Friday, December 26, 2014

Inside Tennessee picks political winners, losers Sunday on WBIR

The Inside Tennessee “super panel” met last Monday to tape this Sunday’s show. It included PR people Susan Williams and Mike Cohen; attorneys Don Bosch and Dennis Francis; moderator John “The Colorado Kid” Becker, and me, the Man of the People.

Heh. Ha.

Inside Tennessee segment from earlier this year

Becker asked us to come up with the local, state and national political winners and losers, and the politician of the year.

(The Jan. 4 edition of Inside Tennessee will feature similar categories but they’ll be 2015 predictions. I stepped aside for this one because, quite frankly, I was too lazy to come up with some names.

Tune in to WBIR 10News Sunday at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow for everyone’s picks for this year.

Below are some of the more popular ones and why panel members voted the way they did.

LOCAL

WINNER: The Republican Party in general. Just look at the Eddie Pridemore-Daryl Fansler judicial race. Eddie, who had no political experience and didn’t bother to campaign, handily defeated long-time and well-respected chancellor, Daryl Fansler.

Eddie Pridemore
Why? Because Eddie had an “R” next to his name. Look, no disrespect to Pridemore, but a sign language-speaking chimpanzee was winning that one. Provided he was a Republican. (Heck, Eddie could very well be the new face of the local GOP. Heh.)

LOSER: Superintendent Jim McIntyre. The Knox County school system, under McIntyre’s leadership, faced a number of scandals during the past year and was subject of three audits that looked into school finances.

WBIR exposed a number of other eyebrow raising matters, too, that included (but not limited to): a “side agreement” that the Board of Education was supposed to sign that said members couldn’t ask McIntyre questions that would “stump” him; credit card bills that went unpaid (or were late); an employee on paid administrative leave for more than two years.

Jim McIntyre
The superintendent lost control of an 8-1 rubberstamp Board of Education during the elections and afterward, and at one point was on the outside looking in at a 4-5 board.

Further, his actions – when he reneged on a promise to let an anti-Sharia law group hold an after-school event at Farragut High School – cost taxpayers $17,500 when all sides agreed to settle.

He also was subject to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s very public ridicule and belittlement throughout the year.

Some board members also picked former state Rep. Gloria Johnson and Democrats in general.

STATE

WINNER: Governor Bill Haslam. He’s got a 70 percent approval rating, and he easily sailed through an election. He finally stopped kowtowing to the Tea Party and he successfully championed Amendment 2.

Bill Haslam
Further he divested himself – whether it was his decision or not – of the highly controversial Kevin Huffman, his now former education commissioner. He wisely put Common Core on hold and actually listened (a rare trait among leaders) to the teachers and the public.

His version of Obamacare might very well pass. He hired the popular Randy Boyd to serve as the state’s economic and development commissioner. And he’s now the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association.

Not a bad year.

LOSER: The Tea Party. Two state lawmakers closely associated to the
party – Stacey Campfield and Steve Hall – are gone. People used to joke that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was “the real governor.” They don’t do that anymore. Further, Joe Carr, the party’s darling to defeat incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander, didn’t win. In other states the Tea Party has picked up steam, including securing a national race or two against long-time incumbents. Not in Tennessee.

NATIONAL

WINNER: I don’t have one. There were none. See below for the logic. Some picked the Republican Party and there was another for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. And, if I'm not mistaken, there was a pick for President Obama. (Hey, economy is recovering and gas prices are down.)
Congress

LOSER: the politicians in general. I was tempted to go with President Obama. The Democrats lost most of the battleground contests; his approval ratings are in the toilet; and he gets to spend his final two years in office with a GOP-controlled Congress. Still, as a friend pointed out, his ratings are bad, but compared to Congress, he looks like a beauty queen. I figure at this point, folks just don’t like anyone all that much right now.

Others went with Obama.

POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR

Governor Bill Haslam. Personally, I wasn’t going to pick anyone. I think it’s strange to brag about being the best politician. But whatever. In the end, I agreed that the guy had a pretty good year.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nichols to serve as KCSO counsel

Randy Nichols
We broke some news today, reporting that former long-time Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols will serve as Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones' special counsel for mental illness, drug abuse and domestic violence awareness. He starts Jan. 5.

The two have long tried to get a safety center that would help the mentally ill rather than lock them up.

You can watch the entire interview about that discussion and his appointment RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Nichols, a Democrat, opted not to seek re-election earlier this year. Jones, a Republican, won re-election. I'm not sure at this point what he will earn, but Nichols is a good hire. He genuinely wants to help the mentally ill and has a strong interest in a number of the issue that the sheriff wants him to focus on.

In a released statement, the sheriff said:
He will advise me on these issues and represent my office on all boards and commissions that deal with these most significant matters of concern. We all know that the prescription pill epidemic must be dealt with from many fronts: prevention, enforcement, rehabilitation, incarceration and through our state laws written by the General Assembly. This involves many meetings and some lobbying in Nashville to make sure the legislature is fully aware of the problems and will hopefully listen to law enforcement about our ideas on how to make it better. His 25 years of experience dealing with these matters will be of great use to me and the citizens of Knox County.

Our continued work dealing with domestic violence is critical. Violence in the home means violence outside the home and we must prevent our children from generational family violence.

I have long supported a Safety Center to divert the mentally ill from going to jail to a less costly and more efficient way to deal with the population. We are spending millions of dollars that I believe could go to better use if we implement the Safety Center concept. I am the first to say we need more input, more research in best practices, and looking at other ideas in this area, but we must move forward.

I believe my friend, Randy, will be of great assistance to me and my office and I know that he is a skilled lawyer who will represent me well. He starts on January 5, 2015.

I am glad that he has agreed to serve as my Special Counsel and I look forward to working with him as we make Knox County a safer place to live, work and raise a family.
Also in a released statement, Nichols said:
Thank you, Sheriff, for allowing me the opportunity to continue working in the areas of prescription pill abuse, domestic violence and matters dealing with the mentally ill. I will try my best to represent you in a way to make you proud and help our county move forward on these issues that cause great misery to our people and incur massive costs for the taxpayers. You and I think alike in that there has to be better ways to deal with these problems that can only be achieved with considerable work and the ability to bring people together to make decisions.

