Coal miners’ museum – time to tell a story that is long overdue
Last week was one of those rare occasions when I did not
attend the Campbell County Commission’s monthly gathering, as I had bigger
fish to fry on Monday night.
This particular fish was the gathering of the Anderson
County Commission down in Clinton, where squires were set to vote on whether
or not to spend a hundred grand on the county’s red-headed stepchild, my
home town of Lake City.
The hundred grand is the
purchase price for the former Bank of America building on
which had been offered as a new home for the Coal Creek Coal Miners’ Museum.
Happily, I can report that the county agreed to provide the money from
$300,000 that they are receiving for selling off some industrial land.
This museum has been a work in progress, or lack of
progress, for over a quarter of a century now, first envisioned by a group
of us back during Tennessee’s Homecoming ’86 celebration.
We established a Coal Creek miners’ museum at the time in
the old Wenders’ Department Store building next to City Hall, and as former
miners and their families donated or loaned tools, lamps, old photographs,
script and other artifacts for the displays, we gradually filled up several
rooms with the history of old Coal Creek, Briceville and Beech Grove.
The Town of Lake City owned the building, which was once
the original Coal Creek Opera House, where Vaudeville acts, musical troupes
and the like came to perform. We hoped to obtain historic preservation
status for the building and perhaps a grant or two to replace an aging roof
and renovate the interior, but alas, it was not to be.
A state official, perhaps at
the urging of city officials, decreed that the old building had been too
extensively remodeled to qualify for historic preservation grants.
fathers then did what they had wanted to do for years and razed the old
building to make room for a new city
Our consolation prize was a single room in the community
center, once the town’s small library, where all of the displays and
artifacts were stacked on top of each other with no space to tell the story.
And that is where things stood
for a time, until a new mayor, Buck Wilson, took office and rekindled
interest in the museum. Buck’s motivation was simple:
old downtown was drying up and a really first class museum might attract
tourists and therefore new businesses to the numerous abandoned storefronts
on Main Street.
The City was able to lobby for
some county and state funding to earn a matching federal grant and before
you knew it, Lake
museum plans were making headlines again and the town had $150,000 or so to
spend. One hitch however, all of the grant money was for “planning and
design” and not a cent to be used for construction, land purchase or
What do you get when you have $150,000 to spend on
architectural plans and design for a “world class” museum? Answer – first
you get an appropriate architectural firm “suggested” by the
grant-makers, in this case a Washington-based firm that specialized in
museums and such.
Then you get a design for a
structure deserving of $150,000 worth of plans and drawings, price tag for
construction- 16 million dollars. When the design and the price tag were
presented to the museum board and other interested citizens, you could hear
the air go out of the room. One museum board member observed, “If you added
up all of the appraised value of all the residential and commercial property
it wouldn’t come to 16 million dollars!”
Perhaps an exaggeration, but you get the picture. The
momentum for the museum was stalled in its tracks. Over the next three
years, two of the city council members who had supported the museum died,
then Mayor Wilson became ill, eventually left office and passed away, his
vision for a museum unrealized.
But the dream had not entirely died with him. My personal
stake in this project dates to Homecoming ’86. I wrote and edited the small
Coal Creek/Lake City history book that proved to be the museum’s chief
source of revenue through the years, and served through it all as the
board’s treasurer, keeping tabs on our modest bank accounts as they grew
from a few hundred to $15,000 or so.
I also preserved negatives and copies of the numerous old
photographs that were loaned for the book, submitted to the newspapers I
worked for or otherwise offered to the museum, hoping that someday a new
group of local people would step forward with the energy to see this thing
Perhaps, with a new building and new momentum, that day
has come at last, when we can tell the story of the area’s coal miners,
their lives and their sacrifices so that our school children can understand
the legacy they have inherited.
And what a story we have to tell! From the coming of the
railroads and the coal mines following the Civil War to the establishment by
southern states of a convict lease system that was nothing more than an
extension of the institution of slavery, supposedly ended with the Civil
It is the story of how
courageous coal miners from Anderson, Campbell and other counties rose up in
rebellion against the state itself to end convict lease, making
the first southern state to abandon the practice.
It is the story of roughly 200 coal miners, including
young boys, who perished in the Fraterville mine disaster, which up to that
time in 1902 was the worst mining disaster in American history.
They did not die in vain. The magnitude of the disaster
forced a complacent industry to look at safety practices and more
importantly, forced a complacent government to look more closely at
enforcing mine safety and improving mine rescue techniques.
The death of numerous young
boys who had accompanied their fathers into the mine that day helped provide
the spark for stronger child labor laws as applied to mining, while the poor
treatment of the perished miners’ families encouraged the first unionization
coal mines in 1903.
A second disaster in 1911 at Cross Mountain Mine killed 84
more miners, but improvement in rescue techniques resulted in some lives
The story that Lake
museum has to tell is not all about conflict or disaster, but about how
miners and their families worked and lived, how they were paid, educated,
entertained, treated for illness and got on with their daily lives. It is
also a story of sorrow, of the decline of underground coal mining and loss
of jobs, the demise of the old coal camps and the long fall into poverty and
depression for many families.
It is the story of how these sacrifices fueled America’s
rise as an industrial giant, powered the trains that carried our nation
westward and the warships that helped us win three wars, and how this legacy
has set us very uniquely apart from the rest of the South, and the nation,
for better or worse.
We’ve still got a way to go
toward telling this story. But at least we now have a building constructed
of solid bricks and mortar and not just a drawing on paper. With that we can
build, even if we have to do it one nail at a time, until we can finally
tell our story the way it should be told.
TUESDAY, AUGUST, 27, 2013)
Why virtual schools won’t rule? Bubba can’t kill the
quarterback with a tweet
Campbell County Board of Education got the numbers they wanted on Tuesday
night, and wasted no time approving a contract with K12, Inc. to host a
virtual school program. K12 can now sign up online students to the 1,500
student cap, with Campbell
County receiving the
state’s BEP funds for each student.
