Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lunch with mayor includes specials

As previously noted, right smack here, Knox County Mayor continues his lunch with the mayor, this time at Bayou Bay Seafood House in South Knoxville on Friday.

County Communications honcho Michael "Big Sexy" Grider told me today that the restaurant will have a couple of specials, including a $6.99 popcorn shrimp with two sides deal, and an order of crawfish etouffee for $6.99.

As usual, Burchett will be there, so if you want to give him a piece of your mind, deliver a fist bump or talk Bigfoot, drop by.

Typically, these events bring out a lot of people, including county officials and school board members. City leaders oddly enough shy away from them.

Too cool for school, I suppose. Heh.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Commission moves April meeting

The Knox County Commission did end up postponing its April voting session, moving it from the 22nd to the 29th, just in case some folks want to head out to the San Diego Wilshire Conference.

(I mentioned the possibility right smack here.)

The work session for April, however, won't change. It's still set for the 15th.

The commission holds its work session on the third Monday of the month and the voting meeting on the fourth Monday. April, though, has five Mondays, so they were able to make this work.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New digital billboards banned in Knox

Hmmmm. This should have been up today. Oh well, here ya go:

New digital billboards are officially banned in Knox County.

The commission on Monday approved the second reading of an ordinance that prevents companies from converting traditional – or “static” - billboards to digital form. Existing ones can stay under a grandfather clause.

Officials have yet to reach a decision on what to do about traditional billboards. Some don't want any new ones, and other board members feel they've done enough.

The commission is expected to talk more about the issue in the next month or so.

In the meantime, the county won't issue new permits for traditional billboards, since legislation to ban them is still pending.

“It seemed that the vast majority of the people who contacted the commission were not in favor of digital billboards and were in favor of the ban,” commission Chairman Tony Norman said. “There were a lot of people at the meetings, a lot of emails and there was a continuous stream of people coming up to us.”

The second reading was approved in a 7-4 vote, with commissioners Jeff Ownby, Brad Anders, R. Larry Smith and Dave Wright dissenting.

Mayor wants security meeting open

So, the county big dogs, like the sheriff, mayor, school lord, Public Building Authority head honcho, etc., etc. are supposed to meet today to talk about school security. 

Last night officials said the media would be allowed to attend. I'm not sure if that means it's open to the public or not.

Regardless, county Mayor Tim Burchett sent out a showboat release, calling on the board of education and chairwoman Karen Carson to “sunshine the planned security meeting in order to allow all parties to be at the table.”

That would mean, the mayor says, more than just a single representative from the school board or county commission could attend. He suggested holding the meeting on Thursday or Friday, which would fall within the county's 48 hour policy or whatever.

This whole thing is giving me a headache. Most of the players were at the county commission meeting last night. This could have been done then.

If people are serious about fixing whatever security problems exist, then they should have stayed late.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Seafood house to host mayor's lunch

Well it's about time. The next "Lunch with the Mayor" will be held this Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Bayou Bay Seafood House (7117 Chapman Highway) in South Knoxville. I really dig this place, and I know county communications manager Michael "Big Sexy" Grider has been trying to set it up for awhile, but things kept falling through.

From what I understand, and they're still working out the details, but I think there's a chance that the restaurant might set up a tent outside (it's pretty tight inside) for folks and then have an inexpensive special, like a fish sandwich and fries or something.

Public to pick next cash mob spot

The county is letting the public decide where it will hold the next cash mob, an innovative marketing plan that Emperor Dean Rice hates but has so far been successful.

Heh. (Little inside baseball there.)

Anyhoo, the county will accept nominations through noon Friday. Then it will hold an online voting thing-a-ma-jig for the top five nominees beginning at 5 p.m. Friday through 5 p.m. March 6. The winning business will be announced on March 8.

"We get a lot of feedback from people with suggestions for possible cash mob locations," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, the architect of the local events. "This is a good way to get the community and local businesses directly involved in deciding the location of the next Knox Cash Mob."

Send you nomination, right smack here.

Please note that nominated business should be locally owned, located in South Knoxville, and cannot be previous cash mob locations or restaurants. That's key.

The county reserves the right to withdraw certain business from consideration if, among other things, the business serves a very limited clientele, according to the spin release.

In other words, don't bother nominating the Asian massage parlor.

Hammond 'to consider' court clerk run

Mike Hammond
The rumor of the day: Mike Hammond will run for the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk seat.

