Wednesday, July 31, 2013

County to install e-warning system

Knox County is set to implement a mass notification system that has the ability to quickly provide emergency telephone, text, or email notices to every one of its residents at one time or focus only on a single neighborhood or street corner if need be.

The communication service, which will cost about $70,000 a year to operate, should be in place within the next six months.

"I think it's going to be a marvelous thing to have, and I don't think there's any question that in a few years from now we'll look back and say that this is a great investment and that it also probably helped save some lives," said Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond, who is spearheading the effort.

Companies have until the end of August to place a bid. After that, an evaluation committee will recommend a vendor to the County Commission for final approval, possibly during the board's October meeting.

"I think this started back when we had the tornadoes about a year or so ago and all the destruction that occurred, and it really came to me the fact that we really didn't have any early warning system," Hammond said. "It's not just for tornadoes, though. Let's say there's an accident on Papermill Road. It can send out text messages to the people who live in a certain radius of the accident. Or if there's a water main leak and we have to close the road. It can let the people who live in the area know."

Read the whole bad a$$ story, right smack here.

State doles out preservation grants

Big Bill and the Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced 25 Historic Preservation Fund grants that combined for more than $600K in coin were awarded to community organizations for programs and activities that support the preservation of historic and archaeological sites, districts and structures, according to the spin release out of the governor's office.

The grants awarded come from federal funds allocated by the Department of Interior under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act. The programs authorized by this act are administered by the Tennessee Historical Commission. The grants pay for up to 60% of the costs of approved project work and the grant recipient must provide the remaining 40% of the costs as matching funds.

I think you can find the complete list of winners, right smack here

Locally, the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commissioner received $7,500 for design guidelines for some of the city's historic districts.

The commission also received $3,500 for a one-day window workshop with Bob Yapp.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mobile Meals telethon raises $125K

It looks like the community raised $125,027 in folding paper during Monday's Mobile Meals telethon at West Town Mall, according to the spin release, just sent out by county communications manager Michael "Big Sexy" Grider.

That's enough to cover 39,691 meals at $3.15 per meal, or to serve 152 seniors for an entire year.

“People ask me if I’m surprised by the generosity of this community,” said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett in a released statement.  “We all know that Knox County residents are some of the most generous people anywhere, but the community’s support of Mobile Meals exceeded my expectations.”

The Mobile Meals program serves noon meals, five days a week and holidays, to Knoxville and Knox County citizens who are at least 60 years old, who cannot cook for themselves and have no one to prepare meals for them.

For more info, click right smack here

President's Chattanooga job speech

So, President Barack Obama was in Chattanooga today, talking about jobs or something. Anyhoo, I just got the entire transcript if you're interested. If not move along. I don't care. I think the hatred the Republicans have for Obama is just as childish, gutless and immature as the hatred the Democrats expressed for Bush.

Let's face, neither of them is worth a flip.

So, here ya go:

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Chattanooga!  (Applause.)  It is good to be back in Tennessee.  (Applause.)  It’s great to be here at Amazon.  (Applause.) 

I want to thank Lydia for the introduction and sharing her story.  Give Lydia a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  So this is something here.  I just finished getting a tour of just one little corner of this massive facility -- size of 28 football fields.  Last year, during the busiest day of the Christmas rush, customers around the world ordered more than 300 items from Amazon every second, and a lot of those traveled through this building.  So this is kind of like the North Pole of the south right here.  (Applause.)  Got a bunch of good-looking elves here.     

Before we start, I want to recognize your general manager, Mike Thomas.  (Applause.)  My tour guide and your vice president, Dave Clark.  (Applause.)  You've got the Mayor of Chattanooga, Andy Berke.  (Applause.)  And you've got one of the finest gentlemen I know, your Congressman, Jim Cooper.  (Applause.)  So thank you all for being here.

So I’ve come here today to talk a little more about something I was discussing last week, and that’s what we need to do as a country to secure a better bargain for the middle class -– a national strategy to make sure that every single person who's willing to work hard in this country has a chance to succeed in the 21st century economy.  (Applause.) 

Now, you heard from Lydia, so you know -- because many of you went through it -- over the past four and a half years, we’ve been fighting our way back from the worst recession since the Great Depression, and it cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes and their savings.  And part of what it did is it laid bare the long-term erosion that’s been happening when it comes to middle-class security.  

But because the American people are resilient, we bounced back.  Together, we've righted the ship.  We took on a broken health care system.  We invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil.  Changed a tax code that had become tilted too much in favor of the wealthy at the expense of working families.  Saved the auto industry, and thanks to GM and the UAW working together, we're bringing jobs back here to America, including 1,800 autoworkers in Spring Hill.  (Applause.)  1,800 workers in Spring Hill are on the job today where a plant was once closed. 

Today, our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs over the last 40 months.  This year, we’re off to our best private-sector jobs growth since 1999.  We now sell more products made in America to the rest of the world than ever before.  (Applause.)  We produce more renewable energy than ever.  We produce more natural gas than anybody else in the world.  (Applause.)  Health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in 50 years.  Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.  (Applause.)

So thanks to hardworking folks like you, thanks to the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve been able to clear away some of the rubble from the financial crisis.  We've started to lay a new foundation for a stronger, more durable America -- the kind of economic growth that’s broad-based, the foundation required to make this century another American century. 

But as I said last week, and as any middle-class family will tell you, we’re not there yet.  Even before the financial crisis hit, we were going through a decade where a few at the top were doing better and better, but most families were working harder and harder just to get by.  And reversing that trend should be Washington’s highest priority.  (Applause.)  It’s my highest priority. 

But so far, for most of this year, we’ve seen an endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals.  And we keep on shifting our way -- shifting our attention away from what we should be focused on, which is how do we strengthen the middle class and grow the economy for everybody.  (Applause.)  And as Washington heads towards yet another budget debate, the stakes couldn’t be higher. 

