Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A look at Anderson's AJB swipe card

Sam Anderson
WBIR obtained data showing the use of Sam Anderson's swipe card for entering the Andrew Johnson Building, where the KCS Central Office is located and where system officials say Anderson was based in his part-time position.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre noted that "as his title suggests, Sam Anderson was primarily an adviser to me regarding our efforts and strategies to ensure student success in our high needs schools... Mr. Anderson spent a good deal of time in schools, and met individually with me every other week to discuss his observations and recommendations."

The swipe card data shows when someone used their card, issued by the Public Building Authority, and it's one way of accounting for someone's whereabouts at work.

A swipe card is needed for some but not all entrances to the A.J. Building. Card usage does not necessarily account for all times someone enters the building.

Anderson was hired March 12, 2013, and resigned June 22, 2015.

Of the 43 weeks he was employed by KCS in 2013, there were 26 weeks in which Anderson had either one day in which he used his swipe card or no swipe card use at all. He was hired March 12 and did not use his swipe card for more than five weeks, until April 18, 2013. (He got the card on March 13.)

Anderson was employed by KCS for all 52 weeks of 2014. Of those, there were 24 weeks in which he swiped either one day or no days at all, data shows.

In 2015, Anderson was employed by KCS for 24 full weeks. Fifteen of those had either no swipe from Anderson's card or only one day with swipe card use.

During more than half of the weeks of Anderson's total employment - 54.6 percent - Anderson had only one day's worth of swipe activity or no swipe activity on his card.

The above figures do not account for school holidays and breaks and weeks off due to inclement weather, such as the two weeks of school canceled due to ice storms in February 2015.

In response, McIntyre wrote: "Mr. Anderson's work was based in the Andrew Johnson Building, but as an adviser to me regarding our high needs schools, Mr. Anderson was expected to spend much of his time in schools and in the community. Attempting to draw any conclusions about an employee's work habits based on a proximity card that is not required for entry into the Andrew Johnson Building would be rather irresponsible. Sam Anderson served the Knox County Schools commendably until his resignation last week."

McIntyre previously has aid Anderson "met individually with me every other week to discuss his observations and recommendations."

McIntyre did not specify where those meetings took place.

The BOE's regular meeting is Wednesday. Members of the community group SPEAK will rally outside the City County Building, on Main Street, ahead of the meeting, starting at 3:30 p.m., to show support for the district's teachers.

To read more, click RIGHT HERE.

Knoxville police lieutenant dies suddenly due to medical issues

Condolences to KPD and the Hembree family. Sent last evening:

This afternoon at approximately 4:00 p.m., the wife of Knoxville Police Department Lt. Robert Hembree arrived at their residence where she discovered her husband suffering from some type of medical problem.

Rural Metro Ambulance responded to the residence and transported Lt. Hembree to Physicians Regional Medical Center where he died just minutes after arriving. It is unknown at this time what caused Lt. Hembree’s death. An autopsy will be performed tomorrow to determine the cause of death.

Lt. Hembree, 42, has served with the Knoxville Police Department since January 1997. Lt. Hembree is the West District C Squad supervisor. Lt. Hembree is survived by his wife of 7 years, two sisters, and his parents who are missionaries and are currently in Romania. There are no children.

Chief David Rausch said, “We are shocked and extremely saddened by the sudden loss of Lt. Hembree. Lt. Hembree was an excellent public servant not only as an officer, but also as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves where he served 8 years. This is a tremendous loss for the department as well as the City of Knoxville. Each and every member of the KPD family offers our thoughts and heartfelt prayers to his wife and family.”

Arrangements will be announced as soon as they have been finalized.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Knox Schools didn't advertise $42K, part-time job before hiring Anderson

This should not be a surprise: The school system handed over a $42,000-a-year, part-time job to a buddy. I mean, well, heck, we pay employees $30K in folding paper to sit at home for years and do nothing.

$42K???? What's the average full-time teacher salary? $45K??

Eh, whatever.

Here ya go.

Knox County Schools did not advertise the position nor did officials interview anyone in 2013 before handing a $42,000-a-year part-time job over to Sam Anderson – a longtime community activist who resigned from the position this week in light of his connections to a federal tax fraud scheme.

School officials said Thursday it is not common to hire without advertising open jobs, but it's also not necessary to post a position if the administration "feels that a candidate possesses the skills and experience to perform the duties associated with the job description," KCS spokeswoman Melissa Ogden told WBIR 10News.

"Mr. Anderson possessed a set of skills, experiences and relationships which made him uniquely qualified for the position," Ogden said.

She said his hiring was not a political reward for his vote years ago that led to the hiring of Superintendent Jim McIntyre.

"That is not true," she said.

In April 2008, Anderson voted not only to approve McIntyre's contract, but he championed a four-year, $222,800 annual deal, rather than a three-year proposal that some other board members suggested at the time. The vote to hire McIntyre was close – 5-4 – and Anderson was considered crucial to its passage.

Anderson, who served more than 20 years on the school board before opting not to seek re-election in 2010, was hired in March 2013 to replace Montina Jones. She was a full-time adviser of high needs schools. Jones made $103,810 in base salary and "supplements."

Anderson worked 18.5 hours per week on average, Ogden said, and earned a base salary of $31,240, but made a total of almost $42,060 with supplements. Supplements can include a number of items, like travel pay or extra pay for coaching athletics.