I asked the good county commissioner about this, and he said about a month ago, some folks approached him. He said that "I'd consider it."

Hammond said "it caught fire" today after the KNS reported that current clerk, Joy McCroskey, fired her brother after she was accused of violating the county's nepotism policy.

"Like I said: 'I'll consider it,'" but am I going to? I don't know, but I'm not making any kind of formal announcement," Hammond added.

The election isn't until 2014.

This is actually interesting. For more than a year, folks have been saying that Hammond, a former commission chairman, would take on Tim Burchett for the mayor's seat. That race also is in 2014.

I've called BS on this forever, but you know how these rumors go.

No-shows and cancelled meetings

Looks like there are a number of no-shows today for some meetings.

Yesterday I blogged that School Boar Chairwoman Karen Carson had reached out to some local officials about meeting today to discuss school security. The powwow was set for 9:30 this morning, but it was cancelled since no one (or only a few) could make it.

Two people told me that the invitation was sent out Friday around 5:30 p.m., and that they already had meetings set for today.

In addition, state Sen. Becky Massey and state Rep. Ryan Haynes are not going to attend the county commission's monthly luncheon. They were invited to talk about a couple of resolutions regarding whether to elect school superintendents and to hold partisan school board elections.

Both apparently had a luncheon in Nashville today.

Polls conflict on a tax increase

Roughly 10 years ago, I wrote a story about a poll that a controversial mayor – who really did almost bankrupt his city – had conducted. The results? Everything was fine and dandy.

In the story I quoted a fellow out at the University of Georgia. He was professor who studied this kind of stuff. He told me: “Weird people participate in these polls, so you really have to take them with a grain of salt.”

(He was referring to the people who answer the questions - not pay for them by the way.)

So, flash forward to earlier this month when local local businessman Randy Boyd and other Chamber of Commerce-types bankrolled a poll (900 people participated) that indicated broad-based support for improving education in Knox County and a willingness to pay for it.

Presumably the survey will serve as a reference tool for officials heading into this year's budget talks.

Well, I imagine the one released today will, too.

Knoxville Focus publisher Steve Hunley also bankrolled a poll, “using the exact same language as the poll reported by the Knoxville News-Sentinel.” He noted that his poll reached out to more than 1,100 likely voters.

He said they were asked the question: “Do you support a property tax rate increase if all the money goes to fund public education?”

The results? A whopping “Heck No!”

So, which one is correct? 

Who knows?

But never trust a weirdo. 

Trip could affect a commish meeting

It's possible that the Knox County Commission could end up moving its April 22 meeting to a later week, so some board members can head out to a conference in California.

Each year around April, a number of pension board members head out to the Wilshire Conference, which is typically held in sunny San Diego, Calif. (Ok, OK, I won't make any cracks about how they also have the opportunity to spend time on the golf course or at the zoo, since they do – at least this incarnation of the pension board – attend the real conference meetings and the other stuff is during downtime.)

Wilshire gets paid a good amount of coin to handle the county's pension and retirement investments. (And yes, taxpayers do pay for this trip.)

This year's conference is set for April 21-23. The county commission meting is set for Monday, April 22.

During today's pension board meeting, members talked briefly about possibly moving the commission meeting, maybe to the following Monday if enough commissioners go on the trip.

“We'll talk about it and see,” said commission Chairman Tony Norman, who sits on the pension board along with three other commissioners.

Pension Board Executive Director Kim Bennett went around the room asking folks whether they would attend. (By the way, she's not sure, although she will send one member of her staff.)

Commissioner Richard Briggs said he wouldn't; Norman and commissioner Ed Shouse said they weren't sure; Nick McBride said he didn't think so, Casual Chris Caldwell said he wouldn't; Joe Snyder said he wasn't sure.

Steve Glenn wasn't at the meeting, and Commissioner Mike Hammond – heck – I don't think anyone asked him.

The deadline to register is around March 25. My guess is that the meeting won't be rescheduled, but I wouldn't be surprised if the pension board  move its meeting up a week earlier.

Two to return to Knox pension board

Knox County Pension Board members Nick McBride and Joe Snyder were re-elected to serve on the board. (The elections were on Feb. 14. No, seriously.)

Only county employees vote in these things. Joe got 30 votes. Nick received 130.

Hahahahaha. Big turnout.

