Monday, March 31, 2014

Burchett receives Tennessee Adjutant General's Distinguished Patriot Medal

Meant to get this up a little earlier today. But a release from the county Mayor's Office:

This weekend, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett received the Adjutant General’s Distinguished Patriot Medal from Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston.  

Burchett, left, with Gen. Haston
“It is an honor to receive this award as Mayor of Knox County and on behalf of the veterans in our community,” Mayor Burchett said. “But the truth is that all I’ve done is what I’ve been taught was the right thing to do. It is our men and women in uniform who have gone above and beyond by volunteering to serve in our Armed Forces.”

The medal is presented to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces, Tennessee National Guard or any civilian who “boldly distinguishes himself by a significant patriotic act or contribution to State or Nation which serves to promote patriotism and preservation of either State or National heritage,” according to the official description of the medal.

The medal citation, which recognizes Mayor Burchett “for the highest distinguished service during the period of 1 September 2010 through 13 February 2014,” specifically references the mayor’s continued support of the County’s Veteran Service office and its outreach efforts, as well as the County’s commitment to offer hiring preference to military veterans.

“He is an ardent supporter to the Tennessee National Guard and has spent countless hours as an ambassador for our military veterans,” the citation states.

Hammond to focus on delinquent dues

Mike Hammond
Knox County Criminal Court candidate Mike Hammond says if elected he will focus on strengthening the collections unit in the department. He says – quoting a Paywall Paper report – that there is some $158 million in uncollected court costs and fines (although no one really knows how far back that goes).

“Unpaid court costs and fines are like a bad loan to the people of Knox County,” Hammond said.  “The ones who are benefiting are the scofflaws.  The taxpayers who pay the bills are the responsible taxpayers.”

You can read the entire release right smack here.

Remember, feel free to send me your election info and I’ll post it here.

Hammond faces local attorneys Steve Williams and Jason Hunnicutt in the May Republican primary.

Incumbent Joy McCoskey opted not to seek re-election. There are no Democratic challenges.

Does the Knox County superintendent practice what he preaches? Or . .

“Silence is always the worst kind of reporting” – Rikki Hall

Is it ironic or hypocritical that Superintendent Jim McIntyre would tell the Knox County Commission during its March work session that if members had a problem with something the school system does, then go ahead and call him first?

“If you have questions about how we do our business . . .  how we account for things . . .  please give me a call. I think you have my phone numbers,” he said. “Rather than going straight to an audit committee and bringing some fairly salacious allegations, it would be a nice professional courtesy if myself or the school board heard from county commissioners that had concerns or issues to bring to the floor.”

He also later said: “If you have questions . . .  certainly would appreciate a call to me.”

Well, over the years, he’s had plenty of problems with reporters, particularly those who aren’t afraid to ask him tough questions, and report on the findings. He doesn’t like it.

To him it’s “divisive” or it’s just not news.

When he disagrees with a tweet, a blog post or a news report, McIntyre doesn’t call the reporter. He goes over their heads.

Funny. That’s just what he told commissioners NOT do if they have a problem. Remember? “Professional courtesy.”

Yeah, right.

Anyhoo, it is what it is.

Still, it’s worth noting that it’s not the reporter's fault that the school system had serious security issues that went undisclosed until KNS reporter Jamie Satterfield broke the story. It's not a reporter's fault that there are enough questions surrounding a school system account - one that many officials think is a slush fund - to warrant an audit. It’s not a reporter’s fault that the superintendent has less than one year of real classroom experience. It’s not a reporter's fault the superintendent feels heneeds to seek advice from local players in the PR community when he has a $900,000 communications department. It’s not a reporter's fault he can’t give a straight answer when asked about the school system’s physical plant upgrades account. And, it’s not a reporter's fault that he and Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby aren’t on the same page.

Nope. Not a reporter's fault at all.

However, myself and at least one other reporter in this community do report about the issues. Because it’s news. It’s something people want to read.

And if the superintendent has a problem and wants to sit down and talk, then maybe he should practice what he preaches.

Candidate forum set for April 10

Elaine Davis, a former County Commissioner and current member of the county's Ethics Committee, is hosting a county candidate forum on April 10 at the Knoxville Expo Center on Clinton Highway.

The moderators are Mike Howard and David "Shyne" Thompson of "The Rude Awakening" Morning Show on WNFZ Knox Talk Radio 94.3.

Here's the layout:
  • 4-9 p.m.: Candidates or reps are present at their booths for meet and greet
  • 5:30-6:30 p.m.: The town hall meetings focuses on County Commission races.
  • 6:30-7 p.m.: Introductions to the candidates who are running county-wide seats, like mayor, sheriff, trustee, etc.
  • 7-8:30: Focus on school board races.
The event is free and open to the public.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The wisdom of journalist Rikki Hall

Sadly, Rikki Hall, a heck of a guy, a great conversationalist, and an overall decent person passed away this morning.

Rikki, who wrote a column for the Metro Pulse, also was a super freakin' smart.

Randy over at knoxviews has highlighted some of the gems he posted on the blog. Seriously, check them out. They're right here.

Proposed school board budget includes 3.3 percent increase, teacher raises

Sensitive Superintendent Jim McIntyre has proposed a $433.7 million (general fund) budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes pay raises for teachers, according to a memo he sent to Knox County School Board members.

