Friday, February 27, 2015

I.C. King Park closed through May

KUB and its contractor, Southeast Connections, will close I.C. King Park starting Monday, March 2, and lasting through May 2015, as work is completed in this area for the South Loop Natural Gas Pipeline Installation Project, according to a county news release.

In cooperation with Knox County Parks and Recreation, and to ensure the public’s safety, the entire park will be closed as construction is in progress. Barricades and signage are in place at the park’s entrances to notify visitors of the closure.

This project will provide a portion of the connecting pipeline that will allow the University of Tennessee to convert its coal-fired steam plant to natural gas by late 2015. This plant conversion will remove the second largest source of airborne pollution in East Tennessee, and will be the equivalent of taking 7,000 passenger vehicles off the road each day. Additionally, this pipeline will improve the overall reliability of KUB’s natural gas distribution system, and allow for future natural gas demands.

KUB will post regular updates throughout the project on its website at, and on the KUB Facebook page. Additionally, KUB has set up a blog RIGHT HERE to keep customers informed about project milestones. Customers can send their e-mail address to (please reference South Loop in the subject line) to receive updates on the project. Customers can also call 558-2331 after normal business hours to leave a message that will be followed-up with a call from a KUB representative by the end of the next business day.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parker appointed to replace McNutt on Knox County Election Commission

Republicans in the local Legislative delegation appointed Hannah Parker, a media relations expert, to the Knox County Election Commission.

Parker, who worked for Bill Haslam when he was mayor and governor, replaces Rob McNutt on on the 5-member panel.

The state lawmakers on Thursday also re-appointed the commission’s chairman, Chris Heagerty, and Robert Bowman, both attorneys, to fill the other two slots Republican slots.

“It was a very close vote and there was a lot of discussion,” said state Rep. Ryan Haynes, chairman of the delegation.

Haynes declined to say how members voted.

“I’m tremendously honored for the opportunity to serve and look forward to working to ensure that elections are conducted fairly and with integrity,” Parker told WBIR 10News Thursday. “I don’t have any reason to believe that hasn’t been the case, but that was my main reason for wanting to participate (on the commission).”

The Democrat members of the Legislative delegation will make their appointments in the coming days.

Cassandra McGee Stuart, who works at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and lawyer Tammy Kaousias currently represent the party on the commission.

Under state law, the political party that holds a majority in the General Assembly also holds a majority on local election commissions. The local delegation makes the appointments, which are then rubberstamped by state Election Commission.

Parker joined Knoxville-based PR firm Moxley Carmichael in June 2014. Prior to that, she served in Gov. Haslam’s administration as deputy for operations. She also worked in the Office of Policy and Communications for Haslam during his tenure as Knoxville’s mayor.

She will take over as director of community relations for the Emerald Youth Foundation on March 9.
In her cover letter to state lawmakers, she noted: “As a lifelong Knoxvillian, I genuinely care about our community. Should I have the honor of being selected as an election commissioner, I will serve with the utmost integrity, putting policy over personality and always seek to maintain the public’s trust in our election process.”

Local political insiders expected the delegation to keep Heagerty and Bowman, but McNutt’s appointment was in question.

A number of insiders felt he was picked back in 2011 only to help oust then-Knox County Elections Administrator Greg Mackay, a Democrat.

A few years prior, Republicans attempted to replace Mackay, but then-commissioner Paul Crilly voted with the two Democrats to retain him. Upset, the delegation replaced Crilly with McNutt.

The commission, with McNutt on board, then ousted Mackay in a 3-2 vote, and later hired current administrator Cliff Rodgers.

Rodgers has since been unanimously retained once and is expected to be kept the next time the commission votes, which more than likely will be in April.

A number of state lawmakers were upset with McNutt after it was revealed that he voted outside his precinct more than half a dozen times prior to his appointment on the commission.

His strongest supporter on the delegation was former state Rep. Steve Hall, who lost his re-election bid last year.

The commissioners and the administrator of elections serve two year terms, although the administrator serves at the pleasure of the panel. Neither is term-limited.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Recent inclement weather costing Knoxville, Knox County major coin

As the snow continues to pile along area roads, so, too, are the bills for local government.

By the end of Tuesday, 10 days of inclement weather is expected to cost Knox County roughly $405,000, and the city well-over $300,000.

The majority of the money is tied to the salt placed in the brine to make the roads more navigable during the snow and ice storms. The rest is mostly for overtime to pay the city and county road crews.

County spokesman Michael Grider said salt costs $115 per ton, and so far the county has put down 3,000 tons. The county also has spent another $60,000 in overtime.

