Friday, August 29, 2014

School secretary on 2-year paid vacay could have returned to work 18 months ago; now offered $30K to resign

So, the Knox County Schools administrative secretary who has been on paid leave for two years was cleared to return to work - like 18 months ago!

Instead school officials said her fellow co-workers were scared of her, so they decdied to pay her to stay at home!

What????? Are you kidding me?

But, wait? I thought the school couldn't comment because of HIPPA rules???

Yeah. Heh.

And in the meantime, the school system is offering her $30,000 to go away.

I'm not so sure I'd take the money if I was her. I, mean, if the school system is determined to keep paying her a salary, then why bother?

I wonder if school officials should really be telling the public that they've cut spending "to the bone."

Here's the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

More on the BOE 'side agreement'

Here's a little more about the "Who's the Man! agreement" between the school board and superintendent.

I was initially told that it had to be signed, but later today as I was scooping the competition on THIS STORY I talked to some board members and realized that they actually approve it. Which is worse.

I also got this statement from Melissa Ogden:
Individual Board members rarely sign any document as the Board officially acts as a body.  I think it is important to note that the Superintendent does not vote upon or sign the agreement.

The document was developed by the School Board in 2008 in order to help define and guide how School Board members wanted to work collaboratively with each other and with the Superintendent.

The agreement was voted upon and adopted by the Board of Education in 2008 and was revised, voted upon and re-adopted in 2010.  Both of these actions were on publicly noticed Board of Education meeting agendas. 
I'm told that in 2012 (I think October) the board was going to talk about it at a retreat but ran out of time or something. 

If it goes back to a vote this year, it's not expected to get approved.

DA Nichols retiring after 22 years

It's a courtroom career that rivals the movies: a serial killer, assassination attempts, and more convictions than you can count.

After 22 years as the county's top prosecutor, District Attorney General Randy Nichols is retiring. In his time in office, he's locked up the most criminals of any DA in the history of Knox County.

But as he prepares for his last day at the end of this week, he's looking back on what he calls his "war stories."

"Its just been some things that you wouldn't believe. I've always been amazed at what people will do to each other," Nichols said in an interview with 10News, "I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I can remember these cases like it was yesterday."

If you haven't checked out Mary Scott's story on Nichols, well, you really should. And, if you have seen, then you should watch it again!

Click RIGHT SMACK HERE for it.

Who's the boss? A look at 'agreement' between school board-superintendent

Every time I think I’ve seen it, read it, or heard it all when it comes to Knox County politics something surprises me.

The latest?

A four-page "side agreement" that includes all sorts of do’s and don’ts, and it pretty much – at times – stifles individual board members, which in turn, stifles whole districts.

Here’s the deal: The agreement, I believe, was put together by Superintendent Jim McIntyre, adopted by the board in 2008 and then adopted again (revised edition) in October 2010.

It’s now gonna be presented to the new board to vote on.

Some of the things that stick out:

  • Board member are not allowed to ask questions that might stump the superintendent.
  • It also says that if you’re on the losing side of the vote and the media wants a comment, well, you can’t tell them why you voted the way you did. (No way, no how, no comment.) 

All this is coming to light now because the law department sent out a memo, saying the whole thing is non-binding and and limit a board member’s freedom of speech. (To say nothing about transparency.)

During last Thursday’s orientation for incoming school board members, McIntyre and current BOE chair Lynne Fugate handed over the agreement for the new folks to view.

EMAIL: Law Director's Office memo and the revised agreement RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Needless to say, there were some questions about its legality, so a couple of them asked the Knox County Law Department to look into it.

The law department noted that the “document was not prepared by the law department, nor was the document submitted to the Law Department for analysis as to its legality.”

The law department, in the memo to BOE members, also says that state code “does not grant the authority to the BOE and the Superintendent to enter into any such agreement governing the conduct of members of the BOE.”

Here’s a couple other items in the agreement that stuck out:
  • If a BOE member contacts a staffer by email then he or she must copy the superintendent and the chief of staff on the correspondence. (Is micromanagement ever good?)
  • If a question can’t be addressed quickly and easily, then the question will be directed to the Office of the Superintendent to assess whether resources should be dedicated to responding to the request. (Does that mean the office won't answer it, if the question is too tough?)
  • The BOE and Superintendent agree that the Superintendent is the only employee who reports to the BOE. Everyone else reports to the superintendent. (Should we change his title to "king"?)
  • Constituents who contact BOE members with issues will be referred back to the school system at the appropriate level. (In other words, you don’t need to worry about the problem. You let us handle it.)
Unbelieveable.

I wish I could get my boss to approve one of these.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pregnancy, politics at center of BOE member, superintendent dispute?

Incoming Knox County school board member Amber Rountree said "it took a little bit of teeth pulling and the Law Director's Office to get" her into a crucial board-related orientation session that the school superintendent didn't want her to attend.

But, Superintendent Jim McIntyre says he just wanted her to reschedule as to avoid the "appearance of impropriety."

Rountree, though, isn't buying it. And she's now questioning why McIntyre appears to be turning her maternity-leave status into an issue and whether "there were some other factors in play."

"It did raise some questions for me because I had campaigned pretty strongly that I was somebody that a lot of folks considered to be anti-McIntyre . . . and then when I meet a lot of these obstacles that (the other two) new board members didn't seem to have, I was concerned," she said.

