Wednesday, February 29, 2012

KNS 'leaps' for a picture. Or something

So, ah, happy leap year or whatever. Anyhoo, we got an email, asking if we wanted to participate in a "leap" photo, or something. I didn't bother, but some other KNS folks did. I recognize a few of them. Not sure about the others. Suppose they just show up to get their picture taken. Heh. And what's with that dude all the way to the left - the one with his hands on his hips? He too cool to leap? Oh well, this is just one in a series. I'm not going to post them all. I liked this one for some reason. Although there isn't much leapin' in it. (By the way, you can find the rest of them by clicking right smack here.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Campaign finances for Knox contests

Man, you'd think with the kind of coin Phil Ballard and John Whitehead are spending on advertising, that they were running for county mayor or something.

Not property assessor.

Anyhoo, candidates were required to turn in their first quarter financial documents today, so that means . . . Nothing.

Yeah, really, no one cares about this stuff.

But, I figured I'd bore you with it anyway. I've got the property assessor race and the county law director race (anyone else find it silly that we have to elect a law director?).

If you want information about the school board races, we got a school reporter for that. Or you can click right smack here and look up the candidates on your own.

The elections are March 6. I think.

Soooo, a quick glance at Ballard, the property assessing incumbent, shows that between Jan. 16 and Feb. 24 he raised almost $16,000. He also spent close to $62,000 and has $6,800 in folding paper left over. Ballard also has almost $6,000 in outstanding loans. Click here for the details.

Whitehead, his opponent, raised $25,750 during the same period and spent $38,000. He has almost $15,000 on hand going into the final week. Whitehead has no outstanding loans listed. Click here for the details.

Over in the law director's race, incumbent Joe Jarret raised $21,400 from mid-January to the middle of this month. He also spent $23,100 and has $8,100 left. In addition, Jarret has $1,500 in loans outstanding. Click here for the details.

His opponent, Richard “Bud” Armstrong, raised almost $9,100 during the same period and spent almost $23,000. Armstrong has $3,200 on hand. Click here for the details.

As always, I don't support any of the candidates. Write in my name, blah, blah. Have a good one.

Monday, February 27, 2012

DA to commish: Table Baumgartner plan

Apparently, the good attorney general isn't too keen on that resolution the County Commission unanimously approved during last week's work session.

You know, the one that asks Big Bill and some of the boys (and ladies) in the state Legislature to request from the TBI for a copy of the unreleased Judge Richard "da Creeper" Baumgartner file.

Click right smack here for the initial story I wrote about the resolution.

The commission this afternoon was set to rubber stamp this thing, but Chairman Mike Hammond said Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols asked him to hold off.

In a letter, written by Nichols to Hammond today, the DA said his office had something similar cooking and he didn't need the commission meddling in it. (Actually those are more my words than his.)

Anyhoo, you can read the letter by clicking right smack here.

Hammond said Nichols has 30 days or the commission is bringing back the resolution.

Pension board won't move; members may

As officials on the pension board wrestle over zillion dollar retirement plans, the board this morning did agree not to move its office out of the Deathstar.

As pension board Executive Director Kim Bennett said: “The move will cost easily another $30,000 to $40,000 a year.”

For about a year now, members have been in discussion about relocating the tiny office from the Deathstar’s third floor over to Landmark Plaza, at the corner of Papermill and Northshore drives. There are some advantages, like accessibility, parking, space, etc. But there are also costs.

In the end it came down to the county cutting the board a deal. I’m not going to get into it, because this stuff is already boring enough. Just know that the office is not moving. And that the spitting contest between the administration and the pension board could be over. At least on this issue. Then again . . . .

During this morning’s meeting the board also talked about a few other items that cost coin: traveling and the retiree luncheon.

So, the pension board office is staying put, but some members may be on the move as they have an opportunity to take two trips. One places them in San Diego around April 22 and the other in New York from May 5 through 10. Based on past records, the trips cost about $2,000 per person.

The California trip is the annual Wilshire convention. Wilshire is the board’s investment consultant. The New York trip is for the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems.

