Yeah, the recession was bad, but not as bad in Knox

This .gif supports a thought I’ve heard a couple of times.

Back in 2008 when the bottom fell out and kicked off some bad economic times, it hit Knox County too, but not as badly as other places (from the WaPo’s Reid Wilson) – strictly speaking in terms of unemployment. Worth checking out. You can see that Knox, as the areas around it grow black and fade back to the green, doesn’t really make that turn toward the ultra high joblessness as other areas, even bordering counties.

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CNN: Dean Rice on the bomb and Ukraine (along with two other people)

Just came across this.

We know Dean Rice as the chief of staff to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, but he’s also (on CNN) adjunct faculty at the University of Tennessee and former congressional policy/legislative aide on energy and national defense.

The opinion piece says, in short, that nuclear armament is a concern with the unrest surrounding Ukraine right now:

Russia’s disregard of international law, its apparent successful theft of Crimea and Ukraine’s desperate attempt at self-preservation may result in the end of one of the last century’s most important diplomatic milestones, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and with it, the efforts of a generation to walk back the spread of nuclear weapons.

Rice is a noted foreign policy wonk, and he knows his stuff. It’s worth a read beyond what’s excerpted.

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Vote early, vote often – early voting starts today

Apparently, some people get up early to blog about early voting (6:20 a.m.? c’mon!).

But others have a story on the newswebs.  And KNS also has a voter guide outlining each race in the primary. No matter how you hear about it, today’s the start of early voting. Now you know, so you have no excuse. Even if you’re not registered, there’s time. So go. Now. Vote. Like, later today when you have to run an errand, hop by one of the county’s 10 locations and cast a ballot in the primary election.

There’s a slew of Republican primary races, and the seats for sheriff and all Knox County Commission races will be decided in this primary. That last group of people set the tax rate, by the way.

Democrat Amy Broyles – not up for election – said (and has said before) that she’ll vote in the Repulbican primary. A statement from her:

I just hope we have excellent turnout! I believe local elections are possibly the most important, because local government touches almost everyone’s life every day in a number of ways, of which most people aren’t even aware.

I’m disappointed we have so few candidates, Democratic and Republican, on the ballot – no one should ever run unopposed. Ideally, there would be multiple candidates in every race, in every party. Democracy, and our government, work best when the most people possible participate.

Spaking with Cliff Rodgers yesterday, the county’s elections administrator said he expects a turnout of about 40,000 voters, with half of those voting early. And if you’re over 60, you can request an absentee ballot to be mailed to your house. Voting in your underoos!? You can in 2014. More info: www.knoxcounty.org/election

And, to bring it all around here, and since Donila has a little diddy on his blog, here’s a tune for you, faithful readers (OK Computer might be a desert island album – it’s on the bubble).

 

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Don Wiser’s open letter to Knox Co Mayor Tim Burchett

Received this in the inbox today, from Don Wiser – former KPD investigator and potential candidate to run against Sheriff J.J. Jones in this election (he didn’t file there, but did in the Register of Deeds race).

You may remember Wiser from his early 1990s retirement and the internal investigation when he left KPD. Or the 2012 raid on his driving school, during which he was charged with falsifying records, in which evidence was later tossed.

The letter, printed in full:

Honorable Mayor Burchett 14 April,2014

I have documentation from the Election Commission that Ms. Witt and Mr Jones have been elected to their office in two consistent elections. Now they have taken out petitions for a third term, solicited signatures of Knox County voters ,and had their name in nomination in violation of the Charter of Knox County and the will of the citizens. Term limits have been under attack by the Tim Hutchinson/Scott Moore group since its enactment with this gang armed with an A.G. opinion term limits didn’t apply to them. Then came BLACK WEDNESDAY!

