Monday, August 31, 2015

Knoxville in 'Top Towns' finals

After a busy weekend of voting and sharing, Knoxville has beaten Chattanooga to move on to the final round of the Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine's Top Towns contest, according to a release from Visit Knoxville.

The new round of voting starts Monday at noon at

"We were ecstatic this morning when we saw all the voting that had taken place over the weekend. While we were sharing on all of our social media platforms, our friends and fans really took this to heart and we appreciate them," says Visit Knoxville President, Kim Bumpas. "We know what a Top Town we have here. Now we have to overcome Charleston, West Virginia. Please keep voting for Knoxville and, hopefully, we will see you in the November issue of Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine."

When you are voting for Knoxville or sharing the message, please tag @visitknoxville on Twitter or Instagram. We are also on Facebook and Pinterest. Keep voting and remember #knoxrocks

The final championship round will run for TWO weeks from noon on Monday the 31st until 9:00 am on Monday, September 14th. Blue Ridge Outdoors will conceal the percentage results in the final championship rounds and publicly reveal and announce the winners in their November issue.

Some 4th District Knox Co. Commish campaign kick-offs announced

Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby, who represents the 4th District, will kick off his re-election campaign 5-8 p.m. Sept. 11 at West Hills Pavilion, according to a note he just sent over.

Donations are not required, but are accepted, he said.

Ownby faces at least two opponents at this point - Janet Testerman, the daughter of former Knoxville Mayor Kyle Testerman, and Hugh Nystrom, the director of Childhelp Tennessee.

All three plan to run in the March 1 Republican primary.

According to local political columnist Georgiana Vines, Testerman, a Scripps Networks manager, will host a kickoff 5:30-8 p.m. at Bridgewater Place tomorrow.

Vines noted that Nystrom will begin holding events later in the fall.

As always, send me your political stuff for publication consideration. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mayors look in-house for new PBA CEO, board to vote Sept. 15 on pick

The search for a new Knoxville-Knox County Public Building Authority executive director may already have come to an end.

Officials appear ready to appoint the authority’s current director of property management – Jayne Burritt – to the post. The move comes about a week after current and longtime CEO Dale Smith announced he is stepping down as of Jan. 1.

“In a meeting yesterday with both mayors and their staff, they suggested that the board consider Jayne Burritt to be named the PBA administrator effective January 1, 2016,” PBA board Chairman Winston Frazier wrote to board members on Friday. “For now the search committee will stand down, and I look forward to seeing you all at the next scheduled board meeting to discuss this request.”

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero recommend the CEO, but the board makes the final decision.

Burritt joined the PBA in early 2008 and helps oversee security and maintenance for about 1.5 million square feet of facilities, including parking garages, World’s Fair Park and the City County Building. She is over roughly 100 employees and a $12 million budget.

Prior to working for the PBA, she managed corporate real estate for First Tennessee Bank and was a facilities manager with CB Richard Ellis, and has 20 years of experience in property management.

“I’m extremely excited,” she told 10News. "I’m honored that they would want me to take that role. It’s key to work with our clients – the city and county – and I’ve been fortunate to be able to work alongside their efforts.”

Burritt said she wanted to continue aligning the authority’s goals with the two governments to “work along with them and support whatever they want.”

She said right now the city has put an emphasis on downtown street enforcement and the county has picked up more facilities that the PBA is managing, so she will also focus on those efforts.

She added: “Property management is a core we want to build on. My goal is to keep that up and improve it.”

The 11-member board will vote on her appointment at its next meeting Sept. 15.

Smith told 10News on Friday: "I am really pleased that Jayne has been endorsed by both mayors. She is a great leader and manager."

Officials to launch 'Purple Out Day'

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond will launch the inaugural statewide "Purple Out Day" campaign in Knox County benefiting Alzheimer's Tennessee, a non-profit organization.

Hammond and a number of top local elected county officials will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Monday at the City County Building to talk more about the initiative and how the community can participate.

Read the news release right HERE.

City Council forum set for Sept. 8

My main man, news anchor John Becker, will moderate the political forum for the upcoming Knoxville City Council races.

It will take place 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church, 546 College Street. All candidates for City Council have been invited to participate. (early voting begins the next day by the way).

The event is sponsored by WBIR 10News, the Knoxville/Knox County League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Knoxville Interdenominational Christian Ministerial Alliance, and some newspaper no on reads anymore.

Following the forum, the public is invited to meet the candidates from 8:00 to 8:30 p.m. A Voter's Guide, with questions answered by City Council candidates, will be available. For more information go to or

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Midway Business Park plan returns

I think we all knew it would come back - the Midway Business Park. This time, it will more than likely pass the Knox County Commission. But, it's going to take awhile. Months. Maybe a year before it gets to a final vote.

Here ya go:

When Grace Brooks looks out from her backyard, she enjoys a commanding view of the Smoky Mountains.

It's a view she says is perfect, just the way it is.

That's why a new proposal worries her – one that could lead to construction behind her rural home, and potentially obstruct her view.

