Thursday, August 29, 2013

'Somebody' to help Thomas campaign

I got a kick out this. It's something we all do, so I can't laugh too hard, but I did chuckle.

The other day Bob Thomas, local radio guy, announced his intentions to seek the at-large seat on the Knox County Commission currently held by Mike Hammond (another radio guy who is term-limited).

In his release, Thomas made a big deal that Janet Testerman will serve as his campaign treasurer. He noted that Janet is also the daughter of Kyle Testerman who served as Knoxville's mayor from 1972-76 and 1984-88.

So, head on over to Thomas' campaign website, click right smack here for that bad boy. Now, hit the "contribute" button, and you'll see the big form you need to fill out in order to donate some coin to the Thomas campaign.

So, click on that sucker, and tell me again who the campaign treasurer is, again? Heh. I'm sure this will get fixed shortly, but until then, here’s the pic of “somebody.”

Sheriff says he's not apologizing

Sheriff Jones
Yesterday evening the state’s paper tiger ACLU sent out a release, chastising our local Man with the Badge, claiming that any attempts by Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones to hold suspects based on their immigration status would be unconstitutional.

Course, that’s not what Jones said, but when you’re dealing with the state ACLU, which doesn’t know how to return a call, facts aren’t really important. (I’m an ACLU supporter by the way; just never been impressed with this one.)

Anyhoo, I’m not going to debate the merits of the county’s bid for the 287(G) program, mostly because both sides annoy me.

But, Jones was on the Hallerin Hilton Morning Show earlier today, and – since I typed up some notes in the event that he would say something insane (he didn’t) – I figured I might as well dump the notebook here on the ol’ blog.

By the way, all of this centers on the sheriff’s comments that he would “stack violators like cordwood in the Knox County Jail until the appropriate federal agency responds.” You can find those earlier remarks right smack here.

So, this morning, Hilton asked the Man with the Badge about the cordwood stuff. JJ said the critics of the grant are using them as “misdirection for the true intention of the facts.”

He called his own comments “East Tennessee colloquialism,” and said he’s made similar remarks in the past and “I’m not literally going to stack humans in the jail.”

He said the critics understood what he meant and that “it’s purely a misdirection to take people’s eye off the ball.”

Hilton noted that the News Sentinel’s editorial on Monday suggested that Jones should apologize for the remarks. He asked Jones if he would.

“Absolutely not,” the sheriff said.

He added that the grant would have placed an ICE agent at the jail, which would have made it easier for an illegal immigrant to make bail. He also said he’s “been dealing with jail overcrowding since 1979” and the grant would have helped alleviate the problem.

Hilton also talked briefly about Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and the rumors that he’s going to run for U.S. Senate (He’s not, folks, get over it). Hilton said if he did, would JJ be interested in his job.

The sheriff said he’s been in law enforcement for 33 years and that if he wins re-election, he’ll serve the term and then “politics will be out of the question for me.”

I’m betting this isn’t the last we’ve heard from either side.

In the meantime, you can hear the whole interview, right smack here.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Schroer comments on JWP extension

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Battlin' Rogero threatens to kick some a$$ and the state backs off, thus saving face for Gov. Big Bill. OK, so I probably stretched it a little bit. But probably not that much. Heh. Story right smack here.

In the meantime, here's TDOT Commissioner John Schroer's official statement:

"Today’s action by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) effectively stops work on the James White Parkway Extension Project.  Until today, TDOT continued work on the project because it was included in the Knoxville TPO’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).  The project was developed in part to address safety and congestion issues along Chapman Highway.  We remain concerned that our efforts to improve conditions along Chapman Highway will not be sufficient now, and particularly in the future.

TDOT will not build projects that aren’t supported by communities and our local partners.  Today, we received a clear statement by the current members of the Knoxville TPO that they do not wish to see the project progress.  We will no longer commit any further resources to this project"

Announcements, rumors for election

Long-time radio guy Bob Thomas has officially announced his candidacy for (other long-time radio guy) Mike Hammond’s at-large Knox County Commission seat. (Primaries set for next May with general in August.)

Bob worked at WIVK for 20 years, spending 16 of them as host of a midday radio show. You can read his fancy spin release, right smack here.

It should be pointed out that a number of folks are jumping in somewhat early. (Hammond by the way is not going to run for commission again.)

Commissioner Richard Briggs, as you might recall, announced his intentions to seek Stacy Campfield’s state Senate seat awhile ago. At the time, Briggs said he wanted to raise enough money to scare off any other candidates. Smart.

 There’s also rumors that former commissioner Michele Carringer will make a run at R. Larry Smith’s seat, as will someone else. (I’m drawing a blank on her name  - so if someone knows, shoot me an email – I just can’t remember.)

