Friday, December 30, 2016

City to get more development in 2017

Suttree Landing Park
Knoxville can look forward to further development and ongoing projects in the new year.

Three specific projects are set to hit major milestones in 2017.

The Cumberland Avenue reconstruction process, which began in April 2015, is scheduled to be complete sometime in late 2017. The city is investing $17 million in the project, which intends to fix long-term chronic problems in the area.

Construction on the north side of Cumberland Avenue is already complete. Further progress is expected on the south side in the next year.

Another project, the South Waterfront, will see more than 1,300 people begin to move in during the 2017 year. In 2016 the city opened Suttree Landing Park and Waterfront Drive on the waterfront. That project cost $6.6 million. It's one of several going in between the Henley and Gay Street Bridges, which include apartments and a public riverwalk.

Next spring, work will begin on Knoxville's Magnolia Avenue streetscapes project.
The city will invest about $8 million to add streetscape amenities to several blocks of Magnolia Avenue between Jessamine Street and North Bertrand Street. Those amenities include a gateway art piece, medians and bus pull offs.

Other projects seeing development in 2017 include the Pryor Brown Garage, Marble Alley Lofts, Regas Square, the State Supreme Court building, the Farragut Hotel and the Tombras Group building.

Politics: Looking back at 2016

As 2016 comes to a close, 10News is taking a look back at the political scene.

It was definitely a year to remember, with historic elections, campaigns, and new leadership for our country.

The race for the White House started in 2015 with a large field of candidates vying for the Republican and Democratic nominations for president.

The huge crowd gathering at Donald Trump's Knoxville campaign stop in November 2015 was a sign of things to come in the following year.

Donald Trump ultimately won the electoral votes in Tennessee and across the country, allowing him to claim victory against Democrat Hillary Clinton for the presidency. Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes.

Related: Trump campaign bus stops in Knoxville

2016 marked a year of controversy and close campaigns for several state representatives from East Tennessee.

A heated argument that turned physical played out on News Talk 98.7 last summer between incumbent Republican state Rep. Martin Daniel of District 18 and primary opponent Steven Hall, both of Knoxville.

"Steve Hall stood up. Martin Daniel shoved him," host Hallerin Hilton Hill declared during the live broadcast.

Related: Daniel shoves Hall on live radio

The incident led to an assault charge for Daniel, who ended up winning the August primary as well as the general election in November.

Daniel still faces prosecution for the assault charge, and he has a March court date in Knox County.

Longtime state Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Knoxville Democrat from the 15th District, was convicted in federal court of filing a false tax return in connection with an alleged fraud conspiracy involving tax stamps for cigarettes.

Soon after his conviction, he filed his retirement from the Legislature, and Knox County Democrats voted Rick Staples in November as his replacement.

More: Armstrong retires

Staples said: "We really need economic growth in the 15th District, and it's important to move forward with that right now."

The race for state House District 13 heated up between two-time opponents Gloria Johnson and Eddie Smith.

The last time Republican Eddie Smith and Democrat Gloria Johnson faced off for a Knoxville state House seat, the decision came down to fewer than 200 votes. The election in November was even closer: 154 votes.

Smith declared victory on election night, and Johnson later conceded after provisional ballots were counted.

More: A closer look at Smith-Johnson race

Several new faces joined local politics on the Knox County Commission in 2016, and as the search for a Knox County Schools superintendent continues, the makeup of the Knox County Board of Education saw major changes, shifting the balance of power more toward members with direct experience as educators.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Education: Looking back at 2016

2016 held some major stories in education, from an upset in the statewide standardized test, to a change in leadership for Knox County Schools.

They year began with a surprise announcement: that Knox County Schools superintendent Jim McIntyre would be stepping down.

RELATED: KCS Superintendent McIntyre to step down

"I would love to continue to do the job that I love doing," McIntyre said at a media conference. "However, the current political environment has become increasingly dysfunctional, at times overtly antagonistic and seemingly untenable."

The search immediately began for his interim replacement, and the Board of Education tapped Buzz Thomas, president of the non-profit Great Schools Partnership.

"They want to create the best school system in the South," Thomas said of board member, in an interview with WBIR 10News.

RELATED: Buzz Thomas takes over as interim superintendent of Knox County Schools

He took over in June, and board members are in the process of finding a permanent superintendent.
School board elections in September brought three new faces to the table, leading to a shift toward a more public approach to input on teacher evaluations and student testing, plus the creation of a Teacher Advisory Committee.

In February, the state's much-hailed online standardized testing platform failed, and the backup pencil-and-paper form the of test wasn't delivered in time.

"Ultimately, you have to make a call about whether this is going to be a good experience for students or not," state education commissioner Candice McQueen told a reporter at the time.

