Friday, May 31, 2013

Tour set for Burchett-Carter school

Knox County officials on Monday will host a tour of the new Tim Burchett Elementary School for the Carter Community, which will be up and running this school year.

Yup, the county will take possession of TBESFTCC during a ceremonial check presentation event thing. The mayor, whom the school is named after (hey, that's just what I heard anyway) will present the check to Partners Development, the builder that took over after the initial winner pulled out of development because of – "ahem" – ties to local royalty and (because it's a long story).

The mayor will be joined by Superintendent Jim McINtyre, Commissioner Dave Wright, School Board member Mike McMillian and a number of other local elected folks who want their picture taken. Heh.

A tour will follow the check cashing - I mean, passing - ceremony. There also will be a reception with light refreshments in the school's cafeteria, so expect at least a few in the media to show up for breakfast.

Oh yeah, the whole shin-dig kicks off at 10 a.m. Monday at 8455 Strawberry Plains Pike.

Smith: Elected folks needed to speak

R. Larry Smith
I already know this one is gonna rile a few folks. Sooooo, Knox County Commission Vice Chairman “Arrrrgghh” Larry Smith was talking today about the budget and the potential surplus coin the county could get in September.

I commented to him about how smooth the process went, how it had pretty much zero debate. Then he says:

“You know what really upset me? I was pretty disturbed that the office holders – other than (Property Assessor Phil) Ballard and (Law Director) Bud Armstrong – didn't come up and speak,” he said. “This is the first time that's happened. Every other time they've come before us for the budget, they've gotten up and spoke.”

I asked him why he didn't say anything at the time.

“I didn't bring it up because I didn't think we were going to vote,” he said.

(It was actually listed on the agenda.)

“That's not going to happen next year,” he added.

I guess that means he's gunning for the commission chairman spot, because that's who sets the guidelines for how the meetings will be conducted. Yes, typically, the board sets aside time for department heads and the other elected officials (fee offices, sheriff, etc.) to address them, but, really, no one seemed to care this year. Or least has spoken out about it. (Other than the vice chairman.)

Moody's changes shouldn't affect Knox

This stuff kind of boring, but certainly important, although whether it affects Knox County remains to be seen. Now, THAT was a schizophrenic sentence.

Anyhoo, here's the deal: Moody's Investors Service, a nationally recognized bond credit rating agency, is changing the way it analyzes pension plans for local governments as it puts more emphasis on the risks associated with the retirement programs. Now, I'm assuming this has to do with new GASB (Governmental Accounting Standards Board) changes, but I'm not going to get into that. (If you know what it is, then you know the changes and don't need me to explain. If you don't know what it is, I doubt you'll care.)

Still, the bottom line is that things are going to change, and for some the outlook might not look so rosy. Right now, as I recall, Knox County has an Aa1 rating, which is its highest ever. That's mostly because we've got super low taxes and the mere fact that we can raise them without bankrupting the community makes Moody's feel all warm and fuzzy.

Still, a healthy reserve tank doesn't hurt either, so expect Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to push to put any remaining surplus monies – and there's going to be a bunch – into the reserve tank.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pionke receives pretty cool award

Cindy Pionke
Knox County Director of Planning and Development Cindy Pionke was awarded the John F. Exnicios Government Employee Outstanding Service Award at the Southern District Institute of Transportation Engineers annual meeting in April.

The award, established in 2006, recognizes outstanding professionals who make extraordinary contributions to both their community and the public sector transportation engineering profession. It was named in honor of John F. Exnicios, the longtime traffic engineer for the City of New Orleans.

Founded in 1930, the Institute of Transportation Engineers is a community of transportation professionals who serve as a gateway to knowledge and advancement through meetings, seminars and publications. The Southern District of the ITE is one of ten regional subdivisions that includes transportation engineering professionals in the states of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

For more info, click right smack here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More on property assessments, appeals

Apparently property appeals are down and local tax rates are expected to drop. If you didn't see it, we ran a story Saturday, right smack here.

A few things of note.

