Friday, June 28, 2013

Headed out to give broadcast a shot

Most folks know by now, but if you don't . . . well . . . today's my last day at the Knoxville News Sentinel.

I'm headed over to Channel 10 (WBIR) where I'll be part of an investigative team that they're putting together.

There's no one reason, really, why I'm leaving. I've heard a couple of conspiracies and they're not true. Quite frankly, I've been doing this newspaper thing for at least 15 years, probably more, and I was looking for something different.

I've got no problem with the paper and I'm glad the KNS gave me the opportunities that it did. And there are a ton of great folks over there, no matter what the vocal minority of knuckleheads who comment on the paper's message board would have you believe. (I wonder how tough those losers would be if they actually had to sign their name to something. But I digress . . . ).

Again, I've been in papers for a good while, and I wanted the chance to try something new. It was not an easy decision.

On a side note, da Porch is coming with me. I own this sucker, so I'm not shutting it down. I'll also continue to keep an eye on Knox County government at least for here on the blog, although the station is giving me the chance to look into a lot more.

I start Monday.

In the meantime, I'm out.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More on the $300K thing, ObamaCare

There's some interesting spin going on (and one media outlet kind of messed up some stuff) about this whole ObamaCare thing and what the county owes. It's not just Knox County, folks. Anyhoo, here's a little more from the documents included in yesterday's post, right smack here, and from an email I got from the county's health insurance consultant (nope, not sharing that one, cause I'm greedy).

Sooooo, yes, Knox County this year is on the hook for almost $300,000 in “transitional reinsurance” fees tied to the Affordable Care Act, typically known as ObamaCare.

In addition, it will also have to make payments – 5.25 per member per month – each of the next two years.

Right now, the county has 4,700 members, including spouses and dependents, on its plan, so the amount owed will fluctuate as people join and leave, said county Finance Director Chris Caldwell.

The money at this point will come from the county's health insurance reserve fund, which stands at about $500,000. However, the administration wants to put up to $4 million in expected surplus revenues into it, once officials close the current fiscal year books, which will more than likely be in late August or early September.

The county's plan covers general county workers, fee office employees and the Sheriff's Office.
Humana, the county's third-party administrator, will actually collect the fee, and turn it over to the federal government.

The transitional reinsurance program will require all self-insured group health plans and health insurance issues – not just Knox County – to pay the per-enrollee fees.

In a note to county officials, Drew Mann, the county's health insurance consultant, told officials that the fees “are intended to stabilize premiums in the individual market for the first three years that the exchanges are in effect.”

He added that they will be used to make “payments to health insurance issuers that cover high-risk individuals in the individual market.”

In a letter sent June 10 to U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, who does not support the affordable care act, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett complained about the fee, calling it an “unintended consequence.”

He added: “It is a shame that the Obama Administration seems intent on punishing conscientious, self-insured organizations like Knox County to expand healthcare coverage to some who do not even want it.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

ObamaCare fees to cost Knox $300K

Looks like the county will have to ante up almost 300K in clams to cover a fee tied to the Affordable Care Act.

I'm certainly not going to get into whether this is a lot of money or not because it would mean debating the merits of ObamaCare and, quite frankly, both sides annoy me.

I did, however, chuckle after reading a letter Mayor Tim Burchett's sent to Congressman Duncan for no apparent reason other than to get some media coverage. He notes that Duncan didn't vote for the measure, then laments that it will cost the county money. (Like he didn't know this. Seriously. It's not a secret.)

Then Burchett tells the good Congressman that if he wants to learn more about it, he can call his office. Er . . . . . .

You can read the letter, which was no doubt authored by emperor Dean Rice and his underlings, right smack here.

The train wreck of a radio interview the two conducted this morning is more than likely somewhere on the Internet. Although it's no where near as funny as this one that has been floating around.

No word yet on how much the city, which also is self-insured, will have to spend. Probably a similar amount.

'Casual' county coin report Part VI

Chris Caldwell
And . . . again the Knox County Commission heard from head bean counter Casual Chris Caldwell during its monthly luncheon, and, so far, it looks like we're still on pace to get as much as $12 million in surplus revenues when the finance team officially closes the books in late August or early September.

He said as of the end of May the county's general fund was $5.3 million ahead compared to where it was at the same time last year. He noted that at the end of April the county was actually about $9 million ahead but called it “a timing thing.”

He then noted that the county should begin looking into putting some of those extra clams into its health insurance reserves.

The county is self-insured and has roughly $24 million in annual health insurances expenses, or roughly $2 million a month. However, he said, the county has only $500K in reserves dedicated to the fund.

