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.”