At this point, there are no additional county costs, Grider said, but officials will have to repair some equipment, including snow plows and the spreaders used for the brine.

“We started with 4,000 tons of salt, so by the end of the day we will have used 75 percent of it,” Grider said.

Knoxville at this point is on the hook for about $305,500 in weather-related costs as of Sunday night, said city spokesman Eric Vreeland, adding that during the past 10 days through Sunday crews put down 1,800 tons of brine.

About $250,000 of the city’s costs so far are for salt; another $54,000 for public service employee overtime; and $5,500 for the overtime, labor and some equipment costs in the city’s fleet services department.

City crews Monday night and early Tuesday morning placed another 500 tons of brine on the roads, but those costs have not been factored into the bottom line.

City leaders should have the final numbers in the coming days.

City and county officials both said the storms so far have not affected their overall spending plans for the current fiscal year, since the budgets do factor in some storm costs. Both governments said they’re nowhere close to tapping reserve funds.

Monday, February 23, 2015

GOP lawmakers to pick their election commission members on Thursday

Over the weekend, Georgiana Vines posted a pretty good story about the local Legislative delegation's meeting Thursday to pick three of the five Knox County Election Commission board members.

(Republicans, because they're the majority, get three picks and Democrats get two.)

Bob Bowman, Chris Heagerty and Rob McNutt are the current Republicans. I suspect the delegation will keep Heagerty and Bowman, but probably not McNutt.

The later was pick by then-state Rep. Steve Hall, who is no longer around. You might recall that McNutt also (allegedly) illegally voted - and for Hall - a number of times. There was some serious egg on the face of the delegation when that one came out.

Still, they didn't bother to do anything about it, and McNutt's sole purpose for being appointed was to serve as the swing vote to out then-Election Administrator Greg Mackay. Now that Hall is gone, I expect McNutt to join him.

Vines reports that Ruthie Kuhlman, current Knox County GOP chair, and local attorney Tamara Boyer are interested in a two-year term on the board.

Cassandraw McGee Stuart and Tammy Kaousias are currently the Democrat reps on the panel. I figure Stuart sticks around, I don't know about Kaousias. Vines notes that then-state Rep. Gloria Johnson backed her two years ago, but Johnson is now out.

Once picked, the board will then vote on an election administrator. Regardless of the board's makeup, I expect then to retain Cliff Rodgers for another two years.

KPD to change style of uniforms

Well, this is interesting.  Just got a note from the city that Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. tomorrow to announce a change to KPD's uniforms. The note didn't say a whole lot.

Although it mentioned that the move is only the fourth time in the department's 166-year history that it's happened. No clue what they'll look like. The picture above is the current style.

Knox Co. Clerk sues PBA over mold

Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. on Friday filed a lawsuit against the Public Building Authority because "toxic mold spores" in the courthouse where he works has caused his health to deteriorate.

"I didn't want to do it – it was a last resort," he told WBIR 10News Saturday. "As you can see in the complaint, two of my doctors say what I've got is life-threatening."

Filed in Knox County Circuit Court late Friday, the complaint does not seek punitive damages, but rather requests that the PBA remediate the building, and cover Arnett's legal and medical bills.

"We're asking the judge to immediately close my part of the building and get us out of there and into somewhere safe to work," Arnett said.

The Clerk's Office operates out of the Old Courthouse on Main Street in downtown Knoxville. It's the keeper of records for the Knox County Commission and it's where residents go to get a number of licenses, including marriage licenses, car tags or passports, for example. The Clerk's Office, like most county and city offices pays the PBA a sort of "lease" each month to take care of the building and provide security. The clerk's office pays $7,000 a month, which is not uncommon in local government.

MORE: Copy of the lawsuit

Arnett said his attorney, Darren Berg, will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. Monday at his firm Butler, Vines & Babb to talk more about the matter.

The lawsuit notes that Arnett filed "numerous complaints" with the PBA during the past year, but the problem wasn't fixed. He also said that the mold is affecting some of his employees.
PBA Director Dale Smith could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The lawsuit says the PBA did test for mold but the levels were within acceptable limits and that the mold was not alive. Arnett, however, had a third party take swabs of the office and discovered that the area walls where he works is "loaded" with black mold.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Knox County hopes 'unclaimed funds account' brings financial windfall

Chris Caldwell
It’s a little-discussed fund, but it can often bring in big bucks for the Knox County.

The Knox County Commission on Monday is expected to sign off on a request to let the administration receive some unclaimed funds that have been placed in the State Treasurer’s Office for more than a year.

Officials won’t know how much is there until July, but last year the county got almost $150,000, and the year before that it received $287,100.

