Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Knox senior picnic reset to Oct 10

Senior picnic (Photo: KC)
The county's 8th Annual Senior Appreciation Picnic has been rescheduled for Oct. 10 due to bad weather, according to a release. The event will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at John Tarleton Park. 

It was originally set for Oct. 3.

(The new day by the way is "rain or shine.")

The picnic will include lunch, live music and a vendor expo.

The Knox County Commission and other elected officials have been invited and may be in attendance, the release notes in a subtle attempt to honor the Sunshine laws.

Partners for the 2014 Senior Appreciation Picnic include Independent Insurance Consultants and the Senior Directory as platinum sponsors, Morning Pointe Assisted Living & Alzheimer’s Memory Care as a gold sponsor, and several others.

Monday, September 29, 2014

County releases school's PPU audit

Knox County's internal audit department this afternoon released the audit of the school system's Physical Plant Upgrades account.

I skimmed over the 23 or so pages, but that's about it. (I had today off.)

Here's what the department noted:
We found three areas for improvement in the Physical Plant Upgrade (PPU) accounting process, with one of these areas considered significant according the audit definition of significance. Specifically, we found needed improvements related to:

• Capital project accounting,
• Application of capitalization rules to PPU transactions, and
• Documentation of process for accounting for PPU transactions.

We did not identify any issues that would be considered criminal in nature and no acts of fraud, waste, abuse, or noncompliance with laws or regulations came to our attention during testing.
Here's a story we did back in March about the account, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

And, you can find the audit, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

I suspect we'll have a story on this at 11 tonight on WBIR 10News. (I hope to be asleep by then, though. Heh.)

UPDATE: Superintendent Jim McIntyre in a statement said: 
“The Physical Plant Upgrades (PPU) audit report makes some helpful recommendations regarding improving accounting procedures, and our finance personnel largely agree with these suggestions. The audit report makes clear that there was no fraud, waste, abuse, nor violations of law or regulations found with regard to the PPU account. The Internal Auditor’s fair and comprehensive report will help our school system do an even better job of transparently accounting for taxpayer resources that support maintaining high quality learning environments for our children.”

Sen. race: Siler, Briggs spar over Republican's military 'uniform code'

In what appears to be one of those "look before you leap" situations, 7th District state Senate candidate Cheri Siler, the race's Democrat, pretty much accused her Republican opponent, Richard Briggs of "playing fast and loose with the ethical rules that should guide campaigns.

In an email that I received while I was sleeping cause I got the day off, Siler noted:
While I have the utmost respect for his service to our country and his personal sacrifice to protect our freedom, I am troubled by his disregard for the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UMCJ) in Briggs’ repetitive use of military photos in his campaign. According to the Department of Defense UCMJ, a candidate must have a disclaimer statement on military photos used for campaign purposes. Alarmingly, we see no such disclaimer on any of my opponent’s photos used in campaign materials.
She then went on to talk about how Briggs won't debate her, which I'm not getting into because it's bull. The
two were on or will be on that other news channel and they'll appear in a week or so on Inside Tennessee.

Anyhoo, Briggs fired back:
My opponent has blatantly made false accusations. The rule applies to ACTIVE members of the military. I am a retired Colonel from the Army earning a Bronze Star fighting for this country and community. This shows that my opponent fails to check the facts before she makes an allegation.

My opponent wants to talk about reaching people, she should consider going to them. our campaign has knocked on over 50,000 doors, made thousands of phone calls, and ran an extremely successful campaign against our opponent in the primary. I would encourage our opponent to stop making false statements and get to work to talk to the voters.
He then talked about Obamacare or something, but I'm tired of hearing about that crap, too.

The irony, or is it coincidence, is that both candidates cited the same link in their argument. Find that bad boy, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

The election is Nov. 4.

