Thursday, January 31, 2013

County again prepares for icy weather

If you believe the weather reports, and at this point I do, then looks like it's another end-of-the-week snow job. Heh.

Anyhoo, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said in response to this evening's winter weather advisory, the highway crews will begin applying brine to county roads after rush hour - about 6 p.m. - and will continue to treat primary and secondary roads until midnight.

To report a problem with a county road, please call 865-215-5800

No word yet on whether the mayor will join the brine crew again for another round of misadventures.

Police chief to seek 40 new officers

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch
I wrote a story today about Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones' plan to ask for 20 more deputies to patrol the schools. (Click right smack here.)

Well, he's not the only one who wants more officers.

In talking to Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch yesterday, he told me that he's going to ask the city's administration to restore 40 positions.

I didn't really get into in my story, since it was mostly about school security and Rausch said he doesn't plan to put any new officers – if he gets them – in the schools.

He said in 2003 the department was authorized to hire 456 officers, but over the years the prior administration (re: Gov. Big Bill) cut a number of unfilled jobs. The chief said at the time, the department wasn't retaining the positions, so it did make some sense.

“We're at 416 now – and that's our authorized full strength, but the reality is there's a need for 456,” he told me. “But that doesn't mean we can't keep the city safe. Obviously we can.”

He said he's already mentioned the 40 positions to Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and several City Council members.

He also acknowledged that the request will cost some serious coin. My guess - based on what the county pays is that it would be at least $4 million for training, equipment and salaries/benefits in the first year and then about half that afterward.

“The reality is that it costs a lot of money,” he said. “It's a $100,000 an officer from the hiring process through training and through equipment. That's the initial cost. It goes down a little more to sustain it, but it's a lot of money.”

On a side note, I did hear a joke that if the city gets the extra officers, then instead of clocking motorists every 200 yards on I-40, they'll be clocking them at every 100 yards.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Psychiatrists versus Bartenders

Saw this somewhere. Got a kick out of it. Figured I'd share. Conversation overheard. Joke. All that.

So, ever since I was a kid, I've had a fear of someone hiding under my bed at night. I go to one of those headshrinkers and tell him:

“I've got problems. Every time I go to bed, I think there's someone under it. I'm scared. I think I'm going crazy.

The shrink: “Just put yourself in my hands or a year. Come talk to me three times a week and we should be able to get rid of those fears.

“How much do you charge,” I asked.

Shrink: “$80 per visit.

“I'll sleep on it,” I said.

Six months later, the doctor met me on the street. “Why didn't you come see me about those fears you were having?” he asked.

“Well, $80 for a visit three times a week for a year is a ton of coin! A bartender cured me for $10. I was so happy to have saved all that scratch I went about bought me a new pickup!”

“Is that so,” he said with a bit of an attitude. “And how, may I ask, did a bartender cure you?”

“He told me to cut the legs off the bed. Ain't nobody under there now!”


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

School transparency grade improves

Well, darn. It wasn't 100 percent correct. But, hey, I'll admit when I get it wrong. (Which is like never. Heh.) Anyhoo, I'd normally just update the prior post, but there's been some confusion apparently.

Sooooo, the previous posts notes that the school system got a "C-" grade for transparency but the kind folks in the communications department argued otherwise.

Turns out, loathe as I am to admit it, school spin doctress Melissa Ogden is correct. The system actually got a "B-" grade in the latest evaluation, which I believe was in December. The other score was for May.

According to Kristin Decoy over at Sunshine Review, the organization that scored local and state governments, the reports were duplicated on different parts of the website. So, everything is now updated. Click right smack here and all that.

Government transparency grades out

I thought this was kind of interesting. I'm not going into a lot of detail, but you can follow the links.

The Sunshine Review, which says it's a national non-profit dedicated to state and local government transparency, just released it's “2013 Transparency Report Card” that graded every state and the largest counties, cities and school district within each state.

Anyhoo, Tennessee is ranked 24 and received a “B” overall. Find the report card right smack here.

Knox County got an “A-” which you can check out here.

Knoxville got a “B.”

And the county's school district got a“C-”, which is actually surprising considering taxpayer spend about $1 million on the system's PR/spin team. Heh.

Gee, go figure. The least expensive communications department ends up getting the best grade.

On a side note, California ranked No. 1 and Nebraska ranked No. 50.

UPDATE: School system spin department says it really received a "B-" and not a "C-". Melissa Ogden supplied a link with pretty much zero detail. You can find it right smack here. Eh, you decide. I'm moving on. I got a funny story to tell about the city's communication-less department that I need to get to.

