Sun
Dec 17 2006
10:28 pm

The upcoming Knox County Commission meeting, 2 p.m. Dec. 18th, should be an eventful one. The top four items should be:

* Parking Garage. I favor a lift the barrier approach, or at least more weekend and evening availability. Expect PBA and Sheriff to raise security fears, suggesting a new garage as the alternative. To quote Edward R. Murrow, "We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason."

* Annexation Matter, requesting state investigation. I'm torn on this one. I'm glad we've dropped the idea of suing ourselves (our own election commission). I oppose the corporate welfare that got us into this mess. I called the Election Commission to ask about several matters associated with the election. It may well be a disgusting trick and a snookering of two public bodies, but I don't see any genuine election law violations. I do have some questions that will need to be addressed.

* Funding for the Midway Business Park. An unneeded business park over sinkholes, and passed over significant community objection in the closing hours of the last commission. I was in the audience when this thing was rammed through. I'll be opposing this one.

* Garbage: Waste Management v. Waste Connections (old BFI). Bids were extemely close. Neither has great record on labor matters. Both are below the national average on CEO pay grabs. I'm still researching this one.

There also may be a controversial zoning or two. All the best, Mark Harmon (Co. Comm. Dist 2, Seat A)

137
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Number9's picture

Could you ask a question Monday?

Mark, I appreciate your stand on the Midway Industrial park.

Would you ask on behalf of the taxpayers how the Development Corporation can justify the 57 million plus dollars this project will cost? Like many others I watched the last meeting about the Midway Industrial Park on cable Television and I was shocked to find out that the total costs for this project have not been disclosed. The roads are all two lane roads. Tens of millions of dollars must be spent to improve both roads and infrastructure for this proposed park.

Mike Edwards made a big deal of the six percent slope requirement but failed to inform County Commission that most of this park violates the six percent slope requirement.

Why should taxpayers have to pay for an unneeded office park when other office parks are paid for by private investors? No one really believes this will be either a manufacturing park or a distribution center. Do they?

Knox County Commissioner Phil Ballard spoke very elegantly about the better uses for this land. You can watch what Phil said below.

Bbeanster's picture

At the risk of sounding like a smart alec --

you're doing a heckuva job, Harmon.

Seriously, I am a constituent, and I appreciate your thoughtful, serious approach to this job. If anybody asked me what I think of the new commissioners, I'd give you extremely high marks and put you and Tony Norman at the head of the class.

Except for one quibble: I'm puzzled by your support for the "One Man, One Vote" vote, which seems like a pretty underhanded sequence of events designed to benefit one sprawl-prone developer. What's up with that? (and if I'm wrong about this, I apologize in advance)

**Addendum: you dealt with this in your post. My bad, although I think moving a trailer onto a piece of commercial property and claiming that an employee who doesn't use any water, heat or power lives there is a pretty dishonest thing to do. Especially when the trailer is moved out the day after the election.

KnoxCitizen's picture

Well there was a response to

Well there was a response to this - a lawsuit that could have challenged this whole sequence of events. Its a shame some Commissioners thoughtfully and seriously directed the county law director to dismiss the suit. But on the upside, at least they did so without wasting everyone's time with a boring public meeting. Government by letter - its the future baby, yeah!

Number9's picture

If anyone is either torn or

If anyone is either torn or confused on the issue of the Tim Graham sweetheart deal with the Lowe's Shopping center annexation matter you can find the answers here in a column written by John Emison who is with Citizens for Home Rule. These problems demonstrate a continuing pattern of obstruction and abuse of taxpayers rights in Knox County. It is important also to recognize that the center of these problems is Mayor Ragsdale and the "Ragsdale Players".

Time after time bureaucratic maneuvers from the Ragsdale administration are costing taxpayers money while enriching private citizens who are close to Mayor Ragsdale.

An investigation of the Tim Graham matter is required. Whether or not this was a bribe for "voluntary annexation" is a semantic irrelevance. More distressing is the fact that the twenty year old voter, Garrett S. Meek, cannot be located.

We get the government we deserve, don't we?

From John Emison:

Subsidy latest payout in government taxation to support private developers
The wages of politics

By JOHN AVERY EMISON
December 17, 2006

If you like the idea of city government providing large cash subsidies to wealthy, well-connected political donors, then you are going to love this story.
This fall, Mayor Bill Haslam and the City Council voted to give a $2 million cash subsidy to the developer of the new Lowe's center on Chapman Highway.