"Everybody's making the joke about, 'Tennessee Ready's not ready,'" concerned Knox County parent Leslie Kurtz said, in reaction.

RELATED: Parents, teachers frustrated by TNReady online failure

In April, Tennessee canceled its contract with the testing company Measurement, Inc. and began an emergency search process for a new company.

RELATED: McIntyre: 'Time to pull plug' on assessment contractor

It named Minnesota-based Questar Assessment to take over the state's TNReady test for the current school year.

"Questar's been around for about 40 years, and we literally have hundreds of successful assessments under our belt," Questar VP of State Solutions Marty Mineck told 10News.

RELATED: Teachers talk with TN's new standardized testing vendor

Throughout the year, Knox County district leaders have been fostering conversations about cultural competency and racial disparities in both discipline and academic outcomes - and how to make improvements.

As awareness of bullying, hazing and cyber-bullying continues to grow, many East Tennessee schools are working to combat that. Roane County Schools has programs in the majority of its buildings, to teach kids about kindness and the harmful impact of bullying.

RELATED: School district prevents bullying by promoting kindness

Throughout 2016, we saw the hearts and love of teachers, students, parents and administrators shine through, from the Beaumont Magnet Academy community pulling together to win a $100,000 grant for a new arts-inspired playground, to a Blount County schoolteacher who fostered and then adopted three former students.

RELATED: Beaumont Magnet Academy wins $100,000 grant

RELATED: Blount County family thankful for 14 children

All around, those involved in education in East Tennessee showed the Volunteer spirit in the classroom and community - and ready to be carried into 2017.

Monday, December 26, 2016

From the Inside Tennessee crew :)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the crew of Inside Tennessee. From left: Don Bosch, Susan Williams, Mike Donila, John Becker, Billy Stair, Dennis Francis and Mike Cohen. (Hats supplied by Susan. Dennis' got lost in all that hair. Heh.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mayor to host final cash mob to benefit Fountain City's Alvin Frye

Burchett and Frye
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is organizing one last cash mob Thursday afternoon, this time to show appreciation to Alvin Frye, a longtime local business owner in Fountain City.

Frye served during World War II and the Korean War and has owned the Fountain City Exxon station at the intersection of Broadway and Essary Road for more than 25 years, and for nearly 60 years owned stations at various Fountain City locations.

Frye’s filling station will close on Dec. 31.

The cash mob will run from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Thursday and is open to the public.
Burchett is encouraging the community to stop by the Fountain City Exxon station, 5306 Broadway, to fill up on gas and to say 'thank you' to Frye and his employees for their years of service to the community. Members of the public can sign an oversized thank you card for Frye.

Frye is currently battling health issues and the Fountain City Lions Club is accepting contributions to the “Alvin Frye Fund” to help the family with cover expenses for his treatment and care.

Contributions can be sent in the form of a check made payable to the Fountain City Lions Club, P.O. Box 5276, Knoxville, TN 37928. Please note the “Alvin Frye Fund” in the memo line of the check.

Many Knoxville residents will recognize Frye’s service station for its “No Lottery, No Beer” sign displayed along Broadway – others may remember the sign as saying “No Lottery, No Beer, Not a Casino.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

Goodbye to 2016 on Market Square

Give 2016 the old heave-ho at New Year’s Eve on Market Square, beginning at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31.

The family-friendly celebration to usher in 2017 includes music, midnight fireworks, a ball drop, an “Auld Lang Syne” sing-along and a new lighted “2017” sign. This year's celebration is presented by Lloyd's Electric Service, Inc.

“This is the night when Market Square feels most like Times Square,” says Judith Foltz, the City’s Director of Special Events. “The spirit is so festive. We always start the new year on a good note.”

The Temper Evans Band, of Harriman, will perform covers from 10:30 to 11:45 p.m.

A slideshow of memorable events from 2016 will screen above the Market Square stage. The countdown begins at 11:55 p.m., followed by the ball drop and fireworks at midnight.

The Holidays on Ice skating rink will be open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and 1-9 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

Restaurants on Market Square, including those participating in the Peppermint Trail, will be open and offering specials; call ahead for dinner reservations. No mobile food or alcohol sales will take place on the square.

Friday, December 16, 2016

ORNL is focus of 'Inside Tennessee'

Thom Mason
Climate change, super computers and 3-D printing.

Those are just a handful of the issues addressed during Sunday’s edition of “Inside Tennessee” on WBIR 10News.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the focus as Director Thom Mason discusses energy research, national security and science, all connected to an operation that employs more than 4,500 and costs $1.5 billion annually to operate.