I look forward to serving the citizens of Knox County and hopefully help in bringing about positive change.

KCSO could pay double for boat slip

The Knox County Sheriff's Office wants a better spot to dock its boat on the Tennessee River, and is prepared to pay more than double what it does now to get it.

The sheriff says the proposed move, which would secure a boat slip closer to the office's Main Street headquarters, is about "response time, location and safety."

But, it comes with a steep price tag.

The department currently pays the Volunteer Landing Marina $3,650 per year to dock one of its 23-foot long Sea Rays at the eastern end of the marina.

The new location would cost $8,400 a year and require a 10-year lease agreement, according to the proposed contract. The slip under consideration is about a half mile away from the current one, and at the far west end of the marina near Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boyd to serve as state Economic and Community Development commissioner

Randy Boyd
Radio Systems Corporation Chairman Randy Boyd has joined Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet where he will serve as the state’s new commissioner of Economic and Community Development.

He replaces Bill Hagerty, who announced his departure to join the private sector last month.

“Randy understands the importance of making sure that the business community and educators are working hand in hand to meet our workforce needs,” Haslam said Thursday in a released statement. “More than ever, offering an educated and highly trained workforce is part of attracting new business to our state and encouraging existing businesses to expand here. Randy’s experience and success in the private sector as well as his engagement in the education community make him a perfect fit to continue our focus on being the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

On Wednesday, the governor announced that McQueen, a teacher and dean at Lipscomb University in Nashville, will join his cabinet as commissioner of the Department of Education. She replaces Kevin Huffman, who also stepped down last month to join the private sector.

Boyd, 55, founded Radio Systems Corporation, which produces pet products for a number of brand names like Invisible Fence and PetSafe, in 1991. He served in 2013 as the governor’s special advisor for public education, focusing on the “Drive to 55” initiative designed to raise the percentage of

Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates from 32 percent to 55 percent by the year 2025.

Haslam has said that his work resulted in the Tennessee Promise program, which provides two free years of community college to the state’s graduating high school seniors.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to serve our state. While working with the Governor last year, we often talked about education being not K to 12 but K to J, with the ‘J’ being jobs. Now, I can work to ensure that those high quality jobs we are educating people for are there for them,” Boyd said in a released statement. “I’m first and foremost a salesman, and every salesman likes to have a great product to promote. I cannot imagine a better one than the state of Tennessee and can’t wait to promote it to other businesses around the world.”

The Knoxville resident has received several awards including Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast in 2008, Tennessee Business Magazine’s CEO of the Year in 2009, UT’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, and was inducted into Junior Achievement’s East Tennessee Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 2009, Boyd helped start tnAchieves, a non-profit organization that has sent over 10,526 high school graduates to community college free of charge with mentors and was the model for the Tennessee Promise program.

Boyd also currently serves on the board of a number of organizations including the University of Tennessee College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council and Knox County’s Great Schools Partnership. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee in industrial management in 1979 and a master’s in liberal studies from Oklahoma University in 1988.

He and his wife, Jenny, have two sons, Thomas and Harrison.

Playground problems: Recalls issued, schools unaware, lawsuit possible

Photo by Jim Matheny
In February 2009, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of a popular Playland brand swing set, telling customers to "immediately stop" using it.

Knox County Schools never got the letter.

In late August – more than five years after the announcement – a recalled "arch" set at Lonsdale Elementary School snapped while fourth grader Ronnivea Wilson swung from it.

She crashed to the ground and suffered minor bruises to her left side, records show.

Her family hired a local attorney, Linda Betz, who told officials in October that "this matter could end up in litigation," according to a letter her office sent to Knox County's Risk Management Department.

Officials have since said little about the accident.

But, a WBIR 10News investigation shows that KCS doesn't have mechanisms in place to quickly identify problems on its playgrounds and quickly fix them.

KCS – unlike the county's Parks and Recreation Department and other school systems in the state – also doesn't have a central database that details what type of equipment and materials it has on each of its more than 50 playgrounds.

That means county and school inspectors don't have easy access to information. Instead, they have to go through the individual schools, which often don't have records. Or, they have to personally visit each playground to determine what is there.

Problems that affect multiple school playgrounds aren't discovered sometimes until weeks, months and years later, according to records. Fixing them, too, can take KCS time.

The full story is RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TN Education Commissioner appointed

McQueen
So much for that news conference Big Bill scheduled for next Tuesday. Word got out early.

From the Nashville mansion:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Dr. Candice McQueen, a teacher and dean at Lipscomb University in Nashville, will join his cabinet as commissioner of the Department of Education.

McQueen, 40, currently serves on Lipscomb University’s executive leadership team as senior vice president, and as dean she oversees the College of Education as well as the 1,300 pre-k through 12th grade students in three schools at Lipscomb Academy. She has led training, support and professional development efforts for thousands of current and future classroom teachers, instructional coaches and school leaders. Before joining Lipscomb in 2001, McQueen was a teacher in elementary and middle schools.

“Lipscomb’s College of Education produces some of our state’s best teachers, and Candice gets a lot of credit for that,” Haslam said. “She has taught in a classroom, so she brings both the experience of being a teacher and of preparing teachers to teach. I am grateful for her willingness to serve in this role, and I know she’ll do a great job as we continue our efforts to provide a quality education for all Tennessee students.”

McQueen’s college and teacher preparation programs have been highlighted at the state and national levels for excellence in teacher preparation design and teacher candidate outcomes. In her six years as dean, Lipscomb’s College of Education has grown by 54 percent with 72 percent growth at the graduate level, has added 15 new graduate programs, including a doctorate, and has created innovative partnerships that focus on collaborative design and delivery for coursework and programming.

In 2012, McQueen partnered with the Tennessee-based Ayers Foundation to initiate The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation, which focuses on supporting higher academic standards, embedded professional learning and new approaches to leadership training and support. Tennessee’s higher education institutions are using the resources to prepare new teachers and many Tennessee school districts and other states are using the resources for professional development.

Read the rest RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Cumberland Avenue project to be rebid - again; work delayed to mid-2015

I'm beginning to wonder if work will ever start on this thing.

From the city: Knoxville officials will be rebidding the contract for construction of the comprehensive Cumberland Avenue street redesign project, which will push the start of construction back from early 2015 to summer 2015.

