Ear to the Ground

Flying Pigs

An AT&T lobbyist conceded recently, the movement started late and was behind on the effort to get a bill passed giving the phone company a state franchise to offer cable and internet services around the state.

Cable companies have contracts with local city and county governments and have vigorously opposed AT&T bypassing local governments. Local government lobbyists are opposing the bill.

But last week AT&T stepped up the effort. Its chief Washington lobbyist was in town talking with legislators and reporters. One morning, legislators all received a package containing a small pig, outfitted with wings. It was accompanied by a question: â“When will cable bills go down?â” One assumes the answer is when pigs fly.

Legislators are being lobbied hard on the issue that cable companies have had years to â“build outâ” into rural areas and have failed to do so. The other argument is there is no downside to consumers having more competition and more choices.

Stay tuned.

YouTube Star

When the General Assembly started live streaming video, many of the members feared it would happenâ"and it has. State Rep. John Litz , D-Morristown, is becoming famous via YouTube.

In one video, Litz is rising to exempt his county from new regulations governing chop shop operations, a bill that would require vehicle identification numbers of each destroyed vehicle to be recorded. Litz points out he wants Hamblen County exempted because a relative of his owns a car shredding operation.

In another video Litz is trying to pass a local act allowing liquor by the drink on one parcel of land in Hamblen County. Rep. Bill Dunn , R-Knoxville, rose to ask if local government would have to approve the measure and Litz conceded it did not. Dunn then asked if there had been a liquor-by-the-drink referendum in Hamblen County. Litz said yes, and it was defeated. Litz then clarified that the property in question did not belong to himâ"he merely leases it for his farming operation.

The measure passed. Go to YouTube and type in Litz .

Passage Goes Thru Knox

Knox County has been complaining about the Basic Education Program funding formula because other counties get more money on a per capita basis. Gov. Phil Bredesen has postponed addressing the issue, much to the frustration of County Mayor Mike Ragsdale .

Bredesen has a massive education package, including tripling the tax on a pack of cigarettes. The measure has been stalled for most of the session. State Sen. Jamie Woodson , R-Knoxville, is the chair of the Senate education committee and a key player in education legislation. Woodson, joined by state Sen. Randy McNally , R-Oak Ridge, hasq been negotiating with the administration and Bredesen realized he could not get the votes for his package without addressing the BEP formula. McNally is chair of the Finance Committee. Woodson and McNally could keep the bill bottled up in committee.

The compromise results in an additional $26.6 million for Knox County when fully implemented.

There is still some grumbling among House Republicans about raising taxes when the state has a huge surplus in tax collections. The measure may still derail somewhere along the line. But Woodson made sure that if the package passes, Knox County's funds are secure.

TVA's New Banker

TVA is now governed by a board of part-time directors, all of whom have other jobs.

Nashville banker and board member Dennis Bottorff has announced he is starting a new bank and is out raising $80 million for that purpose. Bottorff has signed up a member of the Frist family and a member of the Dollar General Stores managing family.

Bottorff is the former CEO of First American Bank and, according to the Tennessean newspaper is also a member of the board that governs the Tennessee Lottery. First American was purchased by AmSouth, and AmSouth has now been purchased by Regions Bank.

Finance experts say banks are either getting larger or starting smaller in the current market. You either have to be big enough to make large loans and be a player regionally, or you have to be a small bank that focuses on small business loans and be a local player. It has led to more and more consolidation of existing banks and the proliferation of small bank start-ups.  

What's New?

A lot, actually. That is, if you're talking about the Market Square Farmers' Market. Oh, you'll still find all the organic, locally grown produce, handmade crafts, and homebaked breads, etc. that you're used to: There'll just be more of it.

And you can look forward to new products as well, mostly in the prepared food category, according to Market Director Charlotte Tolley . Look for anything from dips by downtown Middle Eastern restaurant Mirage to homemade ice cream.

Also new for the 2007 season is the addition of programming: â“We'll have something special at every Market,â” says Tolley. â“There will be music, special vendors, children's crafts. And on the 12th   [of May, the official opening of the Market], we're having a Celebrating Mothers Fashion Show.â”

The Market runs May 12 through November 17, every Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and every Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., rain or shine. A few vendors accept credit cards or personal checks, but most only accept cash. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/marketsquarefarmersmarket.com . For vendor applications, visit www.knoxvillemarketsquare.com .