He’s expected to discuss the proposed spending plan, which will eventually get rubber stamped by the board, later this week.

The budget represents a $13.8 million increase from the current budget, which actually adds up to a 3.3 percent bump, and “does not contemplate major new instructional initiatives due to fiscal restraints,” Jim noted.

He also said the budget  “focuses on sustaining our current educational initiatives, with additional resources primarily targeted toward two priorities: teacher compensation and our new Career Magnet Academy.”

He said the school system ranks 35th in the state in terms of our average teacher pay, and “in order to retain our outstanding teachers and recruit the next generation of exemplary educators, we must insure that we offer a more competitive and professional level of compensation for our teachers.”

That means, he said, the budget includes an additional $3.3 million over expected revenue estimates to provide 3 percent salary increases for teachers.

“If funds are only appropriated for our budget at the level of anticipated revenues, the raise for teachers would only be 1.7% of total salary, consistent with the proposal in the Governor’s budget,” he added, leaving me to wonder if he really only requested a 1.3 percent increase.

Jim also said the budget “is not without some pain points.”

For example, he wants to cut 12 custodial positions through attrition, which means if no one quits or retires, then he hasn’t cut any positions. The budget “also proposes the elimination of several hundred thousand dollars from our already lean central office budgets.”

He doesn’t actually say what he would cut in central office, other than some mumbo-jumbo about how “some of those resources represent small subject-specific dollar allocations to schools, but central office positions will also be carefully examined and may be considered.”

(Translation: Schools lose money, my buddies are protected. I’m going to go whine to Mike’s boss because I don’t take criticism well.)

He also said that some after-school tutoring will be reduced, and “the Project GRAD program will experience about a 15% cut to the resources that support this important partnership. Finally, the assistant principal positions at Austin-East and Fulton which have been at a 255 day contract since reconstitution was instituted six years ago, will revert back to a 221 day contract.”

After the BOE approves the budget, it will go to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s office, so he can incorporate it into his proposed spending plan. Then it goes to the County Commission for final approval.

One thing to note is that some school board members during the so-called “teacher revolt” said they wanted to increase teacher salary by 5 percent. Slim Jim proposed a smaller number, which is probably more reasonable due to fiscal constraints.

It could get interesting if it does get bumped up to five, since that means Burchett – who has long said he supports teacher pay raises – would have to come up with the money or say ‘no.’(We all know how cheap that guy is. Heh.)

We’ll see. We have a lot of time. The budgets don’t need to be approved until June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

In the meantime, you can read the entire memo right smack here.

Also, you can find a one-page budget breakdown right smack here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Commish Broyles' surgery successful

As noted earlier this week - right smack here - Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles had surgery on Friday. She called afterward to tell me it was successful and she is now back at home.

In an email to folks, she said:
I'm home! The surgery went very, very well, but I had a rough night a tough morning today. They let me come home after lunch, and it feels so much better to be in my own bed!. Thanks for all the love, light, blessings, prayers and energy sent to us - I know it all made and continues to make a difference.

I am tremendously grateful to have so many awesome, compassionate, loving friends!!
Broyles said she will take it easy for the next couple of weeks, but does hope to attend April's commission work session and voting meetings.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sheriff's Office to cut face-to-face visitation, start vid conferencing

Apparently, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is eliminating face-to-face inmate visits. Instead the will officer video telecommunications conferencing, much like Skype, I suppose.

Folks say this is the wave of the future, and I’m inclined to agree. It will help cut back on the amount of contraband brought into the jail, and it will generate revenue for the department.

However, it’s going to increase costs for inmates, and they don’t exactly have a lot of coin anyway. That will be a major drawback to the proposal.

Anyhoo, here’s the deal. The county signed a contract in September 2008 with Pay Tel Communications, Inc. to provide an inmate phone system for visitation purposes.

The option for video was there but it wasn’t very proven at the time. As the years progressed the sheriff’s department decided to migrate to it.

In October 2012, the county added an addendum to the Pay Tel contract, but it took awhile to get the system up and running because they needed to do some wiring, etc., and get everything to interface.

Under the new contract, the county vendor can charge 50 cents for each ingoing and outgoing email. 

The vendor can also charge $5.99 for each 15 minutes remote video visitation session.

Further, the county allowed vendor to increase the transaction fees from $2.50 to $4.95, so that’s what it starts out. That means, the first 15 minutes actually costs $11. Heck, what’s minimum wage for an hour’s work in Tennessee? Like $7? Wow.

(The average inmate stay by the way is 18 days.)

The county gets 43.75 percent of all revenue the system generates, which – in 2013 – was $259,959 – and that’s just the county’s cut.

The company is required to supply and maintain all the equipment. It’s also required to install up to 45 day-room kiosks.

The contract expires at the end of 2014, and has one more three-year extension.

Officials in September will determine whether to extend the contract or re-bid it.

On a side note, the video system has some sort of facial recognition. So, if someone decides to, er, expose themselves, well, the inmate won't be able to see anything. Heh.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rogero talks superintendent contract extension, wants to stay neutral

Mayor Rogero
Back in December, when Jim McIntyre asked three school board members to risk their political careers with elections so close by agreeing to extend his school contract during a Board of Education meeting, many in the community wondered why Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch spoke in favor of the Sensitive Superintendent's request.