Naturally, with so much money changing hands, there is a catch. And the catch is that the developer, Tim Graham, agreed to annexation of the property. The city fathers say the money is an investment that will pay itself back in the sales tax formula in just a few years. This is their second $2 million investment in Graham's projects in the past four years.

This deal was sailing along until someone noticed that the proposed annexation is outside the Urban Growth Boundary. Until this year, municipalities had no authority to annex beyond the UGB. To further complicate this matter, the city and Knox County signed a contract in 2001 agreeing to a very detailed process of amending the UGB in the future. This agreement, which was approved by both City Council and Knox County Commission, provides no alternative for annexing outside the UGB.

Beginning this year, state statutes allow municipalities to annex outside their UGB by referendum only. The law says the UGB can't be violated without a vote of the people, and just about everyone can agree that consent of the governed is a good thing. But that doesn't explain the hundreds of forced annexations in recent years without any property owner's consent and without any cash subsidy to average citizens.

So City Council sent a resolution to the Knox County Election Commission to hold a referendum to let the voters decide -- except there were no voters because there were no residents of the property, by then under development. What to do?

Rather than reassess the advisability and legally shaky basis and simply drop this scheme, the bureaucracy got creative.

Apparently, someone at the city or the Election Commission got the idea of moving a resident to the site. That resident was the late Garrett S. Meek, 19, of Maynardville. Some say Meek was the night watchman at the site.

No matter, the Election Commission registered him to vote and conducted the referendum, and Meek -- the only eligible voter in this referendum of one -- voted for annexation. Within days of the Nov. 7 election, his "residence" was torn down.

These sordid events led Knox County Law Director John Owings to file suit challenging the legality of the referendum. That suit was withdrawn Nov. 30 following intense lobbying by the Haslam administration, the developer and his hired PR person, Susan Williams, who is a lobbyist and a member of the boards of the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Valley Authority.

The referendum constituted the city's breach of the contract with the county that established the process by which changes to the UGB were to be handled. Owings' lawsuit sought to enforce this contract, which had successfully guided the two governments during the past six years and was to have guided them the next 14. Breaking that contract opens old wounds that will not close by turning a blind eye, even as the next insult is planned -- Halls, Powell, Karns, beware!

The referendum was a shameless ploy, a virtual mockery of the election process. It represents democracy hollowed-out and stuffed with money and behind-the-scenes politics.

The city faction on County Commission has complicated the process by a transparent violation of the Sunshine Act. Commissioner Ivan Harmon, a city employee, circulated among commissioners a letter to Owings -- 12 signed it -- requesting that he drop the suit. Clearly, this was a backroom "deliberat(ion) toward a decision," which is precisely what the Sunshine Act prohibits.

Leaving office in 1961, President Eisenhower warned about the power of the military-industrial complex. In that same speech, he warned also about the power of money in government, which he said is "gravely to be regarded." The past 45 years have proven the wisdom of both warnings.

If you are as outraged as I am at government taxing average citizens in order to subsidize well-connected political donors, log on to (link...) and let us know. If you are happy with your tax dollars subsidizing private business, no response is needed. Likely, a line is forming at the mayor's office for the next $2 million payday.

rikki's picture

one worm, one vote

Hi Mark. Using this forum to post County Commission meeting previews is an excellent idea. I hope it proves helpful for both you and the community.

I think this notion of "suing ourselves" is bad way to look at the annexation issue. If the county is reluctant to investigate actions taken by county officers, it just gives cover to those who would abuse their positions. The better notion for framing the issue is checks and balances.

Speaking of foundations of American democracy, how can a referendum of one person possibly pass muster? If the state law under which this vote was devised allows a single voter to overrule an agreement between a city and a county, that law needs to be challenged in court.

What is to stop some dude living in a trailer on the county line from holding his own referendum and winning city trash collection and emergency services? How could the election commission turn down such a request since they granted Garrett Meeks the same privilege?

Mark Harmon's picture

County commisssion in progress

I can't be online long, but I want to thank those who wrote, e-mailed, or called on all sides. Those advocating this resolution raised good points, arguments I found persuasive. I still believe our Election Commission acted properly, but it is possible that wrong could be found in the actions of third parties--and it is worthy of a look. Futher, I hope we can get beyond this corporate welfare in our future decisions.