“It varies from year to year and you never really know what you’ll get,” county Finance Director Chris Caldwell said.

To get the money, the board must ask for it through a resolution.

“That allows us to do two things,” said Caldwell. “It requests the money back from the previous year’s report and also lets the state know that we’re going to file for the current unclaimed property as well.”

The money the county seeks this year is technically from 2013.

Here’s how it works:

Every check the county cuts to someone that isn’t cashed after one year is forwarded to the state where it will sit for an additional year. The county can then file a claim for it – after it has again tried to notify the person or vendor and give them a chance to reclaim the money.

Most of the money that goes unclaimed is tied to jury duty, mileage or other reimbursement checks, or medical deductibles, Caldwell said.

Caldwell said he isn’t sure why the checks go uncashed, but suspects it’s because people have moved and didn’t provide the county or post office with a forwarding address.

The money will be placed into the county’s general fund, which covers much of the county’s day-to-day activities.

To be on the safe side, the county typically underestimates the amount it will get, so the revenue is considered a windfall if it is more than $25,000, Caldwell said.

Commish meeting on for Monday; lobbyist, boat slips lead talks

Knox County Commissioners are expected to meet Monday for their regularly scheduled voting session and plan to talk about two contracts, one tied to hiring a lobbyist and the other to securing a boat slip that will cost the sheriff’s office double what it currently pays.

The commission canceled its Feb. 16 work session due to inclement weather and will not make it up. 

Work sessions are generally designed to provide officials with the first opportunity to talk about issues, but any votes taken are recommendations only.

Monday’s board meeting is set for 1:45 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

Part of the discussion is expected to focus on whether the commission should hire a lobbyist or lobbying firm that spends some of its time in Nashville and reports back to the board.

The move, according to Commissioner Amy Broyles, would keep officials apprised of proposed legislation that would affect the county and to provide an outlet that lobbies on behalf of the commission.

A number of local governments across the state, including Knoxville's administration, employ lobbyists.

MORE: Commission to discuss hiring lobbyist

MORE: Proposed KCSO boat slip to cost double

Currently, the city pays lobbyist Tony Thompson $55,000 a year, according to his contract. The city also shares a lobbyist – Jane Alvis – with Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga. Her services are funded from a piece of the $30,000 in dues the city pays The Tennessee Municipal League.

Knox County employed a lobbyist for years until Burchett took over as mayor in 2010 and cancelled the contract.

The commission also plans to talk about the sheriff’s office proposal to get a better spot on the Volunteer Landing Marina to dock its boat along the Tennessee River.

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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ULI report: Knoxville's success lies in downtown core's redevelopment

The Urban Land Institute has given city leaders its final report, a 36-page study that focuses on the downtown core and provides a series of recommendations "for Knoxville to begin work on immediately to guarantee (its) ongoing and future success."

The report comes four months after the non-profit's advisory panel spent a week in the city investigating a number of key sites and conducting a series of interviews with more than 100 stakeholders, including business owners, nearby residents, developers and groups with key interests in the downtown area like Knox Heritage.

The Washington, D.C.-based research center on land use provided input for five locations: World's Fair Park, the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, the Supreme Court site, Henley Street, and the area where the McClung warehouse buildings once stood.

The study, which cost $125,000, was conducted to provide city leaders on ways to continue growing the downtown.

Full report RIGHT HERE.

Rest of the story with recommendations RIGHT HERE.

Knoxville to buy Old South High for $189K, seek proposals to renovate

The Knoxville City Council Tuesday night voted to acquire the long-dilapidated Old South High School and authorized officials to offer the owner $189,000 for it.

If the landlord, Bahman Kasraei, refuses, the city will move to condemn the property, which is located on the corner of Moody Avenue and Tipton Street.

City leaders last summer initially took steps toward restoring the almost 80-year-old building to its former glory by determining it a blight. That meant the council could take the necessary steps to acquire it.

Since then, it got two appraisals, and by law has to go with the higher number, which was $189,000, when making an offer.

Kasraei, however, will get only $134,000, since he owes $55,000 in back taxes and repair work the city performed on the property, city spokesman Jesse Mayshark said.

He paid $117,700 for 2.2 acre piece of property in 2008 in an auction. It was vacated in 1991.

The city, once it’s in possession of the historic building, will seek proposals from developers to renovate the property and determine its best use.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Power back on for 'substantial amount of customers' by midnight Wednesday

Scene from Southwest Knoxville
Some 13,000 Knox County residents are still without power as of 11:15 a.m. because of the ice storm that swept through the area, but KUB officials say they expect to have a “substantial amount of customers” back on by midnight Wednesday.

