Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mayor: Superintendent should tout plan

Met with mayor Tim Buchett and the county's soon-to-be new finance director, Burton Webb, (as well as Big John Troyer, Casual Chris Caldwell and Big Sexy Grider) today to talk about a few things.

Part of that conversation was about the budget. Obviously the mayor and schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre have talked about the schools' whopping $47 million in coin request for next year. (Remember $35 of it is new, new money and the rest is natural growth.)

Apparently, McIntyre – according to Burchett – wanted the mayor to sell this plan to the public.

“Jim said if you vote for this you can win the next election,” the mayor said.

Burchett's response?

“I said: 'Look, I'll let you make your case for it,' and that's what I'm doing right now.”

Burchett said he'll present the budget to the County Commission in early May. He suggested that he would take care of “the $7 million shortfall we knew we would have,” referring to the folding paper that the federal government will no longer give the county.

He said that he told the superintendent not to rely too much on the Knoxville Chamber and concentrate more on counting heads and collecting votes. (I assume he was referring to the 11-member commission.)

“I've taken into consideration everything he wants but I'm not going to raise taxes,” Burchett said. “I told McIntyre that I'm going to let him make that case (to the public) but I'm not sure he made the case to me?

Uh, what case exactly?

“That money will be well invested, that the money invested will raise test scores,” Burchett said.

So, essentially, the mayor is saying that the superintendent will have until early May to convince him to add the extra scratch in the budget. Which isn't happening. Then, it's out of Buchett's hands. The mayor added that he doesn't expect the public nor the commission to support the plan.

He also said he was concerned that even if the commission agreed to increase taxes by 35 cents that other officeholders “would want a piece of the pie” and the 35 cents would turn into “50 plus cents.”

I asked Burchett a number of times and in a number of different ways whether any portion of McIntyre's request would be funded – even without a tax increase – and his answers were always foggy. I'm going to ask the Magic Eight Ball next time.

Later, he called and said “there will be something extra in there, I'm sure.”

But, again, he wouldn't say how much.

Chatter review committee onto other stuff

At this point, the Sheriff's Office pension plan has received most of the attention of the Knox County Charter Review Committee, which will be henceforth known as the "Chatter" Review Committee (shout out to the rogue blogger for the assignation).

However, the unwieldy 27-member panel has voted on a couple of items - housekeeping mostly - that will more than be put on the November ballot. (The board has to vote twice and then the county law department has to review it.)

Here's a look so far at the proposed amendments to the Knox County charter that were approved on first reading last night:

Strike through shows deletions

Bold show additions

Sec. 1.02. Private and local affairs.

With regard to private and local affairs, all lawful powers are vested in the Executive of Knox County and the Commission of Knox County, except those powers reserved to the judiciary., Board of Education, and elected Charter and Constitutional Officers as defined by the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.

Sec. 2.02.I. Other powers.

I. By resolution, the Commission may appoint members to those boards and commissions the County Commission deems necessary in the furtherance of its duties and responsibilities under this Charter or as provided by state law. of the following boards and commissions: Knox County Board of Adjustments and Enforcement; Knox County Agricultural Extension Committee; Knox County Air Pollution Control Board; Knox County Ambulance Review Commission; Knox County Board of Construction Standards and Applications; Knox County Board of Equalization; Knox County Board of Health; Knox County Housing Authority; Knox County Jail Inspection Committee; Knox County Library Board of Trustees; The Public Building Authority of the County of Knox and the City of Knoxville, Tennessee; Knox County Old Records Commission; Knox County Sheriff's Department Merit System Council; and two members of Knox County Personnel Board. All such appointees shall be residents of Knox County at the time of their appointment and at all times while serving on said board or commission. The Commission shall have the authority, by resolution, to remove and discharge all such members for good cause shown.

Sec. 2.02.A. Other powers.

A. The Commission is vested with all other powers of the government of Knox County not specifically, or by necessary implication, vested in some other official of the County by the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, by this Charter or by law not inconsistent with this Charter. However, neither the Commission nor the Chairman(woman) of the Commission shall exercise any powers or perform any functions of the County Government which are vested, by the terms of this Charter, in either the Executive Branch or the Judicial Branch. in the Executive Branch, Judicial Branch, Board of Education, and elected Charter and Constitutional Officers as defined by the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.

It should probably be noted that there is no such thing as a constitutional officer in Knox County, but since it's a little detail it probably doesn't matter. I mean, you know, we ignored term limits for about a decade. Why sweat this?

Call in Pigpen to get more than Peanuts

Was reading around, looking at the school system's proposed zillion dollar budget and thinking about how painful it's gonna be to sit in on those budget meetings. Lot of showboating gonna take place on the county commission dais. Lot of arguing, too. Heh. Stated the obvious.

Anyhoo, I'm wondering if this year will be any different. Because it's going to have to be if the school people want the budget passed. The commission isn't going to listen to Superintendent Jim McIntyre. There's a few board members who just flat out don't like him. (They don't like me either, so he shouldn't feel bad.) And the school board? Heh. Quite a few on the commission just don't trust the school board.

So, if they want that plan to succeed – and really, it's highly unlikely that it will – they're going to need the teachers and principals to get out to the meetings. If I was McIntyre, I'd shake down every one of them that I could. Drag them kicking and screaming to the podium to argue my case. Do it for the children.