“That's less than one week of claims, and so what you will see me do or beg of you to do is put as much as we can into it,” Caldwell said. “I would put a sizable amount of the surplus into the reserves – $3 million to $4 million at least.

He said the City of Knoxville, which is also self-insured, has a $13 million health insurance reserve fund.

However, he didn't say that the county right now has an overall record-freakin'-high $46.8 million in overall unallocated reserves right now – much, much, much, much higher than the city's overall reserve fund, which I'm still trying to nail down the exact amount.

Anyhoo, more fun stuff to come today. Commission meets.


UPDATE: The city's unallocated reserves are at about $18.4 million.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Knox County Sgt. in stable condition

The Porch wishes a speedy recovery to Knox County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Ledbetter, who was shot in the leg yesterday by some dumbass.

Ledbetter, who has been with the department since 1995, is in stable condition at Tennessee Medical Center where he underwent surgery for the wound.

He was shot yesterday during an exchange of gunfire because the suspect thought it was a brilliant idea to stage a standoff. (He got killed by the way.) The suspect was wanted on three outstanding warrants of aggravated assault, leaving the scene an accident and violation of probation.

You can find the story, right smack here.

Mayor Burchett to go creek wading

Ah, I yearn for the days when county communications manager-of-two Michael “Big Sexy” Grider did NOT flood my email inbox with “friendly reminders' tied to whatever the heck Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is doing.


Now? Well now, Jennifer “da Kid” Lightning-something-or-other sends them.

Rambling a bit here.

Anyhoo, tomorrow the mayor will wade into Beaver Creek as part of a "fish assessment activity" during a “Families in the Creek” event.

No, really. That's what the email said, although it spins it as “an educational opportunity for families to explore a local creek and learn about water quality issues.”

I figure that, really, the mayor just got himself a waterproof metal detector and he wants to try it out.

The event, also hosted by the county's stormwater management and par and rec departments in conjunction with the Beaver Creek Task Force, is set for 10 a.m. at the Halls Grenway behind Food City, 7114 Maynardville Pike.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Richard Bean to donate 500 sick days

Richard Bean (Photo by Miles Cary)
Richard L. Bean doesn’t mind working through a wound or two. Or even when he’s sick.

In fact, the last time he took a break was in 2005 after extensive jaw surgery.

And even then he missed only four days.

“I had my jaw wired for eight weeks and in that time I found out that McDonald’s has the biggest straw,” he said laughing. “I had to learn to eat everything through one, so I went shopping around.”

Bean, 73, has served as the supervisor of the Juvenile Service Center that bears his name for more than 41 years, and has accumulated 951 sick days — way more, he said, than he needs.

Now he wants to “set a darn good example” for the 65 or so employees who work under him, and “donate” 500 of them back to the county.

But exactly what that means remains to be seen.

“I really don’t know what to do with the days — this is the first time we’ve had someone do this,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, who found out about the plan last week when Bean sent him a letter.

In the note, Bean said he was “very fortunate to have lived the life that I have,” and “will be forever grateful for the opportunities given me as an employee of Knox County.”

When asked Thursday about his proposal, Bean said it’s a mostly symbolic move and that technically the days will just disappear. He won’t be paid for them, and they won’t go to anyone else.

“Everyone says I’m crazy, but I’m trying to get my employees to learn to save them,” he said, adding that the last time he took a vacation was “probably 20 years or longer.”

“I told everyone for years that I was saving them up and I would donate 1,000 days,” he said. “Well, I just gave away half of them, so now I can work on the other half.”

The supervisor added that he doesn’t plan to retire, and he doesn’t plan to take any time off — at least in the near future.

“Don’t get me wrong, I do get sick, but I come to work anyway,” he said. “I just don’t tell anyone I’m sick. I just show up.”

Each year, county employees accrue 12 sick days, which roll over if unused. Because of his years of service, Bean also gets 24 vacation days, but workers can carry over only 42 of those, before they turn into sick days.

That means Bean — since he donated the 500 — still has 451 days left.

So, could he take off for a couple of years and still make a little coin?

“Oh, no way. (Mayor) Tim Burchett would probably come in shooting if I did that,” he said chuckling.

Well, not really.

“It never ceases to amaze me, Richard Bean’s generosity,” Burchett said. “He’s put his heart and soul in for the kids. He gets to work every day before the crack of dawn and he’s a veteran. You just can’t say enough good things about him.”