He did not receive benefits for the job.

Anderson stepped down from the position Tuesday because of his role as an "unindicted co-conspirator" to state Rep. Joe Armstrong, who was indicted last week in an alleged tobacco tax fraud scheme.

Anderson did not return a call seeking comment.

Ogden said the position will not be filled.

For the rest, RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

With opponent out, Mayor Rogero to cruise to re-election victory

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, baring an unlikely and almost impossible write-in push, will easily win re-election to a second and final term.

William "Buck" Cochran, a self-employed writer who ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2011, withdrew from the mayoral race Thursday morning.

That means Rogero needs 50 percent plus 1 vote in the Sept. 29 primary to automatically win a second four-year term as the city's mayor, as she will be exempt from the November general election, according to the city charter.

In addition, municipal Judge John Rosson, who also faces no opposition, will more than likely cruise to victory in September and not appear on the November ballot.

However, the charter does not include language for Knoxville City Council members – like George Wallace who is unopposed in his own re-election bid – to skip the general elections even if no one qualifies against them.

Cochran was not considered a serious candidate in the non-partisan mayoral race, but his withdrawal now all but assures Rogero's victory in a couple of months.

Thursday at noon was the deadline to withdraw from the city races.

Carly Baskette also withdrew from the "Seat B" City Council at-large seat, so that leaves incumbent Marshall Stair and perennial candidate Pete Drew in that race. But, those two will automatically go on to the general election, since the top two vote-getters in the city primaries automatically move on.

It appears now that the only drama in the city races will be for "Seat C" currently held by Finbarr Saunders who faces David Williams, Kelly Absher and Paul Bonovich.

KCS Board of Ed exploring ways to hold bus drivers more accountable

Knox County School Board members are looking into ways to make bus drivers more accountable.

"This is one time where I think a student reporting something that they have a concern about needs to be heard immediately and dealt with," Karen Carson said. "I would love to see us explore starting a program where a student can take a picture of a driver using a cell phone - a bus driver using a cell phone, have a hotline that they can send it to and that the school system could respond immediately."

Board member Patti Bounds agrees the district needs, "to empower the children, the feeling that they can talk about these things in a safe way with their parents," she said. "For the parents, too-- probably one of the best things to do would, not necessarily a hotline, but a way to report these things to the proper authorities so that they can be addressed and handled."

Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, Knox County sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones and Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch met on Monday, to discuss possible enhanced safety guidelines when it comes to school bus drivers. McIntyre said details of that plan should be available in August, closer to the start of the school year.

Knox County DA Allen: Working to make texting while driving a felony

Charme Allen
Knox County's top prosecutor wants to make it a felony for anyone - school bus drivers included - to text while driving.

Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch also said he, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones and Superintendent James McIntyre met on Monday to see how law enforcement can help with school bus safety.

"Some of those could mean contract changes, some of those could mean changes in the way we assist them with assuring safety on our school buses," he said.

District Attorney General Charme Allen and Rausch spoke Wednesday with 10News in the aftermath of the release of the investigative file into a fatal Dec. 2, 2014, bus crash in which two Knox County students and a teacher's aide were killed.

Full exclusive RIGHT HERE.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Superintendent recommends against balanced school calendar for now

I'd say I was surprised, but I don't think he had the votes.

Citing costs, Knox County Schools Superintendent James McIntyre is recommending against the system going to a so-called balanced calendar that extends the period during which students attend school.

"While the balanced calendar could potentially be beneficial, we have many other important educational priorities to attend to in the next few years, including teacher compensation and personalized learning," McIntyre said in a draft letter dated June 25 circulated to Knox County school board members.

"Therefore, at this time, I do not recommend that the Knox County Schools move to a balanced calendar."

The school system released the draft Tuesday. Knox County has been weighing the merits of going to the calendar, which would include extending attendance into more traditional summer days while also expanding time off at other times of the year for students.

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Commish rejects Broad grant deal

This will be unpopular, not that, that's ever stopped me, but this is what's called cutting off the nose to spite the face.

The Knox County Commission last night opted not to retroactively approve a grant with the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems.

That means, the county will more than likely have to ante up $30,000 in folding paper to the center.

Lot of people are cheering this one; they think it's some kind of victory against Superintendent Jim McIntyre, who pretty much admitted he mishandled the whole shebang when he signed it.

It's not.

He's not on the hook for that cash.

You are.

I got news for ya: This isn't "the school board's money" or "the county's money." This is taxpayers' money all coming from the same pot. 

Full story RIGHT HERE.

I'll leave you with some words by Commissioner Sam McKenzie:
"The water's over the dam - or will be in a month - so these funds are pretty much spent. I mean, she's gotten a salary, so I guess I'm trying to understand why we would vote no. I mean, I'm fine with never bringing another Broad fellow here. I'm fine with that, and I'm betting the school board's going to be fine with that, but I think if we're going to be fiscally responsible, we're basically turning down $30,000, and our taxpayers-- the money's been spent, so we're going to have to take out, at this point, $30,000 out of a potential teacher's assistant or potential, I don't know, across-the-street hire or, you know, toilet paper or something. That money has to come from somewhere to pay this money because it's pretty much been spent. This, to me, is just the clean-up, you know. If folks want to make a point, I think there are better places to make a point than us paying $30,000."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Attorneys with Knox County Clerk, PBA argue over courthouse mold lawsuit

Old Courthouse
A legal battle to decide whether Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. can sue the Public Building Authority because it has allegedly failed to remove "toxic mold spores" from the Old Courthouse could come down to semantics.

