Ear to the Ground: Let's Have Lunch

Let's Have Lunch

They had a fund-raising auction at the Front Page Follies last weekend, and one of the items was a lunch with Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale. Lewis Cosby, the retired CPA and "citizen auditor," was in the bidding, but lost out in the end to his friend, developer Alex Schubert.

It would have been an interesting lunch. Cosby has done his own examination of the financial problems in the mayor's office and has been a frequent critic and a source for local journalists seeking explanations for murky financial transactions. After one instance in which County Commission quizzed Cosby on the audits, a local television station caught Ragsdale on tape referring to Cosby as "a showboat."

Cosby didn't go home empty-handed; he snagged a Charlie Daniel cartoon, the subject being a county purchasing card.

The Follies honored News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy and attorney Richard Hollow for their efforts in the Sunshine lawsuit; they also recognized attorney Herb Moncier and his citizen plaintiffs. Moncier also received a $5 gift certificate to McDonald's, with a suggestion he use it inside rather than in the drive-thru, a reference to his well-publicized run-in with a McDonald's manager that led to the cops being called.

Schubert and Jim Clayton each bid over $2,000 for a Heartland Series video to be shot about their families—though it will not be aired.

It will be some weeks before the group gets a final tally on money raised for scholarships, though attendance was well up from last year. One of the organizers said a County Commissioner said he would introduce a resolution at the next meeting for commission not to do anything stupid in the coming year and thus avoid being the subject of next year's Follies.

Open Meetings Experts?

There are experts and then there are veterans of the school of hard knocks.

An upcoming legal seminar in Knoxville on the Tennessee Open Meetings Law will feature as speakers Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond, who was on commission on Black Wednesday, and Knox County Law Director John Owings, who unsuccessfully defended commission in the News Sentinel Sunshine lawsuit.

The purpose of the seminar is to get an "update on recent developments in interpretation of the law." It will cost $329 for a ticket, but since Richard Hollow, who successfully prosecuted the case for the News Sentinel, is also on the panel, maybe there will be a re-enactment.

Cutting Spending?

Knox County Commission spent two grueling days trying to cut the county budget and finally approved it, with County Mayor Mike Ragsdale promising to find another $1.5 million in cuts as the year progressed.

Two weeks into the new budget year, the commission's finance committee approved an additional $200,000—a grant to Innovation Valley. The committee also committed to spend an additional $138,000 on a county audit.

Rodefer Moss, the company that had a contract for county audits, was heavily criticized by commission for not reporting financial improprieties found by the county auditor in travel, purchasing cards, and a hospitality fund. Commissioners could have picked up an option for Rodefer Moss for another year, budgeted at less than $150,000. But commissioners insisted on re-bidding the contract and this week the committee approved the low bid of KPMG at $288,000.

Another agenda item had an additional $50,000 for Project Access, also left out of the grants, but commissioners were told the administration is trying to fund the agency out of the existing health department budget.