Jones has had a hard time with the truth as we’ve discussed at best’ or might be his disdain for the will of Knox Countians: he has decided his first term did not count[ Jones needs to read the Campbell Co. bondman's Courts statement of law about A.G. or Law Director opinions] The only ones to benefit from this cavalier decision is Jones himself, and his close friend, the current Register of Deeds. Jones as you should recall tasted one of K.C.S.O.s’ Finest [also a State Representative] with sneaking into a Bill an amendment removing the Sheriff and close associate Resister of Deeds from term limits. If you remember, we talked, and you took the right action: you kill the bill in the Senate which made us proud[also income tax] that you believe in the will of the people as C.B. taught you.

Tim, you ran on a platform of being a Stewart of the taxpayers money, transparency and increase accountability. Now is the time for you to purge the deadwood in your office and clean up your own backyard. Thank you for the school in Carter and any help to stop busing of school kids but while you have been kissing babies and cutting ribbons the foxes have been robbing the chicken coop. We the people have a right to know the involvement of office holders under your purview;

1.Involvement with Buumgartner by A.G. and Sheriff:

a. Join with News-Sentinel and the parents to investigate and have the T.B.I. Report made public.

b. Answer, Who, What, When, and How. To paraphrase Fred Thompson during Watergate, What did [they] know and when did they know it. The source of Richards drugs needs to be known [history has shown a police agency is a great source. No Chain of Command in the drug section answering directly to Jones]..

2.The Police pension that Jones along with a Register of Deeds aid conspired to award this benefit to many undeserving ex-sheriff,lawyers,at least five ex commissionaires many voting for Jones and Witt on BLACK WEDENDAY, and who knows who else. Remember Herb told you so.

3.You have knowledge about the abuse of vehicles in the Sheriffs Department even talking about the black Mustang that uses 7$ a gallon gas[after denying now test driving].

4.Why is Knox. Co. allowing a Office Holder that didn’t pay his child support, pays no property tax, after a golf trip over seas [ who paid for this] along with A.G.,Mental Health official, and a D.U.I. Lawyer who’s kin works the same try to sell a concept for a non-feasible program at $17,000,000 and a building. Who is it for the intoxicated, the drug addicted, or mental ill and who will decide. Maybe this person can receive bonus as large as the tourist bureau or maybe a job after retirement.

5.The Police is to protect our children but this sheriff must have a problem . We know he was a dead beat Dad according to past reports of the Knoxville News-Sentinel now one of his Officers is charged with sex crimes involving a 13 year old which brings to mind a K.C.S.O. Officer assigned to be one of the very few to patrol in our neighbors that was fired for sex and authority crimes with a child while working an undercover assignment in our schools by the previous sheriff but rehired by Jones. This individuals daddy working there is alleged to be doing chores for Jones[ laundry, grocery shopping but not the quart of vodka]. The fired Officer was placed on diversion by the same A.G. that took the trip overseas with Jones.

Tim I know my great friend C.B. Placed in your heart to do right so make him proud. Donald M. Wiser

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Net state sales tax revenue down, could impact Knox

It’s overall numbers, and it’s from a news release, but as the finishing touches go on the Knox County budget, expect that this will be reflected in Mayor Tim Burchett’s budget announcement 15 days away.

Also, the county did calculate its sales tax earnings below the state estimate. Read below, yet again, another month of short revenues (h/t Humphrey):

Tennessee revenue collections reflected mixed results in March. Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin today reported that overall March revenues were $955.8 million. The general fund was under collected by over $4 million for March and by $263.9 million year-to-date.

“March collections continued to reflect weaker than anticipated revenues from the corporate sector, while sales tax collections were stronger,” Martin said. “We believe the recent increase in retail spending is a reflection of renewed consumer confidence and indicates that the economy is slowly recovering. This growth is important in meeting current revenue projections on which the approved budget amendment was based.

“About a fourth of our corporate income taxes often – but not always – occur in the month of April. We will work with the legislature and others to manage the state’s spending and resources regardless of the economic climate, as the state has always done.”

On an accrual basis, March is the eighth month in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Total tax collections in March were 2.10% above the previous year.

The general fund was under collected by $4.1 million and the four other funds were over collected by $6.9 million.