"I'd hate to lose it," said Brooks. "I have no idea what they'd like to build over there."

Years ago, the Development Corporation of Knox County bought about 300 acres in the eastern corner of the county, near Strawberry Plains just off I-40. They planned to build the Midway Business Park there. However, the project didn't have enough support from the county commission and it met fierce resistance from those living in the area.

Now, they're trying again. A concept map has been released.

"It would mean, ultimately, thousands of jobs and a tax base for Knox County that would help everyone that lives here" said Todd Napier, of the Development Corp.

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Zachary to be sworn in at church

The Knox County Commission on Monday (during its regularly scheduled voting meeting at the City County Building) will appoint Jason Zachary to the 14th District state House seat, since the Republican has no opposition in the general election. He will then be sworn-in at 6:30 p.m.

That will take place at First Baptist Concord on Kingston Pike. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell will do the honors.

Smith stepping down from PBA in Jan.

Dale Smith
Dale Smith, the long-time Knoxville-Knox County Public Building Authority executive director, is stepping down at the beginning of next year.

His last day will be Jan. 1.

Smith told WBIR 10News on Thursday he's stepping down for a number of reasons.

"It's a personal decision because at this point in my life I've been running the building for 15.5 years, and that's a long time," Smith, 61, said. "I also think it's better for the PBA to let my successor choose who runs property development. It's certainly important that the CEO and that person are on the same page."

Jeff Galyon, the authority’s former director of property development, resigned in June under a cloud of controversy.

Smith, who joined the PBA in March 2000, earned $194,000 in salary and oversaw almost 130 employees and a $12 million budget. The budget mostly covered property management, like maintenance and security throughout the local government-owned facilities. The budget is jointly funded by the city and county.

The PBA’s 11-member board of directors is expected to begin a nationwide search to fill the position in the coming months. Smith also is expected to help with the search.

The Porch wishes Dale well on his future endeavors, although I suspect he will be fine.

Rest of story HERE.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Knox County expecting budget surplus, earmarks $2.9 million on big items

Knox County officials have put together a shopping list for how they would like to spend what is expected to be at least $2.9 million in surplus revenues and savings, with much of the money dedicated to employee salary adjustments, the Sheriff’s Office, a partnership with Blount County and the possible relocation of two county clerk satellite offices.

The county’s finance department is expected to officially close the accounting books on FY 2014, which ended June 30, later this month. Officials said they could get roughly $4 million to $4.5 million in unexpected revenues tied to an uptick in sales taxes collections and departmental savings.

Of that amount, the administration has already designated almost $3 million for a number of items that various department heads requested, said county Finance Director Chris Caldwell. Any additional savings will go to the county’s reserve fund.

EARMARKS: Entire list here

The school system, which also receives tax revenues, is not expected to get a surplus this year, officials said. Although sales tax revenues jumped, property tax revenues dropped somewhat. Knox County Schools departments also didn’t yield the same amount of savings, so overall spending broke about even.

Here’s a snapshot of how officials would like to use some of this year’s savings:
  • Courts: $185,000 for new Criminal Court Clerk’s Office filing system; $8,500 for computer/scanning equipment for Civil Sessions Court Clerk
  • Agencies: $100,000 Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley; $80,000 Helen Ross McNabb Runaway Homeless Services; $20,000 Catholic Charities of East Tennessee Children’s Emergency Shelter;
  • County Clerk: $175,000 for renovations tied to potential relocation of the Halls and Farragut offices
  • Blount Partnership: $600,000 for Blount County business park one-time capital expenses, like roads and sidewalks that are tied to a Maryville, Alcoa and Knox County initiative established years ago.
  • PBS Math line: $100,000 for a program that helps students with math
  • Salaries: $500,000 to adjust salaries that were changed after the county recently created a new pay scale.
  • Health Department: $100,000 for the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad; $50,000 for Karns Volunteer Fire Department.
  • Sheriff’s Office: $200,000 for five marked Dodge Charges, $29,000 for laptops; $52,000 for kitchen equipment at the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility; $15,000 for DNA testing.
The Knox County Commission will discuss the designations during Monday's meeting, and decide whether to approve the expenditures.

Report: Former KCS employee used taxpayer dollars for gambling

Roger Underwood
Really appreciate it, man. Seriously, you made good coin ($95,700 annually) and you got to (allegedly) steal, too? Nice.


A former Knox County Schools employee, fired in October for misuse of a school credit card, used public funds for gambling and "inappropriate alcohol purposes", according to a report from the Tennessee Comptroller's Office.

Roger Underwood, 61, who was the accounts payable supervisor, was charged last week with felony theft.

His dismissal helped prompt an internal audit of school system finances including its credit card program. In November, KCS did away with six credit cards it previously had issued to high-ranking officials including Underwood, switching instead to the county's electronic purchase card, or e-card, program and travel card system.

A report issued by the state comptroller's has revealed new details about the extent of Underwood's alleged theft.