It was unusual, folks said, because city leaders tend to stay out of county and school politics. Folks also wondered if his boss, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, was behind it. Rogero, though, is smarter than that. She's not going to take a side - when she doesn't have to - on something that divisive. Especially when she's got her own election to contend with in a few years.

In addition, sources tell me that Knox County Mayor Tim "Cheapskate" Burchett was none too happy because it affects how he has to fund a budget. He also doesn't exactly see eye-to-eye with Jim, either.

So, Rogero cleared it up today over at the hippie's site (right smack here) where the commentators were talking about another political race, this one for the sheriff's seat.

Here's what she wrote:
Hey folks, I want to clarify that I have not taken a position on the school superintendent / board / teachers issues. Had I known ahead of time, I would have advised Chief Rausch not to speak at the board meeting. We have since had that discussion and he now realizes that he inadvertently stepped into a situation in which I and my administration will remain neutral. He intended only to show appreciation for the cooperative relationship that KPD has with the school system and superintendent.

As Knoxville mayor, I work closely and effectively with the superintendent and school board. I also have a close and effective working relationship with State Representative Gloria Johnson and have been a supporter of our teachers for a very long time. As city mayor, I have plenty of my own responsibilities and respectfully defer to the teachers, superintendent, and school board to determine what’s best for our students and school teachers. 

Broyles to have more surgery Friday

Amy Broyles
Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles will have surgery on Friday at UT Medical Center, according to a release from the commission office. She expects to be home by Monday, and will then "be keeping a light schedule during the month of April."

She notes in the release that her constituents can still reach her by phone and email.

"There are a couple of fairly routine procedures to help keep some chronic health issues in check," she said in the release. "I appreciate everyone's positive thoughts for me and kindness towards my family during these times."

I've talked to her about the matter and it's partially related to past surgeries, but I don't want to get into it as they've already been made public and I'll let her discuss them if she wants.

The Porch wishes Amy a successful surgery and full recovery.

Forks of River waste center closing

Knox County will close its Forks of the River Convenience Center, located in the eastern part of the county, on April 30, according to Solid Waste Director Tom Salter.

The county will move equipment from the center to the John Sevier Center in the next two weeks, and will “likely stop taking metal, tires and auto fluids” at that time.

The county maintains eight centers and the state requires it to have at least three, according to Salter.
The Forks of the River center is apparently the lowest performing convenience center in terms of vehicle traffic and weight collected, he added. The other two low performing centers are in the Carter and Karns communities, although the Forks center handles half the weight of those.

Officials said they will upgrade the John Sevier Center to help with the impact from closing the Forks operation.

Here’s some background on the Forks center, provided by Salter:

It was originally constructed as a temporary site to handle traffic during the construction of the John Sevier Center.

The Forks of the River Convenience Center takes up 1.8 acres (14%) of a 13.1 acre site.  86% of the site was not being used for any mission-related activity and the property is not on the tax rolls.

Later, the County used the portion of the site not used as a Convenience Center as 1) a waste tire collection site, 2) the site for the County’s yard waste contractor and 3) as storage for unused equipment.  One of the ongoing concerns has been that 11.3 acres of prime industrial park land was underutilized, especially after closure of the yard waste facility.  Sale of the land would allow it to return to a higher and better use and return it to the tax rolls.  The possibility of selling just the unused portion of the site was explored, but the Convenience Center is in the center of the site and essentially splits the land into two sections, making it impractical for a buyer to properly utilized the whole site.

WBIR wins 'best political coverage'

Meant to mention this earlier, but WBIR 10 News won "Best Political Coverage" Saturday night at the Tennessee Associated Press Media Editors Awards ceremony in Nashville for our coverage of the "wrongful arrests."

You can find many of the stories over to the right under "recent articles of interest."

In addition, we placed second in the "Freedom of Information" category. WBIR also netted some other honors, including Outstanding News Operation, Best TV Newscast, Best Short Light Feature, Best TV News Videographer, Best Website and Best Public Affairs.

You can find the complete list of winners right here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

County looking into employee health care clinic that could save money

Knox County is looking into opening a chronic care clinic for its employees, a move officials say will lead to a more healthy and productive workforce and save the taxpayers money on insurance coverage.

Officials still want to talk more about the plan, but the county could begin the bidding process within the next month or so, and have the operation up and running by the end of the year. Officials say they want the center to offer "motivational face-to-face coaching," workers' compensation health services and lab screenings, among other services.

The clinic, which would include an on-site medication program, would be available to roughly 4,700 employees, spouses and their children. The plan would be to build a center or open one at an existing site and then have a third-party provide the services.

You can read the entire story and catch our television report right here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Armstrong released from UT hospital

Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong was released from the hospital this afternoon and is at home recovering from a motorcycle accident.

Armstrong told WBIR 10News today that he was at a friend’s house test driving a motorcycle. He said he didn’t get very far before he spilled over after the back tire slipped hit the edge of the driveway, and “the wheels and I were parallel to the driveway.”

He said he landed on his knee and fractured the tibia in his left leg. The accident happened at about 6:20 p.m. Friday, and he had surgery that required screws placed in his lower leg on Saturday at the University of Tennessee Medical Center

Armstrong said he isn’t supposed to put a lot of weight on his foot, so he will do much of his work from his home office.