Case law, according to the PBA, says Arnett can't file a lawsuit in his capacity as a public official without demonstrating that the spores have actually "impeded" his official duties as clerk. PBA attorney Morris Kizer said paperwork that Arnett filed with the courts notes that the mold merely "interfered" with his job.

Arnett, Kizer said, also currently and successfully continues to operate out of five other satellite offices, and has a crew of employees currently working out of the Old Courthouse in downtown that he claims is riddled with mold.

"Mr. Arnett is performing his statutory duties in other areas of the county and nothing about alleged mold is keeping him from doing those duties," Kizer told Judge William Ailor in Circuit Court on Monday. "I can walk over to the courthouse right now and get a car tag . . . but if for some reason that location is not available, there are (five) other locations in the county. So, while Mr. Arnett says this has been an interference, truly it is not an impediment."

Arnett's attorney, Darren Berg, said his client "needs to be at the courthouse to do his job."

"The PBA has failed to remediate the mold problem – just swept it under the rug and hopes it goes away."

He also accused Kizer of mincing words.

"I see no difference between the terms 'interfere' and 'impeded,'" he said. "I think if you look in the thesaurus you'd see the same thing."

But, the bottom line, Berg said, is that "there's toxic mold in a suite of offices that interferes with (Arnett's) duties."

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

City to start towing along Cumberland Ave side streets as work continues

Crews last Monday began reworking the traffic flow on streets feeding into the eastern end of Cumberland Avenue. Cars parked illegally on these side streets will be towed, starting Tuesday, June 23.

Four streets are being converted from one-way to two-way traffic – 18th, 19th south of Cumberland, Mountcastle and 21st Street – between Lake and White avenues. (There is already two-way traffic on 20th Street and on 19th Street north of Cumberland.) The change in traffic flow will make it easier for motorists to get to a particular business by giving drivers new options to more quickly reach their destinations.

Towings on the Cumberland Avenue side streets will continue through July 6, when two-way traffic flow begins.

Some motorists have been parking their vehicles behind the orange barrels being used as a safety measure to allow drivers to become accustomed to the new traffic patterns.

Starting Tuesday, milling and restriping of these streets will begin, and vehicles parked illegally in the new traffic lanes on 18th, 19th, 21st and Mountcastle streets will be towed to the City’s Vehicle Impoundment Lot on Vice Mayor Jack Sharp Road in East Knoxville. The phone number for the lot is 865-215-6215.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Smoking Joe indicted for fraud

Joe Armstrong
By now you know that state House Democrat Joe Armstrong was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges he took part in a tax fraud scheme involving the sale of state cigarette tax stamps.

The plot dates to 2006 and continued to November 2013. (I'd make some crack about taking nine years to figure it out, but, well, no, not a good idea. Heh.)

Anyhoo, you can find a bunch of stories on our website wbir.com including HERE, HERE and HERE.

I had yesterday off, but pitched in. By that I mean, read a bunch of emails and stories as they came in and cheered on my team for getting it first AND right.

So, that means I have a bunch of stuff/statements that didn't get used, or did get used and is worth reposting, since I"m cleaning out my email.

Here ya go:

From Smoking Joe himself: This investigation has been ongoing for a number of years. I have a strong belief and respect for our system of justice. I look forward to addressing these allegations and the truth coming out in the very near future."

From his attorney, Gregory P. Isaacs, who says pretty much the same thing for all of his clients (but the dude does a pretty good job): Our firm . .  . has been conducting a parallel investigation for the past few months. Representative Armstrong has proudly served his constituents for the 15th District . . . for the past 28 years; where he has emerged as a leader in Tennessee state government. Representative Armstrong intends to enter a plea of not guilty to each and every count of the indictment. Joe is an innocent tax payer who relied upon a tax professional as it relates to the filing of his tax returns."   

From House Democratic Leader Craig: “Joe Armstrong and I have served together for over 20 years. In that time, I have never known him to be anything other than a dedicated public servant and an advocate for his community. We have a justice system in place to deal with these situations. I believe it is important to reserve our judgement until all the facts have come to light. Until then, my thoughts are with Joe and his family as this process moves forward.”

Cameron Brooks, Knox County Democratic Party chairman: “Joe’s a great guy. He’s a friend of mine. He’s been a really good ally for the working people in the Legislature. I just pray that these allegations aren’t true, and I believe that he is innocent until proven guilty. I really don’t know what else to say."
Brooks added that Armstrong “is someone who has your back. He comes through on his commitments, and is someone who is relatively young in politics, he’s always been there for me when I needed something – for advice, when I had a question. I appreciate that.”
Robert Booker, Director of the Beck Cultural Center and Community Activist: "Stunned" He added that he “admires Joe tremendously and that it is an “unbelievable accusation.”
Booker says he’s know Armstrong since about 1980.  His fondest memory of Joe Armstrong is when he and then-state senator Tim Burchett were instrumental in getting the Summit Hill Bridge over the James White Parkway named after him.