The county will keep 4 percent of the state’s money and
hand over the other 96 percent to K12 to cover the cost of educating the
students. Based on the estimates for BEP funding, the county could stand to
take in $412,000 as its share of the pot, Finance Director Jeff Marlow told
County jump at such
a sweet deal? We get nearly $300 a year for each student registered and
don’t have to pay to educate them. Rector Miller suggested that all the
proceeds should go to pay for security guards at the county’s elementary
schools and the rest of the board appeared to agree with that notion. It’s
free money, after all.
Of course there are some
questions that went un-asked, such as how will the virtual school effect
enrollment, which determines how much BEP money the school system receives.
The presumption is that the online students will come from all over the
place, not just
virtual academy claimed 30 kids from our county last year.
But for the sake of argument,
let’s say that a hundred of those 1,500 online students are from
County and formerly
attended one of our county’s old fashioned brick and mortar schools. The
state will still pay
somewhere around $7,000 each for those 100 kids, but 96 percent of that
amount will now be turned over to K12, Inc.
Math has never been my strong suit but that appears to be
a decline of somewhere around $700,000 in state BEP funding, versus the
county’s total share of the virtual school program - $412,000.
But we don’t have to pay to educate those 100 students, so
it shouldn’t affect us, right? Well, we’ve already built school buildings
with classroom space for those kids. The portion of BEP funds that goes to
offset the debt service on those classrooms isn’t virtual, it’s real, and
still has to be paid.
A hundred fewer students in
isn’t going to enable the schools to cut down on utility bills, or
supervisors, or maintenance personnel. At best, the county’s “savings” from
not having to pay to educate those 100 kids will be a few grand in textbooks
that won’t be needed, and a couple of teaching positions that can be
I hear school officials moan all the time about how
declining enrollment is behind the loss of teaching positions and the
continuing financial pinch that our schools experience. We don’t yet know
how a virtual schools program will impact future enrollment.
Virtual schools are a reality and are most likely the wave
of the future in this increasingly cyberspace world. The school board should
not be faulted for wanting to get in on the cutting edge. What they
shouldn’t do is assume that hosting a virtual schools academy will be some
sort of cash cow until all the cards are on the table. That last card that
we’re dealt might turn out to be the joker.
of jokes, how about last week’s Highway 25 yard sale? It was ballyhooed on
TV as the local answer to its big brother, the Highway 127 Yard Sale that
attracts bumper-to-bumper shoppers to Jamestown,
Crossville and the Sequatchie
Valley every Fall.
I knew we
were in trouble when I saw the map in the LaFollette Press, showing the
route of the yard sale extending down from Lexington, Kentucky through
Jellico, LaFollette, Caryville, Clinton and on to . . . Chattanooga. I
was at a meeting in
Thursday night and made the mistake of having a copy of the Press with me.
resident looked at the map, then looked out the window at
Newport’s Main Street
and remarked, “Well, Chattanooga
sure has changed since the last time I was here.” For the record, Highway 25
passes through Cocke
on its way to Hot Springs
and eventually Asheville,
and nowhere close to
The other “oops” was that the Town of Lake City allowed
the Anderson County Tourism folks to organize a community yard sale at the
ballpark, with a $10 set-up fee going to the coal miner’s museum building
As a member of the museum board, I agreed to volunteer my
time early Saturday morning to be at the ballpark to collect fees and direct
vendors to their spots. Of course, the handful of vendors in that town could
also choose to set up at two or three wide spots in the road for nothing.
Guess what they chose to do?
of a Highway 25 Yard Sale faces a couple of minor challenges not present
over on Highway 127, at least in Tennessee.
Number one – which Highway 25? The highway splits up in
25W coming on down through
Williamsburg into Campbell
Knoxville. Highway 25E
runs through Middlesboro to Tazewell and over
before reuniting with 25W in Jefferson
number two was obvious to me last Friday when I drove from Caryville to
Duff. There are no yards. There were two or three families set up near the
Highway 25 intersection with Duff Road,
then miles of narrow highway with few turnoffs, then end-to-end businesses
from LaFollette to Jacksboro followed by limited access roadway to
If they’re going to make this
work in Campbell
future years, the businesses along the four-lane need to be involved in some
way. I understand that roadside vendors were more common over on 25E in
Claiborne County, and that might be the future of this particular experiment
in mom & pop capitalism.
So let’s see, we’ve got school boards that may be
mathematically challenged and newspapers that appear to be geographically
challenged. An outside observer might think that we have an education issue
here. Of course this is Big Orange Country, after all. An outside observer
only needs to read the News-Sentinel’s story on the latest NCAA academic
progress report to come to the conclusion that we have an education issue.
new football coach Butch Jones has a reputation for bringing up the academic
standing of teams he has coached. That is good, because the Big Orange
desperately need improvement. Tennessee’s
football team finished close to the bottom of the conference in victories
last season. They finished dead last in the APR ratings released by the
OK, so the
football team has been going through some tumultuous times recently, with
four coaches in six years and mass transfers of athletes. So how does that
explain the baseball team, which finished dead last in the conference
academic ratings? I thought the football players were supposed to be the
dumb jocks and baseball players were the brainy ones. Not in Big
basketball finished a little bit better. The Vols finished eighth out of
fourteen teams. Well, really eighth out of twelve teams. The APR ratings are
a four-year average and Missouri
and Texas A&M have only been in the league for one year.
fans voice their displeasure at finishing behind
in the won-loss column. I find it even more troubling that we finish behind
those teams, along with
South Carolina in
Sadly, most fans could care less as long as the Vols
manage to keep their academic heads above water and not get banned from
postseason play, assuming they once again win enough games to qualify for a
Come to think of it, that may be the only thing that keeps
our education system from transforming completely to virtual schooling
anytime soon. Bubba can’t kill the quarterback with a tweet, and fans want
their bone crunching to be real, not virtual.
