Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31, 2012 Morristown Utilities Approves "First" of Three Steps in Taking Over Operation of the City of Morristown's Sewer System

In what MUC Chairman George McGuffin described as the "first" of  three stages in the take-over of management of the city sewer system by MUC, MUC voted on October 25 to contract with the City to handle maintenance of all sewer pump stations.

All commissioners (George McGuffin, Harold Nichols, Lynn Elkins, Gene Jolley, and Max Biery) voted "yes."

The resolution that was passed by MUC states that the "City and MUC have determined" it mutually beneficial that the first step in the systematic transfer of the operation of the sewer system to MUC is the maintenance of the pump stations.

The resolution says that MUC and the City "developed" the attached agreement that provides for MUC to assume maintenance of wastewater pump stations beginning January 1, 2013.

McGuffin says that we have all talked about this several times. 

According to MUC General Manager Jody Wigington, maintenance of the pump stations by MUC will be put before council at a future meeting.

[The City currently contracts with Veolia Water to manage the wastewater/sewer system. A new contract with Veolia or changes to their current contract will have to be made to accommodate the transfer of pump station maintenance to MUC.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30, 2012 Closing Arguments and Now the Fate of Ex-Judge Baumgartner Is in the Jury's Hands (Updated 10/31/12)

One of seven misprision counts against ex-Judge Richard Baumgartner was tossed by District Judge Ronnie Greer as reported by the News-Sentinel here and here.

Closing arguments ended today, and Baumgartner's fate is now in the hands of the federal jury. The News-Sentinel report is here.

The prosecutor is trying to convince the jury that Baumgartner lied to a judge, a magistrate, a prosecutor, nurses, and others to cover up the actions/drug trafficking of his pill supplying mistress Deena Castleman.

The defense claims that the prosecution has not presented adequate proof and that Baumgartner has suffered enough with the very public exposure of his "personal" wrongs, his plea of guilty to official misconduct, and his resignation from the bench.

UPDATE: A brief summary of the testimony of each person to whom Baumgartner is alleged to have lied in order to cover up the drug trafficking actions of his pill-supplying mistress is reported by News-Sentinel court reporter Jamie Satterfield here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29, 2012 Baumgartner's Mistress/Pill Supplier Takes the Stand

Deena Castleman, mistress and pill-supplier to ex-Knox Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, took the stand last Thursday on the first day of Baumgartner's federal trial.

Baumgartner is accused of seven counts of misprision of a felony for lying to cover up a drug conspiracy involving Castleman.

Castleman, a graduate of the Drug Court established by Baumgartner, testified that she fell back into addiction and, facing financial problems, went to the person who had helped her before, "Judge B," to see if he could help her get a job.

According to Castleman, Baumgartner surprised her when he told her that he loved his opiates and asked if she could help him get them. She answered "yes."

The News-Sentinel account is here.

In a nutshell, Castleman supplied pills to Baumgartner and a sexual relationship ensued as well. Baumgartner helped Castleman with money, visited her in the hospital, and obtained pills from Castleman and her suppliers.

In the second day of testimony, two area judges to whom Baumgartner is accused of lying took the stand. Anderson County Criminal Court Judge Don Elledge testified about a call from Baumgartner in 2009 regarding Castleman. Knox Child Support Referee Stan Briggs testified about a call that he received from Baumgartner in 2010 involving Castleman.

Among others who have testified are Judge Baumgartner's assistant Jennifer Judy and nurses at St. Mary's where Castleman was hospitalized at one point and who saw and spoke to "Judge B" when he came to visit Castleman.

In order to obtain a conviction, the prosecution must prove that the statements made by Baumgartner to Elledge and Briggs and others were made with the intent to conceal Castleman's role in a federal drug conspiracy. The defense contends that any statements that Baumgartner made were solely out of "concern" and "affection" for Castleman and not for the purpose of covering up a drug conspiracy.

The News-Sentinel account of the second day of testimony is here.

The News-Sentinel site has an extensive archive of stories on Baumgartner. Click here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26, 2012 Congressman Phil Roe at MUC

Congressman Phil Roe visited with the Morristown Utilities Commission prior to its October meeting yesterday. After a presentation by MUC on technology, Roe took questions.

Above, Roe responds to a question from Lynn Elkins on the impact of Obamacare on businesses.  Roe noted that businesses that currently provide health insurance will "do the math" and eventually eliminate costly health insurance and pay the $2,000/per employee fine.

Next, Roe gave an example of the negative impact of Obamacare on businesses that do not provide health insurance.

Below, Congressman Roe (left) poses for a picture with MUC Commissioners (l-r) Lynn Elkins, Harold Nichols, Gene Jolley, Max Biery, George McGuffin, and MUC Gen. Mgr. Jody Wigington.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25, 2012 Baumgartner Jury Seated. Trial Set To Begin Today

A jury has been seated in the federal trial of ex-Knox County Criminal Judge Richard Baumgartner who is charged with seven felony counts.