“I assure you this – I will be doing the job,” he said, adding that he will attend “critical” meetings, including office budget discussions, and talk daily with Chief Deputy Law Director David Buuck.

Armstrong said he will maintain that schedule until April 7 when he sees his physician again.

Again, all of us at the Porch, wish Bud a speedy recovery.

Tennessee Theatre Foundation appoints Hancock as permanent exec director

The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation has appointed Becky Hancock as the permanent executive director. She has served in the role in an interim capacity since November.

As executive director of the foundation, Hancock will manage all aspects of annual fundraising and community outreach programs, including the Mighty Musical Monday organ concerts, First Friday Open House events, and the Youth Arts Alliance program for underprivileged schoolchildren. She will also work closely with the board of directors to oversee the management of the theatre, that presents more than 50 touring events each year, and to promote the non-profit mission of the foundation in the community.

The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit organization created in 1996. A board of directors was formed and charged with preserving the historic building for generations to come as a community asset and center for arts and culture in Knoxville. Fulfilling this mission, the Tennessee Theatre is home to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and Knoxville Opera, and it is frequently rented by other local organizations.

Hancock previously served as general manager of the Tennessee Theatre from 2001 to 2007 and was part of a team that oversaw the comprehensive restoration project completed at the theater in 2005. After leaving in 2007, Hancock served as assistant director of the historic preservation advocacy group, Knox Heritage, focusing largely on fund development, marketing and special events.  

Officials look into paying Knox Election Day workers more money

Knox County Administrator of Elections Clifford Rodgers is seeking more money for his Election Day workers.

“We only get 1 percent of the budget, and what we do and what is expected of us – with very little room for error – we don’t get a lot of Knox County’s budget,” he told the Knox County Commission during its monthly luncheon on Monday. “At some point we need to treat the other Knox County citizens – and that’s who is working these polls – fairly.”

His office currently pays poll workers $125 to work on Election Day, and officers, who oversee the precincts, get $150 per day. In addition, those who drive the ballot information and voting results to the main downtown office receive another $10.

Rodgers said he will uses 75 officers and 450 workers to staff the 75 precincts for the May primaries. 

Each precinct, he said, needs three poll workers and one officer.

He wants to bump officer pay to $175 to $180 a day and bump pay for the poll workers to $135.
Commissioners on Monday appeared ready to give him the extra money, but want to talk more about it. If approved, it would cost a combined $13,500 to cover everyone.

Rodgers said that poll workers in Sullivan County earn $140 and officers get $170.

In Davidson County, workers get $120 and officers get $220.

In Hamilton County, workers get $100 and officers get $160.

The poll workers show up only for Election Day, but the officers need to oversee the prep work the day before the county holds elections. That means picking up supplies, making sure everyone will be where they need to be and working with the custodians to open the buildings on time.

They are not paid for that work.

On Election Day, the employees work 15 to 16 hours and kick off the day around 7 a.m., Rodgers said.

“I’ve been here three years, and I’m not sure how long we’ve been paying the amount we pay, but no one in the office can remember otherwise,” Rodgers said. “I at least owed it to my people to come down and ask (for the raises).”

Law Director injured in bike wreck

Over the weekend, Knox County Law Director Richard "Bud" Armstrong broke his lower leg in a motorcycle accident. Apparently, he was going to buy a Harley from a friend and was test riding it when he fell or lost control as he was leaving the driveway.

I'm told that he will need some pins in his leg and should be released from the UT medical center some time today. In the meantime - other than that - he's doing well. So that's good.

All of us from the Porch (which is me) wish Bud a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Commissioner Ownby's battle with school officials over public records

Commissioner Ownby
Here’s a little bit of inside baseball that was partially discussed in public last night, but didn’t really make the main story, which you can find right smack here.

Anyhoo, the Knox County Commission during its Monday work session agreed to audit the school system’s Physical Plan Upgrades account, something that a number of commissioners say is nothing more than a "slush fund."

The move was actually spearheaded by Commissioner Jeff Ownby, who had to wait roughly 17 days for the school system to compile an open records request that he submitted regarding the account.

During Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Jim McIntyre took exception to the “salacious” allegations that the account was a slush fund and noted that “this is the first time I’ve head of some of the complaints.”

He also said if Ownby had a problem or question, then he should have called.

Well, Ownby isn’t too happy that the superintendent claims he wasn’t exactly kept in the loop. So, he sent me over some emails, detailing the records request.

You can find the emails right smack here.

Now, you’ll note, according to these emails, that Ownby on Feb. 24 asked for the records connected to three years’ worth of spending tied to the PPU account.  He submitted the request to schools finance director Rob McPherson.

Superintendent McIntyre
On Feb. 28, McPherson replied back to Ownby, noting that they were “coordinating” and “segregating” and doing all sorts of stuff to get him that information. Note, that McIntyre is copied on this email.

Ownby says McIntyre was well aware of what was going on.

Now, here’s where it gets ridiculous, and this is where the commissioner got upset.

Ownby didn’t receive his records until March 12 or 13. And, man, if you’ve seen what the school system gave him, you’d cry. Or laugh. Ownby called them “barely legible.” He’s being nice.

