Ear to the Ground

Loose Cannon

County Commissioner Larry Smith is not endearing himself to his fellow commissioners. He began the day Monday testifying in the sunshine trial that his fellow commissioners were too lazy to read all the resumes and consider the best candidates for appointment. And he was the first county Commission defense witness.

Trial adjourned for a Commission meeting to consider a new health insurance plan for county employees. Smith, who sells life insurance, served on the committee to pick Cigna as the new county health plan. At the meeting Monday, commissioners voted not to accept the plan and have a â“do over.â” Smith pointed to all the work of the committee and suggested commissioners were not willing to get into the details of the plans and was instead listening to lobbyists.

Commissioner Paul Pinkston sarcastically suggested Smith, as an insurance expert, read all the documents and come back and explain to Commission the differences in the three bidders. Smith responded that he would be happy to sell Pinkston a life insurance policy. Pinkston retorted: â“You couldnâ’t sell me anything.â”

During the discussion, Commissioner Greg â“Lumpyâ” Lambert asked county Mayor Mike Ragsdale if Cigna got the nod because of influence by one of Ragsdaleâ’s fraternity brothers. Ragsdale categorically denied the charge as ridiculous.

There are a lot of theories about why the insurance plan went off the rails. But county employees were not included in the selection process and there is a lot of discontent and uncertainty. Commissioners, many of them running for election next year, some of them countywide, are reluctant to hack off 7,000 hardcore votersâ"and their families.

Legislator Gone Wild

Former state legislator H.E. Bittleâ’s foundation is drawing scrutiny after the News Sentinel reported almost $1 million in funds generated by a Sportsmanâ’s license plate went to purchase land in Cumberland County and construct an elaborate hunting lodge.

Bittle passed the legislation creating the license plate directing the revenue to his Sportsmanâ’s Wildlife Foundation. The attorney generalâ’s office and the comptroller were asked by House Majority Leader Gary Odom to investigate. Bittle says the lodge is not for his and his familyâ’s use.

You may remember that while Bittle was in office, he created a clean water group with the goal of examining water samples up and down the Tennessee River using a boat donated by Sea Ray. No water quality report seems to have ever been generated by the effort. One Bittle critic said it is hard to collect water samples when your grandchildren are water skiing behind the boat.

Ford in the Future?

Congressman Lincoln Davis, a conservative Democrat from the plateau, served as Congressman Harold Ford Jr.â’s campaign manager in the U.S. Senate race last year. Davis gave Ford conservative cover. Ford gave Davis access to big contributors, mailing lists and contacts that will be helpful when Davis runs for governor in 2010.

Michael Powell and Tom Lee, the brilliant campaign staff that directed Fordâ’s campaign, are now meeting with prominent Democrats to tell them Ford is interested in running for governor in 2010. Lee confirmed to Nashvilleâ’s City Paper that Ford has an interest in future public service.

The primary for 2010 may pit Davis versus Ford for the nominationâ"a conservative good olâ’ boy well to the right on God, guns, and gays (self-described) versus a big-city candidate who has widespread adoration among rank and file Democrats.

Should former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist decide to run for governor (itâ’s looking more likely at present, by the way) the Republican field might be cleared. That would make the Democratic primary the race to watch for 2010, which hasnâ’t happened since 1986 when Ned McWherter emerged from a crowded field.

Showtime on the Square

The Knox County Public Libraryâ’s popular Movies on the Square series moved to Thursday evenings this season, partly to accommodate a request by Regal Cinemas, operators of the Regal Riviera 8 on Gay Street. The cinema company didnâ’t want Friday night competition so soon after its grand opening. Mary Pom Claibourne, the library systemâ’s communications officer, says the libraryâ’s classic film series will try to attract more teenagers who passed up the outdoor showings on the square last year in favor of Friday night high school football games. The first Thursday showing didnâ’t attract much of a crowd, but last weekâ’s was better attended, and Claibourne says the attendance will be monitored. If itâ’s much less than last seasonâ’s, the library may go back to Friday evenings in 2008.

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