Also, my boy, Big Bad Bo Bennett, is rumored to want a seat, too. (Bo ran for the Knoxville mayoral seat.)

UPDATE: Michele is actually looking at an at-large seat, not Smith's spot.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More downtown parking on the way

The City of Knoxville has recommended that the contract to build a new downtown parking garage be awarded to Walnut Street Garage LLC. The contract will be finalized upon City Council approval at its meeting on Sept. 17, 2013.

fancy garage rendering

“Walnut Street Garage LLC plans to build around 1,100 parking spaces that will serve downtown Knoxville professionals and visitors, and that’s a win-win for everyone involved,” said Joe Petre of Conversion Properties, broker for the Langley Building and development manager for Walnut Street Garage LLC.

He added: “For the new tenants coming on board at the Langley Building, the garage adds the convenience of parking right at the back door. It will provide tax revenue for the City, and with more parking for TVA employees and other downtown professionals during the day and downtown visitors on nights and weekends, it will generate more downtown commerce.”

And that's about all the spin release that I feel like running. Actually, I just wanted to put up the picture, but figured it needed a little context.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Commish approves $3.7M in expenses

The Knox County Commission on Monday unanimously approved a $3.7 million governmental shopping list with more than half of it targeted for health care, employee raises, new patrol cars, software upgrades and service contracts.

The money will come from some $7.6 million in surplus revenues the county is expected to reap when it closes the books on the recently wrapped up fiscal year.

"It's all one-time money, so it should only be used for one-time expenses," said Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, whose office, along with the county's finance department, put together the designations. "We're not Washington where we're going to start putting this toward recurring expenses. But these are items that are good for the county."

Commissioner Ed Shouse agreed.

"As long as it's one-time money, then I'm fine with it because we can't always plan on having a big surplus," he said.

Of the overall $7.6 million in additional revenues, officials plan to allocate $2 million for the reserves and another $1.9 million for additional health insurance coverage; risk management areas, like worker's compensation; and air quality matters.

The remaining $3.7 million will pay for the designations approved Monday. Of that money, just under two-thirds was set aside for public safety and the health department.

Click right smack here for the rest of the bad a$$ story.

Anders, Smith set for chair vote

Knox County Commissioner Brad Anders said he more than likely will run for the board’s chairmanship, a decision that will pit him against current board Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith.

“I think I fully intend to put my name in the hat on Sept. 3,”he said Monday morning during a small public meeting with three other commissioners.

For the past few weeks, local politicos have been trying to figure out who – if anyone – would challenge Smith, who announced his intentions for the seat some time ago.

Current  Chairman Tony Norman, who doesn't want another shot at the title, said the board will decide on Sept. 3.

Last year, Anders, who has served as vice chairman, narrowly lost to Norman. A candidate will need six votes from the 11-member board to win. However, Commissioner Richard Briggs, a surgeon, will be on a medical trip and won’t attend the meeting.

Commissioners Mike Brown, Ed Shouse and Mike Hammond attended the Monday meeting. Brown and Shouse expressed public support for Anders. Hammond didn’t say which way he leaned.

The commission chairman runs the meetings, sets the monthly agenda and oversees the board's three-member staff. The position also works closely with the county's law department, mayor, school superintendent and the chairperson for the Knox County Board of Education.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trustee's new salary suit to save $$

Craig Leuthold
Well, it looks like interim Knox County Trustee Craig Leuthold has filed his salary suit, which is technically his budget (for the most part).

I’m still skimming through it, but it appears to save $73,000 if you compare it to the one filed in January 2012 by his predecessor John Duncan III. 

However, if you go from what Duncan filed to what Leuthold is actually paying out in salaries to the entire staff, it’s more like a $350,000 in coin savings.

He eliminated one full-time positions and has three other open positions that he doesn’t plan on filling. He also has one less seasonal position.

Additionally, Leuthold is not paying out travel allowances, nor is he giving out CTAS bonus money.
You can click right smack here for a copy of the suit. 

Click right smack here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Auditor: outsourcing vs. in-house

The Knox County Commission has drawn up retirement plans for county internal auditor Richard Walls, but the fate and costs of the operation that he oversaw for more than a decade still remain in limbo.
The board, though, hopes to work something out within the next month or so.

In the meantime, commissioners on Monday will more than likely approve a severance package for Walls that gives him almost $31,000 and provides insurance coverage for 18 months. It would take effect Sept. 3.

They'll then shift focus toward his old office and determine whether to outsource the operation or keep it in-house.

