There is an old political axiom that you don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.
But Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and the News Sentinel are going at it hammer and tong, and Burchett’s lawyer came up with an end-run around the shield law: a subpoena for the newspaper’s entry logs and videos. Legal eagles doubt the strategy will hold up; it’s a little vague about the purpose of the information. But lawyer Al Harb is pressing on.
The Sentinel has used bank records to question the accuracy of Burchett campaign reports and checks made out to Allison Burchett, from whom Burchett is currently divorcing. The subpoena is ostensibly to discover if Allison Burchett has been visiting the News Sentinel. This is now moot because a Sunday story has Allison Burchett meeting with the News Sentinel to show them copies of bank statements.
As Burchett’s lawyer, Harb is one of the few attorneys in town who wouldn’t seem to mind attacking the town’s biggest ink purchaser. Harb used to collect delinquent taxes for trustee Mike Lowe on a commission basis and received a tidy income. Stories about the arrangement became a campaign issue and current trustee John Duncan III hired a permanent staffer on salary to collect the taxes. (Tax collections are up under the new system, the News Sentinel reported.)
Despite the squabbles, KNS editor Jack McElroy and Burchett performed a musical number together on Saturday at the Front Page Follies, a fund-raiser by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists.