Fri
May 11 2007
12:15 pm

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale announced his proposed FY07-08 budget on Wednesday. Some highlights from the Mayor's budget speech (PDF format):

• Without question, this has been the most difficult budget I have experienced in my 13 years as either a County Commissioner or Mayor. [..] I am asking our County Commission to approve a $57 million bond issue to cover the initial cost of the Sheriff’s Pension plan. This is the best way to cover an expense of this magnitude. This needs to be addressed by July 1 to ensure it is fiscally sound for Sheriff Department employees.

• County employees work hard to meet the needs of our citizens. This budget includes a 2% raise for employees and a one-time $500 bonus for all full-time workers.

• Well, now the question comes…what about taxes? I am pleased to announce that we can accomplish each of these initiatives with no tax increase whatsoever!

• I want to personally thank Sherry Witt, Billy Tindell, and John Whitehead. These countywide officeholders agreed with my recommendation to freeze or reduce the size of their staff. I’m working with them and others to increase the fees turned over to Knox County government. Over the past 5 years, we have reduced the size of government by 159 employees. We will do more this year, without any reduction in services to our citizens.

• Our Chamber Partnership’s JobsNow! Program, combined with the efforts of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation, is producing, what I like to call, economic results. We have created over 22,000 new regional jobs. By creating better jobs, we have seen family incomes rise by nearly $4,000 per family. We have had $2.5 billion in capital investment, and it is great to continue to have one of the lowest unemployment rates that you will find anywhere in America.

• I am pleased to report that our children’s scores on the American College Test or ACT are now higher than the state average and the national average.

• Additionally, we have placed almost $6.5 million in the budget for the Great Schools Partnership. This will allow for additional programs for our birth to kindergarten initiative and Pre-Kindergarten classes. The budget allows for a new magnet program at Beaumont Elementary and an expansion of the advisor-advisee program. It allows for the expansion of the TAP program to another elementary school.

• Going forward, we are going to make certain that the quality of a child’s education is never determined by their zip code. (Ed. Note: They mayor recognized three teachers of the year. They are from A.L. Lotts Elementary, Holston Middle, and Farragut High.)

A summary of the Mayor's budget proposal is here (PDF format).

Among the highlights:

• Total budget is $613,997,237, a 5.6% increase over FY06-07.

• General Administration budget is increased 28.7%

• Public Safety budget (including Sheriff's Dept.) is increased 18.5%

• Public Library budget is increased 5.9%

• General Purpose School budget is increased 3.6%

• Public Health and Welfare budget is reduced (5.4%)

• Administration of Justice budget is reduced (10.1%)

• Other General Government budget is reduced (26.7%)

The Mayor also announced a hiring freeze. The requested headcount for FY08 was 8351 full time and 232 part time employees. This was a decrease of two full time employees and an increase of 32 part time employees compared to FY07. The Mayor's proposed headcount is 8309 full time employees and 213 part time employees, a decrease of 44 full time employees and an increase of 13 part time employees compared to FY07.

Some other notes from the budget…

• While increasing school funding by $12 million, or 3.6%, the Mayor proposes to increase Great Schools Foundation funding by 60% to $6.3 million while reducing the School Board's request from $350.6 million to $344.2 million, which is about $6.4 million. According to the Great Schools Foundation's most recent annual report, they spent the bulk of their funding (which came from TN Department of Education, United Way , and Great Schools) on targeted Pre-K and Kindergarten "intervention" programs to assist 900 children in 650 families and operate 13 pre-K classes. Some have criticized the program as a "shadow" school board, whose funding should be included in the School Board's budget and its operations managed as part of the Knox County School System.

• One of the curiosities in the Mayor's proposed budget is an 850% decrease in "Miscellaneous", a cut of $6.1 million. The requested budget was $1.6 million (over FY07's $726K), but the Mayor proposed $5.4 million decrease. Perhaps someone knows what this is all about?

