No Longer Funny

Commissionâ's â'maverickâ' shows heâ's part of the herd

No Longer Funny

Commissionâ’s â‘maverickâ’ shows heâ’s part of the herd

I

Frank Talk

by Frank Cagle

Itâ’s like Cricket cell phones were invented with the Knox County Commission in mind. There are unlimited calls and minutes between Cricket subscribers, handy when you have 19 commissioners trying to make plans for the next Commission meeting. And County Commissioner Greg â“Lumpyâ” Lambert argues they donâ’t even keep a record of your phone calls.

Thatâ’s Lambertâ’s explanation for not producing his phone records after having them subpoenaed in the Sunshine lawsuit brought by the News Sentinelâ’s editor. The defense was too cute by half and Chancellor Darryl Fansler wants to know why everyone else produced phone records, but Lambert didnâ’t. Seems the company doesnâ’t keep records for more than six months and Lambert has stalled long enough that the phone records for last January are no longer available.

But Lambert has had a meteoric career by being cute. He wore a screw-through-his-body costume during the wheel tax debate. He has played the clown, literally, and parlayed it into a Commission seat and he has used his maverick image to position himself for future political office. If you know Lambert, you know he puts on the genial buffoon face when it suits him, but behind the face is a shrewd, calculating mind. Some of us hoped his tenure on Commission would continue his populism exhibited in the anti-wheel tax referendum fight.

Turns out the maverick has been branded and has become part of the docile herd owned and fed by the homebuilders/developers.

That will be on display come Monday when Commission takes a second vote on a new storm water ordinance. Lambert brought amendments at the last meeting reducing fines from a minimum $1,000 to a minimum of $50. He also passed an amendment allowing plastic pipe and metal pipe under roads that will be assumed by county taxpayers for perpetual maintenance. Perpetual, as in, you know, forever. If the county accepts a road with improperly installed plastic or metal, it is subject to collapse at some point, and guess who gets to pay for fixing it?

The Knoxville City Council has passed a resolution asking County Commission to honor its contract with the city to install a storm water ordinance that mirrors city requirements. Developers outside the city limits donâ’t want it, and Lambert is carrying their water. He has pooh-poohed the idea that the city will have the nerve to sue the countyâ"a potential miscalculation with serious financial repercussions for the county budget. Heâ’s doing it because it would be too obvious for his colleague, Commissioner Richard Cate, to carry the amendments. Cate was the lobbyist for the Home Builders Association. He got another job a month before being appointed to Commission, since it would be unseemly to be appointed to Commission and be a lobbyist at the same time. Not that he isnâ’t continuing to be a lobbyist, but at least he isnâ’t being paid by them anymore. We assume.

I know Lambert and Cate; I have socialized with them on occasion. We have a lot of mutual friends. They are extremely likable; itâ’s one reason they have led several of their colleagues to go along with them on this issueâ"that and the threat of home-builder money going to an opponent.

There has been a lot of attention paid to how some Commissioners got there after the appointments on Jan. 31 and the machinations that went on. It is unfortunate the audits of County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and the Sunshine lawsuit have taken the focus off what Commission is actually doing.

The vote Monday will come back to bite these guys in the next election. They will be shocked to discover it, however, because they are focused on their defense and Ragsdaleâ’s prosecution.

But the rest of us will be watching. Some of them are running for countywide office. Being elected to countywide office, they often forget, requires the vote of the county residents who live inside the city of Knoxville. Thatâ’s half the vote.

Commission chair Scott Moore, who will be running for County Clerk, needs to remember that.

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville magazine. You can reach him at frank@frankcagle.com .

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