The investigation found that Underwood made personal charges totaling at least $10,445 on a Knox County Schools credit card. He admitted that many of these charges were for online gambling, and that he lost $1800 betting in a single day.

He also received duplicate reimbursement of $1,544 for lodging and meal expenses for at least three school system related trips. he charged the expenses to a school credit card, and also requested and received reimbursement from the system for those trips.

Investigators noted that several of the meals Underwood charged to the school credit card appeared excessive.

They also questioned $731 in charges to Underwood's KCS credit card for a retirement reception in Biloxi, Mississippi. The reception charges included hors d'oeuvres, wine and beer, but the party was not for a KCS employee.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Early look at Commish chair vote

Dave Wright
The Knox County Commission will meet Sept. 1 to reorganize its board, appointing committees and naming a chair and vice chair.

At this point it appears that current vice Chairman Dave Wright will be nominated to lead the 11-person board. Current chairman Brad Anders, who has held the gig for two years, said he won’t seek it, nor does he plan to seek the vice chair seat, which he’s also held in the past.

I’ve heard from a couple of commissioners that Bob Thomas might be nominated, although I've also heard that he's not actively/personally seeking the seat (Hey, the guy has a big 2018 mayoral campaign he’s got to launch).

Typically, though, commissioners like to see a choice, so expect someone, if not Thomas, to get a nomination.

I suspect if the vote was taken to day, Dave would get it. Folks on the board do like Bob, but I know some commissioners last year promised Dave their vote this time around so I think the numbers weigh in his favor.

As for vice chairman, the only name I’ve heard at this point is Randy Smith. Last year, Amy Broyles threw her name in. I don't see if happening this time around. She's missed way too many meetings.
Bob Thomas

Dave, who represents East Knox County, is up for re-election next year, so leading the board would look good going into a campaign. That said, I don’t believe Dave will muster a serious challenger. (Thomas, who holds an at-large seat, won office last year.)

All this said, we’re still a little

The 11-member board selects the chair and vice chair seats during its annual reorganizational meeting, which typically takes place in early September each year.

The seats are generally symbolic, although the chairman runs the commission meetings and sets the monthly agenda. He or she also oversees the board's three-member staff, determines how the board's public meetings will be handled, and often serves as the liaison between the public and the board.

The chair by default also serves on a number of boards, including the Great Schools Partnership and usually the pension board.

Commissioners can hold the seat twice during a term.

The vice chair carries out the chair's duties when he or she is not available and helps run board meetings.

Commissioners, public: Some of Clerk's claims just not adding up

Clerk Foster Arnett Jr
Some thoughts on yesterday afternoon’s Knox County Commission meeting with Knox County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. in regards to the roughly $476,000 in estimated deadbeat hotel-motel tax debt.

First, know that there’s way more than $476K out there. It’s probably closer to $800K (we’re talking a period that dates back to 2009 and the $476K only touches a couple of years.).

Commissioners are not happy. Not overall they’re not. Poll the majority and a lot of them were not pleased with Arnett’s presentation yesterday.

Some felt like the numbers they got were not on the up and up, others felt the clerk’s office has taken a lackadaisical – at best – approach to collections, and others wondered just what is really going on.

A lot of claims, they (and people in attendance) told me after the meeting, just were not adding up.

So . . . here ya go.

During the meeting Arnett blamed – in part – his office’s inability to collect the $476K in folding paper on a short-staffed office.


It appears that the majority of the commission isn’t buying this excuse. Seriously, this is an answer someone gives when they’ve had weeks to think about it. This is now an issue? Short staffed office? 

And the office has been short staffed for how long?

Commissioner Sam McKenzie said (I’m paraphrasing here): Spend some money to make money.

Don’t brag that you cut staff and expenses only to find out you’re not bringing in the coin.


How many people actually owe this money? Arnett said he sent out two letters last week and then six are going out this week to the scofflaws. That’s eight.

When asked how many are more than 30 days behind, he said 12.

In interviews after the meeting, he told the media that it was eight.

The audit report suggests somewhere in the low 20s.

Arnett has claimed there’s nothing he can do about the deadbeats. There is. He can padlock doors. He can sell property.

He says he doesn’t want to do this and put people out of jobs.


What do you think Knox County Trustee Ed Shouse is gonna say when Joe Blow tells him that he can’t pay his taxes? Is Easy Ed gonna give ol’ Joe a pass?

No, he’s not.

There’s no free passes here. Collect the money and quit making excuses.

Now, Arnett told the commission that he actually went down to padlock a door back in 2009. He said he had “chains in hand.” I wasn’t there, so we’ll just take him at his word. He said the owner came out and he promised that he’d cut him and check. Arnett said he did and that he’s been up to date since.

So, if this worked, then why aren’t we doing this every time?

Why is there $476K in coin out there?

Oddly enough, after the meeting, Arnett told reporters that he actually padlocked the door.

So which is it? Did you or didn’t you padlock a door?

OK, the local paper quotes Arnett as telling the commissioners: “If I’m not doing what needs to be done, there’s an election in three years, and someone else can take this over. We’re going by the law, by the book.”

