Tuesday, April 30, 2013

'Lunch with Mayor' continues Friday

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will continue his quest to chow down with every single resident this Friday when hosts his monthly "Lunch with the Mayor" gig, this time at Kitts Cafe from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The restaurant is located at 4620 Greenway Drive, across from the Joann's in the Target Shopping Center on Washington Pike. The "special" will include a free dessert with a plate lunch order.

And no, the mayor is not paying for your lunch.

That said, feel free to show up and gripe, commend or just plain hang out.

Monday, April 29, 2013

'Casual' county coin report Part V

Finance Director Chris Caldwell
Head Knox County Bean County Chris “Casual” Caldwell kicked off today's coin report, letting commissioners know that the county's general fund is on pace to wrap up the fiscal year with a $6 million to $12 million surplus.

In addition, he said schools are currently on pace to end the year with a $10 million to $12 million surplus.

The fiscal year ends June 30, but the county still has to wait on numbers, so folks won't officially close the books until – more than likely – late August or early September.

At that time, expect the County Commission to go on a spending spree. Probably the school system, too.


During his report, Caldwell noted that sales tax revenues are currently trending up by about $202,000 for the general fund compared to this time last year; and $1.3 million for the general purpose school fund.

He also noted that the pot of folding paper for the Engineering and Public Works bucket is $323,000 in the positive, although he noted that gasoline tax revenues are down.

He said “we have already beat property tax collection (as of this time) last year,” but numbers for delinquent taxes are down.

“We'll probably see some flattening of that, but it's OK, we'll just have to budget for it,” he told the commission during its monthly luncheon, in which no one ate.

I can't remember what he said about the hotel/motel fund, but did note that “we had a bad April.” More recent numbers, however, should raise the trend, he said.

Caldwell added that wheel tax collections are up $120,000 this time compared to last year, but behind FY 2011 numbers.

The Casual One also said that probate and chancery court collections are up about $133,000, but February was a bad month. He said that Criminal Court collections are down $228,000, and Circuit/Juvenile Court collections dropped by about $90,000.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Knox budget meetings on for next week

Next Wednesday, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will unveil his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

As he has in the past, the mayor will then take a quick tour of the county Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, hitting a number of library branches and senior centers.

The meetings, which are open to the public, will last about an hour.

The first meeting will be before the County Commission in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

Click right smack here for the schedule. (Note that the O'Connor Senior Center presentation is actually in the morning, not the evening.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A few weigh in on term limit plan

Heard back from a couple of folks regarding today's story about Knox County Commission Mike Brown's call for school board term limits.

Board of Ed member Pam Trainor, who also represents the county's southern district with Brown, said a resident asked about her thoughts.

She said:

“I really don't see a problem with term limits for any elected body, personally. However, I do find it odd that "my" commissioner hasn't seen a school board member in his district for more than a normal "term limited term" in probably twenty or more years...since the days of Mildred Doyle.

Pam Trainor
It is also of note....that we are not now, nor have we ever been, a subset of County Commission, as my commissioner would like to believe. We exist by State Constitution .... not County Charter. Meaning that, it would take a change to the state constitution in order to enact term limits for us. That might ruffle a few state legislator feathers, because it could directly effect them, as well. It is also somewhat strange that he raises this issue post session. And his math is extremely fuzzy.... He says "we have twice as much responsibility to the people of Knox county, because we are in charge of twice as much money, as the commission is. That doesn't add up.

Knox County Schools is approx 60 percent of the county's budget. Not to mention....we have NO budget unless approved by commission, nor does the mayor. So the the way I see it they are in COMPLETE control of the county's monies.

And as a taxpayer myself....and a South Knoxville citizen, that is watching in real time, it's main corridor of Chapman Hwy die an exhausting death, I would hope that my commissioner could find more productive ways to occupy his time."

Phil Guthe
Next up, I got a note from former county Commissioner Phil Guthe. (Always good to hear from him by the way.)

Phil asked whether the commissioners were serious.