This year roughly 7,500 protests were filed either online, over the telephone or in person during a two-week informal appeals phase that wrapped up earlier this month. The changes equated to a $30 million cut in assessments, which amount to about a $708,000 reduction in county tax dollars that the Trustee’s Office would be on the hook for collecting if not for the change.

Some folks wondered why the office could be off by so much.

Well, here's the deal, I suppose.

The state every four years requires the assessor's office to estimate a value for each of the 193,437 real parcels in Knox County. To figure out the amount, officials use a “mass appraisal” system, a method uses a plethora of data, including some of it tied to the physical characteristic of the land, nearby home sales and vacancy rates that look at multiple parcels, sometimes up to more than a 1,000 pieces of land at one time.

The process changes, though, once a property owner files an appeal. Then, appraisers work one-on-one with the person.

So, it's a lot easier when you're dealing with one piece of property and not 1,000 pieces.

On a side note, officials said that those who filed appeals online used stronger documentation and presented a better case. Appraisers then had a chance to go back and look at the information, look at the sales and look at the entire area.

In a few cases, though, officials said they did find instances where the square footage was off completely. That happened at a condo complex. So, mess up once and the entire place needed to be corrected.

Also, I've heard a number of complaints from residents, talking about how their neighbor's property was assessed at a different rate, yet they have the same size houses.

Well, that's on paper.

Jim Weaver, the second-in-command over at the assessor's office, said that owners pretty much need to focus on the property they own – and not what their neighbor has. For example, he said a 2,000-square foot single-level house is worth more than a 2,000-square foot home broken into a 1,500-square foot main level and a 500-square foot basement.

Couple other things.

Property Assessor Phil Ballard said that there's also been a lot of new growth. He said that a third of it that's taken place in the five years that he's held the post actually occurred last year. He noted the development of Costco on Lovell Road, and Publix stores in Turkey Creek and Northshore Town Center as prime examples.

“You can look around and there's construction on every corner,” he said. “There's a lot of promise going on right now.”

When asked what upset residents the most during the appeals process, Weaver said he was surprised.

“You know the one complaint I heard this time around that I head never head before was from people who were concerned that their values went down,” Weaver said. “I personally took 10 to 15 calls and they would say that 'this is my life savings,' and then the value goes down. We don't make up the values. We just capture what the market is telling us.”

Monday, May 27, 2013

Guard of honor: Local man served as sentinel at Tomb of Unknown Soldier

Brian Murphy, middle, participates in a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
It takes a rare breed to make it to The Old Guard — and to stay.

Brian Murphy is one who did and spent a year guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The guards are members of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, better known as The Old Guard, formed in 1784.

Murphy, now 42, was born at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio but grew up in Harriman. After graduating from Roane County High School in 1989, Murphy decided to join the Army, where he set out to be an Airborne Ranger.

While he was in Ranger school at Fort Benning, Ga., he was recruited for the 3rd Infantry.

For the rest of this story, click right smack here.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Knox County office closed on Monday

The Knox County Government office will be closed Monday, May 27, in observance of Memorial Day.

But, technically, the left east of the Deathstar shuts down around 2 p.m. the Friday before any holiday (and sometimes even earlier). Heh.

The Knox County Commission, which holds its monthly meeting on the fourth Monday of each month, will instead meet Tuesday.

I'm assuming the city offices, too, will be closed, but - come on - does anyone who follows local government really care what the city does?

Naw, didn't think so. They're no fun.

Anyhoo, have a good long weekend.

Local leaders turn out for bocce ball

County Mayor Burchett
As noted, Knox County Mayor Tim “one day I'm gonna catch you, Bigfoot” Burchett and a number of other elected officials participated in an in inaugural game of bocce ball (whatever that is) this morning at Strickland Park off Asheville Highway.

It's apparently the first public bocce ball (whatever that is) court in Knox County, and is officially opening just in time for the long Memorial Day weekend.

The event also included CEMEX representatives who adopted the park and members of the community.