THURSDAY, JUNE, 13, 2013)
Well-informed parents might ask - can we pay for virtual school with
Things are definitely looking up since my last column.
School is out and the science enrichment kids at Valley View have a break
from Mister Boomer, and thankfully, vice versa.
The county held its delinquent tax sale last Saturday and
the rush to serve notice on delinquent taxpayers is past, for now at least.
In a reminder that the after-effects of the recession are still with us,
over a hundred parcels of property went on the auction block, up from 40-50
just a few years ago.
These property owners still have a year to redeem their
property, and many will, but at a much higher cost since they must now pay
interest on the purchase price to the high bidder.
The county took in $25,984 in overdue taxes and another
$8,345 in interest and penalties, but that is only part of what it will cost
delinquent taxpayers to redeem the auctioned property. Add to the taxes,
penalty and interest, another $1,432 for service of process to cover
certified mail costs, $382 to cover computer data fees, $18,680 to cover the
fees for the Clerk & Master’s office and another $16,038 to cover attorney’s
fees and title search costs.
Now that original $26,000 or so in overdue taxes has cost
another $45,000 in fees, interest and expenses, a increase of roughly 173
percent! That means a property owner who had a $1,000 tax bill paid $2,730
to save their property from the auction block. But that only applies to
those taxpayers who were able to get in before the sale and pay off their
tax bill before it went up for bid.
The county also collected $229,842 in “overbids,” the
amount that buyers paid over the base taxes, interest and expenses. That’s
880 percent of the original tax bill. To redeem their property, the original
owner will have to pay interest to the buyer on that entire amount, up to
ten percent if they wait the entire year to redeem the property.
As much as we all hate to pay taxes, it definitely becomes
a losing game when you fail to pay property taxes on time, and especially if
one waits until the overdue taxes go the full distance and the property goes
on the auction block. I can only hope that all of the original owners had no
intention of holding on to their property and let it go, instead of failing
to save it because they couldn’t come up with the money in time.
take for the auction was $305,733, but the county commission, Finance
Director Moneybags Marlow and school board need not lick their chops just
yet in anticipation of spending the money. A little over $2,800 of that
total belongs to the City of LaFollette,
and another $250 to Jellico. The general fund’s share would be only the
$34,400 or so if all sales become final with nobody redeeming their
property, but the Clerk & Master must hold onto that money until the year’s
redemption period expires. The overbid amounts must be paid to the original
owner, or their lien holders if they owe money on the property.
If anyone comes in and pays off their delinquent tax,
penalties, interest and costs, the county must refund the sales price and
interest to the bidder.
While they’re waiting for delinquent tax collections or
the appearance of a money tree in the front lawn of the courthouse, the
school board is looking at other ways to educate more kids at less cost.
Hence, the presentation last week by representatives of K12, Inc. to the
board, inviting Campbell County to sponsor a virtual school where students
get all of their instruction online and need never darken the halls of an
actual school building.
The two K12 spokespersons, Joe Chisum and Karen Ghidotti,
gave a smooth presentation to the board about the virtues of an
Internet-based education. Chisum confidently told the board that virtual
schools are the wave of the future and that changes in state laws allow
public school districts to become partners with online providers such as
“We anticipate a rush by school
districts to get in on this and
has the chance to be on the cutting edge,” Chisum predicted. He was less
upbeat after Eugene Lawson pointed out that the “cutting edge” so far
consists of Union County, which had well-publicized problems in its first
year of sponsoring the Virtual Academy of Tennessee.
“There were some problems – too many students in that
first year,” Chisum agreed. “Test scores were not what we had anticipated.”
I found the presentation to be much like K12’s slick
brochure – long on style and short on content. Karen Ghidotti handled most
of the presentation, explaining the concepts, describing the amount of
instructional materials in “pounds” that are sent out to each student and so
on. To most questions from board members, she prefaced her responses with
“That’s a very good question,” then went on to give generalized answers.
Since K12 is still in the process of preparing a proposal
that gets down to dollars and cents, neither representative could answer the
big question asked by Lawson, “Is there any way that you’ll be charging us
more than we receive from the state?”
“Chisum’s response was less
than direct. “We’ll be under contract to you to provide the services.”
The LaFollette Press editorial page jumped on the virtual
school bandwagon with both feet last week, challenging the school board to
be at least “brave enough to try.”
I can see that, like it or not, this is the wave of the
future. The current generation communicates more through twitter and
Facebook than we ever did in person. There will probably come a time when
physical schools, like newspapers printed on actual paper, will be a
curiosity of the past. They will be relegated to museums that, by the way,
people will no longer be allowed to visit in person, but through virtual
tours on their computers and Ipads.
My advice, such as it is, to the school board would not be
to reject the concept of a virtual school, but tread carefully. The
presentation by the K12 folks simply reminded me that this firm and others
like it are not in this business to provide a public service, but to turn a
profit. The board needs to be fully aware of the bottom line and every line
in between before committing to a contract.
Some kids with special needs or who don’t socialize well
with other kids may benefit greatly from the opportunity to be educated at
home online. I keep coming back to another statement in the LaFollette Press
“But what’s in the best academic interest of a particular
student should ultimately be left up to a well-informed parent, whose given
multiple options for their child to succeed,” the Press urged.
That’s the rub, isn’t it?
Sadly, too many Campbell
parents don’t fit the description of “well-informed.”
FRIDAY, MAY, 31, 2013)
Kids weak on
but at least know way to
There is, I believe, an old adage about not trying to do
too much at once or you will do everything poorly. Brother, did I learn the
truth of that during the past couple of weeks.