Who really owns that county school?

Officials with the Knox County Commission and the Board of Education in the next month or so will meet to discuss which party's name gets placed on the deeds of four elementary schools.

But, at this point, it looks like there's just no way the BOE will get official ownership of at least one of them.

Here's the deal: The school board recently approved a resolution that puts the deeds to Brickey-McCloud, Amherst and Gibbs elementary schools and the yet-to-be-built “Southwest” Elementary School in its name, rather than the county's name.

Officials say – and you can find the story right smack here – that it's just in case the buildings are sold as surplus property then it will be clear that the money goes back to the school system. (There's a whole 'nother debate going on about whether a name on the deed really means jack, and that's coming.)

The resolution was then brought to the county commission, which balked. Instead, members said the newly formed education committee will more than likely take up the issue in February.

Still, at this point, it doesn't appear that the deed for Southwest Elementary School, which doesn't actually have an official name, will be transferred.

You see, the county took out Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, or QZABs, to build it. In fact the county issued $29 million worth in fiscal year 2011, according to finance records. The Southwest piece is a little over $15 million and the rest is for various other schools.

Now the problem. If the county turns the deed over, then it would violate the loan agreement (which says you can't transfer property) and risk losing the entire $29 million. That would mean heading back out to the market and issuing more bonds, possibly at a higher interest rate.

In other words, it would create a big headache.

As for the other three pieces of property. I think it's possible that the commission approves the resolution to transfer the deeds. But, I would not be surprised if a new issue comes up: Whether it really matter whose name is on them.

There is some talk that it is all “county” property, meaning any money from surplus school property – even if the deed says “Knox County Board of Education “ – goes into the county's general fund for the administration and commission to spend.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hang with the mayor at Nick & J's

The county on Friday will continue its “lunch with the mayor” series, this time at Nick & J's Cafe at the Lovell Road exit off Pellissippi Parkway. The event, as always, is Dutch treat, and the restaurant – according to its website – will serve “southern comfort food in a delightful diner setting."

The luncheons are an offshoot of the mayor's “cash mob,” a concept that encourages people to show up at a small business at the same time and shop. It appears that the luncheons will move to a once-a-month schedule and the mobs will become a quarterly event.

In the meantime, Burchett still makes fun of his chief of staff for trying to shoot down the whole (so far successful) concept when he first proposed it.

Education panel starts to take form

Knox County Commission Chairman Tony Norman appointed commissioners Dave Wright, Amy Broyles, Sam McKenzie and Mike Hammond to the long-talked about education committee, which - if it's like every other committee that isn't required under the charter - will probably meet once and that'll be about it.

In the coming weeks, School Board Chairwoman Karen Carson will pick three or four members from her board to also serve on it.
More than likely, the panel will meet in February to talk about whether the county or the school system's name should be placed on the deed to the new Southwest elementary School, Brickey-McCloud Elementary School, Amherst Elementary School and Gibbs Elementary School.

In addition, the panel is expected to address finances and where the money should go - paying off reserves or general fund or wherever - when the county sells surplus land.

Officials say the committee will let the boards work through the issues without the typical bitterness that occurs between the two.

We'll see.

UPDATE: It appears that school board members Lynne Fugate, Doug Harris and Gloria Deathridge will represent the school board on the committee.

'Casual' county coin report Part III

Chris Caldwell
And, once again Knox County's top bean counter, Casual Chris Caldwell, held court with county commissioners today during their monthly luncheon to go over the finances for the first six months of the current fiscal year.

As usual, he threw out a lot of mumbo jumbo, voodoo and whatnot, detailing where, when and why we do or do not have money. And, yes, we do have money. Got a lot of it, actually, but there's quite a few folks who would have you believe the county is flat broke.

Anyhoo, Chris noted that general fund revenues are up about 2 percent right now compared to this time last year, which translates to about $3.2 million more.

However, spending is up by about $11.1 million. The Casual One says this is because in December he ordered his minions to post “all of what we know that is going to be transferred funds,” which is something the office typically does quarterly. (Really, it makes no difference, so long as it gets done.)

“So, if you look at the percentage, then we're at 52 percent half way through the year, and you'd like to be at 50 percent, but that 2 percent is in direct correlation to the transfers,” he told commissioners, adding that this will balance out in the coming months.

Chris also noted that the sales tax coin that flows into the general fund is up by about $169,000 and hotel/motel taxes are up a whopping $684.

He said wheel taxes are down slightly, or up slightly or flat. I can't remember. Regardless, it doesn't look like it's going to have an effect this year, but it's something folks should know and study.