Rountree, a school librarian who is on medical leave and will resign from her job next Monday, added: "I felt like it was vital for me to go to the orientation prior to being sworn in . . . and something about it didn't feel right to me so I got in touch with the law director's office."

You can check out the entire story, as well as, McIntyre's response RIGHT SMACK HERE.

If you just want to read the emails, then click RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Commish picks Jenkins for magistrate

The Knox County Commission on Monday picked local attorney and former Knox County GOP chairman Ray Jenkins to serve as one of five judicial commissioners, replacing Richard Major who stepped down to work as incoming Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond’s second-in-command.

Jenkins currently serves as a substitute magistrate and has practiced law for more than 16 years. He will start Aug. 26.

The county has five judicial commissioners, or magistrates, who work 36 hours per week on a rotating schedule. The position pays around $65,000 to review applications for warrants and summonses and conduct the initial court appearances of prisoners via closed-circuit television.

Commish picks John Fugate for BOE

Knox County Commissioners on Monday picked John Fugate, a banker of three decades, to serve on the Board of Education until a new member is selected in the November election.

Fugate, vice president of Commercial Bank, replaces Indya Kincannon, who recently stepped down to move overseas with her family for a year. He will represent the 2nd District, which is comprised mostly of the North Knoxville area, on the 9-member board.

Fugate, 70, said he will not run for the seat in November, but sought the interim spot because he always wanted “to play a role in education.”

“I’ve got a yearning for education and I hope I can help in some way to set a different tone for the school system,” he said.

Fugate, who has grandchildren in three county schools, earned a degree in education and a master’s degree in administration and supervision.

His first meeting will take place in early September when he’s expected to help the school board to pick a new leader, a move that could shift the dynamics and philosophy of the board.
At this point, current board chairwoman Lynne Fugate, a strong supporter of the school system’s administration, has said that she wants to keep the seat for another year. In addition, board member Mike McMillan, a staunch opponent of the administration and the dissenting vote last year to extend Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s contract, also has shown interest.

Fugate, who is a "distant cousin" of Lynne Fugate's husband, declined to say how he would vote on the matter.

Fugate was one of six in a pool of candidates who submitted resumes and applications earlier this month that the commission considered on Monday.

He secured the seat in a 7-4 vote.

Commissioners Tony Norman, Jeff Ownby, Richard Briggs, R. Larry Smith, Dave Wright, Mike Hammond, and Ed Shouse voted for him.

Commissioners Sam McKenzie, Mike Brown, Brad Anders and Amy Broyles voted for Rick Staples, a former member of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office who worked in the programs rehabilitation department.

Broyles called the decision “a political vote” and said Fugate had “no support” in the 2nd District. She also suggested that he would not support the school system’s administration, which, in recent years, hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with the commission.

She suggested that the vote was political payback.

“It’s a tremendous disappointment and, frankly, it’s a slap in the face to every member of the 2nd District,” said Broyles, who represents North Knoxville on the commission. “This should not be about anyone’s personal political agenda.”

Board members were upset with her remarks.

“I do not have the slightest idea what she’s talking about,” Norman said. “I made my decision based on the information I had through two interview sessions and from speaking to people inside this district and outside this district who are attuned to the school system.”

He called the allegations “wrong and rude.”

Fugate declined to comment on Broyles’ remarks.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rogero second TN mayor to join 'Mayors for Freedom to Marry'

Mayor Madeline Rogero today joined Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a national organization of mayors who support marriage equality for same-sex couples. More than 500 mayors in 45 states have already joined the organization. Mayor Rogero is the second mayor in Tennessee to join, after Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville.

“As mayor, I have always said that Knoxville is a city that embraces diversity, and respects and values all of its citizens,” Rogero said. “That is why I am happy to join Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, along with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and more than 500 other mayors across America. The right to public and legal recognition of a committed, loving relationship is fundamental to individual dignity and happiness.

"I believe the day is coming soon when that right will be affirmed for all Americans, across all 50 states. I stand with my fellow mayors in support and anticipation of that day," she added.

You can find the entire news release RIGHT SMACK HERE.

TDOT to give county $1.5M in grants

Knox County will receive two grants from the state Department of Transportation, totaling some $1.5 million that it will use to retime traffic lights along busy intersections and create a system so officials can operate some signals from offsite.

The grants are part of more than $27 million in “Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement” grants that TDOT will allocate to 11 communities across the state to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

For Knox County that means using $105,500 to retime 20 signalized intersections along four of the county’s most heavily traveled corridors: Lovell Road, Dutchtown Road, Hardin Valley Road and Peters Road/Ebenezer Road.

“This project will maximize the efficiency of the existing transportation network by optimizing signal operations,” the county said in a released statement, adding that it should take about six months to complete.

The second grant, a $1.4 million allocation, will help build the infrastructure for a “traffic operations center” so officials can communicate and control signals between the county’s engineering facility on Baxter Avenue and Maynardville Highway and Cedar Bluff Road.

This project is expected to take 16 months to complete.

“The result will be better air quality and reduced congestion, which improves the quality of life for Tennesseans and creates more livable communities all over the state, said TDOT Commissioner John Schroer in a released statement.

Deputy Commissioner Toks Omishakin, Chief of TDOT’s Environment and Planning Bureau, agreed.