"Should it be a contract employee or a county employee? There are pros and cons, good and bad to both circumstances," said Commissioner Dave Wright, who also serves on the county's Audit Committee. "Costs are going to be an issue. If there's going to be a lot done, then it will probably be better to have a county employee, but if we're only occasionally going to do something, I think we're better off to contract by engagement."

You can read the entire bad a$$ story, right smack here.

It should be noted that the key to who will eventually take over will mostly hinge on the price tag.

KPMG, which the county would probably use if it outsourced the service, charges between $92 and $288 an hour per worker, depending on what that person does, according to the paperwork the company submitted to the county's purchasing department.

By comparison, the county pays Walls, who earns $92,700 annually and is the highest paid employee in his office, roughly $44.50 per hour.

During the bidding process, the county asked firms how much auditors would charge to perform a financial analysis of the county, and the school activity funds and to look into the Beck Cultural Exchange Center, the Hardin Valley Academy construction project and the medical examiner.

The internal audit department, which has a $257,000 a year budget, turned in reports for most of these and some others during 2012. It did outsource part of the Hardin Valley project, which cost $14,500, but that money was included in its annual spending plan.

KPMG, according to records, would charge $171,500 to oversee the five initiatives. Officials with the company could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Anders mulling run for commish chair

Brad Anders
Looks Like Knox County Commissioner Brad Anders is mulling another run for the board's chairmanship.

"I'm going to try to meet with a few commissioners, probably Monday, and discuss it with them and see what their feeling is on it," he told da Porch today. "I'll probably make a decision at that time."

For the past week or so, the local politicos have been calling around, trying to figure out who will challenge Aaaaarrr Larry Smith for the position and just how many votes could they garner. (Smith, the term-limited vice chairman announced his intentions for the seat awhile ago.)

Most folks - if it comes down to just the two of them - have the winner winning in a 6-5 vote.

Just who they have winning, however, changes every day.

(That was some Charlie Sheen-like use of the word "winning," wasn't it? Heh.)

Anyhoo, current Chairman Tony Norman, who doesn't want another shot at the title, said the board will decide on Sept. 3.

Last year, Anders, who has served as vice chairman, narrowly lost to Norman.

The commission chairman runs the meetings, sets the monthly agenda and oversees the board's three-member staff. The position also works closely with the county's law department, mayor, school superintendent and the chairperson for the Knox County Board of Education.

UPDATE: I have now been told that Commissioner, War hero, doctor and overall bad a$$ Richard Briggs is on a medical mission trip and won't attend the Sept. 3 meeting, so someone has to win this sucker in a 6-4 vote.

Special 'Meet the Press' for Sunday

So, this Sunday instead of the usual Inside Tennessee program (which was awesome last week because I was on it - naw, really, it was a train wreck), WBIR will air a special Meet the Press instead.

Martin Luther King, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, were the guests on Meet the Press 50 years ago to the day next Sunday, August 25 - three days before the historic March on Washington and the pivotal “I Have a Dream” speech.

It's a pretty awesome piece of TV history, entitled Meet the Press Special Edition: Remembering the Deam, and will be offered unedited and in its entirety, with an brief open and close by Meet the Press moderator David Gregory

Sheriff responds to 287(g) refusal

The Man with the Badge has released his official statement on just how he feels about the federal government's decision to deny Knox County's application for the 287(g) program.

Take it away sheriff:
“Once again, the federal government has used sequestration as a smokescreen to shirk its responsibilities for providing safety and security to its citizens by denying Knox County the 287(g) corrections model. An inept administration is clearing the way for law breaking illegal immigrants to continue to thrive in our community and ultimately be allowed to reside in the United States. 

Hopefully, the denial of this program will not create an influx of illegal immigrants who think that without this program they will be able to break the law and then be less likely to be deported.

The vast majority of Knox County citizens feel just as I do when it comes to the issue of illegal immigration. I strongly support the 287(g) program and will continue to make every effort to pursue its implementation. I will continue to enforce these federal immigration violations with or without the help of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). If need be, I will stack these violators like cordwood in the Knox County Jail until the appropriate federal agency responds.”
For background on the story, which we broke last night by using real - not mythical - sources, click right smack here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

County unveils new Website, Wi-Fi

Catching up from yesterday and still checking email. The county has redesigned its Website. Personally, I don't like it, but maybe it's just a case of getting used to. I liked the old design, despite what the local alternative paper felt about it. They don't like anything anyway. But at least they do their own work and don't make up crap and use second and third-hand sources to report something as fact. But I digress.

Here's the county release, brought to you by Michael "Big Sexy" Grider:

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett unveiled a new Knox County website today, and announced the "Knox County Find It iPhone" app and expanded Wi-Fi services in the City County Building.(Check out the site, right smack here.)