The Knox County Commission on Monday is expected to approve a plan to pay retiring employees up to $10,000 for unused accumulated sick leave. Those who support the plan said it will encourage employees to be more productive in their last year on the job and not to call in sick when they might not be.

Bean won’t be paid for the days he donated, but still has way more than enough left that could fall under the proposal.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Broyles seeks $500K for 'Meals' plan

Amy Broyles
So, last year, when Knox County Commissioners were on a spending spree, eating up that good surplus money (man, you should have seen finance director Casual Chris Caldwell cringe as they were doing this), Commissioner Amy Broyles convinced the board to set aside $500K in coin for the Community Action Committee to dedicate toward senior transportation.

She swore she wouldn't ask for it again.

And she isn't. Not really. But she is asking for another $500K in folding paper for CAC. This time, though, it's for the Meals on Wheels program.

As one commissioner joked to me recently: Last year she asked for the wheels, and this year she wants the meals.


Anyhoo, she told me that because of the federal sequester from earlier this year, the program lost “tons of their funding,” and now has a waiting list of more than 100 folks.

She said if the county put up the money it would take the pressure off the organization, and give folks a year to fund the mobile meals program and hire a consultant to work with the program and help develop professional, long-term fund-raising plans not dependent on federal resources.

“Frankly, I don't think those funds are ever coming back,” Broyles said. “And if you see the folks on the waiting list – they're very, very elderly – if you see the list it will make you cry.”

Well, what the heck. You can read the list right smack here.

She added that “this will be money for the elderly citizens who can't prepare meals for themselves.”

“We drive on the roads that these people paid for and now we're going to skimp on the basic necessities of life?” she said.

Broyles acknowledged that $500K is a ton of coin, but called it “very miniscule in the scheme of Knox County government.” She said the remaining surplus money – we could get as much as $12 million – should go toward paying down debt or placed in the reserves, something Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has suggested.

My guess is the commission signs off on at least some of the money, although I've heard a few compromises that will be kicked around during Monday's work session that also sound pretty good.

There's is a chance, too, that the board approves all of the money (or none, I suppose). Last year my jaw – and many others – hit the floor when she asked for that much to fund transportation. But she made a pretty compelling argument up there on the dais and as local radio guy Hubert Smith pointed out at the time: Most of the people up there are a few weeks away from needing the services themselves.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rodgers: Close schools for elections

Clifford Rodgers
Was it last week that the school board talked about whether to hold class on Election Day? I can't remember. I know it's come up a couple of times (as folks talk about how and where to extend the school year by five days).

Anyhoo, Knox County's head election honcho, Clifford Rodgers doesn't think it's such a slick idea.

And he says so in a two-page letter he sent to school Superintendent Jim McIntyre more than a month ago.

Click right smack here for that bad boy.

As Cliff told me, he sent the letter to “refresh their memories about the realities of conducting elections during a school day.”

In the memo, which you really should read, he says that opening schools on election day will create problems that impact voters, students and teachers. He talks about accessibility, security and insanity.

(OK, I made up that last one.)

Still, it's a good read. Check it out.

(On a side note, I swiped the above photo from the Metro Pulse, but we own 'em, so . . . .)

City to host pretty cool bike race

I just saw this story. Right smack here. Apparently, the local leader folks announced Tuesday that Knoxville will host the nation's largest outdoor adventure racing event. (Why do I suspect those hippies over in the city are behind this?)

The Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing Championship will be held this October. As the largest bad boy on the block, it features sanctioned events and six divisions across the country. The Knoxville race will be the annual season-ending Championship.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Vote for recreation difference-maker

The city and county recreation departments are seeking nominations to recognize “those individuals who strive to make a difference in our community through recreation."

Submit names for the “Volunteer Awards Recognition” right smack here.

Finalist get to attend an award ceremony where they can hang out with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero at a fancy reception.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fountain City Library closed today

Knox County Communications Manager Michael "they finally gave me an assistant" Grider says the Fountain City Branch Library will be closed today "due to a nearby water main break that has cut off water to the facility."

He swears it has nothing to do with bed bugs and canines.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Next lunch with mayor at Steamboat

In his never-ending quest to eat with all people at all places, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett will host his next lunch with the mayor shin-dig this Friday from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at 2307 West Emory Road, across from Powell High School. Steamboat is also offering Lunch with the Mayor sandwich specials during that time.