It all started a couple of
weeks back when I got stuck with jury duty down in
That put me about a week behind on my tax enforcement work, just as the
county prepares for a delinquent property tax sale this coming Saturday.
I had to turn in a stack of notices un-served because I
ran out of time. Of course by now, the names of the delinquent taxpayers
have been spread across the pages of two newspapers for the past couple of
weeks. Anyone who isn’t aware that their property is about to be sold is
either 1) deceased and the heirs can’t agree on who should pay the taxes 2)
about to declare bankruptcy or be foreclosed upon and care less about paying
the taxes 3) in jail with their house quarantined as a former meth lab or 4)
some combination of the above reasons.
Still, it bothers me to not get all notices formally
delivered, just in case one is for a little old lady whose late husband
handled all the complicated paperwork. Fortunately there is a one-year
redemption period to protect such little old ladies (or men) from being
unceremoniously tossed from their homes.
So, running behind schedule on both delinquent tax notices
and wheel tax violations, I also had to film the school board meeting last
week and write a report for WLAF. Rector Miller dropped his suggestion
to use Johnny Bruce’s athletic director salary to pay for additional school
security officers and instead went along with a motion to ask the squires to
come up with the additional money.
Later, after the board voted to authorize boy’s and girl’s
soccer teams at CCHS, Rector commented that this would add another sport to
the athletic director’s duties and the director should be compensated for
I assumed he was talking about Johnny Bruce and this was
some sort of mind game to keep Bruce focused on solving the security
problem. Turns out Rector was referring to CCHS athletic director Sherry
Chapman, although he didn’t name names, so I had to apologize and correct
I should really apologize to Sherry for denying her the
raise, and to Johnny for taking his raise back, but then it was all rhetoric
and no actual money has yet materialized.
So I fumbled the school board meeting as well as my tax
work. What more could I mess up in one week? There’s always my lawn, which
has now taken on aspects of the Amazon rain forest. Wednesday would have
been a perfect day for mowing grass, but I was busy tying up loose ends on
my aforementioned foul-ups so only dedicated an hour or so late in the day
to cutting trails through the grass.
“I will rush home after my last Valley View science
enrichment class on Thursday and finish the job,” I told myself. I got home
at 5:05 p.m. and began changing into work clothes. At 5:09 p.m. I heard the
first rumbles of thunder. At 5:15 as I was rolling out the lawnmower, the
skies over my yard opened up, Noah floated past in his ark and waved. So
much for mowing grass.
also the final week for my after-school science enrichment classes at Valley
View. I usually wind up the 3rd
graders with a visit to “Mr. Boomer’s rock pile” where the kids get to pick
out quartz-lined hollow geodes and break them to find and keep the shiny
That project went off pretty well, but not so the class on
Thursday for grades 4-5. The older kids are also exposed to a little world
geography as well as science, I having discovered that very little geography
is currently taught before kids reach middle school.
I buy up a stack of second-hand student atlases at McKay’s
used books each year and give one to each student to take home and study.
Their incentive is a geography bee at year’s end with prizes of coins or
sample gemstones from foreign countries for each correct answer and a grand
prize for the highest score.
Jury duty forced me to cancel the previous week’s classes
when we usually prepare for the geography bee so I typed up a list of study
questions to give the kids before the big day on Thursday. But work and
meetings delayed my arrival at the school and I didn’t have time to
distribute the study list on Tuesday as planned.
Instead I asked the assistant principal to take the lists
around on Wednesday, at least giving the kids one night to locate countries,
oceans, rivers and mountain ranges in their atlas.
Thursday I arrived at the school and asked the office
manager if the lists were given out. “I hope so but don’t count on it. All
the children were watching a movie when he went to deliver the lists so he
brought them back to the office.”
I asked the first student to arrive in the classroom if he
had received his study questions.
“Have you studied them?”
“I’m going to study them in free period.”
“The geography bee is this afternoon!” (panic)
“We just got the list this morning.” (desperation)
I tried to re-schedule the last class until the following
week but no dice, too much going on at the school during graduation week. We
soldiered on and held the geography bee without any preparation time. At
least, I told myself, I’ll see if these kids have bothered to open their
atlases since I gave them out in October.
A dozen or so of my students showed up for the class, and
one by one, I gave them the chance to locate, on a blank wall map, places
drawn randomly from a hat.
Nobody even ventured to guess since wrong answers cost points in the race
for the grand prize.
beginning I was strict. “Iraq?”
got your hand on two countries. Which one is
Later I loosened up some.
that’s really closer to the
Great Wall of China
but I’ll give it to you. At least you’re on the right continent.”
In the end I just ended up giving things away.
coin from Brazil.
Anyone know where Brazil
is located in South
America? Good, here you go.”
I ended things up by making sure everyone had a prize or
two, even the boy who guessed every time and mostly guessed wrong. His final
score: minus five points. I also admonished my class, telling them that when
they grow up some of them will be dealing with people all over world by way
of the internet; they should at least know where those people live on a map.
The sobering thing is, their knowledge of the world isn’t
likely to get all that much better, as high school and middle school
curriculums are now downgrading geography and mixing it with history in a
combined “social studies” course
But then, how much can you say to a kid whose world is
home, school and maybe the lake, or a long trip to Dollywood. They will grow
up and become aware of this wide and increasingly hard world soon enough.
TUESDAY, MAY, 21, 2013)
County’s collection of mayors a good source for nightmares
Criminals seem to be coming in threes this week. First, we
had the three idiot college students who were arrested for covering up for
their buddy, one of the Boston Marathon bombers.
I know it’s a big no-no for teenagers and young
twenty-somethings to snitch on their buddies. Not supposed to tell who
smuggled the booze into the dormitory. Not supposed to tell whose bag of
marijuana that was the cops found in the back seat, etc.etc. But not
supposed to tell about that college roommate who just exploded a bomb that
killed and maimed dozens of innocent people, including children?