Heck, I'd find the poorest kid in the school system and drag him up there, too. Man, I'm talking Pigpen from the Peanuts. Dust would be swirling, kids would be crying and the violins would be a playing.

And I'd be counting my few extra million.

(Cause let's face it, they're not getting all of the $47 million McIntyre is requesting. But, there's a chance the commission could give the schools some additional coin. So long as Pigpen is there.)

UPDATE: Dan "The Man" Andrews called in to note that even if Pigpen was a member of the mayor's fraternity, the "school system isn't getting no $35 million." Point. But maybe the commission . . .

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

25 things you would love to say at work

This picture made me laugh. Figured I'd pass it around. If you do happen to use any of these lines, please share your story. Heh. I really liked the "screw up fairy" personally.

How much would tax increase really cost?

Yesterday I posted about a phone survey taken last week and whether residents were on board with raising taxes to fund the proposed school budget for the upcoming fiscal year. In addition, I encouraged folks to get in on the conversation over at the hippie's blog, which you can find right smack here.

Anyhoo, school board Vice Chairwoman Indya Kincannon responded to the entry about the Focus poll, noting that it's all in how you frame the question. She agreed that the tax increase would amount to more than 14 percent, but that the numbers might not be as high.

For example, someone who pays $900 per year in taxes would need to ante up another $137 a year to pay for Superintendent Jim McIntyre's plan. She said that's a little more than $2.60 a week.

By my math that's about a couple of sodas (and not even a six-pack of brew unless you drink that real cheap stuff, and if that's the case, you should probably quit drinking).

Anyhoo, Indya wondered what the poll results might have looked like if the questions was framed (I'm paraphrasing here): Would you be willing to pay an extra $2.60 in coin per week to support the children?

In the meantime, she put together a pretty cool property tax worksheet that shows the costs if taxes were raised. The $2.63 per week by the way applies to the median Knox County homeowner ($156,500 house).

You can find the complete table right smack here.

UPDATE: Super PR guy Mike Cohen sent me a note, saying he liked Indya's chart, but that a lot of taxes in Knox County are paid by businesses, which are valued at 40 percent, not 25 percent. He suggested it would be good to do a chart for them. Of course, my laziness is well-documented so . . . . Indya also sent me a note, saying that $2.63 is less than a gallon of milk and less than a gallon of gas, and way less than many parents contribute to their PTAs and classroom supply lists.

'We Back Pat' billboard at Deathstar

This morning, there will be a "We Back Pat" billboard over at the Deathstar on the main floor near the information desk. The good county Mayor Tim Burchett will make some brief remarks about it at 10 a.m. (I believe the billboard, which you can sign will be there until 3 p.m.)

All of this, of course, comes from a spin release provided by county spin doc Michael "Big Sexy" Grider. At some point, I figure, the city's $250,000 a year spin control public relations team will send out a similar release.

Or not.

Anyhoo, click right smack here to get more information and look at the fancy flyer regarding the event that where you can show your support for college basketball legend Pat Summitt and all families living with Alzheimer's disease.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Poll: "No" to school budget tax increase

The Knoxville Focus, which I've long erroneously called the “Fountain City” Focus (I'm issuing my correction here, unlike TV which doesn't issue any corrections – you know who you are), has a new feature thing type deal that publisher Steve Hunley is doing.

He's got one of those phone soliciting companies calling people up, to ask a weekly question. According to last week's Focus “those being polled will be registered voters and this will give folks a unique opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions.”

The paper, which you can find right smack here, says the point is “to get a genuine sampling of the prevailing opinion among those who care enough about our community to participate.”

Hunley said the poll is conducted by an independent, professional company and is not a push poll. He said he and the company craft the question and then the researchers ask a “statistically significant sample” of people near their phone until they get 500 responses. Then, the Focus will publish the results.

Hunley said the questions will be about taxes, schools, local government, etc., and that they'll come from his staff and readers.

“We want to know what the people think,” he said.

The paper posed its first question on Friday. The survey said:

The current Knox County property tax rate is $2.36 per $100 of assessed property value. Knox County School Superintendent James McIntyre has requested $35 million in new revenue for the school system. This would require an additional 35 cents or 14.83 percent increase in property taxes. Do you support this proposed tax increase?

The results? 25.95 percent of the people said “Yes” and 74.05 percent said “No.”

Again, you can find all this right smack here (just click on this week's edition). Hunley told me that he's got the results broken down by district, age, gender, etc., but he wasn't going to give me all that info. Heh. But, he said, no district favored raising taxes. He said the closest was a roughly 60-40 vote, but didn't tell me which district. I think I can guess. Probably the hippies.

By the way, there isn't technically a proposed tax increase at this point, but county Mayor Tim Burchett has said that the only way to pay for the school system's request is through one. The County Commission, ultimately, will have to make the decision.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Jarret, Armstrong meet, move forward

Georgiana Vines in her column – click right smack here – on Saturday provided some insight into incoming Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong’s plans. She noted that Bud and his former political foe and GOP primary challenger Joe Jarret were gonna meet today.

They did, according to Jarret, who will leave office at the end of August. And the meeting went pretty well.

He said the office ordered coffee and bagels and held a small reception for Bud as employees introduced themselves. Also along for the ride was local GOP Chairman Ray Jenkins, who – according to Jarret – will lead Armstrong’s transition team.