Anyhoo, Nick's seat seat represents county employees under the traditional retirement plan and the Sheriff's Office plan. Joe's seat represents school employees who are not covered in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, which covers state employees, public school teachers, etc.

The pension board is comprised on nine members. Four are county commissioners, two come from the school side, two come from the general employee side and one is technically the county mayor, although he typically uses the county's finance director as a proxy.

In addition to the pension board, there were elections to fill three seats on the county's Medical Insurance Appeal Board.

Timothy Wheeler, who got 57 votes and faced no competition, will represent seat C.

Stephanie Minor, who got 27 votes and also faced no competition, will represent seat B.

And, Tom Salter, who received 30 votes, will represent seat A. Tom defeated two others – Dennis Irwin (3 votes) and Jennifer Valentine (25 votes).

Finding Bigfoot or finding sense?

Did anyone catch that whole “Finding Bigfoot” show last night? Lord it was awful. I made it through about 20 or so minutes before I hit the clicker.

Credit, though, still goes to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for getting the folks here to film. As bad as the show was (or is), it had some nice highlights of the area and you really can't put enough dollar signs on free advertising.

Heck, ask the folks over at the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation (or whatever they're called now). If officials there had brought the show to East Tennessee, they'd be claiming a $10 gazillion economic impact for the area at this point. That and they'd be cashing their bonuses checks.


In the meantime, I did get a chuckle last night. My wife walked in while the show was on. I tried to explain to her what was happening. I said the woman on the show was the skeptic, calling out the others (they're all guys) on the whole Bigfoot thing.

Her response?

“That makes sense.”

Yeah, it does.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

School system reaches out to leaders

Ah, now we're talking. Soon after posting this bad boy, Knox County School Board Chairwoman Karen Carson let me know that on Friday the school system reached out to Knox County Mayor Burchett, Commission Chairman Norman, PBA head honcho Dale Smith, schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, Sheriff Jimmy "the Man with the Badge" Jones, county Law Director Bud Armstrong and Chief David Rausch to set a meeting.

The note:
Feb 22
Dear Sirs,
School Board Chair Karen Carson requests that you meet with her on Monday, February 25th at 9:30 am in the board conference room regarding school security. If you have questions please feel free to call Karen Carson. Please let me know if you will be able to attend.
Thank you,
Here's hoping that everyone shows up.

Bigfoot says to skip the lame Oscars

Bigfoot pondering where he'll hide next
Don't forget Animal Planet's "Finding Bigfoot" airs tonight at 10 p.m. - right after "The Walking Dead" (which is actually on a different channel but the events portrayed in the show probably have a better chance of happening than someone actually finding Sasquatch, but  . . . . heh).

Anyhoo, this is the show that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett helped lure to the area, so it's going to highlight East Tennessee. Should be fun.

We'll have coverage on it today and tonight over at the KNS site.

In the meantime, just know that there will be all sorts of good stuff on TV, including Family Guy and American Dad.

The Oscars also are on, but only lame people watch that crap, and usually only crappy movies win.

Burchett to host constituent meetings

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will continue his one-on-one constituent meetings, beginning Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Farragut Library on N. Campbell Station Road. These hour long powwows give residents a chance to meet with the big dog, talk shop, gripe, whatever.

Obviously, they're open to the public. In addition, Michael "Big Sexy" Grider attends them, so be sure to ask for his autograph. Heh.

Additionally, the mayor will have a meeting on Thursday at 10 a.m. at the Bearden Library on Golfclub Road.

There will be more meetings in March. I'll update then.

PBA critical of Knox school leaders

Oh man, this is absolutely going to get even more nasty before it gets better. So, who knew what and when, and who is telling the truth? Or is everyone - those on all sides - lying?  Click right smack here for more on Knox County's school security problem.

In the meantime, I can hear the jokes now. The next time folks in the school system ask Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for $35 million to pay for iPads, he's going to want to know whether the cameras in those things work better than the ones at some of our schools.


But seriously, with all the BS going on, when is someone going to take the initiative to set up a real meeting with everyone at the table?

It should have been done months, maybe years ago.

Friday, February 22, 2013

'Finding Bigfoot' to air Sunday

Well, the "Finding Bigfoot" show that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett lured here will air on Sunday. Click right smack here for the story.

We'll have all sorts of coverage on the event for Monday. In addition #Knoxvillebigfoot sounds like a decent Twitter hashtag for the evening.

And to answer your question, no they didn't find Bigfoot.

Mill plan too pricey for schools?

