Big Brother was listening to you – kind of

We’ll stop far short of it being called Orwellian, but for a little while there, a government authority was recording your conversations.

At a doorway.

In three Knox County government buildings.

But not much farther than that.

Still, it was unsettling to a few people who would rather protect privacy. Or at the very least, not have a government entity peering (or listening) over your shoulder. Because hey, people are already being watched in the City County building and Old Knox County Courthouse. Video cameras in there aren’t a new thing.

So here’s the story that ran in today’s KNS on audio recording recently happening at entrances to the City County Building.

Jayne Burritt

Jayne Burritt

Property management director at the PBA, Jayne Burritt, who appears to be the likely successor to outgoing PBA director Dale Smith, installed the recording devices in an effort to be sure security screeners were doing their jobs right, and that people coming in who had complaints had a log of interactions.

Enter the law of unintended consequences. Burritt in her role has authority to run the buildings as she sees fit; and Smith isn’t a micromanager. But once Smith heard of the recording devices he was not warm to the idea. The mics are shut down until further notice.

A few attorneys we talked with yesterday weren’t pleased, either. Lawyer Arthur Seymour, Jr., in general, doesn’t like the idea of reduced privacy for the public.

“The security people are very nice … they do their jobs, they do it very professionally,” he said. “That’s a public building, but I always thought maybe we had too much security.”

Knoxville attorney Mike Whalen – who called after deadline yesterday – had this to say:

“The only thing I would say is I think we ought to be a little careful about giving up our privacy, even if it ain’t much privacy … especially if the reason to give it up is so tenuous that we can give it up and take it back.”

So is this an intrusion of privacy, or monitoring a public building? The PBA’s attorney is looking into it. Until then, speak freely at entrances to the buildings. The PBA is still watching, but it’s not listening – for now.

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Into the numbers: Detail on the county’s $4M surplus

Foster Arnett wants to move. Well, kind of.

In today’s KNS, we had a story on the county’s surplus. It’s a fairly typical thing – for good financial managers – to have a little coin left over at the end of the year. Chris Caldwell, the

Chris Caldwell

Chris Caldwell

county’s finance director, is one of these types who budgets conservatively under the direction of Mayor Tim Burchett.

When the books close on the year, then it’s time to see what’s left over. Here’s the full sheet: Summary of surplus spending.

Coming back to County Clerk Foster Arnett, he’s looking at a potential move with Halls and Farragut options involved. If so, then there’s $175,000 there to be spent on the move.

“The clerk is possibly looking to relocate two satellite offices,” Caldwell said. “This doesn’t mean that they’re going to relocate. They’re exploring the options. I’ve put money aside to use in case they do relocate one or both offices.”

This money set aside is like the $500,000 in hold for potential salary adjustments as the county moves its employees to a new pay grade system. Caldwell said that money would help bring county employees to a correct level after a salary survey. It may not all be used, but the money is there in case it’s needed.

Here’s the rest from today’s report. And this is from last year’s surplus, in case you’re itching for the greatest hits.

And while we’re talking greatest hits, here’s something to listen to while you peruse the spreadsheet:

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Karen Carson liked one part of Common Core, but the rest – nope

Got this email today from 14th District Tennessee House candidate Karen Carson, who wanted to clarify her position on Common Core, after today’s story. Her words:

I’m disturbed that you report that I” support components of common core”–I certainly do not!  I made it clear last night that in the past I supported common core for higher standards.  That support helped spur the development process of TENNESSEE Standards and that that is what I support.

This may sound nuanced to you but it is a critical component of this election cycle.

Specifically, she said she appreciated the part that allowed Tennessee students to really see how they stacked up against the nation in terms of education (for 3rd graders, in particular) – which then allowed the state to make its own decisions on how to improve schooling. And, as it turns out, it worked.

This isn’t the first time that there has been a clarification of this sort in this short election cycle. Not long ago we reported that her opponent, Jason Zachary, is ready to discuss the gas tax. He took that to mean he supports the gas tax – which he does not, which we clarified. He is, however, interested in having an infrastructure discussion insofar as it involves spending some surplus money on roads. Carson, in rebuttal during Wednesday’s debate, noted that there are a lot of interests who want to have a piece of the state’s $500 million tax collection surplus – again, more nuance from her.

These candidates are indeed folks who use nuance to communicate and are very particular about their words. We reporter types just try to get the information out without obfuscation, and simply. Sometimes it’s just better to let candidates speak for themselves, but it’s important also to provide the appropriate context.