Only one company had submitted a bid to perform the work, and that bid came in higher than budgeted. City consultants had estimated the construction work at about $11 million, and the sole bid was for more than $25 million. So the project will go out for rebid early next year after several elements of the bid package have been reworked.

City officials remain committed to doing the major traffic-flow redesign and utility upgrade along Cumberland Avenue, even though it appears that the project will wind up being costlier than first anticipated. Additional funding sources will be identified during the rebid process as well.

"The Cumberland Avenue Corridor project is a very complicated urban road project, and we knew it would present a number of challenges," said Bob Whetsel, the City's Director of Redevelopment.

"But we are 100 percent committed to this project, which has already helped spur more than $200 million in investment by private redevelopers. We've pledged to partner with residents and merchants in the Corridor by doing our part and modernizing the infrastructure, and we intend to follow through with what's really a once-in-a-century major overhaul."

The Cumberland Avenue project still will be done in two phases.

Phase I of the Cumberland Avenue project will ease traffic clogs on the western end of the corridor, the stretch of Cumberland Avenue between 22nd Street and Alcoa Highway.

Phase I improvements - especially the smoother-flowing intersections at Volunteer Boulevard and at Alcoa Highway - will give motorists more options for avoiding the Phase II construction work, said Project Manager Anne Wallace with the City's Office of Redevelopment.

Phase II calls for a redesign of Cumberland Avenue from 22nd Street to 16th Street. Both phases of work include new underground utilities, new signals, new sidewalks, the addition of turn lanes and new medians, plus landscaping, benches and pedestrian-scaled lighting.

Entire release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Playground problems: injuries,costs

Emergency crews and rescue personnel needed hours to free two of young Ashlyn's fingers when they got trapped in a piece of playground equipment last March at Mount Olive Elementary School in March.

The county's Risk Management Department then came up with a way to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

But Knox County Schools declined to act on the recommendation.
That's not the first time school officials have opted not to fix a potential problem on school playgrounds.

PREVIOUS STORY: Part 1 - School Playground Safety Inspection Inconsistencies

Parents said officials promised to address safety issues on some playgrounds, but have failed to deliver.

"It's one thing to fall and get hurt, but if you have something that poses a risk that could be fixed, then that's different," said Ashyln's mother Micki Morris. "Kids are going to fall – you can't change that. But if you have something that is a known hazard now, I think it's wrong not to fix it."
Barbara Kistler-Martin, whose son was injured in May when a piece of mulch pierced his shoe and foot, agreed.

"It is correctable," she said, noting that the mulch at Cedar Bluff Elementary where her son was injured this summer looks the same today. "This just bothers me."

The rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Five, not 6, to fire superintendent

I have said this for a long time: A Tennessee school board can fire a superintendent with a simple majority vote - not anything more - no matter what the contract says.

Heck, you don't need a law degree to figure that one out. Still, there's those that argue otherwise. Now, a recent state ruling should put an end to that.

Here's the deal:

The contract for the Knox County Schools superintendent says the 9-member board needs a super majority to fire the system's director (in this case, Jim McIntyre). That means six votes.

State law, however, calls for a simple majority.

Betty Bean at the Knoxville Shopper reports that state Attorney General Herb Slattery early this month said:
“A board of education may not, by contract, limit its statutory decision-making authority by requiring a supermajority vote to approve termination of a director of schools when the statute provides for termination by majority vote. The supermajority voting requirement is unenforceable.”
In addition, county Law Director Bud Armstrong reached a similar conclusion.

You can read her story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Keep in mind - and this is directed to the anti-McIntyre crowd - just because it takes five to get rid of him, he's probably not going anywhere for now.

Nine apply for open commish seat

Nine applicants submitted resumes to fill former Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs’ remaining two years on the board.

They include an attorney, a realtor, a U.S. Air Force brigadier general, a certified financial planner, sales representatives, and a pastor, among others.

The deadline was noon Monday.

Briggs, a Republican who defeated Cheri Siler in the general election for the 7th District state Senate seat, officially stepped down from the Knox County Board of Commissioners last month.

The interim 5th District commissioner will hold the seat until its term expires at the end of August 2016. The district represents the southwest corner of Knox County and includes Farragut and Concord. 


The commission will publicly interview the candidates at 4 p.m. on Jan. 12 in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building, and then vote during a special called meeting set for 4:30 p.m. that day.

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates:

Tamara Boyer: An attorney, she is vice president of The Private Client Group, which serves as a relationship manager for banking, trust, investment and insurance services. Much of her careers focused on business and financial transaction; commercial and consumer real estate; and civil litigation management. She earned her law degree from Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, and also attended laws school in England and Germany.

J. Kelly Clancy: A realtor, who served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves, he earned a degree in history from the University of Tennessee. He also served on the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors Governmental Affairs Committee, Grievance Committee, and Ethics Committee.

David Freeman: Since 1999, served as director of Capital Resources Partners, which helps oversee mergers and acquisitions in the transportation and logistics industry. Earned degree in economics from the University of Kansas.

Ken Gross: Spent much of his career working in the areas of environmental, Occupational Safety & Health Engineering, regulatory compliance and construction safety. Served a three-year term as the East Tennessee commissioner on the State of Tennessee Occupational Safety & Health Review Commission in Nashville; served a term on the county’s ethics committee; and also serves as the state’s executive committeeman for the 7th Senate District.

John H Grueser: Enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965 and served until 1980 when he began serving in the Air Force Reserve until retiring from the military in 2006. Also worked as a pilot for United Airlines and as an air carrier inspector for the FAA. Currently an airline consultant. Earned engineering degree from the United States Air Force Academy, and a master’s degree in education from Texas Tech University and a master’s in business administration and management from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

Mike Manning: Financial advisor who has worked in the private sector as a comptroller, chief financial officer and auditor for a number of companies, including Rush Fitness Corporation, Santek Environmental, Radio Systems Corporation and PricewaterCoopers. He earned a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee.

Ronnie Rochelle: Owned Parkway Galleries Furniture in Knoxville and Bristol from 1977 to 1992. A certified financial planner since 1996, he also is the comptroller for Designsensory, an interactive marketing firm. Also served volunteer stints with the Farragut MPC, the Knox County Chamber of Commerce and the CAC Office on Aging.