During a 15 minute news conference, Gabriel Bolas, an incident commander with the utility company, said KUB has 60 crews working rotating 16-hour shifts, but it’s taking some time to navigate many of the roads to get to the downed lines.

He said the company’s call centers also are fully staffed, but the payment centers are closed, so no one will be cut off due to a non-payment.

He noted that officials were looking at a “multi-day event” before everyone is back online and that at the peak, some 21,000 customers were without power. He said crews focused first on critical care facilities, which they’ve taken care of, and then mix in the areas with the largest outages and those that have been shut down the longest.

“Damage has been pretty significant,” Bolas said. “So far, we’re getting around OK, but it’s slower than normal.”

Bill Elmore, chief operating officer for KUB, said customers so far have been “appreciative” and “appear to be understanding.”

“The fact that it hit early yesterday morning and continued into the night meant the restoration effort was an ongoing one, and as we were restoring power, additional outages were occurring,” he said.

KUB also is working closely with the city, county and state Department of Transportation.

Full Story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Knox Co. schools, government closed Tuesday due to inclement weather

The Knox County Commission Office will be closed tomorrow and the board's regularly scheduled work sessions has been postponed. (It will be rescheduled as soon as possible, according to the board's Twitter account.)

In addition, Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre has canceled school due to inclement weather.

Per county policy, since schools are canceled, so too, are courts.

The regular KCS school calendar has 10 "snow days" built into it that officials can use before having to add more days to the school year.

Earlier this year, school was delayed for two hours because of weather, but the delay doesn't affect the school calendar.

Also, the Knox County Sheriff's Office on its Facebook page said authorities are responding only to life and death emergencies, so don't do anything stupid.

Here's a list of what else is shut down for tomorrow:
  • Offices reporting directly to the Knox County Mayor, including Knox County Senior Centers, Libraries, Health Department, Veteran Services and Parks & Recreation.
  • Office of Knox County Clerk, including all satellite offices.
  • Knox County Criminal Clerk's Office and Criminal Sessions and Fourth Circuit Courts.
  • Knox County Circuit Court Clerk's office, including Civil Sessions Court and Circuit Court.
  • Knox County Trustee's Office, including all satellite offices.
  • Knox County Elections Commission.
  • Knox County Register of Deed's Office
  • Knox County Property Assessor's Office
  • All solid waste convenience centers

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Former Ragsdale operative pleads guilty to Va. campaign violations

Remember Tyler Harber? Former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's political operative and overall screw-up? Yeah, well, go figure, looks like he's hit the big time. As in the feds are going to make an example out of him for violating a campaign law they don't usually enforce.

It's the kind of thing that happens when you're dumb enough to lie to FBI agents. But whatever.

According to the Washington Post:
An oft-quoted Republican political operative pleaded guilty Thursday to illegally directing a political action committee to buy ads to help a congressional candidate whose campaign he managed — a rare enforcement of federal law that bars candidates from spending money in conjunction with their independent allies.

Federal authorities said the plea deal reached with 34-year-old Tyler Harber — who managed the unsuccessful 2012 congressional campaign of Virginia Republican Chris Perkins — sends a warning to those in politics that they need to keep a separation between candidates and outside groups. Prosecutors hailed the case as the “first criminal prosecution in the United States based upon the coordination of campaign contributions between political committees,” and four legal experts said they could think of no other examples, despite an explosion of independent groups’ spending in political races in recent years.
His sentencing is set for June. You can read the full story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

DA seeks 10 years for ghost worker

Delbert Morgan
Prosecutors are seeking as much as 10 years in prison for Delbert Morgan, one of two alleged ghost employees who received a paycheck for doing little if any work while employed under ex-longtime Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe.

Morgan's attorney is seeking only eight years of supervised probation.

He's scheduled to be sentenced for felony theft on Friday in Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword's court room.

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Email: Police chief concerned about being 'whoodood' with radio contract

Members of the E-911 Board meet
For weeks, Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones have refused to say why they wanted to let a proposed $9 million radio system contract with Harris Corp. die.

Emails released Thursday, however, show Rausch and some other members of the Knox County 911 Board repeatedly and for months privately discussed their concerns about Harris, apparently in violation of the state sunshine law.

Rausch, in fact, sought out fellow board member Jones in a May 2014 email to warn him against supporting Harris, which was being recommended in a formal review process as the best vendor to provide the system for thousands of police officers, deputies, firefighters and emergency responders.