And that’s why I’m visiting cities and towns like this -– to lay out my ideas for how we can build on the cornerstone of what it means to be middle class in America.  A good job with good wages.  A good education.  (Applause.)  A home to call your own.  (Applause.)  Affordable health care that’s there for you when you get sick.  (Applause.)  A secure retirement even if you’re not rich.  (Applause.)  More chances for folks to earn their way into the middle class as long as they’re willing to work for it.  And, most importantly, the chance to pass on a better future for our kids.  (Applause.)

So I’m doing a series of speeches over the next several weeks, but I came to Chattanooga today to talk about the first and most important cornerstone of middle-class security, and that's a good job in a durable, growing industry.  (Applause.)

It’s hard to get the other stuff going if you don't have a good job.  And the truth is everything I’m going to be talking about over the next several weeks really is about jobs.  Because preparing our children and our workers for the global competition they’ll face, that’s about jobs.  A housing finance system that makes it easier and safer to buy and build new homes, that’s about jobs in the construction industry.  Health care that frees you from the fear of losing everything after you’ve worked so hard, and then having the freedom to maybe start your own business because you know you’ll be able to get health care, that’s about jobs.  And, obviously, retirement benefits speak to the quality of our jobs.

And let me say this, it’s something everybody here understands:  Jobs are about more than just paying the bills.  Jobs are about more than just statistics.  We’ve never just defined having a job as having a paycheck here in America.  A job is a source of pride, is a source of dignity.  It’s the way you look after your family.  (Applause.)  It’s proof that you’re doing the right things and meeting your responsibilities and contributing to the fabric of your community and helping to build the country.  That's what a job is all about.  It’s not just about a paycheck.  It’s not just about paying the bills.  It’s also about knowing that what you’re doing is important, that it counts. 

So we should be doing everything we can as a country to create more good jobs that pay good wages.  Period.  (Applause.)

Now, here’s the thing, Chattanooga, the problem is not that  we don't have ideas about how we could create even more jobs.  We’ve got a lot of ideas out there.  There are plenty of independent economists, plenty of business owners, people from both parties agree on some of the ingredients that we need for creating good jobs.  And you’ve heard them debated again and again over these past few years.  I proposed a lot of these ideas myself.  Just two years ago, I announced the American Jobs Act -- full of ideas that every independent economist said would create more jobs.  Some were passed by Congress.  But I got to admit, most of them weren’t.  Sometimes there were ideas that historically had Republican support and for some reason suddenly Republicans didn’t want to support them anymore.

Putting people back to work rebuilding America’s infrastructure.  Equipping our kids and our workers with the best skills.  Leading the world in scientific research that helps to pave the way for new jobs in new industries.  Accelerating our clean energy and natural gas revolutions.  Fixing a broken immigration system so that American workers aren’t undercut, undermined because some businesses are unscrupulous and hiring folks and not paying them decent wages.  (Applause.) 

Independent economists say immigration reform would boost our economy by more than a trillion dollars.  So we’ve got ideas out there we know can work.  And if we don’t make these investments, if we don’t make these reforms, then we might as well be waving the white flag to the rest of the world, because they’re moving forward.  They’re not slowing down.  China, Germany, India -- they’re going.  And we can’t just sit by and do nothing.  Doing nothing doesn’t help the middle class.  (Applause.) 

So today, I came here to offer a framework that might help break through some of the political logjam in Washington and try to get Congress to start moving on some of these proven ideas.  But let me briefly outline some of the areas I think we need to focus on if we want to create good jobs, with good wages, in durable industries -– areas that will fuel our future growth.

Number one -- jobs in American manufacturing.  (Applause.)  Over the past four years, for the first time since the 1990s, the number of manufacturing jobs in America hasn’t gone down, it’s actually gone up.  (Applause.)  So the trend lines are good; now we’ve got to build on that progress.  I want to offer new incentives for manufacturers not to ship jobs overseas, but to bring them back here to America.  (Applause.)  I want new tax credits so communities hit hardest by plant closures can attract new investment.  (Applause.) 

In my State of the Union address, I asked Congress to build on a successful pilot program we’ve set up.  We want to create not just 15 manufacturing innovation institutes that connect businesses and universities and federal agencies to help communities left behind by global competition to become centers of high-tech jobs.  Today, I’m asking Congress to build on this bipartisan support and triple that number from 15 to 45 -- these hubs -- where we’re getting businesses, universities, communities all to work together to develop centers of high-tech industries all throughout the United States that allow us to be at the forefront of the next revolution of manufacturing.  I want it made here in the United States of America.  I don't want that happening overseas.  (Applause.)

Number two -- I talked about this last week -- jobs rebuilding our infrastructure.  I look at this amazing facility and you guys, you don't miss a beat.  I mean, you've got these packages coming out.  You've got dog food and Kindles and beard trimmers.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there's all kinds of stuff around here.  But once it's packed up, it's got to get to the customer.  And how quickly and how dependably it gets to the customer depends on do we have good roads, do we have good bridges, do we have state-of-the-art airports. 

We've got about $2 trillion of deferred maintenance here in this country.  So let’s put more construction workers back on the job doing the work America needs done.  (Applause.)  These are vital projects that Amazon needs, businesses all across the country need, like widening Route 27 here in Chattanooga -- (applause) -- deepening the Jacksonville Port that I visited last week.  These are projects vital to our national pride.

We're going to be breaking ground this week at the St. Louis Arch.  Congress should pass what I've called my “Fix-It-First” plan to put people to work immediately on our most urgent repairs, like the 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare.  That will create good middle-class jobs right now.  (Applause.)  And we should partner with the private sector to upgrade what businesses like Amazon need most.  We should have a modern air traffic control system to keep planes running on time.  We should have modern power grids and pipelines to survive a storm.  We should have modern schools to prepare our kids for the jobs of tomorrow.  (Applause.)  

Number three, we need to keep creating good jobs in energy -- in wind and solar and natural gas.  Those new energy sources are reducing energy costs.  They're reducing dangerous carbon pollution.  They're reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  So now is not the time to gut investments in American technology.  Now is the time to double down on renewable energy and biofuels and electric vehicles, and to put money into the research that will shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.  (Applause.) 