Then added: “The issue was decided January 12, 2007. Tell these folks to read my book. I'll gift a signed copy if they'll contact me. They are wasting time and resources even threatening to talk about term limits in public.”

Sweet. As always, you can find Phil's book “Term Limits” right smack here. I also wrote a story about it, right here.

Pi Alpha Alpha to honor John Troyer

Former county Finance Director John Troyer
The University of Tennessee's Political Science Scholastic Honor Society (Pi Alpha Alpha) in conjunction with the East Tennessee Chapter of the American Society for Public Administration will honor former Knox County Finance Director John Troyer as its “Public Administrator of the Year.”

The ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m. today in the Toyota Room of the Howard Baker Center.

Troyer left last spring to take a job with the city of Alcoa to serve as its finance director. At the time he said it was a lower-profile position and he didn't have to deal with the media as much. Also, city government is more straightforward.

Former county Mayor Mike Ragsdale tapped Troyer to serve as head county bean counter after then-finance director John Werner resigned in July 2007 amid a furor over the improper use of purchasing cards by employees in the mayor's office.

Before that, Troyer, a certified public accountant, served as the county comptroller for six years. He also worked as a finance director for the city of Bartlett, Tenn., and for Blount County.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Clarity sought about counsel question

Yesterday, KNS reporter Lydia X. McCoy wrote a story about the Knox County school board seeking clarity on legal representation, right smack here.

In it, she asks whether the school board can hire counsel outside the county's law department, cause apparently there's some bickering going on. Hey, it ain't KC government if there isn't at least a little squabbling.

Anyhoo, read her story.

And you can read the email from county Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong to school board Chairwoman Karen Carson, right smack here.

Family 'creek' event set for May 18

The county and the Beaver Creek Task Force will host "Families in the Creek," some kind of educational thing for folks to explore a local creek or something, according to Michael "Big Sexy" Grider's new staffer, Jennifer "da Kid" Linginfelter.

The event doesn't take place until May 18, so I'm betting that Mrs. Linginfelter will flood my email inbox with such reminders. Anyhoo, it runs from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Halls Greenway. County Mayor Tim "Bigfoot" Burchett plans to attend.

The shindig is free, but limited to the first 40 people who register. Children must be age 7 or older to hang out. Equipment, waders and lunch will be provided.

You can read the whole spin thing right smack here.

Flea market talk set for luncheon

The agenda for the Knox County Commission luncheon was just released. Got a couple things on it (but no menu). Head bean counter Chris "casual" Caldwell will talk about the comings and goings of the county's coin. Should be interesting. Not.

The county's public works and engineering department also will give a presentation, although it doesn't say what officials will discuss.

Finally, the commission will talk about a code tied to "peddlers and solicitors." Man, I forgot about that one. Seems to come up every couple of years. Heck, I don't even remember what the commission did last time the board talked about it.

Probably tabled it to form a study committee or something.

Whatever. The luncheon will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday. And no, you can't have any food.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Belle Morris done? Frith leaving

Couple of notes from today's election commission meeting.

Last year some folks got upset after the election commission in a 4-0 vote agreed to close the precinct at Belle Morris Elementary School and move voters to the nearby Larry Cox Senior Center.

At the time, elections administrator Clifford Rodgers said the center was easier for people with disabilities to use and that it had more parking.

Many Democrats disagreed and some said the move smacked of partisan politics, since it was the largest Democratic precinct inside the city. A lot of huffing and puffing followed and folks ignored the fact that one Democrat on the election commission actually voted to close the precinct and the other one didn't bother to show up at the meeting.

Eventually, everyone agreed that they might talk more about it early this year.

Well, no one – Democrat or Republican – brought it up this morning.

So, guess it was all a bunch of nothing, unless someone shows up at one of these meetings to complain.

After the meeting Rodgers said his office “did not get one call from any disgruntled voters about” the move after the August primary.

“(Larry Cox) is one of the finest voting facilities in Knox County and it has plenty of parking,” he said. “Also, I don't like voting in schools if we have something else nearby.”