The reality is that the trips are probably worthwhile. From what I understand the current board members actually attend the meetings and the seminars. (This was not always the case in the past when some other folks served.) And, yes, they are allowed to play golf, but they don’t when the courses are held.

“It’s time very well spent,” said, Doctor, Colonel and County Commissioner Richard Briggs, also a pension board member.

Added pension board member, educator and County Commissioner Tony Norman: “Mike, I’m thinking about taking one of these trips so go ahead and write about it.”

OK, no problem.

The pension board also hosts its annual retiree luncheon on April 10. This is the big fling-ding where all the folks get to hang out and eat a free (for them) meal, usually catered by Rothchild. They also have the chance to snag a door prize. Last year the event cost about $9,100, but donations paid more about half of that, Bennett said, adding that about two-thirds of the costs and a small amount of door prizes are already covered for this year’s event.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A look at recent Trustee's Office raises

Over here at Screams from da Porch we like to chase down rumors, and unlike some people, we don't get it wrong. Heh.

Sooooo, got a tip that our good Trustee John Duncan III said gave a bunch of his employees raises that far exceeded the 3 percent standard that the other officials were handing out this year. I was also told that the good folks who received bigger bumps are also the same people who got those interest free loans for not completing their government-related courses.

The Trustee's Office has (at least) 45 people on payroll, according to county finance records. (Now, I know they'll say there's fewer than that, but if you make $21,675 for part-time/seasonal work then you're included on my list.)

Of those folks, 29 people got a 3 percent raise. (A few of them actually got 2.93 percent and one got a 2.85 percent, but who's counting?)

Another person nabbed a .8 percent bump. (Man, that Duncan is a bigger cheapskate than county Mayor Tim Burchett.)

Also, three people received 5.72 percent raises. Finance records indicate that they've been promoted to “bookkeepers.”

And, one fella got a 6.6 percent raise. The office told me that the guy's supervisor “strongly recommended his increase based on performance.” (And no, this wasn't the guy who supposedly took the tests for the crew that never finished those courses. Heh.)

Finally, one worker got a nice chunk of folding paper – a 15.42 percent bump. Finance records indicate that he was promoted to deputy trustee. He now makes $61K in coin. He did receive CTAS incentive pay money, but he is certified under the program.

However, no one who received more than a 3 percent raise were among the crew who also got bonus payments for the CTAS courses that were never completed.

So, there you have it. (And no, Duncan did not give himself a raise.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jarret and that pesky mediation thing

Click right smack here to read about Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret’s “mediation business.” Cause it’s Part I.

Now, on to Part II in MediationGate. Heh.

OK, good readers, the other day we discovered that I learned how to take screen shots on the computer. I know, I know, hold the applause. Anyhoo, some folks say that the county’s law director has a mediation business on the side. There’s even a web page for it (click right smack here for that bad boy).

Now, Jarret says he hasn’t conducted a mediation session since becoming employed with the county. Again, I encourage you to read one of the links above 'cause I’m not recapping.

However, one of my readers – whom I care way more about than the knuckleheads who comment over at the KNS site – sent me a screen shot from Jarret’s mediation page from a week or so back.

Here's that one:

And here’s the one I took the other day:

Now, you should note a couple of things. In the first one, Jarret says he’s the county’s chief deputy law director – not the law director. Also, in the second (and more recent) one he adds the statement: “Presently employed full-time by Knox County, precluding private mediations.”

This means, according to Jarret, that he does not run a private business. But, some folks are now curious why he now felt the need to add the additional language. I was told that he was lying to us and that we weren’t doing much to call him on it. So, I picked up the phone and called him on it.

Jarret verified that the screen shot was legit and that it was up for about two years before he recently changed it. He said:

It gets updated every year when you renew your dues, and I updated it. But I have never done a private mediation ever in the state of Tennessee. I’ve only volunteered to do public mediations and I conducted those on behalf of the Community Mediation Center on behalf of the sessions court judges. When I first came here, I did two things. I joined the East Tennessee Legal Aid and did pro bono work and I did pro bono mediation for the courts.