That got a chuckle out of the back standing room. Talk about a red herring. Someone else is gonna take over his job in three years because Arnett is term-limited. (Of course he might have been talking about that long rumored run at mayor.)

There’s more.

Arnett tried an old political trick to soften the blow. Bait and switch.

He pointed out that his office during the past three years has collected more than $18 million in hotel-motel taxes and bragged about a 94 percent collection rate.

Um, this is called “doing the job.”

You’re supposed to have a 94 percent collection rate. Actually, when it comes to property tax collections, 98 percent is the average, so maybe 94 percent is low.

I don’t know.

I do know that that the manager at Tyson McGhee doesn’t brag that the airplanes over there all land safely.

You know why?

Because they are supposed to!

Now, people are going to think I’m picking on Foster. Heck, Foster is going to think I’m picking on him, and that’s fine. Whatever.

The ol blog is an equal-opportunity picker-on.

Just ask Foster’s last political opponent. We did a whole newscast on some of his claims.

In the meantime, I hope the people who owe the money pay up. I hope Foster doesn’t have to padlock doors, but if he comes to it, then he needs to.

Call up the media, bring out the cameras and chain the business.

That should get the others to listen.

The hotels.

The commissioners.

And the public.

DA establishes attendance reward pilot-program at Maynard Elementary

Charme Allen
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen is pleased to announce a new Attendance Reward Program where the DA’s Office Community Affairs Unit will provide new bicycles and helmets for students at Maynard Elementary School who have achieved perfect attendance for the fall or spring semesters of the 2015-2016 school year.

Allen will announce the program to students at an assembly at Maynard Elementary on Friday, August 21, at 1:45 P.M.

As part of the Truancy Reduction Initiative, the new Attendance Reward Program will hopefully create an incentive for students and give them a goal to reach throughout the year.

Evidence shows that students who regularly come to class and complete their education are far less likely to enter the criminal justice system. Missing even one day of school can be detrimental to students. This new program rewards students who go above and beyond the normal attendance policy.

The pilot program will be limited to students at Maynard Elementary but will hopefully expand to other schools in the future.

Anyone interested in donating to the Attendance Reward Program can contact Community Affairs Coordinator Jackie Myers at 865-215-2515 or

Upon taking office a year ago, General Allen launched the Community Affairs Unit in an effort to put into action the second prong of her dual goal of being “Tough on Crime, Smart on Prevention.” This innovative Unit provides a direct link between the District Attorney’s Office and the citizens of Knox County through involvement in community outreach, education of the public, and partnership with other agencies.

This Unit serves to foster communication between the District Attorney General’s Office and the Knoxville community, and ultimately, it serves to prevent crime at its source.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Zachary to take House seat early

Jason Zachary
The general election is still more than a month away, but Republican primary winner Jason Zachary is expected to take the 14th District House seat early.

Since no Democrats qualified to run for the post, Zachary – who won the Aug. 12 primary – is all but assured the victory in September.

State law gives the Knox County Commission the power to fill the position in the interim, something board members said they plan to do during next Monday’s regular meeting and after a public hearing.

They will discuss the issue further during today’s work session.

Commissioners told WBIR 10News that in case something came up between now and Sept. 29 that would require action by the Tennessee General Assembly, they’d want someone in the position.

Zachary, a local businessman, defeated school board member Karen Carson to claim the seat.

During the race, the candidates clearly differentiated themselves on the question of funding for Insure Tennessee, Gov. Haslam's proposal to fill a gap in health care coverage among lower income groups.

Carson, a pediatric nurse, supported it. Zachary bluntly opposed pursuing such a proposal.

Last year, Zachary ran a spirited, yet unsuccessful, race in defeat against longtime U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.

The seat opened up after Ryan Haynes resigned in the spring to become the state GOP chairman.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hotel tax scofflaws owe city $200K

OK, so the county is due almost $476,000 in delinquent hotel motel taxes. The city is due about $200,000.

The county clerk - in charge of collecting the tax - says he can't do anything about it. (Yeah, right.)

The city finance department - in charge of collecting the city's portion - actually padlocked a scofflaw or two's door in its time.

Guess what happened?

Yeah, they paid up.

The city also regularly sends out delinquent notices and contacts the owners.

Guess what?

They tend to pay up, too.

Anyway, here's a look at local government trying to get it right:

Seven local hotel and motel owners owe the city of Knoxville a combined $200,000 in delinquent occupancy taxes that date back 2 1/2 years.

Several of those hotels, however, are no more than a month behind on payment, so the majority of the outstanding debt is due from only a handful of the businesses.

The tax – a 3 percent fee charged to lodging guests – is used to pay off debt tied to the Knoxville Convention Center. The tax will expire in June 2032 when the debt is cleared.

The city this year budgeted $3.1 million in expected revenues from the tax. Last year, the city budgeted $2.75 million, but ended up bringing in a little more than $3 million.