Those college cronies will probably have a decade or so
behind bars to ponder the difference. Let’s hope the lesson makes an
Then there are the three
brothers in Cleveland
who are suspected of kidnapping three young women/girls and holding them in
captivity for over a decade. Sick is too tame a phrase for that kind of
we have our own trio of arch-criminals, two elderly men and an 82-year-old
nun who have just been found guilty by a federal jury of “sabotage” for
breaking into the Y-12 weapons complex and writing peace messages in blood
on an outside wall.
I can see “trespassing on federal property.” I can even
see “destruction of property.” But sabotage? This goes to show that you can
plant bombs, take pot shots at the White House or mail poison to members of
Congress and expect to be punished. But one of the most severe punishments
is reserved for the crime of “embarrassing the federal government.”
A security company or private detective agency would have
tested Y-12’s security procedures in a mock break-in for a small fee, say
$100,000 or so. These three peace protesters did it for nothing and
uncovered serious security flaws, thankfully before some bearded radicals in
turbans uncovered the same weaknesses.
For their valuable contribution to national security, the
three now face lengthy prison terms. The elderly nun may die in prison,
achieving the martyrdom in the name of peace that she seems to be seeking.
Instead, they should send the Department of Energy a bill for services
Whether we agree with their
positions and methods or not, and I don’t, we should still flood the White
House with emails demanding a presidential pardon. The three did the country
a great service in uncovering security lapses at very little cost other than
some red faces at DOE and its Oak Ridge
I’m stuck on jury duty this
week down in Anderson County.
During a break the judge shared his concern that I might be dozing off
during the testimony. I assured him that I clearly heard everything worth
hearing, but I admit that I did doze a bit during the morning.
One of the first jurors to be seated, I then had to sit
through two hours of three lawyers asking the same questions over and over
to other prospective jurors and alternates until we could find fourteen
people to whom nobody objected. Good time to make up for a restless night.
My night was made restless by
another one of those Campbell County
nightmares. This time I dreamed that the county commission had asked
Representative Dennis Powers to introduce a bill down in
to combine the county and its four municipalities into one metro government,
and the legislature, in its infinite wisdom, passed the bill.
In a compromise intended to give everyone a little
something, the new metro government would feature a rotating county mayor,
with the mayor of each town or city alternating with William Baird to run
the county for a week.
So in my dream, County Mayor Mike Stanfield of LaFollette
hired Thomas Hatmaker as his vice mayor. The next week, County Mayor Les
Stiers of Jellico gave him a 40 percent raise. The following week, County
Mayor Chris Stanley of Caryville fired him without giving a reason and the
week after that, County Mayor William Baird asked the TBI to launch an
investigation into questionable hiring practices.
The following week
Mayor Jack Cannon convened a meeting of the Jacksboro Board of Mayor &
Aldermen and Jacksboro voted to secede from the county and ask the
legislature to pass another act creating a new county.
has finally gone completely nuts. Those of us in Jacksboro are going to take
our Wal-Mart and go home,” Cannon announced.
The four remaining county mayors instructed yours truly,
as the county’s tax enforcement officer, to arrest the Jacksboro board of
Mayor & Aldermen for refusing to purchase county wheel tax decals for their
police department. It was at this point, predictably, that I woke up in a
(UPDATED THURSDAY, MAY, 9, 2013, FOR THE WEEK
OF MAY 6)
Insurance, Wall Street and air travel a tangled web, but the
By Charles "Boomer" Winfrey
I’m a big enough man (understatement) to admit when I’m
wrong. I received some bad information a couple of weeks back that lawyer
Terry Basista had stated that had received the controversial video of
apparent animal abuse at the shelter and put it out over the Internet.
Terry tells me that the video was already on U-tube before
he ever saw it, so my information was wrong. The column seems to have
stirred up things on R.L.’s program the other night when one caller claimed
I accused Terry of creating said video. I never did, and someone else on the
program corrected the record.
Some animal right crusaders in
are taking credit for dispensing the video on the web, and who knows who
actually created and edited it. All of that is more or less irrelevant. In
the end what will matter is what the county does about the problem.
One commissioner has suggested that the county wash its
hands completely, turn the shelter over to the Humane Society to operate and
divert the $140,000 annual appropriation to other needs. So the problem of a
shelter with not enough money to operate efficiently will be solved by
taking away what money it does have.
That lets the county off the hook, at least until voters
start complaining about stray dogs and cats running loose because there is
no animal control program to pick them up. I can’t wait to see what
One thing I am not wrong about.
After being abused in a couple of airport security lines after 911, I swore
off flying to anywhere within a two-day’s drive of
The additional charges for luggage, cessation of free refreshments, decrease
in leg room and other air travel nightmares through the years have just
reinforced my determination to avoid airports like the plague.
Now comes the sequester, and
the FAA has furloughed air traffic controllers, causing major delays at most
of the nation’s major airports. I can now honestly say that I can drive to
faster than I can fly to those cities. Thank you, congressional Republicans,
for giving all those high-flying business executives who put you in power a
taste of their own medicine.
I can avoid air travel, but like everyone else, one thing
I can’t avoid is the insurance industry. I just received the renewal notice
on my homeowner’s policy this week and was amazed to see a 50 percent rate
increase over last year. Predictably, I called my agent immediately to
question a few things on the declaration sheet.
“You’ve got the replacement cost of my home set at
$115,000. I built it three years ago for $66,000 and home values are down.
No way could I get $115,000 out of that home!”
“But we don’t insure based on home values. We insure based
on replacement cost and our analysis indicates that building costs are up in
your zip code by that degree.”
“What about this estimate of $80,000 for personal
property? I donated my million-dollar art collection to the Campbell County
Animal Shelter. I could replace everything I own for half that much!”
