Knox County Commission Work Session – observations

Odds and ends from Monday’s Knox County Commission work session:

Commission Chairman Brad Anders, funny man – When Commissioner Amy Broyles asked to defer an item on preparedness for family safety, he quipped, “what, are you not prepared?”

Wakka wakka.

Mike Brown and the beer board – There’s a thick agenda for the county beer board next week, which meets at 4 p.m., before the regular commission meeting at 5 p.m. Given the dense agenda, Brown asked how that might impact the start of the commission meeting.

It’s important to note here that Brown was perhaps the most outspoken critic of moving the work session and regular meeting times from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“Are we going to run that right into the commission meeting?” he asked.

Anders was ready for that one.

“We’ll finish the beer board and then have the commission meeting,” he said.

So then, it looks like the meeting Brown opposed starting later will probably start even later next week.

That said, it’s worth noting that commission meeting have been much more swift since the evening meeting times began. Maybe folks want to get home for dinner. Maybe politicians are more chatty after lunch. Might there need to be a commission nap time before meetings? They already get snacks delivered to each meeting from Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones.

Three commissioners missed the work session Monday: Sam McKenzie, Bob Thomas and Jeff Ownby. All are in California for a pension workshop. It sounds like a junket, but it’s a couple days of pretty intense figures and training on the intricacies of the pension markets. Thomas said he planned to take a little personal time while there to visit his son, who lives in L.A. and is an actor.

You know those coupon books that Knox County Schools students sell? They’re the thick books with the Chick-fil-a coupon you rip out for the free sandwich, go use, and promptly forget under the detritus of your junk drawer. Those bring in a nice hunk o’ change – up to $1.7 million annually – for Knox County Schools. The contract needed Commission approval, so a Missouri-based company can print about 160,000 coupon books per year at a cost of almost $86,000.

An amendment to the peddlers license in Knox County looks like it’ll get Commission support next week. May as well print the language verbatim: “to give the County Clerk the authority to not issue a license to an applicant if there are any outstanding warrants against the applicant or if the applicant has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within the past ten (10) years; to revise portions of the procedure for obtaining a license in Section 12-29; and to amend Section 12-33 to authorize the County Clerk to suspend or revoke a license if it is discovered that there is an outstanding warrant against a license holder or a license holder has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude within the past ten (10) years.”

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Traffic counts and The Strip: real figures

Reading recent stories about traffic along The Strip had me wondering: Is Cumberland Avenue really one of the most heavily-traveled streets in the city?

Nope. Not by a long shot. Here are 2013 traffic counts from the Knox TPO. And a few of the more well-known roads in the city, with their counts:

  • Cumberland, East of Alcoa Hwy: 36,399
  • N. Broadway, South of Woodrow Drive: 42,407
  • Lovell Rd. South of I-40: 39,537
  • Clinton Hwy, South of Old Clinton Hwy: 30,371
  • Middlebrook Pike, West of Mars Hill Road: 25,910
  • Western Ave., E. of 44th St.: 41,404

At one busy intersection with an artery to interstates, Cumberland is busy. So are the other roads listed above – which also happen to be counted at intersections near interstates.

But if you look at counts where the road narrowing is actually happening on Cumberland, a dramatically different picture emerges:

  • Between 17th and 18th streets: 18,825
  • Between 17th and 16th streets: 15,864*

Keep in mind that the narrowing will really be evident between 22nd and 17th streets. There doesn’t appear to be huge changes near Alcoa Hwy.

*And on the other end, the project tapers off between 17th and 16th streets.

Will the construction hurt businesses? Surely, in some part. Will it be ultimately beneficial? Far too soon to tell. Is the pedestrian-friendly work going to be on one of the more heavily-used pedestrian areas in the city? Absolutely. Here’s a comparison between The Strip and another well-known pedestrian area in Knoxville, downtown.

Potential boondoggle or not, it’s surely well-known in the community. And taken a while to get to fruition. Even had a couple stumbles out of the blocks. Here’s a history of public meetings dating back to 2006.