“That’s why you have national labs – to tackle things where you need sophisticated equipment, large teams of people with different sorts of expertise you can mobilize,” said Mason, director since mid-2007. “We’re an instrument of national policy. The federal government sets the priorities and in cases where it’s science and technology that’s underneath the problem you’re trying to solve you can mobilize the resources of the lab to go out and tackle those problems.”

Mason also addresses the incoming presidential administration and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was tapped to lead the Department of Energy. (Back in 2012, Perry said the country didn’t need a DOE.)

The 30-minute political and public affairs program, which was taped Thursday, kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WBIR.

Panelists include 10News reporter Mike Donila and governmental relations expert Susan Williams. WBIR Anchor John Becker serves as the show’s moderator.

President Obama signs Tennessee disaster declaration for Sevier

The President on Thursday declared a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by wildfires during the period of November 28 to December 9, 2016.

The President's action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Sevier County.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding also is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Sevier County.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named W. Michael Moore as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

FEMA said that damage surveys are continuing, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed.

FEMA said that residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance tomorrow by registering online at or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mayor to host Alvin Frye cash mob as longtime business prepares to close

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett is organizing one last cash mob, this time to show appreciation to Alvin Frye, a longtime local business owner in Fountain City.

Frye served during World War II and the Korean War and has owned the Fountain City Exxon station at the intersection of Broadway and Essary Road for more than 25 years, and for nearly 60 years owned stations at various Fountain City locations.

Frye’s filling station will permanently close on Dec. 31.

On Dec. 22, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Burchett invites members of the community to stop by the Fountain City Exxon station, 5306 Broadway, to fill up on gas and to say thank you to Frye and his employees for their years of service to the community. Members of the public can sign an oversized thank you card for Frye.

Frye is currently battling health issues and the Fountain City Lions Club is accepting contributions to the “Alvin Frye Fund” to help the family with cover expenses for his treatment and care. Contributions can be sent in the form of a check made payable to the Fountain City Lions Club, P.O. Box 5276, Knoxville, TN 37928. Please note the “Alvin Frye Fund” in the memo line of the check.

Many Knoxville residents will recognize Frye’s service station for its “No Lottery, No Beer” sign displayed along Broadway – others may remember the sign as saying “No Lottery, No Beer, Not a Casino.”

TN Labor Department failing federal mandate to pay unemployment claims

For the past eight months, Tennessee has failed to meet a federal mandate to pay out unemployment insurance claims on time.

And in recent months, the problem has gotten worse.

Now, state leaders are asking the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development for biweekly reports, and it the issue doesn’t improve then lawmakers could call a special hearing to investigate the matter further.

Labor department officials, however, say the matter should be fixed by mid-January.

“They are confident that Tennessee will be one of the leading states in the nation in improving unemployment benefits, but I know that’s no consolation to those who have been waiting weeks and months and, in some cases, six months,” said state Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville.

The state’s Information Systems Council met Wednesday afternoon with Labor Department Commissioner Burns Phillips to address his office’s backlog.

The council, which is comprised of officials from the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches, is charged with overseeing information technology for the state and for developing policies for managing the overall information technology.

Lawmakers across Tennessee said they’ve fielded calls in recent months from those who have been approved for unemployment insurance but haven’t received any money.

As it stands, a federal mandate requires the state to pay out unemployment insurance within 21 days after approval.

Right now, the state is hovering around 50 percent, which is down from the “mid to low 60s” three months ago, Smith said.

State Labor Department spokesman Chris Cannon says the office hopes to eliminate the backlog within four weeks.

He said that the results were poorer recently because officials – as they were going through the system – found more claims in the backlog.

But, they’ve made a lot of progress in recent days.

“At the rate they’re going and clearing them – it’s happening so quickly – that easily by this time next month the bulk of that backlog should be cleared,” Cannon told WBIR on Wednesday. “It’s a slower process than anyone anticipated but it’s starting to kick into high gear and hopefully we can get everyone paid within the mandated 21 days.”

Board to vote on UT's new chancellor

The UT Board of Regents will vote Thursday on whether to approve interim University of Cincinnati President Beverly Davenport as the University of Tennessee's next chancellor in charge of the Knoxville campus.

If approved, she would be the first woman to head the Knoxville campus, and would likely start March 1.

UT President Joe DiPietro announced Davenport's selection in November.

Davenport stands to make $585,000 along with a housing reimbursement and expense account, according to an offer letter dated Sunday. At Cincinnati she makes more than $600,000.

Davenport would replace Jimmy Cheek, who will serve until his replacement takes over and then play a role in higher Educational Leadership and Policy Studies in the university’s College of Education Health and Human Sciences.