• There is a 200% increase in Sheriff's Administration budget, of $5.5 million as compared to $2.7 million for FY07. There is a sharp increase in the proposed Sheriff's Administration headcount from 15 full time employees to 157 full time and 3 part time employees. Perhaps some employees are being reclassified?

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It's pretty tough to be odiously evil in an administration that includes Dick Cheney, who skews the grading curve so wildly one is bound to look good in comparison. But Condoleeza Rice manages to hold up remarkably well. And because she's much slicker than Mr. Snarl, she generally gets away with it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Continued...

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Fri
May 11 2007
10:29 am

Ah, what a great week this has been. The Hairy / Downy woodpeckers are now bringing their baby to the tree next to our suet station. Right now a pair of mockingbirds and their sole offspring are right outside my window in the new flower bed. Boy howdee is that a noisy child! The brown thrashers still come several times a day but always together so I don't think they have nested yet. No sign of the female towee but the male feeds at the same time as the single dove. The RB grosbeaks have all moved on. The male cardinal continues to feed the little woman before she flys off to the nest.

Continued...

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Fri
May 11 2007
10:08 am

The Washington Post reports, "Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists."
...
"Congress created the rural broadband program in 2002. To date, according to Andrew, 69 loans for $1.2 billion have been approved to finance infrastructure in 40 states. Only 40 percent of the communities benefiting were unserved at the time of the loan, ..."

Earlier the Washington Post reported on the entire rural development program from the USDA.

Thomas C. Dorr, the undersecretary for Rural Development, describes the division's role as the "venture capitalist for rural America." The program provides "equity, liquidity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth" and preserve rural communities, the political appointee said in testimony before Congress

Provincetown, MA - "recently refurbished municipal dock that was built with the help of a $1.95 million low-interest loan from the" USDA

Martha's Vineyard - "the USDA guaranteed a $4.5 million loan for the popular Black Dog Tavern"...

..USDA has handed out more than $70 billion in grants, loans and loan guarantees since 2001... More than half of that money has gone to metropolitan regions or communities within easy commuting distance of a midsize city, including beach resorts and suburban developments, a Washington Post investigation found.

Why hasn't the City of Alcoa requested some of these funds (or have they?)? I bet Alcoa would fit the "rural" criteria.

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Thu
May 10 2007
10:36 pm

Tonight the House passed a short-term funding bill for the Iraq war that would require a set of benchmarks to be reached before Congress would vote to release the remaning funds after July. But before that Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern offered up a full withdrawal bill that would have removed all US troops from Iraq in 9 months. The real shocker nationwide was that this immediate withdrawal bill got 171 votes in favor. The good news locally was that of the two Republican Congressman voting for this immediate withdrawal bill, one was our own Jimmy Duncan.

This is significant because Duncan voted against the last timetable bill. I thought that he was softening his antiwar position under pressure from GOP leadership. But I think he just didn't think the measure was strong enough. Duncan says "Get out of Iraq NOW!"

The Iraq War is the fundamental political issue of our time. I disagree with Duncan on many issues, especially domestic matters. But on this matter of utmost importance he has been dead right and steadfast all along. For that I say kudos to Congressman Jimmy Duncan. You have served the 2nd District of Tennessee with honor.

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Thu
May 10 2007
08:46 pm

Comrades, greetings!

Under the 'can't bear to lose his identity' column, there's (link...) . At the top of the page, he still claims to be Knox County GOP chairman.

His most glorious reign (hey! no snorting your drinks up your noses or spittakes out there, Comrades!) ended March 10, some 2 months ago.

Why can't he update his own site? Maybe we need Tyler and Adam to swoop in and monkey with the site.

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Thu
May 10 2007
06:58 pm
By: Rachel  shortURL

Just thought ya'll would like to know that we're all Communists now. And that's a "fair and balanced" assessment.

Fire up the Internationale.