As always send me your campaign stuff for publication consideration.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

School secretary on paid admin leave for 2 years files EEOC complaint; $30K settlement offer off the table

Tina Needham, the Knox County Schools secretary who has been on paid administrative leave for more than two years, has filed a federal workplace discrimination complaint against the school system, according to county officials.

She is now not expected to accept a $30,000 settlement that the county offered her last month. And county officials say they wouldn't pay it anyway, since she filed the complaint.

In an email Monday to Board of Education members, Superintendent Jim McIntyre said the complaint was filed through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

McIntyre in the email said officials do not know the nature of the complaint, which has not been publicly released.

The county has received only a notice that it's been filed but not a copy of it.

However, documents previously obtained by WBIR 10News suggest that the complaint potentially focuses on age or some type of disability discrimination.

Check out the full story RIGHT HERE

Commish meeting times to change?

Some Knox County commissioners are looking to push the start time to their monthly voting meeting from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

They say that it will make it easier for the public to attend - maybe bring more folks in to watch the highlights (or low lights) of county government.

Let me tell you - it won't.

I've been doing this for a loooong time, and I've covered government meetings at all times and all days and all places, and it doesn't make a bit of difference.

Most people don't give a jack about what their elected commissioners, councils, etc do.

Sure, they like to complain about 'em but that's pretty much it. Unless you're going to rezone to put a Wal-mart next to their house (Folks: Don't move next to an empty lot), or institute a monthly pet fee, they really, really, really don't care.

Anyhoo, it's hard to say how the board will vote. We'll know next month.

Rude Awakening to interview Rowe

Knox County School Board candidate Jamie Rowe will be on the Rude Awakening Show tomorrow, starting at 8 a.m.

That’s 94.3 FM by the way.

Folks, this is the best, most objective local talk show around. These guys tell it like it is and don’t try to lure in guests by giving them the questions up front.

Further, there’s a reason people some people are afraid to come on their show: They know Mike and
Shyne aren’t going to mollycoddle them.

Anyhoo, tomorrow’s guest is Jamie Rowe. Check it out.

I should note that Tracie Sanger was given an opportunity to appear and she hasn’t returned their call. (I’m not sure about the third opponent Charlotte Dorsey.)

The winner of the Nov. 4 non-partisan election will replace Indya Kincannon who took off overseas to be with her family. The person will serve out the remaining two years of the term. (Technically, the person will replace John Fugate who is the interim but whatever.)

It should be noted that Indya is a big Sanger supporter. Not sure if that’s the kiss of death or what. Naw, wait, that would be a KNS endorsement. Ha, ha, ha. Heh. Kidding. Sort of. Not really. No, I am.

As always, send me your campaign stuff for publication consideration.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Commish to look at meeting times

The Knox County Commission today will talk about changing the times of its monthly meetings.

But, board members more than likely won’t vote on the proposal until next month.

On Monday morning, the county’s Rules Committee voted 3-1 to change the meeting times. Officials said the move would make it easier for the public to attend.

Commissioners Ed Brantly, Sam McKenzie and Jeff Ownby agreed with the move. Mike Brown cast the dissenting vote, and Amy Broyles wasn’t there.

The commission typically holds its monthly voting meeting on the fourth Monday of every month at 2 p.m.

The Beer Board, which is actually the commission operating under a different name, meets at 1 p.m. that day.

The Zoning Board, also the commission, holds court at 5 p.m. on the same Monday.

If regular commission voting meetings run into the zoning meetings, then the commission will break, take up zoning matters and then reconvene.

Since commission meetings typically wrap up within a few hours, officials last year moved the start time for Zoning Board meetings from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. to cut down the wait time between the two.

The commission also holds a non-voting work session at 2 p.m. on the third Monday of every month, but that wasn’t addressed during the Rules Committee meeting.

Under the new proposal, the Beer Board would meet at 4 p.m., the Commission at 5 p.m. and the Zoning Board at 7 p.m.