“It used to be that we only accessed a website from our computers, but now more people than ever use mobile devices to get information from the Web,” said Mayor Burchett.  “We want to make it easier for constituents to access County information, and that means a website designed for mobile use, apps with interactive County data and access to public Wi-Fi.  Our IT Department, especially Matt Coleman and Jon Guymon, worked very hard to make Knox County’s website even better.”

The new website was designed by the Knox County Information Technology Department and has a completely updated look.  The new design has a responsive user interface that works on desktop computers and laptops, as well as mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. 

Other highlights include:

  • Interface design and navigation based on site traffic analytics
  • Bold colors for a cleaner look and easier nagivation
  • Mobile-friendly design that is responsive and automatically fits a user's device
  • "Ask Rene" smart search feature allows users to ask or search for services.
  • Links to social media, contact information and interactive maps
  • Social media is integrated throughout, allowing users to share pages on various social media sites

On the new homepage there is also a link to the recently developed Knox County Find It app, which is available as a free download in the Apple App Store.  The app features an interactive map that displays County services closest to the user’s current location. Users can initiate GPS navigation to a selected destination directly from the app.  A Droid version of the app is not yet available, but may be released in the future.

In addition to rolling out a new website and app, Knox County’s IT Department recently expanded Wi-Fi services in the City County Building.  Members of the community, media, judges, attorneys and staff now have wireless internet access when in courtrooms or on the main and first floors of the City County Building.  This project was driven by the needs of the justice system, which allowed the installation to be grant-funded.  Public Wi-Fi access is also available in the Main and Small Assembly Rooms.

Rogero opposes state's new JWP plan

Got caught up in a bunch of stuff yesterday, so I'm just getting around to checking email, spin releases, etc.

Here's this from Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, regarding the state's plans to extend the James White Parkway:

"I appreciate that Commissioner Schroer has extended the comment period regarding the James White Parkway extension in order to hear from the public about a modified parkway design vs. the no-build option.

A parkway with lanes for biking and walking is definitely preferable to an interstate design, and I appreciate TDOT’s willingness to make those design alterations in response to local concerns.

However I remain firmly opposed to any extension of the James White Parkway through our growing urban wilderness area. The Urban Wilderness has already achieved national recognition as an outdoor recreation destination and is a key economic development and tourism opportunity for our city, region and state. The proposed parkway will bisect this regional asset and plow through the existing and proposed trail network and wilderness assets. It will divert traffic from Chapman Highway businesses. 
I support major safety improvements and enhancements to Chapman Highway, Alcoa Highway, and other existing roads and highways that serve our region. We should work together regionally to create the future we want through smarter development and transportation patterns, rather than destroy this wonderful economic and environmental asset on the basis of projected future traffic needs.
I strongly encourage everyone to study the alternatives; to think of our future as a city, county, and region; and to respectfully and unambiguously express their opinions during the input period."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Walls' deal to cover 4 months pay

The Knox County Commission on Monday agreed not to fire long-time county internal auditor Richard Walls, and instead agreed to wait until next week to talk about whether to offer him a severance package that would cover four months of salary.

The retirement proposal, if approved, would take effect Sept. 3 and also include single insurance coverage for 18 months.

In addition, Walls could receive a payout of all unused vacation leave he accrued during his career, as well as any unused sick leave he has left at the rate of $100 per day.

Walls, a county employee for almost 13 years, makes $92,700 annually. His severance pay would amount to almost $31,000.

If he and the board do sign the proposal, then Walls also could not pursue legal action against the county due to his termination.

The board during Monday's work session forwarded the proposal on without recommendation to next week's voting meeting; however, officials said they expect to approve the contract next week.

"He has agreed to retirement and my feeling is that we should let him be, let him go into retirement," said Commissioner Mike Hammond. "But we need to have a separate discussion about the future of the department and what direction to take it."

Click right smack here for the complete bad a$$ story.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Commish not expected to fire Walls

The Knox County Commission will more than likely NOT fire the county's internal auditor, Richard Walls.

The commission was expected to talk about the Audit Committee's recommendation to terminate Walls during its work session on Monday. However, board Chairman Tony Norman said they removed the matter from the agenda.

Instead, he said, the board will talk about offering Walls a deal which officials (the law department) have worked out with the auditor. Norman declined to talk about the details (this was at Walls' request), saying officials would make them public during Monday's hearing.

My guess is that they'll give him a severance package to walk away. Now, that said, they better not call it a severance package. Cause, you know, Knox County Mayor Tim "Cheapskate" Burchett doesn't like severances.

Call it a buyout or something.

Duncan cooperated in federal probe

John Duncan III
 Well, it looks like the rumors were true: former Knox County Trustee John Duncan was working with the feds after all.

