Ear to the Ground

Familiar-Face Case

Knox County Commission was deadlocked on filling the final seat back on Jan. 31, when newly appointed Commissioner Chuck Bolus showed up and took a seat. Bolus had been sworn in early and cast the deciding vote to appoint Lee Tramel to the Commission.

Commission had the job of filling eight Commission seats after the state Supreme Court ruled term limits applied to Knox County office holders. Bolus replaced longtime Commissioner Billy Tindell , who earlier in the day was appointed County Clerk.

That's one of the issues now before Chancellor Darryl Fansler who is trying a Sunshine Law suit brought by the News Sentinel objecting to the sleazy selection process.

Fansler is not unfamiliar with the events of the day. He's the judge who swore Bolus in so he could join Commission ahead of his colleagues and break the tie.

Convention Recruiter?

Maybe they ought to put Cynthia Finch in charge of Knoxville convention business. In addition to traveling to her sorority conventions around the country and then bringing them to Knoxville, Finch also funded the Tennessee Minority Health Summit in Knoxville last year.

Finch's office sent the group $40,000 to pay for speakers and expenses for the three-day event at the Marriott last August. The money was not in the county budget and did not go through the grant-request process.

Finch, head of County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's Community Development office, serves on the board of the statewide organization, based in Nashville.

What Vols?

Last Thursday, at Patty Griffin 's show at the Bijou, the popular country/folk singer and songwriter attempted to localize her performance with a cheerful between-songs greeting. â“How about those Vols?â” asked the Maine native. In response, hundreds sat in a dead silence broken only by a few moans. All claims to the contrary, not every Knoxville crowd is packed with Vol fans, and the downtown folk-music crowd may be the single thinnest spot in the thick coat of day-glo acrylic that is Big Orange Country. Griffin responded to the silence with the choice remark that maybe it was too hot for football.

Long-Range Planning?

Potential 2010 gubernatorial candidates are making the rounds in East Tennessee.

Former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan was in New Market last week representing Gov. Phil Bredesen at a Democratic Party picnic. The picnics are being held across the state and McMillan often accepts the invitations to represent Bredesen.

An attorney, McMillan did not run for re-election in her Clarksville district and joined Bredesen's staff. The former South Knoxvillian is believed to be seriously considering a run for governor in 2010. She has attended 30 of the picnics around the state, meeting local party leaders and activists.

Meanwhile, Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn , who is considering a race for governor in 2010, will be in Dandridge on Saturday. She will be joining Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey , R-Blountville, also considering a gubernatorial bid in 2010, for a brunch at Smokey's BBQ. The Republicans are whooping it up beginning at 10 a.m. and raising money for Hawkins County attorney Mike Faulk , running for the 4th District Senate seat now held by independent state Sen. Mike Williams .

Williams has been a thorn in Ramsey's side. Even when Williams was a Republican, he voted with the Democrats in retaining Lt. Gov. John Wilder as speaker even though Republicans held a majority. Ramsey finally managed to oust Wilder last session. Defeating Williams is Ramsey's top priority in the 2008 election season. It would solidify Republican control of the state Senate.

Staying Cool

You have to admire AmSouth/Regions Bank for keeping its cool. The clock on top of the 13-story building, originally established by the old Park Bank, has been the most famously visible time-and-temperature source in Knoxville for almost 40 years. Visible in Fort Sanders and on the UT campus, as well as parts of North and East Knoxville, the clock has drawn people out on the street all over town to see if it could really be as hot as it seems. It would have had its most famous moment last Thursday, when excitable TV meteorologists were telling us it was 101 in the shade, the highest temperature recorded in years. All day that day, and all day the next, the bank clock assured us it was really just 75 degrees. It has, in fact, been an agreeable 75 degrees all summer. So relax, Knoxville. Go for a nice jog.

Actually, We're on Amphetamines

A travel piece posted on the website of well-known travel guide Frommer's has been making the rounds. It's titled, â“Why Are They So Happy in Knoxville, TN?â” Written by Jamie Ehrlich, apparently a Frommer's staffer, about three months ago, it goes, â“Maybe there's something in the water of the Tennessee River. Wherever you go in Knoxville, Tennessee, you're bound to encounter people who are visibly, overwhelmingly, happy. They're also fiercely proud of their city, and just about the nicest people you'll ever meet. Granted, Knoxvillians have a lot to be happy about: Their town boasts top-notch theater and concerts, a vibrant arts community, unique shops, and eclectic restaurantsâ"all in a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. The easy access to barbecue and home cooking probably doesn't hurt, eitherâ. On a recent visit to Knoxville coinciding with its annual Dogwood Arts Festival, I discovered a music and theater buff's Mecca, with festivals, food, and shopping well worth the trip to the heartland.

â“â‘You have to look up,â”' I was told on my first trip walking down Gay Street, Knoxville's main thoroughfare. Easy to overlook, many of the street's brick storefronts rise to reveal beautiful marble ornamentation (Knoxville was itself a major center for marble distribution in the early 1900s)â.

â“As is the case with many U.S. cities these days, Knoxville has a downtown in transition, easily seen here at Gay Street. Five years ago, it wasn't a pedestrian-friendly place, but it's now undergone a revival. Portions of the street have construction going up, with signs boasting â‘New Urban Lofts' and â‘Downtown Luxury Living.' It will be interesting to see how the street evolves in coming years, with an influx of city-dwellers and new modern structures cropping up alongside the older building facades, parks, and street-side sculpturesâ.â”

The writer describes the â“magnificent theaters of Gay Street,â” the stores of Market Square, Sundown In the City, and the KMA's â“Alive After Fiveâ” shows, and recommends Market Square Kitchen, La Costa, and Calhoun's.

â“After the time I spent in Knoxville theater, festival, and museum-hopping, what struck me most was Knoxville's dedication to promoting and encouraging music and artsâ. After a few days in Knoxville, this jaded New Yorker found herself thawed and renewedâ"it was impossible to feel like an outsider in this charming, dynamic city, and to not start smiling, too.â”  

Bug in Our Ear

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