BOE chair race getting interesting

McMillan, left, Harris, right
In August, just days before the Knox County Board of Education met to pick a new chairperson, a number of folks reached out to newly sworn-in interim member John Fugate, hoping to get him to vote for Doug Harris.

He didn’t. In fact, he nominated Harris’ opponent, Mike McMillan.

The vote, as you know by now, was a 4-4 draw. The board then opted to wait for Patti Bounds to return from a trip. They’ll vote again in early October.

The thought at this point is that Patti will vote for McMillan. And, there are quite a few folks freaking out at the prospect of Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s biggest foe leading the board.

They don’t want him. Heck, many don’t even like him.

They’re digging up what are questionable actions from morethan six years ago (encouraging his students to ditch class to take an easier exam, and being in possession of some “inappropriate” book that no one can explain exactly what was in it, and one that he confiscated from a student).

They’re calling Mike a career politician, which is bull, because he held only part-time elected jobs while working for full time.

And, they’re touting Doug’s leadership as a successful businessman, and his good work in the nonprofit sector – all which is true.

What they’re not telling you, though, is that this isn’t really a contest between Doug and Mike.  It’s not a vote for Doug the businessman. It’s not a vote for Mike the guy who wanted his students to take easy tests.

No, this is about the administration and the direction a possible majority of the school board want to take the overall school system. It’s also about how discussion and debate on the board is managed. That’s what the vote is about.

This has little to do with the candidates, other than Doug is administration friendly and Mike isn’t. (And for the record, I like both of them.)

Doug was picked because Lynne Fugate – who is aligned in what is presumed to be a 4-member voting bloc – opted not to seek re-election for the chair seat, saying some view her as “divisive.” He’s that bloc’s best chance.

Mike was picked because he’s the longest standing member in what is presumed to be a 5-member voting bloc. The other four in his group are brand new. That’s not only courtesy to nominate him, but that’s smart. You put the one with experience in as chair – not the newest member who probably has no clue how to run a meeting.

Now, all that said, there’s a movement to bump Mike from the running. There’s some folks working the lines to get Patti Bounds or Terry Hill in as chair. (Again, presumably they’re in the same voting bloc as McMillan.) The thought is that they would be less divisive.

Supporters of the four-member pro administration crew feel they can better work with Bounds or Hill, instead of McMillan.

I don’t know. I think it’s pretty presumptuous to think one can work better than the other when none of them have held the seat before.

Still, the McMillan foes are out. You’ve got folks emailing board members, pretty much harassing them, about the vote, and – again – digging up McMillan’s past. (Seriously, five emails in two days is not just overkill – but KRAZY. Heh.)

These folks, however, fail to acknowledge that during the last election they supported and befriended a certain BOE candidate who beat the holy heck out of a woman in a parking lot.

Hypocritical? I don’t know. Short on memory? Yeah, probably.

Anyhoo, they’re out there. And others are pitching stories to news organizations, starting letter campaigns, blah, blah, blah.

And that’s cool. That’s how this works. Course I’m not sure why some are bothering the media. It’s the nine board members who actually vote for the chair and should do their own research. The public already voted in the members. Heck, the public has spoken.

But, I’ll do my part. (Hey, I was actually encouraged by one of them to blog about it.)

I’ll get on the bandwagon.

Here ya go:

There are other choices than McMillan. I said it.

However, there are also other choices than Harris.


My guess, though, is that it will be those two in the final showdown.

Because the people who nominate them know that it’s really not about them. It’s about something else.

Here’s what Jack McElroy over at the Sentinel had to say about it, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Here’s what Sandra Clark over at the Shopper had to say, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Knoxville, Oak Ridge women voter leagues to host amendments forum

Information about the proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot will be discussed in a voter forum Oct. 7, 7:00 p.m. at the Pollard Auditorium on the Oak Ridge Associated Universities campus, 120 Badger Avenue, Oak Ridge. The forum is free and open to the public.