In what capacity? Well, that might never get put on the record. Then again . . . .

Anyhoo, click right smack here for the bad a$$ story, which includes a statement he made in late November 2012 to the state prosecutors when he asked them to hold off.

Now, I have to tell ya, I've looked through that file a bunch of times, and never came across that document, which was buried in the back of the file in between some requests by the media to get cameras into the courtroom.

Duncan diversion odds, ends, notes

John Duncan III and family
So, unless you've been hiding under a rock, then you know by know that former Knox County Trustee John Duncan III received judicial diversion today.

Click right smack here for the bad a$$ story. It is, by the way, the most comprehensive story on the subject.

I've also - just cause I love ya - taken the opportunity to scan in Duncan's sentencing memorandum and the letters of support that were submitted on his behalf (there are three of 'em). You can find those bad boys right smack here.

Please note that if you are other media, do not go downloading the documents and then putting them up on your website like you actually went out and got them yourself. I've put a few minor identifying marks on them, so  . . . .

Anyhoo, you know who you are.

But I digress.

A few folks are making a big deal out of this judicial diversion thing. It's expected, not because of his name or whatever, but because that's what people get when they commit penny ante BS.

Get over it, people, he didn't get any special privilege.

Now, there are laws that are in place (Duncan was grandfathered in) to prevent elected officials from cutting such a deal, but they just went into effect.

I'll be back later with some more interesting stuff.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kiser officially submits letter

Yesterday we broke the story about Knox County Audit Committee member Mary Kiser stepping down from the panel, a month after members decided they wanted to get rid of county internal auditor Richard Walls. (Right smack here for that bad boy.)

This morning, Mary sent over her official resignation letter. Committee members after the meeting tried to persuade her from quitting, but she wasn't having any of that. Right smack here for her letter.

Personally, and as a taxpayer, I was kind of hoping she would reconsider.

Anyhoo, the letter contains much of what we reported yesterday. Kiser was upset that committee chairman Joe Carcello didn't meet with her to discuss the proposed termination, and that he didn't give Walls enough warning.

County officials more than likely will move to fill her spot on the 5-member panel in the coming weeks. They'll solicit the East Tennessee Chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors for a recommendation, and then probably take it to the committee from there.

In the meantime, the Knox County Commissioner will talk more about the matter during its work session on Monday.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Burchett to sell off his old bikes

One of the mayor's bikes to be sold
(UPDATE: The mayor just called back to say that there are other bikes that aren't his that also will be up for sale, so that's why there was some confusion about how many bikes were up for auction.)

Well, here’s sort of weird one.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, a well-known hoarder, has given Powell Auction the go-ahead to sell off some of his motorcycles, most of which are really just half-motorcycles. Or whatever.

Anyhoo, the company says it has between “60 to 75 of them” from the 1950s and 1960s. The auction is set for 9 a.m. on Saturday.

Now, when I called the mayor, he got all cagey about it, and then said he wasn’t sure how many he put up. “Half a dozen or so,” he said. You sure it’s not more like 60?

“I don’t know.”


When asked again, he said:  “I started buying them when I was 16. Some I paid $50 for and others $100. They’re not even running. A lot are what I call boat anchors.”

He then said “I’ve got too many toys.”

“I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” he added. “I was going to wait until the economy turns around, but who knows when that will be. But really, what the heck am I doing with all of them? I need to liquidate them. I’ve got too much stuff.”

No kidding.

The mayor added that “punks” still break into his old warehouse on Amherst Road where he stores the bikes and parts, so that’s a problem, too.

(On a side note: Remember back in November 2006, when the then-state senator caught a couple of the #**^@ers breaking in? Heh. He exercised his Second Amendment rights, held them at bay – and fed them cookies – until the deputies showed up. Course it's still not as cool as the time he sold the tank. But I digress.)

Anyway, let the conspiracy theories begin.

Why is he selling the bikes?

Smith wants the commish chair seat

R. Larry Smith
Looks like Aaarrgh Larry Smith wants to be da Man.

After seven years on the Knox County Commission, he confirmed to me today that he wants to run the show, thus becoming the first on the 11-member body to publicly announcement his intentions to seek the chairmanship. 

“I’m not going to beat around the bush about it – the next year coming will be the last year I can serve on the commission, and if the other commissioners would like me to fill the spot, then I’d be honored,’ said Smith, who is term-limited from running again. 

Smith, a Republican who took office in September 2006, added: “I have no agenda that I’d like passed. I think I can conduct a meeting and keep everything fair between the citizens and the commissioners.”

He currently represents the 7th District, which includes Powell, Halls and Heiskell; and he also served on the Metropolitan Planning Commission prior to joining the board. (And of course there's all sorts of rumors that he'll run for all sorts of other elected offices. And that chairmanship position would look good doing it. Heh.)