I talked with former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe yesterday, who said he couldn’t name a winner from the debate, but noted that Carson is more wont to use nuance in describing her position, while Zachary is taking a few more hardline stances. Ashe and I agreed that may be the difference between an experienced office holder (Carson), who would likely know that positions can shift from an election to issues faced in office, in comparison to Zachary, who has extensive experience in running for office – he had that congressional campaign and carried Farragut, after all.

In general, people bend words to support their reality – and politicians especially so. And, generally speaking, Carson and Zachary align on most issues, except for Insure Tennessee.

ICYMI, here’s a video from last night’s meeting:

This race will have a low turnout, to be sure. There were three views on the Youtube video today, supporting that point. There were more than a dozen officeholders in attendance at the debate last night, and most of the gathered had some kind of stake in either candidate.

Despite our coverage, the interest is casual in West Knox to name a replacement for the final year of Ryan Haynes vacated term. As Ashe surmised, it may come down who knows either candidate and will show up. While Zachary carried Farragut against John Duncan Jr. in the congressional race, Carson has been elected to local office – the school board – several times. Elections are a form of a popularity contest at all levels, but this may just come down to who knows more people – and if they show up to vote.

This is a primary, really, but no Democratic candidate has stepped up for the general election, so the winner of this GOP primary will end up unopposed for the upcoming election.

It’s worth noting, as well, that Democrats can vote in primaries in Tennessee – so this race isn’t just among Republicans, for Republicans, by Republicans. It just so happens to be in a really GOP-heavy section of the county. But Democrats, you too can have a voice in this election.

Today is the final day of early voting. The election is Wednesday. Vote early, vote often.

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Learn more about your government with the state Blue Book

From a release:

Nashville, Tennessee – (August 3, 2015) – The Secretary of State’s office is proud to announce a new online resource designed by Tennessee teachers. 15 lesson plans and teaching aids based on the Tennessee Blue Book are now available.

In March, seven teachers from across Tennessee formed the Secretary of State’s Blue Book Curriculum Task Force to create lessons that align with the state’s current social studies curriculum standards, and allow teachers to quickly use the Blue Book in civics or government classes from elementary through high school.

“The Tennessee Blue Book serves as a powerful textbook for our state’s educators. Tennessee’s students and teachers will benefit from the task force’s dedicated work,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

The Blue Book, considered the definitive almanac of Tennessee state government, is produced every other year by the Secretary of State’s office. The Blue Book contains a wealth of information about the governor, state legislators, state legislative committees, administrative departments of state government and the government’s structure. It also contains information about local governments, the federal government, state history and much more.

One example, Your Representatives in Government & How You Can Be Involved created by Addison Pate of Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School in Davidson County, teaches how a citizen locates information about their representatives, what actions their elected officials have taken, and how citizens can play an important role in the decision making process.

All of the lesson plans, including information on obtaining hard and digital copies of the Blue Book, can be found at:

The task force consists of Erika Ashford, Ridgeway High School in Shelby County; Cindy Bellamy, John Adams Elementary School in Sullivan County; William Freddy Curtis, Cannon County High School; Rebecca Marino, Cleveland City Schools in Bradley County; Addison Pate, Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School in Davidson County (formerly of Ravenwood High School in Williamson County); Gordon Sisk, Karns High School in Knox County; and Lain Whitaker, St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Shelby County.

The 2015-2016 edition of Tennessee Blue Book is scheduled to be published in January.

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Rural/Metro and staffing and Knox County

OK, so there are some issues with staffing availability with Rural/Metro.

Primarily this is connected to a recent rule change for EMTs in the state from August 2014, according to Rural/Metro staff, that requires people on ambulances to be level II EMTs instead of level I EMTs – which is how it used to be.

If you want to get far into the weeds on the rules that regulate ambulances and their staffing, check out the state rules here.

Also Rural/Metro folks have been meeting with county people all week on the issues raised by a letter earlier this month. And then there was this other story we wrote about Rural/Metro response.

If you want it put simply, the gist is that there have been a string of issues causing the county to say “hey, what’s up?” And Rural/Metro reacted, said some of the concerns are just false, others are more nuanced, and yes, there is a problem with staffing.

And as it goes, there’s more to untie. As Tom Milton, community relations director for R/M said earlier, the change in state regs was most likely done with good intentions.