“Our company follows industry standards of setting the
value of contents at 75 percent of the replacement cost.”
“OK, what about this – loss of use of home, valued at
$42,000? Do you think I would spend three months living in the penthouse
suite at the Hyatt Regency while my home is rebuilt?”
“Sir, that is the standard equation, blah, blah, blah.”
“I think I’ll shop around a bit before I renew this
“Feel free (snicker)”
What I discovered is that everybody’s home insurance rates
are through the roof this year. The insurance companies will have a million
different explanations for why costs are up, risk assessment is higher, etc.
etc. ad nauseum. They don’t want to tell customers the truth, which is that
we’re all paying the cost of climate change.
You know, that thing that
conservatives in Congress deny is happening – “climate change.” In the past
few years, the insurance industry has taken its licks – hurricanes on the
devastating floods and blizzards alternating with drought in the Midwest,
destructive tornadoes causing hundreds of millions in damage in the
Midwest and mid
South and most recently Superstorm Sandy, causing billions in damages to the
So those of us in relatively untouched parts of the
country have to pay higher premiums to help the insurance industry offset
their losses. It would be nice if the companies would just tell us the truth
instead of feeding us unbelievable gobblygook.
It wouldn’t make the increased costs any less painful, but
at least the companies would show customers enough respect to tell them the
truth, instead of trying to confuse everyone with double talk.
Of course, even if the insurance industry was not
suffering from hefty weather-related losses, they would still have to worry
about their other risk factor, which is loss of the value of their
investments. The insurance industry makes much of their profits by investing
our premium dollars, so when the economy and Wall Street go in the tank,
profits are down and rates go up.
That is not reassuring, based on the sell-off panic that
Wall Street experienced just this week when somebody hacked into the
Associated Press website and put out a fake news flash that the White House
had been bombed and the President injured.
Investments tied to computers went
into automatic “sell off” mode before anyone could verify the accuracy of
the report and the Dow Jones dipped a couple of hundred points in a matter
of minutes, all caused by a bogus Internet report. Gives one a rosy, warm
feeling inside about our nation’s future, doesn’t it?
(UPDATED WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24, 2013, 4:30 PM)
Mandatory gun ownership? Could be a blessing in disguise
Boomer's Corner - By Charles "Boomer" Winfrey
So much going on, I hardly know where to start. The animal
shelter hubbub has calmed down a bit, with Mayor William Baird closing the
shelter and placing employees on administrative leave while the TBI
investigates accusations of animal abuse.
I predict that the investigation will uncover some shoddy
procedures, but no criminal wrongdoing. Shelter director Betty Crumley,
however, has become a political liability and may not return.
Betty’s case is sad, in a way. Active in the Humane
Society, she championed establishment of the shelter, along with namesake
Adrion Baird. I don’t see her as being the type of person who would
willfully be cruel to animals.
Her people skills, however, are another matter. Her
inability to work with local animal lovers and her resistance to accepting
criticism have combined to make too many enemies when what she needs are
Alas, the shelter’s problems come down to that root of all
evil – money. The shelter as planned was to be funded by a combination of
county taxpayer dollars and animal registration fees. A previous county
commission, facing criticism from dog owners, eliminated the registration
requirement. Budget constraints have kept the shelter’s appropriations flat
for several years now while costs continue to go up.
The result was predictable. A shelter that is too cool in
winter and too warm in summer, that sells cat carcasses to a biological
supply company to raise funds and skimps on drug costs by failing to sedate
animals before administering lethal injections.
You get what you pay for.
pays for a bare minimum operation and now gets bad publicity, investigations
and more headaches. Same old story.
The gun control debate in
Washington is over for
the time being and sadly, it also is the same old story. You my recall that
I predicted right after the Newtown
shootings that Congress would hmm and haw, and in the end do nothing because
they are afraid of the NRA bully.
They did nothing. The next test will come in election
year, when we see if the NRA bully has the clout to defeat some of the
senators, such as Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, who dared to support
expanded background checks. Until gun control advocates are willing to
organize, raise large amounts of money and fight the NRA in the trenches of
American politics, future gun control debates will go the same way.
There may yet be hope for
those of us who seek a silver lining behind every cloud, however. A Farragut
city councilman intends to propose that Farragut go the way of some small
cities, and pass an ordinance requiring that every head of household within
the corporate limits maintain a firearm.
Seems the Second Amendment protects every American’s right
to own and keep a firearm, but does not protect our right not to own one.
The good news is that once every gun-happy Farragut homeowner is packing,
along with every Farragut homeowner who has never owned, handled or fired a
gun in their lives, the potential for slaughter will be high.
State Senator Stacy Campfield lives out that way, along
with the voters who keep returning him to office, so a stray bullet or two
could be a blessing to the rest of us.
Of course I don’t know how Farragut will deal with
situations where the head of household is a convicted felon. I’m guessing
the city will have to round up any convicted felons living inside the
corporate limits and send ‘em packing since they can’t legally possess
Commissioner Thomas Hatmaker proposed a little ordinance
Monday might that would have sent convicted felons packing from county
employment, or at least prevented the county from employing said felons in
Joe Coker calmly explained that the squires have no authority to mandate
hiring practices to the county’s elected officials and such an ordinance
would only impact three county jobs controlled directly by the commission.
Vice Mayor David Young, who is a convicted felon, made an
impassioned plea to commissioners to remember that many people who made
mistakes in their youth have gone on to lead useful, law-abiding lives and
should not be forced to pay for their mistakes over and over. He asked how
many of us can honestly say that we’ve never done anything that could have
landed us in the same boat.
I can relate to that. Like all red-blooded American males,
I can think of numerous felonies I may have committed in my reckless youth,
usually in the name of wooing women. In addition, “Contempt of Congress” is
considered a serious offense and I confess that I have been in utter
contempt of Congress ever since I was old enough to vote.