He opted not to discuss property tax just to save a few officials from a heart attack (his words, not mine), since collections really aren't accounted for until the end of next month. However, he said we should see some growth, although not a whole heck of a lot.

Billboard regulation gets response

Had a story today about the proposed billboard bans that the Knox County Commission will discuss later today. Essentially, Commissioner Richard Briggs, who is leading the change against the outdoor advertising industry, opted to pull two of the ordinances (ones dealing with traditional billboards and electronic messaging centers), saying folks have mostly told him that they'd like regulation rather than an all out ban.

Note that the good commissioner, doctor, warrior does not want to pull the ordinance detailing a ban on digital billboards. Naw, he hates those suckers.

Soooooo, the folks in Briggs' corner were fairly quiet over the weekend. But this morning I got their response. You can click right smack here for it.

The letter is from Margot Kline, president of the Council of West Knox County Homeowners. She says a ban will not result in lost jobs or lower tax revenues for the county, but, rather, allowing billboards or digital billboards will result in lower property values “and a lot of very unhappy taxpayers.”

Obviously she goes into further detail in the letter.

Again, the issue is supposed to be put to rest today.

Supposed to be, anyway.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

County to get $120,000 windfall

The county will get back a little more than expected under a rebate program it has with Sun Trust Bank. 

Officials initially budgeted for about $200,000 (the county got $210,045 last year) but now folks say it should receive between $318,000 and $319,000. The windfall will more than likely go toward paying off debt, if Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has anything to say about it.

Under the P-card program the county gets a percentage back – about 1 percent – from the bank.

Briggs to pull billboard ordinances

Commissioner Richard Briggs
The Knox County Commission tomorrow was set to talk about an all-out billboard ban, but now it looks like the discussion could turn into something else.

Commissioner Richard Briggs, who was leading the charge, posted the following on the commission's forum on the county website:
Fellow Commissioners:

As you know, the vote to ban conventional billboards, digital billboards, and electronic message center is on the agenda for Monday. We have listened to arguments for, arguments against, and received numerous emails from citizens throughout Knox County. Most of us agree we need to do something yet some commissioners also feel strongly a compromise of some sort is more in order than an outright ban.

I have met with several of the smaller, local billboard and EMC companies that are based in Knox County. Most are small family businesses that would be adversely affected by a total ban of all billboards and EMC’s. The message I receive is “let’s regulate, not ban”. The small company owners are not opposed to sitting down with the MPC, environmental groups, homeowner associations, and local government representatives and working on regulations that everyone can live with.

Consequently, I would like to withdraw the ordinances banning conventional billboards and electronic message centers. The ordinance pertaining to the digital billboards would be left on the agenda to ban both the conversion of conventional billboards to digital billboards and a ban on any new digital billboards. The emails we have received from many citizens make it clear that a large number of voters do not want any more digital billboards in our community. Beyond the obtrusive and esthetic objections, the digital billboards are another distraction to already dangerously distracted drivers.

I hope this proposal is the compromise many of you have been looking for. We are listening to both our local small business owners who ask that we “regulate, not ban” and to innumerable citizens who feel passionately that we already have too much outdoor advertising.

Richard Briggs
By the way, I noticed that before Briggs posted (it's had nine page views so far), the last time a commissioner put anything up at the forum was in September. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Mayor, salt crew in wreck but unhurt

Mayor's salt truck in minor wreck
Tim Burchett is no longer mobile.

The Knox County mayor and his driver were involved in a minor wreck around 10:40 this morning as the salt truck they were in hit a “solid sheet of ice” and nearly slipped off the side of the road.

“A big tree stopped us from completely rolling over or it would have been a completely different story,” Burchett said, adding that everyone is OK. 

In the meantime, he said they'll hang out for awhile and if need be, walk home.

“No one is getting up here right now – it's too dangerous,” he added. “You'd probably need a helicopter. But, we'll get out of here and we've got enough to stay warm, so everything is fine for now.”

The accident occurred on Haw Road off Tarwater in South Knoxville.

No word yet on whether they've spotted Bigfoot.

Mayor part of the road crew today

Knox County offices are closed today, but Mayor Tim Burchett and folks in the Public Works and Engineering Department are putting down salt and brine on the roads.

Yup, that's right. The big man is out there, too.

County Mayor Tim Buchett salting roads with Andrew Bivens

The mayor said he couldn't sleep last night, waking up at 2 a.m. He said what the heck and a few hours later was riding shotgun with a work crew.

