloud to the commission.

Anyhoo, the county's sharpest dressed finance director today told the commission that the general fund is down about $3 million. He also noted that expenditures leaving the general fund are up about $1.6 million.

Yeah, not good. Heh.

In addition, though, revenues for the school system are up about $2.4 million, according to the casual one. But, expenditures are up a whopping $16.7 million.

That, however, could be a “timing thing,” Caldwell noted. In other words, this could be the time of year when school officials make purchases, etc.

Overall, Caldwell said, it's “way too early to start panicking,” adding that “at the end of December we'll get a better explanation of where we are.”

Panel to certify election results

The Knox County Election Commission will meet next Monday to tell us what we already know: Obama is still president. The meeting, which is perfunctory, starts at 4 p.m. (which means we're getting out by 5 p.m. cause no one wants to stay late on a Monday) in the Small Assembly Room of the ol' Deathstar.

The agenda looks kind of slack. As I said this is standard stuff. They commission will certify the results of the Nov. 6 election and consider appeals for rejected voter registration forms. The panel also will set aside some time for a public forum.

Big Sexy on the hunt for Bigfoot

Catching up from over the weekend. Just say this email from county communications manager of only one person, Michael “Big Sexy” Grider, that provides some numbers for Friday's Bigfoot gathering that he says deal “with potential impact.” Whew. Long sentence.

Click right smack here for the story. And yeah, from what I understand Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett really did sport a Sasquatch suit. Heh. Dude cracks me up.

Anyhoo, according to Grider “well over” 1,000 folks turned up for the Friday event. He noted that some people can't apparently read, adding that others “were still coming in as I left, despite the fact that the publicized time for the event was 5-7 p.m.”

He said people from across the states, as well as Kentucky, the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama attended. He also said “one family that flew in from a northeastern state” also attended, but I think he's either making that up or it's someone he knows.

He added that several locals were hired as part of the production crew. That's kind of cool.

Finally, Grider noted that the cast and crew will be in the area at least through the end of the weekend, which means they “will continue to stay in local hotels and eat at local restaurants.”

And, that also means they have no chance in hell of actually finding Bigfoot.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

'Coach' Dooley out: Good riddance

Well, Derek Dooley is gone.  And Screams from da Porch says: Don’t let the door hit you on you’re a$$ on the way out!

Seriously. Let us count the ways you suck-ethed. 

You are arrogant.

You were a $*#& to a reporter bud of mine who doesn’t even cover your crappy team but called you out because you also don’t know how to count or manage money.

You wore the tackiest, lamest, dumbest pants ever. In public.

You can’t coach. Although your deer-in-the-headlights look on the big screen was always amusing.

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

That said, Nick Saban couldn’t coach that batch of losers the University of Tennessee fielded this year. Or last year. Or the year before. Or . . . .

Now, maybe if they’d bother to recruit county Mayor Tim Burchett’s nephew . . .

Naw, forgot, he doesn’t have any tattoos or a criminal record.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Jones, Tramel talk shop in Taiwan

The Man with the Badge, Knox County's own jet settin', globe trottin' sheriff, Jimmy "J.J." Two-Tone Jones was in Taiwan the other day, according to the local rogue blogger, who is reporting that the sheriff's influence has now gone worldwide!

Apparently, Jones and Assistant Chief Lee Tramel were hanging with Fang-Chin-Chiu, the acting speaker of Chia-Yi City Council, and some other VIPs and law enforcement people. I think. Brian Hornback reports that the the sides talked about combating dug-related problems, including "ice."

He said no tax dollars were used to foot the bill.

There's no mention whether the two hit the links.

The above video is from a newscast Jones and Tramel appeared in while visiting. It's not in English, which makes it kind of funny.

Was that pension meeting sunshined?

The county pension board's documents committee met yesterday to talk about the new retirement plan for the Knox County Sheriff's Office. Story right smack here.

One item of note that wasn't in the article: I'm pretty sure this was not a sunshined meeting. I'm not 100 percent positive, but I certainly didn't get anything from the pension board office, nor did I see anything in the legal section.

If true, this is the same thing that happened back in 2006 when the first plan was put together: The media and the public for that matter were not informed about the committee meeting dates. Subsequently, they got no coverage and no one knew just what the heck kind of plan we were going to get. (Pension board officials said they put up a notice on a wall in the Deathstar. That wall, by the way, was down a long, narrow hallway that folks in the public – not counting county retirees and employees – rarely visit.

Anyhoo, I found out about the meeting on Tuesday while talking to Commissioner Ed Shouse. He mentioned it. I was pretty surprised. (Ed sits on the pension board and I should add that it's not his job to sunshine document committee meetings, but he does a good job of letting people know about this kind of stuff.)

I later get a copy of the letter that was sent to the five members of the document committee and a handful of others. You can find that bad boy, by clicking right smack here.

Now, if you're looking at it (you did click, right?), you'll notice that the memo actually states that Thursday's meeting is actually a rescheduled meeting from one that was supposed to happen on Tuesday. Yeah, I don't think the one on Tuesday was sunshined, either.

Further, you might also see that Thursday's meeting was set for 2 a.m. Thursday. Good thing that was a typo.