Carlene Malone, Former Knoxville City Council Member: “I really like Joe and he’s been a tremendous representative.  I certainly hope this is not true.”
Carlene says she’s know and worked with Armstrong since the 80’s.
She says he worked with her to fight against a proposed mass incinerator in the area.  She also says Armstrong was instrumental helping the development of the Wee Course and Lakeshore Park.

Sylvia Woods, member of the public assembly facilities board: "Joe Armstrong is my friend and my TN House Representative. He has voted over the years to advocate for his constituents and is available to the community to listen and help. I hope this unfortunate problem can be straightened out. My prayers are with his family."

Former city councilwoman Barbara Pelot: "I'm just sad. Totally stunned by the story. I didn't expect to hear that at all."

Pelot said she enjoyed working with Armstrong over the years and considered him a friend to his district and to all of Knoxville.

She said she thinks the world of Armstrong and his family and she hopes "somehow they will find that it isn't accurate."

Susan Williams, who runs her own PR firm and is a Republican Inside Tennessee panelist: "like everybody in the knoxville community i think i was shocked. You know we've all known representative armstrong for a long time. I've worked with him in the past on legislation and you know he's just been a pilar of our community.

"I hope none of us will rush to judgment on this but you know, regardless of the outcome. It certainly doesn't help your political career."

"He may decide that he resigns because he doesn't want to put everybody through this. He could decide to stay, fight it of course, I'm sure he will fight it and stay in the general assembly until there is some kind of finality."

"If he's innocent it's a really horrible thing to have to go through. If he's guilty, he's still gonna have to go through all of this playing this out in the media and in the courts and for somebody like Joe who's been so highly regarded and well respected, it's really going to be difficult on him personally and on his family and friends."

"I don't think anybody in the republican party would take any joy out of this because this is a man that we've all known and liked and respected."

"I think we were all shocked by this and frankly I hope it's not true because I like Joe Armstrong. I've respected him as a legislator because he's a man that's gotten along with both sides. you know, whatever party is in power in Nashville. he's worked with both sides."

"It's really just almost heartbreaking to see this happen. but you know, again, this is a serious charge and if it is something that he has done then it's just going to have to play itself out."

Rev. Harold Middlebrook: "I have found him to be honest with us in dealings, and so it is shocking to me. I just don't believe that, i don't want to believe that it is deliberate."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Commish approves Burchett budget

Knox County commissioners approved Monday afternoon a memo of understanding that paves the way for construction of middle schools for the Gibbs and Hardin Valley areas as well as a 2 percent raise for Knox County teachers.

Commissioner Sam McKenzie had introduced a substitute motion to wait 90 days to vote on the memo, but his motion failed.

Several commissioners had expressed concern about the pact sealed between Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, seeking more time for discussion.

Burchett and McIntyre announced the agreement last week as a way to meet residents' requests and keep taxes at current levels.

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

KPD officer sues city over pension

Knoxville police officer Ed Kingsbury says the city pension board is failing to credit him fairly for his U.S. military service.

Since 1984, Knoxville's city charter has allowed veterans employed as police officers to purchase up to four years' worth of military service credit, to apply toward pension eligibility.

Kingsbury, a US Air Force veteran, joined KPD in 1993. Back then, Kingbsury's attorney Don Bosch wrote in an appeal filed Friday, the city didn't actively inform veterans they could purchase that military service credit.

"When Plaintiff Kingsbury joined the Knoxville Police Department in 1993, and through no fault of his own, he was not advised of the opportunity to purchase credit for his military service," Bosch wrote in the appeal.

In 2000, the city amended its charter to limit the time frame in which a veteran can apply for the benefit, (where there previously was no time limit). That amendment, which became effective in 2001, requires a veteran to apply for the benefit "in writing within six months of the employee's first employment anniversary date."

Kingsbury, however, didn't learn about the opportunity until 2014, Bosch said.

The veteran and police officer now wants to buy into the benefit at the price it would have cost him back in 1993: an estimated $18,082, since he would have done so at the time had he been informed of its availability, Bosch wrote.

Kingsbury initially approached the board in May of 2014, asking members to review the charter and his situation.

The city pension board, however, told Kingsbury he must pay, "$74,468, accounting for inflation on the 1993 price and interest the money would have earned," Bosch detailed in the document.

In January of this year, Kingsbury once again approached the board and "objected that he should not be required to pay the entire 2014 actuarial cost," Bosch wrote.

While eventually acknowledging the city's failure to notify Kingsbury of the benefit, the board rejected Kingsbury's request to purchase it at the 1993 price. That was at a hearing in April.

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

Election set for state Rep. seat

From the good folks at the Knox County Election Commission:

As we had anticipated, Gov. Haslam today issued the Writ of Election for the vacancy of Office of State Representative, District 14, as a result of Ryan Haynes’ resignation on May 27, 2015. And, as we had specifically requested, Gov. Haslam has set the date of Wednesday, August 12th to hold the primary elections for nominations by statewide political parties and has further set the date of Tuesday, September 29th to hold a general election to fill that vacancy.

Therefore, the Knox County Election Commission (“KCEC”) will immediately begin issuing qualifying petitions for that election. The qualifying deadline for those petitions will be Thursday, July 2nd at NOON and the withdrawal deadline will be Thursday, July 9th at NOON. Early voting for this primary election will begin on Thursday, July 23rd and will run thru Friday, August 7th.

