Friday, December 26, 2014

Inside Tennessee picks political winners, losers Sunday on WBIR

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

Heh. Ha.

Inside Tennessee segment from earlier this year

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Not a bad year.

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


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

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

Others went with Obama.


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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nichols to serve as KCSO counsel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KCSO could pay double for boat slip

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

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

But, it comes with a steep price tag.

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

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

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boyd to serve as state Economic and Community Development commissioner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playground problems: Recalls issued, schools unaware, lawsuit possible

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

Knox County Schools never got the letter.

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

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

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

Officials have since said little about the accident.

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

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

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

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

The full story is RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TN Education Commissioner appointed

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

From the Nashville mansion:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest RIGHT SMACK HERE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entire release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Playground problems: injuries,costs

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

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

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

PREVIOUS STORY: Part 1 - School Playground Safety Inspection Inconsistencies

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

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

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

The rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Five, not 6, to fire superintendent

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

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

Here's the deal:

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

State law, however, calls for a simple majority.

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

You can read her story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

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

Nine apply for open commish seat

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

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

The deadline was noon Monday.

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

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

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

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School playground safety standards

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

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

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

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

The full story is RIGHT HERE.

Monday, December 15, 2014

School playground safety problems

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Two alt papers coming to K-ville

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck regardless. I hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three applied for Commission seat

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

The deadline is Dec. 15, a week away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

Knox superintendent directs secretary on paid leave to return to work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

County continuing 'Wreaths Across America' effort; deadline extended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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