Not to Brag or Anything

A handful of Metro Pulse staffers and contributors walked away with a handful of honors from this year's Golden Press Card Competition, presented annually by the East Tennessee chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. In the non-daily category, Frank Talk columnist Frank Cagle won the award of excellence for Personal Columns; Arts and Entertainment Editor Kevin Crowe won the award of excellence for Reviews/Criticism; Editor Leslie Wylie won the award of merit for Investigative Reporting; and Associate Editor Jack Neely won third place for General Reporting. If you see the winners out, feel free to buy them a beer.

La Rossini Vita

The Rossini Festival went on. Inside the Tennessee Theatre on Friday and Sunday, the Knoxville Opera Company put on an imaginative production of Carmen that some long-timers are calling the best production in the KOC's 30-year history, and one of the most creative. And in spite of the rain that affected the first couple of hours of the street festival Saturday, people did come out for it, in undeniably large numbers. Some say 20,000, some say 40,000â"all we're sure of is that nobody ever knowsâ"but it was a lot of people, if certainly fewer than last year's estimated 65,000.

But even without the rain, the festival itself seemed just a little more modest than in years past. Though there was plenty of very good food, there seemed to be fewer Italian restaurant vendors this year, a condition some attributed to the fact that the booth fee was much higher than in years past. And the live music, while entertaining, didn't seem to be quite as diverse and abundant as in the festival's earlier years, when the festival embraced everything from bellydancers to barbershop quartets to Bugs Bunny movies, as well as actual in-theater performances at both the Tennessee and the Bijou during the street festival. As a whole, the festival seemed to lack the clever, comprehensive, spontaneous mania of some previous years.

Still, it was the best street party we expect to see in Knoxville this year. Thanks, folks.  

Palmville?

Last Thursday's New York Times included a surprising mention of our hometown. An article in the Science section, titled, â“Feeling Warmth, Subtropical Plants Move North,â” discusses how global warming is already affecting American gardeners' choices.

The unsigned article mentions, offhandedly, â“There are palm trees in Knoxville and subtropical camellias in Pennsylvania.â”  

We hadn't noticed Knoxville's palms, and called Cortese Tree Specialists to see where these palm trees might be living, just so we could go sit under one and open a Corona.

  â“Yeah, there are palm trees in Knoxville,â” acknowledges staff arborist Thomas Schmidt . He says they're all in big pots. Their owners roll them inside when it gets cold. â“As far as I know, they could not survive our winter unless they go indoors. It's way too cold for palm trees here.â”  

Bike to Work

Next week is bike to work week, which Knoxville's SmartTrips is celebrating with prize drawings, for which all who report biking to work at least two days during the week are eligible. But the biggest prize may be the one that's available to all entrants every week, without a prize drawing. Every entrant is likely to win the equivalent of hundreds of dollars a year.

If your car gets 20 mpg and you live, say, seven or eight miles from work, you probably spend well over $500 a year in gasoline alone, not counting wear and tear on your car, for which rush-hour commuting is usually the worst sort. Or parking, if you have to pay for that, as many of us do. A decent bike, used to commute, would pay for itself in a few months. Everything after that is free money.

And Knoxville's network of practical bike trails, albeit concentrated on the west side of town, make commuting by bicycle easier and safer than ever before. Think about it.

For more information about biking in Knoxville, call 215-3815 or drop by the Bike Commuter Fair on Market Square on Wednesday the 16th, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Earthfest Kudos

EarthFest was the recipient of one of 12 Environmental Stewardship Awards announced last week by Gov. Phil Bredesen.

The citation says the annual festival â“promotes public awareness of environmental issues in East Tennessee, such as clean air, water, sustainable transportation, waste reduction, recycling and urban forestation.'

EarthFest held a â“waste-freeâ” event in 2006 at World's Fair Park with attendance of 10,000 and 100 exhibitors with only 152 pounds of non-recyclable or compostable material produced. The event has been such a success that other event organizers in the area are modeling EarthFest's event to make their events â“waste-free.â”

Bug in Our Ear

Hear a juicy tidbit of local gossip or lore? Give us a call at 522-5399, ext. 33, write to Metro Pulse Ear, 602 Gay St., Mezzanine Suite, Knoxville, TN 37902, fax us at 522-2955, or send an email to editor@metropulse.com to let us in on the latest. We're all ears.

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