WBIR 10News met Thursday with city officials to talk about the tax and what they’re doing to collect it. The meeting with WBIR comes in the wake of a 10News investigation that looked into the more than $475,000 owed to the county by local hotels and motels dating back two years, and the county’s failure to go after the money.

County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr., whose office is tasked with collecting the county’s 5 percent occupancy tax, told 10News that his “hands are tied” and he can’t do anything about it.

But, that’s not true. State law says his office can seize property “by any means,” lock the doors and sell it. He just hasn’t ever taken those steps.

The city, however, has employed some of these methods.

“Whenever someone is late, we send out delinquent notices, and hopefully that’s successful and generally it is because we don’t have that many people who are delinquent,” said Knoxville Finance Director Jim York.

But, if officials reach a stalemate with a business, then they can move to shut it down.

York said his office “once or twice” in his 27 years with the city has padlocked a door.

“Our ultimate authority is we believe we can issue a distress warrant and either lock the business or lock the hotel,” York said. “That’s an unusual occurrence and it’s rarely done.”
When it happens, though, it works.

“That typically gets people to pay,” he said.

The Knoxville Finance Department issues letters to the 90-plus hotels and motels inside the city limits each month, and most pay right away. They reach delinquency status after 30 days.

York said officials estimate that the city is owed an estimated $200,000 from seven hotels, but they expect payment from a couple of them soon.

The others make up the bulk of that tab.

York said they’ve sent letters to them, but they’re not necessarily to the point yet where they want to shut them down.

He said officials are looking for “in between” solutions, but declined to provide more details, since they might not pan out.

“A couple of those will probably pay up. They’re only a few days late or maybe a month late, but those are the ones who typically catch up,” York said. “And again we’re looking at what we can do to force the others to pay.”

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

Outstanding Debt: fines, fees Part 3

Offenders owe $16.2 million in restitution
Susan Lynn Hoard pleaded guilty in 2000 for stealing almost $1 million in client trust accounts held by a Knoxville law firm where she worked. She spent the money on elaborate dresses, a swimming pool and a convertible.

Then-Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz sentenced the former secretary to 18 months in prison and ordered her to pay back more than $600,000.

Records, however, show that she’s returned about $14,500 – only 2.4 percent of the overall bill since then – and hasn’t cut a check to the victims in almost two years.

And, she’s not the only one who has fallen behind – or not made – restitution payments.

There are hundreds and hundreds of criminals convicted in the Knox County court system that owe some amount of compensation. In fact, records show that victims are due a combined $16.2 million in restitution, a figure that dates back to 1998.

Sometimes the offenders have ripped off their own company. Other times, they’ve stolen from strangers, even family and friends. They might have written a check that bounced or burglarized a house.

In some cases, the criminals have taken cars, clothes, jewelry or cash. Often times, they’ve vandalized someone’s property.

Either way, there’s roughly a hundred convicted criminals alone that owe tens of thousands of dollars each to area residents and businesses, and local leaders are growing concerned that the money – as the debts get older and older – is getting harder and harder to collect.

So concerned are they, that the Knox County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office is looking to hire a new debt collector, which officials in the office hope to have in place by Nov. 1.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.

For the rest of the story, including lists of those who owe, slideshows and more, click RIGHT HERE.

Zachary wins state for House seat

Carson, left, Zachary, right
Republican Jason Zachary defeated fellow Republican Karen Carson on Wednesday to effectively claim the 14th District Tennessee House seat, according to unofficial results from the Knox County Election Commission.

Zachary, a businessman, and Carson, a Knox County school board member, competed in the GOP primary, but no Democrat is running for the seat so Wednesday's results amounted to a winner-take-all race. The general election is Sept. 29.

The final overall return for the West Knox County district: 2,397 for Zachary and 1,742 for Carson. That worked out to be 58 percent for Zachary and 42 percent for Carson.

The total includes early and absentee votes, where returns showed 1,544 votes cast for Zachary and 1,061 for Carson, according to unofficial results.

Zachary took the majority of votes cast in the district's seven precincts Wednesday.

For example, Zachary surpassed Carson in precincts the covered the Concord and Farragut areas. Carson outdrew him in precincts that included the Rocky Hill and A.L. Lotts areas, figures showed.

Republican state Rep. Ryan Haynes resigned the 14th District seat in the spring to become state GOP chairman.

With some 39,100 eligible voters in the district, the turnout represented just a fraction of those who could vote.

During the race, the candidates clearly differentiated themselves on the question of funding for Insure Tennessee, Gov. Haslam's proposal to fill a gap in health care coverage among lower income groups. Carson, a pediatric nurse, supported it. Zachary bluntly opposed pursuing such a proposal.

Last year, Zachary ran a spirited race in defeat against longtime U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tennesseans invited to comment on charging to inspect public records

If you care about open record laws in Tennessee - it seems like state lawmakers are working to make them less transparent all the time - then take the time to read this release and answer the survey.

The OFFICE OF OPEN RECORDS COUNSEL (OORC) has been asked by the Tennessee General Assembly to review issues surrounding the inspection of public records, and the office is asking Tennesseans to weigh in.