John Schoonmaker: Former chair and vice chair and current member of the Knox County Board of Zoning and Appeals; and owner of Schoonmaker Sales. Attended Florida State University.

Grant Standefer: Long-time pastor for churches in New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee, and currently serves with the Compassion Coalition. Served stints with the Rotary Club of Knoxville, Introduction Knoxville, Leadership Knoxville and the community advisory board for the Department of Children’s Services.

School playground safety standards

Photo by Jim Mathey
Jim Matheny and I worked on a four-month investigation into playground safety standards at dozens of school districts in East Tennessee that revealed a variety of problems and inconsistencies.

From a shortage of inspections to failures to receive notice of safety recalls, the issues have resulted in children being sent to the hospital and taxpayer dollars spent to cover medical bills.

In this first of three stories, we examine how frequently schools are conducting safety inspections, certification requirements for inspectors, and a failure to repair problems that are identified.

A WBIR 10News investigation found many of these problems at Knox County Schools, the area's largest school district:
  • KCS does not inspect its playgrounds according to industry standards
  • KCS sometimes takes months to correct a problem – if it even does fix it
  • KCS still hasn't inspected all of its playgrounds for the current school year
  • KCS does not have a certified playground inspector
These issues are not entirely unique to Knox County Schools. Our investigation over the next few days reveals how school systems across the area stack up on safety compared to industry standards.

The full story is RIGHT HERE.

Monday, December 15, 2014

School playground safety problems

On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night of this week at 11 p.m., WBIR 10News examines school playground safety standards. These stories are the result of a four-month investigation of 29 school systems in East Tennessee.

We know there is always an inherent risk of injury when groups of children run, jump, and climb at any playground. Kids are kids. They take risks and get injured. That is not what this investigation is about.

We're examining safety issues, problems with playground equipment, and scheduled inspections that can be reasonably changed to reduce the unnecessary risk of additional injuries.

Why are we doing these stories? Here are a few reasons:
  • Children were injured on school playgrounds due to equipment problems that can be prevented and/or corrected.
  • Many known problems with equipment have been identified, but have not been repaired. Children continue to play on these items several months after hazards were identified.
  • School unawareness of manufacturer recalls for dangerous playground equipment has led to injury and potential litigation.
  • Taxpayer money has been spent to pay for medical bills caused by problems with playground equipment.
Our examination of school systems' safety protocols shows a wide variation in how each district ensures its equipment is safe. There is not a consistent standard from one school system to another. In several cases, school districts do far less than the industry standards applied at many public park playgrounds. We'll show you how your local school system stacks up on safety.

There will be some overlap in the web stories and the TV stories, but each will also be fairly unique.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Two alt papers coming to K-ville

The journalists and staff behind a new independent newspaper in Knoxville unveiled their publication Thursday.

It's called the Knoxville Mercury and it is hoping to fill the void left after the Metro Pulse staff was fired. Some of the editorial staff and the free lance writers from the Metro Pulse will work at the publication.

You can find more on our site RIGHT SMACK HERE. Or over on the hippie's site RIGHT HERE and HERE.

Columbia Journalism Review also wrote extensively about the Mercury over HERE.

Although the ol' Porch wishes both publications well, I suspect neither will be around in two years.

There's a reason newspapers are dying. And I seriously doubt these new start-ups have found the magic bullet. But whatever.

Good luck regardless. I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three applied for Commission seat

Despite all the rumors, only three people so far have officially applied for the open Knox County Commission seat.

The deadline is Dec. 15, a week away.

As it stands, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, a certified financial planner, and the executive director of Compassion Coalition, a non-profit that touts itself as a bridge between the local churches and the community, have submitted resumes.

The commission will publicly interview the candidates at 4 p.m. on Jan. 12 and then vote during a special called meeting set for 4:30 p.m. that day.

The person selected will represent the 5th District, which encompasses a large chunk of southwest Knox County.

The person will serve the remainder of the term, which runs out in 2016.

Here’s a look at the folks who applied so far. (And you can find their resumes, RIGHT SMACK HERE.)

  • John H Grueser: Enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965 and served until 1980 when he began serving in the Air Force Reserve until retiring from the military in 2006. Also worked as a pilot for United Airlines and as an air carrier inspector for the FAA. Currently an airline consultant. Earned engineering degree from the United States Air Force Academy, and a master’s degree in education from Texas Tech University and a master’s in business administration and management from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.
  • Ronnie Rochelle: Owned Parkway Galleries Furniture in Knoxville and Bristol from 1977 to 1992. A certified financial planner since 1996, he also is the comptroller for Designsensory, an interactive marketing firm. Also served volunteer stints with the Farragut MPC, the Knox County Chamber of Commerce and the CAC Office on Aging.
  • Grant Standefer: Long-time pastor for churches in New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee, and currently serves with the Compassion Coalition. Served stints with the Rotary Club of Knoxville, Introduction Knoxville, Leadership Knoxville and the community advisory board for the Department of Children’s Services.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Knox superintendent directs secretary on paid leave to return to work

UPDATE: Looks like she returns on Friday. RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Knox County Schools has told 52-year-old secretary Tina Needham she can now return to work. Needham has been on paid administrative leave from her job as a central office secretary for almost two and a half years and recently filed a federal discrimination complaint against the school system.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre sent an email to the school board on Friday stating he "assigned Ms. Needham to a vacant, budgeted clerical position in our Special Education Department here in the Andrew Johnson building. Ms. Needham has been directed to report back to work starting Tuesday."

You can read the entire story, which be broke Saturday, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Whether she actually returns remains to be seen. Also, for all the folks out there complaining about supposedly dragging this lady's name through the mud, that's complete BS. She's being paid - with taxpayer money - to do absolutely nothing.

She's also been given ample opportunity to comment. TWO AND A HALF YEARS!

No one - no one - gets that kind of leave. 

The school administration dropped the ball with her right at the beginning when officials placed her on paid leave, they dropped the ball during settlement negotiations, and I suspect they'll drop it again. This isn't my opinion, either. This comes from both pro and con McIntyre supporters on the board of ed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

TCOG and ETSPJ raise concerns in open meeting case for Greene County IDB

I'm going to run this as is. What's going on in Greene County is a bunch of bull. Here ya go:

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the East Tennessee Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists have issued a joint statement o concern about efforts to interpret the Tennessee Open Meetings Act that could fundamentally reduce citizen access to public meetings.

The Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County and the private company US Nitrogen contend in a lawsuit that the Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not require that citizens be able to hear proceedings at a public meeting, only that a governing body give citizens an opportunity to be present.

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the East Tennessee Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists believe such a narrow interpretation would make a mockery of the state’s Sunshine Law and allow or even encourage absurd scenarios where a governing body could hold a public meeting, but prevent citizens from hearing what they say.

The law makes clear that efforts to circumvent the Tennessee Open Meetings Act by members deliberating privately amongst themselves will not be tolerated:

“The general assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.” (T.C.A. 8-44-101)

And in language that emphasizes the importance of audibility, the law instructs governing bodies that allow a member to participate electronically or by phone that: “Each part of a meeting required to be open shall be audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of the meeting…”

The issue of audibility arose after citizens attended a July 18 meeting of the Industrial Development Board and a citizen was ejected from the meeting and arrested after asking the governing board to speak up so members of the audience could hear. Citizens filed 59 complaints with the Office of Open Records Counsel, some of which protested they could not hear and that the industrial development board held the meeting without using microphones, and sat around a table so that some members had their backs to the audience.

Elisha Hodge, who was then the state’s Open Records Counsel, reviewed the complaints and video of the meeting and wrote a letter to the chairman of the Industrial Development Board, who is also the Greene County mayor, that it was her opinion that to be in compliance with the Open Meetings Act “that all public meetings of a governing body are required to be held in a manner that permits the public to hear the issues being deliberated and/or the decisions being made.” She said she could not hear portions of the meeting on the video she watched, even though the recorder had a microphone.

TCOG and SPJ-East Tennessee chapter believe arguments to interpret the Open Meetings Act as not requiring deliberations of a governing body to be audible in a public meeting are inconsistent with the core purpose and intent of the Act, which is to prevent secrecy in how decisions are arrived at by governing bodies.

TCOG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 2003 whose mission is to promote and preserve transparency in government through education and awareness of the state’s open records and open meetings laws. More information can be found at www.tcog.info.

ETSPJ is a professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. It was founded in 1909.

Monday, December 1, 2014

County continuing 'Wreaths Across America' effort; deadline extended

The Wreaths Across America donation has been extended from today to Wednesday, Dec. 3, according to Michael "Big Sexy" Grider, county communications director or manager or whatever his title is now.

Members of the community wishing to contribute to the WAA effort in Knox County can do so by visiting RIGHT SMACK HERE.
So far, more than $42,000 have been raised, which amounts to more than 4,000 sponsored wreaths.

Thanks to a generous donation by Perceptics, all remaining headstones at the East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Governor John Sevier Highway will receive a wreath, Grider noted.  Also, Pilot Flying J once again made a substantial contribution to this year’s Wreaths Across America effort.

The Porch has blogged about this cause in the past. RIGHT SMACK HERE for more info.

KPD: No driving fatalities during holiday break; plenty of DUIs

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch today announced traffic enforcement results from the Thanksgiving holiday period, according to a KPD release.  The enforcement effort began at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday and concluded at Midnight on Sunday.

Rausch said during the 104 hour long period, officers issued 983 driving related citations.  Of the 983 citations, 39 motorists were cited for not wearing a safety belt.  Five (5) additional motorists were cited for violating the child restraint law.  Eighty-nine (89) motorists were caught either driving on a suspended license, a revoked license or driving with no license at all.  Officers also investigated 58 vehicle crashes.  Four (4) of the crashes resulted in personal injuries.  No fatalities were recorded during the holiday reporting period.

Officers arrested 17 motorists for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) during the specialized enforcement campaign.  Two (2) DUI arrests occurred on Wednesday.  Three (3) DUI arrests were recorded on Thursday.  Five (5) DUI arrests were made on Friday.  Officers recorded four (4) DUI arrests on Saturday and three (3) on Sunday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

KUB to 'Round It Up' starting in May

KUB has launched a pilot program in which it will round up customers' bills to the next dollar, and then give some folks "long-term sustainable funding to fix weatherization," according to Leslie, one of my new peeps, at WBIR.

The initiative - called "Round It Up" - will start in May.

President & CEO Mintha Roach emphasizes this is not some kind of freeloader program, and that 100 percent of the coin will go to construction and repairs for low-income homeowners and renters in our community.

So, based on the numbers, the maximum contribution in a year would not exceed $11.88 per customer, and KUB, which is teaming up with the city and the Knoxville-Knox County CAC, says the average would be about $6 for most people each year. (Those aforementioned groups by the way will help evaluate homes of those in need and determine what improvements should be made.)

Some folks have complained about the automatic rollover. Actually, I'm not gonna mince words: Some folks are flat out livid about the "opt out" program. You know, the principle of it.

Others don't care and probably won't notice the difference.

To read Leslie's full story, to find out how to opt out or stay in, and to check out KUB's release, CLICK RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Holiday video from superintendent

Last Christmas, KCS superintendent Jim McIntyre recorded a video for teachers, the community, the public, his friends, whoever.

In it, he reminded everyone that the school board extended his contract another year. The video was bizarre. It's since been removed. I blogged about it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Well, he's got another one.

You can find it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

I'm not sure if he did this on his own, contacted the school system's communications department or reached out to the local PR firms that have worked with him in the past.


Anyhoo, during the roughly 4-minute video, entitled "Thanksgiving Message 2014," he talks briefly about some successes and reminds teachers that "we will really reinforce your instructional growth."

At the same time, he's holding up a sign that says we will "support your instructional growth." Freudian slip?

He also tells teachers not to worry about their jobs, since KCS fired only one tenured teacher last year.

And he provides what he calls "advice," which he stresses is not a mandate. But then reminds folks to "make sure you . . . ."

I don't know. Sounds like a mandate to me.

The ol' Porch, however, would be remiss if it didn't note that this video is waaaay better than the last one. This time he's in his office, and he kind of, sort of, looks at the camera.

Monday, November 24, 2014

KCS nutrition director incentives

Last week we broke the story that Jon Dickl, the Knox County School system's nutrition services director, resigned. You can find it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

As noted, Dickl earned $105,100 in salary. In one of his letters to top staffers, he asked for some incentive money he said he was due. Yeah, go figure. Dude probably gets a travel allowance, too. Or did.