"...I think we are getting ready to get whoodood with this new radio system," the May 7, 2014, Rausch email states. "We need to stop this process and reconsider what is going on. I have major concerns with the way the decision has gone. Plus, it was the highest cost of all three. I think the Board needs to speak up and let the Director know that we need to stop where we are and talk about this before we go any further. Thanks! David."

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero acknowledged Thursday some of those involved in the process who are also board members may have violated the state sunshine law, meant to prohibit two or more members of a public board or body from deliberating outside public scrutiny. The law covers elected officials as well as others who serve on public boards and bodies.

The emails also show communication between Rausch and board member Ken Knight, including one in which they agreed to meet shortly before the January board meeting.

Also, KPD Deputy Chief Gary Holliday traded emails with Scott Tidwell, a former KPD employee who had gone on to work as a senior account manager with Motorola Solutions, one of those firms competing for the radio system contract.

Holliday has acted at times as Rogero's proxy on the board.

For story RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Judge denies ex-trustee's request to bring in out-of-town jury for trial

A Knox County Criminal Court judge denied a request by former long-time Trustee Mike Lowe to bring in potential jurors from another locale to hear his felony theft trial when in begins in early April.

Judge Steven Sword, in an order issued Tuesday, said he reviewed some 96 newspaper and television articles submitted by the defense, and he felt the “vast majority of the evidence” against Lowe “has not been publicized.”

He also noted that the majority of coverage reflected the actual development of court proceedings and “is not a case by its nature that involves information that would tend to appeal to the prurient interests of the public.”

“In other words, there are no ‘gory details’ that would tend to excite passions,” Sword wrote. “There is a greater danger of losing the interests of the jurors than invoking passion against the defendant.”

Lowe’s attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, on Monday argued that "pervasive and inflammatory" media coverage and his client's "unique name dynamic" will prevent him from getting a fair trial if local residents sit on the jury.

The state, however, disagreed, saying attorneys had no problem last August when they selected a panel to hear a trial for one of Lowe's co-defendants.

At the time, only a handful of people even recognized Lowe's name, the state said.
Sword agreed.

“A jury was chosen within a half-day and none of the extra jurors were needed,” he wrote. “The court expects selection of the jury to proceed in a similar manner in Mr. Lowe’s trial.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

'State of South Knoxville' meet set

Forget the "State of the State" address. Who cares about the "State of the Schools." They got nothing on . . . duh, duh, duh . . .

The. State. Of. South. Knoxville.


Area representatives from the County Commission (Mike Brown), City Council (Nick Pavlis) and School Board (Amber Rountree) will host a community forum from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Feb. 26 at 115 Flenniken Avenue. Danny Gray, of the South Woodlawn neighborhood, will serve as moderator.

“This is the first time that we have brought city, county, and schools together for a forum to have community questions and input from our district, and I hope many of our constituents take the time to come out for a chat," Brown said in a released statement. "It is near budget time for all three entities, so come on out and tell us what you think. You have three elected leaders who work well together and hopefully we all work together to make 'South' grow in the right direction.”

Said Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis: “I am really excited to continue to bring government to the people. This is an awesome opportunity for our constituents to hear our vision for the district and to ask us questions about what matters to them most.”

Rountree added: “South Knox is all about community. In order for our community to flourish, we must all work together on the same team. I'm thrilled to be a part of the 'State of South Knox' meeting with Vice Mayor Pavlis and Commissioner Brown, as we take this opportunity to hear from the community about how we can join together to make South Knox even better.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

Commissioners Ed and Bob to host public meeting, eat tons of pizza

I got a chuckle out of this one. As is typically the case, whenever two Knox County commissioners meet to talk, hang out, go fishing, whatever, they send out a Sunshine notice, letting the media and public know that they are welcome to attend.

You know, just in case they talk about government stuff.

Anyhoo, commissioners Ed Brantley and Bob Thomas will host a community meeting on Feb. 18 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Halftime Pizza and Grill on Emory Road in Powell.

In the notice, the two said they plan to "meet the people of Knox County and listen to their concerns."

The note ends with the following:
"This is not a commission meeting. There is no agenda. There will be no votes taken; however lots of pizza will be consumed during the two hours."
And yes, it's open to the public. Now word on whether Bob and Ed are picking up the tab.

State of State and Schools on WBIR

We will be streaming tonight's State of the State address and tomorrow's State of the Schools address on and on 10News 2.

Poll: Tennesseans on abortion, same-sex marriage, gas tax hike

The Middle Tennessee State University has conducted a number of polls recently, including one on Insure Tennessee - RIGHT SMACK HERE - that I thought were interesting. Here's the latest one and the university's release below:

Tennesseans favor some, but not all, of several proposed abortion rules pending in the state Legislature, the latest MTSU Poll finds.

