Swooping In

Swooping In

Former Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison has been building houses in the Carolinas since being term-limited and leaving office. But he came back to town for the two weeks leading up to the county election. He got a briefing on various candidates' races, made some suggestions and offered moral support.

Hutchison has an interest in who gets elected to County Commission and to the fee offices, as well as the election of his designated successor Jimmy "J.J." Jones. He is widely expected to be a candidate for county mayor in the 2010 election, after current County Mayor Mike Ragsdale is term-limited out of office.

It will be helpful for Hutchison's run for mayor to retain control of the county Republican Party and to have a sympathetic collection of officeholders at the courthouse.

The prospect of a Hutchison race will most likely galvanize the Knoxville establishment to find and support an alternative candidate—though one has yet to surface. Current officeholders who have expressed an interest have been encouraged by the political machine to think again about running against the popular four-term sheriff.

Late Brunch

Longtime Knoxville favorite Italian Market and Grill closed its doors last week after a difficult year.

"The first time I was informed about the closing was last week when I went by and saw the doors were locked up and the place was abandoned. It was a surprise to us," says Dee Harrison, real estate manager for Franklin Development Corp, owner of Franklin Square.

Italian Market and Grill was opened in 1992 by Emendorfer Restaurant Concepts out of Athens, Ga. It became well known for its Sunday brunch, which was often voted Best of Knoxville by Metro Pulse readers. "It was one of the first casual dinning experiences, and we produced high-quality service and food with no shortcuts," says original owner Bill Emendorfer. "I felt sick to hear the news only three days before."

In 2007, Emendorfer Restaurant Concepts sold Italian Market to Donald "Blue" Cooper, a former restaurant owner from Stuart, Fla. Under the new ownership, employees began to notice changes in the menu and to the overall culture of the restaurant.

"After all the changes, business began to quickly slow down, most of the regulars were being run off, and the servers on the floor were being mismanaged," says Ben Wilder, former Italian Market bartender and server. The Italian Market received a low health score of 56 in October.

Drop a Dime

County Commission candidate Richard Cate got hammered by a couple of stories in the News Sentinel the week before the election. He had not paid taxes on a city lot, which he explained was lost in a bankruptcy filing. Then it was revealed that he used the city lot as justification for voting in a city election. People who live outside the city limits, but own property in the city, may vote in city elections.

Cate's supporters think the tip came from City Councilman Rob Frost. Cate worked for the Homebuilders the last time Frost ran for office. Cate raised money and managed the campaign of Kim Litton against Frost—allegedly because Frost was not pro-development enough.

Frost says he isn't the one who went bankrupt, didn't pay his taxes, and voted in a city election and credits Cate with doing it to himself. Cate also forgot that the election commission, where voting records are kept, is controlled by the Democrats.

Coming and Going

Rural Metro, which has the contract to provide fire protection and ambulance service for Knox County, has hired a new lobbyist. John Mills, who was term-limited out of his longtime perch as a county commissioner from East Knox County, will represent the company.

Meanwhile, Tre Hargett, who had been in charge of Rural Metro operations locally, has been named to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. The Senate speaker gets to make such an appointment and Hargett used to be House Republican Leader when he was a state representative from Shelby County. Hargett worked for Rural Metro in Shelby County, and after leaving the Legislature he got a promotion to take the Knox County job.

The TRA regulates rates and service of utilities in Tennessee, including private telephone, natural gas, electric, and water utilities.

The Senate speaker and lieutenant governor is now Republican Ron Ramsey.