Not sure that works. I know presidents have transition teams. But law directors?????


Anyhoo, Joe said everyone “was very cordial and Bud and I both agreed that was best for everyone and for the county was to put everything behind us and have a completely seamless transition.”

He said he has an empty office that he offered to let Bud use and said he’s putting together a transition notebook for him.

“I told him I’ll share everything I can except those things privileged by law,” Jarret said.

Joe said he, Ray and Bud talked about “the challenges (i.e. charter review) that lie ahead as (Bud) takes over,” but didn’t go into many details, noting that whatever he told me would make its way onto Screams from da Porch.

That’s about it.

Bud takes office Sept. 1.

As Georgiana noted, Bud told her that David Buuck is on his list for a possible gig in the law director’s office. To my knowledge there’s only one open position and that’s for law director junior (or whatever the right-hand man or woman position is called). Joe never filled the job, opting to do all of it himself. That’s not to say Buuck will get it. Bud could promote someone and then fill that position.

Ray has said publicly that he has no plans to join the department.

Oh wait, one more thing. You might have noticed that Georgiana reported that Bud would have people representing him or whatever at the charter review committee meetings. He wouldn’t, however, tell her who they were.

That’s strange. But whatever. It’s not like you can’t look around the room and figure it out.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ballard for district attorney? What the . . .

So, I was in the Atlanta area (a little south actually) for part of the weekend. And I saw this refrigerator magnet. Actually, I'd seen it before, years ago, I think, but I took a picture of it this time. Thought it funny. Figured I'd share it. Heh.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Commission to discuss Midway PILOT

First, my boy Josh Flory over at the Property Scope has the latest on the Midway court slugfest. Click right smack here for it. And, speaking of which . . . the County Commission on Monday will talk more about a proposed tax incentive for a potential Midway Road area employee.

The plan is to give KaTom Restaurant Supply Inc. a four-year payment in lieu of tax, or PILOT, to set up shop in the area. Obviously, the folks out in East Knox County don't like this.

There's some thought that the proposal is just another way to set up a business park, piece by piece, and that this would be the first step. Personally, I can think of worse things to go there than a restaurant supply business, but that's easy to say because it's not in my backyard. Heh.

Anyhoo, it looks like some commissioners will push for the PILOT, but not limit it to just the Midway area. They feel that if KaTom is serious about relocating from Russellville to Knox County then it will look at other spots, too, if given the PILOT.

I don't know. I think the interest is more about that Midway property than it is about Knox County. It's close enough to recruit, but also a short commute for the current employees who don't live in the county.

In the meantime, this is just a small battle. If approved, the county commission still has to rezone the property. That won't have the political ease of a PILOT.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Audit email war Day II: Jarret returns

(Note from Mike: No idea why the font is so small and funky. Blogger sucks sometimes.)

Frank Cagle has a good read about county law director stuff right smack here. And speaking of law director stuff: You remember the email correspondence the other day between the builder, the auditor and the rogue? Click right smack here for the original blog entry and right smack here for all sorts of electronic goodness and read further.

If you don't want to click, then the short of it is that local developer Sandy Loy wanted the county's internal auditor, Richard Walls, to turn over some information (I think it was his notes) that he put together when he was investigating the PBA's handling of the Hardin Valley Academy project.

Walls refused, citing some state law stuff. Brian Hornback then sent Law Director Joe Jarret a note, asking whether Walls could turn down Loy. Jarret pretty much said that the information Loy wanted was public record.

Loy, then asked for it again. Now, however, Joe says that's not the case.

In an email to Sandy this morning, Joe said:

I misread Mr. Hornback's email. While the completed audit is a public record, the TN code does render confidential, audit working papers. I believe the purpose behind the legislation was to project (I think he means “protect”) innocent parties should the auditor's initial mental impression prove incorrect.

Now, before you get all crazy and say: “Jarret flipped flopped again,” Joe sent me a follow up email that reads:

This wasn't a "he changed his mind again" issue, I was cooling my heels at the hospital (where he is with his mother right now) and misread the email.

Now, this isn't a blog entry if I don't have a Sandy Loy follow-up to Jarret's initial email. Take it away, Sandy:


Thanks for your reply. I am constantly amazed at how complicated keeping the rules straight is in local government.

Private business people such as myself just don't understand how the same tasks we perform every day, place in the hands of government becomes so complicated and difficult.

Given the obvious, that there are enough laws and rules now passed to allow even the most inefficient and duplicitous of management schemes to be declared OK because it is “LEGAL” … I am going to get back to the work which I do understand.

At the audit committee meeting last week there were 28 people in the room at one time, of which 26 were being paid to be there by my taxes. I have to get back to work; so I can pay the 15 different types of taxes currently “LEGAL” to support those 26 people who obviously think I have no right to know they spend the money they collect 15 different ways from me and every other business in Knox County.

Just a “sidebar” … if I “accidentally” short one of those tax payments by even $6 do you think they will just forget about it as “insignificant”?

What an indictment of our county government.

Sandy Loy

On a side note, I was at the meeting and so, too, was Hornback. (He blogged about it right smack here and right smack here.)

OK, finally, Joe responds back to Sandy:

Sir, it is certainly understandable. The TN Legislature of late seems to be expanding rather than contracting the list of documents deemed confidential. This is one of the reasons why my attorneys must be constant students of the despite our respective experience levels.