Anyhoo, I asked the KCS people about the incentive coin.

Here's what I was told:

"Mr. Dickl’s incentives are calculated on four key performance indicators (KPIs):
  • Labor Cost Percentage
  • Food Cost Percentage
  • Inventory Turnover Rate
  • Average Health Score
Based on the various calculations and the stated performance indicators, if Mr. Dickl were in good standing he may have earned a performance incentive of about $3,700 for 2014." 

Based on how the email to me was worded, I'm guessing that he's going going to get this money.

Ex-Trustee 'ghost' worker sentencing pushed to Friday the (Feb.) 13th

Morgan
The so-called ghost-employee, who worked under ex-longtime Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe won't be sentenced until Friday, Feb. 13.

Delbert Morgan, who was paid to do little if any work, between March 2004 and March 2008 for the county's tax collections department, was found guilty in late August of felony theft.

He was supposed to be sentenced on Monday, but Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword agreed to postpone the hearing to give Morgan's attorneys time to get a copy of the initial trial's transcripts and review them.

During Monday's brief hearing, defense attorney Richard Gaines told the court that he "found something new" in the transcripts. He declined to say what exactly, but said his request to review the paperwork will focus on the opening and closing arguments.

Morgan's charge is punishable by eight to 12 years in prison. He also can receive probation. Prosecutor Bill Bright declined to say what the state will request.

The jury, after a two-week long trial, found the 58-year-old Grainger County businessman guilty of felony theft.

Morgan is the first of at least two other former Trustee's Office workers, including former long-time Trustee Mike Lowe, who prosecutors say swindled taxpayers out of possibly $1 million between 2004 and 2008.

Ray Mubarak, another employee accused of collecting a paycheck and not actually working, and Lowe will go to trial on April 6.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dickl out as KCS nutrition director; Asks officials for more money

Jon Dickl
So, Jon Dickl, the now former Knox County Schools nutrition services director, apparently quit last night before Superintendent Jim "Slim" McIntyre fired him.

At some point yesterday he also wrote a letter to top school officials. And like all good KCS memos, it included the usual "woe is me" clause and a refusal to accept any blame or responsibility for doing anything wrong.

And I'm not talking about the allegations that he misused school funds.

I'm talking about the fact that he couldn't make a meeting with detectives, something that KCS officials said he would have to do in order to keep his job.

Dickl said he cancelled because he needed KCS to pay him some incentive bonus coin (apparently, he earned cheese above and beyond his annual $105,100 salary), so he could afford an attorney.

Then he says that by requiring that he cooperate with investigators, the school system was violating his constitutional rights. Or something.

I don't know. the whole thing is ridiculous.

You can read it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Also, his official resignation letter, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

The letter from Slim Jim to School Board disciples: RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

KCS details credit/charge card plan

Knox County School has released its (working draft) comprehensive plan on how to deal with its credit/charge card problems.

The move comes after officials fired Roger Underwood, the KCS accounts payable supervisor, for misusing his school-issued card, and a WBIR 10News investigation (RIGHT SMACK HERE) that detailed how the cards were rarely paid on time.

The 8-page plan was written by Bob Thomas, assistant schools superintendent of administrative services, to KCS Superintendent Jim McIntyre. You can find it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Really, there’s nothing new, and most of the recommendations should have been done years ago.

Bob suggests eliminating the six credit cards (which they’ve already done) and the eight Sam’s cards. He also proposes more training, more checks and balances and moving over to the county’s e-card program.

All these are good suggestions. Unfortunately it took not one financial scandal, but two, to get the ball rolling.

Again, your can find the memo RIGHT SMACK HERE. Check it out. I’m not re-writing it for ya. There’s more details in there.

Of course, no KCS school memo – be it private or public – is complete without either (a) a “woe is me” clause or (b) a suggestion that someone else is to the blame for the problem. Even if it’s a teeny, tiny suggestion.

In this case it’s a little bit of both. Let me direct your attention to the top of Page 6 in which Bob pontificates:
It is important to note that positions in the KCS Finance Department have been reduced over the last several years. This is due to a purposeful effort to keep budget cuts away from the classroom and to try and maximize efficiencies within KCS central administration.
Er, yeah. Welcome to the real world.

Business everywhere – including right here in Knox County – are cutting their workforces.

Further, the county administration and its finance team for years have suggested that the school system’s finance department fall under its umbrella, and KCS has steadfastly refused.

My guess is that consolidating the two would create more efficiencies and save money.

It would certainly be more transparent.

Anyhoo, expect the school system to ask for more money to add people to its finance department.

Heh.

Kidding.

Maybe.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Commish looks at audits, meetings

Some notes from yesterday’s Knox County Commission meeting. I would have put them up earlier, but had to pitch in on some breaking news.

Anyhoo, the county commission officially sanctioned an audit of the school systems finances, signing off on a plan that lets the internal auditor review the six KCS credit cards, dating back five years, and other “credit devices” (i.e. travel cards, Sam’s cards, etc.) dating back two years.

We’ve reported about this extensively and are so far the only media outlet to report about how KCS didn’t pay their credit cards on time. RIGHT SMACK HERE for that one.

In the meantime, the commission also delayed voting on changing its meeting times.

The board opted to send the proposal back to its Rules Committee. Pretty sure this was done because they didn’t have the votes to approve the change.

“As the old saying goes: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” board member Mike Brown said. “We tried this once before and it didn’t work, so we went back and fixed it.”

The commission off and on for more than a month now has kicked around a proposal to bump up its start times – a move some members said would make it easier for the public to attend.

Others, however, weren’t so sure.

For example, commissioners Dave Wright and Amy Broyles both said the cooler months could actually hurt attendance.

“Not only will it be dark outside (when a meeting ends), it will be cold and dark,” Wright said.

The move also could hurt the county’s bottom line, too, members said.

“If we meet in the evening at 5 (p.m.) we have a considerable amount of staff that would have to be treated with a policy that may end up costing the county money,” Wright said. “Also, just the basics of getting people in and out of the building, the (Public Building Authority) may have to require more (security) support.”

Some like Commissioner Randy Smith said the later meetings “would make government more accessible,” since it would give those who work during the day a chance to attend.

