Ear to the Ground

Liquid Account

Despite County Finance Director John Werner reimbursing the county for liquor purchased with expensive dinners and criticism surrounding credit card expenses, County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's office is still trying to figure out how to buy alcohol.

Ragsdale and Chief of Staff Mike Arms like to throw receptions to honor various folk, like the soiree planned for new ORNL director Thom Mason at the East Tennessee History Museum on Tuesday. They have corporate sponsors lined up (SunTrust, Blaine Construction, Lawler-Wood, TVA) to pay for the beer and wine, but when the sponsors give them the money, even earmarked, it becomes county funds.

(Not all the special events include alcohol. Some of them are breakfasts, some youth events, some of the money went to rent a bus to transport the Central High Choir to sing at a 9/11 memorial event.)

They are setting up a separate account to receive the funds at First Tennessee Bank under a non-profit tax number. It is a non-interest bearing account and solicitations will be made for specific events and all checks written on the account will be signed by John Troyer and Ann Acuff , from the county comptroller and accounting offices.

The Chamber Partnership has offered to take the contributions and hold the event for the mayor, but the offer has been declined. An insider noted that Arms and Ragsdale didn't get the credit for holding the appreciation event.       

Uh Oh

Controversies have surrounded the tenure of County Mayor Mike Ragsdale during the past five years, but he often bragged that he has not been concerned about negative articles and columns in Metro Pulse and the Halls Shopper â"as long as â“mainstream mediaâ” like the News Sentinel and WBIR didn't get on his case.

During the past week the News Sentinel has run Page 1 stories with multi-column, two-line, bold-faced headlines about scandals in his administration, from the resignation of the finance director to questioning the county purchase of a library building from a Ragsdale supporter to questionable credit card charges. WBIR has reported on the credit card scandals and added that Finance Director John Werner being allowed to stay around until September allows him to be fully vested in the county pension plan, adding thousands of dollars to his benefits.

Ragsdale went on Hal Hill 's radio show last week to complain about all the coverage being over the top and real crime being ignored.

Suits Square Off

One of downtown Knoxville's most prominent realtors , Kimberly Dixon Hamilton , has been named as a defendant in a pair of lawsuits alleging that she may have misrepresented the size of condominiums she sold to new tenants on West Church Avenue. Complainant Adam Doiron asserts in that his unit on West Church was represented as consisting of 1,250 square feet, but that he learned, after closing, that the unit was actually only 1,002 square feet. Complainant Parker Ariail , who purchased a neighboring unit on West Church, makes similar allegations in his lawsuit, claiming his unit advertised as 1,316 square feet was in reality only 952 square feet.

Zachary Tenry , attorney for both complainants, offered no comment on the lawsuits, other than that â“the complaints speak for themselves.â”

Hamilton's attorney, Jon Roach , has filed an answer. Says Roach: â“She [Hamilton] reasonably relied upon the information she had. And she's fully met her duties as a real estate professional.â”

Also named as defendants in the first suit are Lisa T. and Chad B. Wiles , former owners of Doiron's unit. The second suit also names Melanie Fuertes Hunt and Patrick Hunt , previous owners of Ariail's unit.  

Slow Process

The political world has changed dramatically since President George W. Bush nominated the new part-time TVA board and stacked it with Tennessee Republicans. Tennessee's U.S. Sen. Bill Frist is no longer the Majority Leader, available to act as good shepherd to guide the nominees throughâ"the Democrats control the U.S. Senate.

The terms are staggered and Susan Williams and Bishop William Graves of Memphis are already up for re-appointment. Thomas Gilliland , a Georgia banker and a Republican contributor, has been nominated to replace former Chairman Bill Baxter , who resigned.

Do not expect the Democratic Senate to move quickly to confirm the appointments. If they drag them out until the possible election of a Democratic president, a new slate could be named. Until the Senate acts on the nominations, however, expect Williams and Graves to continue serving.

Graves is the first African American to serve on the board.

Promises, Promises

In his bid to purchase the major league baseball team in the nation's capital, Franklin Haney , a Tennessee developer and the owner of the downtown Knoxville Holiday Inn, promised to match funds raised by the charitable arm of the Washington Nationals at a fund-raising gala two years ago.

Haney, who now lives in Washington, did not win the bid for the team. The Washington Post reports the Nats charity group has had to sue Haney to collect the $400,000 he promised; the charity tacked on another $4 million in damages. The Post reports the suit has been settled for an undisclosed amount, and Haney and the charity will make a â“significant contributionâ” to the Children's Hospital in Washington.

Bug in Our Ear

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