Other item of note:

Rodgers announced that Scott Frith, the county's assistant administrator of elections, has resigned, effective May 17, the day before he graduates law school. Rodgers called Frith an “invaluable part of my team . . . and a trusted adviser and friend.” Rodgers said he would begin taking applications for the position soon.

It pays $65,000 a year, so expect a bunch of knuckleheads to turn out, thinking they got a shot at some easy money.

Rodgers reappointed to election post

Clifford Rodgers
The Knox County Election Commission this morning unanimously reappointed Clifford Rodgers to serve another two-year term as the county's administrator of elections.

In the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July, he'll be in charge of a $1.64 million budget and oversee two city elections and a county primary.

A Knoxville native, Rodgers was initially appointed to the board in April 2011 amidst a series of controversies and is credited with “righting a ship that was listing a bit,” according to Knox County Election Commission Chairman Chris Heagerty.

Before that he practiced civil law, primarily focusing on state and federal litigation. And from 1984 through the end of 2007, he worked as a law clerk, researching and writing opinions for the late Senior U.S. District Judge James Jarvis as well as Chief U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier.

He also oversaw administrative duties for Jarvis - setting the docket, meeting with lawyers and talking to the press and public.

Rodgers, who earned his law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law, will make $112,420 annually.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Property appeals can start Wednesday

Phil Ballard
The Knox County Property Assessor' Office at 8 a.m. tomorrow is expected to post online the results from the latest reappraisal.

In addition, the department will begin looking into informal appeals, which property owners can also begin filing in the morning.

County Property Assessor Phil Ballard said the new values will be available on his department's website, right smack here.

He said those who question the values can appeal online or call (865) 215-2006. He said folks also can appeal in person at offices in either New Harvest Park, downtown or the Cedar Bluff library. More instructions will be on the printed notices, which will go out within a day or two.

The informal appeals process runs through May 3. The county's Board of Equalization will then hear appeals throughout June.

State law requires the assessor’s office to estimate a value for each of the 193,437 real parcels in Knox County.

Property is then taxed on the basis of its assessed value, which — for residential property — is equal to 25 percent of the appraised value. In Knox County, the current property tax rate is $2.36 per $100 of assessed value.

However, the reappraisal, which takes place very four years, must be revenue-neutral.

Ballard said overall values for all assessed property, including residential, commercial and agricultural – not counting new construction – rose 2.86 percent. That means, the Knox County Commission will more than likely roll back the value to $2.29, or it must conduct public hearings before adopting a higher tax rate.

Four years ago, reappraisal sparked an outcry from property owners after residential appraisals rose by an average of 15.8 percent from 2005 to 2009. Many felt the appraisals were too high given the ongoing national recession, which was driven, in part by falling property values.

Friday, April 12, 2013

First ever SouthFest kicks off today

So, today's the day Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett kicks off his biggest cash mob yet: Southfest, a two-day event along Chapman Highway, just south of the Henley Street Bridge.

Check out the cool map that the county put together. Right smack here. They'll also be available at the event.

(Personally, I hope this because an annual thing and grows each year to the point of backed-up traffic, heavy partying and general craziness.)

Free public parking will be available at the Tennova garage on Blount Avnue, across from the former Baptist Hospital. There is a shuttle stop there, so people can park and ride, according to county communications Manager Big “Michael Grider” Sexy.

You can find out more about times and events right smack here.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

School robocall causes minor flap

So, here's the deal: The principal at Bonny Kate Elementary School sent out a robocall to parents whose children attend the school, asking them to call Knox County Commissioner Mike Brown if they want the school to be able to pay for the School Technology Challenge thing-a-ma-jig or whatever. (Brown's southern district includes the school.)

In the call (right smack here), she noted that her school was chosen to participate in the deal and said the funding is built into the proposed school budget for next year, which the board of education and the county commission must approve. (The BOE already did.)

