Friday, September 28, 2012

September 28, 2012 Federal Magistrate Refuses To Dismiss Case Against Former Knox Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner

The defense tried to get the charges against former Judge Richard Baumgartner dismissed. U.S. Federal Magistrate Clifford Shirley said "no."   Click here, here, and here.

Following Shirley's ruling, Federal District Judge Ronnie Greer issued an Order shortening the time for any appeals of Shirley's ruling. Click here.  Any remaining arguments will be heard on October 9, thus paving the way to start the trial on October 23 as scheduled.

[Greer of Greeneville was selected to hear the case after all the Knoxville federal district judges recused themselves]

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 25, 2012 Former Judge Baumgartner: Another Lie?

New court documents in the federal case involving former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner allege that Baumgartner lied in August 2010 to a fellow Knox County Judge, Juvenile Court Referee Stanley Briggs, in order to convince Briggs to release Baumgartner's mistress and fellow pill-popper Deena Castleman from jail.

The News-Sentinel story is here.

Related documents are available in the online version of the N-S story and online comments are allowed.

The TBI interview of Briggs and Knox Attorney John Boucher is here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 23, 2012 Eddie Hurley Addresses Council on W.A.J./Panther Creek Road Development

Developer Eddie Hurley attempted to addess the Morristown City Council on September 18 about difficulties that he claims to have had with the city engineering department in moving forward with his project at the corner of Panther Creek Road and West Andrew Johnson Highway.

Hurley also expressed concerns about his inability to get a date from City Administrator Tony Cox for an administrative hearing before Cox on violations and fines and penalties that have been assessed against Hurley/Lakeview Management..

Cox interrupted Hurley during Hurley's comments and asked that Hurley not discuss the specifics of his grievances with Council since any appeal of Cox's administrative decision would eventually be heard by the full council. 

Cox's failure to respond and set up a hearing date was one of Hurley's grievances.  Continuing and accruing penalties was another.

City Attorney Dick Jessee said one way to stop the accruing penalties would be to pay the penalties due "under protest."

Hurley asked whether his site plan would be held up as a result of the ongoing difficulties. Cox stated that the site plan was independent of the fines and penalties.

Hurley's attorney Link Gibbons addressed the council briefly at the end of Hurley's remarks to further explain some of Hurley's concerns and to ask for specific citations to the City Charter for the conduct of administrative hearings and for the authority of Cox to act as hearing officer.

Friday, September 21, 2012

September 21, 2012 Donation of $125,000 in Public Funds to MHHS Foundation Fails in Hamblen County Commission

On September 10, the Hamblen County Budget Committee voted 8-4 to recommend that the full commission give $125,000 of public funds to the MHHS Foundation for use in a building project and reserve all remaining funds in the former Hamblen County endowment fund for future jail capital projects. Click here.  [Paul LeBel and Herbert Harville were not present at the Budget Committee.]

When that recommendation went to the full commission yesterday, it failed to get the 2/3 majority vote (10 YES) that was required for approval. 

Yesterday's vote was 8 YES and 6 NO, two short of the ten required for approval under the special act.

Doe Jarvis voted for the recommendation in Committee but voted NO yesterday. He was joined with a NO vote from his very good friend Paul LeBel.

Although it's hard to resist pressure from powerful people who come to commission asking for public money for their projects, it appears that there is---at least for now---a significant group of commissioners who feel that public money should go for county government projects first and foremost.

Helen Ross McNabb Center Foundation and MHHS Foundation have raised huge amounts of money already, plans are drawn, and both will more than likely proceed with their planned construction with or without a donation of public money from the Hamblen County Commission. 

But they go to public bodies (MUC and County Commission), ask for a public donation, and are often able to get support from commissioners who have no trouble in spending other people's money even while major county needs for roads and jails are present.

The eight YES votes were Stancil Ford, Larry Baker, Howard Shipley, Nancy Phillips, Dana Wampler, Rick Eldridge, Tilman Goins, and Herbert Harville.

The six NO votes Doyle Fullington, Larry Carter, Tim Dennison, Tim Goins, Paul LeBel, and Doe Jarvis.