The KCEC would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank both former Rep. Haynes and Gov. Haslam for coordinating fully with this office by taking their respective actions when they did. By doing so, both have ensured that the Writ of Election sets election dates which will save substantial costs for the State of Tennessee and will minimize confusion for the voters of Knox County by eliminating one additional election date for this special election since the date of the general election for this house seat will now be the same as the election date for the City of Knoxville Primary Election on September 29th.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tyler Harber sentenced to two years

A former Knox County political operative who went on to work the national stage was sentenced Friday to two years behind bars for violating a federal law that bars candidates from using money in conjunction with outside groups, according to the Washington Post

Tyler Harber, whose political antics under former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale in the mid-2000s earned him the scorn of the local GOP party, is the first person in the United States prosecuted for illegally coordinating federal election contributions, according to the government.

According to the Post's online story Friday morning, Harber told U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady: "I'm guilty of this. I knew it was wrong when I did it . . . .I got caught up in what politics has become."

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Former Knox politico Tyler Harber seeks reduction in conviction

A former Knox County politico who went on to work on the national political stage faces federal sentencing Friday in a unique case.

Tyler Harber, 34, would be the first person in the United States prosecuted for illegally coordinating federal election contributions, according to the government.

Harber, an aide in the mid 2000s to Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, admitted in February in U.S. District Court in Virginia that he secretly used more than $300,000 from a Super PAC he helped set up to benefit the campaign of a Virginia Republican congressional candidate he was managing in 2012.

The former Tennessean, who left Ragsdale's administration in 2005 amid accusations of engaging in local political dirty tricks, also admitted lying to the FBI about what he was doing.

Federal law bans anyone from coordinating Super PAC money with political candidates and campaigns.

He also has admitted using $138,000 in National Republican Victory Fund money for his own benefit and that of his family, documents show.

According to the government, Harber used his wife and mother in trying to carry out the scheme.

Political journal "Campaigns & Elections" once called Harber a "rising star" in American politics.

They've since renounced him.

Federal prosecutors are urging U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady of the Eastern District of Virginia to acknowledge the importance of setting a precedent in punishing Harber, who they characterize as "an intelligent and careful man with significant experience in politics and campaign finance."

"He knew exactly what he was doing and exactly the best way to conceal it from his party and from law enforcement," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark D. Lytle writes in his sentencing memo.

"He is, in short, the most dangerous sort of political operative by virtue of his knowledge and experience, and he employed both to successfully complete the crimes he intended."

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

Victim Life Photo Bill becomes law

Allen, left, with Haslam
District Attorney General Charme Allen was with Governor Bill Haslam today in Nashville as he signed the Victim Life Photo Bill into law, according to a release from the DA's office. The signing ceremony was the culmination a yearlong effort by victims' families, General Allen, and other elected DAs from across the state.

General Allen and her staff visited with state legislators multiple times throughout this legislative session to stress the importance of this bill. Victims' rights groups such as HOPE for Victims, which was co-founded by Joan Berry, zealously advocated for the passage of this important legislation.

The new law, which will take effect July 1, allows prosecutors in murder trials to show the jury a photograph of the victim while they were still alive.

“Murderers are present in murder trials. Tragically, murder victims are not," Allen said. "The jury should have the opportunity to see murder victims as they lived, not as they appeared in crime scene or autopsy photos. Prior to the passage of this law, many courts prohibited prosecutors from displaying photographs of the victim taken during their life. From this point forward, jurors will now be able to see the victim as they judge the fate of the accused.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

E-911 Board still seeking radio consultant after last one bailed

E-911 Board members
Chalk this one up to either being a greed-head or just the pure enjoyment of wasting everyone's time (heh):

A consultant that was supposed to help the Knox County E-911 Board determine the best direction to take its radio system wanted additional work and roughly $225,000 more than officials were ready to provide.

So, now it's back to the drawing board.

County emergency personnel on Wednesday again agreed to let a consultant determine whether the area would be better off building its own $9 million radio system or joining a state-operated program.

This time, however, officials want to give firms at least a month to submit proposals, and they won't cap the dollar amount to do the work.

In April, board members approved a similar proposal and hoped a firm could make an assessment for no more than $25,000. The bid went out for only 10 days and just two firms – both from Georgia – responded.

The county then negotiated what officials thought was a solid plan with Tusa Consulting Services, in Decatur, Ga. The firm, according to board members, suggested that it wanted to do more work and for more money - as much as $225,000 more.

Tusa then ceased negotiating with the county once officials said the deal was for one contract only, according to Knox County Purchasing Director Hugh Holt.

On Wednesday, the board decided to try again.

For the rest of the story, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

County puts plans to sell AJ Building in writing; KCS admin to move

AJ Building on Main Street
Knox County officials are working together to bring life back to the south end of Gay Street. It begins with the redevelopment of the historic Andrew Johnson Building.

Mayor Tim Burchett announced Monday he will be working with Dr. Jim McIntyre to relocate the school board in order to sell the building. The school administration is headquartered there, along with some other public offices.

"You take state, local, and federal government-- we own over half the real estate in downtown Knoxville. When is enough enough? I'd like to see it go back the other way," Burchett said Tuesday.