“From better traffic signal coordination in Gatlinburg to expanded park and ride options for several Memphis communities, many of these projects will offer great benefits to travelers across the state,” he said. “Through this program, we are also making great strides in our efforts to reduce emissions and improve air quality.”

Criminal ct clerk workers let go

Lot of rumors going around right now that are focused on the Knox Criminal Court Clerk’s Office. (Actually, when aren’t there rumors going around over there? Heh.)

Anyhoo, I’ve been told that a lot of folks were let go. However, I just talked to incoming clerk Mike Hammond and he said that he and his incoming deputy chief Richard Major are currently interviewing employees (remember, he’s making everyone reapply), and that he has let only a “handful” of folks go.

“All I can say is that we’re restructuring and reorganizing the department and some of the employees are not being retained,” he said. “They’re not being fired, but not being retained.”

(Keep in mind that technically they can't be let go until next week.)

Hammond declined to say at this point how many are leaving, since he hasn’t talked to everyone yet.

He said the office has roughly 80 positions and that he expects to have the same amount when he takes over on September 2, although job titles, duties, responsibilities, whatever, will change for a number of them.

He noted that he’s trying to bolster a number of areas, like the front counter for the General Sessions Court, that he feels are weak.

Hammond said he'd release the new organization chart/information when he officially takes office.

County unemployment rates released

The state released county employment rates for July 2014. They showed an increase in 86 counties, a drop in five and nothing for the other four. You can find specific information RIGHT SMACK HERE.



From the release:

Davidson County had the state’s lowest major metropolitan rate in July at 6.3 percent, up from 6.0 in June. Knox County was 6.6 percent in July, up from 6.3 in June. The Hamilton County July rate was 7.8 percent, up from 7.2 in June. Shelby County was 9.0 percent in July, up from 8.8 in June. Tennessee’s unemployment rate for July was 7.1 percent, five tenths of one percentage point higher than the 6.6 June revised rate. The U.S. preliminary rate for July was 6.2 percent, up from 6.1 percent in June.

The state and national unemployment rates are seasonally adjusted while the county unemployment rates are not. Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, the opening and closing of schools, and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Officials to be sworn in Sept. 2

Several newly-elected and re-elected Knox County officials will take the oath of office on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 9 a.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the Death Star. A reception with light refreshments will follow in the Small Assembly Room.

Here's hoping that the newly elected chancelor knows where the building is.

Heh.

The event is open to the public. Those unable to attend can stream it live online RIGHT SMACK HERE

Monday, August 18, 2014

Some commissioners suggest 'forensic' audit into school system's business

A Knox County commissioner sharply criticized the business practices of the school system, including its handling of a secretary who has now been on paid administrative leave for more than two years.

During Monday's work session of the Knox County Commission, commissioner Tony Norman said he wants a forensic audit to ensure business is done the right way at the central office of Knox County Schools.

"It is an emotional response that we're negligent if we don't check," said Norman. "Those are things like this latest situation with Ms. Needham and the two year administrative leave, or course."

Norman was referring to 51-year-old Tina Needham, the secretary with the Knox County Schools central office who has been on paid administrative leave since July 2012. Knox County Schools says it cannot provide details on why Norman is on paid leave due to the HIPAA medical privacy laws.

The Knox County Law Department sent Needham a letter last November that referred to some type of "disturbance" in April 2012. The letter also offered Needham $10,000 to resign and agree not to sue the county. Needham did not take the deal and remains on paid leave with an annual salary of $27,555.

Whatever the reason for Needham initially being placed on leave, the big question is why the matter has been unresolved after more than two years and a month.

"This is a personnel matter that's very complex," said Doug Harris, a member of the Knox County Board of Education. "I operate a large business and I can tell you, sometimes personnel matters take a long time to rectify and come to a conclusion. I think that's the case in this situation. I'm hoping we can wrap it up as soon as possible for the taxpayers' sake and the employee's sake."

Check out the entire story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Knox justice system audit released

Knox County conducted an internal audit into the embattled criminal court clerk's office.

The clerk's office has been the focus of several problems in the last year. A WBIR 10News investigation revealed a myriad of mistakes and incorrect paperwork that led to the wrongful arrests of dozens of people.

The audit found that Knox County needed to improve their record keeping, training, internal processes, and accuracy.

The audit included responses from the five departments involved, including the troubled office of the criminal court clerk and Joy McCroskey. The center of that 10News investigation.

In her response she wrote "I don't know how much I can accomplish with only two weeks until retirement, but hopefully my successor will continue to move these offices forward."

In two weeks time criminal court clerk elect Mike Hammond will be in Joy's shoes.

"When I started finding out that people were being wrongfully arrested, I started hearing about issues in the office. And the more I have delve into it, the more issues I have come across. So that's why I ran. To fix it. I went to the public and said give me a chance. They gave me that chance and we're going to fix it," said Hammond.

Entire audit RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Check out the rest of this story RIGHT HERE.

Hammond revamping Criminal Court Clerk's Office, holding interviews

In just a couple of weeks, embattled Knox County criminal court clerk Joy McCroskey's term in office will expire. The man elected to replace her is already in the process of making changes.

Mike Hammond takes over as the new court clerk on September 2. Hammond made all of the 80 employees at the clerk's office reapply for their jobs.

"We did the interviews last week and it was great to get all of the employees' feedback and opinions on what problems exist at the office and hear their ideas on how to fix things," said Hammond. "Because they're the ones on the front lines. They've given me a lot of great suggestions on things they would like to see done to improve the office."