It's good for morale, he said, for the top boss to hang with the rest of the folks whose work often goes unnoticed. Plus, he said, it gives him first hand knowledge about what type of equipment and clothing they might need.

“These guys are away from their families right now, working 20 hours and we don't thank them enough,” Burchett said. “When the rest of us are curled up safe in our warm homes, they're out here in this mess and soup.”

The mayor said he's been tweeting away this morning and noted that so far he's seen upside down cars, a salt truck in a ditch and “ambulances and people in a bad way.”

“If you don't need to be out today, then don't go out,” he said.

Asked so far whether he's had any close calls, Buchett said he was giving a radio interview this morning when the truck he was in “got sideways as we were going about eight miles an hour.”

“I told my guy: Dale Earnhardt doesn't have anything on you,” he said chuckling. “It was pretty treacherous. We were right there on a side of a hill with the potential to roll two or three times before we hit.”

In the meantime, Knox County Communications Manager Michael Grider might not have gotten the message that county offices are closed.

“At the office . . . crickets at the City County Building,” he tweeted this moring.

(You can follow the county mayor on Twitter at by clicking right smack here.) 

Most county offices now closed today

Knox County Communications Manager Michael "Big Sexy" Grider just sent out a release, noting that Mayor Tim Burchett has closed down all county offices under his purview due to the hazardous road conditions. Those include, but aren't limited to, libraries, health department, parks and recreation, senior centers, solid waste. (That also means the Virtual Alzheimer's Tour set for this afternoon will be rescheduled.)

In addition, the Register of Deeds and the Law Director's Office also are closed today.

And, it's a safe bet, too, that the clerk's office is closed, but I'm not positive as no announcement has been made. You should probably call if you need to go down there (865-215-2385). 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

County offices to open late Friday

photo by Saul Young
Big question of the day so far is whether schools will be closed tomorrow. I'm guessing . . . yeah, probably, but I have no inside info. It's just a guess.

In the meantime, the county just sent a out a release, noting that the office under the direction of Mayor Tim Burchett won't open until 10 a.m. Friday.

In addition, the county's IT Department has developed a weather closings/delay page. Click right smack here for it. Right now, it looks like the offices under the executive branch will use the system, as well as some other county officials. This is actually a pretty cool thing since a number of county offices are separated by leadership and don't report to the same boss, unlike the city. This time it appears that a number of them are on the same page. Literally.

No word on whether the school system will use it.

Also, click right smack here for the KNS site to also get the latest in closings.

It's probably going to be icy bad tomorrow. Stay safe and all that good stuff.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Virtual Alzheimer's tour on Friday

The Halls Senior Center on Friday will host a “virtual Alzheimer's tour,” a hand-on experience to help participants understand the physical and mental challenges facing those who suffer from the disease or other forms of dementia, according to a county release.

During the tour, which runs from 1-4 p.m., participants' vision, hearing and other sense will be distorted to stimulate the effects of the disease as they try to complete simple instructions and tasks. In addition, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will visit the facility at 2 p.m. to meet with the public.

Alzheimer's Tennessee, Inc. will conduct the tour. The Halls Senor Center is located at 4405 Crippen Road.

The tour is not recommended for those who have Alzheimer's disease, but rather designed to help caregivers, family members and friends better understand what it is like to live with the disease.

The senior center is still accepting reservations for the tour. Those interested should call 865-922-0416.

Time Warp Tea Room meetings return

Looks like Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles is bringing back the ol' “meetings between the meetings” thing. Broyles for a long time used to hold court down at the Time Warp Tea Room in North Knoxville, but hasn't in recent months, mostly for personal reasons and the holidays.

Typically, the meetings would take place in the third week of each month, after the commission work session and before the regular voting meeting.

I wrote about it right smack here.

Anyhoo, it's been awhile, but it looks like they're back, according to an item out of the commission office.

The meeting, set for Friday at 4:30 p.m., will be open to the public. As always, show up or don't bother complaining.

Archer's BBQ to open Karns restaurant

I don't normally plug restaurants, but I'm making an exception here.

Archer's BBQ is hosting a ribbon cutting tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at the new Karns location on 7650 Oak Ridge Highway.

These folks used to set up shop every other Thursday in the KNS parking lot. Good stuff. They stopped, though, after they got a permanent location on Kingston Pike.

Mayor Tim Burchett, who ate regularly with us, and commissioner Brad Anders will attend the event.

If you're in the area, you should drop by for a sandwich.

That's my good deed for the day. Hawking BBQ. Heh.

Commission to reform finance panel

Several years back when a new county mayor and “new” 11-member commission (technically Jeff Ownby was the only new commissioner) took over, officials decided to do away with the finance and intergovernmental committese and instead hold monthly work sessions.

Well, guess, what? Yup, looks like the commission is bringing back the finance committee. Apparently, the board wasn't supposed to get rid of it in the first place. (Probably should have consulted the Rules Committee about it. Heh.)

Anyhoo, the commission yesterday talked further about the proposal and was again told that state law requires the board to have some type of finance committee that meets at least quarterly to look over the school system's finances.

At this point, it appears that once reformed it will actually consist of the entire county commission and will convene and reconvene and whatever-convene during regular commission meetings. That way no one has to get up early and make it to another finance committee meeting like the old days.

Or whatever.

In the meantime, some are suggesting the move is another power grab by some commissioners to micromanage how the school system spends money.

But, commission Chairman Tony Norman denied it, though, saying he doesn't want to create anymore friction.

We'll see. Regardless of the intentions, well . . .  we'll see.

I believe the committee is going to meet next month.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Panel meets to discuss ethics makeup

A small committee comprised of Knox County commissioners and Ethics Committee members met earlier today to kick around a couple ideas about the future makeup of the Ethics Committee and just how its members get selected.

Right now, it looks like they're leaning toward recommending (to the county commission) that the committee be comprised of non-commissioners and that local, non-partisan civic groups appoint the members.

The four-member subcommittee got the idea from Nashville-Davidson's ethics committee. Apparently over there, the local league of women voters organization, a couple of attorney bar associations, a trade and labor council and some other group that no one could remember appoints the membership.

But, could that cause a problem? Who picks the civic groups that cast the final picks?

Yeah. Big Circle.

Anyhoo, at this point, it's just discussion. The members, though, did agree to narrow down some official recommendations by next month, so they can actually vote.

And at least one suggestion tossed out there is to set one-term term limits on the committee.

As you might recall, the committee upset some folks awhile back when it opted to re-appoint a few members in what appeared to be a rigged contest. At least that's what some folks said. Whatever. It certainly didn't look good.

The thought is that if the panel has a one term limit – whether it's one year or four years – members won't reappoint themselves.

In addition, some on the subcommittee felt that it would be worth keeping some commissioners on the panel, if only for their institutional knowledge but that they would hold non-voting positions.

Currently, The committee is comprised of nine members, including one county commissioner appointed by the commission, a Knox County Sheriff's Office representative appointed by the sheriff and seven residents — three selected by the commission, two by the county mayor and two by the Ethics Committee. Members serve for three years.

The committee investigates ethics complaints regarding county business and employees. State lawmakers required counties to create such a group in the wake of Tennessee Waltz scandal.

If it finds something amiss, it can refer the issue to the district attorney general for a further probe or to the county law director for a legal opinion or recommendation.

The panel will meet again next month to talk more.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Morning parade honors MLK's memory

photo by Adam Brimer
KNS photographer Adam Brimer and myself checked out the parade today honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Very nicely done.

Each year, the folks over at the Oak Ridge Environmental Alliance make larger-than-life paper-mache figures. Today's parade, which is actually the 26th annual event hosted by the MLK Commemorative Commission, featured for the first time the likeness of Sarah Moore Greene (pictured above), the long-time Knoxville civil rights leader and local educator who recently passed away.

photo by Adam Brimer
 In addition and pictured to the left, her friend of more than 60 years, Ruth Sharp Benn, who also had a distinguished career as an educator, took her place as grand marshal of the parade.

Overall, more than 150 organizations and more than 1,000 folks marched in the hour-long parade that also include recordings of King's speeches.

The event stared near Tabernacle Baptist Church and ended at Greater Warner Tabernacle AME Zion Church on the street that bears King's name. The parade was designed to honor the reverend and also show the diversity of the city.

photo by Adam Brimer
It featured a number of costumed stilt-walkers, some clowns and the aforementioned paper mache puppets, including King, Myles Horton and Rosa Parks, among others.

In addition, Smart Kids Learning Center was there. I mention them because I like this picture, the one to the right. Yes, that's some folks from the center, including student Mario Jarret, (He's the little kid.)

If you didn't make it, then check it out next year. In the meantime, right smack here, is a story about this morning's parade.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quick look at Carter school finances

Just an update on the finances for Carter Elementary. No particular reason. Just something I started putting together when I was working on a story about the sale of the Hillcrest property.

Soooo . . . .

As it stands, the county has collected $9.76 million for the Carter Elementary School project, including some $2.5 million that the school system contributed that officials initially planned to renovate – and not rebuild – the old school.