I initially blogged about a discussion that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and some school officials had about potentially selling the Andrew Johnson Building and relocating the school system administration. Click right smack here for that bad boy.

Well, it looks like I was right as our education reporter was able to confirm that with Superintendent Jim McIntyre. Annnnnnd, right smack here for that one. According to some very early preliminary talks, the school system is looking into moving its headquarters from the heart of downtown to Standard Knitting Mill, which closed decades ago, on Washington Avenue.

However, it looks like it's a no-go right now. The schools pay, something like $5 a square foot to the Public Building Authority (in some weird arrangement I've never quite understood), and the folks who own the other place want more than twice that.

Obviously, these are the early stages of negotiations but if the knitting people don't come down off their asking price, they can forget it.

Folks can pay taxes through phones

Residents can now use their cell phones to pay taxes, Knox County Trustee John Duncan III, pictured left, announced this morning.

“I'd like to thanks the Knox County IT Department for their help in providing this new service,” Duncan said in a released statement. “This is a way for doing business with the county government to become even easier and more convenient.”

To pay, folks can log onto the department's website, right smack here, and click on the “Mobile Quick Pay,” which accepts secure credit card payments.

That said, who the heck would want to pay their taxes by phone?

Update to county salary database

I know how you folks like this stuff, so the KNS updated its Knox County employee salary page. Soooo, if you want to know what the folks make on the that side of the ol' Death Star, then click right smack here.

You can also find more Knoxville databases over here.

I figure the city employee salary info should be coming soon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We're rooting for you, Mr. Daniel!

We here at Screams from da Porch are rootin' for super awesome editorial cartoonist Charlie Daniel who will represent the Sentinel at this year's Dancing with the Knoxville Stars event.

The show, which benefits the East Tennessee Children's Hospital, is set for 7 p.m. March 22 at the Knoxville Expo Center.

Every dollar donated through the candidate's web page equals a vote. You can find Charlie's fund-raising site right smack here.

If you don't vote for him, then you're a bad person.

School system to request 50 guards?

The word I'm hearing is that Knox County schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre will seek 50 new school resource officers/armed guards, which would cost about $1.2 million a year.

That's actually a less expensive deal than what Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones plans to propose. (20 deputies for a little more than $2 million a year.)

That said, I'm now wondering whether the sheriff didn't let slide early that he would put in a request for extra deputies.

The plan? Let folks get up in arms over (pun intended) an expensive request just long enough for Lord McIntyre to step in with a cheaper proposal that gets the school system more guards.

It makes sense as the sheriff is one of the savviest politicians around and Jones has said that he doesn't mind whether the SRO's work under him or for the school system, so long as each school has an armed guard. (In other words, don't expect a turf battle over security.)

So, where does that leave the county's schools?

Local law enforcement and McIntyre want an armed guard in every school.

Right now, the school system has 45 SROs, the sheriff's office has 24 deputies and the Knoxville police Department has 17 officers who are dedicated to all the middle and high schools and some elementary schools.

So, that's 86 guards and we've got 88 schools.

I know, I know. Folks want to know then why we don't need only two more guards as opposed to 50.

That's a question that's going to come up a lot in the next few months.

There's actually a somewhat logical answer, but I'll let you do some of the work.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Commish to address South businesses

Commissioner Mike Brown
Earlier today I noted that Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was the only local leader so far to (at least appear) to take an initiative to help bring tax relief to some South Knoxville businesses.

Now, county Commissioner Mike Brown, whose district is in the south part of the county, has jumped on board.

During today's commission work session, Brown said he's talked to a number of merchants who borrowed just enough money to make it through the end of this June, which is when the Henley Street Bridge was supposed to reopen. He said they now need to take out another loan because of further delays, which wree just recently announced.

Brown said that state lawmakers have set precedent in the past by helping Nashville businesses during that major flood some time back. He also mentioned some other place but I don't recall it now.

He then asked the county's law department to draft a resolution that mirrors the mayor's request – right smack here for that bad boy – that he'd like the commission to address during next Monday's voting session.

Then, he yelled: “Shop South!”


Ethics ad hoc panel makes progress

Wrote a story today, talking about a County Commission ad hoc panel charged with looking into the makeup of the ethics committee. Right smack here for that bad boy.

Anyhoo, the four-member panel met today. Initially, members talked about using non-partisan civic groups to appoint members to the committee. The idea was to take out the politics, or potential for a conflict of interest.