Grandpappy Winfrey once
spent a year in a
jail, convicted of driving a truckload of Canadian whiskey across the border
during Prohibition. He went on to serve as Lake City’s
first water commissioner and a jailer for the Anderson County Sheriff’s
On the other side of the
family tree, Great-Grandpappy Sharp was a coal miner who had to leave the
state for a time after the Coal Creek War back in the 1890s. Granny used to
tell of how her daddy would load a coffee can full of bullets and climb
Walden’s Ridge to his position, where he would spend the day shooting at any
Tennessee State Militia soldier who popped his head up behind the walls of
His shift over, Grandpappy Sharp would come back down for
a good night’s rest before spending the next day shooting at soldiers again,
He was one of several thousand area coal miners who were never convicted of
The commissioners seem to have taken David Young’s pleas
to heart, as they voted 14-1 to, as Steve Rutherford said, “Not kick a man
while he’s down.” Poor Thomas cast the only vote for his proposal. Marie
Ayers seconded his motion “to bring it up for discussion” and then voted
On a more positive note, my science enrichment students at
Valley View got to go on their field trip on April 1 to the Gatlinburg
Aquarium. The vice principal had to cancel out at the last minute due to a
family emergency, the head count and the check to the aquarium were off
because some parents counted teenagers as “other children” while the
aquarium counts them as adults, and the bus had a flat tire on the way home.
The principal cancelled
personal travel plans to bravely accompany the trip, the aquarium worked
with us to make the check come out even and we limped home on one of the two
dual wheels on the bus. The 50 kids were blissfully ignorant of all the
little problems, had a great time and hopefully learned a little something
as well – and we didn’t lose a single chaperone. All in all a successful
field trip! (UPDATED THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2013, 4:00 PM)
Boomer's Corner by Charles "Boomer" Winfrey
gets both a halo and
a black eye . . . . all in the same week
Being part of the
community can be quite an emotional roller-coaster. One minute your head
can be swelling with pride; the next, hanging in shame.
Last week was one of those weeks. First came the
pride, as the community’s outpouring of love and caring for a
14-year-old girl’s courageous fight against cancer made national news.
The schoolmates of Katelyn Norman led the way as an
entire community exerted every effort to help Katelyn realize her
“bucket list” dream of attending her high school prom. An entire
community reached out to let her know she was loved, and her story
touched millions through the attention of national news media.
While Campbell Countians could hold their heads
high with pride over the national attention gained by Katelyn’s story,
another kind of attention placed our county in an unkind light the same
Video leaked over the Internet appeared to expose
the folks at the Adrion Baird Animal Shelter of abusing animals and
treating them inhumanely. To prove the point that there are few zealots
more zealous than animal lovers, shelter director Betty Crumley was
bombarded by death threats to the point of being given police
protection, while courthouse offices were inundated by angry calls from
all over the country.
“People were even
calling our office,” County Clerk Debbie Wilson said last week. “We told
them we had nothing whatsoever to do with the animal shelter but they
just wanted to let us know what low life human beings we people in
are for abusing poor animals.”
Vice Mayor David Young told me Friday that he spent
the entire week responding to telephone complaints over the shelter
rhubarb. “I started out being nice and patient. By the end the phone
calls were so abusive and threatening that I just hung up on some of
them before I would say something I would regret,” David recalled.
County Mayor William Baird, showing uncommonly good
sense, found that he had urgent business to attend to down in Nashville
last week and left his Vice Mayor in charge of the office.
As it turns out, lawyer Terry Basista, formerly a
member of the animal control board, ‘fessed up last week to putting the
incriminating video out over the web. It was sent to him by a former
shelter employee and appears to have been doctored considerably, if not
“PETA actually came to our defense,” Young pointed
out. “They said that they had inspected our facility and found no
evidence of the kinds of abuse the video purported to show.”
PETA did take shelter personnel to task for using
the same dosage of an euthanasia chemical on larger dogs that is used
for smaller dogs, resulting in a longer delay before the animals’ hearts
stop. Accusations that dogs were placed in the freezer while still alive
or suffered pain during the euthanasia process are totally unfounded,
The shelter also fails to follow another PETA
recommendation, that animals be given a dose of sedative before being
injected with the fatal chemical. Young claims that budget restraints
have made it impossible to sedate all of the animals first, but that the
euthanasia injection does not cause pain or discomfort.
Whether any of the criticisms aimed at the shelter
are justified might just come down to who you believe, but it does
underscore the fact that hubris seldom ends well. Director Crumley may
be a dedicated individual, but she comes off in public meetings as being
arrogant and stubborn, especially when faced with criticism from the
county’s animal lovers.
Betty simply wants nothing to do with the folks
with Campbell County Friends of Animals, an outspoken group that has
been pushing for more adoption-friendly policies such as allowing
volunteers to place photos of adoptable animals on Facebook or other
She has resisted offers for free volunteer help
from people who she sees as critical of her performance and has made a
poor impression with many county commissioners. The result is
predictable. Just because you are paranoid, the old saying goes, does
not mean people are not out to get you.
If part of the shelter’s problem involves budget
restraints. If the shelter cannot afford the cost of sedating every
animal that must be put down, a good way to encourage donations to
offset the costs would be by making friends and not enemies.
While the shelter controversy has given our county
a black eye to go with our Katelyn halo, county commissioners got a
preview of more trouble on the horizon at Monday night’s workshop.