Cheek, who announced in June that he was stepping down, earns $447,500 annually. He's been chancellor since 2009.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

KCDC names new executive director

The Board of Commissioners for Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation (KCDC) announced today that Benjamin M. Bentley, an executive with Nashville’s housing and development agency, has been selected as the new executive director of the agency.

“When the board embarked this fall on a nationwide search for an executive director in partnership with our executive search firm, we carefully evaluated and interviewed top level talent from across the country,” KCDC Board of Commissioners Chair Dan Murphy said. “The significant interest and incredibly strong candidates for this position locally and nationally are a testament to KCDC’s reputation as an industry leader and innovator.

“We are confident that Bentley’s talent, housing industry expertise and vision will position KCDC for future innovation in providing housing to low-income families in East Tennessee and helping shape Knoxville's future through our development role.”

Bentley comes to KCDC from the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) in Nashville, where he currently serves as chief operating officer. Bentley previously served as a division director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with responsibility for financial and regulatory oversight of public housing agencies across a six-state region. Bentley also served as a rental assistance demonstration (RAD) subject matter expert for HUD.

He also serves on the board of the Tennessee Association of Housing and Redevelopment Authorities (TAHRA). Bentley holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Denver and has completed graduate-level courses in real estate at Georgetown University. An Alabama native, also he holds a bachelor’s degree from Birmingham-Southern College in history with a minor in political science.

"While at HUD, I became familiar with the strong reputation of KCDC,” Bentley said. “I look forward to working with the board, staff, local government and community stakeholders to build on that legacy as an outstanding provider of housing and development services.”

The KCDC board will enter into negotiations with Bentley and plans to vote on the contract at the regular monthly meeting on Friday, Dec. 30.

Current KCDC Executive Director Art Cate will retire at the end of the year after serving nearly 40 years with the agency.

“We are grateful to the dedication of both Art Cate and his predecessor Alvin Nance, who led the agency from 2001 to 2015, for the solid foundation that they have created for this agency,” Murphy said. “We honor KCDC’s excellent leadership over the past decades and look forward to the next chapter of continued innovation in transforming Knoxville’s neighborhoods.”

Since 1936, KCDC has been dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of Knoxville. KCDC’s mission is to improve and transform neighborhoods and communities by providing quality affordable housing, advancing development initiatives and fostering self-sufficiency. For more information, visit

City announced 'rapid response' greenways/trails service crew

Mayor Madeline Rogero on Wednesday introduced the City’s new Greenways Service Crew, which will build two new miles of greenway per year while also addressing ongoing maintenance of the City’s nearly 100-mile network of greenways and trails.

“With the Greenways Feasibility Study, we now have a plan to connect greenways throughout Knoxville. This new crew will expedite our progress in linking more neighborhoods into our greenways network,” said Mayor Rogero. “Additionally, this crew means that we have a rapid response team to address maintenance calls reported to 311 by greenway users.”

The five-person service crew will hit the greenways daily, armed with a small fleet of new equipment, including an off-road truck, a wood chipper, a smaller greenway-sized dump truck that will be able to release mulch on either side, an ATV, and a skid steer. The crew even has two mountain bikes that will assist in quickly accessing the more remote parts of the greenways system. The equipment cost about $135,000.

The creation of the new in-house Greenways Service Crew will speed up the City’s response to maintenance requests from residents through the City’s 311 Call Center. Dedicating a crew to focus solely on greenways also will accelerate construction of new trails at a key time.

Last summer, City officials unveiled a detailed plan for strategically adding 24 miles of connected greenways in 13 different corridors. The Greenway Corridor Feasibility Study is a blueprint for the most comprehensive greenways build-out in the City’s history. The City currently has $3 million in capital funding marked for greenway construction.

“Basically, we now have a crew waking up every day thinking specifically about greenways – how to improve greenways as a daily service to Knoxville residents,” said Chad Weth, Public Service Director. “We’re also looking forward to assisting Parks and Recreation as they expand the greenway system.”

Officials said although the goal will be to build two miles in-house per year through the new Greenways Service Crew, a large resurfacing project of an existing greenway could occasionally affect that number.

The Greenways Service Crew is the most recent reorganization effort to enhance service on City greenways. In 2012, Mayor Rogero and Police Chief David Rausch announced the Knoxville Police Department’s Parks and Greenways Patrol unit, a team of eight officers that systematically surveys all parks and greenways within the City.

Market Square restrooms open by NYE

This is actually a big deal. The new Market Square Garage restrooms will open - with a bit of fanfare - to the public at 11 a.m. Dec. 22.

Construction of the five-stall restroom facility, which began the week of May 16, has been completed in time for New Year’s Eve on the Square, a public event that draws a huge crowd.

The new restroom facility features LED lighting for energy efficiency and safety, plus graffiti-resistant paint and a topiary screen.