Legislation was introduced in the 2015 Session of the 109th General Assembly that would permit charges for inspecting public records. While a records custodian is permitted to charge for copies of public records, inspection is generally free of charge. The OORC will prepare a report with recommendations on this issue to the General Assembly by January 15, 2016.

The OORC has prepared brief online surveys to help gather input from citizens and government entities. The responses from these surveys will help in the preparation of the final report.

Tennessee citizens can submit a survey by clicking HERE.

Representatives of government entities can submit a survey by clicking HERE.

Additionally, the OORC will hold three public hearings, in conjunction with the Advisory Committee on Open Government, to gather additional feedback on five specific questions related to these issues. Tennessee citizens, government entities, and advocacy group representatives are invited to participate by sending written comments to and by attending one of the public hearings.
  • Tuesday, September 15, 2015 (4-6 pm) in Knoxville, TN, 12 Oaks Executive Park, 5401 Kingston Pike, Building 2, Suite 350
  • Wednesday, September 16, 2015 (10 am-12 noon) in Nashville, TN, James K. Polk State Office Building, 505 Deaderick Street, 16th Floor, Video Conference Center
  • Thursday, September 17, 2015 (3-5 pm) in Jackson, TN, Lowell Thomas State Office Building, 225 Martin Luther King Drive, Tower B, Conference Room 1
Additional information and guidelines regarding the public hearings can be found on the OORC website by clicking HERE.

Outstanding Debt: fines, fees Part 2

The second part of our 3-day series:

Mindful of the defendants in the Knox County General Sessions Court system who have accrued years of costs and fees they cannot possibly pay, Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond is preparing a plan.

He said he wants to identify the people who have no hope of paying what they owe, such as the handful of homeless, indigent defendants 10News reported Monday in its investigative series "Fines, Fees and a Flawed System. " The men collectively owe more than $750,000.

Hammond also wants to single out those who have simply fallen behind or neglected what they owe and really can pay at least something. And the clerk wants to offer possible ways a defendant could work off his bill, perhaps some kind of community service.

It's all still in the "idea" stage, said Hammond, a former county commissioner who took office in September, and he first needs to come up with a detailed, specific proposal to present to Knox County General Sessions Court judges.

Knox County defendants owe millions of dollars of unpaid court costs and fees, figures show. It's not unusual for one person to owe $10,000, $20,000 or $30,000. Many defendants who are charged with a crime are already poor and rely on a court-appointed attorney for representation.

The five men profiled by 10News on Monday owe more, judges, clerks and lawyers concede, than they could ever pay. One defendant, Anthony Joe Mason, died in April, and last week a General Sessions Court judge abated his costs in a case.

"We'll go to the judges and say, We're not going to collect this. Our recommendation to you is that we forgive this debt. Let's not have it on our books. It's kinda like a bad debt in business," Hammond said.

He's also is in the process of looking for a new collection agency that can help with collections and hopes to have that firm in place in November.

Hammond oversees clerical operations for the General Sessions, Criminal and Fourth Circuit courts.

All told there's about $159 million on the books waiting to be collected in those courts, the vast amount in General Sessions and Criminal courts.

Hammond said he would be happy if he could bring in a fraction of that - $15 million or $20 million.

Rest of story RIGHT HERE.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

West Knox voters decide Wednesday who will hold 14th Dist. House seat

Carson, left, Zachary, right
Wednesday night voters will decide who represents Farragut and most of Southwest Knox County in the state House.

The Republican primary election between Knox County school board member Karen Carson and local businessman Jason Zachary wraps up Wednesday. The general election is Sept. 29, but because no Democrat qualified to run, tomorrow night’s winner is all but assured the seat when the Tennessee General Assembly meets again in January.

CARSON: Find out more about the candidate

ZACHARY: Find out more about the candidate

Turnout for this race hasn’t been great.

Early voting represented a small fraction of the almost 39,100 eligible district voters. In all, 2,631 cast early votes. That also included 95 people who cast absentee ballots.

The seat was formerly held by Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, who stepped down to take over the state GOP.

Polls are open tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Here's a list of the locations:
  • Farragut Middle School – Precinct 65 – 200 West End Avenue, 37934
  • Farragut High School – Precincts 66N & 66S – 11237 Kingston Pike, 37934
  • A.L. Lotts Elementary School – Precinct 69N – 9320 Westland Drive, 37922
  • Bluegrass Elementary School –Precinct 69S – 8901 Bluegrass Road, 37922
  • Rocky Hill Elementary School – Precinct 71 – 1200 Morrell Road, 37919
  • Mount Olive Elementary School – Precinct 89 – 2507 Maryville Pike, 37920

Outstanding debt: fines, fees Part I

We started a 3-part investigation last night looking at the money owed from criminals to the county and their victims.

In the Knox County General Sessions Court system, four men notorious for having been arrested thousands of times collectively owe more than $600,000 in fines and court costs.

That's money they'll never pay back. Never.

