ear (2007-50)

Ear to the Ground

â“Tell the Truthâ”

Probation and Pretrial Release honcho Todd Cook was standing in the back of the room, obviously angry and frustrated at a Monday morning Knox County Commission committee meeting. The sheriffâ’s department presented a Powerpoint on its investigation of former mayoral aide Tyler Harber, alleging he did no work in Cookâ’s county office but was instead a political operative for County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. Ragsdale and Chief of Staff Mike Arms did not attend the meeting but watched it on television.

At one point, a Ragsdale staffer, seated down front, got a cell phone call. She carried the phone to the back of the room and handed it to Cook. After a brief conversation, Cook headed to the podium to address Commission. He angrily told Commission he ordered Harber to go to court every morning and work and he didnâ’t know if Harber did political work on county time. He then accused Commission Chair Scott Moore of questioning his integrity and said the Harber investigation is payback for the mayorâ’s investigation of the sheriffâ’s departmentâ’s wrecker service contract.

He then suggested they â“tell the whole truthâ” and asked Moore if he remembered a time (when Cook worked in the sheriffâ’s department) when the sheriff gave Cook three months off to work in Mooreâ’s campaign, putting out signs from a county car. He also accused Moore of being mad at him for not hiring Mooreâ’s wife. The conversation was becoming quite heated when mayoral spokesman Dwight Van de Vate stepped in, asked Cook to sit down, and told Commission as â“highest-ranking stafferâ” from the mayorâ’s office he was asking that the questions cease.

Whoâ’s Wrong?

During Mondayâ’s Knox County Commission committee meeting there was questioning during a sheriffâ’s department presentation of the Tyler Harber investigation concerning the culpability of Mayor Mike Ragsdale. One of the Powerpoints accused Ragsdale of not being truthful to Sheriff Tim Hutchison about the source of e-mails found in his office. The e-mails were from the computer of former Republican Party Chair Chad Tindell; Harber is alleged to have stolen them using an illegally obtained password.

Dwight Van de Vate, the mayorâ’s spokesman, angrily told Commission that in talking about wrongdoing by elected officials, they should remember that only one of them had been found guilty of wrongdoing by a court of law.

This was an apparent reference to a judgeâ’s decision holding former Sheriff Tim Hutchison in contempt for withholding information in one of attorney Herb Moncierâ’s many lawsuits against the department.

Late Start

The Knox County school board is in the process of having a poll done to determine when parents think the first day of school should be. A group called Save Our Summers is lobbying for parents to be part of the decision-making process. A state legislative study committee is studying whether to mandate the same start date for all the state schools, possibly after Labor Day. So whatâ’s the big deal?

The study committee has been told that the stateâ’s tourism-dependent economy is being hurt to the tune of $350 million a year by schools starting in August. Tourism businesses, as in Pigeon Forge, employ students in the summer. They also would like the family vacation season to run at least until Labor Day. August school start-dates slow family vacations dramatically. The Save Our Summers group also argues that football and band practice start earlier and earlier in the heat of August and require more air conditioning.

Some school officials like the earlier start time, allowing for a fall break and more days off during the year. The school board is expected to hear a report on preparations for the poll at its next meeting.

Final Answer

The Knox County school board has hired a consulting firm to help find a new school superintendent to replace the departed Charles Lindsey, one who can take the schools to the next level and be competitive with places like, well, Maryville.

Meanwhile, Mike Winstead, who works in the Knox County schoolsâ’ central office as director of curriculum and accountability, is a finalist for the job of director of schools for Maryville. Long time Maryville director of schools Mike Dalton is retiring.

The Maryville school board will meet Monday and is expected to make a decision among the three finalists.

Bug in Our Ear

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