In addition, the county has another $2 million from the sale of the Solway property; $900,000 from a class action lawsuit settlement between the SEC and JP Morgan; and a $3.4 million payment from E-911 to the county for the building it uses.

The county more than a year ago, had expected another $770,000 from some property sales along Marble Alley in the downtown area, but the buyer has opted to lease the land for at least another year. The sale will still go through, officials said, but not by June when the county needs it to pay for the school's construction.

Overall, that means the county is still on the hook for $4.1 million, not counting whatever is needed for the furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E), which is another $ 2million.

 Still, Knox County Mayor Tim Buchett said he's not concerned about meeting the deadline.

“We're in good shape right now and moving along schedule,” he said.

The mayor added that “when I took office I said we were going to get out of the things that you can find in the Yellow Pages,” meaning he didn't want the county competing with private businesses, something that, in part, led to the sale of the Solway property.

“I said that I wanted to put surplus properties out for sale and get them back on the tax rolls and that's what we're doing,” he said.

The mayor also pointed out that the county is currently in discussions with Hillcrest HealthCare Communities to sell the property it currently leases for $1 year to the nursing home operators for $5.3 million.

If approved by the Knox County Commission, the money would go toward paying off Carter and make up any difference, Burchett said.

The board is expected to talk more about the potential land sales later this month.

Audit finds issues in several offices

Officials on Tuesday made public the county's “single audit report findings and recommendations” during a more than four-hour long Audit Committee meeting. It was a killer. The meeting, I mean.

Anyhoo, I wrote about some of the issues auditors touched on in the Trustee's Office right smack here. But there were some other matters, albeit much smaller, officials noted. I'll have a story on that for tomorrow, but essentially a number of fees offices and a few departments in the executive branch, like parks and recreation and probation, were called out for some minor things.

Course those minor things could lead to major issues. But at this point, they haven't. At least, according to the bean counters looking through the financial statements.

In the meantime, click right smack here for the report.

Commish sets agenda, Tuesday meeting

The Knox County Commission's monthly work session is set for Tuesday – not Monday – due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday

Click right smack here for the agenda.

Looks like there will be a number of items that could get a little bit of discussion, including matters on the Hillcrest property sale, billboards and the proposed education committee.

Then again, it could all get deferred for another month. Heh.

Meeting is set for 2 p.m. in the Death Star.

Be there or don't whine about what happens.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Some county offices to open later

Knox County offices under the executive branch, like libraries, senior centers, the health department and solid waste convenience centers, will open at 10 a.m. Friday due to the crappy weather.

Employees are encouraged to report to work only if they can do so safely. If they can't, then they're allowed to use "appropriate leave," which technically means vacation time.

To find out if county offices are open, call 865-215-2000.

Due to snow, more things closing

And a few more closing updates. Big Sexy Grider just checked in to let everyone know that the county's highway department is out right now, treating roads with salt and brine. He added that most of the trucks also are equipped with snow plows.

In addition, the Tazewell Pike Knox County Solid Waste Convenience Center is closing early; County Clerk Foster Arnett emailed in that his office closed at 3 p.m. today; and all health department locations are closed for the rest of the day.

On a side note, there were a bunch of knuckleheads on "the site" yesterday who didn't believe it would snow. But are you really surprised that those commentators were wrong? Yeah, didn't think so.

Until Grider sends in another update . . . .

Libraries closing early today, too

Students aren't the only ones taking off early today.

As the snow has begun to fall, county communications manager Michael "Big Sexy" Grider said all county library branches and senior centers are closing at 3 p.m. today.

On a side note, I was watching the knuckleheads on the news last night - the ones who ran to the grocery store to buy milk and bread. Really? Why do people buy milk and bread? WTH? If I'm going to be stuck in my house, I want something a little more tasty. Just saying.

Milk and break. Whatever.

Schools closing early, speech put off

Knox County Schools is sending students home early today because, well quite frankly, the weather and the roads suck.

In addition, officials have decided to cancel Superintendent Jim McIntyre's "state of the schools" speech planned for tonight. It will be rescheduled.

In the meantime, elementary kids will be sent home at 1:30 p.m. and middle and high schoolers will be headed home at 2:30.

County prepares for winter weather

Looks like Dwight and the boys over at the county's Engineering and Public Works Department put in some extra work, monitoring the local roads and taking some precautions due to this rainy - potentially snowy - mess.

Anyone who needs to report a road problem or hazardous road condition on a Knox County Road should call 865-215-5800.