The commissioner said he’ll spend the next several days talking to other board members about the position. Already, he’s scheduled a number of public meetings on Thursday, Friday and Monday with fellow members Sam McKenzie, Amy Broyles, Jeff Ownby, Brad Anders, Mike Hammond, Ed Shouse and Tony Norman.

You can read the whole bad a$$ story, right smack here.

Not all happy with audit committee

A month after the Knox County Audit Committee recommended firing the county's longer-time internal auditor, one member resigned and another local leader publicly berated the panel's chairman.

Mary Kiser, in an often emotional speech during Tuesday's meeting, told the committee that she felt it unfairly suggested to the Knox County Commission the need to terminate Richard Walls.

Shortly after her announcement, Knox County Commissioner Mike Brown, who attended the meeting, accosted its chairman, Joe Carcello.

"I know crap when I see it and you're throwing some here, fella," said Brown, adding that he was "tired" of Carcello's "smug and smiling attitude."

The resignation and the heated discussion came a month after the committee in a 4-1 vote agreed to ask the County Commission to fire internal auditor Richard Walls. Committee members, led by Carcello, said Walls did not do anything illegal or inappropriate, but, rather, it was what he didn't do while performing his duties that made them want to replace him.

Officials called his work "limited" and said he only conducted three audits last year, a low amount for the money spent on the responsibilities. Committee members also said he should better focus on areas where the "county has the greatest risk," including the Trustee's Office, which has a recent history of wrongdoing.

The panel, which makes recommendations to the County Commission, is comprised of Carcello, a University of Tennessee accounting professor; Kiser, a manager for internal audit services at Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and county commissioners Ed Shouse, Dave Wright and Amy Broyles.

Kiser, who's served on the committee since its inception five years ago, cast the dissenting vote to get rid of Walls. The County Commission, which oversees the county's internal audit department, will talk more about the recommendation during its Aug. 19 work session.

During Tuesday's meeting, Kiser said she was stepping down, but not before defending Walls and suggesting that the Audit Committee could have done more to guide his work.

She said the "overall" audits that he's conducted during the past half decade "have been satisfactory and some even more than satisfactory."

"I believe Richard, as a long-time county employee, has been treated unfairly," said Kiser, who represents the East Tennessee Chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors on the committee. "He has uncovered fraud and identified controls that needed to be strengthened."

Click right smack here for the rest of the bad a$$ story.

Audit Committee member steps down, commissioner rages, fireworks fly

Talk about an insane Knox County Audit Committee meeting this morning. The fireworks were a flyin'!

Committee member Mary Kiser resigned and Knox County Commissioner Mike Brown, who is not on the panel, let the committee Chairman Joe Carcello have it. (All this, by the way, is in response to the committee suggesting to the County Commission that the board fire county internal auditor Richard Walls.)

I posted a very short story earlier today and will have the full length, full brawl up later today. Good stuff. Heh.

In the meantime, the Knox County Commission will take up the matter during its work session on Monday and - if no deal gets worked out - will vote on whether to keep Walls.

In the meantime, here's an excerpt (that will no doubt be tweaked, edited and refined) from tonight's report:

Brown, a county commissioner who has long supported Walls, disagreed, pointed at Carcello and said: “We’ve got a failure to communicate and the biggest part of it is sitting right there in that chair. Why did you wait five years to wait do something about it? You have an axe to grind and I don’t like your attitude and I won’t stop until you’re out of that chair, fella.”

At one point, Carcello told Brown he was “acting inappropriately,” but continued to let him talk. The two bantered back and forth somewhat for a number of minutes, before panel member and Commissioner Dave Wright cut them off, saying: “Please we’ve got daylight to burn.”

Brown then warned Carcello: "You will hear some more next week (during the commission work session). This is just a preview.”

Carcello, responding sharply to Brown, yet addressing the committee, said: “Mike is free to say whatever he wants to say next week and we’ll have evidence with us that will refute anything you say. So think long and hard before you do.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

KCSO retirement plan set for vote

A little more than nine months after voters opted to close the Knox County Sheriff's Office pension plan, officials are set to implement a newly crafted retirement program - one that still maintains attractive benefits for law enforcement personnel, but won't cost taxpayers quite as much.

If approved, the Sheriff's Total Asset Accumulation Retirement plan, or STAR, would affect law enforcement and corrections officers hired after next Jan. 1. Current officers would keep their traditional pensions.

The Knox County Commission will talk more about the proposal during its work session next Monday and vote on it later this month.