All this was because the committee reappointed two of its own and appeared to give little consideration for the other 23 who applied.

The ad hoc committee today, though, agreed that the “easiest approach was to tweak what we have.”

Members said they'd recommend to the full Knox County Commission that the committee consist of only residents – no elected officials, former elected officials or county employees. They also want the commission to appoint three members, the mayor to pick three members, the committee to pick two members and the sheriff to pick one member.

The members would be term-limited to one, four-year term, but could be reappointed if they sit out a term. The seats also will be staggered.

The committee will meet again 1 p.m. on March 18.

'West' Mayor to help 'South' city

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett
Couple weeks back Knox County Mayor and West Knox County resident Tim Burchett sent a letter to members of the local Legislative delegation, asking that they take pity on some South Knoxville businesses because the Henley Street Bridge is about to fall over and needs fixin' and it's going to take a while to get it up to speed and all that. (Nice run on sentence there.)

Anyhoo, you can read the letter right smack here. In addition, the KNS editorial board today noted, right smack here, that a tax break “is fitting” for the businesses.

So, this question from a local business owner I ran into the other day: Why was it the county mayor who had to d this? (He did leave out the part that the city is in the county.)

How come the chamber of commerce, the city mayor (who lives in South Knoxville), the City Council, the County Commission, local state representatives and senators and business, etc, whatever, didn't do this?

Good question, I suppose. (Actually it was two questions.)

In the meantime, I smell another cash mob coming.


Too bad they're not on your computer

Found this. Sadly, we can't replace them. Cause the truth is, they pretty much all suck.

Letter says 'no' to school election

I like when people write letters to the Knox County commissioners. Makes for easy blogging. With officials set to talk about whether the state should allow for partisan school board races and elected superintendents, folks are really responding. Here's what Diane Jablonski, a former school board and charter committee review member, sent to the commission.
For the past decade, our elected Knox County officials have been riddled with scandals. False bonuses,embezzlement, fraud, and a myriad of other indictments, some ongoing. One of the few bright spots has been Superintendent Dr. James McIntyre, who has taken our system to a higher level and who has appointed highly qualified principals.
Now you want to return to an elected Superintendent, Why? Under an elected superintendent you had principalships that were used as political patronage and cronyism. The elected Superintendents spent the majority of their time campaigning for the next election and educators were coerced into working polls, which, by the way, were held at most of our schools. Under an appointed Superintendent we have seen the leadership and development of our teachers and principals elevated to a higher level. And we have seen the establishment of a strategic plan; and a school board who can set the direction for our schools and expect that the Superintendent will implement their goals.

For this reason alone you should wholeheartedly reject any movement to return to the antiquated method of electing our Superintendents and returning us to the abyss of political patronage controlling the direction of our schools.

Diane B. Jablonski

Monday, February 18, 2013

AJ Building to get 'for sale' sign?

photo by Michael Patrick
And again, there are talks that involve the possible sale/future use of the Andrew Johnson Building.

From what I understand, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, schools superintendent Jim McIntyre and school board Chairwoman Karen Carson met the week before last to talk about the old hotel and what to do with it.

The mayor confirmed the meetings, but was pretty tight-lipped after that.

“It's the same stuff we've been talking about for years,” he said. “You know, tearing it down and putting solar panels up and having a solar community.”


Burchett in the past has said that he wouldn't mind selling the S. Gay Street building, if the county can get a good deal for it, and the school system can move its administrative offices elsewhere.

His predecessor Mike Ragsdale also proposed a similar plan but nothing ever happened.

We'll see.

School elections on commish agenda

Wrote a story for Saturday - right smack here - about two proposals that are currently making their way through the state Legislature.

The issues? Whether to convert school board races to partisan contests and whether to allow for the election of superintendents.

The commission will address both matters during tomorrow's work session and could possibly vote next Monday on a set of resolutions, showing support.

The vote will be key for the issue tied to school board races, as Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, is one of the bill's sponsors and she said without local support she won't push it.

Right now the bill, along with the one dealing with superintendent elections, is pending before the Senate and House Education Committees.

Let me say that if the commission does sign off on the resolutions and these bills make it to the state floor, they are going to pass.

What that means on a local level sill remains to be seen. In order for the county to hold partisan school board races, the commission would have to approve the measure with at least eight votes. I don't know. I think it could be close, maybe 8-3 or 7-4.