Sales tax collections were $9.4 million more than the estimate for March. The March growth rate was positive 5.51%. For eight months revenues are under collected by $23.4 million. The year-to-date growth rate for eight months was positive 3.58%.

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Background on today’s story: PPU spending in Knox schools

Today we ran this in KNS:

A Knox County Schools fund for maintenance needs also pays for new school equipment, furniture and landscaping, a News Sentinel review of Knox County Schools purchasing records found.

At least $283,000 was paid out of the Physical Plant Upgrades maintenance fund for desks, tables and chairs to furnish the new Northshore Elementary in the current fiscal year, public documents show.

And Knox County Schools staff incorrectly reported at least one recent expense from the maintenance fund — a $3,787 piano for Northshore in 2013.

“We have to catch things like that, but it’s not rampant or anything,” said Ron McPherson, finance director for Knox County Schools. He said the piano issue has been resolved and money is being repaid from the music department.

See more here. And there is more. Much, much more.

The information we received was based on a pretty robust answer to a records request. Knox County Schools spokeswoman Melissa Ogden said the available PPU-related records, including purchase orders and invoices, was “roughly 36 binders of information plus a box.”

Over a couple days we sat with a very helpful KNS staffer and went over each page of the documents. Lots of coffee was involved. Eventually we copied about 1,000 pages of docs at 15 cents per page. From that and other sources we found a few questions that wound up being answered in the story. Among them -

What of that piano, the land purchase for schools and the other Northshore related expenses?

We learned that the piano purchase was an error, the Northshore land purchase (part of which was a gift) shouldn’t have come through the PPU account, and that the PPU account is used for a national purchasing contract with a school furniture provider.

How does an accounting line fluctuate from $34m to $0.00 in a couple months?

Schools staff said that was because of an accounting issue – that the accounts compared weren’t exactly the same accounts. Nonetheless, it provided a picture for what appears to be the fluctuating nature of the PPU account.

PPU funding is not a pot of cash, but an amalgamation of unspent debt.

This means that those maintenance funds are actually capital funds (not that there is anything wrong about that), and that the spending for regular maintenance to schools becomes part of the debt load. These are my words, and oversimplified, but it seems in personal finance to be much like spending auto repairs with a line of credit or credit card, which I know plenty of people do – though it’s not ideal. Speaking back to schools, it’s easy to see an argument for a school system to use what resources it has at its disposal to accomplish the job and protect the operating cash they receive from the county and state to be spent elsewhere. That’s another oversimplification, but how the capital debt is spent versus what it is spent upon – and how it is labeled – appears likely to change.

Related, this fund caused at least one commissioner to call the PPU money a “slush fund,” and according to this definition … well, decide for yourself (also, the corruption map there is kinda neat). The implication is that a slush fund, in general, is used for out-of-sight or nefarious financing, and my impression is that there has been no outright malfeasance – but that doesn’t mean the opportunity, or potential, doesn’t exist.

But it’s all being audited now, so we should see soon what may come.

 

 

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Can newspapers be in schools? And an election.

Over the weekend, cwg at the MP posted about this thing, where a friend of a school board member nabbed up some newspapers from a public school that featured her friend’s campaign opponent:

like any dear friend of an opposing candidate running for office would do, Kristy stole the papers and destroyed them

… and then emailed the school board.

The issues goes on, just read the MP post. But there is a legal question here, which is whether papers belong in schools (of course, we here at the world HQ of Knoxbeat would be inclined to say yea), so the next call is to Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong:

“We’re not going to discriminate against the press by paper,” Armstrong said.

It’s an all-or-none issue.

“We’re all-in or we’re not in,” he said.

As to whether papers should be in schools at all, he said, is a matter for the Knox County Board of Education to debate. So, in a way, Kristy may have made the right move in emailing the school board. That is, if her motivation was to eliminate the Fourth Estate from being available in public schools.

Footnote: Props to cwg for all the hard work she does.

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