Commissioner Ed Brantly, who initially proposed the change, agreed.

“We should be as convenient for (the public) as possible,” he said.

The County Commission currently holds its monthly beer board meetings at 1 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month. It then holds its commission voting meetings at 2 p.m. and its zoning meetings follow at 5 p.m.

Officials talked about moving the beer board discussions to 4 p.m., the commission to 5 p.m. and zonings to 7 p.m. "or immediately following the commission meetings."

Knox Co. Commission taking resumes to fill 5th District seat; Due Dec. 15

The Knox County Commission is accepting resumes from candidates seeking the appointment to replace Richard Briggs as the board's 5th District representative.

Briggs, a Republican who defeated Cheri Siler in the general election for the 7th District state Senate seat, officially stepped down last week.

Resumes should be submitted no later than 5 p.m. Dec. 15. They can be mailed, faxed, emailed or hand-delivered to:

Office of the Knox County Commission
Suite 603, City County Building
400 Main St.
Knoxville, TN 37920
Phone: 865-215-2534
Fax: 865-215-2038
email: commission@knoxcounty.org

The County Commission will hold a public hearing to interview candiates on Jan. 12, 2015 at 4 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the County Building.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the matter during a special called meeting that will immediately follow the interviews.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hard Knox Independent coming soon

The folks putting together an alternative newspaper they hope will fill the void left when the Metro Pulse died - sorry "Go Knoxville," you're too lame to do the job - have named their publication: The Hard Knox Independent.

Heh.

In a release sent out today, the good folks said the paper will feature local columnists (and former Pulse writers) Frank Cagle, Scott McNutt and (new guy) Chuck Cavalaris "and others."

"The goal of Hard Knox Independent is to create an alternative weekly voice that reflects the spirit of the community we serve," said publisher Crystal Huskey. "We want to build a sense of community and highlight the stories of people who make our town great. We also strive to tell the stories that are often overlooked."

You can find the entire news release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Facebook page RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Follow them on Twitter RIGHT SMACK HERE.

SAT-10 appears dead for school year

On Sunday's Inside Tennessee (9:30 a.m. WBIR 10News), we'll talk with (new) state Sen. Richard Briggs, state Rep. Eddie Smith and school board member Tracey Sanger.

We wanted to check back in one last time with some folks who won their respective races earlier this month.

Anyhoo, as expected the whole SAT-10 thing came up in our conversation with Tracey. She said she would NOT vote to bring it back. (Remember, the school board killed testing for K-2 students - RIGHT SMACK HERE.)

However, she said the point was moot. It's not going to be get brought back any time soon.

There had been some some speculation that BOE member Doug Harris - once Tracey came on board - would try to resurrect it in December.

You see, Doug voted to kill it, but he did that because only someone on the winning side of the vote can ask to revisit a vote.

That's not going to happen. (And if it did, it doesn't look like the votes are there, even if Doug switches.)

In an email, he sent to me this morning, Doug said: "I don't have any plans to bring it back up and have sent a few emails confirming that opinion to concerned teachers/parents over the last couple of weeks."

Whether it comes back next year obviously remains to be seen. I'm guessing it will.

The school system - re: the administration and principals - have been pushing testing results and - behind the scenes - trying to get teachers to speak before the school board about how beneficial it supposedly is.

They've also released some stats that show improvements. I suspect that after one SAT-10 free year, the administration will have number that show drops.

Then it goes back to vote.

We'll see.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Knox County continues 'Wreaths Across America' effort for vet cemeteries

As a reminder, the county mayor's office is continuing its "Wreaths Across America" effort to raise money to place live wreaths on the graves of veterans buried at the three veterans cemetery locations in Knox County. 

A $15 sponsorship will pay for a wreath made of live greenery to be placed on a veteran’s grave at either the Old East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Lyons View Pike, the New East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery on Governor John Sevier Highway or the Knoxville National Cemetery on Tyson Street near Old Gray Cemetery.

To donate, click RIGHT SMACK HERE. The organization is also offering a “three-for-two” sponsorship special, which means they will donate a wreath for every two that are sponsored.

The wreath sponsorship cutoff deadline is Dec. 1, and the wreaths will be placed on the graves on Dec. 13.

County Spin Doc, Michael "Big Sexy" Grider, spoke with one of our reporters today about the effort.

He said they've raised enough money for about 1,000 graves so far and have a total of 16,000 to cover. They have about 500 sponsors so far, including a $5,000 donation from Pilot Flying J.

Wreaths Across America is a national non-profit that works to place live wreaths on veteran graves during the holidays.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A big Thanks to all the veterans

Click RIGHT HERE for a deal or freebie if you're a veteran.

The city of Knoxville is anticipating thousands of people to line the downtown streets to pay tribute of our nation's military today.

Several veterans organizations, high school bands, police, and fire departments will participate in the annual Veterans Parade in downtown Knoxville.

The parade will start at 10:40 a.m. at the Knoxville Coliseum, run along Howard Baker Jr. to Church Street, and then head right on Gay Street.

You can watch WBIR 10News anchor John Becker report live from the parade on 10News2 or wbir.com, starting at 11 p.m.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Write-in votes: Having fun or making a statement; More than 2,000 cast

Olaf the Snowman for governor? What about Peppa Pig, Space Ghost or Howdy Doody?

Perhaps Cardinal Raymond Burke?

Or . . .  the Time Master. Heh.

Maybe UT’s Butch Jones or former coaches Pat Summitt or Bruce Pearl float your boat. (OK, that last one probably not so much.)

Those were just a handful of the 2,077 unique names that Knox County voters took the time to write in as candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, according to a 55-page list that election officials provided to WBIR 10News.

The List: 55 Pages of Write-in Candidates RIGHT SMACK HERE

Some were serious (we think), and others were obviously a joke (we hope). A few voters delved into the history books, digging up old presidents. Others touched on entertainment, picking cartoon characters and rock stars.

And then, as always, there were those names just too lewd, crude and rude for online news and television broadcast.

“The first thing that’s important to note is that this shows that we record every vote out there – no matter who you write in or what you write in,” said Cliff Rodgers, administrator of Elections for Knox County.

Sadly – or not so sadly – almost all of the write-in votes counted, since none were certified as official write-in candidates.