And let me tell you, cheaper costs of natural gas is a huge boost to our businesses here in America, so we should develop it even more.  We've got to do it in a way that protects our air and our water for our children and future generations.  But we can do that.  We've got the technology to do it. 

Number four, we've got to export more.  We want to send American goods all around the world.  (Applause.)  A year ago, I signed a new trade agreement with Korea, because they were selling a lot of Hyundais here, but we weren't selling a lot of GM cars over there.  Since we signed that deal, our Big Three automakers are selling 18 percent more cars in Korea than they were.  (Applause.) 

So now we've got to help more of our businesses do the same thing.  I’m asking Congress for the authority to negotiate the best trade deals possible for our workers, and combine it with robust training and assistance measures to make sure our workers have the support and the skills they need for this new global competition.  And we're going to have to sharpen our competitive edge in the global job marketplace. 

Two years ago, we created something called SelectUSA.  This is a coordinated effort to attract foreign companies looking to invest and create jobs here in the United States.  And today I’m directing my Cabinet to expand these efforts.  And this October, I’m going to bring business leaders from around the world, and I'm going to connect them to state leaders and local leaders like your mayor who are ready to prove there’s no better place to do business than right here in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Number five -- let's do more to help the more than 4 million long-term unemployed Americans that are out there.  (Applause.)  One of the problems is a lot of folks, they lose their jobs during this really bad recession through no fault of their own.  They've got what it takes to fill that job opening, but because they’ve been out of work so long employers won’t even give their application a fair look.  (Applause.) 

So I’m challenging CEOs to do more to get these Americans back on their feet.  And I'm going to bring together the CEOs and companies that are putting in place some of the best practices for recruiting and training and hiring workers who have been out of work for a long time, but want the chance to show that they're ready to go back to work.  (Applause.) 

And at the same time, I'm calling on our businesses to do more for their workers.  (Applause.)  Amazon is a great example of what's possible.  What you're doing here at Amazon with your Career Choice Program pays 95 percent of the tuition for employees who want to earn skills in fields with high demand -- not just, by the way, jobs here at Amazon, but jobs anywhere --  computer-aided design or nursing.  I talked to Jeff Bezos yesterday, and he was so proud of the fact that he wants to see every employee at Amazon continually upgrade their skills and improve.  And if they've got a dream they want to pursue, Amazon wants to help them pursue it.  (Applause.) 

That’s the kind of approach that we need from America's businesses.  Offering training programs, health care, retirement plans, paying better wages -- that’s not just the right thing to do, it’s actually good for your bottom line.  A recent study shows that when a company makes the list of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America,” its share price outperforms its competitors, because the stock market and investors, they know if a company has employees that are motivated and happy, that business is more likely to succeed.  (Applause.)  That business is more likely to succeed.

And because nobody who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I'm going to keep on making the case and fighting for the fact that we need to raise our minimum wage, because right now it's in lower terms than it was when Ronald Reagan took office.  (Applause.)  When folks have more money in their pockets, that’s good for Amazon; it means your customers have a little more money.  They can order a little more of that protein powder.  (Laughter.)  I noticed a lot of folks were ordering protein power.  Everybody is trying to get bulked up.  (Laughter.) 

So here's -- those are some of the ideas that we're out there, we're promoting.  We're not lacking for ideas, we're just lacking action, especially out of Washington.  (Applause.)

For most of the past two years, Washington has just taken its eye off the ball when it comes to the middle class.  And I'll tell you -- look, there are a growing number of -- the good news is there are a growing number of Republican senators who are trying to work with Democrats to get some stuff done.  (Applause.)  That’s good news. 

The bad news is that rather than keep our focus on what should be our priority -- which is growing our economy and creating good middle-class jobs -- we’ve seen a certain faction of Republicans in Congress hurt a fragile recovery by saying that they wouldn’t pay the very bills that Congress racked up in the first place, threatening to shut down the people’s government if they can’t get rid of Obamacare.  Instead of reducing our deficits with a scalpel to get rid of programs we don’t need, but keep vital investments that we do, this same group has kept in place this meat cleaver called the sequester that is just slashing all kinds of important investments in education and research and our military.  All the things that are needed to make this country a magnet for good middle-class jobs, those things are being cut. 

And these moves don’t just hurt our economy in the long term; they hurt our middle class right now.  The independent Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cuts that are being made right now in Washington will cost our economy 750,000 jobs this year; 900,000 fewer jobs next year.  And a lot of the jobs at risk are at small businesses that contract with our military or our federal agencies.

Over the past four years, another 700,000 workers at the federal, state, and local levels of government have lost their jobs.  These are cops and firefighters, and about half of them are people who work in our schools.  Those are real jobs.  It doesn’t help a company like Amazon when a teacher or a cop or a firefighter loses their job.  They don't have money to place an order.  That's hundreds of thousands of customers who have less money to spend. 

If those layoffs had not happened, if public sector employees grew like they did in the past two recessions, the unemployment rate would be 6.5 percent instead of 7.5 percent.  Our economy would be much better off, and the deficit would still be going down because we’d be getting more tax revenue.

So the point is, if Washington spent as much time and energy these past two years figuring out how to grow our economy and grow our middle class as it’s spent manufacturing crises in pursuit of a cut-at-all-costs approach to deficits, we’d be much better off.  We’d be much better off.  (Applause.)

And it’s not like we don't have to cut our deficits.  As a share of the economy, we’ve cut our deficits by nearly half since I took office.  Half.  And they're projected to go down even further, but there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.  And we should do it in a way that actually helps middle-class families instead of hurts them.  (Applause.)

I’ve told Republicans that if they’re serious about a balanced, long-term fiscal plan that replaces harmful budget cuts that would get serious about a long-term plan that prevents those 900,000 jobs from being lost, that helps grow the economy, that helps the middle class, I am ready to go.  But we can't lose sight of our North Star.  We can’t allow an impasse over long-term fiscal challenges to distract us from what the middle class needs right now.

So here’s the bottom line:  If folks in Washington really want a grand bargain, how about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs?  (Applause.)  How about a grand bargain for middle-class jobs?  