Now, there is an inside baseball jab there right out of Screams from da Porch.

Pension costs to jump, Lobetti retires

Never understood why most of the local media ignores the pension board meetings. Probably don't understand it. Or maybe they can't get a pretty picture to go with it. Or something. This is good stuff. Seriously.

The pension board meets Monday morning. There's a couple items of interest. The board will talk about the county's expected levels of contributions this year for the three pension plans (two of which are closed).

Back in late January, I wrote a story about the expected increases. Click right smack here for that bad boy.

Here are some more solid figures:

  • In the current year, the county contributed $4.1 million to cover the Uniformed Officer's Pension Plan, or UOPP. This doesn't count costs toward paying off bonds. In the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1,, it's expected to be $4.6 million.
  • The county this year contributed $1.5 million to a closed defined benefit plan for general employees (it closed in the early 1990s when they went on the asset accumulation plan, which is like a 401(k)). For this upcoming year, the board is asking the county to ante up almost $2.4 million.
  • The county this year also chipped in a little more than $1 million for the “Old School” plan (this doesn't count bond payments, too). The board is asking for almost $1.2 million for the upcoming year.

Altogether, we're talking about an increase of $1.6 million.

In the meantime, a couple of folks in the Sheriff's Office are retiring effective April 1 (although I think they've already left).

First up is Dorothy Pinkston, the wife of former hellraisin' county Commissioner Paul Pinkston, the sharpest dresser on the commission and at one point an arch enemy of a certain former mayor. Dorothy worked for the county for more than 22 years. And no, she is not on the Sheriff's Office pension plan.

Next is Mose Lobetti, local political super spy, card player (or so the rumors go) and bailiff (when he's not a super spy). He is on the pension plan and worked for the county for more than 30 years. Actually, more like 3,000 years. Heh.

The board will talk about some other stuff, too, including its annual luncheon for county retirees and the charter review committee.

Knoxville gets Medal of Honor convention

In response to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society picking Knoxville to host the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention, county Mayor Tim Burchett, who father fought in World War II, released the following statement:

Yeah, you have to click right smack here if you want to read it.

For more on the Congressional Medial of Honor Society, click right smack here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Norman seeks school central office costs

Knox County Commissioner Tony Norman in a letter to the School Board Lord, has officially asked Superintendent Jim McIntyre for a bit of information that some county officials have long been interested in: Just how much coin does that central office cost?

He wants it spelled out. In numbers. Clear numbers. He's very specific. And he's got a ton of support on the County Commission. I know that some members in the past have told me that they've asked school officials the same question and typically received vague, fuzzy answers. Nice.

That's not going to happen this year. There's too many questions about whether the office is top heavy or not. And it's gonna get answered if the superintendent wants to see any of that additional $47 million in funding for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts in early July, that he and the school board have requested.

Some commissioners aren't too thrilled with the school board. Obviously, the Tim Burchett administration isn't a big fan right now. Whether right or wrong, the school board opted not to outsource custodial services, which would have saved a ton in folding paper, and something else that I can't remember. But there was something the board didn't do that could have saved money. Anyhoo, that didn't go over to well with some of the folks controlling the purse strings.

And I'm rambling.

So click right smack here for Norman's note to McIntyre.

Email battle over audit, open records

Local developer Sandy Loy has taken the PBA out of his sights. Sort of. For now.

Instead, he's focused on the county's internal auditor Richard Walls.

A quick rehash before we get to the fun stuff: Loy has long been concerned with the Public Building Authority's handling of the Hardin Valley Academy project. After years of complaining, the County Commission and the Audit Committee asked Walls to conduct an audit of the project. He did. And he didn't find much. Here's a short story about it right smack here.

Afterward, Sandy took the audit and marked it all up. You can find that right smack here.

Needless to say he wasn't happy. So, he asked Richard for more information, which Richard refused. Then he reached out to two commissioners who sit on the audit committee (Amy Broyles and Dave Wright) and also Commission Jeff Ownby. It doesn't appear that they responded.

Then the Rogue Blogger got involved. Then county Law Director Joe Jarret. Then Sandy again. Then Richard.

Then someone in the office sent an email to the staff, letting us know there's some free food in the break room.

But, essentially, Walls says the records aren't open. Jarret tells Hornback that they are. Sandy wants them. Walls won't give them up.

And I'm kicked back, eating some of the free food.

So, here's all the email correspondence.


Enjoy. Good stuff.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

County to exert power over state?