Also, state officials say that the change was done to keep in line with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National EMS Scope of Practice Model. It’s worth showing the introduction to the issue:

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel treat nearly 20 million patients a year in the United States. Many of these patients have complicated medical or traumatic
conditions that require considerable knowledge, skill, and judgment to be treated effectively in the out-of-hospital setting. Some are critically ill or injured, and the proper
care can literally make the difference between life and death. For most patients, their crisis may not be a matter of life or death, but it is no less significant to them and their
family. High quality out-of-hospital emergency care is an important part of the United States health care system.
As of 2003, there were 840,669 certified out-of-hospital care personnel in the United States (Lindstrom and Losavio, 2004), and the nation’s annual expenditure for EMS
topped $6.75 billion (Sayer, Brown et al., 2001). Emergency Medical Services are diverse and complex systems. Until now, there has not been a national system to aid
States in the evolution of their EMS personnel scopes of practice and licensure. In 1996, there were at least 44 different levels of EMS personnel certification in the United States

… you can see how that set up an effort to have some kind of consistency among departments. So let’s look at the next coupla grafs:

As part of this project, a survey of all of the States and territories was conducted in 2005. Of the 30 States and Territories that responded, we were able to identify 39 different licensure levels between the EMT and Paramedic levels. This patchwork of EMS personnel certifications has created
considerable problems, including but not limited to:
• public confusion;
• reciprocity challenges;
• limited professional mobility; and
• decreased efficiency due to duplication of effort.
The EMS Education Agenda for the Future: A Systems Approach (2000) identified the need for a National EMS Scope of Practice Model as one of five components of an integrated, systematic approach to regulation of EMS education, certification, and
licensure. This system will help ensure safe and effective out-of-hospital, emergency care. It relies on a “hand-in-glove” relationship between competency certification and
professional licensure. The development of the National EMS Scope of Practice Model is part of the continued commitment to realize the vision of the EMS Agenda for the Future
and the EMS Education Agenda for the Future: A Systems Approach.

You can read the rest at your leisure.

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UPDATE II: Local mayors and others react on SCOTUS ruling supporting same-sex marriage

Big ruling today from the Supreme Court. Here’s what Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said, through a release:

As a signer of the Mayors’ Brief in support of the plaintiffs, I am thrilled and thankful for this ruling. It is great news for our LGBT family members, friends and neighbors. And really, it is great news for all of us. A society that fully values and respects all of its members is a more fair and just society for us all. As a Knoxvillian, I am especially proud of Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty for their role in this historic case. They stepped forward on behalf of LGBT families and their allies across Tennessee, and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. I know what will mean the most to them is the simple fact that their marriage will now be legally recognized just as much in Knoxville as it was in New York.

She’s having a news conference in her office later today. What questions would you ask her? Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s reaction was much shorter, but supportive of the ruling:

Regardless of anyone’s opinion, same-sex marriage is now the law of the land, and I and my staff will work with state and other local officials to ensure that we comply with today’s Supreme Court ruling.

Here’s the Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini:

With today’s decision we see that love and respect has triumphed and we rejoice knowing that every person has the right to marry the person they love. Today is a day that Democrats celebrate with those couples as they build strong families while securing a future for themselves, in Tennessee and across our nation. Justices ruled in the landmark decision that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry and that states must recognize those marriages. The justices found that the right to marry for same-sex couples is protected under the 14th Amendment.

And the Tennessee Republican Party Chair Ryan Haynes:

Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process but, unfortunately, today’s judicial activism short-circuits that ability. While this has long been pushed by the Democrats’ agenda, the issue is far from settled.

Here’s County Clerk Foster Arnett, who, like the Sevier County Clerk Karen Cotter, is waiting until the Tennesse Attorney General issues a statement at 3 p.m. Arnett:

It’s real simple. We’re waiting on the Tennessee Attorney General to rule, and that’s all we’re going to say.

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It’s not construction, but it’s in the neighborhood – Washington Pike meeting

The city announced a meeting on the possibilities for what Washington Pike could look like … someday.

From the city:

What: Public meeting on design of the Washington Pike Roadway Improvements Project

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Where: Harvest Park Community Room, New Harvest Park, 4775 New Harvest Lane

Who: Staff from the City of Knoxville’s Engineering Department and the City’s consultants (CDM Smith) for the Washington Pike Roadway Improvements Project will hold a public meeting on the roadway concept design for Washington Pike from I-640 to Murphy Road.

Although the Washington Pike Roadway Improvements Project is not currently scheduled for construction, this meeting will provide information about the project status, present the concept design for streetscape improvements and provide an opportunity for public comments and suggestions.

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