Thanks to mild mannered reporter, the good Gerald Witt (whose blog you can find right here), for providing copies of those documents.

You can find ‘em right smack here. (Bring a magnifying glass.)

If you can read them, you probably won’t be able to find any information about Northshore Elementary School. I’m told – and I’m not risking my eyesight to find out – that Northshore isn’t on there. Funny. That’s the info Ownby truly wanted.

So, I hear about all this, and kind of chuckle. Because, on Friday, March 14, I asked the county’s finance department for the exact same information, except I asked for it going back eight years – not just three. Do you know how long it took the county’s finance people to compile it?

Less than an hour.

I kid you not. They sent me over more than 400 pages of records, which included information on Northshore, and you can actually read them.


Looking at proposed 'slush fund' audit, accompanying Web interview

Superintendent McIntyre
The Knox County Commission will ask auditors to investigate Knox County Schools' more than $15 million so-called “slush fund.” Some say the school system dips into the Physical Plant Upgrades account whenever a project goes over budget and they want to conceal the true costs.

You can find the online story as well as our television report right smack here.

Also, there’s a web extra video that runs about 6:45 minutes, which you can find about mid-way through the online story. It's a classic Superintendent Jim McIntyre interview in which he answers nothing, and accepts no blame or responsibility for anything. You should check it out.

Some things to note from the extra: 

  • 1:25 minute mark: McIntyre, a former finance director for the Boston School books, reverts back to that whole “safe, healthy, learning environment” motto. Heh. Really, his three public relations private advisers need to give him some new material.
  • 1:40 minute mark: He pretty much blames the (alleged) bad accounting on the “county,” meaning the county’s finance people – not the school finance people. Er, no.
  • 2:00 minute mark: Reiterates how his people work with the county finance department – “and it’s not just Knox County schools.” Er, no.
  • 2:15 minute mark: I ask if “land acquisition” payments should come from the Physical Plant Upgrade account and he again talks about how “the county accounts for those dollars.” Er, no. It’s how the school system accounts for those dollars.
  • 2:35 minute mark: My boy Jim Matheny asks McIntyre why he’s blaming the county and he still doesn’t answer the question.
  • 3:23 minute mark: You hear me say “this is a school thing,” meaning why are you blaming the county.
  • 4:00 minute mark: Now suggests that if there are any problems then they are tied to the “accounting system” that the county and the school system use.
  • 6:08 minute mark: McIntyre talks about how the system should have separate accounts for different projects (i.e. security, stadium upgrades, etc.) and how that “would make sense.” Well, on paper, they do, according to the budget that was approved by the county commission and school board. The problem is, they’re all getting paid out of the Physical Plant Upgrades account.
  • 6:20 minute mark: Now it’s all on the school board and the county, and those boards set the policy. Uh, no. The boards do not currently micro-manage at that level (although maybe they will start). In fact, McIntyre over the years has repeatedly reminded the County Commission – and rightly so – that once its members allocate the money, they cannot tell the school system how to spend it.

Look, I don't know why there's all this chucking and ducking. I’ve read through a lot of these records, and it doesn’t look like the school system is out buying Ferraris or illegally spending the money. They’re getting things they need. The problem rests in the accounting and in accountability.

The School System talks a big game about its transparency, but few in the public actually buy it. And these kinds of problems don’t help their argument.

In the meantime, the Knox County Commission next Monday will officially sign off on the proposal to audit the Physical Plant Upgrades account. The county’s internal auditor, Andrea Williams, will conduct it.

Williams, a former compliance advisory support senior manager with the Tennessee Valley Authority, recently took over the department, and this will be her first major challenge.

But, make no mistake, she is the real deal.

The audit should be complete in four to six weeks.

General endorses Stokes for judge

Carl Stiner
Yesterday, retired U.S. Army Four-Star General and former Commander in Chief, U.S. Special Operations Command, Carl Stiner, announced his support and endorsement of Billy Stokes for Circuit Court Judge, Division I in the May 6 Knox County Republican primary, according to a news release the campaign sent over.

This is actually a big deal. Not every day a prominent general endorses a candidate in a local election.

Anyhoo, the release notes that during his 35 year career Stiner commanded the Army’s preeminent contingency strike forces; including the Joint Special Operations Command, the 82d Airborne Division and the XVIII Airborne Corps. General Stiner has an extensive background in special operations. His service includes involvement in operations to capture terrorists in the Achille Lauro hijacking, the Panama invasion and the capture of Manuel Noriega, as well as special operations activities during Operation Desert Storm. He also contributed to the Tom Clancy book entitled, “Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces.”

You can read the entire release, which includes a statement by Stiner, right here.

Stokes faces local attorneys Ray Jenkins and Kristi Davis in the May Republican Primary. No Democrats are seeking the seat.

As always, send me your political stuff and I’ll post it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

County turns over emails to paper

For more than a year the Paywall Paper has been locked in battle with the county's Law Department in an effort to get a hold of some emails. The county argued that they were private and shouldn't be turned over. The paper said they were public.

They went back and forth, then eventually went to court and - as I recall - a judge said the county needed to turn over 9 of the 13 emails that the paper sought.

So, this afternoon the county handed them over.

You can read them right smack here.