On two other issues, meanwhile, the Jan. 25-27 poll of 600 randomly selected Tennessee adults found majority opposition to permitting same-sex marriage and to increasing Tennessee’s tax on gasoline.

Ken Blake, director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University, said attitudes toward abortion regulation in Tennessee appear nuanced and strongly tied to religious identity. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points.

“Across every form of abortion regulation we asked about in the poll, the proportion in favor of it came in more than 10 percentage points higher among evangelical Christians than among non-evangelicals,” Blake said.

“But both groups have reservations about the same things. For example, evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike are less likely to favor describing an ultrasound image to a woman who has refused to look at it than to favor requiring her doctor to talk to her about abortion risks, benefits and alternatives.”

The poll found that, among all Tennesseans:
  • 57 percent favor requiring a woman’s doctor to discuss abortion risks, benefits and alternatives with her before she undergoes an abortion, 27 percent oppose, and 16 percent don’t know or refused.
  • 48 percent favor requiring a woman to undergo an ultrasound one to three days before obtaining an abortion, 36 percent oppose, and 16 percent don’t know or refused.
  • 52 percent favor requiring that a woman be offered an opportunity to view the image of an ultrasound she is undergoing prior to an abortion, 31 percent oppose, and 17 percent don’t know or declined to answer.
  • 35 percent favor requiring that the image of an ultrasound a woman is undergoing prior to an abortion be described aloud if the woman declines to look at it, 48 percent oppose, and 17 percent don’t know or refused.
  • 42 percent favor requiring that audio of any heartbeat detected during a pre-abortion ultrasound be played aloud for the woman to hear, 43 percent oppose, and 15 percent don’t know or declined to answer.
  • 22 percent think abortion should be “legal in all circumstances,” 49 percent think it should be legal “under certain circumstances,” and 22 percent say it should be “illegal in all circumstances.” The rest don’t know or didn’t answer.
“The largest difference between evangelicals and non-evangelicals was over requiring that audio of any heartbeat detected during a pre-abortion ultrasound be played aloud,” Blake said. “More than twice as many evangelicals (54 percent) expressed support for that measure compared to non-evangelicals (24 percent).”

The smallest gap between evangelicals and non-evangelicals appeared on the question of whether to require that doctors describe abortion risks, benefits and alternatives to women who are seeking an abortion. Sixty-two percent of evangelicals favored such a rule, as did 51 percent of non-evangelicals.

Attitudinal differences between men and women on abortion regulation, by contrast, were all non-significant, Blake said.

“Men in our sample tended to be more in favor of abortion regulation than the women in our sample, but the percentage point differences were all in the single digits and not large enough to suggest a similar difference between men and women in all of Tennessee,” he said.

Majority against same-sex marriage, but opposition softening

Meanwhile, 55 percent of state residents oppose “allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally,” still a majority but a drop from the 64 percent opposition observed in the spring 2014 MTSU Poll. Thirty-two percent favor allowing such couples to marry, and the rest aren’t sure or declined to answer.

Here, too, evangelical identity makes the biggest difference. Among evangelicals, 70 percent oppose and 19 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Among non-evangelicals, only 29 percent oppose allowing same-sex marriages, and 55 percent favor allowing them.

Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU Poll, said the decline in opposition to same-sex marriage is notable.

“It’s too soon to say whether the softening opposition to same-sex marriage that polls show happening around the country is showing up in Tennessee, but it’s a number that will be interesting to watch after this summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to release its ruling on same-sex marriage,” Reineke said.

Majority oppose raising gas tax

A 53 percent majority of Tennesseans oppose raising the state’s gas tax to fund better roads and bridges. Twenty-six percent support raising the tax, and a considerable 21 percent are undecided.

Support is highest among well-informed political moderates and liberals, lower among well-informed conservatives, and lowest among the least informed, regardless of political orientation.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Ex-Trustee Lowe seeks venue change

Mike Lowe
Knoxville attorney Greg Isaacs - not one to shy from media coverage - will be in Criminal Court on Monday, asking for a change of venue for his client - former long-time Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe.

The reason? "Pervasive and inflammatory" media coverage.

Er, yeah, ha. Sure. (Wonder if this blog entry counts. Heh.)

Rest of the story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sheriff rips mayors on radio vote

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones said he opposes a move by the city and county mayors that would force officials to vote on a multimillion dollar emergency broadcasting system contract, and added that the two would be better informed if they attended the E-911 Board meetings.