If the amount were 10 percent of that they couldn't afford it. If it were only 1 percent - $6,000 - the public would never see a dime.

Michael Pierce, Harvey Alley, Donald Street and Aubrey McGill are the four worst offenders when it comes to people who owe the court system money, according to figures given to 10News by Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond's office.

A fifth man, Anthony Joe Mason, also appears on the Clerk's Office's list of worst offenders, but 10News has determined he died in April.

The defendants' bills never go down. They have been growing since the 1980s when the names of many of the five first were typed into the county's computer system.

Within all of his purview, Sessions Court, Criminal Court and Fourth Circuit Court, Mike Hammond said he faces $159 million in uncollected costs and fees. He said it's not realistic to think his office actually could collect all that money.

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Jack Knoxville to take on Rogero

So, it looks like Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero will have a challenger for her seat after all. Sort of. Heh.

Today at noon was the deadline to submit a name, and apparently Jack Knoxville is in the running. Now, I know it sounds fake, but apparently it's on the up and up, according to Knox County Election stud Cliff Rodgers.

"It is—she had her name legally changed from Jessica Lemin—I actually saw her (driver's license) with Jack A. Knoxville on it and I believe Chancellor Weaver signed the order," he told me. "We always check some sort of ID for a certified write-in candidate; otherwise, the process would be subject to too much mischief."

Rodgers added: "As you well know, you can write-in whatever you like—and we record them. But a certified write-in means--in theory--that the candidate could actually win that race and be elected so we must be sure that that they are who they say they are. Remember too that when we have a certified write-in, we have to give notice to the State of Tennessee (since they have to file financial disclosures) and to any and all other candidates in that particular race. Therefore, Mayor Rogero is aware of Jack Knoxville’s write-in candidacy."

So, there ya go. Jack Knoxville. Good luck. You'll need it.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Burchett, McNally pushing to make hotel-motel tax deadbeats public

Sen. McNally
Sen. Randy McNally plans to introduce legislation that would make the names of hotel and motels (and their owners) that don't pay their taxes public. The fact that this isn't public record is obscene, and - heck, I'll say it - flat out corrupt.

There is absolutely NO reason these businesses owners should not be held accountable. Deadbeats. Every one of them.

In fact, if anyone in the state General Assembly votes against this bill, they should step down immediately as it's obvious they've put special interest scumbag tax scofflaws ahead of the taxpayer and voter.

There is NO excuse.

Here's our story:

State Sen. Randy McNally plans to push for legislation that would allow local governments to make public the names of the hotels and motels that don't pay the occupancy tax – a fee that supports area tourism.

The move comes at the request of Knox county Mayor Tim Burchett who sent him a letter Thursday in the wake of an audit that says the Knox County Clerk's Office failed to collect almost $476,000 in taxes from local hotels and motels the past two years.

In a letter to state Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, sent Thursday, the mayor noted that state law "does not allow public access to information relating to businesses' tax information, even if those business fail to pay taxes due."

"This being the case, the media and general public are not allowed to know the identity of the businesses that are not turning over the hotel/motel tax they collect from their customers," Burchett wrote. "As you know, the purpose of the Open Records Act is to protect the interest of the taxpayer. The fact that state law precludes Knox County from releasing a list of businesses known to not be paying the hotel/motel taxes gives primacy to these businesses over the interest of the taxpayer. This needs to change."

Burchett's letter to the state senator also comes as WBIR 10News has pushed his office, his finance office and the county law department to release the names. So far, the office's have refused, citing state law.

McNally, who is the chairman of the state Senate Finance Committee, told WBIR 10News on Friday that he was upset that businesses wouldn't pay up, and they should be named.

"The law is designed to protect businesses that abide by the law," he said. "If they're not abiding by state and local laws, then they shouldn't get protection. If I don't pay my property taxes, it appears in the newspaper. Why should these  businesses receive protection when they're not following the law?"

The Tennessee General Assembly meets again in January 2016.

Rest of the story RIGHT HERE.

Poor turnout in early voting for 14th Dist. House seat to replace Haynes

Carson, left, Zachary, right
Early voting wrapped up Friday with 2,631 voters going to the polls early to choose a GOP candidate to represent the state House's 14th District, according to the Knox County election administrator.

The primary election between Karen Carson and Jason Zachary is Aug. 12. The general election is Sept. 29, but no Democrat is running in the race.

The West Knox County district formerly was represented by Republican Ryan Haynes. There were three early voting sites, one at the City County Building, far from the actual district.

Early voting turnout represented a small fraction of  the almost 39,100 eligible district voters. It included 95 people who cast absentee ballots, according to Cliff Rodgers, election administrator.

Carson is a Knox County school board member. Zachary is a small businessman who ran a competitive race last year against U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr.

The seat was formerly held by Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, who stepped down to take over the state GOP.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Knox County Sheriff offering free handgun carry classes to military

Sheriff Jones
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones is offering free handgun carry classes to Tennessee Military members. Sheriff Jones decided to offer the classes when it was announced on Thursday by Governor Haslam that Tennessee military members with valid Tennessee handgun permits will now be allowed to carry handguns at state military facilities and recruitment centers.