I've glanced through 'em and there's either nothing new (the info connected to Mayor Tim Burchett's 2010 campaign has already been beaten to death) or they appear mostly innocuous.

That's all I'm going to say about the matter. Other than the paper got scooped. Heh.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sheriff's race: Candidates Jones, Waggoner spar over patrol numbers

Knox County Sheriff candidate Bobby Waggoner issued a release today that said “at any given time, there are fewer than 30 officers on patrol in Knox County.”

Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones, called it “a lie,” adding that “it shows just how out of touch he is.”

“You’re not supposed to get desperate until the end of the campaign,” Jones said.

Waggoner, Jones and Charles “Sam” Hammett Jr. will square off in the May Republican primary. There are no Democratic candidates.

Waggoner, a retired chief of detectives with the KCSO, in his release said the department “is still working from a patrol map that’s more than two decades old.” He said the department’s patrol division consists of five shifts that cover a 24-hour period, and that 28 officers are assigned to each shift. He said of those officers, as many as five “can be off on vacation or personal leave” or in training, etc.

So, I asked the sheriff about this and he said it’s hogwash. He said the office uses “calls for service statistics” to determine how many patrol cars and officers should be available. He said that during a period from 12:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. “there’s a possibility” that there are 30 officers on patrol, “but any other time there’s 100 to 125 patrol officers, patrolling the neighborhoods.”

He said stats show that during the early morning hours calls for services and accidents drop, so not as many officers are needed. (I guess most people are asleep.)

Jones also said that the department also has 70 detectives and more than 40 folks on the radio, so if something goes wrong, he’s got an army on hand to take care of business.

He added that if Waggoner, who joined the department in 2001, was so concerned about patrol numbers then he should have approached him when he was an employee.

Fansler launches campaign website

Chancellor Fansler
Looks like Daryl Fansler is getting into re-election mode.

The Knox County chancellor for the Part II post officially unveiled his campaign website today.

“We are very pleased to announce the launch of so that the voters of Knox County are given the ability to sign up for campaign updates, volunteer, contribute, or just to learn about how Daryl Fansler has served the people and legal community for over two decades," said Tim Priest, Treasurer for the Committee to Re-Elect, in a released statement.

Chancellor Fansler began practicing law at Bond, Carpenter, & O'Connor before co-founding what is now Stokes, Williams, Sharp and Davies in 1989.

He was elected as Knox County Chancellor, Part II, Sixth Judicial District, State of Tennessee in 1998, and subsequently re-elected in 2006, the news release states.

He is a member of the Tennessee Judicial Conference where he has served one term as secretary and several terms on the Executive Committee. He is the past President of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association, as well as a member of the American Bar Association, Judicial Division, and the National Conference of State Trial Courts, where he served as a delegate from 2008-2010.

Chancellor Fansler is married to his wife Phyllis, and a proud father and grandfather to three children and five grandchildren.

Fansler, a Democrat, will take on Clarence Pridemore, a Republican, in the August general election. Neither has an opponent in the May primaries.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Phone poll regarding the GOP races

Well, that was interesting. I just got polled on my cell (hey, who really owns a land line anymore). Was asked five questions.

They wanted to know:
  1. Whether I would vote for Lamar Alexander or Joe Carr in the U.S. Senate race (or if I was undecided)
  2. Whether I would vote for Jimmy Duncan or (some name I didn't catch) for the U.S. Congress seat (or if I was undecided)
  3. Whether I had a favorable opinion (or something like that) of Gov. Big Bill (or if I was unsure)
  4. Whether I had a favorable opinion of Lamar Alexander (or if I was unsure)
  5. Whether I had a favorable opinion of Sen. Bob Corker (or if I was unsure)
Anyhoo, for the record, I put punished "Three" each time for unsure or undecided, which means I'm going to be in the that "plus or minus (insert number) percent" category.


Should have called someone who cared.

Pension contributions to decrease

Well, here’s some good news. At this point it looks like contributions for the upcoming fiscal year, which kicks off July 1, will be down for the county’s three pension plans, according to county Finance Director Chris “Money Bags” Caldwell.

Here’s how it’s looking:

Last year (technically in this current budget), the county contributed $3 million for what’s dubbed the “old county” or “DB” plan, which closed in 1991. This year, the county is expected to contribute between $2.7 million and $2.9 million.

The county also last year kicked in $1.7 million for the old school plan, which it assumed from the city and closed in the late 1980s. This year, it will put up between $1.3 million and $1.5 million.

The county contributed $4.5 million into the Uniformed Officer’s Pension Plan, or UOPP, which closed to new employees at the beginning of this year. (The $4.5 million does not include bond payments, which were needed to get the plan up and running.)

This year, the county is expected to contribute between $3.7 million and $3.9 million.

That means the overall savings for the two plans could range between $900,000 and $1.5 million.

Caldwell said the decrease comes as the county’s investments exceed their expected interest rates for calendar year 2013. The county’s expected rate of return on its investments is 7 percent, which is pretty reasonable and fairly conservative compared to the rest of the nation.

Sneak peek of proposed Knox budget

Mayor Burchett
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett needs an additional $19 million to cover everything the executive branch department heads and other elected leaders have so far requested in his proposed upcoming budget.

And that doesn't include any money the school system needs to close a $9 million gap in order to maintain its current level of services.