In a letter to the E-911 Board’s attorney, the sheriff called out Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, essentially saying that the safety of local first responders and residents – not politics – is his top priority.

“Officials who never attended in the past are now going to show up at a special called (E-911) Board meeting to force a vote on a radio system that I know has had problems in the past and will ultimately cost the taxpayers $15 to $20 million dollars,” Jones wrote in a letter to Donald Howell that he also posted to the Sheriff’s Office website.

He added: “If these officials and the media had been at the prior meetings, they would be aware of the (dissension) among the group with regard to the inadequacies of the system.”

Read the rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Read the sheriff's entire letter RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Burchett seeks Feb. 18 radio vote

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett wants the E-911 Board to vote by the end of the month on a multimillion dollar contract to replace its emergency broadcasting system.

In a LETTER to the board’s attorney, Burchett says officials should forego a Feb. 18 workshop to talk about rebidding the system and instead hire Harris Communications - the company that received the highest marks during the initial bidding process.

The letter was sent to Don Howell Wednesday afternoon.

“Because it is unclear whether there is a duly appointed chairperson, I’m asking for your guidance, as the board’s legal (counsel), as to the best way to proceed in calling for a special meeting at the time already reserved for the workshop,” the mayor wrote.

At issue is the board's proposal to replace the current emergency broadcasting analog radio system with a 20-channel digital one that would also meet a number of federal recommendations such as allowing multiple responding agencies, such as police, fire and medical, to communicate amongst themselves.

Only three companies – Harris Communications, Tait Communications, and Motorola Solutions, which has served the E-911 Center for more than 25 years – submitted proposals during last year's bidding process.

Harris scored the highest in each of the two rounds of scoring, according to records. Officials then ironed out a 7-year, $9 million contract that includes maintenance with the company.

Last month, however, the board declined to vote on the contract. Burchett’s proxy made a motion to approve it, but the motion did not receive a second. Members then agreed to hold a workshop to send the proposal back to the drawing board.

On Tuesday, Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero – also a board member who uses a proxy – each said they would attend the next E-911 meeting and force a vote.

They also wanted to have a special called meeting to do so, since the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting isn’t until mid-April.

City of Knoxville improves traffic signal timing on North Broadway

You won't hear me complaining about this one.

According to a city release, the Knoxville Engineering Department recently completed a project to improve traffic signal operation on the North Broadway corridor from downtown to Fountain City.

The move provides reduced traffic delay and will be most noticeable to drivers during “rush hour” periods. Special timing plans were also designed for the weekends.

“This is one of our busiest corridors, and it has unique challenges from a signal-timing standpoint,” said Jeff Branham, the City’s Chief Traffic Engineer, in a released statement. “We can’t promise that nobody will ever hit a red light, but the new timing should reduce commuting time and frustration.”

Traffic technicians will closely monitor travel conditions along Broadway for the next eight weeks, and make adjustments as needed to ensure traffic moves along this section of Broadway with minimal delay.

This project was supported by RPM consultants and funded by a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Rogero, Burchett to force E-911 radio vote, special called meeting pending

Madeline Rogero
Well, things are gonna get interesting. I don't know if the E-911 board will approve the multimillion radio contract contract, but members are going to have to vote.

Earlier today I noted that Burchett said he will attend the next meeting and call for a vote. Find it along with all the original details RIGHT SMACK HERE.

A few hours later, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero issued her own release.

Keep in mind, because they both serve on the board, they had to send out separate releases. But, it seems the two are on the same side, and they're seeking a special called meeting. (The board's next one isn't until April 15.)

Here's what Rogero's full statements:

Since the meeting on January 21st, there have been a lot of questions from the public and the media about how and why the motion to approve this contract died without any discussion from Board members. I had those questions, too.

I am a member of the Board and I was aware of the ongoing contract discussions, but I have been represented at its meetings by a designated proxy. Because most of the Board’s work is technical and logistical in nature, I believed the interests of the citizens of Knoxville would be best served by a representative well versed in the needs of emergency responders and the capabilities of the technology. I still believe that.

However, given the nature of the questions surrounding this contract – questions of process and public transparency – it is my responsibility to engage and respond. The review has been complicated and time-consuming, because as a member of the Board I am restricted from private conversation with other Board members, including three City of Knoxville employees who serve on the Board.

There are several issues to deal with here, which I will detail. But here is the bottom line: I believe the E-911 Board should hold a special called meeting to consider the proposed contract that was moved for approval at the meeting on January 21st.

After fully reviewing the RFP and purchasing process that was initiated by the E-911 Board, I see no reason at this time not to support awarding the contract to the bidder selected by the evaluation committee. At the called meeting, I will make or second a motion to that effect. Then I hope to have full public discussion of the proposed contract.

