editorial (2007-38)

T

Editorial

The whole concept of conflicts of interest seems foreign to the leaders of Knox County government.

Most recently, the donations of the countyâ’s contract auditor, Rodefer Moss, to the mayorâ’s questionably derived â“hospitality fundâ” have been challenged as a possible violation of a county Charterâ’s provision against conflict.

Possible violation? The company, which obtained its $117,000 annual contract through competitive bidding, should have realized that the contribution created a conflict. And Mayor Mike Ragsdale should have seen that conflict and refused the money, which is funneled into an unaudited account where private donations have been used to pay for promotional events and other non-taxpayer-funded expenses.

Jimmy Rodefer, CEO of the auditing firm, says he thought the hospitality fund was tapped to stimulate economic development and was outside the auditing scope.

So what if it was? Any such private money raised for development purposes should be collected and managed by a non-governmental unit, such as the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership. Raised and spent by the mayorâ’s office, it has all the earmarks of a slush fund, with little or no accountability attaching. But for years, since it was off the budget, no one noticed how poorly it was being monitored.

Add to that the stalemate that has arisen over the countyâ’s multi-million dollar employee health insurance policy, in which former Commissioner Billy Tindell, a former 30-year Blue Cross employee who is now the county clerk, has been effective in holding up the award of a new contract to Cigna Health, convincing fellow fee office-holders that Blue Cross has a better plan, and thereâ’s little wonder why commissioners, the administration, and the other office-holders have trouble identifying a conflict when they see one.

The county needs an ethics committee with some enforcement teeth and an independent investigative unit that has the authority to thoroughly probe any such ethics complaints.

Without such a hammer over the heads of the countyâ’s governmental leaders, the business-as-usual element will continue to feature monkey business, and clearly obvious conflicts will still be viewed with a wink and a nod.

Screen Some Indie Films, Please

Regal Cinemas, whose revival of the Riviera Theater on Gay Street into an eight-screen multi-plex cinema heralds great things for Knoxvilleâ’s downtown entertainment picture, needs to listen to its film critics.

The consensus among college professors, downtown denizens, and movie-mad bloggers is an open book, and that book is an easy read. Itâ’s better than the movies being shown in the theaterâ’s second month of operation.

Ask any person on the downtown front or at nearby UT and youâ’ll hear the same complaint. Regal isnâ’t showing any indie films, any foreign films, or any art films in the true sense of the word art (not the xxx sense).

The company is showing regular Hollywood fare, which is a hit-and-miss proposition with many more misses than hits in the eyes of even semi-sophisticated viewers. What the more discriminating segment of the theaterâ’s potential audience is screaming for is at least a sprinkling of the kinds of films Regal has offered at its Downtown West location for many years.

There are modern cinema classics being turned out regularly in Europe, in East Asia and India and the Middle East, Africa and Latin Americaâ"in the United States, Canada, and Australia evenâ"that are commanding the respect of the professional film critic community around the world and would be certain to attract that haute amateur critic crowd from Knoxville and its environs to the Regal 8.

The company created its theater with two smaller screening rooms of about 100 seats each, along with the six larger ones more suited to Hollywood blockbusters and their followers. Let some of these fine indie and artistic-success films be screened downtown and see what happens. Hereâ’s betting theyâ’ll fill the smaller venues within that big, bright new multi-plex and reduce the noise level of the haranguing on the street and the snark level of the bitching on the Internet.

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