According to the county's latest spin deal, just released by communications Manager of To, Michael "Big Sexy" Grider, Steamboat is a locally-owned franchise business with locations on Market Square and in Powell. The original Steamboat restaurant opened in Knoxville in 1989.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Free fishing day returns to cove

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is sponsoring Free Fishing Day on Saturday, June 8 from 8 a.m. to noon at The Cove at Concord Park. TWRA will provide fishing equipment and have several drawings for kids to win door prizes. The Tennessee Valley Sportsman Club will be cooking free hotdogs and snacks.

The Second Saturday Concerts at The Cove will continue this year with a wide variety of entertainment for the entire family. The free concert series kicks off this Saturday, June 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. with singer-songwriter Justin Harmon.

Medication collection on June 8

Looks like the city and county are doing another dump-your-drugs-day event.

Members of the East Tennessee Regional Medication Collection Coalition will be on hand to collect and properly dispose of unwanted medicines Saturday, June 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort Sanders West, according to the latest spin release.The empty plastic and paper medicine containers will be recycled if left with event

Medicines can only be dropped off at this location during the event. At all other times, Knox County residents can bring old or unused medicines to the Knoxville Police Department Safety Building at 800 Howard Baker Jr. Ave. The Safety Building is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The event is sponsor by: the Knoxville Police Department, Knox County and City of Knoxville Solid Waste Offices, Knox County Health Department, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and some other people, organizations, whatever.

Rain barrel, compost bin sale set

OK, so once again the Water Quality Forum is sponsoring a backyard compost bin and rain barrel sale on Saturday, June 15 that will allow residents to buy the environmentally-friendly devices at a discounted price, according to the latest county spin deal. The rain barrels and compost bins are available online, right smack here.

Residents can pre-order online until June 11 and then pick up their rain barrels and compost bins on June 15 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Chilhowee Park's Kerr Building Parking Lot, 3301 East Magnolia Avenue. There will also be a limited number of extras available the day of the sale.

The Ivy brand rain barrels offered through the program are made of 50 percent recycled plastic and manufactured in the United States. Rain barrels capture rainwater from roof tops by connecting to the gutter downspout. Water collected by the rain barrels can be used for gardens, lawns, and washing cars or pets.

These barrels capture water that would typically be sent down the storm drain carrying potential contaminants and contributing to flash flooding. The cumulative effect of rain barrels implemented throughout a municipality can have a significant impact on storm water management and water conservation.

Absences and costs of Carter school

So, just how big of a deal was yesterday's official unveiling of the new Tim Burchett Elementary School for the Carter Community?

Well, if you go by school system attendance, not very.

Only School Board member Mike McMillan, who represents East Knox County, schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, school PR person Melissa Ogden and principal Shay Siler (along with some teachers and students) were there. (I also might have spotted Doug Dillingham, who is over school construction or something.)

It also wasn't even mentioned during last night's county Board of Education meeting, according to our education reporter. Oh well.

Maybe the rest of the board will show up at the ribbon cutting in August.

In the meantime, a couple folks have asked how the county paid for the new facility. You know, despite the fact that we've reported it a gazillion times.

Anyhoo, according to Casual Chris Caldwell, the county's top bean counter, the total expenditure for the school is $13,869,737.84 And here's how they funded it:

  • $892,550.68: JP Morgan Settlement
  • $2,010,000.00: Solway
  • $943,818.22: City of Knoxville payoff of Animal Center
  • $2,500,000.00: Knox County Schools Capital Plan contribution
  • $3,419,250.00: E-911 Payment for building
  • $4,104,118.94: Hillcrest Nursing Facilities

Also, according to the casual one, the actual sale price of Hillcrest Nursing Facilities was $5,275,000. The remaining $1,170,881.06 will go to pay for the FF&E (Furniture, Fixtures, & Equipment) for Carter Elementary School. The county anticipates the total FF&E for Carter to be $2 million.

UPDATE: I received a call from a school board member who said members didn't receive invitations to the event. They suggested that it was probably an oversight.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Carter ceremony held this morning

The payment was actually sent in last week, but this morning, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett handed off a ceremonial check for almost $13.9 million to Partners Development in exchange for the keys to Tim Burchett Elementary School for the Carter Elementary.

“It took a lot of effort to get to this point, but today we can officially say that Carter Elementary School is a realization,” Burchett told a crowd of roughly 200, adding that “citizen involvement matters, and elected officials do listen.”

Construction crews still have some minor work left, but the 90,000-square foot TBESFTCC will open in August just in time for the new school year.

Here's a few photos from the event.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett working the crowd
Burchett signing the "check."
Michael "Big Sexy" Grider looking sexy
Commish Anders, Superintendent McIntyre, Mayor Burchett