The Public Building Authority will provide maintenance and security for the facility, which is intended to serve visitors to downtown’s many special events.

Knox County 2018 election rumors

Republican State Executive Committee member Ted Hatfield released his latest list of rumors and confirmations for the 2018 Knox County elections. (All are Republican.) I've included my brief thoughts as well.

Knox County Mayor
  • Bob Thomas  - Current Commissioner-at-large
  • Buddy Burkhardt  -  Knox County GOP chairman
  • Brad Anders -  Knox County commissioner -  not yet confirmed
My thoughts:  Brad is pretty much a given. Also, Glen Jacobs, who wrestles for the WWE as Kane, also is rumored.

Knox County Circuit Court Clerk
  • Tim Wheeler -  former deputy clerk
  • Scott Smith -  SEC Member -  Insurance Executive
  • Don Ridings -  Accounting Executive
  • Charles Susano  -  Knox County trustee staff
My thoughts: Incumbent Cathy Shanks has said she is not seeking re-election. There have been rumors that Randy Kenner, who practically runs the place now, has been approached about the gig.

Knox County Clerk
  • Sherry Witt -  current Register of Deeds
My thoughts: Incumbent Foster Arnett Jr is term-limited. Witt is pretty much a given to run for the post and win. She'd do a good job as clerk.

Knox County Register of Deeds
  • Nick McBride  -  current Deputy Register of Deeds   -  not officially announced
My thoughts: This, too, is pretty much a given. Nick has spent a career in the office and could step in and run it right now if needed. 

Knox County Commissioner at-large seats (there are two)
  • R. Larry Smith -  former Commissioner
  • Justin Biggs -  Knox County Trustee's Office staff
  • Larsen Jay -  Active Community Charities/ Organizations/  Entertainment Executive
  • Ivan Harmon -  former City/ County executive
My thoughts: Incumbents Bob Thomas (who is running for county mayor) and Ed Brantley are not seeking re-election. It will be interesting to see whether voters want a couple of former commissioners to come back. Expect Larsen Jay to be a formidable opponent for anyone. 

Knox County Sheriff
  • Lee Tramel  -  current KCSO deputy chief
  • Tom Spangler  -  former KCSO deputy chief
My thoughts: Incumbent Jimmy "J.J." Jones is term-limited. If not, he'd probably win again. Lee knows that office as well as anyone and will make a smooth transition if he wins (which is expected).

KCS scores above state average

Knox County Schools has scored above the state average in academic achievement, according to the Tennessee Department of Education's 2016 Report Card released Tuesday morning.

Knox County scored seven percent above the state average and above other large Tennessee districts, according to a news release from Knox County Schools.

“Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the nation academically, and Knox County Schools scored above the state average in nearly everything,” Interim Superintendent Buzz Thomas said in a statement. “That’s good news."

The state's annual report card measures each district and school on math, reading, science and social studies. For this year's assessment, the state used a four-level performance reporting format: "mastered," "on track," "approaching" and "below."

Thomas said he is "especially proud" of how the district is doing in math.

“Algebra 1 and Geometry are gateway classes that prepare students for success in life as well as college and career. They teach kids how to think," he said. "And I am especially pleased that two of our highest needs high schools – Austin-East and Fulton – had among the highest possible academic growth scores.”

Knox County Schools saw a big improvements in math, with 79 percent of high school students scoring on track or mastered - a 28 percent increase over the 2014-2015 school year. The district saw a 4 percent gain in English over the 2014-2015 school year, with 75 percent of high school students scoring on track or mastered.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Safety center could open in 2017

State and local leaders say a Knox County safety center for the mentally ill will be up and running in 2017.

Just who pays for it remains to be seen, but officials are expecting the state to kick in a major chunk of change.

Tennessee lawmakers told WBIR 10News this week that they are counting on Gov. Bill Haslam to include money in his upcoming budget for the much-discussed facility but – if not – then officials will introduce new legislation to add the funds.

“We’re all in an agreement that we need to do something,” said state Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville. “We’ve seen the opioid epidemic in this part of the state and we’re finding that a lot of patients of opioid addiction also have some sort of mental health (problems)  . . . so we’re trying to change and chart a different course for a lot of different people in our community.”

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett agreed.

“We’re going to do it with or without the state,” he said.

The mayor added: “This is an opportunity for when those folks are arrested to divert them from the court room to a mental health professional who can diagnose them, so we don’t tie up the courtroom with needless lawsuits and don’t send mental health patients to our jails and prisons.”

For years, local leaders have talked about building what they’ve recently dubbed a “behavioral health urgent care center” to help the mentally ill and alleviate jail overcrowding.