That Hamblen County endowment money is burning a hole in commissioner's pockets. If it is not clearly set aside for county government capital projects soon, foundations and other non-profits will continue to come and ask for 14 people to take public dollars and donate them for foundation and non-profit capital projects.

September 21, 2012 Former Hawkins Judge James Taylor Enters Guilty Plea To Six Counts of Felony Theft

Former Hawkins County General Sessions Judge James Taylor has entered a guilty plea to six counts of felony theft in Davidson County Criminal Court.

According to the initial report in the News-Sentinel, Taylor's guilty plea provides that he will be disbarred through 2025 and serve three years of a 13-year sentence before he will be eligible for parole.

Taylor was indicted in May 2012. Click here.

Taylor has another criminal case pending in Hawkins County which is also expected to be resolved with a plea agreement.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19, 2012 Masengill Springs Rezoning Fails: Morristown's Charter Zoning Provision Applies

Opponents of the Masengill Springs development on West Andrew Johnson Highway won at least a temporary victory yesterday when the Masengill Springs rezoning failed with 3 YES votes (Danny Thomas, Chris Bivens, and Gene Brooks), 2 NO votes (Kay Senter and Bob Garrett), and 1 ABSTENTION (Paul LeBel).

Residents have repeatedly cited flooding, traffic, and quality of life issues in opposition to the rezoning. The bombshell, however, was their discovery in recent weeks that there is a provision in the Morristown City Charter that requires the City to provide three public notices of a proposed rezoning and allows certain nearby residents to sign a petition protesting the rezoning and thus require a 4/5 council vote for approval instead of a simply majority.

[The City admitted that it has ignored the Charter provision requiring three public notices and apparently citizens and council have previously been unaware of the petition process provided for residents.]

Initially, it appeared that the entire matter would be delayed two weeks at the request of the developer--a move which is normally accomplished by a simple motion and majority vote of council.

Kay Senter, however, made a move for postponement to October 2 as a "special order."  The "special order" terminology surprised many members of council and the city attorney. Kay had her Robert's Rules with her and pointed out that the "special order" term meant that her motion to postpone required a 2/3 vote of council for the postponement.

Amidst the confusion and discussion, the motion to postpone by "special order" failed to get the required 2/3 majority.

Kay then quickly made a motion to approve the rezoning.  At that point, City Attorney Dick Jessee stated that he had received an opinion on Monday (the day before yesterday's vote) from MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) that upheld the City Charter zoning provision requiring a 4/5 vote to approve a rezoning when the required number of residents have protested the rezoning by petition.

More discussion and controversy. When the vote was taken on Kay's motion to approve the rezoning, a majority voted YES, but not the required 4/5.  Voting YES were Gene Brooks, Chris Bivens, and Danny Thomas. Voting NO were Kay Senter (who had made the motion to approve the rezoning) and Bob Garrett. Abstaining was Paul LeBel.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 18, 2012 (Another) Millennium Pre-Bid Conference

There was a pre-bid conference for the Millennium Square project on Wednesday, September 12, at the City Center.

Dan Brewer with Brewer, Ingram, and Fuller (BIF) was present. Lisa Hoskins with BIF presided over the meeting and took questions from contractors.

The Millennium project has been plagued by conflicts of interest, postponed bids, changes to plans,
re-bids, changes to specifications, and on and on it goes.

The initial grant money for a greenway project for Morristown College and surrounding area ended up years later going to the Millennium group to build a retail office shell for the Millennium group on Millennium property. To get the grant money (about $1.2 Million) for their project, the Millennium partners (Tim Wild and David Wild, Sidney Boyd, Hiram Jones and Tom Jones, James and Mira Craine, and Bill Young) leased a rooftop parking deck on the top of their retail office shell to the City as a "greenway" trailhead for 25 years and then the lease ends.

The rooftop public parking consists of about 22 spaces. Of those 22 spaces, two are to be handicapped and two are to be true restricted "greenway" parking.  The rest of the parking is just general first-come, first-served public parking that can and probably will be used primarily to benefit the Millennium group, owners of the adjacent Millennium Square Building.

When the project started, the Wild brothers--who are partners in the Millennium group--were planning on "competitively" bidding as general contractors on the project.