Was going back over yesterday's County Commission work session agenda. Saw three items in a row that made me chuckle. Item No. 22-24 as follows:
  • Resolution that would direct the commission chairman to send a letter to Big Bill in the Gov's Office and the county's Legislative delegation requesting that they direct the TBI to release the entire (former) Judge Richard “The Creeper” Baumgartner files.
  • Resolution requesting that the commission chairman send a letter to the county's Legislative delegation requesting that the members support legislation making the sale of synthetic weed and designer stimulants a felony per some state code.
  • Resolution requesting and “encouraging appropriate officials” at TVA to reconsider its existing policies regarding the clear cutting removal of trees, vegetation, whatever.
I mention these because every now and then a controversial issue crosses the paths of county, state, federal, space martians, whatever officials and no side wants to take the reins. It's always: “Oh, they shouldn't play in our sandbox” or “I don't think we should get involved in county business.” Or whatever.
(More recently, for example, the state comptroller's office chickened out when county Mayor Tim Burchett asked it to audit the KTSC. Didn't want to interfere, the chickens said.)
Anyhoo, what I'm getting at here, is that we got three resolutions that can be broken down as follows:
  • The county wants to tell the governor about what he should do with da Creeper.
  • The county wants to tell the state legislature about what to do with drugs.
  • The county wants to tell the TVA about what to do with trees.
The commission ended up withdrawing the Creeper proposal (I'm talking about the judge, not the weed). But, it approved to its full voting board/meeting/whatever the drugs and trees resolutions. They'll talk further about the issues next Monday.
In the meantime, I'm thinking that now is a good chance for the county to weigh in on Afghanistan.

Weigh in on 2013 school spending plan

There's a pretty good discussion about Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre's proposed budget going on over at the hippie's blog. Click right smack here for the goodness and some links.

As you might recall, Lord McIntyre is asking county Mayor Tim Burchett to give him roughly $3 trillion in folding paper over the next five years. (Actually, it's a lot less than that, but anything over “natural growth” is too much for Mayor Cheapskate. So it doesn't really matter.)

The proposal, I assume, has been turned over to Burchett by now, and he'll incorporate it into whatever he gives to the County Commission for final approval. At this point, the mayor is being pretty quiet about where he's willing to compromise, but he's made it pretty clear that he's not going to raise taxes to fund the school superintendent's request.

Anyhoo, check out the debate and weigh in. Also note that school board Vice Chairwoman Indya Kincannon is commenting over there, which is pretty cool, because it's not often that public officials do this. I mean, sure, they talk a big game about reaching out to/engaging the community, blah, blah, whatever, but it's really not that common.

Hurley and pet alien in dog house

In what is clearly and thankfully not a case of a pet owner looking like her pet, state. Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, and her butt-ugly dog were booted from the Roane County Courthouse.

WATE, Knoxville's version of the National Enquirer, has the story right smack here.
According to the report, Hurley, who has a propensity for carving her initials into desks, said she didn't know dogs weren't allowed in the courthouse. Whaaaaat????
Er, well, I guess she just explained her need for owning a service dog. Heh.
I can't do this absurdity justice. Just read the story. Freakin' hilarious.
Seriously, if you don't you'll miss out on this gem:
Hurley says the dog was already registered as a service dog when she adopted it, and it serves as a companion.
"That's why I got her was to be my companion. I mean if I wanted to take her, if I put on her little service sweater and took her to the hospital for cancer patients, then she would be a service dog, but she's my dog. She's my companion," Rep. Hurley explained.
Ha ha ha. Oh, man. If that dog really is a service dog, I hope it's a service dog for the seeing impaired folks (re: blind people), so they don't have to look at it.

(Yeah, I know, I'm not going to heaven when I leave this rock.)

* Dog photo taken from WATE website; Hurley photo taken from state website

Monday, March 19, 2012

GOP's Jenkins says Jarret can't un-resign

Earlier today, I posted this beauty about Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret and his response to county commissioners about why he can resign and then un-resign.

Now, however, local GOP Chairman Ray Jenkins says that might not be the case. Jenkins in a letter to county Mayor Tim Burchett and commission Chairman Mike Hammond, which includes some case law, which you can find right smack here, says once revocation by a public official is tendered then it is irrevocable. Or something along those lines.

He says Jarret's initial resignation letter was “absolute and unconditional.” Again, you can find all this right smack here.

And again, here's the entry from earlier today right smack here.

With all that said, I think the commission will do what it wants. I'd be surprised if someone takes this to court over a five month interim appointment.

Then again, no, I wouldn't be surprised.

Law director explains resignation process

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret this morning sent a letter to county commissioners. And no, he hasn't flipped-flopped and opted to un-unresign. Heh.

In the note, which you can find right smack here, Jarret simply clarifies a few questions. Some folks apparently were wondering about the process of stepping down and whether he could announce his resignation and then take it back after commissioners began collecting resumes to fill the job on an interim basis.

Jarret says he can.

He also said he got in touch with interim candidate and former Law Director Richard Beeler to let him know. According to Jarret, Beeler was on board.

Jarret said he didn't get in touch with the other candidate, David Buuck. But, he said, the commission couldn't have appointed him anyway, since he's a Blount County resident and the law requires those who fill elected offices to be “a qualified voter of the county,” Jarret noted.

The county commission was supposed to interview the two candidates during today's work session. That doesn't appear to be the case now, although I'm sure they'll have a few questions for Jarret.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Joe Jarret says he'll stay as law director

Ah, that sneaky Joe Jarret. Last night he sends me a text at 6:04, saying his last day would be March 30. There had been some rumors going on earlier in the day that he would rescind his initial proposal to step down, so I asked him about them. But, this morning, Jarret said, he talked with some more people and his wife and opted to stay. Here's the story:

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret on Saturday morning withdrew his letter of resignation and said he’ll continue to serve through the rest of term which ends in late August, according to an email he sent to county commissioners.

Jarret submitted his submitted his resignation effective for March 31 a few days after losing to Richard “Bud” Armstrong in the March 6 GOP primary. He said he wanted to give Armstrong, who faces no opposition in the August election, a chance to come in early as the interim director and walk the charter review committee through the process.