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Thu
May 10 2007
05:17 pm

In case you haven't been following, Mr. Cup of Joe went to Washington.

He files this report on his conversation with Thomas Jefferson, and this report on a Leonardo Da Vinci sighting at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Leo invented everything in there, you know). And Amelia Earhart, too, who looks pretty great in that aviator outfit (unlike a certain Commander in Chief).

And if that isn't enough, Joe's giving away some great CDs. (Deadline for entry is midnight tonight.)

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Thu
May 10 2007
05:02 pm

Nashville is Talking and Volunteer Voters have been off the air most of the day. The station's main website is still up and running. Did the new management pull the plug after GM and online pioneer Sechrist's recent departure?

(Just kidding, of course. That would be pretty stupid. Wouldn't it?)

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Thu
May 10 2007
02:23 pm

(Number umpteen in a series of umpteen.)

I am continually amazed by the lack of attention given to scandals like this one in the press, but still, this one's something of a whopper, especially if you've been following the DOJ story lately:

The Bush administration has withheld a series of e-mails from Congress showing that senior White House and Justice Department officials worked together to conceal the role of Karl Rove in installing Timothy Griffin, a protégé of Rove's, as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

The withheld records show that D. Kyle Sampson, who was then-chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, consulted with White House officials in drafting two letters to Congress that appear to have misrepresented the circumstances of Griffin's appointment as U.S. attorney and of Rove's role in supporting Griffin.

H/T Atrios.

These revelations ought to make Gonzo's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee a little more interesting. I hope.

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Thu
May 10 2007
09:01 am
By: R. Neal  shortURL

Sources tell us Sen. Kurita is a little frustrated that she isn't feeling the love from fellow Democrats and may be helping out the other team.

Kurita allegedly told senior members of the Governor's staff and at least one cabinet member that she won't vote for the Governor's Schools First cigarette tax increase because she isn't sponsoring the bill. This is apparently not the first time she has complained about not being chosen to sponsor the bill.

Kurita has in the past been a strong supporter of raising the cigarette tax, and sponsored a bill in 2005 that would have raised the tax to 60 cents, similar to the Governor's proposal except the money was to be used for TennCare and the general fund. It was rejected by the Senate Finance committee.

Kurita has also apparently complained that she can't get any bills passed in the House (other than a resolution honoring the Vanderbilt Women's Basketball team) and has even asked Gov. Bredesen to talk to Jimmy Naifeh about it.

There are also reports that she tipped off Republicans about Senate Democrat plans to amend the rules so that committee membership and leadership reflect the actual make up of the Senate (16 Democrats, 16 Republicans, 1 Independent) and told Republicans they should reinstate the rule requiring a 2/3 vote for rule changes in order to stop this. She supposedly told them they needed to do it while Senators Cooper and Ford were absent so that she could vote with the Democrats, giving her cover.

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Thu
May 10 2007
08:23 am

The KNS has an update on their lawsuit involving alleged sunshine law violations that occurred during the appointment process to replace term-limited county commissioners.

KNS editor Jack McElroy, the plaintiff, was asked if he had any personal knowledge of deliberations taking place outside public view. He responded with this interesting timeline (PDF format), which is the basis of the complaint. Here's a sampling:

During the same recess, reporter Ferrar observed a gathering that included Commissioners Moore and Lambert, as well as Tramel. When Commissioner Schmid noticed the gathering. he said: "They’re trying to sneak in Richard Cate behind my back. They’re trying to swear in Richard Cate. They’re trying to get my vote out." A short while later, reporter Barker went to the area in front of the Small Assembly Room, where Judge Wheeler Rosenbalm, in his robes and carrying a Bible, stood near Richard Cate. Schmid, Lambert, Tramel and Cate were arguing. Rosenbalm was preparing to swear in Cate, although commissioners had agreed earlier to hold off on swearing in the new appointees until 2 p.m. "If you want to keep that spot in '08, you better not do this," Schmid yelled at Cate. Cate eventually replied angrily, "Don’t accuse me of that any more." Tramel told Schmid he was a "part-time" commissioner. "You’re never here for committee meetings,” he said. Schmid turned to Barker and said, "Let’s call a spade a spade. They’re wanting to get my vote out so they can get Lee Tramel in." Lambert angrily called Schmid a "peckerhead." Later, Schmid added, "This is typical of the way these people operate." Cate, who chose not to take the oath of office, said someone in the back of the Main Assembly Room had suggested he take the oath of office early. "I don’t even know who it was." Photographer Cary observed and photographed a portion of the gathering involving Schmid, Lambert and Cate.