TDOT was told of some of the connections between the Wilds and the Millennium group, but TDOT was not told by the City or by the architects that the Wilds were assisting the architects as estimating consultants---a fact the City knew or should have asked about when the architect submitted an architectural proposal TO THE CITY that listed Wild as a proposed "consultant" for project estimating.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) stopped the first planned bidding in late 2010 after Councilman Gene Brooks sent letters and provided documentation to TDOT regarding conflicts of interest and the Wilds apparent involvement as a consultant to the architect.

TDOT let the City (Todd Morgan), the architect (BIF), and the Wilds (through their attorney) present their positions.  TDOT then confirmed that conflicts existed and disqualified Wild from bidding at any point. [Several contractors also complained and refused to bid when they became aware of the conflicts.]

The project was first bid in spring 2011 and all bids were over-budget.

The project was bid a second time and there was one bidder. The one bid was over-budget.

The project is to be bid for a third time on October 3, 2012. No longer do bidders have to be TDOT pre-qualified.

Click herehere, herehere here, here, and here for background.

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 17, 2012 Hamblen Budget Committee Votes to Send $125,000 Donation to MHHS Foundation to Full Commission

Stancil Ford made the motion to give $125,000 to the MHHS Hospital Foundation for a building project to add beds in a cancer wing.  Doe Jarvis seconded the motion. [MHHS was sold to Covenant Health several years ago.]

Tilman Goins who opposed the earlier donation of $100,000 to Helen Ross McNabb for its building project agreed to support the MHHS Foundation donation if Ford would amend his motion to include earmarking all remaining Hamblen County endowment funds for the jail. Ford agreed to the amendment.

Doe Jarvis took exception to the use of the word "conservative" by Commissioner Goins. Jarvis commented that this was a lot of "horse whatever" and added "I frankly don't believe you know what you are talking about...."

The vote was 8 YES and 4 NO with Commissioners Paul LeBel and Herbert Harville absent.

Voting for the donation and earmarking all remaining funds for the jail were Stancil Ford, Larry Baker, Doe Jarvis, Tilman Goins, Howard Shipley, Nancy Phillips, Rick Eldridge, and Dana Wampler.

Voting NO were Tim Goins, Tim Dennison, Larry Carter, and Doyle Fullington.

It appeared that the four NO votes were based on the belief that all Hamblen County endowment  public money should be reserved entirely for county government capital needs. 

Fullington had stated earlier in the meeting that he would be voting against the donation of money to both the non-profit Helen Ross McNabb Foundation and the non-profit MHHS Foundation.

Fullington had also pointed out what everyone knew---the hospital and/or the hospital foundation could and would build the new wing with or without the county's donation. Click here for the earlier McNabb vote and discussion.

Dennison and Carter had also voted earlier in the meeting against donating public money to the Helen Ross McNabb Foundation. Tim Goins had abstained from the McNabb vote due to a conflict of interest.

Those who voted against the donation to McNabb but then voted for the donation to MHHS Foundation were Tilman Goins, Rick Eldridge, and Nancy Phillips.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 16, 2012 Hamblen Budget Committee Votes Against Donating $100,000 to Helen Ross McNabb Building

On September 10, the Hamblen County Budget Committee--which is composed of all 14 commissioners---voted against recommending that the full commission donate $100,000 of public money to the Helen Ross McNabb Foundation to use in a McNabb construction project.

The vote was 5 YES, 6 NO, and 1 ABSTENTION.  [Commissioners Paul LeBel and Herbert Harville were not present. Commissioner Tim Goins abstained]

The vote came after spirited discussion about the very nature of non-profits and donating public money to non-profits.

Commissioner Doyle Fullington commented that he wanted to hold on to the money for county needs--particularly with the economy in the shape it is. He said he would be voting against the donation of $100,000 to the Helen Ross McNabb Foundation for a McNabb building project and the donation of $125,000 to the MH Hospital Foundation for a Foundation building project.

Commissioner Tim Dennison reminded everyone that the county already has specific needs on its plate with a decertified jail and road maintenance and repairs. He wanted everyone to look at using this money wisely.