I think.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wright wants 15 on the commission

Dave Wright
He's going to get absolutely zero traction from the rest of the dais, but Knox County Commissioner Dave Wright, the sharpest dresser on the board, wants officials to change the charter “to provide for a 15 member commission elected from 15 districts.”

Yeah. Heh. That one is going to go over lie a lead balloon. (The Zeppelin reunion show from 2007 is out on DVD next week – cheap plug.)

Anyhoo, Wright, who represents East Knox County, feels that voters reduced the board's membership from 19 to 11 in reaction to Black Wednesday. He called the move “the most poorly thought out charter change that went through” (whenever that was passed by voters – I forget what year).

“The people were mad with the occupants – not with the seats themselves,” he said. “We cut the size of the commission in half, but we didn't cut the work in half.”

He's got a point actually. Plus, you got those two at-large seats, which really have to cover some territory. And then you've got more than 11 committees and members are allowed to serve as chair on only one committee. Odd.

Wright doesn't expect the issue, which commissioners are expected to talk about briefly on Monday, to go anywhere.

But, he's “bringing it up again just to make a point.”

(As a side note, I think I've written about this proposal four or five times in the past couple of years and it went nowhere.)

“No one really wants to step up to it because they think the powerful that support how you go about getting elected . . . well they want to maintain control of what commission is doing,” he said. “The charter review committee didn't want the population to look at it, and the commission doesn't want to look at it. They want it to be a 'go away' issue.”

He continued: “I want to put some people on the spot. We need a little bit of frank, open discussion for 10 or 15 minutes, and then we'll go on because nothing can happen for two years – that's the earliest it can be put on the ballot.”

Wright didn't single out any commissioners, but I asked Tony Norman about it, just because he's the board's chairman.

“It came up in the charter review process, but I think it's the sense of the commission that it is too much of a change too soon given the type of redistricting issues we face,” Norman said. “I think it will take awhile.”

To be continued.

In a few years.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Public in favor of parking fee hike?

Today's story - right smack here - about the Knox County Commission willing to postpone a parking fee increase to employees has ticked off a number of people. At least according to some of the voice mails I've received.

Anyhoo, a little background: The commission during yesterday's work session began talking about forming a committee comprised of employees to determine what the Deathstar workers should pay to park under the City County Building. Later it was rephrased to a committee comprised of "employees and citizens." That's a little better, I suppose. Cause, you know, it's not like employees are going to willingly increase their own parking rates.

I figure nothing will come of this. The commission kicked it down the road and over to the city and county administrations where it will probably remain dormant until someone reminds them about the matter next summer. Or whatever.

So, back to the ticked off people. That would be upset the residents who pay more than government employees to park. One woman told me that when she retired in 1990, she paid "$48-something" to park downtown, and she also had to walk three blocks.

"They're getting a bargain," she said. "I think it should go to $60. Those employees are on the gravy train."

Now, right or wrong, this is pretty much the outside sentiment.

I really don't see this one getting revisited. Politics and all. Best to hide.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'America Recycles Day' on Saturday

The county is hosting its annual “America Recycles Day” this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m in the West Town Mall parking lot just off Morrell Road.

According to the latest spin job issued by the county, folks can speak to “more than a dozen environmental organizations about where, how and why to recycle.” (Hippie talk, in other words.) The event also will have some free stuff, games, activities, blah, blah.

Additionally, if you want to lug your old or unwanted documents down to the parking lot, then Goodwill Industries of Knoxville will shred them “confidentially” for free. Also, representatives from the TVA Credit Union will be there to provide free info on how long you should keep all your old documents.

And, if you really want to get rid of your old pills, the Knoxville Police Department is hosting a medication collection (seriously). And there's a “recycling bin giveaway” (Oh, boy).

OK, in all seriousness, I know I make fun of the hippies, but you really should recycle and hug trees and all that.

Three apply for internal audit gig

Three firms have expressed interest in taking over Knox County's internal auditing program.

Yeah good luck. Like that contract is really gonna go anywhere.

A little catch-up here: Awhile back the audit committee and the county commission started talking about outsourcing the $251,000-a-year operation. Now, I'm not sure who internal auditor Richard Walls ticked off, but it was someone. Cause, really, no one is buying the whole “we're just testing the water and trying to see if we can save money, so we're going to bid out the office.”

Cause that's not happening. Not with the peanuts the county invests in the audit department right now. So, don't expect any changes.

However, to keep the charade going, the county did open up the “request for proposals” process on Oct. 30. Three organizations – Pugh and Company (they're also the county's outside auditors), KPMG (the county's most recent external auditor) and Blackburn, Childers and Steagall submitted proposals.

Walls' operation, which didn't have to turn over anything, also will be considered.

The county still needs to get some more information from the firms, like references and how much it will cost to staff such an operation. The county set a Dec. 7 date to get that, and officials expect to hold interviews Dec. 11.

Each firm will get 45 minutes – 20 minutes for presentations and 25 to answer questions. The meeting will be open to the public although I'm pretty sure no one from the public will attend.

The internal audit department investigates financial transaction and reports directly to the Knox County Commission.

And that's the problem. The commission is always asking the department, which has like four people, to look into stuff. And it's easy; it's not an issue. It's already paid for.

Now, what happens when the commission wants something investigated and a replacement firm comes back with a major bill? Will commissioners be so quick to investigate?