The county has set aside $1.2 million and the city has chipped in $200,000. The state thus far has declined to provide funding, although officials earlier this year privately said they expect the Haslam administration to acquiesce and set aside some money in the coming year.

On Friday, state Rep. Smith told WBIR 10News that the local Legislative delegation has submitted a $4.5 million request to the Governor’s Office to include in the state’s proposed budget, which will be released in early February.

County and state officials want to set up a 3-year pilot program that they estimate will cost $1.5 million a year to operate.

If the governor declines to include the money, Smith said lawmakers have other options.
“Plan B is we file a grant request through the (state) mental health department and we try and force it and get it in the amended budget,” Smith said. “And then we’ll do an appropriations request if those two things don’t happen from (project) money allocated to the General Assembly, so we have a three-pronged approached.”

Smith said the state currently has a $977 million surplus in non-recurring monies and an $856 million surplus in recurring funds. He said the governor plans to include “a lot” of the non-recurring money in the upcoming budget.

Earlier this year, the county sought bids from local agencies to develop and manage the proposed safety center. Only Helen Ross McNabb – one of the few mental health and substance abuse treatment operations in the region – submitted a proposal.

The county was looking for an organization with at least 10 years’ experience in community mental health, according to the county’s initial bidding documents that detailed the request. The organization also must be able to provide a building big enough to accommodate a 72-hour jail diversion program and a 72-hour crisis stabilization until.

The county figures that the operation will initially have eight to 10 beds, but will eventually divert “upward of 4,000” patients yearly.

Curbside recycling to cut out glass

Knoxville will no longer accept glass in its glass in its curbside single-stream recycling program beginning Jan. 1.

Instead, residents are encouraged to bring glass to any of the City’s five drop-off recycling centers.

“Many communities across the country have reached the same conclusion – that placing glass in single stream, with other recyclable materials like plastic, paper and aluminum, is not the best way to recycle glass,” said Rachel Butzler, the City’s Solid Waste Manager. “It’s unfortunate, because curbside pickup is so convenient. But because the glass gets broken and commingled, its value is eroded and it has no market. As a result, much of the glass that’s intended for recycling winds up going to the landfill – which is absolutely the last thing that our enthusiastic residential recyclers want.”

Here’s a link to more information and locations of City of Knoxville, Knox County and University of Tennessee recycling drop-off centers:

The city is gathering input from residents about ways to improve the operation of the drop-off centers – including the possibility of adding new locations to make it easier for residents to recycle glass. To take part in a survey, please click on this link:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains Natinal Park reopens after Chimney Tops 2 fire

A key part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will officially reopen to the public on Friday in conjunction with the reopening of the city of Gatlinburg. Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, and several visitor areas have been closed since Nov. 28 in the wake of the Chimney Tops 2 wildfire.

“The past eleven days have been the most challenging and emotional days our community has likely ever had to endure,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash. “The amount of love, strength, and support offered to our community has been inspirational not only to us, but also to those watching from across the world. Our community has shone brightly in the midst of this disaster and proven that we are truly mountain tough.”

Newfound Gap Road, Little River Road, the Gatlinburg Bypass, and the Spur will reopen at 7:00 a.m. on Friday. Park visitor centers at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, and Cades Cove will resume their regularly scheduled operating hours. Cherokee Orchard Road will remain closed at this time.

The following trails are closed due to wind or fire damage: Chimney Tops Trail, Road Prong Trail, Sugarland Mountain Trail from Mt Collins Shelter to Little River Road, Huskey Gap Trail, Rough Creek Trail, Old Sugarlands Trail, Twin Creeks Trail, Baskins Creek Trail, Bull Head Trail, Rainbow Falls Trail, Trillium Gap Trail, Grapeyard Ridge Trail from Campsite 32 to Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Gatlinburg Trail, Cove Mountain Trail, Sugarland Valley Nature Trail, Noah Bud Ogle Nature Trail, Cove Hardwood Nature Trail, the Sugarlands Horse Concession trails, and the quiet walkways along Newfound Gap Road.

The safety of our visitors is our primary concern and we ask that everyone explore only areas of the park that remain open and abide by trail closures. Visitors are required to remain in their vehicles when passing through the burned areas and should not enter any burned areas by foot. Visitors are reminded that though the area has received heavy rains in recent days, firefighters are still actively establishing containment lines to ensure the fire is fully extinguished.

Motorists are reminded to carefully travel along the roadways and to allow crews safe work space. Public Information Officers will be on site near the Gatlinburg entrance of the park and at overlooks along Newfound Gap Road to answer questions regarding the fire.