Michael “Big Sexy” Grider's assistant, Jennifer “Lightning” Linginfelter, took some pics and sent them my way, so I figured I'd share.

Knoxville Councilman and former Mayor Dan Brown

Knox County Commissioner Ed Shouse

Knoxville Councilman Nick Della Volpe

Former county Commissioner Tank Strickland

Thursday, May 23, 2013

City Council gets it done quietly

Gerald Witt at meeting. (Photo by Dan Andrews)
So, for all the knuckleheads and chicken heads out there - most of whom like to complain about "Mayor Maddie" on our comment section - well, where were you the other day?

(They call her that cause they think they're cute. It's just like the people who call county Mayor Tim Burchett "Timmy." Real clever, let me tell ya.)

Huh? Oh yeah, you hide behind your fake, silly little monikers and fire shots, but you don't have the guts to show up at a Knoxville City Council meeting (or County Commission meeting) and complain.

You get what you deserve.

Here's KNS porter Gerald Witt's take, right smack here, on who bothered to show up at the City Council meeting to talk about the gazillion dollar budget. (Hint: no one.)

My favorite hippie weighs in, right smack here (although he's more forgiving than me).

As Gerald notes:
Guess what? Those are the things most likely to affect (raise) your property taxes in coming years. Put in simpler terms: the decisions that city council, and your mayor make today will affect how much your pay in taxes tomorrow. Seen yet another way – enjoy your flat taxes this year, they could be rising in years to come.
And yeah, I know there's going to be a few folks who think they're clever. They're going to say something unoriginal, something stupid, like: "Well, if the media is there, then we don't need to be."

Sure, whatever. Just don't complain.

Cause we all know you will.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Burchett to play bocce with Nick

Add bocce to the long line of Tim Burchett weirdness. Heh.

The good county mayor, along with Knoxville Councilman Nick Della Volpe, will participate in the inaugural game of bocce ball at the county's first framed, public bocce ball court. Whatever all that is.

I had to Wikipedia the thing. Right smack here.

The game takes place at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Strickland Park (4618 Asheville Highway), according to the latest county spin release.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reeves nominated for U.S. judge gig

Pam Reeves
Not sure if you've seen this one, but President Obama nominated local legal eagle Pam Reeves for U.S. District judge for East Tennessee. If confirmed by the Senate, she would replace U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips, who retires this summer.

Local porch readers and those who keep up with county business have probably heard of Pam as she is the author of the eponymous “Reeves report.” (I do believe that is the first time I have ever used that word. Wonder if it was used correctly. Eh, whatever.)

Anyhoo, the 58-page report, released in March 2010 looked inot the Knox County Solid Waste Department and targeted former director John Evans, who is deceased, and Natural Resources Recovery of Tennessee, the management firm formerly charged with operating the county's Solway greenwaste facility.

It also criticized Evans because he waived the revenue-sharing fees - about $311,000 - the firm owed the county. The investigation also chastised Engineering and Public Works Director Bruce Wuethrich for not disciplining Evans.

You can find that report, right smack here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Trustee's chief of staff steps down

William "Bill" Curtis
William “Bill” Curtis' last day as chief of staff in the Knox County Trustee's Office was Wednesday. 

He is the third top ranking member of Trustee John Duncan III's team to leave in the past six months, although his exit is less controversial that the others.

“I'm almost 71 years old – that's the main reason,” he said laughing slightly Thursday. “I worked for 50 years. That's long enough.”

Curtis spent 40 years at Curtis Mortgage where he was president and CEO, and then sold it to BB&T Bank. He signed a no-compete contract, so he was essentially retired for a few years before joining Duncan's team when he took office in September of 2010. He was hired on as a stat programs administrator and later promoted to collections administrator.

When Duncan's then-chief of staff, Joshua Burnett, pleaded guilty to facilitation of official misconduct, the trustee appointed him to take over the position. 

Curtis, who earned $77,250, was generally well-respected in the office, although he was lumped in with a group of six others brought into the administration and who had close ties or made political donations to Duncan or his family. (He donated $1,000 to Duncan's campaign.)