The clerk's office has been the focus of several problems in the last year. A WBIR 10News investigation revealed a myriad of mistakes and incorrect paperwork that led to the wrongful arrests of dozens of people.


McCroskey came under intense scrutiny and announced in February that she would not seek reelection. Hammond won the primary race in May and was uncontested in the August general election.

Shortly after Hammond was elected in the May primary, McCroskey gave more than $180,000 in raises to employees at the clerk's office. Hammond says those raises will end when he takes office.

"I have told them [the employees] that we'll have to rescind the raises. Right now, as of September 2, your salary is going to go back to where it was before the raise. They understand that. Everyone would like more money, but I showed them the budget and we simply do not have the money now to absorb $187,000 in raises with all of the other things that need to happen. There may be a time when we can give raises in the future, but not at this moment."

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Jury selection set for Tuesday for former Trustee's Office worker

Delbert Morgan
The trial for a so-called ghost employee, who worked under ex-longtime Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe, was delayed until Tuesday.

Delbert Morgan, 58, was paid to do little, if any work, between March 2004 and March 2008 for the county's tax collections department, prosecutors say. He's charged with multiple counts of felony theft of more than $60,000.

Morgan's trial was expected to begin Monday, but Knox County Criminal Court Judge Judge Steven Sword postponed jury selection until Tuesday morning to continue hearing motions that started Thursday.

Defense attorneys filed one motion to dismiss the case, saying key documents that would prove their client's innocence have gone missing over the years. The defense also asked the judge not to allow a fraud investigator to serve as an expert witness.

The trial is expected to focus on the time Morgan spent away from the office and the payments he received from his former supervisor of four years, Mike Lowe.

Lowe and another supposed ghost employee, Ray Mubarak, are expected to go on trial later this year.

Morgan served as a field auditor and Mubarak worked as an office clerk and then a field auditor. They both abruptly resigned on March 8, 2008, about the same time Fred Sisk, Lowe's successor, took over.

At the time, they earned $37,500 annually.

The theft charges are Class B felonies and each carries $25,000 in fines and are punishable by eight to 12 years in prison.

Prosecutors have set aside two weeks for Morgan's trial. Mubarak's is scheduled for Nov. 5 and then Lowe will go to trial on Dec. 1.

Court records say that during the time Morgan "purportedly worked for the Trustee's Office," he was actually working at his other businesses – Celebrity Choppers, Morgan Development, MDN, National Kennel Club and Real Estate Market, Inc.

He also spent part of the time "at medical appointments or on trips outside of Knox County," records state.

Employment records for Morgan show that he received almost $200,000 in salary, overtime and benefits between spring 2004 and spring 2008.

His cell phone records, which are a part of his legal file, comprise thousands of pages and often place him outside of the county during regular business hours.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Details to teacher advisory group released; McIntyre to make picks

So, yesterday, Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre, between getting into a slap fight with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, sent out the memo, detailing the teacher advisory committee.

In short, it will be comprised of 20 members – 18 teachers and 2 principals. Oh, and he gets to pick them, although he'll get some recommendations. They’ll meet once a month, blah, blah, and you can’t record the meetings.

Now that last part is interesting.

You see, this  group is the continuation of the “teacher working group” that was hastily formed last December in response to the November board meeting (i.e. teacher revolt or something).

It’s essentially a way for McIntyre to say he listens to teachers. During one of the meetings last year (in which the ruling class was trying to put together the group), local teacher Lauren Hopson recorded it (so she could accurately relay the discussion to staff members.)

The superintendent apparently wasn’t happy about this.

Also of note, the local SPEAK organization said they wanted only teachers o the group (although they did suggest that a county Board of Education member should be present).

You can find the memo RIGHT SMACK HERE.

In addition, I’ve got a copy of the speech that teacher Karen Latus delivered to the BOE during the July forum. It includes SPEAK’s recommendations for the group.

You can find the speech RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Forget Tina! Mayor and Superintendent ready to duke it out over secretary

Jim versus Tim! Put 'em in a cage! In the center of Neyland Stadium!

Knox County Mayor Tim "Big Foot" Burchett and Schools Superintendent Jim "Slim" McIntyre have gotten into a battle of words over Tina Needham, the school secretary who's been on paid administrative leave

"The mayor stands behind his entire statement and believes as the general public does that every question raised remains relevant."

Early in the day, Burchett issued a press release that accused the Board of Education and the superintendent for creating the "mess" that has led to Tina Needham getting place on paid administrative leave for more than two years.

He noted that school officials, particularly McIntyre, blamed the matter on the county's Law Department, when the "school system employment decisions are the responsibility of the superintendent and school board, not the law department."

An hour later, the superintendent issued his own statement, saying that he found it "appalling" that Burchett commented "purely out of ignorance."

You can find the complete story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

I'm thinking that if I'm Tina Needham, I might go ahead, take whatever settlement is offered and run!

Duncan putting ordeal behind him

Former Trustee John Duncan III, who officially completed the terms of his judicial diversion yesterday, sent over the following comments:
I'm thankful for all of the kind words of support and encouragement I've received today. I'm also thankful that the case has been dismissed and I can finally put this whole ordeal behind me.