OK, so I asked Joe when exactly did he update it? He said about a month ago when a local mediator called and asked him to do a private mediation for free. He told him that he couldn’t. Joe gave me the guy’s name and number to verify it.

All I can do is ask. If you don’t like his answer – and I know some won’t – there’s not a whole lot I can do. But, I did take the time to ask. (And I do all this blog crap for free and mostly on my own time.)

UPDATE: A reader already pointed out that under the first screen shot, the heading is "Deputy Law Director," but the text at the bottom says "Law Director." The reader suggest Joe has been keeping this up to date the whole time.

Disclaimer: Jarret is challenged by former county Commissioner Richard “Bud” Armstrong for the law director’s seat. Both are Republicans. The Democrats were too chicken to field a candidate, so whoever wins in the March 6 primary takes the prize. As always, Screams from da Porch endorses neither of the candidates and encourages all readers to write in its author’s name as your preferred candidate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Campfield: McKenzie after a free meal

To the surprise of no one, the County Commission voted down Commissioner Sam McKenzie's proposal to begin censure proceedings against state Sen. Stacey "Mr. Wrestling II" Campfield.

You can find the original story right smack here.

Sam was pretty upset with Stacey over the comments the good senator made about AIDS and monkeys and monkey sex. (Just Google "Stacey Campfield" and "monkey sex" and you'll see what I'm talking about. Heh.)

Anyhoo, KNS report Tom Humphrey talked with Stacey today about the commission's decision to not do anything. Campfield told him that the proposal "was ludicrous from the beginning" and he was not surprised at the rejection of what he considered a "partisan game." (Stacey is a Republican and Sam is a Democrat.)

Campfield also said Sam was "somebody looking for a free meal at the Bistro." (As opposed to Stacey who has been banned from the restaurant.)

One thing of note. When Sam initially proposed his resolution, Stacey said it had to do with the whole "Don't Say Gay" bill, or don't teach it, or whatever it is. Sam denied that and said it had everything to do with the monkey sex comments.

"Stacey's accusations that I want to teach homosexuality in classrooms is a flat out lie," McKenzie said during tonight's commission work session. "I am strongly against that. I do not want that at all. I do not think that's a way to instruct our children."

Well, apparently Stacey reiterated to Tom Humphrey that Sam did, in fact, say - on the Hallerin Hill show - that it was about the bill.

Law Director's race, mediation, firings

Click right smack here to read me whining about local elections. Now. On to the show:

In the past few weeks I've received a number of emails from folks asking about county Law Director Joe Jarret’s mediation “business.” (Note that the word business is in quotes.) In fact, someone even complained to the audit committee’s tattletale line last year about it, claiming that Jarret was operating a business out of the law department.

Anyhoo, I figure this is something folks want to know about. Sooooo, click right smack here for the link that’s going around. Or look at the fancy screen shot picture I took. Yeah, I’m learning. Somewhat.

Now, I figure if you’re running a business, then you’re making some coin. Right? Not so fast. Right there on the page and in bold it says Jarret precludes private mediations. That means he’s not collecting the coin that some people figure he is. Now, that was just me figuring this on my own.

So, I asked Jarret.

Here’s his response:
Mike, I have not conducted a mediation session since becoming employed by Knox County. Prior to working for Knox County, I did pro bono mediations for our sessions court judges. I have never conducted mediation for profit in Tennessee. Last year, someone also accused me of running a mediation business out of my office along with employing the Mayor's wife as a "ghost employee." I have no idea where this is coming from. I can only assume that by representing myself as a certified mediator, people presume I have a side line. I don't.
Hmmmm. Sounds to me like he’s not running a private business. But, what do I know?

Did staff drop 30 percent under Jarret?

Ok, there’s another one going around. Figure I’ll clarify this one, too, since I was asked by another reader. Also, Jarret’s opponent, Richard “Bud” Armstrong, mentioned it to me.

During an interview I asked Bud why – when he was on the County Commission – he voted for Jarret to take over the law department.

