Ear to the Ground: In 2009, Take the Bus?

In 2009, Take the Bus?

The University of Tennessee has already been told to cut its budget and more cuts are expected as the Legislature meets to pass next year's state budget with an expected $800 million shortfall. The Board of Trustees has advised UT President John Petersen that it is not a good idea for him to be flying to Chattanooga and Nashville.

During 2008, a trustee report says, Petersen made 11 round-trip flights to Chattanooga and 33 to Nashville in the UT plane. An hour of flight time costs $468. The cost of Petersen driving his Chrysler to Nashville and back is about $40 in gas. It cost UT $743,843 to operate the plane during the 2008 fiscal year.

Previous UT President John Shumaker got into trouble for a variety of spending issues, but it began with questions about his use of the UT plane. In his case, the concern was about personal use of the plane to, among other things, visit a woman friend in Birmingham, Ala.

2010 Talent Search

State Sen. Tim Burchett has said he will probably be a candidate for County Mayor in 2010, a prospect that worries some members of the Knoxville business establishment. More worrisome is the prospect that state Rep. Stacey Campfield will run for Burchett's senate seat. On his community access television show recently, City Councilman Steve Hall hinted he might be interested in the House seat should Campfield leave an opening. Campfield and Hall are leaders of the more conservative wing of the local Republican party. Campfield has been controversial during his House tenure, and Hall was an "insurgent" candidate against County Mayor Mike Ragsdale in the Republican primary in 2006.

Some business leaders have been searching for a mayoral candidate. Some of them are hoping new County Commissioner Richard Briggs will consider a run. Others are encouraging Lewis Cosby, who has been a leading critic of the county's financial woes.

There is also some discussion of young John J. Duncan III being convinced to run for Burchett's senate seat, to retire Campfield from public life. Duncan managed the winning campaign of his friend Ryan Haynes to the House seat vacated by the retiring Parkey Strader.

Save the Plane

The Airplane Filling Station, the hilltop Clinton Highway landmark built not long after the Lindbergh flight, has been in a sort of limbo for the last few years, owned by a good-hearted preservation organization, the Airplane Filling Station Preservation Association, believed to be the only club by that name on this planet. So far it has been fueled more with good intentions than money. But this week they announced they'll be getting a $9,000 federal grant from the Tennessee Historical Commission—that is, if the AFSPA can raise a match of $6,000. To raise some of those funds, this Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., volunteers will be selling Airplane Filling Station memorabilia, including T-shirts and bumper stickers, at Mast General Store. Another fundraiser will be on the morning of Dec. 13, at the actual site, 6829 Clinton Highway. Mr. Santa Claus, no stranger to aviation, is rumored to make a celebrity appearance.

Bad Timing

The federal crackdown on UT student David Kernell seemed quick and harsh after he was accused of hacking vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's private Yahoo e-mail account.

But in a post-election insider account, Newsweek reports that the FBI was very concerned about the fact that both the McCain and Obama computer systems were hacked over the summer, the suspects being from overseas. The FBI was on heightened alert to any evidence of computer information being stolen.

Young Kernell's efforts to guess Palin passwords, access her e-mail, and post the contents on the Web came at a time when the FBI already had a full-fledged investigation in place on campaign computer security.

The Library Will Be Closing in 30 Minutes...

The state budget crisis is hitting us where it hurts. For the first time in years, the Knox County Public Library is cutting back on its hours, all branches, 20 precent. Beginning Dec. 8, Lawson McGhee, the main library and the system's busiest branch, won't open until 10 a.m., and will close earlier, especially on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For the last several years, the library has closed at 8:30 Monday through Thursday, a fact for which parents of children who suddenly remembered the report due tomorrow have been grateful. They'll close at 8 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, 5 p.m. on Wednesdays, 7 p.m. on Thursdays, and 5 p.m. on Fridays, 30 minutes earlier than they do now.

It came as a result of statewide budget tightening; Tennessee's eliminating aid to urban libraries, which had been $91,000 of the KCPL's annual budget. No staff will be lost, but the library will maintain its current hiring freeze. None of the system's 19 branches will be closed. KCPL's extraordinary number of branch libraries per capita may be a national distinction.

Look on the bright side: Those of us who sneak books and videos into the slot the morning after they're due, to get under the overnight grace period, have an extra hour. And maybe the much-earlier closing times, three-and-a-half hours earlier on Wednesdays, will be good news for downtown bars.