I would like to say a few words about the purchasing process. City Law Director Charles Swanson and I spoke with Knox County Purchasing Director Hugh Holt, and I believe he conducted the purchasing process in good faith, according to established rules and regulations.

Concerns have been raised that end users were not adequately represented on the evaluation committee. I understand these concerns, and I think that the emergency responders did deserve more of a voice than they had. They are the end users, and they need to have a radio system that they trust.

In the future, the E-911 Board should work with the Purchasing Division to ensure proper user representation before embarking on an RFP process.

In the matter before us, it appears that the process has produced a reputable and responsive bidder, and therefore deserves full consideration and public discussion by the Board.

My review also caused me some concerns about the regular operations of E-911. The E-911 Board has no bylaws that we can find. This leads to confusion about procedure, including uncertainty about how to designate a Board Chair and how to properly run public meetings.

I am concerned that the E-911 website is woefully out of date and contains very little information, such as agendas and minutes of Board meetings. I am also concerned that the agendas Board members receive for meetings and workshops contain inadequate information about what will be discussed or considered. I intend to raise all of these issues for discussion at the next E-911 Board meeting.

I believe that the Board – including my own Police and Fire chiefs, and my proxy – acted in good faith in this process, as did the County Purchasing Division.

Going forward, I will be more directly engaged with the operations of the Board, either through attending meetings myself or closely coordinating with a proxy as needed.

The first step we need to take as the E-911 Board is to assure confidence in our operations. Our emergency responders need to have confidence in their equipment, vendors need to have confidence in the bid and purchase process, and the public needs to have confidence that the Board’s decision-making is transparent, fair and accountable.

I look forward to working with the rest of the Board as we move ahead.

Burchett to push for radio vote

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said he wants to force E-911 Board members into publicly discussing why they declined to approve a contract to replace the area's outdated emergency broadcasting system.

He also wants board members to explain just exactly how they selected a board chair and whether the process was legal.

“There is too much uncertainty about the position of chair and the fact that, after 18 months of work on the radio communications (bidding) process, the awarded contract was never discussed or voted on in a public meeting,” the mayor said. “I will attend the next E-911 board meeting to see that a new chair is properly elected and to move that the awarded contract for E-911 radio services be approved so there can be open discussion and an up-or-down vote. It is my hope that, this time, a member of the E-911 board will second the motion in order to allow for discussion.”

The board next meets April 15.

Again, if Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero actually attended these meetings, this might not have been an issue.

Anyhoo, full story RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Public not in loop about Insure TN

This is interesting. There was a poll sent out Friday about Insure Tennessee. This is from the Tennessean via WBIR 10News:

Although the vast majority of Tennesseans don't know much about Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan, support for the measure outpaces opposition, according to poll results released Saturday by Middle Tennessee State University.

The legislature will begin a special session on Monday to consider Haslam's plan to extend health care coverage to about 200,000 people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy coverage on their own. The expansion is possible through federal funds designated by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

According to the MTSU poll, two-thirds of Tennesseans have heard a little or nothing about Insure Tennessee. On the other hand, 10 percent have heard a lot and 23 percent have heard some about the plan.

You can read the full story HERE and check out the poll as well.

Rountree weighs in on NCLB talks

After reading the porch's breaking story Friday that Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre is gonna be brushing shoulders with some federal big wigs this week, some school board members have begun weighing in on social media.

Well, at least one member.

The BOE's Amber Rountree sent the superintendent a memo on Saturday thanking him for the chance to relay some input to him regarding his upcoming testimony before a Congressional committee on Tuesday about No Child Left Behind.

In her memo, Amber talks about high-stakes testing, federal and local dollars, and teacher incentives.

You can read it RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Lunch with Mayor at Gus's on Friday

Haven't seen one of these in awhile. I guess Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett hasn't had lunch with every resident yet.

Released on Friday, the issued the following:
The community is invited to join Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett for lunch on Friday, Feb. 6 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Gus’s Good Times Deli, 815 Melrose Place.

Mayor Burchett hosts cash mob and “Lunch with the Mayor” events at local retail establishments and restaurants as a way of encouraging the entire community to turn out and support local business.

In addition to its regular menu, Gus’s will offer three lunch specials during the event: half pound cheeseburger, fries and fountain drink for $6.99; steamed deli sandwich, fries and fountain drink for $7.99; and a fried chicken sandwich, fries and fountain drink for $5.99.

The public is invited and other elected officials may be in attendance. As always, attendees will be responsible for purchasing their own meals.