Commissioner Doe Jarvis led the push to donate public money to the McNabb Center for a McNabb construction project. He thinks there are "answers" for the jail.

Commissioner Fullington made it clear that it was never his intention that money from the Hamblen County endowment would be donated to non-profits. In referring to the request for $125,000 from the Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Foundation, Fullington noted that the hospital directors sold MHHS hospital to Covenant precisely because of Covenant's ability to fund improvements and operate the hospital.  He added that the term non-profit can be misleading since non-profits may make a profit--they just don't give it to shareholders. 

Voting against donating public money to McNabb for the McNabb building project were Doyle Fullington, Tilman Goins, Tim Dennison, Larry Carter, Rick Eldridge, and Nancy Phillips.

Voting to donate public money to McNabb for the McNabb building project were Doe Jarvis, Stancil Ford, Larry Baker, Howard Shipley, and Dana Wampler.

[Previously, Helen Ross McNabb obtained a donation of up to $51,000 of "round-up" funds from the Morristown Utilities Commission for the proposed McNabb building project. Click here for video of the MUC vote, and click here for video of the initial McNabb request for $148,000 from MUC.]

Sunday, September 09, 2012

September 9, 2012 (Another) Morristown Sewage Spill into Cherokee Lake

The City of Morristown dumped raw, untreated sewage into Cherokee Lake on Monday (Sept 3) after a power outage at its wastewater treatment plant.[Correction: The outage this time was at the Spring Creek lift station this time.] About 94,000 gallons of raw sewage went into the lake.  [Last year, the outage was at the main plant and resulted in a dump of over one million gallons of raw sewage into Cherokee Lake. See below for links].

With the life station, there are two power feeds. However, both power sources (MUS-Morristown Utilities and AEC-Appalachian Electric) come into the lift station on the same poles for at least part of the way. When there is a wreck or storm or falling tree that hits a shared pole, both utilities are affected and there is no back-up power. Sewage backs up and is then released into the lake.

Monday's power outage is not the first power outage in the city sewer system. And Monday's raw sewage dump is not the first--or even largest--sewage dump by the City of Morristown into Cherokee Lake.

A massive spill of over a million gallons of untreated sewage into the lake occurred in June 2011. That spill was also caused by a power outage--but in 2011 it was at the main wastewater treatment plant. As with the life station, power to the main treatment plant comes from two sources (MUC and AEC), poles are shared, and in the case of a storm or wreck or other event, both utilities are affected and there is no back-up power at the main plant. Click here. At that time, City Administrator Tony Cox said of the power outage and sewage dump, "we're taking it seriously." There was also a spill of about 250,000 gallons of raw sewage in 2008. Click here.

[And then there was the Witt sewer lawsuit that cost the city megabucks in attorney fees (for part of its own TML attorneys' fees plus a negotiated payment to Plaintiff's attorney for his fees) and the City ended up under a federal court order to spend over a million dollars to fix the Witt situation and address repeated overflows. Click here and on the Witt Sewer search labels on the right.]

Under the headline "E. Coli levels off the chart at spill site," the Tribune reports that "concentrations of the bacteria (E. Coli), which has been linked to disease, remained so high (as of Tuesday) that they exceeded the ability of Veolia measure them." Veolia operates Morristown's wastewater treatment facility.

Knowing about the problem for quite some time, the City has been talking about back up generators.

The City Administrator sent a plan for generators to TDEC (Tennessee Dept of Environment and Conservation) months ago.

Apparently it's not economically possible to separate the two power feeds or address the problem in other ways. This latest spill makes the case for generators NOW! 

Morristown and other area communities rely on Cherokee Lake for tourism and recreational activities like swimming, boating, and fishing, and, most importantly, as a source of drinking water.

The repeated dumping of raw sewage into the lake from which the City gets its drinking water is ridiculous--especially when the problem has been known for YEARS and there is a way to prevent it from happening. 

Hospitals have back-up generators that can be used to make sure that vital health services are maintained for patients in the event of a utility power outage.

Four-plus years is long enough for the City of Morristown, which handles the city's sewer, to address its repeated raw sewage dumps--whether from lift stations or the main wastewater plant.