However, the Knox County Election Commission will count write-in votes for Bill Haslam in the governor race - not that he needed them - since he was an official candidate on the ballot.

The Republican governor trounced his Democratic Opponent Charlie Brown, who has no relation to the Peanuts character (although Snoopy did get a write-in vote).

“Some people will write in something ridiculous that they don’t think anyone else will do, so that when we send them the list they want to see if it’s recorded, and that everything is OK with the system,” Rodgers said. “You’ll see a bunch that no one is going to repeat. It’s not ‘Mickey Mouse,’ or ‘Donald Duck’ or ‘Chuck Norris.’ It’s not someone the average person would think of.”

Hmmm. Interesting, because there were no votes cast this time around for Chuck Norris.

And that’s not good, particularly if Chuck finds out. As everyone should know there’s a lot of facts out there about America’s favorite movie star/karate man. Like how when “Chuck Norris stares at the sun . . . it blinks!”

Now for some more write-in fun.

Folks apparently weren’t too happy with incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander or any of his challengers (Lamar won a third term anyway!), so they felt others were more appropriate.

That meant: Alfred E. Newman, Any But Lamar, Bozo the Clown, Disgruntled Conservative, Morgan Freeman, Peyton Manning, Pope Benedict Six, Rawhide Rex, Uncle Sam and Rage Against The Machine!

Speaking of Rage – music was well represented in this election cycle.

Voters cast ballots for rockers Jack White and David Lee Roth; legendary punks Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig; rappers Public Enemy and Kanye West; and country stars Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels and Willie Nelson.

Also, some gal named Beyonce got a vote or two.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Ted Nugent’s name. Especially since he hasn’t had a hit in decades. He made the list, though.

Zombi-buster Rick Grimes was on it, too, and so was “Your Mom” and “My Dog.”

Speaking of animals . . . . There was: the Easter Bunny, Miss Piggy, Felix the Cat, Old Yellow Dog, Big Bird, Chester Cheetah, official mascot for Cheetos brand snacks (yes, we had to Google that one), Walter the Bulldog, Three Leg Dog and Big Nose Alligator.

And, we can’t forget: Dog Catcher!

Some folks were feeling spiritual, casting votes for God, Jesus, Jesus Christ and the Dali Lama.

Cthulhu was there, too, as was Odin and Loki.

The Force was with Luke Skywalker (hey, he’s got a movie coming out in December 2015), and his father, Darth Vader.

Star Wars villain Boba Fett also showed up, but his arch enemy and the true hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo, did not. Lame!

A number of names were peppered multiple times throughout the 55 pages of various races, including Howard Stern, Madeline Rogero, Tim Burchett, Big Foot, James T. Kirk, and Poleycat Valentine (huh????).

And, we can’t forget: No vote, none, not Bill, Not Huffman, Any But Lamar, anybody, any on (sic) else, anyone else, and “go away.”

Homer Simpson, Bart Simpson and their neighbor, Ned Flanders were accounted for.

Former presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton (as well as wife Hillary) appeared.

And, President Obama popped up, too. Quite a few times in fact, and in all different ways. There was: Barack Obama; Obama; Obamas Legacy; and The Barack Obama Agenda.

Of course, no write-in list is complete until you mention votes cast for Sponge Bob; rivals/friends Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny; or Mickey Mouse and his pals Donald Duck and Goofy.
Paging Dr. Jones! Yes, you guessed it – Indiana Jones made the list. Someone wants Harrison Ford’s fictional archeologist to represent the 18th District in the state House. That said others wanted Johnny Majors, Kermit the Frog, Little Sebastion (the horse on the TV show “Parks and Rec”), and Megatron to hold that seat, too.

Oh year, Jagger Lance Oakland also nabbed a vote in that race. Whoever or whatever Jagger is.

DC Comics characters beat out Marvel this election as Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, face-crunching, bone-smashing Dark Knight vigilante Batman and “Batnam” garnered multiple votes. In fact, usual fan favorites Spider-Man and Wolverine didn’t even get a one.

WBIR was well represented, too. Some folks kindly wrote in anchor John Becker’s name a few times (once even for governor!).

Superstar Mike Donila and Sideshow Steve Butera got votes as did former WBIR reporter John Henry. 10News photographer Jim Martin claims that the vote for “Gandalf the Grey” was really for him.

Reporters from the local paper didn’t get any votes, but its publisher did. Someone felt it necessary to cast “Birmingham Killed Metros” as a candidate, an obvious reference to Patrick Birmingham’s recent decision to can the widely popular weekly alternative, Metro Pulse.

In the 7th District state Senate race Stacey Campfield (who was thumped in the Republican primary by Richard Briggs) garnered what might be the most votes of any write-in pick in a single race: 28.
(Not that everyone spelled his name correctly, but still. We also thought about texting him for a comment, but, well . . . .)

The next local election – it’s a city only contest – isn’t until September 2015.

Expect the fun to continue then.

Briggs to leave commish on Monday

Richard Briggs
Richard Briggs, who has served on the Knox County Commission for almost seven years, will officially step down Monday as he makes his move over to Tennessee General Assembly.

Briggs defeated incumbent Stacey Campfield in the Republican Primary this summer and then bested Democratic challenger Cheri Siler in Tuesday’s General Election to represent the 7th District state Senate seat.

A heart surgeon and decorated U.S Army veteran, Briggs was appointed to the Knox County Commission in February 2008. He retained the seat in the August General Election of that year.

Briggs’ seat on the commission oversees the 5th District, which includes a good chunk of Southwest Knox County.

He said he initially wanted to wait until Jan. 1 to step down, but that on Wednesday morning state officials assigned him an office and sent him the paperwork to take over now.

“It’s been an absolute honor and privilege to serve on the Knox County Commission and I look forward as a state senator to work with the commission for benefit our community and its citizens,” he said.

The new senator said he’s already received calls about forced annexation, something he doesn’t support without the support of the residents.

The Knox County Commission more than likely will talk about the selection process for filling the vacancy when the board holds its Nov. 17 meeting.

Traditionally, the board accepts resumes, and then holds brief interviews with all the applicants during a public forum. The board then generally waits a week before voting on the replacement.

The interim 5th District commissioner will hold the seat until its term expires at the end of August 2016.