However, Curtis was not connected to any of the employees who received education bonuses for classes that they never took, a scandal that has tarnished Duncan's time as trustee and led to the resignation of Burnett and office attorney Chad Tindell, who also pleaded guilty to the facilitation charge.

Curtis said he enjoyed his time working in the Trustee's Office, adding “we got some things accomplished.”

But, he said he also has five grandchildren he wants to “spend more time with and that's what I'll be doing.”

“I've been working all my life and there comes a time when you have to make a decision and make a change,” he said. “I enjoyed working up there but I have to make some time for myself.”

And in the meantime?

“Well, just today I've been mowing the law,” he said chuckling.

Duncan said Thursday that Kristin Phillips will take over the chief of staff gig on an interim basis. 

“She has worked in the office for twenty years and has proven to be hard working, extremely knowledgeable and capable of handling the additional responsibilities,” he said.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Carter Carnival to offer free stuff

The county is teaming up with Independent Insurance Consultants to present a community carnival at the Carter Senior Center (9040 Asheville Highway) on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It's free and open to the public. The event also will offer free health screenings, and 25 area businesses will offer free stuff.

There also will be games and prizes.

For more information, call the county at 865-215-4579.

County creek event set for Saturday

In his never-ending metal detecting, Bigfoot hunting quest, Knox County Mayor Tim burchett will be hanging out in the Halls Greenway (behind Food City/7114 Maynardville Pike) at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

Apparently, the mayor is participating in the “Families in the Creek” event, which the county's spin team says “is an educational opportunity for families to explore a local creek and learn about water quality issues.” (And for the mayor to finally catch Sasquatch.)

In addition to the fish assessment, the event (hosted by the county and the Beaver Creek Task Force) will include a stream walk, benthic macroinvertebrate (WTH????) assessment and a scavenger hunt.

Oh and get this: Registration for the event is now closed but was free to the first 40 registrants.

What the deuce? Then why did the county's spin team even send this out today? Bah. Since I typed it up, might as well post it.

UPDATE: Here's more on the creek event, right smack here.

Knox to pay for Carter school by June

The county is set to stroke the final check toward paying off Carter Elementary School, which opens in August, after it recently received the $5.75 million in folding paper it got from selling three pieces of property to Hillcrest HealthCare Communities (that the operation initially leased).

The commission obviously will have to sign off on it, but it shouldn't be a big deal. The money will cover the rest of the $13.9 million for the school as well as a little more than half the FF&E (furniture, fixtures, equipment), which will cost another $2 million.

The county will then sell some 1.5 acres off Middlebrook Pike, which will cover the remaining $900K it needs. Officials hope to actually get between $1 million to $2 million for that property. Key, though, will probably be how it's zoned.

It's currently zoned agriculture-residential. The county is asking the Knoxville City Council to rezone it to commercial (MPC recommends “office”). The council will take up the issue tonight and during its May 28 meeting.

Knox retirees to get paid sick days

Knox County officials are looking into a plan that would pay those retiring (it doesn't count if you're fired or quit) a portion of their sick leave. You see some employees toward the end of their careers like to call it in on Fridays and Monday and, you know, take that loooong weekend.

Well, the administration thinks that giving the sick days a little more meaning (in other words: Show me the coin), then employees are less apt to phone from home and abuse the day when they're really not sick.


The maximum payoff would be $10,000, or a total of 800 hours for a 40-hour employees. The Sheriff's Office and the school system already do this. (All county employees also get paid for their annual time when they leave.)

“You're putting a value on it (the sick day) and rewarding long-tenured employees,” said Casual Chris Caldwell, the county's top bean counter.

He added that the plan will be revenue neutral in that if someone leaves and gets paid out, the county won't replace that person until whatever amount of paid sick days have expired.

Non-profits to get "peddler" waiver

Late last year, the county commission approved new standards and regulations for roadside vendors (look them up yourselves – not doing it for you) and those who operate small, unlicensed flea markets in parking lots and out of abandoned businesses.