"Law enforcement is a young man's game," said Commissioner Ed Shouse, a pension board member, who served on the committee that drafted the plan. "Do you want a 60-year-old man chasing down a burglar or a couple of 26-year-old guys? The cost is almost the same, but this plan encourages people to come into (the Sheriff's Office) and work 25 years and hopefully be able to take an early retirement in their mid 50s. "

STAR, a defined contributions plan, replaces the Uniformed Officers Pension Plan, or UOPP, a defined benefit plan that gives those with 30 years of service a pension at 75 percent of their two highest years' salary, plus a yearly 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

Voters initially approved the UOPP in 2006 after proponents said it would benefit the lower-paid deputies and jailers who could not afford to retire under the general county plan, which works like a 401(k).

The pension program, though, was costly and critics argued that it included employees not actively fighting crime. The stock market, too, was unkind and the plan's annual contribution costs jumped. This year, the county will put in $8.5 million, three times what was first projected, although $4 million of that will cover the bonds issued to fund the plan at its inception.

Officials, led by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, brought the pension plan before residents last year, and voters by a 3-to-1 margin agreed to close it and directed the county pension board to create a new one.

"The (pension) wasn't going to be financially feasible," the mayor said."But I think (the STAR plan) is going to be great for our law enforcement. It addresses their future needs and it's also responsible to the taxpayers. And that's what we wanted - something equitable for everybody."

The new plan requires employees to contribute 6 percent of pay and the county puts in 10 percent. In addition, the county puts another 2 percent into a medical reimbursement plan to offset medical premiums and costs for the retirees from the time they leave the job until they're eligible for Medicare.

Click right smack here to read the rest of this bad a$$ story.

Mayor's back to school bash today

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is hosting a "back to school bash" today, from 3 to 6 p.m. at the Knoxville Expo Center (5441 Clinton Highway). 

The annual event is an opportunity for students and their families to get free school supplies and enjoy activities, free food, special programs, vendors and more, according to Michael Grider, the one local PR flack who isn't an obstructionist and doesn't have any plans to leave.


According to the "Big Sexy" one, roughly 4,000 people attended last year’s event, so "Mayor Burchett is making the 2013 bash even bigger, with more space and more vendors offering school supplies."

Friday, August 9, 2013

So, why isn't Carter 'owner' listed

In what looks like another edition of Amateur Hour, the school system this morning handed out programs for the Carter Elementary School unveiling.

The problem? Well, yesterday's programs for the Northshore unveiling noted that the school system owned this school. (Click right smack here for that bad boy entry.)

It then went on to list some other irrelevant information on the cover.

Well, today's program included . . .  Nothing. Other than a big white space.

How come no one listed "county" as the owner? Where is the comparable information?

Oh, right, the spitting contest between whose name should be placed on the school deeds - the school system's name or the county's name.

God forbid, the school system let the folks who attended know exactly how this building was funded and who spearheaded the initiative. Or even how much it cost. (Does the school system's $1 million-a-year PR department not want taxpayers to know?)

Bush League. Seriously.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What's up with the 'owner' thing?

So, earlier today the school system held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Northshore Elementary School, a $20 million project that will serve 900 students.

The 128,000 square foot facility is located on Thunderhead Road.

Anyhoo, during the gathering, the school system handed out these fancy pamphlets (pictured above). Well, check out the details, right under the picture of the school. See that? See where someone thought it would be ingenious to write "owner"?

Yeah, that's going over real well with county officials. See, the County Commission and the School Board are in a little spitting match over whose name - the county or system - should be on the deeds to the various schools. (There's no consistency.)

So, a number of county officials I ran into today over at the ol' Death Star felt that the pamphlet - or at least that little piece of it - was a shot across the bow toward them.

Why is it even necessary?

They're not happy.

So much for all that getting along.

Oh, and by the way, what's up with noting Councilman Nick Della Volpe? Nothing against Nick, but is Northshore technically his stomping grounds? Maybe they should have put Commissioner Dave Wright down, too. (Oh, wait, he's down for tomorrow's Carter deal. Or is he?)


In the meantime, the school looks pretty nice.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New KCSO cars about to hit the road

Looks like the Man with the Badge, Knox County's Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones, is about to get some bad a$$ cars for his department.

The office just sent over some pictures, noting that the first wave of new patrol cars are about to the local roads very soon.

The Sheriff decided to get Dodge Chargers instead of Chevrolet and Ford.  (The line of Crown Victoria Interceptors that the department used for years was discontinued.)

The Knox County Commission approved money in this year’s budget to buy 25 new cars.

They are being outfitted with emergency equipment, cameras, laptops, and radios before they go into service.  All the cars are going to patrol.