Several upcoming park events have been postponed or cancelled. The Festival of Christmas Past, scheduled for Dec. 10, has been cancelled. The Hike 100 Centennial Challenge celebration, scheduled for Dec. 9 at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, has been postponed. The Holiday Homecoming at the Oconaluftee Mountain Farm will take place as planned on Dec. 17. Details regarding each of these events will be released to the public as soon as they become available.

For more information on temporary road and trail closures, please visit the park website at

Knoxville civil rights leader Avon Rollins Sr. passed away Wednesday

Local civil rights leader Avon Rollins Sr., the Knoxville native who led protests in the 1960s when he was in college, passed away Wednesday. He was 74.

Rollins, who worked to get African-Americans access to businesses downtown, explained his role to WBIR's Bill Williams in a 2006 interview: "We were students at the University of Tennessee. I was, along with Marion Barry.  And we joined forces with students from Knoxville College. And we began to demonstrate at the theaters downtown, principally at the Tennessee and the Bijou.  Probably hundreds of people were put in jail as a result of the demonstrations."

Rollins was a founding member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. He later took part on the 1963 march on Washington.

Last year, state lawmakers dedicated the Cherry Street overpass on Interstate 40 to Rollins.

At the dedication, Rollins had this to say about his legacy, "I have an Avon-ism says that my ears do not hear what you say because my eyes see what you do. And I try to live a life so others can see the good things I try to accomplish and try to do."

Incoming state House Rep. Rick Staples posted a tribute to Rollins late Wednesday night on his Facebook page. Staples' post reads:

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Avon Rollins. He was an extraordinary man, who believed in making this country better, for all those who live here. We will remember all that he has done for our community, and the countless sacrifices he has made as well."

Others who have weighed in:

Robert Booker: “I’m saddened to hear about the death of my friend Avon Rollins. He was an outspoken leader who spent his life making our community a better place. My prayers are with his family. I've known Avon since the early sixties, since right after he graduated high School.  I’m pleased with what he did with the Beck Center, how he was able to get money to add the additions to make it more useable to the community.”

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett: “I’m saddened to hear about the death of my friend Avon Rollins. He was an outspoken leader who spent his life making our community a better place. My prayers are with his family.”

Madeline Rogero: "Avon Rollins was a great champion for civil rights, in Knoxville and nationally. He was a leader as a University of Tennessee student, fighting for desegregation here, and he helped found the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which fueled the civil-rights movement nationally. Avon believed strongly in preserving and interpreting African-American history and culture, and he was a guiding force at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center for decades. I’m personally saddened by the loss of my friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and many, many friends.”

Knoxville Area Urban League president Phyllis Nichols: “It’s hard to have a conversation about the civil rights movement in Knoxville without mentioning the name of Avon Rollins. Dating back to 1963 and the iconic photo of Rollins lying in front of the Tennessee Theatre protesting segregation, the ‘face’ of civil rights in our area often has included this remarkable servant leader. He will be missed, but his legacy will endure. The Knoxville Area Urban League is committed to promoting the equality and empowerment for which he fought.” 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Knoxville cmployees among the many rushing help to Sevier County: 3,100 hours at fire scene by KFD, KPD

Many communities rushed help in all forms – firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, food, supplies, prayers and charitable donations – to Sevier County communities devastated by the Nov. 28 wildfires.

Knoxville families, schools, churches and businesses contributed generously.

The City of Knoxville, alongside many other cities and agencies, lent its firefighting and emergency management expertise and equipment.

The Knoxville Fire Department dispatched more than 100 firefighters throughout the week as part of the State Mutual Aid System to battle the wildfires and help with the search for missing persons. The first Knoxville firefighters arrived within hours of the fires reaching Gatlinburg structures.

KFD also sent six pieces of firefighting apparatus – engines, tankers, a ladder truck and a 4-wheel-drive smaller truck specially designed to battle brushfires in hard-to-reach areas, along with 11 support vehicles.

KFD’s chaplain also was in Gatlinburg last week, helping to comfort displaced families as well as the First Responders.

In total, KFD committed more than 1,400 hours to battling the Sevier County fires and assisting families.

The Knoxville Police Department also sent help. Starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 29, KPD began rotating shifts of 12 to 15 officers, who initially assisted Sevier County law enforcement with emergency street closures.

By the end of last week, KPD chaplains were supporting families and First Responders. KPD’s Search and Rescue Team was deployed, and KPD investigators were working with federal task forces.

All told, 200 KPD employees were on the scene in Sevier County last week, contributing more than 1,700 employee hours.

At the start of the Dec. 6 City Council meeting, Mayor Madeline Rogero thanked the City employees who helped battle the fires and also praised the “huge outpouring of compassion, concern and generosity from so many people opening their hearts and their homes and making donations.”

“The fires were a disaster and a tragedy, but the response to them really shows the deep sense of community we have here in East Tennessee – the Volunteer Spirit at its best,” the Mayor said.