Ten women and two men are on the panel that will hear opening statements this morning and then testimony will begin.  Two alternates, a man and a woman, have also been selected.

The most recent News-Sentinel articles are here and here.

The Baumgartner case was discussed recently on the Dr. Drew show on Headline News. Here and here.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24, 2012 Baumgartner Jury Selection; Defense Questioning Indicates Possible Defense Tactic

One-hundred twenty potential jurors have been summoned for the federal case against ex-Knox County Criminal Judge Richard Baumgartner.

Baumgartner is charged with seven counts of misprision of a felony (lying to various officials to cover-up a drug-trafficking conspiracy involving his mistress and pill-supplier Deena Castleman).  Castleman was a "graduate" of the Drug Court that Baumgartner founded.

Questions asked by Baumgartner's lawyers indicate that the defense may claim at trial that Baumgartner was addicted to painkillers and that his lies were to cover up his affair with Castleman.

The first 32 jurors were questioned yesterday and six were dismissed for "cause"---two were excused from jury duty for medical or other hardship reasons, and four were excused because of admitted bias. The remaining 26 will move on to the next round of questioning.

A second group of 32 is scheduled to be examined for possible dismissal for "cause" today.

The News-Sentinel article is here.

Previous News-Sentinel articles on Baumgartner are listed here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 23, 2012 Jury Selection in Baumgartner Case Begins Today

Jury selection begins today in the federal trial of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. Baumgartner is accused of seven counts of lying in order to cover up a felony and protect his mistress Deena Castleman who was at the time supplying Baumgartner himself with illegal drugs.

Click here.

For prior posts on Baumgartner, click here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20, 2012 Baumgartner Trial Moves Toward October 23 Start

As former Judge Richard Baumgartner's trial on seven felony counts looms on the horizon, the prosecution and the defense are arguing over what evidence comes in and what stays out.

The prosecution thinks that Baumgartner's fling with Drug Court graduate Deena Castleman is fair game since Baumgartner purchased pills from her and is accused of lying to various officials (misprision of a felony) in order to cover up the pair's drug trafficking conspiracy.

The defense is asking Federal Judge Ronnie Greer to exclude evidence of the romantic relationship between Baumgartner and Castleman. 

The News-Sentinel article is here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012 Another Millennium Mulligan: Project Bids To Be Rejected (Third Time) With More Do-over Designs and Bids To Come

At Tuesday's council meeting, City Administrator Tony Cox informed council that the Millennium Square project bids of October 3rd were high and that "it's going to be our recommendation" (third time) that we reject all bids and consider another re-design.

Cox did not say who made the recommendation for rejection nor to whom the recommendation goes for approval.

He didn't ask council to vote to recommend rejection, nor did he ask for comments from council.

For the Millennium group and the City, it's three mulligans and counting with a plan for yet another round of do-over designs and do-over bids.

Later in the meeting during council comments, Councilmember Gene Brooks pointed out that during the third Millennium bid opening on October 3, an unsealed bid had been opened.

Brooks said that a bid protest involving the opening of the unsealed bid was filed right after the bid opening but never reported to council and never reported by the "news"paper.

City Attorney Dick Jessee confirmed for Brooks that he had been informed about an unsealed bid being opened and that it would be his opinion that the unsealed bid would have to be disqualified. 

Councilmember Bob Garrett commented that it is the responsibility of the bidder to see that his bid is submitted in a sealed envelope--which is true but which ignores the responsibility of the person or entity handling the bid opening to ensure that all bid requirements are followed.

Councilmember Brooks added that Morristown didn't need to get a reputation for being unfair in the conduct of bidding.

Councilmember Chris Bivens said that the opening of an unsealed bid didn't matter since after the bid opening, it was decided by someone to reject all bids.

Tony Cox was at the bid opening but made no comments during this discussion. Todd Morgan is the City's designated representative for oversight of the Millennium project and was also at the bid opening. 