The League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge and Knoxville are partnering with the Oak Ridge Branch of American Association of University Women and the Women’s Interfaith Dialogue of Oak Ridge to present the forum.

Corinne Rovetti, co-director and family nurse practitioner for the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, will address Amendment 1 which deals with reproductive choice. Judy Cornett, distinguished professor, College of Law, University of Tennessee, will speak to Amendment 2 which proposes a change in the selection of appellate judges. Sherry Davis Kasper, professor of Economics, Maryville College, will discuss Amendment 3 which would prohibit any tax on earned income.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

Halls greenway now moving forward

A long-awaited greenway project in the Halls community is moving forward this week, according to a county release.

In July, Knox County was prepared to take ownership of property owned by TTC Halls, LLC in order to construct a portion of the Halls Park-to-School Link greenway and to protect an important wetland area.

Recently, the project was delayed due to issues surrounding wetland mitigation required by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. According TDEC, much of the required mitigation work has been completed. As final details surrounding the affected portion of the greenway are worked out, Knox County is preparing to move forward with the construction of the greenway.

The official groundbreaking will take place on Thursday, Sept. 18 at 10:30 a.m. at the site of the future Clayton Park, 7347 Norris Freeway (between Maynardville Pike and Emory Road).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Burchett v McIntyre: One more look

McIntyre, left, Burchett, right
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett stopped just short of saying the school board should fire Superintendent Jim McIntyre.

But, he said McIntyre needs to go.

WBIR reporter Jim Matheny and I wrote those lines after watching last Wednesday’s taping of the 10News weekend political show Inside Tennessee.

We then reached out to McIntyre to get his comment.

Now, the interview with Burchett was actually geared around his plans for the next four years, but it got off track. A little bit. Heh.

Anyhoo, we felt that McIntyre should have the chance to respond. It wouldn’t have been fair to air the Sunday show and at least not make him aware.

So he did.

I’ve transcribed a lot of what the mayor said and parts of what McIntyre said. (The superintendent repeated himself quite a bit, so I didn’t capture as much.)

You can read the original story that also includes the TV version and McIntyre’s complete interview RIGHT SMACK HERE.

In addition, the Inside Tennessee show is below.

Here’s some of the key quotes from Inside Tennessee Mayor Burchett:

  • “I think what you have to realize is that the superintendent – he is a staff person. 
  • “He’s not supposed to have control of the school board, which he does. He works for the school board, yet he tells the school board what to do.” 
  • “He uses the Sunshine laws to his advantage.” (He’s referring to executive committee meetings.) 
  • “When in this world did it ever become popular for either political party to beat up on school teachers? To me that is just nonsense and that seems to be what we’re seeing out there in the public."
  • “And you have school board members limiting the conversation when you have the open mic (referring to the BOE public forum section). “And you have a school board member (Karen Carson) saying that if you work for the school system then you need to go through your supervisor to discuss with them and they need to OK what you say. If that was on County Commission, I would run down to the mic and I would demand that person’s apology in public. Because First Amendment is something we should all hold sacred. But since it’s the school system . . . they’re allowed to do that. And that is wrong.” 

(Karen Carson got in touch with me and sent the following: "I can tell you that I have never said that they needed to go thru their chain of command and get an OK before coming to the Board. I have stated on many occasions that if they have a concern I firmly believe they should work thru their chain of command--that is , start with their first line manager to try to get the concern addressed. I want a mechanism in place that deals with all employee concerns, quickly, appropriately and adequately. I see public forum as the avenue to get things addressed when the manager won't or can't address the concern--both for teachers/staff and parents/students.")

Burchett was then asked what he would like to see happen:

“I would like the school board take their proper role and take control of the school system.”

This then followed:

Don Bosch: “Do you think Jim McIntyre should be gone?”

Burchett: “Yes, I do. Yes, I do.”

John Becker: “And why do you say that?”