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Ed Shouse is back to work

Knox County taxman Trustee Ed Shouse is back to work, doing partial days, after surgery to remove his prostate a couple weeks ago.

“I’ve half a day today. And half, or two-thirds tomorrow,” Shouse said Tuesday. “It feels great to have everything behind me. I’m happy to move on with life.”

As one might guess, the prostate removal was from cancer discovered by his doctor.

But he’s in good health now.

“The prostate was completely removed and it was totally clean bill of health,” Shouse said. “My urologist said there was no problem around the margins, and everything was totally contained. About 5 percent of the prostate had cancer. It was very successful.”

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UPDATE: Bridge for Bearden?

City Councilwoman Brenda Palmer said that Commissioner Jeff Ownby’s drive for a pedestrian cross walk/bridge at Bearden Middle is politically driven.

Ownby said his intentions are pure.

Draw your own conclusions, but here’s another tidbit: Knox County Schools Board of Education 4th District representative Lynne Fugate said she’s heard nothing of any need for a pedestrian bridge. From a phone message left after yesterday’s school board meeting:

No parents have ever contacted me about the traffic or the crossing of students …

and I was on PTA at Bearden Middle School for a couple of years.

… we’re going to keep following this, of course. Stay tuned, as the broadcast set says.

Here’s a video from yesterday showing the school SRO doing his thing there. Four students crossed the road at the end of class.

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Dems elect party leadership in Knox Co

From a release:

Cameron Brooks-  Chair
Jackie Clay-  Vice- Chair
Shannon Webb-  Secretary
Emily Gregg-  Treasurer

Additionally, new members of the Board of Governors was elected-  Click HERE to see a listing of members.

Finally, below is a statement from new Chairperson Cameron Brooks, which was read at the convention.

I first want to thank you for electing me as your vice chair two years ago.  It has been a great labor of love working with all of you and I am greatly appreciative of the trust you put into me when electing me two years ago.  I am running for chair of the Knox county Democratic party because I want to bring my over ten years of experiences in organizing with the Communications Workers of America and other organizations to this important struggle- that of building our local democratic party.  I pledge to you to give 100% over these next two years to do exactly that.

We need to continue to build and strengthen our party- we’ve made progress over these past two years but much more work needs to be done.

We need to further strengthen our ties with labor unions and community based organizations that are part of our democratic constituency groups- whether they be environmental organizations, immigrant organizations, lgbt, women, and organizations fighting for affordable healthcare.  We need to be seen as the voice in the electoral arena for these causes.

By doing this, and standing for these issues, we’ll be a party that is a real democratic alternative,  something voters can be excited about!  Building our democratic brand is something important that we will devote time and energy to.

From now until the candidate filing deadline, we need to recruit candidates for county, state house, and state senate races in 2016.  We need good, qualified democratic candidates so voters will have real choices to make next year.  We will work with the TNDP and new chairperson Mary Mancini to achieve these goals.

We need to continue volunteer recruitment and base building-  Volunteers are the lifeblood of our party-  we need to recruit more volunteers and  build up our precinct organizations and get people involved in their communities.  Our 9 districts can lead the way in this important endeavor.

We need to hire a county field organizer to work on the 2016 county races-  staffing is very important for campaigns and is a critical area for success of any campaign.  This person will be involved in helping candidates fundraise, recruit volunteers, use votebuilder, and mobilize their volunteers through phone banking and door to door.

We need an increased focus on fundraising-  not only through Truman day, but through other events and also through email solicitation.  There is a ton of money that we leave on the table by not asking of folks to give.  We must change that and improve our fundraising apparatuses.

I pledge to you that I will work hard for you and I will also have an open door to everyone who has an idea or even a criticism.  We need all heart and minds to move forward.  We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.  Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

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More comments on race and diversity in Knox County and Knoxville

Sam McKenzie had some sharp words on racial diversity in Knox County last week, or the lack of it, when looking at magistrate candidates. Here’s more of what he said, on

Sam McKenzie

Sam McKenzie

appointments and other issues in race:

I think if you dug into the record, it would be pretty dismal in terms of how we’ve even made appointments. It’s a sad truth that very few commissioners outside the first (district) make minority appointments.