The superintendent issue will be a little different. That, too, goes through the commission, and if eight board members sign off, then it goes to the voters. I'm betting the commission approves this one, if only because it likes to pass the buck. Members will say: "Well, we should let the voters decide," or "the voters should have a say," or whatever.

What happens once it reaches the ballot box? Oh, I'm betting we join Mississippi.

In more ways than one.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Education committee to hang out

The education committee, a panel of county commissioners and school board members, announced its agenda today and it doesn't look like there will be much happening during its first meting next Tuesday following the commission's monthly work session, which could wrap up by 4 p.m. (That was a long sentence.)

Anyhoo, the agenda says the panel will go over meeting guidelines, identify issues and establish meeting dates and times.

In other words – and at this point – it appears that this committee will act like every other local county committee, subcommittee, whatever-committee, and continue to kick the can down the road.

Say, whatever happened to that subpanel that Gloria Ray formed that was supposed to come up with a way to use all that land out there in East Knox County that some folks wanted to use as a business park?

Oh yeah.

Never mind.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Francis leaving election commission

Dennis Francis (photo by Metro Pulse)
Denis Francis is apparently stepping down from the Knox County Election Commission when his term ends in two months. As you might recall, Francis, a local attorney, was appointed to serve out the term for the seat held by Democrat Cameron Brooks, who left in April 2011 to take a new job (but is apparently back, so that didn't last long, but I digress.)

According to former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who writes a column over at the Shopper, State Rep. Gloria Johnson will make a recommendation for his replacement to the state Election Commission.

Ashe also said that former Knox County Commissioner Mark Harmon and attorney Tammy Kaousias are possible replacements.

I talked to Dennis a little while ago and he said that he doesn't want to stay on board. He said representing the Sevier County Election Commission and dealing with that whole Pigeon Forge liquor mess is keeping him busy.

Plus, he said: “I'm not having that much fun. They horse- (insert bad word here) Mackay, so it's hard to get warm and fuzzy with them.”

Heh. Hahahaha. Nice!

Dennis was referring to commission's April 2011 meeting when, voting along party lines, the commission fired Greg Mackay, the longtime elections administrator, and one of Dennis' close friends.

I asked him: “It's cool, I use that quote, right?”

Dennis: “I've told them that so many times, one more would probably be redundant.”


Monday, February 11, 2013

Local spin control out of control

I'm in the media, yeah, but I'm also a member of the public. So, when a county or city employee who works in public relations, media relations, communications, or whatever you want to call it pulls the whole not-my-job-crack-head-attitude, then that's not an affront to just me, but also to the public.

So, couple of recent episodes detailing what you get – or not get – if you want information for your coin.

Let's start with a primer that probably hasn't been explained before. The county  actually has couple of PR specialists, although mostly folks just talk to Michael “Big Sexy” Grider because, quite frankly, he's heads above the rest of the overpaid talking heads we've got. That's not me sucking up. That's just the truth. You call Grider, you get an answer (it might not be correct, but it's an answer). He sets up interviews if needed and he returns calls – even when he's not working.

In fact, he typically gets you whatever you need, on or off the clock. I get my money's worth out of the guy, and most folks in the media will agree. That's why he's Big Sexy.

Dealing with county spin

Sooooooo, on Friday after lunch I needed to get some inform from one of the PR folks who is not named Grider but is in charge of a major county department.

Me: “Hey, I'm checking on a dollar amount for something that should be in the budget, but I can't find it. I'm wondering if you can help me with this. It's for your department.”

(Obviously, I was way more specific.)

Response: “Yeah, sorry, can't help you. I don't know the answer.”

Me: “Yes I get that you probably won't know it off the bat, but I was wondering if you could help me find it.”

Response: “No, I'm not working today. Call Michael Grider.”

Me: “Well, that's OK, I don't need it today, but -

Response: “No, call Grider.”

Me: “Er, OK, well -”


Really? Really?

I guess when you make $65,600 a year, these kind of questions are beneath you.

By the way, the grossly underpaid Big Sexy got me the answer. Should have called just him in the first place.

Dealing with city spin control

Ok, second incident. This one way a few weeks back and involves the city's spin department.

I wanted to check whether a road that runs through a city neighborhood was actually a city-owned road or a private road. (I don't recall the name of the road but it ended in “Way” so for this discussion we'll pretend it was called “Death Star Way.” Why not?)