Armstrong, though, declined.

In the meantime, the County Commission began taking resumes to fill the position. Local attorney David Buuck, former attorney for the town of Louisville, and former Law Director Richard Beeler applied. The county commission on Monday was supposed to interview them.

Now, however, members aren’t so sure.

For example, commissioner Vice Chairman Brad Anders said members may decide to just ignore Jarret’s original resignation letter and let hi stay.

“I think it will be a better transition to have Joe stay until September and have Bud ease into the job,” he said “That way we have consistency and don’t have to appoint someone to a five or sixth month term.”

In the next few months, the person in charge will have to represent the Charter Review Committee, which will meet through the summer, look over the county's governing documents and decide whether voters in November should make changes to them.

In his email to commissioners, Jarret said he first proposed stepping down to give Armstrong the chance to “become involved with the Charter Review Committee during its formative stages. But because Armstrong declined and “coupled with the fact that most elected officials and a large number of citizens have asked me to serve until Aug. 31” Jarret said he would stay.

He said during Monday’s work session, though, he would like permission to retain outside legal counsel to help advise the review committee on “those issues that raise any potential conflicts of interest, thereby de-politicizing the process.”

He also said he would encourage Armstrong to spend time in the office during the next few months “thereby ensuring a seamless transition come September, 2012.”

Jarret told the News Sentinel on Saturday that during the past weeks "citizens and elected officials told me that they wanted my expertise and asked whether I would continue to serve." He said he reached the decision Saturday morning and then sent the email to commissioners.

"I only had a single reason (to leave) and that reason is gone," he said.

The job pays $156,800 a year and oversees a budget of $1.7 million and 15 employees, including seven other attorneys.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The two Tims talk. But about what?

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and former long-time sheriff, Tim Hutchison, were spotted at Wright's Cafeteria Thursday during lunch time. What they talked about, however, appears to be a mystery, but the story goes that Burchett actually called Hutch.


When asked whether Hutch, who lost to Burchett in the GOP primary in 2010 for the mayor's post, talked about a potential run at the newly-created 89th District in the Tennessee State House, the mayor declined to comment.

Actually, when I asked him about anything, he declined to comment, which isn't typical of the mayor.

Course that might have had something to do with the Metal Shed on the Hill's editorial about former Law Director Richard Beeler. (And no, I'm not on the editorial board.)

Regardless, we'll know soon. The qualifying deadline is April 5.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beeler to apply for interim law director job

Been a lot of rumors going around about who will replace Joe Jarret as law director before his former opponent Bud Armstrong takes over.

I'm thinking it's probably going to be Richard Beeler, the law director from 1990 through 2000 and the pension board's litigation attorney. He told me today that he would apply.

Personally, I can't think of too many more people qualified at this point in time. He knows the job, he can step in and run the office. And he can help oversee/represent the charter review committee. Heck, he helped write the charter back in 1987. (Plus, the guy skydives, which is kind of cool.)

Anyhoo, he'll be submitting his resume tomorrow morning. I don't think a lot of people are going to apply for the gig.

But, that's just my guess.

UPDATE: Just saw that the rogue blogger says David Buuck will also apply. Click right smack here for his thoughts. As I recall, Buuck applied for the spot back when the county commission appointed Jarret. He also practices government law.

Five gone from property assessor's office

OK, by now you've probably heard that Knox County Property Assessor Phil Ballard has begun cleaning house. So to speak.

As of this entry, he's canned five people. On paper, however, three have been laid off, one resigned and one retired.

I'm not going to print their names. Think if would be kind of mean, actually, which is kind of funny, since I call the City County Building the “Deathstar,” and a lot of mean people work there, as well as some nice people, and at this point I'm rambling.

Anyhoo, here's the deal on them. (All were appraisers by the way.)
  • Male, hired 12-1-89, earned $43,500. Laid off.
  • Female, hired 1-8-2003, earned $29,300. Laid off.
  • Male, hired 11-2-09, earned $28,300. Laid off.
  • Male, hired 12-17-84, earned $27,700. Retired.
  • Female, hired 7-1-94, earned $35,300. Resigned.
Ballard essentially said he let them go because they resisted working with the new office stuff.

I'm sure there are quite a few people who aren't buying that.

And, then somewhere in the middle . . . .

PBA fight: First Loy, then Walls, now Loy

First local builder Sandy Loy fires a shot. Then county internal auditor Richard Walls. Now, Loy is back. Heh. This thing is like a tennis match. A Rocky movie. A . . . whatever. Good stuff.

Anyhoo, I'm talking about the recent audit of the Public Building Authority's handling of the Hardin Valley Academy project. Walls, as reported right smack here, didn't find much. And that's not going over too well with Sandy.

Here's a blog post of some back and forth right smack here. (You might want to read it 'cause I'm about to publish Sandy's response.)

So, without further ado, Sandy fires back:

Sorry to hear about your loss.

I must respond to a couple of the items in your reply.

1. First, the “reissued report” were words out of Carcello’s mouth not mine. He said he got an initial report and didn’t read it because he knew another version was coming. You yourself said, “There was a lot of give and take with PBA during the audit”. Sounds like a negotiation to me. What was removed from the initial report? I am requesting to see that initial report under the Tennessee Open Records Request act.