I don't  want to go through the same old arguments where I propose an idea and the Republicans just say, no, because it’s my idea.  (Applause.)  So I’m going to try offering something that serious people in both parties should be able to support:  a deal that simplifies the tax code for our businesses and creates good jobs with good wages for middle-class folks who work at those businesses. 

Right now, everybody knows this -- our tax code is so riddled with loopholes and special interest tax breaks that a lot of companies who are doing the right thing and investing in America pay 35 percent in their taxes; corporations who have got fancy accountants and stash their money overseas, they pay little or nothing in taxes.  That’s not fair, and it's not good for the economy here. 

So I'm willing to simplify our tax code -- closes those loopholes, ends incentives to ship jobs overseas, lowers the rate for businesses that are creating jobs right here in America, provides tax incentives for manufacturers that bring jobs home to the United States.  Let's simplify taxes for small business owners, give them incentives to invest so they can spend less time filling out complicated forms, more time expanding and hiring. 

I'm willing to do all that that should help businesses and help them grow.  But if we’re going to give businesses a better deal, then we're also going to have to give workers a better deal, too.  (Applause.)  I want to use some of the money that we save by closing these loopholes to create more good construction jobs with infrastructure initiatives that I already talked about.  We can build a broader network of high-tech manufacturing hubs that leaders from both parties can support.  We can help our community colleges arm our workers with the skills that a global economy demands.  All these things would benefit the middle class right now and benefit our economy in the years to come.

So, again, here’s the bottom line:  I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs.  That’s the deal.  (Applause.) 

And I'm just going to keep on throwing ideas out there to see if something takes.  (Laughter.)  I'm going to lay out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot.  But now it's time for Republicans to lay out their ideas. 

If they’ve got a better plan to bring back more manufacturing jobs here to Tennessee and around the country, then let them know -- let me know.  I want to hear them.  If they've got a better plan to create jobs rebuilding our infrastructure or to help workers earn the high-tech skills that they need, then they should offer up these ideas. 

But I've got to tell you, just gutting our environmental protection, that’s not a jobs plan.  Gutting investments in education, that’s not a jobs plan.  They keep on talking about this -- an oil pipeline coming down from Canada that’s estimated to create about 50 permanent jobs -- that’s not a jobs plan.  Wasting the country’s time by taking something like 40 meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare is not a jobs plan.  That’s not a jobs plan.  (Applause.) 

So let's get serious.  Look, I want to tell everybody here the truth.  And you know, look, I know that the politics for Obama aren't always great in Tennessee.  I understand that.  But I want everybody to just hear the honest truth.  I've run my last campaign, so I don't need to spin.  (Applause.) 

And here's the truth -- there are no gimmicks that create jobs.  There are no simple tricks to grow the economy.  Growing the economy, making sure that the middle class is strong is like getting in shape.  You can't just go on the muffin and doughnut diet and the latest fad and lose weight.  You've got to work out and you've got to eat better.  Well, the same is true for our economy.  The same is true for helping the middle class.

We've got to have a serious, steady, long-term American strategy to reverse the long-term erosion of middle-class security and give everybody a fair shot.  (Applause.)  And we know what we have to do.  It involves education.  It involves infrastructure.  It involves research.  It involves good energy policy.  And we just have to stay at it -- more good jobs that pay decent wages, a better bargain for the middle class, an economy that grows from the middle out.  That's got to be our focus. 

We can't be getting into a whole bunch of fads and pretend like you roll back Obamacare and suddenly all these jobs are going to be created, because the middle class was struggling before I came into office.  (Applause.)  The middle class was losing ground before I came into office.  (Applause.)  Jobs were getting shipped overseas before Obamacare was in place.  So we've got to be honest.  We've got to be honest about the challenges we face, but also the opportunities that are out there. 

And that's what I'm going to be focused on not just for the next few months.  I'm going to be focused for every one of the 1,270 days I've got left in my presidency on how to make sure that we've got more opportunity and more security for everybody who is willing to work hard in this country.  That's where I believe America needs to go.  (Applause.)  And we can do it if we work together, Chattanooga.  Let's get to work. 

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Art museum to close until late Nov.

The Knoxville Museum of Art's landmark Clayton Building will shut down Aug. 26 and remain closed until Nov. 29 as crews begin a comprehensive renovation inside the place. (It's expected to open in time for the East Tennessee Regional Student Art Exhibit.)

“These are exciting times for the KMA as well as for Knoxville and East Tennessee,” said KMA Executive Director David Butler in a released statement. “While we would rather not close our doors to the public at any time, what they will see when we reopen will be well worth the inconvenience.” 

Fancy artist's rendering or something

Exterior cleaning and repairs started in January. The new inside work includes installing new floors, upgrading bathrooms, renovating the catering kitchen, painting, and installing new lighting.  In addition, the North Garden will be regraded, terraced, and landscaped.  Exterior and interior renovations and improvements will get the museum ready for the unveiling of Richard Jolley’s monumental glass and steel sculpture Cycle of Life in early May 2014.

Updates on the renovations will be captured right smack here.

Couple of fund-raisers top the day

Couple of great charity events going on today, with fund-raisers taking place for the "kiss-a-pig" deal and the "mobile meals" program.

Details to the pig event are right smack here. Although online voting wrapped up yesterday, folks can still cast ballots during today's receptions (in which the winner kisses "Pinky") from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Square Room on Market Square. State Sen. Stacey Campfield is currently leading the pack. The program benefits the American Diabetes Association.

Also, going on today is the meal event, a telethon spearheaded by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and some local media, but primarily WBIR. (Why "primarily"? Cause I said so.)

Anyhoo, the number is 865-690-3500 if you want to pledge some coin. All - that's 100 percent - of the proceeds will be used to buy food for the program, which serves seniors ages 60 and up who cannot cook for themselves and do not have anyone who can help.

If you don't help out one or both of these programs (and you have the folding paper to do so), then you hate people with diabetes and you hate seniors.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Politico talks Alexander, Burchett

Politico, the journalism web site, ran a piece this morning on U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander that pretty much said nothing.