There are plenty of ways that Knoxville residents can help Sevier families get back on their feet.

Want to contribute or find out the best ways to help the fire victims? Call 2-1-1. The 2-1-1 phone line is run by the City’s 311 Call Center under contract to the United Way, and staffers answering the line can help connect people in need with resources - or provide information on ways that donors can contribute to relief efforts.

Also, the Sevier County Economic Development Council, in conjunction with Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, has created a new website to coordinate all of the relief and resources. Visit

Friday, December 2, 2016

McQueen to visit Knoxville to talk about new education ESSA law

Federal lawmakers last year approved the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a K-12 education law that replaces No Child Left Behind.

It goes into full effect during the 2017-2018 school year.

The Tennessee Department of Education has been working on outlining its transition to this new law and will soon release a draft plan for public comment.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will be in Knoxville next week for a town hall meeting to provide updates on the ESSA state plan, as well as to get your feedback.

The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at West High School, 3300 Sutherland Ave. If you cannot attend, the department will have an online feedback form that will mirror the questions asked at the meeting. It will be available on the department’s ESSA website:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Haslam: Neighbors helping neighbors

It’s been a very tough month for our state.

At least eight counties in Tennessee experienced tornadoes and severe weather Tuesday night. We know of two fatalities in Polk County and injuries in Polk, Marion and McMinn counties, along with extensive property damage in the region.

Tuesday afternoon, I went to Sevier County to be briefed and see damage from wildfires – the largest fire in Tennessee in a hundred years. The Tennessee Department of Health has confirmed seven fatalities as a result, and there are a number of injuries and individuals missing or unaccounted for. More than 400 personnel and almost 100 fire apparatuses are supporting the firefighting effort in Sevier County. As governor, I am incredibly grateful for the way people have worked together across departments and local, state and federal government. The cooperation has been incredible.

The state is doing and will continue to do everything we can to support Sevier County. I’ve received calls from the governors of every neighboring state offering their help, and President Obama, President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence have called to offer their sorrow and pledged to do everything they can to help.

Sevier County is a special part of our state and a special part of the world, and it remains that. Our hearts are broken at the loss of life and loss of property, but there is good news, too. The people who settled this area were pioneers, and they still have that spirit. They are already hard at work taking care of each other and getting their lives and businesses back up and running. Millions of families have visited Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and they will continue to.

TEMA and the Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster have set up a call center (866-586-4483) for information about donating goods and volunteering to help survivors. For the latest updates on the situation in Sevier County, visit


Last week, I visited Woodmore Elementary and Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, following the tragic bus crash that claimed the lives of six young children.

You’re not supposed to have elementary classrooms with empty desks. The sorrow all of us feel is incredibly deep.

I couldn’t be more proud or more grateful for the way Chattanooga and Hamilton County responded – teachers reassuring children with familiar faces, neighbors coming out to hold kids’ hands, first responders who saw things no one wants to see, medical professionals at Erlanger treating children, and the community filling up the school and hospital with food and toys and almost crashing a community fund website with their support.

This tragedy has raised a lot of questions about school bus safety. The state is taking a comprehensive look at the issue, everything from how local school boards select contractors, to how drivers are hired, to ensuring the safety of the equipment, to whether seat belts are appropriate. We need a fresh conversation about how to keep students safe.


Let me mention a few other things from the past month:
Finally, I know the thoughts and prayers of this state are with our neighbors who are suffering. As I’ve traveled to Chattanooga and Sevier County over the past week, I’ve seen and heard countless examples of neighbors helping neighbors. The way Tennesseans respond to tragedy is incredible, and I couldn’t be more proud to be your governor.


Cades Cove re-opens; Blount Co continues volunteers efforts

The National Park Service announced that the Townsend, Tenn., entrance to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has re-opened for visitors Thursday. Both the Cades Cove and Oconoluftee Visitor Centers in North Carolina have re-opened.

“We express deep sympathy for all the citizens in Sevier County for their loss and disruption of their lives during this week’s fires,” said Kim Mitchell, Director of Tourism for Blount County. “We vow to help with volunteer relief efforts. Currently the need is for monetary donations rather than physical supplies. We are asking anyone that can donate to please do and show the great volunteer spirit of this state.”

In addition, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and trails remain closed from the Gatlinburg entrance along Highway 411 to Smokemont, near Cherokee, N.C.

Places taking monetary donations include:

Gatinburg Relief Fund
P.O. Box 1910
Pigeon Forge, TN 37868
Call 865-453-2650 for more information.

American Red Cross
Call 865-862-3519 to donate
People can make a $10 donation by texting "REDCROSS" to 90999.

Online donation at