… going only by memory, it’s hard to recall any minority appointments from commission to boards – at least in the couple years I’ve been covering them.

McKenzie said he spoke with Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett on the matter:

I’ve talked to both the mayor and (chief of staff Dean Rice) about this and, in the past I’ve not made a big hairy, stinky deal about it … and I’ll try to work with folks and continue to work with people.

I’m just trying to tell people, let’s sit back and think about this, let’s think about where we are … the status quo is not satisfactory.

I think people view a still water as being ‘everything is OK.’ And I don’t think so. That would be a mistake, it that is just a common thinking. People aren’t happy with the way the county is being run from a diversity standpoint. I’m trying to be, I’m declaring a call, and to say ‘we’ve gotta start this process. We gotta start thinking along these lines.’

Robert Booker, a Knoxville civil rights activist and former director of the Beck Cultural Center, also had more to say:

My thing is history, and I look at the history of this county and try to compare what happened in the old days, compared to what happens today.

It amazes me that around 1887 or thereabouts we had three black people on the city council, and now we can only get one.

The appointment cycles – and the appointees – feed themselves for boards and commissions, according to Booker. That means that people tend to stick with those that they know for various appointments, and human nature tends to keep people from looking far outside their nearby circles. Booker explained it through the lens of someone appointing people today.

Everybody is in cahoots … because they’re just like us, they’re the people that we know, they belong to the same country club that I belong to, or he chaired a committee and I was pleased with the way he did it … we don’t know those other people.

Until we get to know the other people. And the other people have to know that appointments are available, to make applications.

And we did talk to the city, which had a few things to add. From an email with Knoxville’s communication staff. For the story we looked at current senior staff among both the city and the county, but city staff drilled down a little further:

Mayor Rogero’s first communications director was an African-American woman, Angela Starke. At the deputy director level, Dawn Michelle Foster was brought in as the No. 2 in the Office of Redevelopment, and Nate Allen was named KPD’s first African-American deputy chief last summer. Joshalyn Hundley works full-time as our Title VI coordinator.

KPD’s last cadet class was diverse, by gender, age and race. And Public Service Department has a program in place to identify job candidates and encourage diversity hiring.

There are other initiatives – a lot of attention to hiring a representational City work force at all levels.

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Sunshine week, E911 and the Sheriff’s rebuttal to an editorial

KNS had this editorial that called out Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones explicitly today:

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones clouded discussion of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act during a meeting of the Knox County E-911 board last week. With the advent of Sunshine Week, which focuses on transparency in government, a clearing of the skies is needed.

… read more here.

Today, Jones fired back on the Sheriff’s Office website:

It’s Sunshine Week and the News Sentinel wants its readers to know that it’s time for “a clearing of the skies.”  The editorial in Tuesday’s paper isn’t talking about the weather, but the Sunshine Law.  A law that the newspaper trotted out when it failed to cover sixteen months’ worth of E-911 meetings concerning a contract for a new digital emergency communications system.    The paper had obviously deemed the meetings not worthy of coverage until it was alerted by lobbyists and politicians who had a stake in the radio system.

The editors at the paper believe a “backroom deal” was brokered between Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch and me.  I hardly call it a backroom deal when the Police Chief and Sheriff of the third largest law enforcement agencies in the state cannot talk about the safety and security of their officers and citizens.

I am fully aware of the Sunshine Law and that’s why I contend there was no violation between Chief Rausch and me.  The newspaper, however, is clearly hiding behind the Sunshine Law to distract from its failure to report on an issue that affects the entire community.  I believe the law does need to be revisited when a major media outlet manipulates it to cover up its own inadequacies.

Make of that what you will. Jones has taken to his website as a means to communicate missives through the E-911 reporting.

It’s worth nothing that Jones was reluctant to talk to KNS last week after the meeting.

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