You can find it, right smack here. Of interest in it, however, was this short mention:
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he’s been approached by state conservatives and is considering the bid but acknowledged that it’s going to be hard to beat the GOP “ruling class.”

“He needs to be challenged,” Burchett said, noting that Alexander is a friend and fraternity brother. “Every political person in Tennessee has already endorsed the senator, but when you ask them about amnesty, they’re against it.”
The article mentioned that Burchett and Alexander met a few weeks ago for lunch and  the good senator said "we talked about various Knox County issues."


From what I understand, Alexander had no clue about what he was talking about, particularly when school issues and tax increases were mentioned.

Still, it doesn't matter. Burchett could probably give him a better run than anyone else (and it would be fun to watch). And the tea party - for good or bad - will back him because they're going to support anyone taking on Lamar, but he's not going down.

And I doubt Burchett will run. Not yet.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Leuthold's trustee bond to cost $55K

Well, it looks like new Knox County Trustee Craig Leuthold was able to get bonded. To the tune of $55,000 in folding paper, which is - what? - six times what it's cost in the past. (Most other trustees cost $8,500 to $9,000.)

Now, Leuthold isn't to blame for this. You can thank his predecessors who couldn't keep their hands out of the free money till. Or whatever.

Anyhoo, Leuthold, who was picked Monday in a 6-4 vote by the Knox County Commissioner to serve out the remaining months of John Duncan III's term, will be bonded by the Hanover Insurance Group. (As you might recall, Duncan pretty much pleaded guilty to paying out about - you guessed it - $55K in bonuses for educational courses that his employees never finished. Am I the only one seeing a $55K trend? Heh.)

Bonding became an issue earlier this month when the Hartford Group, the previous bonding agency, refused to bond Kristin Phillips, who served in the interim role for a few weeks between Duncan and Leuthold. Officials with the company basically said they are sick of the "track record of misconduct with the position of trustee for Knox County."

County finance Director Chris Caldwell said the $55K in coin will cover a year, and his office hopes to work out a more cheaper arrangement with the bonding company after that.

County Mayor Tim Burchett signs the bond for Leuthold

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mayor Burchett authorizes new raises

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has authorized new pay raises for almost half the employees under the executive branch purview, with much of the increases set aside for workers who make $30,000 or less annually.

But, three top ranking officials, including the administration’s chief of staff, also will get significant bumps that combine for $29,400 in raises.

The adjustments, which took effect July 1, are in addition to the 2 percent raises for general county employees and those who work in the Sheriff’s Office that Burchett and the Knox County Commission publicly discussed and approved during budget talks this past spring. 

The commission will still have to sign off on the new adjustments when the administration brings the board a set of proposals on how it wants to use expected surplus money the county will receive in late August. If the board declines, the employees will still get the raises because officials have built into the budget “enough negative allocations,” meaning money set aside for positions currently vacant that could cover the costs, said county Finance Director Chris Caldwell.

The raises, including benefits, will cost the county about $1.1 million with the bulk of the costs coming this year and the rest set for next July. Officials say overall increased revenues, like an uptick in tax collections, will cover the additional recurring expense.

On average, the positions received a 5 percent bump in addition to the 2 percent previously approved in the current fiscal year’s budget, which took effect July 1.

Of the 400 jobs that received adjustments, almost 55 percent earned $30,000 or less and just over 75 percent made $40,000 or less.

However, seven employees who make more than $70,000 annually also will benefit. And three of them – Chief of Staff Dean Rice, Finance Director Caldwell, and Purchasing Director Hugh Holt – earn more than $100,000.

You can read the full story, with more details, right smack here.

Pinky readies for a Campfield kiss?

So, the other day, I blogged about the seven local elected folks who opted to participate in a fundraising even in which the "winner" has to kiss a pig. Check it out, right smack here.

Anyhoo, the good people from the  American Diabetes Associations, which is hosting the event, stopped by the WBIR studio the other day to talk about the event. And, yup, they brought the pig with them. Her name is "pinky," and she is uuuuu---glii----eeee.

Ha ha. I know that's mean. She's not too bad looking. Heh. (Face only a mother would love. Heh.) Oh man, so, anyway, whoever raises the most money in the online contest has to kiss a pig.

You vote, right smack here, for either Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, state Sen. Stacey Campfield, Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, commission Chairman Tony Norman, Knoxville Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis, Knoxville Councilman Nick Della Volpe and state Rep. Joe Armstrong.

At the present moment Campfield is winning. I guess it's a good thing that the pig is a she and not a he. Cause, you know. Heh.

In the meantime, the results of the contest, which ends on Sunday, are right smack here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fueling the fire for Trustee 'fix'

So at some point during yesterday's Knox County Commission meeting, a number of board members were leaning toward postponing the vote to select a trustee. One key argument was that Commissioner Mike Brown wasn't there.

Members suggested waiting anywhere between 14 days and next month's voting session. Eventually, they opted to vote instead.

This is actually a head scratcher and is only going to (cliche alert) fuel the fire that "the fix was in." (And no, I don't believe there was a fix, but whatever.)

So, think about it.

During last week's work session, the board agreed to hold off the vote on whether to fire county internal auditor Richard Walls. The reason? Brown wouldn't be there to vote.

You see, word going around is that there are enough commissioners (you need six) to vote out Walls. Yet, Brown is a Walls' supporter. So, that was the excuse: Give Brown a chance to weigh in. But, what difference does it make if the other side has its six votes? None.

However, yesterday's trustee vote - which is certainly a  more important matter - was a heck of a lot closer. It went four round until commission Chairman Tony Norman said the "heck with it" and broke the 5-5 tie, switching over vote for Craig Leuthold.

Too bad we'll never know what would have happened had Brown been there. It certainly would have made sense to wait for his return. I guess.

I mean, the board was going to wait for him on the Walls vote, which a lot of folks say is a done deal. (I hope not - Walls is a good guy.)

Like I said: What's the hurry? The board postpones practically everything else. Heh.