(As you might recall Bill Lockett had resigned in disgrace after hornswaggling about $60k in folding paper from the law firm he worked for before local voters – in another moment of brilliance – decided to put him in office.)

Armstrong said he did so because "at that time the County Commission was dealing with real turmoil and Joe was the obvious pick for consistency, continuity and stability."

"We do that and look at where it ends up. We lost two chief deputies, two staff attorneys and an investigator," said Armstrong. "There's been a 30 percent turnover in the office. I'm real disappointed."

Jarret disagreed and said "Mr. Armstrong's assertion is false."

He said the office lost two chief deputies – one relocated to Texas for personal reasons a few weeks after he was hired and the other left "when it became obvious we had divergent views on how to run the office." Jarret said he hired both of them.

Staff attorney Marty McCampbell left with "a glowing recommendation" to become chief legal counsel for Lincoln Memorial University. He added that his investigator became chief investigator with the school system which included more responsibilities and better pay.

"I likewise encourage her to pursue her career goal," Jarret said. "Only an inexperienced manager would not realize that turnover is inevitable and that you never hold good people back."

Regardless, Armstrong said, the law director should focus more on running the actual department and he doesn't believe Jarret does that. He also said he would strengthen the office staff through training and would not let anyone go.

"The law director's job is to direct the staff because the law director is going to be there no more than eight years (because of term limits) and some of the staff will be there for 25 years or more," Armstrong said.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ramblings on county election coverage

Ah election time. Hate this stuff. When all the phonies come out. Things get dirtier than usual. The chickens come out, too. And that's when you'll REALLY find them. Yapping and lying on local message boards, blogs and our own lovely KNS commenter sections. (Check out all the newbies who start up accounts. Or should I say . . . . Nah. Whatever.)

Anyhoo, I suppose I should address a few things about a couple of the Knox County races before some knucklehead accuses me of favoring one candidate over the other. It will happen. Trust me. During elections, people turn into these weird creatures called voters. And voters are stupid creatures.

I'm covering two races: the property assessor's contest and the one for law director. I wrote a story today about the assessor's race – you can click right smack here for it – and tomorrow I'll have a story about the law director's race. (No link up yet. Because the story isn't online yet. Duh.) Our schools reporter will have a story on Wednesday about the board of education races.

In between, I've been running around, checking out all sorts of rumors. None so far have really amounted to much. I'm sure there will be more soon.

With that said, I can't write about everything. I wish I could, but we've only go so much space in the newspaper and apparently people also like to read about UT. Cause, you know, they're football program is doing so well. Heh. Whatever.

But, without fail, someone is going to say: What about this? Or what about that? Or, you got duped again KNS because you didn't bother to check this out. Or, you're scared of the candidate. Or, just something stupid like all of the above.

(I get it, people. We're not going to make you happy unless we completely praise your candidate and bash his/her opponent.)

Soooooo, I'll throw up (or puke) some of the things here that didn't make the paper. Or, I'll link to some other blog posts around the community that I find interesting or make me laugh. Or maybe I won't. Depends on the mood and time, I suppose.

And as far as that stuff goes about hating elections? I lied.

As always, if you vote early or vote on election day, write-in my name.

Oh yeah, almost forgot. The election is March 6.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Knox County to go after unclaimed money

Local leaders are touting a popular adage: Every little bit helps.

Or in this case, according to county finance minister John Troyer: “Every $9,000 matters.”

OK, here's the deal:

Each year the county writes a lot of checks. About $650 million worth, I suppose. But not everyone cashes the thing. So, after a year, the unclaimed money goes into a state account where it sits for another year.

Then Knox County can go after it. It's all pretty much a rubber stamp deal, but – hey – I promised ya some boring inside baseball every now and then.

This year, the county's finance department will ask the County Commission to give it permission to claim $8,810.31.

As Mayor Tim “Cheapskate” Burchett says: “I'd rather us get it than have it go to the state or federal government for them to waste.”


Last year the county got back $8,910. 31 (this was monies from fiscal year 2009); and in 2010 it got back $10,120.72.

In 2009, the county nabbed $10,155.83 and in 2008 it collected $13,108.99.