The bid that was allegedly unsealed was that of the low bidder Jenkins and Stiles,  the second bid opened on October 3. The bid opening video is here. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

October 13, 2012 Comptroller Justin Wilson Proposes Waiving First $25 in Fees for Public Records Requests Submitted to His Office

State Comptroller Justin Wilson has proposed waiving the first $25 in fees for public records requests to his office. Wilson's proposal was unanimously recommended for adoption by the Joint Government Operations Committees last week.  Click here

Frank Gibson, former director of Tennessee Coalition on Open Government (TCOG), praised the decision. TCOG promotes transparency in government.
The move is apparently motivated by a desire to promote open government and concerns about efficiency. 
Wilson may choose to waive all fees on a case-by-case basis. "I'm absolutely in favor of open records, but I don't want it to be abused," Wilson said. "If there are excessive requests, you need to pay for it."
While the Public Records Act does not require local and state governments to charge citizens for  access to public records, many governmental entities have adopted rules on assessing fees for copies of documents. 
"The public feels like it is already paying to collect, store and provide records," Gibson said. "Fee waivers are a way to recognize that sentiment."
The proposed waiver is being adopted by and only applies to the Comptroller's Office. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12, 2012 Knox Law Director Wants Public Records Requests Sent To His Office

The new Knox County Law Director has asked certain Knox County elected officials to send all public records requests to his office for documentation and response. Click here for the News-Sentinel article.

Richard Armstrong

The memo from Law Director Bud Armstrong went to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, County Clerk Foster Arnett, Property Assessor Phil Ballard, Public Defender Mark Stephens, Register of Deeds Sherry Witt, Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones, and Trustee John Duncan III.  The memo is here.

Some officials have apparently agreed to funnel all requests through the Law Director while others such as Mayor Burchett indicated that they would continue to respond directly to requests when the request is for a document that is clearly a public record but may send requests involving medical or legal issues through the Law Director's Office.

News-Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy responded with an editorial in which he points out that Armstrong's memo shows in part a misunderstanding of the Public Records Law. McElroy also notes that Armstrong's  concerns and efforts might be better directed to providing training to elected officials regarding the Public Records Act.

County Clerk Foster Arnett is quoted as saying he will continue to respond directly to most requests.  "If we have any questions, we'll ask for their assistance but most of our stuff is cut and dry, and if someone asks for a public record then we're going to turn it over."  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October 10, 2012 Baumgartner Case Moves Forward

Federal Judge Ronnie Greer has determined that a proposed jury questionnaire in the case against disgraced former Knox County Criminal Judge Richard Baumgartner is burdensome and intrusive.

Instead, Greer will question the jurors about their knowledge of the case and the effect, if any, of pretrial publicity.

Click here.

Another article with an excellent background and timeline of the federal case is here.

The trial is scheduled to begin on October 23 in the Knoxville division of U.S. District Court.

Monday, October 08, 2012

October 8, 2012 Former Knox Criminal Judge Richard Baumgartner Wants To Be Tried Before Jurors from Knox Region

Facing federal charges and a trial scheduled on October 23, disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner wants his jury selected from the Knoxville region.

Federal District Judge Ronnie Greer of Greeneville has summoned 100 prospective jurors, a larger than normal jury pool, with the hope of being able to weed out those who have been prejudiced by media coverage of the Baumgartner saga and yet have enough remaining to seat a jury to hear the case.

Baumgartner's attorneys are also asking that potential jurors be required to answer a detailed questionnaire.

The News-Sentinel article is here.

Previous posts are here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

October 3, 2012 Millennium Bids Opened

Bids for the Millennium Square Project were opened this afternoon. Three bids were submitted.

The apparent low bidder was Jenkins & Styles of Knoxville with a base bid of $1,753,964. Other bidders were Denark Construction at $1,769,900 and Merit Construction at $1,770,025.

This was the third time that the project has been bid. The first time, Messer Construction was the low bidder. It was bid a second time and Southern Constructors was the only bid. Both times all bids were rejected as being too high. Click here and here for prior posts on the Millennium project.

Although the plans were not significantly changed from the second bid to today's bid, Southern Constructors did not submit a third bid although they were in attendance at the pre-bid conference. Click here for the pre-bid conference video and links to separate posts on the Millennium project.

Architect Dan Brewer of Brewer, Ingram & Fuller (BIF) opened the bids with the assistance of Lisa Hoskins of BIF.
Tim Wild, one of the Millennium Square Partners, attended as did Tony Cox, City Administrator, and Todd Morgan, the City's designated  manager of the Millennium project.
Whether the low bid or any bid is accepted will likely depend on whether the Millennium Square Partners with control of the project (David & Tim Wild, Hiram Jones, Tom Jones, James & Myra Craine) are willing to foot the project costs not covered by a taxpayer-funded TDOT Transportation Enhancement grant of approximately $1,200,000.

Monday, October 01, 2012

October 1, 2012. Former Asst. D.A. Doug Godbee Convicted of Official Misconduct

Former Assistant District Attorney Doug Godbee pled no contest and was convicted in Jefferson County Circuit Court on one felony count of official misconduct for soliciting sex from female defendants in return for leniency in plea deals.

Click here for the News-Sentinel article.

Godbee, of Hawkins County, worked for Third Judicial District Attorney General Berkeley Bell. Next for Godbee will be numerous civil lawsuits.

Click on the label "Doug Godbee" on the right for earlier posts in the Godbee saga.