The mayor, however, says "he doesn't see it happening."

"The title of this budget is 'There will be no government growth,'" Burchett said. "We want to maintain the level of funding we have for things that are important . . . and I'm not looking to cut departments, but I'm not looking to increasing them, either."

Burchett will publicly unveil what he called a "tight" budget on May 1.

Click right smack here for the complete story.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A look at funding the Parthenon Group's $1.56 million suggestions

So, uh, how ‘bout those “smart spending” recommendations the Parthenon Group made last night to the Knox County School System????

Heh. Hahahahahaha. Consultants.

Now, I’m not going to get into it. I mean for the most part, the suggestions don’t appear to be too popular with the community (as of right now anyway), so that means you should probably expect the school board to sign off on them sometime after the August elections (provided there’s enough votes by then).

If you’re interested in talking about last night’s school board discussion or the Parthenon Group recommendations then click right smack here for a non-Paywall Paper report by the hippie.

In the meantime, I just want to clear up some questions about how and who paid the organization for its wisdom.

I suppose most folks who care know that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation financed a great chunk of the plan through a $1.2 million “smart spending” grant. (You can’t make up this stuff.)

However, the school system needed to put up some $360,000 in folding paper, too.

So, where did the kind school folks who are always claiming they are in the poor house get the money?

Well, at least half - $180K – came from tax payer dollars. The other half came from the Great Schools Partnership.

So, how is the GSP funded?

Well, glad you asked. If you click right smack here, you’ll find its Annual Report for the current year. (Scroll to page 15 for the numbers.)

Almost 51 percent of the $5.3 million revenue side of the budget comes from taxpayer dollars. The county puts up $2.6 million and the city kicks in $100K in coin. The rest comes from “private donors.”

There ya go. Now go out and play. It's a nice day.

Auditors: Quarterly fraud review of Trustee's Office comes back 'clean'

When the Hanover Insurance Group in late July last year agreed to bond interim Knox County Trustee Craig Leuthold for a cool $55,000 (you can thank his predecessors for that one), officials with the company wanted to make sure no funny business was still going on in the tax collections office.

So, the county’s external auditor Pugh & Company since then have conducted a number of fraud interviews with office employees and checked spending accounts for any unusual activity.

Well, so far so good.

Larry Elmore, vice president of Pugh & Co., said during today’s Audit Committee that his folks checked into a number of issues during the final quarter of last year (ending in December) and the results came back “clean.”

Elmore said his operation randomly picked 25 people in the 40-member office and studied their payroll checks, time cards and key card entries into the building. They also met with employees in the Halls, Cedar Bluff and Death Star offices, to ask about potential suspicions of fraud.

That, too, came back clean.

Elmore said they’ll continue looking into the department quarterly through June (that means there should be two more reports), which is when the bond coverage for Leuthold expires.

At that point, it’s not known whether they company will charge $8,000 to $9,000, which is what it typically cost to bond someone, or if they’ll continue to gouge the county. Heh.

For his part, Leuthold, who wasn’t trustee when all sorts of suspected wrongdoings were going on, said: “We all understand the issues that have happened in the past. And we’re trying to  . . .  build the trust every day. We come in and we’re going to do everything right today . . . and if for now we need someone to verify that, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Criminal Ct Clerk's Office updates meth registry, but still far behind

some meth ingredients
So, on Feb. 24 we broke the story that the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office was pretty much breaking the law by not turning over some key information to the TBI regarding meth-related convictions and offenders.

(The names would then be placed on the meth offender registry. Once on there, you can’t buy pseudoephedrine, meth’s main ingredient for seven years.)

You can find that bad boy right smack here.

Well, after we did the story, 42 names were magically sent over to the state. But, as is typically with some of the info coming out of the criminal court clerk’s office, it wasn’t complete. In the end, the TBI added 15 of the 42 names to the registry. That means there’s still more than 100 folks who were convicted and should be on the registry but are not.

As always, you won’t find this scoop anywhere else.


Friday, March 7, 2014

County property tax collections up

Knox County property tax collection are up this year to the tune of $7.1 million, according to financial numbers released today.

Knox County interim Trustee Craig Leuthold said his office took in just over $244.9 million so far from early July, when the fiscal year began, to Feb. 28 when taxes are due before penalties kick in.

The amount, Leuthold noted, incudes current taxes, delinquent collections and interest on the delinquent collections.

Of the $7.1 million in additional collections, about $1.2 million of it is from delinquent accounts.

“I attribute this to the employees working hard, and going out, especially our delinquent side,” Leuthold said. “The collections department was out there hustling.”

Tax season runs from October through February.

Percentagewise, collections are up 93.59 percent compared to 92.07 percent this time last year.

Leuthold is up for election this year and faces Knox County Commissioner Ed Shouse and former 

Trustee’s Office worker Barry Hawkins in May’s Republican Primary. The winner will take on James Berrier, a Democrat, in the August general election.

Tune in to WBIR 10News on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. to catch catch the Republican candidates debate the issues and answer questions on “Inside Tennessee.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hanging with the 94.3 "Rude" ones

A week or so ago, I had the pleasure of hanging with Mike Howard and David "Shyne" Thompson, the hosts of "The Rude Awakening" morning talk show on 94.3 FM radio.