In 2007 – the last numbers I have – the county collected $18,584.24 in monies from fiscal year 2005.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Please donate to help Children's Hospital

KNS courts Reporter Jamie Satterfield is participating in the local dancing with the stars thing-a-ma-jig. You can read the story right smack here about why she was picked, etc.

Anyhoo, the event raises money for the East Tennessee Children's Hospital. Sooooo, I'm hoping you'll click right smack here and sponsor Jamie, and help the children. I believe the event is tonight. Thanks.

Please note that if you work for the county, feel free to use your P-card. Heh.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Charter review committee picks, thoughts

OK, so the Knox County Charter Review Committee, which will look into possibly amending the county’s governing documents, met for the first time tonight. I’ll have a story about it in tomorrow’s paper.

Here’s some quick thoughts.

As you may (or may not or don’t care to) know, the committee is comprised of nine commissioners (only Chairman Mike Hammond and Jeff Ownby aren’t on it), and nine of their appointees and nine picks from county Mayor Tim “Sasquatch” Burchett.

Soooo, the members had to select a chairman tonight. They chose former commissioner, former Trustee’s Office worker and current Property Assessor’s Office worker Craig Leuthold.

Here’s what happened:

Commissioner Amy Broyles nominated fellow Commissioner Sam KmcKenzie. Commissioner, Colonel, Doctor Richard Briggs – who actually appointed Leuthold to the committee – nominated Arghhh Larry Smith. Commissioner Mike Brown nominated Leuthold.

In the first round of voting, Sam and RRRRRRR Larry each nabbed six votes and Craig got nine. In the do-over, Sam got five, R. Larry got one and Craig got 15.

There were some top county leaders who were secretly hoping Sam would get the nod.

Just saying.

The committee ended up picking Ann Acuff as vice chair. Acuff recently retired from the county after serving mucho decades as the county’s deputy financial minister(ess).

Sam was selected as the committee’s secretary. Whatever that is.

Couple of other things. Commissioners initially thought they would have to sign off on any recommendations that the committee made. In other words, to get it to the ballot where the people get to make a decision, the commission would have to approve that.


Apparently, the charter – that document that could get amended – says it goes to the election commission. So, that eliminates a layer of BS.

You know, provided it doesn’t get too political on that committee.

And it will. I feel sorry for some of the newcomers. They have no clue. Heh.

Now, in the meantime, a few folks have commented on the so-called oddity of some of the mayor’s picks. You see, a few of the people he selected don’t always see eye-to-eye with him. Don’t kid yourself. He’s got the support he needs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recent cash mob hits MSNBC, Facebook

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's cash mob has garnered a little bit of national attention. MSNBC picked up the story. You can find that by clicking right smack here.

Also, note, however, that it appears the county didn't oblige by the suggested rules of the cash-mob society, or whatever.

Rule No. 8 states: The business (in the case Emery's 5 & 10 on Chapman Highway) must be within one block of a locally-owned watering hole.

Rule No. 9 states: Cash Mobbers must join us for celebratory drinks after the successful mob.

(Starting to wonder if soccer hooligans came up with this whole cash mob thing.)

Anyhoo, the local cash mob Facebook page has also garnered a little bit of activity after Burchett revealed that his chief of staff, Potentate Rice, thought the event was a bad idea.

Course, as one commenter said: Rice rarely agrees with anything on MSNCB


Monday, February 13, 2012

Cash mob brings out hundreds of buyers

Apparently that cash-mob thing county Mayor Tim Buchett concocted over late night television not too long ago turned out to be quite the success.

According to Big “Michael Grider” Sexy, somewhere between 700 and 800 people participated in the event Friday at Emery's 5 & 10 on Chapman Highway, and the store reported more than 520 sales that day and evening. On Saturday, sales were around 120.

BS says there will be more of these events and “details will be released in the next few weeks.”

Well, what did you really expect?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

HR's Fogerson reflects on past decade

L to R: Debbie Dew, Lisa Jarrell, Frances Fogerson, Pat Carson, Glenda Irwin, Diana Sweet, and Anthony Smith. Back: Brian Barnard

Here's an interview I conducted with Knox County Human Resources Director Frances Fogerson, who retires on Friday. She's worked for the county 12 years, spending almost a decade as a department head.