One more thought. Some have raised concerns about the letter asking the lawsuit be dropped, mostly open meeting/records concerns. I reproduce below the text of the letter, and can give anyone who asks a hard copy:

Dear John (Owings),
By copy of this letter, we are requesting that you dismiss the lawsuit filed against the City of Knoxville, South Grove, GP, and Garrett Meek.
Although each of the undersigned Commissioners may have different reasons for supporting dismissal, we generally believe that for policy reasons it is in the best interest of the County to dismiss the lawsuit immediately,
Sincerely, (signatures of 12 commissioners)
-----
Incidentally, Law Director Owings said he ignored the letter and moved only on the action of the Mayor asking him to withdraw.
Mark Harmon

Number9's picture

If you are watching, does

If you are watching, does the concept of rats and a sinking ship come to mind?

Who would have thought of a Schmid versus Griess dog fight?

It is difficult to tell the players without a program.

***Pardon the edit but my text became bolded after I posted it. Moderators? What's up?

metulj's picture

Not your fault. COMMENTERS!

Not your fault. COMMENTERS! Remember to close your formatting tags. You can do this automagically with the green check mark. OK. Back to me rolling my eyes at Knoxville political checking accounts machinations.

BTW, Thorn Grove is a stupid place to build anything other than scattered residences. One word: Karst.

True happiness is knowing you are a hypocrite. -- Ivor Cutler

Number9's picture

This is tense. Dennis

This is tense. Dennis Francis is in the audience and may be there to represent the Knox County Election Commission. Francis looks to be deep in thought.

Several dogfights are occurring. It is difficult to know who is on what side.

Tim Graham was ask to speak and was referred to as Commissioner Graham. I am guessing that was a Freudian slip or a veiled putdown.

It is very difficult to understand what is happening is this meeting. This is well choreographed. What the end game is however is difficult to ascertain.

As near as I can tell team Ragsdale appears to be against "Commissioner Graham". Is the transparent harmony between Mayors Ragsdale and Haslam becoming clear?

Two thumbs up for the "Ragsdale Players". A compelling drama.

The vote is in and the result is the motion passes 11-8. If I understood the vote from an hour ago that means an investigation. But who knows in the bizzaro world of County Commission.

StaceyDiamond's picture

garage

What keeps getting missed is that this garage closed because of 9-11-2001 BUT IT DID NOT CLOSE UNTIL 2003!!??Stacey

Number9's picture

Trojan Horse theory

Trojan Horse theory confirmed. Lumpy Lambert asked if the 7.5 million could be used for things outside the Midway Industrial Park like sewers because of the pending lawsuit.

Mike Edwards took the microphone and said that was the plan.

Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

D Mac's picture

Who's on first?

What a fiasco. First they are so tangled in their own amendments and what they are voting for. Secondly, so many are trying to find some way to get sewers and "infrastructure" in place. And it all sounds like sprawl to me.

I agree Nine, it sure is a drama.

D Mac

Sandra Clark's picture

Drama, tragedy or comedy?

Drama, tragedy or comedy?

Number9's picture

Drama, tragedy or comedy? I

Drama, tragedy or comedy?

I will have YouTube clips of this Tuesday.

Sandra, I hope you and Betty will try to decipher this.

For pure entertainment value you cannot beat the Ragsdale Players.

D Mac's picture

What??

After all that did they really just vote to give them the 7.5 million with only 3 voting against it?

I am appalled.

Can we start hoping that all the term limited players get the boot and this and other stupid votes gets tossed out?

edens's picture

>For pure entertainment

>For pure entertainment value you cannot beat the Ragsdale >Players.

Nine, you really need to get out more.

Number9's picture

I heard in County Commission

I heard in County Commission a new phrase today from Mark Harmon. When there is significant neighborhood opposition Mr. Harmon made the statement, "there is enough neighborhood opposition to warrant a no vote".

What a concept. Does this mean that community autonomy is important? Will this idea spread to other Commissioners?

Sandra Clark's picture

Here's a public "thanks" to

Here's a public "thanks" to Mark Harmon, who is turning out to be a thoughtful and accessible commissioner. -- s.

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