She “strongly encouraged” parents to contact Brown “if this is an opportunity that you would like your children to be a part of,” according to the message. She also provided the commissioner's county email address and a phone number to reach him.

Well, some folks aren't happy, and one person even sent an email to county officials, school officials, all officials.

You can find it right smack here. Essentially the writer is somewhat apologetic but suggests that the phone system was used for political purposes and questions whether anyone would be allowed to use it. The writer talk about hypothetical cuts that could be made in the upcoming budget.

Then the writer starts yapping about Obamacare, and, well, quite frankly, well. Unoriginal.

Anyhoo, I talked to a couple of commissioners, and they weren't pleased, but they weren't going to make an FBI case out of it, either.

More importantly, though, Mike Brown didn't seem to mind. He joked that no one called him, other than the robocall.

Brown, who attended the school man, many centuries ago, said he has a good relationship with the principal, and wasn't concerned.

KNS reporter Lydai X. McCoy talked to School Board member Pam Trainor, whose district also includes Bonny Kate, and Trainor said that she didn't have a problem with the call, adding that she felt it was a “civic lesson” about the budget process and one of many ways a principal can reach out to parents. (Man, that was a long sentence.)

“This is not a political thing. She was just trying to help,” Trainor said. “Our go-to would be Mike Brown. He's one of the 11(commissioners) who will make the decision.”

Trainor said the principal was excited that her school was one of 11 that had been chosen to participate in a technology initiative that would put instructional technology at her school.

“This is an opportunity that a lot of Knoxville never gets. Three of my schools are in this mix and it's a huge boost to the South Knoxville schools,” she said.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A look at commission attendance

Awhile back I wrote a story about Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's meeting-phobia.

Figured I should now probably look into whether the commissioners bothered to attend their meetings, particularly after the recent chatter about one commish who's been seen off and on.

Soooooo . . . . click right smack here for beer board, work session and voting meeting coverage, from January 2012 through February of this year.

Or the CliffNotes:
  • Beer Board: Does anyone really care? Heh. Well, I guess Mike Hammond and R. Larry Smith do. They didn't miss a beat. Mike Brown, Sam McKenzie, Jeff Ownby and Dave Wright each missed once. Brad Anders and Ed Shouse missed twice. Richard Briggs and Tony Norman missed thrice, and Amy Broyles missed five.
  • Work sessions: It looks like Brad Anders, R. Larry Smith and Jeff Ownby get an A plus for attendance here. Mike Hammond, Dave Wright, Tony Norman and Mike Brown each missed a meeting. (Note that that neither Norman nor Hammond were serving as chair of the board when absent.) Richard “Doctor and warrior” Briggs missed twice, Ed Shouse four times and Amy Broyles was MIA for five of 'em, including June, July and August.
  • Voting meetings: Five members had perfect attendance: R. Larry Smith, Ed Shouse, Mike Hammond, Dave Wright and Mike Brown. Sam McKenzie, Richard Briggs and Jeff Ownby missed one each, and Brad Anders, Tony Norman (including once when he served as chairman) and Amy Broyles each missed two.
I'm not sure if this really means anything as I'm not going to bother looking up what was on the agenda or what as in the news during the time each person skipped out. (And you're complaints about it aren't registering with me.) Personally, I think you should have a pretty good excuse to miss a voting meeting. I mean at least show up for those.

And I know that some officials get pretty upset when commissioners miss work sessions, if only because they're the ones who end up asking a million questions during the regular meeting.

Anyhoo, there you are.

Music, car show added to SouthFest

County spin guy Michael “Big Sexy” Grider continues to tout that SouthFest thing. Today, the Knox County administration announced that the event will also include a number of musical acts that will perform inside DiscExchange during the two-day event, which takes place this Friday and Saturday. (Wow, didn't realize it was this week already. Cool.)

Tim Lee 3 is set for 4 p.m. Friday, and Hot Shot Freight Train will play at 7 p.m.

Then at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Greg Horne takes the stage, and at 2 p.m. Robinella and at 3 p.m. Con Hunley.