Anyhoo, in the meantime, congrats goes out to Leuthold.

For all the trash talk going around, I'm sure he'll do a good job, and his appointment will certainly make for a spirited race if Commissioner Ed Shouse does decide to run against him in next May's Republican primary.

Monday, July 22, 2013

'Casual' county coin report Part VII

Chris Caldwell
Time for the (almost) monthly casual coin report, brought to you by the county’s top bean counter, Chris Caldwell.

Not a whole lot going on today, but the casual one says the county is still on pace to get $6 million to $8 million in surplus revenues when it closes the book in late August. Not too shabby.

He told the Knox County Commission during its luncheon today that general fund revenues are $8.9 million ahead of where they were this time last year. But, expenses also are up $12.7 million. He said this “has a lot to do with designations from the current year that are” tied to last year.

He said school revenues are up $6.2 million, and so are expenses – to the tune of $38 million.

“I know it seems a little alarming but it has to do with designations and the timing of revenue,” Caldwell told the board. “It’s not a big concern. I think it will play itself out.”

OK then.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

7 local leaders compete to kiss pig

Oh man, this is brilliant. To raise money for the American Diabetes Association, seven local elected officials have agreed to participate in the "Kiss-a-Pig" online fundraiser.

Names? Of course.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, state Sen. Stacey Campfield, Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs, commission Chairman Tony Norman, Knoxville Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis, Knoxville Councilman Nick Della Volpe and state Rep. Joe Armstrong.

According to a release issued by Moxley Carmichael (hey, they're doing it for free, so they get the plug), whichever participant raises the most money gets to kiss the pig. Yeah, somehow winning doesn't sound like such a great idea. Heh.

The contest is apparently, the first ever citywide event like this and is hosted by the KCDC Wellness Warriors, which will benefit the ADA's "Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes" event on Oct. 20.

So, head on over to - click right smack here - and vote online through July 28. (One dollar donations equals one vote.)

Then, come to the reception from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on July 29 to see the winning candidate pucker up and kiss the pig.

For more information and to read the entire release, click right smack here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Smith polls Trustee Dept on new boss

On Thursday, Knox County Commissioner Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith met with workers in the Trustee's Office and asked who they wanted to lead them.

He said he asked workers there to write down three candidate names. He also asked them to write down the person they would not want in the job.

"They were tickled to death - they were glad someone wanted their opinion," he told me, adding that he is still visiting the department's satellite offices and should finish the poll by Monday when the commission makes its pick.

Smith said that so far he hasn't peeked at the names, but he will by Monday.

(Here's the Rogue's take on the matter, right smack here.)

OK, couple things about this selection process:

Whoever is picked is going to need six votes. I'm assuming Ed Shouse will recuse himself since he's looking for the gig. Also Mike Brown will not be at the meeting. (By the way, the Mike Brown that applied for the job is not the same person as the commissioner.)

There's a good chance the board comes to an impasse, and has to redo the whole thing in August. (Right now the frontrunners are Shouse, Craig Leuthold and Bill Curtis.)

Another thing. Someone sent the local media and the commissioners a note, talking crap about Curtis, the office's former manager and a candidate for the position.

It's BS. I looked into it. That, however, doesn't stop someone from disparaging another candidate a few days before the "election." I'm not going to bother posting the letter here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Meeting tonight to talk Karns center

The county tonight will hold an informal public meeting designed to get resident input about the potential site and services for the proposed Karns Senior Center.

Officials will hold the shindig at 6 p.m. at the Karns Branch Library.

The Karns area is pretty much the spot in the county to not have such a center. It will probably cost at least $1.2 million to build.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Knox trustee applicants now up to 17

Well, I knew some folks would come crawling out of the woodwork for this one, to become tax collection head honcho. Course it doesn't hurt that the job pays $113K in folding paper, either. Heh.

Anyhoo, we're now up to 17 applicants. You can check out the names, right smack here. The most well-known of the new batch is Craig Leuthold.

Craig, a former Knox County commissioner, spent 16 years in the Trustee's Office before moving over to the property assessor's department in 2010. He most recently served as chairman of the Knox County Charter Review Committee, and to his credit did a pretty good job. (Hey, I can say that - I sat in almost every one of those suckers.)

As noted, yesterday, right smack here, there are a number of good candidates. And, as I recall, folks can still turn in applications up until noon on Monday.

The commission at 1 p.m. will then hold brief interviews with folks and make a final decision the following Monday during the regular monthly voting meeting. Whoever is selected will serve until the end of August 2014 (unless he or she wins the election).

Knox to become 'Purple Heart County'

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is looking to make Knox County the first "Purple Heart County" in Tennessee.

And he is asking the County Commission to proclaim the designation at the board's meeting later this month.

In a released statement, the mayor said: "This nation was built on the shoulders of men and women in our Armed Forces, and we owe our freedom and everything that is good in this country to their willingness to fight on our behalf. Many of our veterans were called away to war, and too many of them were in injured or never returned. If approved, this designation will be yet another way that Knox County shows support for those who take up arms in defense of our great country."

The Purple Heart is a combat decoration awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who were wounded in combat.

You can find out more about the mayor's efforts, right smack here.

In his released statement, the mayor also noted that three commissioners - Richard Briggs, Dave Wright and Jeff Ownby - served in the forces, as have a number of county employees (including HR head honcho Col. Richard Julian). He also pointed out that Veterans Service Officer Robert "Buzz" Buswell is a Purple Heart recipient.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Knox Trustee applicants now up to 12

Well, it looks like 12 folks have now applied for the Trustee gig, including former Trsutee Fred Sisk and William "Bill" Curtis, who served a brief stint as the office's chief of staff before stepping down in mid-May to retire (again).

You can find the complete list of names and resumes (including all the new ones), right smack here.

I expected Fred to apply. He served as Trustee for a few years and worked in the office for a loooong time. He's also credited with tipping off the TBI (which took a loooong time to investigate) about office issues.