Deputy Veteran Services Officer Colonel Richard Julian will take over.

In the following interview, Fogerson looks back on her time with the county, touching on her best hire, worst hire and the nickname she doesn’t recall getting.

(On a side note, I wish her well.)

What was the most difficult firing you had to be a part of?
Firings that involve a threat of violence always got my attention. You just have to be really cautious in those cases. Several times I was definitely glad we had law enforcement close at hand.

The really difficult task is to tell someone about a layoff. In that case, the employee is usually a skilled person doing the job we hired them to do. I go into that meeting with three goals – brevity, respect and information. I speak softly and really try to emphasize that it was the circumstance and not their performance. Then, I make sure they know about their options in terms of insurance, retirement, unemployment claims, etc. And, of course, I always offer to serve as a reference when they’re looking for a new job.

What was the most unusual firing?
I once fired an intern who just couldn’t seem to be successful at several placements we tried. When I asked him what he had expected when he took a job with the county, he said he thought it would be champagne receptions and brunch with the mayor. Clearly, we were a disappointment for him.

Did you ever face political pressure?
I’m about the most non-political person you could meet. I don’t participate in any political activities and I cross party lines constantly when voting. Really, no mayor ever put any political pressure on me. I tried to keep my advice absolutely professional and I just didn’t participate in the political component.

How has the office changed over the years?
Every mayor has been different and had different styles. You just have to understand that when the administration changes, everything else will, too.

Thoughts on a civil service system.
There was an effort in 2008 to consider civil service for the county, but it didn’t succeed. Civil service is an employment system that predates professional human resources.

I like the merit-based hiring aspect of it, but I don’t like the slowness of filling vacancies or the almost ‘ownership’ status that employees have with their jobs. I definitely prefer a professional HR system. I’m not even sure if there’s a county in Tennessee that uses a civil service, especially one that doesn’t include law enforcement or fire services.

What’s the best part of the job?
Hand down, it’s doing letters and forms to help an employee with an adoption. It only happens about once a year, but I get real pleasure from playing a small role in the process. And, I always want to see the baby!

Worst part of the job.
My ‘Summer of Hell.’ That’s what I call the time in 2007 when we were trying to get a contract with a medical insurance provider. We read through boxes of notebooks to evaluate the companies that bid and then the County Commission wouldn’t approve the contract with the winner. We expanded the evaluation group and did the process three times, each with the same winner, before the commission finally accepted the results. My office was absolutely filled with notebooks and I read each one, taking them home on nights, weekends and holidays. It was the most frustrating task I’ve ever had to do.

Didn’t you get a few nicknames over the years (like ‘The Terminator’)?
You’re the only person who has ever suggested a nickname. I know the one you mean, but I never heard it personally. Really, I’m just an ordinary person who learned all I could about my job and then tried to do that job with fairness and consistency.

Was there a hire you regret making?
Yes. One official asked me to find a job for the relative of an acquaintance. I interviewed the person to determine her experience and skills, and then tried to find a position for which she was both qualified and could be successful. I wasn’t having much luck when a director jumped in and hired the woman. It was a poor fit and caused a lot of turmoil within that department. It simply didn’t last long.

What was your best hire?
I interviewed (current senior director of finance) John Troyer, although I didn’t make the hiring decision. I think that turned out pretty well.

What do potential employees see as attractive reasons to work for Knox County and what do they see as turnoffs?
I think our benefits are superb. We have a decent amount of vacation and holidays, and the insurance is excellent. Our retirement plan — not a pension plan — is very responsible and requires everyone to contribute 6 percent with a matching 6 percent added. It teaches you to save for retirement and that’s a very good thing.

On the downside, there’s variability among offices. Elected officials don’t share the same policies and employees don’t always have the same support. One thing I don’t like is the lack of an appeal system in many offices. I really wish that all Knox County offices would share the same policies, but state law permits them to each have their own.