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

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.

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.




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.


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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Knox Schools ending credit card use

Knox County Schools is doing away with the six credits that it had previously assigned to top-ranking officials and will participate solely in the county's electronic purchase card, or e-card,  program and travel card system.

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

State and local officials are investigating Underwood.

The Knox County Audit Committee also called a special meeting for Nov. 10 to talk about the system’s credit card use.

The county, unlike the school system, does not use credit cards. Instead it allows some officials to charge goods and services under its "electronic commerce card program."

Many department heads and managers are assigned e-cards issued by SunTrust that look like credit cards, but don't accrue interest and restrict what gets charged.

The program also stores images and receipts electronically, so the county can easily put them on its website.

The e-cards also come with a rebate program. Since 2011, the county has received roughly $1.5 million through the program, according to finance records.

The school system also participates in the e-card plan, but still has credit cards.

A WBIR analysis of one year’s worth of credit card invoices and check requests discovered:
  • The Knox County school system in the past year did not pay its credit cards on time, nor did it pay off the full balance, leaving taxpayers on the hook for late fees and finance charges.
  • In addition, the school system is still months behind on its current credit card payments, according to finance records secured by WBIR 10 News under the state open records act.
  • School officials who use the cards often pay sales taxes that government entities are exempt from paying.
  • Some credit card users also charge items that are not allowed.
  • And, the cards in some instances were used to make personal purchases, which employees would then reimburse – something that is against county policy.
Bob Thomas, assistant schools superintendent of administrative services, is currently working on a comprehensive plan tied to credit card and e-card use, school officials have said.

You can find our original story RIGHT HERE.

Find the rest of today's story RIGHT HERE.