Curtis, who spent 40 years at Curtis Mortgage where he was president and CEO, joined John Duncan III's staff in September 2010. He's well-respected and was later tapped to serve as chief of staff after Joshua Burnett resigned.

When he Curtis, he told me it was to spend more time with his grandchildren. My guess is someone encouraged him to throw his name in, and he's doing it because he's a nice guy. I seriously don't expect him to run for office. He's a lot more low key than most of the top officials over at the Deathstar and would more than likely not want to put up with all the BS that comes with the full-time, fully-elected gig.

Officials to remove Duncan III name

If you haven't seen it, then you should check out Jim Matheny's piece over at WBIR, right smack here, on the county's plan to remove John Duncan III's name from a bunch of doors and drop boxes.

The total cost isn't necessarily that much - it's probably less than $1,000 - but it points out the absurdity of a term-limited elected official slapping his (or her) name down wherever they please. I think that putting in on one main office door is enough. But whatever.

And as one college professor points out, "it's about name recognition" and getting "some free campaigning by putting your name on something."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Trustee candidates begin to emerge

Expect more, but here are the resumes from the first batch of candidates for the Trustee's spot . . .  and click right smack here for them. I'm on vacation, so feel free to analyze them yourselves. There's nothing fancy about them, but a few folks in there appear qualified (at least on paper).

Previously, I blogged here and here  (and wrote a WBIR story here) about potential candidates, but so far none of them have applied. I'm sure that will change for at least a few. From what I understand, Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith is out of the running. I kind of expected that as he didn't have the six votes on the commission (although he probably could have come close).

Privately, some commissioners want former Trustee Fred Sisk in the office, but aren't sure if they want him at top. Still, officials say his experience in the department will be crucial as it transitions into whatever.

Also, word is that Commissioner Ed Shouse will run for the office, regardless of whether he is selected for the interim role (and remember, Ed hasn't applied for it yet).

Walls days more than likely numbered

Richard Walls
I've always gotten along with Knox County internal auditor Richard Walls, but he's certainly rubbed people the wrong way. And it's always been the wrong people, too.

Mayors, top commissioners and, not the least, audit committee chairman Joe Carcello, who led this morning's revolt against the (let's call him "embattled") auditor.

Only Mary Kiser voted to keep him. Carcello and Knox County Commissioners Ed Shouse, Dave Wright and Amy Broyles voted to fire him. The audit committee only makes recommendations, so the full commission will talk more about it on Monday.

Heh, what a coincidence: The same day they talk about firing their auditor (the position reports directly to the commission), they'll also talk about replacing the trustee, too.

Anyhoo, I somewhat expected this move.
Walls' office in the past couple of months has overseen two audits - one that looked into the county's purchasing cards practices and the other into its ethics policy - that have raised eyebrows.

And not about what he looked into, but rather some of what officials say are unfounded accusations.

Afterward, he and Carcello got into a somewhat heated/sarcastic debate about each of them. Walls backed off somewhat, but not all the way.

I'm not going to go into the details of the audit. I wrote about them awhile back, but essentially it's about "risk versus reward," and Walls felt the county should take a more conservative approach and the mayor's office feels that by using them more often, the county gets back larger rebates (and no, these aren't those Pilot rebates).

It certainly makes sense and if that's the position you take - and Carcello agrees with the position - then there's not point dying on the hill over it. Walls didn't agree, though, and I can respect that.

So, we'll see what happens in two weeks, but if Shouse, Broyles and Wright don't change their minds, I don't think he'll make it. I know that at least three other commissioners have privately said that they will not vote to support him.

Plus, a number of commissioners think that outsourcing the office, something they've discussed number times, will save the county money. It won't, but whatever.

That's another issue.

Also, another matter is whether Walls will sue if fired.

My guess is yes. A whole bunch of folks. 

Expect this to turn into a mess.

I hear it's a raining in Knoxville

So, I hear Knoxville, as of 5 p.m. yesterday, that Knoxville is just 2.16 inches shy (at 45.70) of the average precipitation for the ENTIRE YEAR (47.86). And we got six months left. Thanks to my buds over at WBIR for that one.

Anyhoo, yesterday I swam over to Washburn Island (it's on the Cape). I took a few pics. The one below is of south tip of the island and a hidden lagoon. I had the whole place to myself. More importantly, you see that yellow circle at the top? Yeah, heh, it's the sun.

It ain't raining here. Hahahahahahahaha. I'm going to boat over to Martha's Vineyard today. Catch me a Jaws.

On a side note, though, it appears county Communications Manager Michael Grider is haunting me, even from afar. In the other picture below, you'll note what no doubt is the graffiti that he scrawled on the restaurant's window. Heh.

Anyhoo, I'm out for now.

Officials to start Trustee audit

Gerald Witt has a pretty interesting piece, right smack here, about the audit process that will take place in the Trustee's Office. There's certainly nothing groundbreaking as officials conduct audits between every transition, but it certainly provides some insight into what is done.

Two things of note:

The story said that, according to John Duncan III's City County Building pass, he'd been in the office on weekends and the day before he resigned. That's impressive. I been hearing for a long time that he pretty much quit going to work.

He did spend some time in the Cedar Bluff satellite office because it's near his home, but other than that? Heh.

Also, the office oversees 26 bank accounts, which is more than auditors say it needs. Expect some consolidation to happen.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bumpas renews Visit Knox contract

Kim Bumpas
Well, quite frankly I couldn't tell you what Visit Knoxville really does, but they're certainly more transparent than the previous incarnation (KTSC) led by Gloria Ray.

The Visit Knoxville folks shot over a spin release, letting everyone know that the board renewed a contract with Kim Bumpas, the organization's president, to run thought June 2016. She'll get $140K in folding paper a year and some "fringe benefits," according to the contract.

You can read that bad boy, right smack here.

The board appointed Bumpas about 18 months ago, after the local media exposed Ray for doing . . .  well . . . pretty much nothing and getting paid, like, $10gajillion dollars for it. According to the release, Bumpas is credited with leading the organization "through a restructuring process from the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation to Visit Knoxville."