The plans are something the county has been looking into for quite some time. In fact, just last month the county purchasing department issued a request for information to see who may be interested in purchasing the old hotel.

For rest of story and a look at the history, RIGHT SMACK HERE.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

State DA's to make justice system 'as effective and fair as possible'

Tennessee District Attorneys are announcing today their statewide initiative to make Tennessee’s criminal justice system as effective and fair as possible for every citizen.

Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen points out “The challenges faced by the criminal justice system today are as serious and complex as those faced at any time in our nation’s history. The effectiveness of our system depends on the fairness, dedication, legal skills, and common sense of the legal professionals who serve in it. My fellow DAs and I are dedicated to making the criminal justice system as fair and effective as possible.”

In 2013, Tennessee District Attorneys established the Justice and Professionalism Committee to identify and implement best practices in all aspects of the prosecutor’s responsibility. Tennessee District Attorneys were among the first group of state prosecutors to join the “Best Practices” movement for prosecutors now spreading across the country. Through this initiative, Tennessee District Attorneys are networked with prosecutors in many other states, sharing information and ideas about criminal justice issues and the best ways to deal with them.

The initial focus of the Justice and Professionalism Committee has been on legal and ethical requirements for prosecutors to provide defendants information related to the charges against them. These requirements often apply even to information unknown to prosecutors in possession of agencies assisting in investigations, which more and more includes massive amounts of digital and forensic evidence. Technical and scientific knowledge as well as legal expertise will often be necessary even in prosecuting less serious criminal cases.

Read the rest of the news release RIGHT HERE.

Monday, June 8, 2015

'The Jim & Tim Show' announce changes to the proposed budget; the good, bad, whatever and looking ahead

McIntyre, left, Burchett, right
By now I suspect everyone has heard about the little Kumbaya the county mayor and superintendent had this afternoon when the two got together to announce major changes to the proposed $747.2 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Superintendent Jim McIntyre even joked about how the media often calls it the "Jim Vs. Tim Show." Or some such nonsense. Heh. Yeah, actually it's true, and for his sake I hope he doesn't expect today's dog and pony show to do away with it.

Folks, these two do not get along. And they will find other things to fight about.

But, for today they did. Get along. I suppose.

Anyhoo, we've got stories RIGHT SMACK HERE. I was off today, so I took a leisurely nap while the hoopla took place and now get to armchair quarterback.

Why? 'Cause I'm obnoxious.

So, at the heart of the proposals is a plan to build schools in the Hardin Valley and the Gibbs community. But, not one in north central Knox County.

There will be no tax increase. The county will have more control over the school system's purse strings (old, old consent decree be damned). Teachers will get a 2 percent raise. The mayor will phase out his reading program. The A.J. Building will be put up for sale.



There's more, of course, but you can check out WBIR - hey, we'll have stories all day today - for the most complete coverage.

That said, this isn't some touchy, feely blog where we give out compliments. Heck no! We enjoy entertainment at other peoples' expense on the 'ol Porch.

So, let's look at this plan. There are lots and lots of problems.

The proposal will build a school for a community that does not need it. End of argument. Disagree, whatever, I don't care. The proponents of this school say the bus routes are long, their children spend hours getting carted to and from school, etc. Guess what? It's worse elsewhere.

Others say that building a school in East Knox County will encourage growth and development. Guess what? School systems aren't in the business to encourage development. I'm respectfully disagreeing here with Knox County Commissioner Dave Wright who will tell you - and he'll do it convincingly - otherwise.

Hardin Valley needs a school. So does North Central Knoxville, or Knox County, or wherever it was McIntyre proposed building one. Rezoning isn't going to work, and the students aren't just going to disappear by not building it.

Why didn't this school get thrown into the mix? Blame the parents, blame the representation (on the school board and the county commission). Squeaky wheel and all that. Sit on your hands and do nothing, you get nothing.

The folks out in East Knox County know how to petition leadership. Heck, they got a Carter Elementary school built a few years ago (although they did need one).

Now, the county could be on the hook for $9 million to build Gibbs. Since the county's purchasing department - under Burchett's management - will oversee the bidding, building, whatever, I suspect the school will be built for under $25 million, rather than the "up to $30 million" proposal. (The school system covers the rest.)

That said, if the county is on the hook for $9 million, that really means the county is on the hook for about 18 million. Bonds. Interest. 20 years.

OK, so we build schools - how do we pay to operate them (as much as $6 million a year)? Well, supposedly school debt is falling off. So, as long as the school system doesn't increase it's capital budget, then they can use that money.

Yeah, well, don't forget that elementary school in North Central Knox that we still need.

I don't buy it. No, here's what probably happens. The schools come online in a couple years when Burchett is out of office and there's a push for a tax increase to cover these costs.

Also under the plan, McIntyre will cut $1 million in administrative costs. Whatever that means. Maybe he'll quit putting employees on paid administrative leave for years on end. Maybe he'll get rid of his buddies. Maybe he'll quit handing out raises and calling them promotions.


Either way, it could be a sticking point if the Board of Education doesn't like his proposed cuts.

And they might not. The dude tried to save a ton of coin years ago by outsourcing custodians and that went over like a lead balloon. (That was actually a compliment by the way.)

Today's proposal, however, might - I said "might" - make for a headache free budget session next year, and for a few more years to come. You see under the plan, McIntyre won't put together a budget that goes above and beyond revenue projections, like he has a number of times in the past couple of years.

