Ear to the Ground: Bistro vs. the Bijou

Bistro vs. the Bijou

The Bijou Theatre Center board's decision to request proposals for redeveloping the ancient Bistro space has left several of that venerable restaurant/bar's many patrons unsettled. The restaurant/bar adjacent to the theater is in one of Knoxville's oldest buildings, and even by its current name and setup, it's one of the oldest establishments downtown; it's also one of the more comprehensively successful. Often packed with attorneys and bankers at lunch hour, it also has a Saturday brunch crowd, and in the last year or so, it seemed to be enhancing its late-night draw with some very interesting live music, offbeat jazz bands of a sort hard to find elsewhere.

We've heard half a dozen different versions of what's really going on­—but the current daily management of the restaurant, under Martha Boggs, has to be credited for captaining the establishment gracefully through some ups and rather extreme downs for both downtown and the Bijou in the last 15 years or so; when the Bijou was closed for months, and downtown reportedly dead, the Bistro kept its door open, and grew its business yearly. The Bistro has reportedly never been more popular than it is now.

However, there's been friction between the restaurant's owners, Millwood Associates, and the Bijou's board. The two have never been able to agree on a lease. The $2,500 monthly rent the Bijou is paying seems less impressive in downtown's current retail atmosphere, especially considering the non-profit Bijou's perpetual worries about the bottom line. The Bijou board is also said to want $4,500, a percentage of the gross, and a shared liquor license, which would simplify beverage sales to Bijou crowds. Several local restaurant tycoons, including Randy Burleson and Gregg White, as well as Millwood, are submitting proposals.

Elect Clerk, Appoint a Judge?

So why will we have an election for Criminal Court Clerk and an empty County Commission seat, but County Commission will appoint a Sessions Court judge?

The state constitution requires that Sessions Judges be elected in the August county general election, so it cannot be placed on the November ballot. County Commission appointed 12 officeholders in January 2007 (on what's now known as Black Wednesday) because there were no elections scheduled in 2007. County Commission could appoint a commissioner and a clerk, but it would only be for one month before the November election.

Many of the potential candidates for Sessions Judge realize they might have a chance to win an election, but cannot get the votes on commission for an appointment.

Some of the newly elected commissioners would like to put the proposed charter amendments on the ballot. But the amendments have to be to the election commission by Sept. 5, which doesn't appear to give them enough time even with a special called meeting.

"Crack Tax" Judge Nominated

Gov. Phil Bredesen will soon appoint a fourth member of the state Supreme Court, meaning only Chief Justice Janice Holder will not have been appointed by the current governor. Should Bredesen pick the only judge nominated, Judge Sharon Lee, the court will have two female justices.

Lee, with judicial experience, is favored. Her most interesting decision on the appeals court was to hold the state's "crack tax" to be unconstitutional. That's the tax on illegal drugs. Drug pushers are supposed to go down and pay taxes on the proceeds of their illegal activities which Lee found, like most Tennesseans, absurd.

The Judicial Selection Commission sent Bredesen Lee's name along with the names of two attorneys in private practice: Bruce Shine, a labor lawyer from Kingsport, and John Westley McClarty, a lawyer in private practice in Chattanooga.