And already they have to amend the thing. (It's in the county code under "Peddlers and Solicitors.")

The commission will talk about working out some kind of deal to provide exemptions for programs run by non-profits, which will probably actually help the small vendors that fall under the umbrella of an already established 501c3. The non-profit would be subject to the codes, licenses, fees, whatevers, but the booths that operate with them wouldn't. That way not everyone would need to jump through the hoops.

A situation that comes to mind is if a neighborhood wants to hold a large sale on the side of the road.

Key to this is that the money of course would have to go toward charity.

Legislative dept to get official axe

As the County Commission preps for the upcoming fiscal year, there's a little house cleaning it needs to do, namely getting rid of the non-existent Office of Legislative Affairs in Knox County. (Did that even make sense?)

This was the one-person office that Patsy Miller ran for years. When county Mayor Tim Burchett took office, it was one of the first jobs he cut in the spring of 2011. (I believe Miller made about $50k a year.) Tim essentially told members of the local Legislative delegation (where he served for 16 years) to answer their owns phones. Since most of them already did, there wasn't a lot of heartburn.

No one ever bothered to appeal the private act that created the office. That will happen in the next few weeks. Not a big deal, really, but I figured like rambling.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

More on Ownby diversion note, censure

Jeff Ownby
I've noticed some debate lately regarding Knox County Commission Jeff Ownby's court hearing Friday and whether the judge should have or could have ordered him to write a letter, enter it into minutes of the next board meeting and turn it over to the media.

Some folks say the judge exceeded his bounds, some think it's plain mean. Whatever. The fact is Ownby had the option of not asking for judicial diversion. He could have walked away with a $500 fine. For some reason he feels judicial diversion will make everyone forget what happened. It won't.

The judge noted Friday that because Ownby sought judicial diversion, then he could impose a number of requirements. That letter was one of them. It was up to Jeff then to follow through. Or not to.

Now, on to this whole censure thing that the commission will discuss. Quite frankly, it's nothing more than a public reprimand, a symbolic expression with little practical value. Still, it creates headlines and the commission would be remiss if it didn't talk about it. That said, there will be some folks – possibly some on the commission although I don't know for sure – who will call for his resignation. I don't think he will.

The board last censured a fellow member in July 2009 when members publicly rebuked then-board member Greg “Lumpy” Lambert for his “disruptive behavior” at two meetings of the Task Force on Ridge, Slope and Hillside Development that took place weeks prior.

In June that same year, the commission also censured then-county Law Director Bill Lockett and asked for his resignation because of what members deemed “repugnant behavior.” Lockett, who would eventually resigned, later pleaded guilty to taking clients' payments that were intended for his former law firm, Kennerly, Montgomery & Finley.

Additionally, the board censured former county Mayor Mike Ragsdale in May 2008 in connection to questionable purchasing-card charges he and his top aides made.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Judge to Ownby: Write apology note

Greg Isaacs, left, Jeff Ownby on right
Man, what a weird hearing.

Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby was in court today and pleaded no contest to public indecency.

He could have paid a $500 and called it a day. Instead he asked for judicial diversion, which will wipe the record clean. In theory.

Ownby, whose job status is questionable (he said he was unemployed, then said he works part-time for a real estate company, and he also has a part-time commission job), told the judge that he was looking for work. He said he'd get to the third or fourth interview and be on his way to a job offer but would fail the background check.

Judicial diversion (I suppose he was suggesting) would get him out of all this.

Apparently, he's never heard of Google.

Anyhoo, the judge noted that because he sought diversion, he could then put some provisions in place.

And boy did he. He put Ownby on supervised probation for six months (that ain't free), told him to continue counseling (that ain't free) and told him to stay 100 yards away from Sharp's Ridge (that's free).

The kicker? Told him to write a letter “explicitly detailing” what he had done and to apologize. Then the judge changed his mind and told Ownby to just explain what he did and use general terms. Heh.

He told him that the letter must be entered into the Knox County Commission meeting minutes this month. Wow.

And, he told him to turn it over to the News Sentinel. Geez.