The decision to plead a year ago was extremely difficult for me. My dad and my attorney, Jeff Hagood, both strongly recommended that I go to trial and fight the charges. They both believe we would have won. However, I just couldn't put my family or myself through the emotional roller coaster of a trial when I knew the entire case would eventually be dismissed, as it was today.
His father, U.S. House Rep. Jimmy Duncan, also weighed in:
I'm glad the case was dismissed and I am proud of John. For many years before coming to Congress, I was a lawyer and a Judge. After studying the facts of this case, I don't believe he ever should have been charged in the first place. At worst, he made an honest mistake. I will always believe that this case was motivated by some personal and political vendettas against me and our family. Like Jeff Hagood, I encouraged John to go to trial, where I believe his name would have been cleared entirely.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

School employee place on leave after 'disturbance,' but no deal reached

Despite what some other media reports have suggested, NO agreement/settlement has been struck between the county and a school system employee who has been on paid administrative leave for two years (at least as of this writing).

There was an attempt last November, but the employee, Tina Needham, declined.

If officials do work out a deal, it will be made public and not kept secret (despite what the others have suggested). I mean, seriously, how is a government going to keep secret a monetary payment using public dollars?

Anyhoo, we've learned that there are four other employees who have been placed on administrative leave. We initially asked the school system about these on July 24 and was told that Needham was the only one. That's since changed. These employees - unlike Needham - are under investigation.

Now, it's not common to put someone who is under investigation on paid administrative leave. It is uncommon to place someone who is not under investigation on paid administrative leave.

Whatever.

Here's today's story with all the details, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

BOE 'emergency' vote under scrutiny

Knox County’s law director is taking a close look at school board chair Lynne Fugate’s declaring an emergency at the August meeting to allow a vote on Knox County Schools’ five-year strategic plan, Betty Bean of the Knoxville Shopper reports.

“We’ve received a lot of questions and complaints from the perspective of open-meetings laws and whether voting on a plan that doesn’t take effect until 2015 fits the definition of an emergency,” David Buuck, chief deputy law director, told the paper.

Fugate declared the emergency after a one-minute meeting of the board’s executive committee – Superintendent James McIntyre and herself – when Mike McMillan invoked personal privilege to postpone a vote for 30 days, Bean continues. McMillan said he wanted four new board members (who will be sworn in Sept. 1) to have a say. Invoking personal privilege is an established school board practice.

Check out Betty's complete story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Couple quick notes from da Porch:

McIntyre will appear on Inside Tennessee this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on WBIR 10News, and I asked him about this (show taped Tuesday).

As is typical, he kind of danced around it, including when asked what impact a delay would have. He noted that the board has spent more than a year working on it, blah, blah, blah. That said, I don't blame them. If I spent a year working on something, I'd be reluctant to turn it over, too.

(Go ahead, flame away. I don't care.)

I think in the end, though, it is what it is. People get up in arms over this thing, but if you've ever actually read the plan (I have), then you'll know that it doesn't really say anything!

It's nothing more than a bunch of feel-good platitudes.

There's been some discussion that McIntyre and Fugate railroaded the plan through the current BOE because they were worried that the incoming members wouldn't approve it.

Yes, that could very well be the case. But, there's nothing stopping the new board from coming in, making changes, even killing the strategic plan.

In then end, I don't think it really matters.

We'll see.

Knox Commission to interview eight lawyers for open magistrate spot

Eight local attorneys will interview with the Knox County Commission on Monday to replace long-time magistrate Richard Major.

The interviews, which are open to the public, will take place at 1 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

The board will make a final decision during its voting meeting a week later.

You can find the resumes, cover letters, etc. RIGHT SMACK HERE.

The new magistrate (often called judicial commissioner) will replace Major, who is stepping down to take over as incoming Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond's second-in-command.

The county has five magistrates who work 36 hours per week on a rotating schedule. The position pays around $65,000 to review applications for warrants and summonses and conduct the initial court appearances of prisoners via closed-circuit television.

Here’s a quick look at the candidates (in alphabetical order):
  • Alexander Brown: Serves as a substitute judicial commissioner, and has run a general practice (includes trials in state and federal court) since 2002.
  • Maria Danker: Prosecutor with the Knox County Child Support Office.
  • Dustin Dunham: Serves as a substitute magistrate and a solo practitioner (focus on criminal law) since 2010.
  • Ray Jenkins: Serves as a substitute magistrate; practicing attorney of 16 years. (Side note: Folks might recognize Jenkins’ name. He served as the local GOP chair and also recently ran for the Circuit Court Division 1 judge seat.)
  • Rhonda Lee: Attorney who graduated from law school in 2012 and opened her own practice last year. (Side note: For someone with what appears to be very little experience, she has an 11-page resume.)
  • J. Myers Morton: An attorney since 1988, his practice focuses on domestic relations and criminal law.
  • Jason R. Smith: A junior law clerk to D. Kelly Thomas Jr., a judge for the Eastern Section of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, since 2010.
  • Steve Williams: Operated a private practice since 1985. (Side note: Folks also might recognize Williams’ name. He ran for the Criminal Court Clerk gig.)
I’m not sure how many actually applied. Folks initially submitted resumes to the General Sessions Court, where the judges there made the selections. They were tasked with picking between four and eight candidates for the commission.

School system pays employee not to show up for work - for 2 years!

