There are those who say the Knox Area Chamber Partnership never does anything. That’s unkind. Look at what they accomplished just last week.
They hacked off the odds-on favorite to be the next county mayor. They hacked off news organizations and got a rebuke from the News Sentinel for killing a Sunshine law. They managed to do all this while Chamber honcho Mike Edwards was out of the country.
I don’t know what made state Sen. Tim Burchett more angry, the Knoxville Chamber labeling five of his bills “hostile to business” or the fact that they left his name out when they attacked House sponsor state Rep. Frank Niceley. Burchett is running for county mayor and one of his main campaign themes is transparency and restoring trust in government.
Garret Wagley, author of the press release attacking Niceley for being hostile to business, says they didn’t attack Burchett because the bills were the “brain children” of Niceley. He evidently thinks Burchett was duped into sponsoring them.
I have some personal knowledge on the subject. I wrote a column last fall about the problem with LLCs doing business with state and local government. There have been rumors over the years about legislators renting office space to state agencies, prominent politicians selling property to a government entity, and property being sold for industrial development by politicians’ family members, with all the owners being protected by the secrecy as to who actually owns an LLC. The day the column ran, Burchett called me to tell me he agreed with my position and he planned to introduce legislation to “sunshine” such transactions. I had also discussed the issue with Niceley in connection with the intermodal facility in New Market, since an LLC was trying to buy farms for the project.
The Chamber also labeled Niceley as “hostile to business” because he has a bill that would allow county commissions to set a referendum and let the voters decide whether or not to return to an elected school superintendent. It is permissive. It does not mandate a change. Niceley has resolutions from Knox County and Jefferson County commissions asking for the legislation.
Why is the Chamber so upset about this bill? It may be that an elected school superintendent would have the clout to tell the Chamber to take a hike when they insist on meddling with the school system.
People wonder why the Chamber called out Niceley in an unprecedented attack. I’ll tell you, but I find it puzzling. Niceley has been trying, along with New Market residents, to get the Norfolk Southern intermodal facility to move to an existing industrial site in Knox County or in Morristown. Niceley has criticized the Chamber for supporting Norfolk Southern’s Jefferson County site and not doing enough to get it located in Knox County.
Norfolk Southern has raped Knoxville for decades. They departed from the Coster Shop Yard, just off I-275, leaving the city a Superfund site that cost millions to reclaim. When they build the intermodal facility they will leave John Sevier Yards on Rutledge Pike and leave the county with another Superfund site. The jobs “created” in Jefferson County will be lost at John Sevier, most of them moving to the intermodal site, the rest to the switchyard in Chattanooga. The lost jobs at John Sevier are high-paying union jobs. The jobs gained in New Market will be non-union forklift operators.
The intermodal facility cannot be built without federal stimulus funds and without cooperation from state government. It will require the state Department of Transportation to deal with the increased road traffic to and from the site. Instead of the Knoxville Chamber using its clout with the state’s congressional delegation and with state government to encourage Norfolk Southern to locate in an existing brownfield in Knox County, it has supported Norfolk Southern taking farm land in Jefferson County.
That’s the root of the problem and why the Chamber thinks Niceley is “hostile to business.” He is not hostile to business, he is hostile to the Knox Area Chamber Partnership. And the feeling is mutual