Ear to the Ground

Dodging a Bullet

Would you rather be lucky or good? Maybe you can be both.

Six months ago it appeared likely Knox County would face a stiff property tax increase given education needs and the obligation to fund the pension for the Sheriff's Department, which passed in a referendum last year.

But the area's booming economy has increased tax collections and revenues are flush. County Mayor Mike Ragsdale also got legislation allowing a bond issue for the pension plan that pushes the accounting off for a few years. Then a compromise on Gov. Phil Bredesen 's education package yielded a revision of the Basic Education Program funding formula with extra millions for Knox County.

The combination of these events allowed Ragsdale to present a no-new-taxes budget.

Some County Commissioners have called for a plan that will allow them to dispense community grants in their district and some have called for public budget hearings. Other commissioners are concerned because if they start dispensing grants, for every group you make happy you anger five more. And budget hearings will stretch out the process and spotlight worthy groups left out of the funding, creating more heartburn for commissioners.

The Long March

It's going to be a long election season; we are at the beginning of 18 months in which people will be running for office.

With all the attention being paid Knox County government, term limits, appointed office holders, Sunshine Law violations and the budget it may have escaped your notice that the city of Knoxville is holding an election.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam , City Judge John Rosson and at-large Council members Chris Woodhull and Marilyn Roddy and district five Council member Bob Becker are thus far unopposed. The deadline for qualifying for the race is noon on June 21. Ray Abbas has picked up a petition to run for the seat held by at-large Council member Joe Bailey .

The first round of city elections is Sept. 25 and the general election is Nov. 6, which will be about the time candidates kick off campaigns for the February primary to elect office holders in eight county positions filled by County Commission appointment after the state Supreme Court ruled term limits valid.

After the February primary the general election will be in August 2008. There will thus be perpetual campaigning for the next 16 monthsâ"followed by a presidential election in November 2008.

Sunshine Sought

The News Sentinel's suit against Knox County Commission for violations of the state's Open Meetings (Sunshine) Act in naming successors to term-limited office-holders last January is moving slowly through the court system.

Answers to discovery questions were filed last week, according to Rick Hollow , the NS ' lawyer in the case. The Sentinel 's answers were pretty succinct, Hollow says, asserting what the commissioners did and how they did it by consulting on appointments and candidates outside the public purview. The county's answers in denial of the allegations filled a bank box and are being reviewed this week by the NS , Hollow says. No final disposition is expected this year, and when the case is concluded, there may be no avenue for remedy, even if the commissioners are found to have violated the law, since no penalties are specified for violation

Email Started it All?

In a feature story this week, the Tennessean credits Alcoa car dealer and long-time Maryville mayor Steve West with starting the â“Draft Fredâ” movement that may bring former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson into the presidential race.

West began emailing car dealers around the country arguing the GOP field needed another candidate for president after disastrous losses in Congressional races last year. West also talked with Scooter Clippard , a Nashville businessman and big GOP contributor, telling him he had support for Thompson from Washington state to Florida. Clippard was organizing a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander 's re-election and a Thompson candidacy kept coming up in conversations with donors.

West and Clippard concede the group thought it was a long shot and that Thompson would not run. â“Several people thought I was crazy,â” West told the newspaper.

When former U.S. Sen. Howard Baker started making calls on Thompson's behalf, however, the movement picked up steam. Thompson went on Foxnews Sunday to say he would consider a race.

In the International Media: Downtown's cool, fun and populated

This past weekend, The New York Times' Sunday Business section featured a story by Keith Schneider called â“Reviving a No Man's Land Along the Tennessee River.â” Picturing Haslam operative Dave Hill , the story was mainly about the city's vaunted South Waterfront development. In the story, Hill estimates that by 2027, the now-mostly industrial area will support 1,000 residences, 30,000 square feet of retail, and 320,000 square feet of office space.

The story about the city's approach to the south side may be Times' readers introduction to a new urban concept: â“form-based zoning,â” which allows a diversity of activities in a development as long as its architecture adheres to a coherent form.

But at least half the story is about what's going on in the old downtown. â“Knoxville's downtown, particularly the north end, is now alive as it hasn't been in half a century, with hotels, theaters, concert halls, bars, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and clubs open past midnight during the week and on weekends.â” Times readers now know that about 2,000 people live in downtown Knoxville, with more to come, considering 319 new housing permits in the last year. The article highlights the enormous Dewhirst project the Holston, where condos start at $230,000.

Pictured is Baker Center senior researcher Amy Gibson , who just bought a luxury condo in the Holston, quoted as saying, â“It's cool; it's fun; it's the place to be.â”

Also in the International Media: Downtown's Empty

A friend passed us the February 15 copy of the French photographic bimonthly, Photofan, which includes a 10-page feature of black-and-white photographs called â“Knoxville, Tennessee.â”

The subhead is â“par Jacques Gautreau .â” It's a spread by Farragut resident Gautreau, a talented photographer who has made a study of his adopted home, especially downtown Knoxville. Most of the images in the Photofan spread are bleak but moody depictions of downtown; more than half of them appear to be in the vicinity of the Old City and the neglected postindustrial areas just east of it.

Our friend gave us a rough translation. â“Knoxville is a city whose center is empty,â” the unsigned introduction explains, â“a phenomenon common in many mid-size American cities.â” (It's funny that no matter what we do downtown, Europeans keep saying that.) â“Local authorities do what they can to try to preserve some life in the older quarters, but more and more often downtown is deserted.â” Gautreau, a Farragut resident who works for Siemens, certainly caught downtown looking empty in his photographs: a particularly erotic railroad switch, an odd doll head in a shop window, a brick building reflected in a large parking-lot puddle on Jackson, an eerie shot of the Presbyterian graveyard on State.

The article references Gautreau's successful October, 2006, gallery show, which drew more than 1,000 visitors to the Emporium on Gay Street, â“Knoxville Through Fresh French Eyes.â” The short article explains why that's a pun in English.

Bug in Our Ear

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