Also, the event will feature a car show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Satuday at 4221 Chapman Highway. The show will include members of the Corvair Club, Knox Volks Motor Club and others.

Volunteers to help House Mnt trails

Michael “Big Sexy” Grider's assistant (when the heck did he get one of those????) just sent out a spin release, noting that the Mast General Store has organized a group of volunteers to conduct trail maintenance and restoration on House Mountain this Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon.

To get involved, sign up in person at the S. Gay Street store or call Nick Waller at 546-1336. Those who actually show up and do some work will be entered in a drawing to win a Deuter Speedlite 20 day pack.

They'll have some tools and instruction available, but you should probably bring a pair of work gloves, water, snacks, etc.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

SouthFest bike routes announced

More SouthFest info as the county said today that the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club will lead two routes, both which will depart at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, April 13 from the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway.

The adult route will head riders to Ijams Nature Center and back and a kids' shorter ride will head to historic Fort Dickerson. Participants will need their own bikes and helmets for what officials are dubbing “Tour de South." Heh. Whatever.

You can find the routes, right smack here.

County mayor pays some taxes late

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was late paying his taxes on some property he owns in West Knox County.

He said earlier this year, he called the county Trustee's Office to make sure he was up-to-date on his taxes and was told that he was. On Wednesday, though, he checked again, and realized that he still owned money on two pieces of property near the Amherst Road and Bradley Lake Lane split.

The mayor said that “within five minutes of finding out” he cut a check for $1,966.27, which included a late fee of $57.27.

“I had gotten a call from the bank that they had sold my note to another financing entity and there seemed to be some confusion, so I checked it out (with the trustee's office),” he said. “I made a mistake. The bottom line is at I shouldn't have (initially) taken someone's word for it. I should have gotten a print out like I usually do and verified it. It's totally my fault.”

County property taxes were due Feb. 1.

The mayor noted that the address where his tax bills were sent was at his old house on Airtree Lane that he shared with his former wife. The couple separated last March and at that time, Burchett moved out and said he didn't recall getting a tax bill forwarded to him.

'Lunch with Mayor' set for Friday

Chow down tomorrow with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett as he continues his “Lunch with the Mayor” series, this time at El Charro in Farragut from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

It's Dutch treat. That means he ain't paying. You are. Heh.

The address is 10420 Kingston Pike. Click right smack here for the website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Kaousias to join election commish

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, has nominated Tammy Kaousias, to replace Dennis Francis on the Knox County Election Commission. She's expected to get the gig.

In addition, official are set to reappoint the other members: Democrat Cassandra Stuart and Republicans Chris Heagerty, Bob Bowman, Rob McNutt.

Francis had long said he didn't plan to seek reappointment.

I don't know a whole lot about Kaousias, other than a couple folks I talked to spoke highly of her. She's apparently a yoga enthusiast and a long-time attorney, who used to handle legal affairs for Ruby Tuesday and now operates a solo practice.

She graduated from the University of Tennessee.

“I've known Tammy for over 15 years,” Bowman said. “She's very bright and a hardworking attorney, and I look forward to working with her on the commission.”

The commission hasn't set a date to meet yet, but will get together before April 19. At that point, they'll pick officers and select a county elections administrator. (Hint: It's going to be Cliff Rodgers.)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Knox Parks and Rec survey now online

The Knox County Parks and Recreation Department is seeking public feedback about county parks, greenways, sports programs and special events. Click right smack here for this year's 20-question survey.

The info collected determines what parks are the most popular and how satisfied participants are with county sports programs. It also helps determine what new amenities folks want, and other ways the department can better serve the area.

Country music to headline SouthFest

More SouthFest news as Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett this morning announced a couple of headliners for the event, both which will perform outside of Emery's 5 & 10 on Chapman Highway.

First up is Homer Hart, set for 6:15 p.m. Friday, April 12.

On Saturday, April 13, at 3:15 p.m., Phoenix Stone will perform.

For more Southfest info, click right smack here.