Sheriff Jones had called and offered to bond military personnel the day after the July 2015 shooting at two military installations in Chattanooga, but was told that he could not do so under state and federal regulations.

When Sheriff Jones learned on Thursday that military personnel had been given permission to carry at state military facilities and recruitment centers, he made the decision to offer the free handgun carry classes using the firearms training staff of the Knox County Regional Training Academy. Sheriff Jones said, “I consider the military to be part of our law enforcement family. We all put our lives on the line daily to protect the lives of others and I will always support our military in any way I can.”

Interested military personnel may call the Knox County Sheriff’s Office training Division at (865) 281-0606 for more information or to register for classes.

'Back to School Bash' on for Monday

The Knox County Mayor's annual "Back to School Bash" which gives students free school supplies and health screenings, and to enjoy activities, special programs, vendors and blah, blah, blah is set for Monday.  

The event will be held form 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Knoxville Expo Center, 5441 Clinton Highway.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Law suggests clerk has powers to go after tax scofflaws; Arnett says no

Clerk Foster Arnett Jr.
The Knox County Clerk's Office failed to collect almost $476,000 in taxes from local hotels and motels the past two years, according to a recent audit, and county leaders say the amount is probably much higher than that.

The clerk, however, said he can't do anything about it. He said his office doesn't have the enforcement powers to make someone pay up.

"There's no law that says we can do that and that's why it's so frustrating," county Clerk Foster Arnett Jr told WBIR 10News. "It's kind of like ... sending a police cadet out to write tickets, but all they can do is put a note under their windshield and say, 'Gee, I wish you didn't park here.'"

Arnett added: "There are uncollected taxes that are out there because up until this point all we could do is send a letter and say we want you to pay your taxes, and if they don't there's not relief there – there's no enforcement for us to go out after those folks."

State law indicates otherwise.

WBIR reviewed 1982 legislation that created the county's occupancy tax – a 5 percent fee charged to lodging guests that is used to fund tourism-related operations and programs in Knox County.
The legislation gives a county clerk the "powers and duties" of the commissioner of revenue that are established under the state's "Tax Enforcement Procedures Act."

That means the clerk can seize property "by any means" in order to obtain payment, so long as a 10-day notice is issued to the property owner, according to state law.

Once seized, the clerk also can padlock the doors and begin the legal process to sell the property.
Arnett, whose office is charged with collecting the tax, said he was not aware of the law.

Full story RIGHT HERE.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Community looking to save Boomsday

Some Boomsday festival goers aren't ready to say goodbye to Knoxville's Labor Day tradition.

Clint Miller created a 'Save Boomsday' Facebook page and GoFundMe campaign to raise money and save the festival after Visit Knoxville announced this year would be the last Boomsday.

THE FACE BOOK PAGE racked up just under 2,000 likes. Supporters have donated $110 to the GOFUNDME CAMPAIGN, which has an end goal of $25,000.

In addition, 12-year-old Ava Davis to join the effort, too. SHE DESIGNED T-SHIRTS to help raise money. Her goal is to sell 500 for $15 each.

This year's Boomsday is on September 6.

Here's our full story RIGHT HERE.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

KCS plan to move AJ Building school employees doesn't appear feasible

When Knox County and school officials finally got together to seriously consider selling the historic downtown A.J. Building, the plan was simple: Find some space to move the 209 employees who work there, sell the building and get it back on the tax rolls.

Or so the public was led to believe.

No, it’s not that simple.

The Knox County School system is seeking something a lot more complicated.

And quite frankly, what they’re seeking is probably not feasible.


Well, maybe the reality hit the KCS administration that the county is serious about selling this building and now some folks don’t want to leave.

That’s just pure speculation of course. Heh.

So, here’s the deal.

KCS sort of began the bidding process by asking the county’s purchasing department to seek “requests for information” from folks (mostly Realtors, I guess) who would be interested in moving not only the administration offices but the operational side as well.

Now wait a second!

I thought we just needed to move the administration. You know, the peeps who work in the A.J. Building.
What’s up with this operations thing? They don’t operate in the AJ Building. No, they’ve got a nice set up off East Fifth Avenue and Rule High School.

Well now, that changes everything.

You see, instead of looking for 100,000 square feet of space, the school system wants HUNDREDS and HUNDRES of THOUSANDS of square feet, including warehouse space that will hold massive vehicles, and classroom space and parking lots that will hold more than a thousand cars.

Granted, the school system said it would settle for a proposal that just moves the administrative offices, and if you asked the good folks over there, they’d just tell you that they’re testing the water.

No conspiracy here. No way.


The KCS almost always asks for more.

Why stop now?

Anyhoo, I’ve talked to quit a few county officials about this and they know what’s up.


As it stands, the next step is to look over the proposals. I suspect the building will be put on the market, but I don’t expect much to change for a couple of years.

These things take time.

Here’s the story, RIGHT SMACK HERE, we did about the proposal.