In addition, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett agreed to fund another 30 cars with surplus revenues that the county is expected to get. (We reported about that last night. Click right smack here for the story.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Knox earmarks surplus expenditures

Knox County officials have put together a shopping list for how they would like to spend what is expected to be as much as $6 million in surplus revenues, with roughly half the money targeted for health care, employee raises, new patrol cars and software upgrades.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said there’s “nothing fancy” about the designations and noted that they are “basic needs” rather than “wants.”

“I think the departments understand that I’m serious when I say that we need to be fiscally responsible,” the mayor said. “They’re not coming to me with outlandish proposals. They’re coming to me with fiscally responsible ones, unlike what they’re doing in Washington where the politicians continuously spend more money than they’re taking in.”

As it stands, the county’s finance department on Tuesday said the general fund should get between $5 million and $6 million more than what officials projected last year when they put together the budget for fiscal year 2013, which ended in late June. The mayor’s office has earmarked just under $3.1 million of the money for purchases, and expects to put the rest into the reserves.

The Knox County Commission will discuss the proposal during this month’s meeting, and decide whether to approve the expenditures.

Click right smack here for the entire bad a$$ story and to get all the details.

Monday, August 5, 2013

County's credit ratings reaffirmed

Moody's and Standard & Poor, a couple of nationally recognized credit rating agencies, affirmed Knox County’s strong bond ratings of Aa1 and AA+, respectively, according to a spin release issued about an hour ago while I was at lunch by Big "Michael Grider" Sexy.

Here's what he had to add: "Citing Knox County’s 'historical maintenance of strong finances,' S&P went a step further by upgrading Knox County’s financial outlook from stable to positive.  This indicates that Knox County is approaching a AAA rating." 

He also said that Moody's cited the county's "strong financial position and reserves, improved liquidity, sizable revenue base and manageable debt burden as factors in their rating decision."

A number of county leaders, including Mayor Tim Burchett, noted that the county's efforts to pay down debt . . . blah, blah, blah as reasons for the awesome ratings.

No one mentioned that the main reason is because we've got like the super-cheapest property tax rate in the world, which provides a cushion in case stuff goes bad. In other words, if we're in trouble, we can jack up taxes without bankrupting residents. That's key to bond rating agencies.

Yeah, the other stuff helps, too. But not like this.

Still, this is good news, since it means lower interest rates when the school system needs to borrow money. Heh.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Burchett ready to support JWP plan

Yesterday evening we reported a story on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's decision to more than likely support plans to extend the James White Parkway - something he was against earlier this year.

We had hoped to talk to Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, but she declined to comment Friday, according to Angela Starke, her PR flack. Guess she was too busy naming her office of sustainability director. Whatever that is.

Anyhoo, the state will make its decision in the coming days to three weeks. Actually, let's not kid ourselves, the state's already made its decision and - at this point - everyone in that City County Building that needs to know, knows just what the decision is.

(Hint: If you're a hippie, you won't be happy.)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Officials work out Leuthold's pay

Craig Leuthold
When is Knox County's top tax collector not actually the trustee?

Well, that's a question some local officials kicked around earlier this week as they tried to determine whether Craig Leuthold should get paid for his first two days in office.

State law says the trustee assumes the position upon taking the oath of office and upon getting an insurance bond. The Knox County Commission on Monday, July 22 picked Leuthold to serve out the remaining 14 months of the term for John Duncan III, who resigned and pleaded guilty to official misconduct a few weeks earlier.

But, here's where it gets a little confusing.

A judge swore in Leuthold right after the commission picked him. However, officials didn't sign his insurance bond until three days later on Thursday, July 25.

But, on Tuesday, July 23, Leuthold stepped down from his job as public information officer in the Knox County Property Assessor's Office, asked payroll to cut him a check for his unused vacation time, and began working in the county Trustee's Office.

About that time, the county's risk management and payroll departments started processing Leuthold's paperwork. Officials there then questioned whether he should get paid for working July 23-24. Was he technically the trustee? They noted that he didn't actually sign the paperwork for his $18.5 million insurance bond until July 25.

Find out what happened by clicking right smack here for the rest of this bad a$$ story.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Another lunch with mayor tomorrow

Looks like Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is continuing that never-ending request to eat everywhere with everyone (and no he ain't picking up the tab).

The county's spin team of Michael "Big Sexy" Grider and kid sidekick just sent out its latest release, noting that the mayor on Friday (that's tomorrow) from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. will host another "Lunch with the Mayor" event, this time at Round Up Restaurant in South Knoxville at 3643 Sevierville Pike. 

The locally owned restaurant will also serve a "lunch with the mayor" special, including a lunch plate with meat, sides and bread for $5.49, all you can eat catfish for $6.49 and $0.99 desserts.