We mostly discussed county, school and some state related issues.

This is actually the first time my computer illiterate dumb a$$ has attempted to embed an mp3, so fingers crossed that it works. If so, you can find the interview below.

Lunch with Mayor set for Habaneros

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett continues his quest to eat with every resident in the area.

They mayor will hold his next "Lunch with the Mayor" even tomorrow from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Habaneros Mexican Grill. The restaurant is located at 4704 Asheville Highway.

Locally owned, Habaneros will offer several lunch specials, including lunch fajitas for $6.99, Pollo Monterrey for $6.99 and a Speedy Gonzalez meal for $4.49.

The event will coincide with a constituent meeting, which gives citizens the opportunity to meet one-on-one and speak individually with the mayor about issues that are important to them. 

The public is invited and other elected officials may be in attendance.  As always, this event is “Dutch treat," meaning Mayor Cheapskate ain't picking up your tab!

Cumberland Ave work starts in June

A gazillion dollar plan to improve traffic along the Cumberland Avenue corridor is expected to kick off this summer.

City officials say work on the project’s first phase, a $4 million, six-month construction operation, should start around June 1.

Work, according to the news release, includes installing new underground stormwater and gas lines, widening sidewalks, resurfacing roads and buying new, fancy traffic lights.

Phase II calls for a $13 million redesign of Cumberland Avenue from 22nd Street to 16th Street and includes a lot of the same as the first phase, plus some fancy landscaping, additional turn lanes and some new medians.

You can read about the whole thing right smack here.

City weekend road closures announced

Looks like the city is taking a more proactive stance regarding temporary road closures, ‘cause, you know, no one had a clue a couple weeks ago when a downtown crane shut down Gay Street for pretty much the entire Saturday.

Anyhoo, click right smack here for the list, which looks like it covers tomorrow through Sunday.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Schools Superintendent sought PR advice for State of Schools address

Jim McIntyre
In the days prior to delivering his mid-February “I am a human” speech (often dubbed the State of the Schools address) in front of several hundred people at Hardin Valley Academy, Superintendent Jim McIntyre held a private presentation with three of the area’s top ranking public relations gurus.

They included Susan Richardson Williams of SRW & Associates, Cathy Ackermann of Ackermann PR, and Mike Cohen of Cohen Communications Group.

All of them, I’m told, worked for free, which is a good thing, considering taxpayers are already on the hook for a more than $900,000 communications department for the Knox County Schools Systems. (This also isn't the first time the three have met with McIntyre and given him advice by the way.)

The speech was actually written by McIntyre, and from what I understand the trio made no major changes, although one member told him to hammer more on one particularly part, which I have now forgotten. Sorry.

The plan, in part, behind McIntyre’s speech, which included a number of references to his family, his parents and grandparents and featured photos on the screen behind him, was to better “humanize” the superintendent.

He often comes across, a number of people told me, as “cold and uncaring” and the goal was to change that. (Note: No one actually said he was cold and uncaring, but rather that’s how he comes across.)

The address, his third since he came to Knoxville via Boston, Mass. In 2008, is technically designed to serve as a report card for the district.

Ackermann (photo taken from her site)
This one, however, comes after teachers, students and parents have publicly berated the school board and the superintendent for what they say feel are unfair testing and evaluation measures.

McIntyre wanted a more personal feel to the address. But, he also wanted some “experts” to view it, especially after his disasterous “happy holiday’s” video in which he reminded everyone about how the school board extended his $223,000-a-year contract another 12 months, and then wished everyone a Merry Christmas. I kid you not. You can findthe video right smack here.

(Now, I don’t fault the superintendent for seeking a second opinion, despite paying a couple of his PR folks more than $90,000 a year each. I just question why he didn’t have them watch that holiday video. Heh.)

Anyhoo, I digress.

I’m told that the attempt to make him more personable didn’t really work. The people in attendance already support him, so he didn’t need to impress them. And the people who don’t support him? Well, there is just nothing you can do to change their minds.

Instead, McIntyre should have taken the state of the schools address on the road, much like Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett does when he delivers his annual budget presentation. Burchett goes into the community, meets with smaller crowds and answers questions.

He does this without all the carefully, crafted spin.

Now, I don’t know if it would have helped the superintendent, but it would have certainly been something different for a change.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Rountree kickoff set for Tuesday

Amber Rountree
Knox County School Board candidate Amber Rountree, who is running for the Dist. 9 seat, will hold her campaign kickoff and first fundraiser tomorrow at The Roundup from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

She said "everyone is invited to hangout, have a good time, ask questions and enjoy dinner."

The Roundup is located at  3643 Sevierville Pike. Dinner will be available for a donation,
and more information will be posted on the website. For more information and details about Amber's campaign and platform click right smack here.

Amber is taking on incumbent Pam Trainor in May's non-partisan primary.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mayor to host constituent meetings

Looks like Knox County Mayor Burchett is planning to host another round of one-on-one constituent meetings, starting next week, according to his PR guy Michael "Big Sex" Grider.

The first meeting in this series of constituent meetings will be held Tuesday from 2-3 p.m. at Pratt’s Country Store, 3100 Tazewell Pike.
The meetings are designed give constituents the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Burchett to discuss any questions or concerns they may have, Grider said.