And MUS, which handles the city's water, should be highly concerned about the City dumping sewage into the lake from which MUS pulls water for treatment and sale to its customers. [According to the MUS website, MUS gets water from two sources. Water comes from Cherokee Lake and Havely Springs and is then mixed together before being treated. Click here]

Thursday, September 06, 2012

September 6, 2012 Hamblen Budget Committee To Meet Today at Helen Ross McNabb Center

The Hamblen County Budget Committee--composed of all 14 commissioners--has a special called meeting today at 4:30 PM at the Helen Ross McNabb Center. The Committee will tour the current facility from 4-4:30 just prior to the meeting. 

[A public notice of this special called meeting was published in the local newspaper on Sunday. That's good because the last time the Budget Committee had a special called meeting to consider the McNabb and Morristown Hamblen Hospital Foundation's requests for donations of public money, there was no notice in the newspaper.]

Helen Ross McNabb Center, a local non-profit, is asking the Hamblen County Commission to give it $100,000 of public funds to help build a new building.

The point person for the request appears to be the local newpaper publisher/editor Mike Fishman.

[Fishman, along with Denise Terry Stapleton, recently requested and received a donation of $51,000 for the McNabb building from Morristown Utilities Commission round-up funds.]  See Fishman at MUC here. See the MUC vote on the donation here.

At its August meeting, the Hamblen County Commission did not vote on the McNabb and MHHS Foundation requests, instead sending both requests back to the Budget Committee. See post here.

Fishman was at the Hamblen County Courthouse on Tuesday with other McNabb personnel.

September 6, 2012 Morristown City Council Appoints 5-Member Airport Commission

Morristown City Council appointed a 5-person Airport Commission at its September 4 meeting.
Prior to the meeting, each councilmember had nominated one person. [Mayor Danny Thomas and Councilmember Gene Brooks nominated the same person--Clifford Jinks.]
The discussion suddenly became heated when councilmember Gene Brooks explained that his and the Mayor's nominee (Clifford Jinks) was a pilot, and Brooks asked Councilmember Chris Bivens about the qualifications of Bivens' nominee (Hamblen County Commissioner Doe Jarvis).
For some reason, Bivens was very upset by the question and refused to discuss the qualifications of Jarvis. Bivens did, however, discuss the qualifications of his first choice Larry Mullins who apparently declined to serve due to potential conflicts of interest.
After procedural discussions about the method of voting, the five-member commission that was eventually appointed includes Clifford Jinks, Hamblen County Commissioner Doe Jarvis, Denise Terry Stapleton, Charles Hurt, and Steve Henrikson.
Click here to see previous post where Bivens voted "yes" to establish an Airport Commission despite a promise to the late councilmember Claude Jinks to vote "no."

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

September 5, 2012 Late Councilman Claude Jinks' widow (Dot) and son (Mike) Recognized at Morristown City Council

Above are Dorothy (Dot) Jinks and Mike Jinks who were recognized by the Morristown City Council at its September 4 meeting. [Mayor Danny Thomas is pictured on the far right]

Dot is the widow of the late councilmember Claude Jinks, and Mike is their son.

After expressing appreciation for Claude's years of service as a councilmember, Mayor Thomas presented a plaque and Claude's council nameplate to the Jinks.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

September 2, 2012 City Finance Committee Discusses Whitesburg Sewer Contract One-Hour Before Scheduled Vote

City Council Finance Committee: There is nothing like looking at a contract one hour before the main meeting where you have it on the agenda for a vote--- and being told about five minutes before the main meeting that there is one "little" problem with a paragraph in the contract that might just be "unconstitutional."

That is just part of the discussion on August 21 at a City Finance Committee meeting where the city-county Whitesburg Sewer Project Agreement was discussed.

Paul LeBel, who is sitting between County Mayor Bill Brittain and City Councilperson Kay Senter, gets to vote twice on the contract. He voted for the contract as a county commissioner on August 23
and will get to vote on the contract as a city councilperson.

Although Tony Cox and Bill Brittain wanted the city council to go ahead and vote on the Agreement on August 21, the council unanimously voted to postpone consideration of the contract to its September 4 meeting.