But - BUT - the county finance is charged with coming up with those projections and the KCS school system must approve them. So, there's THAT. And THAT is called an escape clause. (Burchett's people are ultra conservative when it comes to revenue projections. Note all the surplus coin each year.)

Further, we're talking about two entities (county-school) that don't agree on a lot when it comes to dollars, cents and sense.

Still, Burchett can buckle down and start running for another office without having to worry about getting dinged on school issues. (The memorandum of understanding that Burchett and McIntyre created ends when he leaves his mayoral post. That shouldn't be lost on anyone.)

Further, the county now has some control over the school system's purse strings. Not a lot, but there were some concessions made today.

Look, I could complain about this all day, and some will. Today's announcement is gonna get a lot of play in the media, and rightly so.

And within a month, I suspect we'll see the return of the true "Jim and Tim Show."

But, well, screw it. They get today.

So, congratulations for trying to work together and better the county and the school system.

Too bad it wasn't done earlier.


I'm out.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Cumberland Ave lanes to close 6-9

For six weeks beginning Tuesday, June 9, all eastbound lanes of Cumberland Avenue between University Commons and West Volunteer Boulevard will be closed – the next step in a $17 million reconstruction.

During this period, one westbound lane of traffic will remain open (except for one complete weekend closure to rebuild the railroad crossing). There will be no westbound left turns onto Cumberland from West Volunteer Boulevard.

Crews will be installing a new 42-inch storm sewer pipe approximately 12 feet below the roadway, which will trigger the lane closures.

The Phase I reconstruction of the section of Cumberland Avenue from Alcoa Highway to West Volunteer Boulevard will continue through late fall 2015, though two-way traffic will resume before the University of Tennessee resumes classes in August. (Throughout most of Phase I, contractors are keeping one lane open in each direction.)

“We know with this next phase closing two-way traffic, through mid-summer, it will take a little additional time for eastbound motorists to navigate the Cumberland Avenue Corridor,” said Anne Wallace, Project Manager for the City of Knoxville’s Office of Redevelopment.

Motorists wishing to access Cumberland Avenue from the south can do so by taking Neyland Drive to Joe Johnson Drive to Volunteer Boulevard. Those wishing to reach Cumberland Avenue from the north or coming off Interstate 40/75 can do so by taking 17th Street onto Cumberland or Fort Sanders side streets.

Meanwhile, motorists who aren’t shopping or dining or trying to reach a Cumberland Avenue business can avoid the construction zone altogether by taking either Neyland Drive or 17th Street to or from I-40/75.

“Merchants remain accessible, so we encourage shoppers and diners to please continue to patronize them,” Wallace said. “In fact, the Free Fare KAT bus is a great way to visit. Routes 10, 11 and 17 are all free from Gay Street to Cumberland.

Free public parking on weekends and after 6 p.m. weekdays is available in the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center lot at 19th Street and White Avenue and in the UT Federal Credit Union lot at 22nd Street and White Avenue.

Once Phase I work is completed, full traffic access will be restored from 22nd Street west.

Phase II work, moving eastward from 22nd Street to 17th Street, is scheduled to begin by Dec. 1, 2015. The full project is scheduled for completion by Aug. 31, 2017.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

2nd Saturday concerts kick off 6-13

Knox County's summer concert series, Second Saturday Concerts at The Cove, continues this year with live entertainment for the whole family. The free concerts, held June through September on the second Saturday of each month, take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Cove at Concord Park, 11808 S. Northshore Drive. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own blankets or lawn chairs.

The dates and bands for summer 2015 are:
June 13 – Second Opinion
July 11 – Kitty Wampus
Aug. 8 – Shane
Sept. 12 – The Hitmen

If any concert has to be canceled due to inclement weather, a notification will be posted to the Knox County Parks & Rec Facebook page RIGHT HERE  and the Knox County homepage RIGHT HERE.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Circuit Court Clerk Shanks argues Wheeler worked for her, not county

Knox County Circuit Court Clerk Cathy Shanks argues former second-in-command Tim Wheeler was an employee of her office and not a county employee as he contends.

Tim Wheeler filed suit against Shanks, an elected official, last month after she dismissed him. Wheeler is seeking to get his old job back, and he argues he's a Knox County employee.

Wheeler has no right to proceed under the county's personnel ordinance to appeal his termination because he's not a county worker, Shanks states in a response filed Friday to his Circuit Court lawsuit.

"It is averred that (Wheeler) was an employee of the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court-Divisions I, II, and III, the General Sessions Court, Civil Division and the Juvenile Court for Knox County, Tenn.," Shanks' response states.

As a county employee, Wheeler would have the right to appeal termination under the county's personnel ordinance.

Shanks fired Wheeler on Friday, April 24, as he prepared to go on vacation.

She sent him a text two days before that said: "Go ahead and take off until your cruise. We've got it covered and OBVIOUSLY you need the rest."

He had worked under her since December 2001. His termination notice lists "office reorganization" as the reason he was let go.

Wheeler earned almost $82,000 annually.

Monday, June 1, 2015

BOE member's friend jumps the gun; solicits campaign funds too early

Karen Carson
Seems that in the past couple of days, a lot of folks spent some time talking about an email sent out by a former school board member, hoping to raise campaign coin for a current school board member who wants to run for a state seat.

