Who Me?

Who Me?

For the past several weeks, local media has reported that Cynthia Finch's lawyer, Gordon Ball, did not return telephone calls. That may be because Ball has not been Finch's attorney.

The former community services director for Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has been much in the news of late, for everything from undocumented expenses to improper grants to family members and a controversy over whether she was fired or resigned.

Ball is a class-action attorney whose fees usually run into millions of dollars and he is not going to handle a local personnel case. But Ball, like Finch's family, is from Cocke County and has been a family friend over the years. Finch went to him for advice on several occasions and Ball offered to help her find an attorney specializing in her type of case.

Finch finally became a client of David Burkhalter, one of the top attorneys in Knoxville specializing in employment law. Burkhalter has put the mayor's office on notice that they need to start finding documentation to prove Finch did anything without the administration's approval. Burkhalter will also have available all the press reports in which Ragsdale said Finch did nothing wrong.

Historic Preservation

So you think hard times just affect poor people? Poor Veronica Hearst lost her 52-room estate in Manalapan, Fla., last week when it was put up for a bankruptcy sale.

Franklin Haney, the Tennessee developer who owns the downtown Knoxville Holiday Inn, has purchased Villa di Venezia, a famous 52-room Vanderbilt estate, after Hearst defaulted on her $45 million loan.

The Renaissance mansion near Palm Beach was built by the Vanderbilts in 1929 and Haney and wife Emmy are restoring the historic mansion for their five children.

No word yet on when Haney will restore the downtown Holiday Inn and make it a Crowne Plaza as promised in a newspaper ad during the referendum on stopping a downtown convention center hotel.

Law and Order

Our most intriguing political story of the week starts with a jarring post on the KnoxViews blog that District Attorney General Randy Nichols was considering a run for the state senate against Republican state Sen. Jamie Woodson. Veteran political reporter Betty Bean immediately jumped on it, asking why a guy knocking down a district attorney's salary would give it up to win a job paying $18,500. It didn't make any sense.

Then Nichols explained to the News Sentinel's Georgiana Vines that it was "bluster" and he was angry about lack of legislative support for a bill providing stricter criminal penalties and "I get frustrated and say things I don't mean."

We add the following:

The state Democratic Party has been searching high and low for someone of stature to run against Woodson, who gives them fits in the state Senate.

The state Attorney General's office has issued an opinion, per a recent request, which says a sitting district attorney cannot serve in the General Assembly without giving up his post.

So Long, McDermotts

We hear that Mark and Trinity McDermott are moving back to Seattle, probably later in the spring, to be closer to their families. It's been about seven years since the young couple from the Northwest moved to Knoxville to take jobs as sales reps for technological and pharmaceutical companies, respectively, but in that time, the McDermotts have earned a reputation as downtown's dynamic duo, partnering in several worthy efforts, including the opening of a couple of landmark businesses.

When it opened about three years ago, the startlingly upscale restaurant/bar Sapphire (more Mark's project, with partner Matthew Newell) became perhaps Knoxville's first no-smoking bar, a concept so astonishing that some predicted rapid failure. A few months later, his wife Trinity was partner with David Ewan in the long, complex fight to open the first package store downtown in several years, Downtown Wine & Spirits.

Armchair demographers had been watching them carefully; in spite of the boom in interest in young marrieds living downtown, it is—so far—rare to remain in a downtown condo or apartment with a kid older than 2 or so. But the McDermotts, at home in the Pembroke on Union Avenue, seemed to be determined downtowners, and their son Ethan's pushing two and a half. We'll have to look to others to see if anyone will ever raise a kid all the way up downtown. Trinity, who is often seen strolling Ethan around downtown, sometimes down to the river to look at the ducks, says "it's just different."

She says their strongest impression of Knoxville is the sense of community: "The way people come together. The huge number of people who come together downtown is pretty amazing."

Mark hasn't yet decided whether he'll maintain his business interest in Sapphire; Ewan is buying Trinity's share of Downtown Wine & Spirits.