Trust Wears Thin

A tale of two wires reveals only one real connection

A strange rash of wire-wearing has afflicted Knox County. Commissioner Paul Pinkston admitted to recording conversations with Ragsdale and staff, and a local businessman piled cassettes containing conversations with county officials on the public podium at the January commission meeting. Brad Mayes played an excerpt from one of his tapes at a more recent meeting.

It is sad that trust in county government has eroded so much, sadder that some of the mistrust has proven justified.

Pinkston's recordings were not what he had hoped. Mayor Ragsdale sounds contrite and admits mistakes in the use of purchasing cards, just as he has in public. His position on tape is consistent with his public response. Thousands of dollars in charges have been refunded, several people have lost jobs, cards have been revoked, and tighter controls have been put in place.

Disputed p-card charges did not amount to even a thousandth of the county's billion-dollar budget. In fact, according to John Troyer, Knox County's CFO, the savings in billing and invoicing from using purchasing cards exceeds all the lobster, alcohol, and smoothies anyone could whine over. Paul Pinkston squandered far more when he killed the South High renovation plan. It is refreshing to see Pinkston return to the fiscally responsible side of the ledger, transforming from brave defender of liability to crusader for p-card penance, but his quarry is not even pennies on a dollar. Penance for profligate purchases has been paid.

Pinkston didn't get much payoff from wearing his wire, but he did amuse News-Sentinel staffers by haplessly hunting for the eject button on his digital recorder. Since his recordings vindicate Ragsdale, handing them over was something of a peace offering, which is good, since rumors of dwindling coffers and inactivity in the Knox County GOP suggest trouble at the top has trickled down. Maybe Tim Hutchison's rule-forever clan can make peace with Ragsdale's ruling-class clan, because the last thing this country needs is political parties collapsing.

Both Democrats and Republicans meet the too-big-to-fail test that saved Chrysler and Bear Stearns, so we should do more for our ailing parties than just fund their primaries and buffer them from competition. Life without two powerful parties would be almost unbearable, to say nothing of liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Brad Mayes takes his rights seriously, and he had better luck with his wire. He is suing Natural Resources Recovery (NRR) for false claims. He also sued the county, but it chose to side with him against the operator of the Solway green waste facility. NRR is a Louisiana company that sells mulch and compost under the Nature's Best brand. They won Knox County's contract to operate the Solway facility, and they sell the resulting mulch on the open market.

NRR is supposed to pay $1.50 to the county for every cubic yard sold. The operator claims Knox County promised more waste than the actual yield, so they have not shared revenues. Their claims about supply and production have been inconsistent. The snippet of tape Mayes shared was an attorney claiming a permit had been delayed, while records indicate otherwise, and Mayes says reports the company submitted to state and county regulators contradict their claims.

Mayes runs a nearby garden supply business and became upset when signs and flyers advertising NRR's mulch and compost brand appeared at county facilities. Advertising was halted when Mayes complained, but with his dander up, he started researching NRR.

He found things he felt he could not keep quiet about, and he has petitioned for redress.

One wire wearer can't keep quiet; the other won't shut up. The contract for operating the composting facility is up for bid. m