Me? I spent my time watching Mick and Keith tear up Ohio Stadium. And it was awesome. Heh.

Anyhoo, there’s the deal:

Knox County school board member Karen Carson plans to run for the 14th District state House seat that was recently vacated by Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville. More than likely the primary will be held on Aug. 12 with the general election on Sept. 29.

(Don’t hold me to it, but for what it’s worth, I believe Carson once told me she is Republican.)

Now, here’s the problem:

Diane Jablonski, a former school board member who also sat on the county’s charter review committee, sent an email out on Friday evening to a number of folks, soliciting campaign dollars for Carson’s eventual campaign. (And, yes, for those asking, Superintendent Jim McIntyre was copied on the email although that shouldn’t mean anything one way or the other.)

This is the email:
My friend, Karen Carson has decided to run for the vacant state representative seat, previously held by Ryan Haynes, This will be a very short campaign and Karen needs our help now. Karen has served our district with excellence as the 5th district School Board representative. She has been Board chair and as such represented the entire county. She is also an emergency room nurse at Children's hospital and I cannot think of anyone would rather have attending to my child. Her knowledge of a broad scope of state issues is beyond most other candidates. I implore you to support her efforts by sending a campaign donation to Karen Carson for State Representative. Please be generous, your donation of $100, $200, $500, or $1,000 can make a huge difference to our area. Karen is still in the process of establishing her campaign; but you can send your donation to me and I will make sure that her campaign gets it!
Jablonski in the past has served as Carson’s campaign treasurer when she ran for her school board seat. However, Carson as of Monday night had not officially appointed a treasurer for a state seat nor had she filed the paperwork.

That means no one at this point should be soliciting money on behalf of Carson.

I talked with Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

Here’s what he said, though, about it:
“You’re supposed to file an ‘appointment of treasurer’ with our office before you raise money. A person shouldn’t be raising money for someone else to run unless that person has appointed a treasurer. Someone should be appointed as a treasurer before someone raises money.”
He also said a candidate can be assessed a fine up to $10,000 for failing to appoint a treasurer.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves here – no one is getting fined $10,000. Or even $1,000. Or even $1.

Here’s what Carson, who said she was not aware of the email, told me:
“I will say at this point, I have told anybody I’m talking to that I’m seriously considering a run for that seat, but I am absolutely aware that I can’t take a penny until I have a treasurer and it’s filed with the state election commission.”
She also noted that she can’t run for a race until there’s an open seat. (Technically, there’s no election until the governor issues a “writ of election,” ordering one.)

She also said that she hasn’t directed anyone to solicit money “or taken a penny,” and that she’s “very aware of the finance laws.”

So, that leaves us with Jablonski. I reached out to her Monday night (and by the way folks, I’m not even supposed be working).

I asked her about the matter.

Here’s what she had to say:
“Mike I just was so excited about the prospect of Karen running that I totally jumped the gun by sending the e-mail. Karen had no knowledge of the email that I sent. I have resent to my contacts telling them that I had no permission to send the email and that any consideration of support for her run for the seat should wait until she has formally announced and named her treasurer. This is totally an error on my part as Karen had no knowledge of my attempts on her behalf. I have not raised any money thus far, and if I do receive any funds they will be returned with a letter of apology.”
So, there ya go.

Now, all that said, this is going to be one interesting one. There’s not a lot of time to campaign between now and the primary and this race will be the only one on the ballot. And I seriously doubt a lot of people will be hitting the ballot boxes come (special) Election Day.

Of course, I’ll let you know when we have the candidates on Inside Tennessee.

I’m out.

Public hearing for budget on June 8

The Knox County Commission will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. June 8 to talk about the county Mayor's proposed budget. It will be held in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building.

You can read about our budget coverage RIGHT HERE.

Meeting set for student assessments

The Knox County Schools’ Student Assessment Inventory Committee will host a community meeting on Tuesday, June 2, at 6 p.m. at West High School (3300 Sutherland Avenue) to begin to gather input from the community regarding student assessments. The meeting is open to educators, students, parents and members of the community. The community meeting is part of a broader comprehensive student assessment analysis the school system is conducting, funded by a grant provided by Achieve, Inc. The Student Assessment Inventory Committee is comprised of teachers, school counselors and district administrators.

The purpose of the comprehensive student assessment analysis is to help address questions and concerns about assessment that have been raised by the Knox County community. It was one of the seven community conversations included in Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s 2015 State of the Schools Address. Ultimately, the goal of the analysis is to help ensure that all assessments given to students in the Knox County Schools are either required or useful in informing instructional decisions.

During this phase of the project, a comprehensive inventory of the assessments administered across the district will be created. In addition to the community forum, the school district will also collect input from school leaders, teachers and students through a combination of school meetings, focus groups, individual interviews and surveys.

The June 2nd community meeting will begin with a brief overview, followed by “break-out” sessions where participants can discuss their questions and concerns related to student assessment. Break-out sessions will be divided into specialty populations, such as an English Language Learners small group, special education small group and grade level-specific small groups. After the break-out sessions, the small groups will summarize their discussions for the broader group. The large group sessions will stream live on knoxschools.org/kcstv and can be viewed live on Comcast cable channel 10 or AT&T U-verse channel 99.