2. You admitted during the meeting yesterday that you did not reconcile the workers compensation rates charged against the workers comp audit which every general contractor has done every year by their insurance carrier as a matter of standard procedures. The 9% rate was initially explained as high rates for carpenters, then Merit admitted they did not hire any carpenters, but PBA still paid them on a rate based upon carpenters being hired by Merit directly. That makes no sense. Yet you say the costs were “verifiable”?

3. When no payroll records were available to verify the hourly rate of $69/hr for the project manager, you accepted a letter from the CM charging the rate as certification of that payroll cost as accurate? Yet you say the costs were “verifiable”? I have never participated in an audit in which I could answer an auditor’s concern with a self written letter! That is ridiculous.

4. You didn’t even address in the report the change orders being written for 18 months after the project was finished…if you accepted an explanation for that as acceptable practices I would like to see it as well as a request under the Open Records Act!

5. You didn’t address change orders written with no back up other than “additional services”, also written 18 months after the project was completed….if you got an explanation for that which you accepted I would like to see it as a request under the Open Records Act!

6. You found $600 in mark-up charged by the Architect which was not contractually correct but you recommended they NOT try to collect it as it was insignificant? Then you say the contracts were followed?

7. I would also like to request under the TORR Act to see the confirmation by the State Comptroller of the Law Director’s opinion. I have previously shared with you an email from the State Legislative attorney; which does NOT agree with the LD’s opinion.

8. Commissioner Broyles shared her input from County Purchasing that redirection of funds over $1,000 should have been, per County Code, revisited by the funding body. Why did your audit at least question that? If the LD’s opinion satisfied you this was legal you should have included that in the report so it could be better understood by the commission.

9. I am extremely disappointed that you so clearly were manipulated with half truths involved in explanations about the processes used on HVA. You had assured me you would review the processes and then you either didn’t or you were snowed into believing the processes were ok.

10. My question to you is this: IF THE PROCESSES WERE SO ADEQUATE HOW DID THE AMOUNTS OF EVERY CONTRACT WRITTEN WITH TBD IN THE AMOUNT LINE GO UP!!! BY 24-32%???? Does that sound like good project control methods? How can an audit exclude mentioning that fundamental fact especially when I handed you the documents and all you had to do was confirm them? They were there…they were accurate….they were valid…WHAT HAPPENED?

11. Your third party assistant either didn’t understand what I said and the documents I provided or was already predisposed to the party line of this all being a personal vendetta. Either way this “audit” is a travesty and an absolute shameless performance by your department. To not even address the state statute and the effect it has on the PBA”s practices is even more shameless and irresponsible.

I am very dismayed to say the least.

Sanford C. Loy CCM, president, Construction Plus Inc.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Charter review tonight, pension on or off?

Tonight the Charter Review Committee will meet to talk about a couple of issues, including whether to take up the Sheriff's Office pension plan. As reported (naw, I'm not going to bother linking because I'm too lazy), there's some debate about whether the committee or the actual County Commission should address the issue.

Here's the background discussion:

If the committee takes it up, then voters more than likely will have a choice on whether to keep the plan or close it (only to future employees) altogether That's it. Don't kid yourself that they'll be talking about tweaks.

If the commission takes it up, then voters more than likely (if it even gets seven votes) will have a choice on whether to keep the plan or adjust it somewhat – maybe increase retirement age, or eliminate cost of living adjustments, or whatever. That's it. Don't kid yourself that they'll be talking about killing it altogether.

And that's the problem. No one – OK, maybe one or two people – actually believes either board would look at the whole picture. (Personally, I think it would be funny if each board addressed it and then put their own questions on the ballot. Couple that with the expected vote on city pensions of some sort and . . . . But I digress.)

So, obviously the Man with the Badge, Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, wants this going to the commission. That makes sense. He doesn't want to close it.

And, of course, county Mayor Tim Burchett does not want this going to the commission. That makes sense, too. He wants to close it.

Some have argued that the committee, comprised of 27 members, has other issues on its plate and that it will take too long to understand the details to the pension program. Burchett said “it can be explained in 15 minutes.” Heh. Not exactly. But, it's not going to take six months, either.

We'll see what happens in the next months or so. I'm not crossing my fingers that the committee even gets to the issue tonight – not after the last meeting when they beat themselves with minutiae for two hours.

Then again . . . .

Walls responds to Loy about HVA audit

Yesterday I posted an entry about the audit committee meeting, the probe into the Public Building Authority’s handling of the Hardin Valley Academy Project and some other stuff. In addition, I published local developer Sandy Loy’s letter to county internal auditor Richard Walls.

In the note, he expressed dismay about a number of things. You can read the whole thing right smack here.

And today's story is right smack here.

Walls this morning responded to Loy. Here’s what he had to say:

Thanks for your comments.

I apologize for the slow response. We have had a death in our family and I will be out of the office until Monday.

You may have misunderstood a few of the items we discussed today:

(1) Our report was not issued and then withdrawn. The body of our report initially issued to the audit committee remained unchanged.

(2) We included the issues you raised in our work plan and most of them were satisfactorily explained. Part of our process included an outside consultant in order to make sure an independent third party concurred with what we found.