So, I call up one of the city's PR people. (I'm trying not to use names here because I'm a nice guy. And because everyone knows who I'm talking about anyway.)

Me: “Hey, I'm trying to check on whether this road is a city road, blah, blah, blah (and tell my story).”

Response: “Yeah, I'm not working right now. Call (so and so). They'll help you.”

I call that person's boss. And I ask that person whether they can find out if Death Star Way is a private road or a city-owned road. I give my whole spiel, details and all.

Response: “Is it in the city?”

Me: “Yes, I said that. It's in South Knoxville.”

Response: “Where in the city.”

Me: “South Knoxville.”

Response: “It's in the city?”

Me: “Yes, it's in the city. Seriously.” (I go on to explain exactly where it's located.)

Response: “Oh, I think I know where that is.”

Me: “You should, it's just down the street from where Mayor Rogero lives.”

Response: “OK, give me a couple hours and I'll get back to you.”

Well, about 30 minutes later I'm on the phone when the flack gets back to me and leaves the following message:

“Mike, I checked for you and, yes, Death Star Way is in the city.”

Face Palm.

I immediately call back the person: “Hey, it's Mike, I know Death Star Way is in the city. I told you the road was inside the city – I told you that three or four times. I want to know whether the city owns the street.”

I never head back. In fact, I'm still waiting, but just the fact that my call was initially returned was a surprise in and of its itself.

Apparently, when you make $110,000 these kinds of questions are beneath you.

Turn to 311 for help

Now, I really wanted to know whether this road was public or private.

So, I'm talking to a colleague and he says, Call 311 (the city's info line).

I call, and, again, ask the question: “Can you help me find out if Death Star Way is a city-owned or private road?”

Response: “Sure, I'll check. It will take me five minutes. But, typically when a road ends with 'way' it's going to be private.”

Wow, already, she knows more than someone probably making three times her salary. But isn't that how that how it always is?

I digress.

The operator comes back a few minutes later and says that in fact it was a private road.

Now, there is no moral to these stories.

Although a skeptic might mumble something about the Peter Principle.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Briggs readies to challenge Campfield

Richard Briggs
Well, it looks like warrior, surgeon and Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs will run for the 7th District Senate seat held by Stacey Campfield. Click right smack here for the story.

The reality is that this wasn't a big secret. Briggs – or those close to him – started the whisper campaign more than a year ago. The timing, however, is interesting.

Just as Campfield introduces more ridiculous legislation (that will fail abjectly) and once again makes national news (for all the wrong reasons), Briggs names his campaign treasurer.

And it certainly draws a nice contrast, particularly since a lot of Campfield's legislation (if not all of it) won't pass.

Stacey Campfield
However, don't count out Campfield (provided he runs, which, I think, most people feel he will).

Because what this will really do is just put him on more front porches. 

So, all the folks out there patting themselves on the back, and whooping it up over thoughts of Stacey's demise should probably keep themselves in check.

The election is still a loooong ways out. (August 2014 primary.)

I did talk briefly with  Briggs (as I was about to post this actually) and he said his announcement was "a long time coming - we started planning last fall - but wanted to wait until after the November election and the first of the year to do anything."

He said the super early announcement also gives him a chance to raise money and show folks he's serious about the run. 

He added that the announcement wasn't intentionally tied to anything Campfield has recently done.

"It wasn't planned but it worked out very well," he said. "He's certainly provided a lot of ammunition."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

County after unclaimed property coin

I saw this quirky little nugget on the Knox County Commission agenda: a resolution requesting the unclaimed balance of accounts remitted to the state under the Unclaimed Property Act.

So, what's that mean?

Well, the state might end up cutting the county a big check. Although technically it's already the county's money. Or not.

Let me explain: 
Say for example, the county owes someone $10k, for whatever reason (a lawsuit settlement for example, or jury duty pay, whatever). The county will cut that person a check. If the person doesn't cash the check within a year or so, the county sends the money to the state.

Now, granted this part makes no sense and you'll see why in a minute.

So, the money sits in a state bank account where it no doubt collects interest that the county will never see. But, the state – somewhere on it's website (no link, sorry, do your own work for once) – will have a list of folks who are owed money.

After another year or so, if no one claims the coin, then the state cuts the county a check for whatever is not claimed. (Note, however, that at any time, the person who is owed the money can still collect it from the county – even years and years later. I told you it made no sense to send it to the state. Seriously.)
Last July, the county received a check for $167,039.04, all of which went directly into the general fund, even though some of it might have been from a fee office or whatever. (Yes, this is how it works.)