It goes on to say that she "began focusing on reinvigorating Knoxville as a travel destination for leisure travelers and conventions."

Yeah, that's about it. No more other details, so, like I said, I don't know what they do. But at least you know what the president makes. And that's a start.

Friday, July 5, 2013

County meeting to discuss 'blueway'

Knox County is looking to create a "blueway" that will make it easier for families and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy Beaver Creek, according to the latest spin deal sent over from Michael "Big Sexy" Grider. As part of the project, the county will host a public informational meeting at the Karns Community Center on Oak Ridge Highway next Tuesday from 6-7:30 p.m.

For the rest of the info, click right smack here.

Add Wallen to trustee rumor mill

On Wednesday, I wrote a piece about how the Knox County Commission will go about picking a new trustee, and some of the well-known names that folks are floating around.

You can now add Missy Wallen's name to the list. Missy, 60, served as BB&T's Tennessee president from 2007 until Monday when she officially retired. (She also is the vice chairwoman of the Development Corporation of Knox County.)

Anyhoo, from what a number of people have told me, George Korda has been pushing her name to the commission, which has begun taking applications for the job. Others, though, have told me that she might not be all that interested. (Course we've all heard that one before.)

Time will tell, but figured it was worth mentioning as her qualifications (on paper anyway) look pretty good.

No wheel tax reduction this year

There's been some talk from a few folks about whether to slim back or do away with the wheel tax.

Yeah, that's not happening. Makes for good headlines, though.

The $36 fee (technically, it's really not a tax) generates roughly $12.5 million in coin. Of that, $10.5 million goes toward operating the county's library system and $1.5 million goes toward the general purpose school fund (stuff that doesn't involve construction).

Then another $525K heads toward the county's general fund. Now, the actual focus would be on reducing the fee, so that it still helps out schools and libraries. Overall then, that would mean a $1.50 to $2 cut, and you'd do away with tucking money into the general fund.

However, the FY 2014 budget took effect Monday, so you can't count out this year. Obviously next year is an election year with county primaries set for May, so the issue might make for some good chatter then.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

County accepting resumes for trustee

The Knox County Board of Commissioners has begun taking resumes to replace John Duncan III, the former Trustee who resigned Tuesday after pleading guilty to a felony charge.

Resumes should be submitted no later than noon on July 15, the same day the board holds its work session.  A public hearing has been set for that day at 1 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City Cuonty Building, 400 West Main St.

Commissioners will look over the resumes and interview the candidates then. The board will make an official appointment during its regular meeting on July 22.

Resumes should be sent to: Office of the Knox County Commission, Suite 603, City County Building, 400 Main Ave., Knoxville, TN 37902.

They also can be faxed to 865-215-2534 or sent via email to

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Potential picks to replace Duncan

With John Duncan III out as trustee, you know folks are going to come from all around the woodwork, looking for that good $110K-a-year (or so) job. Heh.

Anyhoo, at this point it looks like the county commission will meet some time in the upcoming weeks to hash out the rules and then start taking resumes.

I know board Chairman Tony Norman would like to appoint a caretaker to the post rather than someone who intends to run for the seat. From what I’ve heard, though, not everyone is on board with the plan, so we’ll see.

So far, I’ve heard six names getting kicked around.

Sooooo, in alphabetical order: 
  • Ann Acuff: Former longtime Knox County finance worker and high up on the bean counting team's totem pole before retiring about a year or so ago.
  • Mike Hammond, a Knox County commissioner, former board chairman and someone who’s been rumored as a candidate for the criminal court clerk post.
  • Craig Leuthold, a former Knox County commissioner, former trustee office employee, currently with the property assessor’s office.
  • Ed Shouse, a Knox County commissioner, member of the pension board, chairman of the county’s investment committee and all-around sharp guy.
  • Fred Sisk, former Trustee and all-around nice dude. 
  • R. Larry Smith, a Knox County commissioner, the board’s current vice chairman and someone who’s been rumored as a candidate for a number of seats.
Now, I’m also hearing that of these potential picks, only Sisk  is interested in seeking the spot in the caretaker capacity. (I've heard the same also about Acuff although I haven't talked to her and I'm not absolutely sure she wants the job or if folks are just floating her name.)

“Whoever wants to run, can run and start fresh,” Sisk told me. “I don’t want to use the appointment as a leg up.”

Fred said he’d be able to start immediately and “that there are a number of things that need to be done.”

He noted that the county just wrapped up its fiscal year, so that means the annual audit is right around the corner. After that? Tax season. 

Sisk also said he’d be willing to stay on board to help mentor a new trustee through the transitional process. (This in fact should have been done under Duncan, but he opted not to keep Sisk.)

Say what you will, but the idea makes a lot of sense.

Duncan’s term expires Aug. 31, 2014.

As for Kristin Phillips, who is serving as the interim trustee, I don’t expect her to run. She’s served in a manager capacity for quite some time, however, she also lives in Anderson County. Or Blount County. Or whatever county that isn’t Knox County.

Can't apply diversion law to Duncan

So, if you follow Knox County government and you've been under a rock, click right smack here for today's story about now-former Trustee John Duncan III stepping down from his post and pleading guilty to a felony charge.

(And, yeah, pat of the back. We broke this story. Love this #*(#$&7)

Anyhoo, JD3 will more than likely receive judicial diversion. It's actually pretty common. However, he's pretty lucky on that one. Under a state law that took effect last July, officials who commit crimes "in the person's official capacity or involved in the duties of the person's office" are no longer allowed judicial diversion. (All this is because of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner and his, er, pill problem.)

But, Duncan was grandfathered in. He's accused of paying out illegal free money in December 2010.

You can find a copy of the Senate bill, right smack here. And here's the TCA part of the law where it gets inserted.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Historic Knoxville High to be sold

Historic Knoxville High School is officially county property as of today.

The 116,292-square foot school, located at 101 E. Fifth Ave., sits on 1.9 acres. The county on Sunday will advertise the official "request for proposal," or RFP, for its sale and redevelopment.

Potential owners will have until Aug. 21 to submit a bid.