Further, the judge wanted it done by noon. (By the way, this is the letter, right smack here.)

None of this, of course, went over too well with Ownby's attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs.

The lawyer told the judge that he had some other pressing things he had to do. The judge told him to cancel them. Isaacs then wanted to know how he would get the letter to him. Judge said to email it. Isaacs then asked if he would get it. Judge told him: “Uh yeah. On my phone. I got one of those phones that's smarter than me.”


(On a side note, Isaacs needs to get a new phone. The guy drives around in a gazillion dollar car a wears some seriously fancy clothes sans socks, and yet he owns a 2-cent phone. But I digress.)

The judge, Blount County's William Brewer, again stressed that he wanted the letter by noon and to the media by 2 p.m. He said for Ownby it's “kind of like ripping the Band-Aid off . . . and he can get on with his life.”

At one point, he also said: I've been on the bench 24 years now and one thing I've found consistent is that human beings are interesting creatures. Why we do what we do is very intriguing . . . and by all accounts from what I've heard today and from what I've read, Mr. Ownby is a good man and a good citizen . . .”

Well, we'll see what happens on May 28.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

KCSO adds 54 new cars, bus to fleet

Sheriff Jones
The Man with the Badge? Naw, more like, the da Man with the Car.

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones sent out a small release yesterday evening, noting that his office will add 54 new cars and one 34-passenger, bad-guy-hauling bus to the KSCO fleet. The department will use 2014 Dodge Chargers for patrol and unmarked 2014 Chevrolet Impalas for detectives.

The sheriff had asked Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett to include 80 cars in his proposed budget. The mayor put in 25 and the bus. The plan now is to use some left over surplus coin to pay for another 29 cars.

The sheriff said if he could get between 50 to 55 cars a year, he wouldn't fret as much about the fleet. As it is right now, he said, most of the cars have more than 100,000 miles of “hard” mileage on them and the upkeep is starting to cost more in the long-term than just buying new ones.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Broyles to kick off LWVTn conference

Commissioner Broyles
Got an email from the Knox County Commission office, noting that Commissioner Amy Broyles will deliver the opening remarks at the League of Women Voters of Tennessee's 2013 Spring Convention set for tomorrow and Sunday in downtown Knoxville.

“This is a wonderful event for our area, and I am honored to be given the opportunity to kick it all off by welcoming women from across our state to our beautiful city,” Broyles said in a released statement. “This year's theme, 'Reaching Out, Making Change,' speaks precisely to the standard of leadership I embrace, and I am truly looking forward to an exciting and educational convention.”

Conference registration begins at noon tomorrow at the Hilton Knoxville, Downtown, with opening remarks beginning at 12:30 p.m. The convention wraps up at noon Sunday.

For more information, click right smack here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pic series: Following Casual Chris

Dan "da freakin' man" Andrews followed Knox County Finance Director Casual Chris Caldwell around for a couple of day (dude must have been bored out of his mind), and took a bunch of pics, wrote a little write-up and all that jazz.

Anyhoo, you can check it out, right smack here. Below is one of the pics. Note how Emperor Rice makes Jennifer Bodie, a senior accountant (in the background), lug all that stuff around. Should start calling him: "Hands free, care free Dean da potentate", cause that's how he rolls. Heh.

From left: Dean Rice, Jennifer Bodie, Casual Chris and assassin and chief budget overseer Jason Lay

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mayor unveils proposed budget today

Mayor Burchett
Had a story today about Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's proposed budget. You can find that bad boy, right smack here.

Just left the actual presentation. Here's the spin release and – for the most part – the mayor's speech, although the guy is actually pretty funny and sometimes leaves script, so the good stuff won't be in it.

And just cause I'm a nice guy,  right smack here, is the link to 54-pages of budget-ness. 

At this point, it doesn't look like there's going to be much of a battle this year. MPC got money, the school got funding, Beck Center got some scratch, the employees are getting some extra coin, and so an and so on.

Still, the County Commission doesn't meet until May 29 to talk about it, so we've got some time.