At this point, officials don't know how much they'll get back. But, head county bean counter and finance guru Casual Chris Caldwell has asked one of his minions to begin looking into the accounts, checking to see what hasn't been cashed. Or something like that.

I think he said we'd know more by April or May, although he felt the amount could be close to what the county got back last summer.

In the meantime, the county commission has to actually approve the resolution, so the county can get back the money. 

And also, so the commission can spend it. 


Knox senior center attendance jumps

The Knox County spin department just issued a release, noting that more seniors are taking advantage of the senior centers, and that attendance has increased by  37,000 visits in the last five years – an increase of almost 50 percent.

(The release, however, never says why.

I figure the fine folks over there in PR office were looking for things to do. Heh.

I suppose, though, that's better than their counterparts in some of the other local spin offices. Their motto? “Why bother.”

But I digress.)

According to the release, almost 113,000 seniors used the centers last year compared to 75,000 in 2008.

"Senior Director of Community Outreach Hemal Tailor and the staff and volunteers at our centers continue to provide great service to our senior citizens," county Mayor Tim Burchett said. "Operating top-notch centers is one way we are able to show our seniors just how thankful we are for all they do and have done for Knox County."

For more info, click right smack here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Education panel looks to set agenda?

OK, so remember that education committee? School Board, County Commission and all that? Yeah, well, the panel is expected to meet on Feb. 19, which not-coincidentally is the same day as the commission work session.

Yeah, it's a Tuesday. The county is closed on Monday, Presidents' Day.

Anyhoo, county commission Chairman Tony Norman said he thought the panel would initially talk about surplus land and who got the coin if it sold. But, in light of the recent mess – click right smack here if you've been under a rock – he expects folks to take up school security.

“We'll have to decide what's important right now, since we can't take up everything in one meeting,” he said. “This is hot and on the fire, so it might be the way the meeting goes.”

Norman added that he'd talk to school board Chairwoman Karen Carson, though, before setting an agenda.

Carson, however, isn't so sure. At this point, she said, she expects the panel to talk about procedural issues, like agendas, who it should proceed in the future and whether a facilitator should attend the meeting.

“I think anyone who wants to go into the first meeting and say: 'We're going to solve the problem,' well, don't expect that,” she said. "We only have one hour.”

The good news? The meeting is only one hour.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Kincannon goes after mayor on Twitter

Knox County school board member Indy Kincannon earlier tonight took a shot at county Mayor Tim Buchett on Twitter, saying: "Imagine if Tim Burchett spent as much time supporting our kids as he does bashing our schools superintendent."

I'm assuming Kincannon's tweet is in response to a story I wrote - right smack here - about Burchett's request that the school system hire an outside auditor to look at school security, and a story Georgiana Vines wrote - right smack here - in which Burchett also used a GOP meeting to push for an elected school superintendent.
I talked to the mayor about it and he said: "That's her right as an American to do that. My father fought in World War II for her right and my uncle died in World War II, so I stand behind her First Amendment rights."

No word on whether the mayor, who is no stranger to Twitter, will take to the web waves with another response.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Burchett asks for security audit

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett today called for an independent audit into the security systems used by local schools.

The request, which was made to Knox County School Board Chairwoman Karen Carson, comes after the News Sentinel published an article detailing the flaws in what was supposed to be a state-of-the-art system designed to keep children safe.

I am requesting that the Board of Education strongly consider a full and complete independent security audit of all systems installed by Professional Security Consultants and Design in Knox County Schools,” the mayor said in a letter to the chairwoman. “I recognize that this matter falls outside the purview of the Executive Branch. However, since it involved the safety and security of Knox County school children, I feel it is incumbent upon me to make this request.”

Burchett in an interview with the newspaper on Friday said he wanted an outside party to investigate because “just having your own people doesn't cut it.”

Carson was unavailable for comment today.

Audit says school security is faulty

No wonder Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones wants 20 new deputies in the schools. The security they've got right now appears to be crap. Check out Jamie Satterfield's story right smack here.


And, hey, I get the fact that some folks like to use "pending litigation" as a crutch to not comment on something. But, really, responding with a statement expressing confidence in the work of PSCD (the firm responsible for the mess in Jamie's report) was worse than not saying anything.

Again, this is cringe-worthy stuff.