Ear to the Ground: Blood is Thicker

Blood is Thicker

County Commissioner Phil Ballard has lost a key supporter with his vote last week to delay appointing replacements for eight empty Commission seats. Ballard is running for Property Assessor and had received a very public endorsement from popular incumbent Assessor John Whitehead.

But since Ballard sided with County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's faction to delay the appointments until after the February primary, Whitehead has withdrawn his support. The opposing faction on the vote was led by Chair Scott Moore. Whitehead is Moore's father-in-law. Moore's forces wanted the appointments to occur on Dec. 7.

Whitehead said he will remain neutral in the race between Ballard and former Trustee Mike Lowe. Whitehead said his support for Ballard was misplaced. "I have no credibility to recommend anybody right now."

The term-limited Whitehead said he has no interest in running for any other courthouse job. "I know this office, I grew up in it." Whitehead started in the office when he got out of the Marines in 1972, making $300 a month, and worked his way up to deputy assessor before running for the job of Property Assessor.

Read the Fine Print

The August ballot in Knox County may be a referendum that reshapes the future of county government. The charter changes may be more significant than the candidates elected. Thus far, there are proposals for a recall provision in the charter and now a proposal from the ethics committee to ban county employees from serving on County Commission.

There is also some sentiment for convening a charter commission to go even further in changing county government—looking at recommendations for appointing fee offices rather than electing them. The Charter commission cannot be convened, however, because it requires a commissioner from each district to serve. There are no commissioners from the 4th District.

There has been some discussion about appointing at least one commissioner for the 4th District in order to get the charter commission under way. But the prospect for a compromise candidate acceptable to both factions on Commission is remote.

Should the ban on county employees serving be on the ballot in August it would not prevent county employees from being elected in the same election. It would take effect for the future. But county employees running in August would be running in the same election as the campaign for the charter amendment, providing ample ammunition for opponents.

No Free Ride

The Knox County Democratic Party has declined to pay for a traditional float for the Martin Luther King Day Parade to carry East Knoxville elected officials.

Democratic Party Chair Don Daugherty said he felt it would send the wrong message for the party to pay for a float for state Rep. Joe Armstrong, county Commissioner Tank Strickland, Vice Mayor Mark Brown and school board member Sam Anderson after the Democrats, along with former county Commissioner Diane Jordan, served on a host committee for Republican city Councilman Joe Bailey's re-election. Bailey was challenged by Ray Abbas, a Democrat. Some Democrats are also still angry about the group's support of Republican Mayor Bill Haslam over Madeline Rogero in 2003.

Elected officials will instead be invited to ride in convertibles, loaned for use in the event.

Tax Deadline Looms

Congressman Jimmy Duncan is engaged in an uphill fight to save Tennessee residents the deduction for sales taxes. He is lobbying Congressman Charles Rangel, who is producing an omnibus tax package for the Democrats, to extend the deduction, which expires at the end of the year, or make it permanent.

Residents who live in states with an income tax can deduct state taxes from their federal income tax. But non-income tax states, like Tennessee, lost the ability to deduct sales taxes in a tax-reform bill in 1986.

Despite two powerful congressional leaders from non-income tax states, Tennessee's Sen. Bill Frist as majority leader and Texas' U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay as House whip, the Republicans were only able to get a temporary fix into law when the Republicans controlled Congress.

The temporary fix expires at the end of this year with the Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress. Duncan is getting bipartisan support from the Tennessee delegation to push to keep the deduction.