(3) The project manager's salary was not included with the payroll that was directly charged to the project. It is accumulated in an overhead account with other items and simply then allocated to various projects based on hours worked & an allocation rate, rather than actual costs.

(4) We feel confident our audit report was fact based and included all findings we felt were relevant. At no time was any finding negotiated. If facts were presented (and verified by us) to us that satisfactorily explained the issue, there simply was not anything to report.

(5) We confirmed the Law Director's opinion with the State Comptroller's Office.
I'm sorry you feel the way you do, however, I wish you the best.

Best regards,

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jarret seeks audit of own department

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret this evening sent an email to the county's internal auditor, Richard Walls, asking him to audit the legal department.

Don't read a whole lot into this. The move is pretty much protocol for Joe. He did the same thing after he took over for Bill Lockett a few years ago.

"I kindly ask that you conduct an audit of my office . . . to ensure my (successor) is inheriting an office that is in full compliance with our auditing policies and procedures," Jarret wrote. "My last day with the county is March 31, 2012, as such, I kindly (ask) that the audit be completed by then."

The Knox County Commission later this month will pick an interim law director to serve until Bud Armstrong is sworn in Sept. 1.

PBA, HVA and more from audit committee

Sat in an audit committee meeting this morning where officials spent about two hours talking about the Public Building Authority's handling of the Hardin Valley Academy project.

Lot of stuff mentioned and it got off topic at times, but the the gist of it is that internal auditor Richard Walls and his team found no financial wrongdoings in the audit. That's not to say everything's perfect and that the County Commission won't make policy changes or whatever, but no one was stealing stuff.

On a side note, here's my good deed for the day.

During the meeting, Merit Construction Senior Vice President Steve Heatherly lamented that his business has built a gazillion schools in the area and that the county's investigation into the Hardin Valley project (Merit was the construction manager for it) has created a “dark cloud” (or maybe it was “black cloud”) over his business.

He said he wanted the audit committee do do something – maybe put something in writing – so he can show his clients that he's a good guy and there was nothing wrong on Merit's part. Oddly enough, the committee didn't really seem like they wanted to do it. (Not that they had a problem with it, but I think it caught them by surprise.)

At one point, someone said the Press was here and they could do it. I pointed out that he could just use the minutes from the meeting. But, because I'm a nice guy, I'll say it here: No one found anything wrong with Merit and no one is saying it did anything wrong.

It's now in writing.

You're welcome.

Moving on.

I think the real issue with this – if I'm understanding it correctly – is that the county had $50 million in folding paper it could play with to build the west Knoxville high school. The County Commission allocated the money or signed off on its use or whatever. That means if a certain former mayor wanted to add on to the project – like a field house, for example – then he didn't need to ask the board for approval.


And yeah, that's what apparently happened.

And right or wrong, that's policy. Whether it gets changed (probably not) remains to be seen.

Now, all of this (re: the audit) pretty much started after local builder Sandy Loy started calling out the PBA.

After the meeting Loy sent Walls (he's the internal auditor) the following:

I was a little dumbfounded today to find out during your presentation that you had originally issued an initial report and then withdrew it after the PBA reviewed it and negotiated revisions with you.

I have never seen that happen before in an audit.

You also didn’t cover several key elements I gave you such as the TBD contracts. (I wrote about this right smack here - Mike)

I also don’t understand how you can state you had no way to verify cost for labor, benefits, workers comp etc. and then turn around and say there is no material project management weaknesses?

You stated that there was a lot of give and take during the process? Since when did an audit become a negotiation? How can these findings be considered independent when you altered the results at the direction of the entity being audited?

Overall I think you guys gave them a pass which is frustrating after the hundreds of man hours and personal expense I have gone through trying to demonstrate the lack of project management controls present which is costing our county millions of dollars every year.

I do think the dialogue, which the commissioners present heard, should have clearly demonstrated that there were funds diverted to new scopes of work outside the original scope approved by the Commission for the original budget. For example, one line item in the first change order issued November 19, 2008, (several months after the school opened) was for a concession stand for $545,000 (see attachment) . New to the scope of work written in as a change order with no discussion in a public venue by any governing body. There are several other instances but this one example demonstrates the issue which must be addressed.

The County procurement code would have required that such an expenditure be brought before the Commission or School Board for approval and then bid out. At HVA it was approved, reportedly in a verbal exchange by the Mayor. That was in violation of County regulations…unless they considered it as being allowed under the PBA state statute which empowers a PBA to ignore local laws.

In either case it shouldn’t have happened the way it did. The County Law Director’s opinion that the PBA has such authority is in error in my opinion. I believe the Commission needs to ask the new Law Director to opine about this. State Statute 49-2-203(a)(3)(c) clearly says that schools built by subcontractors working for a CM must be competitively bid. There seems to be some confusion about what law take precedent.

Accordingly I believe there needs to be a Charter Amendment considered by the Charter review committee to be placed on the ballot with other Charter Amendments making it mandatory that all agencies using tax dollars for expenditures for capital improvements above $10,000 be required to follow county procurement codes.

That one sentence would cure a lot of wasteful spending.

Thank you,

Sanford C. Loy CCM

President, Construction Plus Inc.
OK, I'm out. The main story on the meeting will run in tomorrow's paper. I didn't get a lot of room, so there's not much details. (Hence, the reason for this long rambling entry.)

Again, the commission is expected to address this during next week's work session.