Look, this is unheard of and there's something going on. Course no one wants to talk. But why the *#@$ is the school system paying an employee to sit at home for more than two years and then hiding behind HIPPA?

Bull! You get four weeks of unpaid leave. That's it. Someone needs to come up with a real explanation about why taxpayer coin is covering this.

Here's part of the story:
A Knox County school system employee has now earned more money on administrative leave than she did when she actually showed up for work.

School officials confirmed to WBIR 10News that Tina Needham, an administrative secretary in the Central Office on the third floor of the Andrew Johnson Building, was placed on paid administrative leave in early July 2012 – more than two years ago – and still collects a check.

Needham, who earns $27,555 annually, was initially hired in early January 2011. Her duties included "office filing, making copies, answering phones and putting packets together for orientation," according to her personnel file.

WBIR attempted to reach Needham at her East Knox County home but she was not there. A neighbor said Needham was his niece, but he didn't know when she would return home, but that "she's around."

Her attorney, Knoxville-based Michael Menefee, told WBIR: "We have had some legal issue with

Knox County, however, due to some confidentiality agreements that are in place, we are not able to comment on the story. There's of course more to the story than she's been receiving a paycheck, but I can't comment on it."

Needham has not filed legal action against the county, according to court records. But, Menefee said he is discussing a "settlement" with the county, but declined to elaborate.

The county's law department said there have been some verbal discussions between the two sides, but Needham has not issued a demand letter, asking for money.

School spokeswoman Melissa Ogden offered no explanation why Needham was on administrative leave – and not placed on medical leave – or why she is still on the payroll.

"I think the best way to state it would be that HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations prevent us from providing more detail on Tina Needham's paid administrative leave," Ogden said in an email to 10News.
Complete story along with TV report, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Venable named to journalism Hall

Sam Venable (Photo: KNS)
Congratulations to KNS columnis Sam Venable, who was named to the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. Sam is a great guy, very witty, very funny.

From the Associated Press: Six journalists have been named to the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame at Middle Tennessee State University.

They are: Joe Birch, veteran anchor with WMC in Memphis; Bob Johnson, retired news anchor of WTVC in Chattanooga; Alex Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, National Public Radio host and lecturer; Luther Masingill, veteran broadcaster at WDEF radio and television in Chattanooga; Otis Sanford, veteran editor with The Commercial Appeal in Memphis; and Sam Venable, columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame is housed inside the John Bragg Mass Communication Building.

Allen named new KPD deputy chief

Nate Allen
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch today named Captain Nate Allen as the new Deputy Chief for the department.

Deputy Chief Allen has been with KPD since 1986, according to a news release.

Chief Rausch said Deputy Chief Allen has served in various roles during his tenure with the department. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1992 and Lieutenant in 1996. In 2000, Allen was promoted to the rank of Captain where he served as the East District Commander.

 Chief Allen also served as the Staff Officer to the Chief of Police, Homeland Security Coordinator, and Commander over Persons and Property Crimes in the Criminal Investigations Division.

Chief Allen has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a specialization in Homeland Security from North Central University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. Allen is also a graduate of the Georgia State University Senior Law Enforcement Command College and the FBI National Academy Session 196.

Chief Rausch said, “Deputy Chief Allen’s experience has been a tremendous asset to the Knoxville Police Department and the City of Knoxville. We look forward to his continued leadership in his new role as the Division Commander of the Criminal Investigations Division.”

Deputy Chief Allen will be officially sworn in during a 4:00 p.m. ceremony on Thursday, August 14, 2014, in the Civic Coliseum Ballroom.

There's a 'human capital' director?

Heh, thought this was funny. Sort of. Apparently the school system has a job called "director of human capital strategy." No kidding.

This will go over well with some folks.

Anyhoo, here's the 411 on it from the school system:
The Director of Human Capital Strategy was created in May 2010. The primary focus is to attract, recruit, hire, manage, develop and retain top performing talent for our district. This position also supports and manages the district’s strategic compensation initiative and works closely with the Knox County Education Association in collaborative conferencing efforts. Additional duties include work with the TEAM and Central Office evaluation processes. Dr. Rodney Russell currently holds this position at a salary of $104,366.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

County looking at amusement tax cut

In just a few weeks it will once again be "football time in Tennessee." Season tickets for the University of Tennessee's upcoming season have already been mailed and proudly display the phrase

"I will give my all for Tennessee today" that comes from the iconic sign that hangs outside the Vols' locker room.

However, when you buy a ticket to see UT football, men's basketball, or the Lady Vols, you do not give all of your money to Tennessee. That's the case today or any other day going back to the 1940s when the state passed an "amusement tax" that adds five percent to the price of UT home games in football and basketball. The tax also applies to almost all movie theaters in Knox County (an exception was given to theaters in Downtown Knoxville).

The five percent tax is split between the City of Knoxville and Knox County. The county's portion of the tax is relatively small, only half a percent. The other 4.5 percent goes to the city.

Now Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says the county can do without its share of the tax.

"Doing away with our portion of it, it works out to a little more than $200,000. It's not much in terms of our total budget, but $200,000 to me is a lot of money," said Burchett. "People ask me why are we doing it and I say, 'Why not?' We take enough of your money already as it is."

The Knox County Commission will discuss repealing its collection of the tax during a work session on August 18. Burchett says he would like to see the tax phased out over a couple of years.