In the meantime, click right smack here for the department's weather plan.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The billboard debate elsewhere

So, in theory the Knox County Commission this month will finally sign off on whatever it is they want to do about billboards. Ban them, keep them, regulate them, whatever.

Or, they can go ahead and postpone the discussions for another day. Been putting it off for more than four years, so what's another month? Heh.

Anyhoo, Joyce Feld, president of Scenic Knoxville, shot me over an email that says the Swedish government “has ordered the removal of digital billboards in that country.” Hmmm. Interesting. Course, we ain't Sweden.

Still, if you're into this kind of stuff, here's the report right smack here. (I would not be surprised if this gets cited by the billboard opponents during discussions this month.)

In her email, Feld also noted that a “well-regarded” 2006 study by Virginia Tech found that “anything that takes a driver's eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash.”

Well, yeah, no kidding. Hope a lot of money wasn't spent on that study. I mean, seriously. Anything that takes a driver's eyes off the road for ONE second greatly increases the risk of a crash.

Money well spent on the obvious.

Still, find that report right smack here as it, too, will probably be cited.

Overall, my guess is the commission is going to do some kind of trade off with the billboard industry in that local companies will  able to take down a billboard or five and replace it elsewhere (or even at the same location) with a digital version.

We'll see.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

White House says 'no' to Death Star

Our Death Star is better than yours.
Oh well, it looks like the White House won't be building a Death Star. That's OK, I suppose, as we already have one here anyway. Heh.

Back in December, I blogged about a petition asking that taxpayers put up some $852 quadrillion to build a moon-sized, planet-killing space station. Here and here for the posts. Anyhoo, enough folks signed the thing to get an official response from the Obama administration.

It's actually quite witty. Click right smack here.

As noted by Paul Shawcross, chief of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, building one of these suckers isn't really all that feasible.

In fact, he questions why anyone would want to spend "countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship."

Plus, he said, the administration "does not support blowing up planets." 

Heh. Good stuff.

Mayor Burchett hosts another luncheon

Buchett mingling with the crowd
Knox County Mayor Tim Buchett on Friday continued his "lunch with mayor" series, this time at Central Flats & Taps in the Happy Holler community. Here's a couple of photos (on left) from the event taken by county IT guru Jon Gustin.

Also, Georgiana Vines wrote a story about it. Find that right smack here.

She notes that the "purpose of the Dutch-treat lunch was to focus on locally-owned restaurants and attract people throughout the community who might not otherwise know about the establishments. It's similar to the 'cash mob' events at locally-owned businesses."

Some guy eating some good food
I've taken in a few of the cash mobs, and if you haven't checked one out, then you should. They're actually pretty cool, and while they're not going to turn the economy around, the businesses are sure thankful for whatever extra coin they can get.

It's too bad other county and city leaders don't host their own. If anything, it gives the public a chance to interact with them on a more personal level.

That said, there were a few local leaders who turned out for Friday's event, including a number of department heads, as well, as Knox County Commissioner Dave Wright and Ed Shouse, School Board Commissioner Indya Kincannon and Election Commission Chairman Chris Heagerty.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Resolution to target county debt

I've got a story set for Saturday that talks about a resolution co-sponsored by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knox County Commission Chairman Tony Norman.

You can find the resolution right smack here.

If approved, the county would have to to apply the proceeds from the sale of county surplus properties “to reducing the county taxpayers' debt,” which stood at $669 million when the current fiscal year began last July.

And yes, this does affect school property and - if passed - it will repeal a resolution the commission passed in April 2009 that lets the school system determine how to spend money the county gets from the sale of surplus school property. You can find that bad boy right smack here.

Not counting interest (which would put us all on the hook for about $1 billion), the county owes $669 million as of the end of the last fiscal year, which wrapped up June 30. By the end of the current fiscal year, the county will be on the hook for $645.8 million, according to finance numbers. (The county and school system will each chip in about $30 million but about half will go directly tote interest.)

Of that $645.8 million, the county will owe $388.7 million and the school system will owe $242.4 million. Still, it's all county taxpayer debt.

The commission will address the matter later this month.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mackay to take job with Knoxville

Greg Mackay
Looks like former Knox County Elections Administrator Greg Mackay has landed a job with the city.

According to the latest spin piece coming out of Knoxville's side of the Death Star, Mayor Madeline Rogero today hired Mackay as director of public assembly facilities. He succeeds Bob Polk, who retired from the gig in November.

I got no idea what the job does or what it pays.