The timeline also discusses the details of Jonathan Wimmer's claim that he was offered a deal by Lumpy Lambert if he would agree to be sworn in and vote for Tramel.

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Thu
May 10 2007
07:58 am

In case you missed it (it wasn't mentioned in today's Knoxville News Sentinel), eleven Congressional Republicans went to the White House and told Bush and other top administration officials that he will no longer have the support of the GOP if the war goes on much longer.

Pundits are comparing the rather historic confrontation to Goldwater's famous meeting with Nixon that ended his presidency.

House Republican leader John Boehner attended the meeting, which was organized by Rep. Charles Dent of Pennsylvania and Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois representing a group of moderate Republicans.

In what was described as a "remarkably candid" and "blunt" meeting, Bush was told that the no longer has any credibility on the war, and that it is time for "candor" and "honesty." Here is the NBC News video report by Tim Russert.

Bush acknowledged that the war is causing political problems for the GOP and expressed concerns about upcoming elections.

One would think he heard that message loud and clear in Nov. 2006, but his actions since suggest otherwise. Pressure from Democrats in the new Congress, along with some Republicans who are wising up, seems to finally be working. This could be the beginning of the end, especially if Democrats can put together a veto-proof coalition.

What's frustrating is that it has to come down to politics. The fact that we were led to war based on a pack of lies, that we have damaged our reputation around the world, that we have seriously weakened our military, and that we have failed to shut down the terrorist network that attacked us are all irrelevant. It's the number of "R" seats in Congress at stake and the threat of a "D" in the White House that gets Bush's attention.

Whatever it takes to end this thing is OK by a majority of Americans at this point. It's time to declare victory and bring our troops home.

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Thu
May 10 2007
06:02 am

Sunday's News Sentinel will feature part one of UT's Howard Baker Center report on the structure and functions of local government. The report will use mostly graphics to present an overview of the governments of Knox County, the City of Knoxville and the Town of Farragut. The second part of the study will be completed in mid-summer. It will be a report of best practices in government structure and functions in communities similar in size to ours. The reports are being prepared to support the Knox County One Question process. In addition to the Baker Center reports, information will be gathered from citizens in at least five public input sessions. The first session is Monday at Halls High School. To read an executive summary of the Baker Center plan of work and for a list of all public input sessions visit: (link...).

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Wed
May 9 2007
09:43 pm

State, federal, and local authorities have pretty much abdicated their responsibility toward addressing the consequences of mountaintop removal in Appalachia, so several groups banded together and decided to approach the U.N. about it:

The groups from Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky asked the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development, which is holding its annual session through Saturday, to shun coal in favor of policies promoting renewable energy and cuts in fossil fuel consumption.

The delegation told reporters outside the U.N. that coal extraction has destroyed more than a million acres (400,000 hectares) of forests, 500 mountains and 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) of streams in recent years in the Appalachians.

Just one tiny example of the myriad consequences of this abhorrent practice:

Erica Urias of the group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth said she recently discovered that her 3-year-old daughter's bathwater has high levels of arsenic that had leached into local supplies from mining operations.