Read the complete story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

More County teachers leaving in past three years than previous three

The latest numbers from Knox County Schools draw a more complete picture of exactly how many educators plan to leave the district this year.

In the 2013-2014 schools year, the relationship between teachers and school administrators was, at times, tense. Rumors circulated about of a mass exodus of teachers planning to leave the school system.

Here's a look at them below:


Here's what Knox County teacher Lauren Hopson had to say: "I definitely see an upward trend in the number of resignations. There are more resignations this year than there have been in recent history, and I think that's very telling about the climate in our school system."

Here's what Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre had to say: "It has been a very routine year for teacher retirements and resignations. In fact, the overall number of teachers leaving has actually decreased from last year. I have heard a lot of appreciation from our teachers for the actions we have taken to better support them, and a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about the upcoming school year."

Here's what the ol' Porch had to say: "Nice spin, folks! Look at the past three years and look at the three before that. All changes, disagreements, consternation, whatever started awhile back, but only became public last year.  There has been a major exodus."

Check out the full story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Forum set Aug. 14 for BOE candidates

Got this release late Friday: The League of Women Voters of Knoxville/Knox County (LWVKKC) and the Knox County Education Association (KCEA) will hold a moderated forum to inform commissioners and voters about candidates seeking appointment by County Commission to fill the seat of District 2 School Board Member Indya Kincannon who recently resigned. Kincannon and her family will live in Slovenia next year where her husband will be teaching law.

Candidates are seeking an interim appointment of three months ending in November 2014 when an election for the position will take place. Several candidates will participate in the forum on Thursday, August 14, 2014, 6:00 – 7:15 p.m., in the auditorium of Gresham Middle School, 500 Gresham Road, Knoxville, TN 37918. Beth Haynes, news anchor with WBIR TV, will moderate.

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.

The Knox County Education Association promotes quality education by providing a support system that guarantees the opportunity for professional growth, secures and improves benefits, and protects the rights of educators of Knox County."

Friday, August 8, 2014

Burchett turns 50, B-Day party to benefit Ben Atchley Veterans' Home

Burchett
So, as Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett nears the big 5-0, he's gearing up for his birthday by hosting a party that benefits area military veterans residing at the Ben Atchley State Veterans’ Home, according to a news release.

The event, which is open to the public, will be held on Aug. 17 at the veterans’ home from 1-4 p.m.  

Burchett will host a cookout and live music for resident veterans and members of the public.  Food for the cookout  provided by Sam’s Club, and live music provided by Ciderville Music.

In lieu of gifts for himself, Burchett asks the public to bring gift cards of any amount from either Red Lobster, Shoney’s, Cracker Barrel or Hooters restaurants. 

Administrators at the veterans’ home say these are many of the residents’ favorite places to eat, and the gift cards will help ensure that they are able to continue enjoying meals outside the facility. 

Attendees are also welcome to bring Visa/MasterCard gift cards or cards to either Sam’s Club or Walmart for use on shopping trips and other activities for the residents.

Gazillions of write-in candidates

As is always the case, I secured the list of write-in candidates and today was no exception.

Sooooo, check it out RIGHT SMACK HERE - all 139 pages of hilarity from last night's election! Obviously, none of them counted.

Ten apply for open Knox BOE spot

Ten North Knoxville residents, including a number of former educators, submitted applications to represent the 2nd District on the Knox County Board of Education.

The deadline to apply was noon today.

The Knox county Commission, which will review the resumes and cover letters, is expected to hold a series of interviews with the candidates on Aug. 18.

The board will then make a final decision during its voting meeting a week later.

The person selected will replace Indya Kincannon as the area representative until the November election.

APPLICANT RESUMES RIGHT SMACK HERE

Kincannon, a third-term board member, submitted her resignation last month and officially stepped down this week to accompany her family to Slovenia where her husband was recently awarded a Fullbright U.S. Scholar grant.

Here’s a snapshot of the candidates:
  • Juanita Cannon, a 40-year educator who spent decades serving as a principal, assistant principal and teacher in the Knox County school system.
  • Emma Ellis-Cosigua, an office manager with JIG-Insurance Group, she also facilitates a college readiness class for middle school children and an adult ESL class for immigrants.
  • Charlotte Dorsey, a former Knox County school administrator who spent decades in the system as a teacher, assistant principal and principal.
  • John Fugate, vice president of Commercial Bank in Fountain City.
  • Laura Kildare, a former Knox County school teacher who is currently working on her doctorate degree in special education.
  • Tracie Sanger, a special education teacher in the Knox County school system and field experience supervisor for Tusculum College.
  • Jennifer Searle, a current board member on the Knox County Schools Clothing Center PTA, and a regular school volunteer.
  • Rick Staples, a Knox County Sheriff’s Office deputy who helped inmates obtain their GED.
  • Elizabeth Lane, a former employee of Texaco and Shell Oil, working in administration and supervision. 
  • Diana Ray, a former community development manager for the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians.

Looking at the election predictions

Friday morning quarterbacking the elections. So, how did the ol’ Porch do? I got 14 out of 18, or almost 80 percent. I think I need to get a better crystal ball.

So, what did I miss?

Well, Clarence Pridemore, an attorney who has been practicing law for three years defeated long-time chancellor, Daryl Fansler, only because Republicans voted for one of their own based on party choice rather than experience and qualifications. I’m not even sure Pridemore knows where the City County Building is.