Mackay, a Democrat, served as elections administrator from 2003 to 2011. Since then, he got a job doing something I can't remember, but it's probably nowhere as cool as whatever it is he'll be doing for the mayor.

The hippie has the full press release right smack here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chance to have lunch with the mayor

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on Friday will continue his “lunch with the mayor” program, this time at  Central Flats & Taps in the Happy Holler community.

“It's really just a continuation of our cash mobs,” Burchett said. “We're trying to pick locally owned businesses throughout the county.”

The mayor said the North Knoxville restaurant serves “pretty good food,” and that he hopes the event, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., draws a large crowd.

Central Flats & Taps is located at 1204 N. Central St.

The luncheons are an offshoot of the mayor's “cash mobs,” a concept that encourages people to show up at a small business at the same time and shop.

The county has held a number of them since late last year.

Friday's event is “Dutch treat.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

Electronic-waste event on Saturday

The county, city, the West Knoxville Optimist Club and the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad are partnering up this Saturday for the “plug-in your community” electronic-waste recycling event.

Yeah, that's what I said, too. Huh? Wha-?

Well, apparently you can take all your old computers, printers and other electronic junk and drop it all off Saturday – rain or shine – between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Chilhowee Park in the Midway Parking lot on North Beaman Street.

The event is free and includes drive-thru service, so you don't have to hang out. Those who participate are eligible to win a wide-screen TV from Best Buy, which you'll eventually no doubt be lugging down to the next electronic-waste recycling event in a year or two.

Please note that you cannot drop off refrigerators, air condition units, smoke detectors, light bulbs, stoves and electronic equipment containing hazardous chemicals.

For more information, click right smack here.

Or you can just throw all the junk off your porch and into your neighbor's yard in the middle of the night. Not that I'd know anything about that.

Visit Knoxville group unveils guide

I've had this in my email inbox for awhile. Last week, Visit Knoxville released its 2013 City Guide & Visitor Handbook, a 72-page magazine that covers attractions, events, blah, blah, and all sorts of fancy going ons in the city.

The organization's president, Kim Bumpas, called it “an important resource for visitors when planning their trip to Knoxville.” She also noted that it will feature new editorial content from local writers and personalities that are designed to give a visitor and insider's perspective to Knoxville.

No mention of whether visitor's will be assaulted with the popular city and county catch phrase: “You're not from around here, are you?”


The guide is actually pretty cool. You can see it online, right smack here, or download it (or have it mailed to you) by clicking here.

You can also get one at the Knoxville Visitor Center at 301 S. Gay St. in downtown Knoxville.

Political parties set to reorganize

Looks like it's that time again, time to reorganize the local Democratic and Republican parties. 

According to the rogue blogger, Brian Hornback, the red team picks officers, delegates, whatever for local precincts on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.  Then on Feb. 2 at 10 a.m. some folks can vote at the party's reorganization. Click right smack here for the details and to see who is running for party chairman.

The blue team's next convention is set for April, some time, according to the hippie's blog site. Find that entry right smack here. I didn't see a whole lot of information (just some bickering over Mark Padgett), so I headed over to the party's website. Looks like the Democrats will actually hold their convention for delegates selection on March 10. The party also will host a March 24 Congressional district convention. 

So, that said, I'm not sure if it's March of April. 

You can find that info right smack here.

We've got some local elections this year, but they're for non-partisan Knoxville City Council seats. There are, however, some big county races set for 2014.

Expect county to sell Hillcrest land

Hillcrest north campus (photo by J. Miles Cary)
First post of the year. About time, I suppose. Just really getting back after a good amount of time off for the holidays.

Anyhoo, had a story in this weekend's paper about a deal between the county and Hillcrest HealthCare Communities that could lead to the nursing home securing the property where it operates for about $5.3 million. It currently pays the county $1 a year to lease a combined 33 acres in the north, south and west parts of the county.

Hillcrest has tried this before and it didn't work out, I think mostly because Paul Pinkston was on the commission and he wanted to let others bid. Ornery, yet charismatic he was able to get enough of the then-19 member commission on board. In the end, officials just extended the least.

I don't expect that to happen this time. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has the six votes he needs to sell the property. Plus, he's going to argue that regardless of whether the deal is put out to bid, only Hillcrest can continue to use it as a nursing home for the indigent. And he's pretty much right. (It all comes down to Hillcrest owning the “certificate of need” to operate a nursing home and that's based on local demographics and the need for beds.)

Sooooo . . . expect this to pass. The board is supposed to talk about it during its work session and voting meeting later this month, but it is possible that it gets deferred for until February out of courtesy to any member who wants to further study the matter.