Burchett: “Because his style of leadership. I don’t like, I don’t like talking to teachers who are afraid for their own jobs because they’re speaking out. I welcome that in county government. I don’t like hearing from professionals that testify before school board about kids crying on Friday mornings. Yeah, I cried on Friday mornings because I didn’t want to go to school – not because I had to take some ludicrous test. They’re just continuously testing, they’re mining our kids for information. You know, our children should not be a decimal point on some big shot from Wall Street’s portfolio. We should hold them very close and sacred and we’re not. And I’m afraid that it’s out of control. I’m afraid we’ve let the foxes in the hen house.”

Burchett says he supports electing a superintendent and is also against term limits in general.

He then blasts the superintendent’s salary of $222,000, plus all sorts of awesome benefits.

“He makes more than the vice president of the United States. It’s out of control.”

He’s asked by Mike Cohen how often he “meets with somebody from the schools.”

Burchett: “I meet with somebody from the school every week because it’s usually a disgruntled teacher or parent. It’s every week. When they can’t get in to see him, I get the call, and I get it weekly. And it’s just more and more, and more . . .”

John Becker: “How about the superintendent?”

Tim: “What about him?”

Becker: “How often do you meet with him?”

Burchett: “As little as possible. He and I don’t get along.”

Burchett then says “we met periodically.”

Burchett: "I just have a hard time with his style of leadership. I’ll be honest with you. I try to lead by example and get in there with the folks that are doing the work and find out what’s going wrong. I don’t try to micromanage.”

The mayor goes on for awhile and even suggests that the school system misused the $3 million that he funneled through the Great Schools Partnership as a grant. The plan was to start a pilot reading program, as I recall, for third graders.

The mayor suggests that it is not a pilot program but rather the money is used throughout the school system and that he can't get a straight answer from the superintendent. He says that it's possible that he will pull the funding next year.

McIntyre responds

Here's some key quotes from the superintendent's interview:

  • "Over the years, I’ve really tried to reach out to eh mayor and collaborate with him on some educational issues I thought were of some mutual concern and benefit."
  • "It is a bit surprising (the mayor’s remarks). I honestly don’t understand why the mayor seems to feel the need to constantly pick a fight with me and engage in this kind of rhetoric. It’s unfortunate. It’s disheartening."
  • "But, the reality is I don’t work for the mayor. I work for the school board and for the families and children of this community and I’m going to continue to work hard to make sure that we provide a truly outstanding education for our children and prepare them for a bright and successful future. That’s my job and that’s what we’ve done and that’s what I will continue to do."
McIntyre is asked about the mayor's suggestions that he micromanages and doesn't build good relationships with the teachers.

He doesn't answer the question. Instead he says things like:

  • "Our teachers are doing a fabulous job of educating our kids."
  • "I feel like we’re moving in a really positive direction."
  • "We’re really making strong academic progress in Knox County schools” and today’s education is “vastly superior” to what the county provided to students five years ago.
He later says: "I work for the board of education. I work for the families and children of this community. My intention is to continue to do that work. To do the important work of educating kids in our community. To lead this effort where we have truly extraordinary educators doing a great job, preparing our kids for the future. That’s my job. That’s really my mission, my calling in  life. That’s what I’m here to do."

The superintendent also acknowledges at some point that he talks in paragraphs.

Finally, he ends his interview, talking about the accusations that he controls the school board:

“That’s ridiculous. I am an employee of the school board . . . I work for them. People sometimes mistake that (because) there’s not acrimony between the superintendent and the school board that they’re some sort of rubberstamp. They’re not. The reason there hasn’t been acrimony is because I take the vision of the school board. I take the strategic plan of the school board and I implement it. That’s my job. They developed the vision, they developed the policies in order to support that vision and I carry them out . . . ."

Again, check out the interviews. They're both pretty engaging.

But, remember at the end of the day, the teachers are still teaching and the students are still learning.

None of this really matters.