Ear to the Ground

Court Celebrities

Does being on the front page of the newspaper for three weeks while you are being sued make you a celebrity? Thatâ’s the question asked this week by Don Daugherty, chair of the Knox County Democratic Party.

Daugherty notes the News Sentinel sued the Knox County Commission and had them adjudicated as violators of the Sunshine Law, but many of them were listed in an ad this week as â“celebrity pumpersâ” for the United Way. In an ad sponsored by Pilot and the News Sentinel in Sundayâ’s paper, incumbent and just-removed commissioners were listed as pumping gas at Pilot stations in the annual United Way fundraiser.

â“There seems to be a disconnect when you sue people one week and promote them as celebrities the next week,â” Daugherty said in a statement.

The list of â“celebritiesâ” includes incumbents Mike Hammond, Craig Leuthold, Tank Strickland, Phil Ballard, R. Larry Smith and Mark Harmon. It also includes office holders removed by a jury verdict, including Richard Cate, Lee Tramel, Josh Jordan and Jack Huddleston.

Pilot donates a portion of the revenue from gas sales during the celebrity pumping promotion, which includes radio and television personalities and elected officials, to the United Way.

Costly Fix

It has been proposed that Knox County ask for a special session of the Legislature to pass a law allowing a special election to fill 12 posts left vacant by a state Supreme Court ruling, then the results of a sunshine lawsuit.

A veteran legislator points out some of the dangers in such a proposal, even in the unlikely event Gov. Phil Bredesen and leaders of the General Assembly were to agree.

The special session call would open up the code pertaining to election laws and throw the door open to a lot of different election law proposals. There are a dozen election-law bills lying around from last session. This would require extensive committee hearings, testimony and lengthy debate. Should the law be changed to allow special elections whenever a position is vacant?

The session would last a few weeks, at a cost of $100,000 per day. Legislators estimate such a session would cost in the neighborhood of $2 million in legislative per diem, travel pay, staff time and other expenses.

The special election itself would cost Knox County about $275,000, according to the election commission.

Swingers Do Knoxville

Thursday afternoon, downtown was abuzz about some tall dark-haired guy from Chicago. He was at the marina, he was at Neyland Stadium, lots of people saw him. He had supper at the Downtown Grill and Brewery. He was staying at posh Cook Loft on Gay Street.

But itâ’s been so long since downtowners have been to the movies, many who might have missed Dodgeball, Wedding Crashers, and The Break-Up didnâ’t have any idea who he was. Some were, in fact, bold enough to ask: â“Whoâ’s Vince Vaughn?â” Bistro proprietor Martha Boggs reports an extraordinarily tall fellow came in, asking for a cup of coffee, an unusual request at the venerable restaurant/bar. â“I just have regular coffee, not the fancy kind,â” she said. â“Thatâ’s what I want,â” the tall stranger replied. She was told the guy was a movie star. Boggs, whose establishment has recently entertained elusive Pulitzer honoree Cormac McCarthy, did not faint. Boggs was more impressed to learn that one of the men with Vaughn was Peter Billingsley, the producer who first rose to prominence as Ralphie in The Christmas Story.

Vaughn and Billingsley were in town for a low-key screening of Vince Vaughnâ’s Wild West Comedy Show, a bawdy, but good-hearted documentary about a cross-country tour by some traveling comics Vaughn is fond of. It played to a packed house of lucky pass-holders at the Rivieraâ’s biggest screening room, among them UT footballers including quarterback Erik Ainge, maybe the only guy in the room who was close to Vaughn in height.

Nice Try

Local attorney Herb Moncier has been busy suing the Knox County Commission for the last six months, but this week he appeared before the group soliciting them as clients. Moncier joined the News Sentinel in suing over Sunshine Law violations resulting in eight appointed commissioners being removed from office.

On Monday, Moncier asked the remaining 11 Commissioners to join in his lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2006 county election, arguing the ballot contained term-limited officeholders and thus deprived the voters of a true election. While Commissioners voted to ask Chancellor Darryl Fansler to call for a special election, they did not agree to sign on to Moncierâ’s efforts to overturn the last electionâ"the election that put them in their current posts.

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