The consequences of mountaintop removal have now been featured as a special layer within Google Earth:

Look for "Appalachian Mountaintop Removal" under the "Global Awareness" folder of the "Layers" sidebar. You can take the site tour of a mountaintop removal operation, explore the featured mountains and affected communities marked with blue flag buttons, and use the slider bar to see high resolution images of these mountains before and after mountaintop removal. To view all the locations of the over 470 mountains that have been destroyed, please visit the full featured version of the Memorial on www.iLoveMountains.org.

There's more on the subject here and here.

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Knox County Democrats
Truman Day Dinner and Rally

WHO: Democratic Party of Knox County, Host
WHAT: East Tennessee Truman Day Dinner & Political Rally
WHERE: Historic Jacob Building • Chilhowee Park & Exposition Center • 3301 Magnolia Avenue • East Knoxville
WHEN: Saturday, June 2, 2007 • Reception 6:00 p.m. • Dinner & Political Rally 7:00 p.m.

RECEPTION 6:00 PM -7:OO PM. Tickets are $100.00 each. Attendees receive two (2) tickets at the door to use at the open bar. Hors d’oeuvres will be served.

DINNER 7:00 PM. Tickets are $50 each. Tickets for the dinner may be purchased by table (10 tickets) or individually. The cost for a table is $450. Seating is limited.

SPEAKER: Honorable Philip Bredesen has been invited along with other special guests.

For more information, join our email list and to print a reservation form go to (link...)

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fires befall nation...

Wildfires on both coasts and the Canadian border...
Major flooding in the MidWest...

...The drought and the Easter Freeze are also affecting crops and livestock...

Then to top it off, "Subtropical Storm Andrea" is causing a bit of a todo...

Yeehaw!!! Got your disaster supplies at the ready? What was it I was supposed to have ready anyway?

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Wed
May 9 2007
11:36 am
By: R. Neal  shortURL

Workman, 53, was pronounced dead at 1:38 a.m. after a lethal cocktail of drugs was injected into his body as he lay strapped to a prison gurney at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

Workman’s final words were brief.

"I've prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ not to lay charge of my death to any man," Workman said.

About two minutes later, with his eyes closed as he gulped, somewhat nervously, Workman uttered his final words: "I commend my spirit into your hands Lord Jesus Christ."

He then turned his head slightly to the left and lay motionless, as an ashen color overtook his face.

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Wed
May 9 2007
09:33 am

The Alcoa City Commission passed the amended Alcoa Animal Ordinance last night by a unanimous vote. It took a little longer than expected to get it on the agenda because lawyers had to rewrite some language to incorporate a few suggested changes. You can read more about that here.

We spoke with Alcoa Police Capt. Phillip Dunn, who is in charge of animal control and is a super nice guy who cares about his work with animals (and pet owners). We thanked him for listening to our concerns and incorporating changes to address them. We also thanked City Manager Mark Johnson for working with us to get this done.

Capt. Dunn also told us that they had already purchased the microchip scanners City Manager Mark Johnson had authorized, and they hope this will help keep some strays out of the shelters.

Capt. Dunn also said they are working with local veterinarians on a registration program that would let residents register their pets when they go to the vet for annual rabies vaccinations.

They are also working on a new brochure to give to all new residents explaining the animal control ordinances and registration requirements (which we did not know about), and hope to have this info on their new website soon. They also hope to allow for online renewal of registrations at some point.

We briefly discussed the new Smoky Mountain Animal Care shelter, a non-profit that will hopefully be taking over Blount County's shelter operations soon. (Read more about that here.) There are no plans at this time for the City of Alcoa to change their shelter arrangement with the City of Maryville. Alcoa city officials have been involved with the group, though, to help with planning.

P.S. In related news, the Mrs. is donating two dog poop stations to be installed at Springbrook Park. The stations have cleanup bag dispensers and waste receptacles. Blount Co. Parks and Recreation will take care of the installation, resupply, and maintenance. There is currently only one and it is at the parking lot. We'll be going over there next week with the parks guy to scout out locations for the new ones.

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