Dude isn’t just over his head. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Expect the other two chancellors to take up the workload. Also, expect a drop in cases filed in chancery court. No one wants to take a chance. Lawyers – good ones and bad ones – are lamenting this elections. Ask them if you don’t believe me.

Anyhoo . . . whatever.

Attorney Bill Ailor also a Republican, defeated Harold Wimberly for the circuit court judge division 2 seat. At least Ailor, who doesn’t appear to age, has some clue of what’s going on, and actually campaigned.

I thought Jason Emert would edge out Eddie Smith for the state House (13th District seat), but really it could have went either way. I figured all the bad publicity would have helped Emert. Common sense prevailed in this race.

Additionally, I thought there was a chance that Steve Hall – despite his support of Sen. Stacey Campfield – had a shot of narrowly defeating Martin Daniel. I think deep down I felt Daniel would win, but second guessing is for suckers.

In the meantime, I called it for:
  • Clerk Foster Arnett
  • Trustee Ed Shouse
  • Register of Deeds Sherry Witt
  • BOE (1st District) Gloria Deathridge
  • BOE (6th District) Terry Hill
  • Circuit Court Judge (4th Division) Greg McMillan
  • Criminal Court Judge Scott Green
  • General Sessions Judge Patricia Long
  • Governor Big Bill
  • U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander
  • U.S. Senate Gordon Ball
  • Congressman John Duncan Jr.
  • State Senate (7th District) Richard Briggs
  • Supreme Court judges get retained
Again, congratulations to all the winners. We’ll see some of you in the November races.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Da Porch predicts Aug. 7 elections

Ah, another Election Day. Write in my name, vote for me, whatever. Here’s my predictions for a number of the races.

COUNTY GENERAL

Clerk: Incumbent Arnett Foster Jr., a Republican, creams his Democratic opponent,  Mike Padgett. Let’s face it, most people think Foster’s done a pretty decent job and Mike seems to have a propensity to make up crap. He also launched a nasty campaign and, I think, quite frankly, people are sick of negative campaigning.

Register of Deeds: Incumbent Republican Sherry Witt destroys independent challenger Donald Wiser, who could potentially find himself behind bars this time next year. Thanks for wasting our time, Donald.

Trustee: Ed Shouse, a Republican, handily defeats Democratic challenger Jim Berrier. People like Ed and Jim just doesn’t have any name recognition.

BOE District 1: Incumbent Gloria Deathridge barely makes it past challenger Marshall Walker. There’s a chance he eeks it out, but I’m giving it to her based on the power of incumbency. Walker and a third opponent during the May primary actually combined for more than 50 percent of the vote, but I don’t see him getting every one of the other guy’s votes.

BOE District 6: Terry Hill handily defeats Sandra Rowcliff. Call it the “McIntyre” factor.

Circuit Court Judge Div. 2: Harold Wimberly, a Democrat and incumbent, beats Bill Ailor, a Republican who doesn’t appear to age. Heh.

Circuit Court Judge Div. 4: Greg McMillan, a Republican, easily defeats, Daniel Kidd, a Democrat.

Chancellor: Daryl Fansler, a Democrat and the incumbent and one of the most respected judges in Knox County, hands Republican challenger Clarence Pridemore his a$$. Pridemore ran only on the idea that people would vote for him because he had an “R” in front of his party’s name.  He refused to campaign, refused to do interviews and refused to pay off a credit card debt. Like Donald Wiser in the Register of Deeds race, he wasted time for a lot of folks.

Criminal Court Judge: This one is tough pick, but I think Scott Green, a Republican, defeats Leland Price, a Democrat. Either one would do a fine job.

General Sessions Judge: Incumbent and Republican Patricia Long easily beats challenger and Democrat George Underwood Jr. (I finally saw my first Underwood campaign sign the other day by the way.)

STATE/FEDERAL PRIMARIES

Governor: Come on, really??? Big Bill takes this one with like 80 percent. Coonrippy places second. Heh. Coonrippy.

U.S. Senate: Incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander easily defeats Joe Carr, once again proving that the tea party really doesn’t have much of a grasp in the state.

U.S. Senate: Gordon Ball, a Democrat, takes this one, only to lose to Alexander in November.

U.S. House of Representatives: Incumbent Republican John Duncan Jr. easily defeats Jason Zachary. There is a chance that Zachary gets 35 percent of the vote, which technically might be considered an upset.

State Senate Dist. 7: Richard Briggs defeats incumbent Stacey Campfield, a Republican. There’s another challengers who might actually get 2 percent of the vote. There’s some talk among Democrats that they’ll vote for Stacey because they think their candidate, Cheri Siler, would have a better shot against him than Richard. Uh, no. She won’t. She’ll lose.

State House Dist. 13: Despite the shenanigans, there’s a good chance Jason Emert, a Republican, pulls out a win over Eddie Smith. It doesn’t matter, though, because incumbent and Democrat Gloria Johnson will win in November.

State House Dist. 18: Another close one, but I think incumbent and Republican Steve Hall gets a narrow victory over Martin Daniel.

I left out a few races (executive committees and Farragut for example, because I really haven’t followed them). I’ll also go ahead and predict that the Supreme Court judges also get retained.

Don’t forget to tune into WBIR tonight for all your election coverage.

There ya go. On to November.