Can you spell E-911? Perhaps not, unless it’s
spelled “b-r-o-k-e.” That appears to be the way our 911 system is
heading, with revenues from the public down about 50 percent in recent
The problem is cell phones, and the fact that
telephone landlines are going the way of 8-track tapes, movies on VHS
and the U. S. Postal Service – consigned to the obsolete scrap heap of
The E-911 system, so ballyhooed when set up as the
answer to all our prayers for prompt response in emergencies, is funded
partially by an appropriation in the county budget and partially from a
surcharge on telephone bills. Problem is, the surcharge is on stationary
landlines. When 911 was established, cell phones were still an
Not so anymore. The
number of business and residential landlines in the county has declined
by nearly half in the past few years, and monthly revenues have declined
right along with them. The state did set up a system for assessing cell
phones, at the rate of a dollar a month, but the State of
keeps three-quarters of that amount and gives local 911 systems the
“Not enough,” 911 Director Charlie Hutson told the
squires Monday, A bill to increase the cell phone surcharge went nowhere
in this year’s legislature, as the majority GOP lawmakers obviously
viewed it as a “tax increase.” They, of course, would much rather do
nothing and leave it up to local governments to increase taxes to help
Without more revenue from telephone subscribers or
a hefty increase in county funding paid for by property taxpayers, E-911
will still function, Hutson explained, but more than likely without
dispatchers. Instead, an automated system would direct incoming calls
from the 911 call center to the appropriate emergency service based on
the location of the call.
Callers would then be transferred to the Campbell
County Sheriff’s Department, police and fire departments in the various
towns or other appropriate agencies. He did not explain how a
location-based relay system could separate police calls from fire calls
or requests for an ambulance, and it seems likely that the absence of
911 dispatchers would mean a delay in response time, perhaps a fatal
delay in some cases.
While commissioners mull over how to deal with the
looming 911 crisis, one crisis seems to be resolved. The commission’s
EMS Committee took a vote Monday night that will finally put the
embattled Pinecrest Volunteer Fire Department out of its misery once and
Pinecrest VFD, you
might recall, became insolvent last year under a mountain of debt
approaching $200,000. How such a thing might happen can only be guessed
at, but the fact that former Pinecrest Chief Jerry Moat was arrested
last week on an indictment from Bradley
for theft over $1,000 might shed some light on the matter.
At any rate, the Pinecrest board disbanded the
department and tried to start off from scratch with a new Norris Ridge
Volunteer Fire Department. They declined to declare bankruptcy, however,
choosing to salvage the department’s station houses by assuming and
consolidating the Pinecrest debt.
The commission pledged 15 grand to the new fire
department, once Norris Ridge had applied for its tax exempt status from
the IRS. Fast forward nearly six months and the Pinecrest area is still
being covered from afar by Campbell County Rural Fire Service and
Jacksboro Fire Department.
Norris Ridge Chief McCullah admitted Monday night
that his department still hasn’t applied for the 501(c) (3) tax exempt
status because they can’t afford the $850 filing fee. Naturally, not a
penny of the county appropriation has been spent and now the folks at
Campbell County Rural Fire Service would like the share of the money
that would have gone to Norris Ridge for the past five months.
The EMS Committee
voted unanimously to recommend that the county funds be divided between
the Rural Fire Service and Jacksboro, with Campbell County Rural Fire
Service assuming permanent responsibility for most of Pinecrest while
Jacksboro covers the Mount
If this plan works, folks in Pinecrest might
eventually see their insurance rates fall back to normal levels, all
areas of the county will again have fire protection and the commission
won’t have to spend more money than they have already appropriated. The
only losers will be the creditors for Pinecrest/Norris Ridge VFD and all
of the dedicated volunteer firefighters who put their hearts and souls
into their community fire department and their trust in the wrong man.
(UPDATED WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10, 2013, NOON)
PETA responds to the latest Boomer's
We hope this message
finds you well. We're writing to clarify certain misinformation
included in WLAF's April 10 report regarding PETA's involvement with the
Campbell County Adrion Baird Animal Shelter. We understand that the
information is being shared by others via social media, such as on this
Please be assured that PETA has not visited the county shelter and is
therefore unable to offer any firsthand information in that regard. We
contacted county officials in writing and by phone to urge them to
ensure that the shelter follows humane euthanasia recommendations from
national experts and in accordance with state laws. Additionally, PETA
provided them with recommended guidelines for operation and standards of
from sheltering experts the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, and
we've urged them to follow the guidelines closely.
Regarding pre-euthanasia sedation, PETA concurs that this is not always
in the best interests of the animal. Whenever possible, a cooperative
animal should be held and comforted and given an intravenous (IV)
injection of sodium pentobarbital (or in the case of some cats, kittens,
and puppies, intraperitoneal, or IP injection, using the proper
recommended dosage, may be more appropriate). Fractious and hyperactive
animals must always be handled cautiously, and unfortunately, two
animals of the same breed and size may react differently to the drug
(and in some, the drug may actually exacerbate fractious behavior).
There is an unacceptable inherent risk in having a policy of
administering the same drug to a number of animals and hoping or
assuming that their responses will be uniform. Each animal must be
individually evaluated to determine if sedation is necessary.
Thank you for your time and attention. I can be contacted at
443-320-1277 and TeresaC@peta.org<mailto:TeresaC@peta.org>.
Teresa Lynn Chagrin
Animal Care and Control Specialist
Cruelty Investigations Department
cc: The Honorable David Young,
Deputy Mayor of Campbell County
(UPDATED MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013, 5:00 PM)
Kids can be worth a trip to Hades,
Congress should go there and stay
In my job enforcing various
County taxes, you
would not be surprised to learn that I occasionally run into people who
consign me to the nether regions. Whenever that happens in the future, I can
now respond that I’ve already been there, and plan to return soon.
It’s time to begin planning the annual spring field trip
for my science enrichment students at Valley View Elementary. This year I
noticed an ad in the News-Sentinel for a temporary dinosaur exhibit at
Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg.
I said to myself. My 4th
graders study ecosystems including ocean life, while the third graders study
rocks, fossils and ancient life, the most popular of those being dinosaurs.
But one does not plan to take a
busload of kids, ages 9-11, on a trip without knowing what to expect. Since
I’m otherwise engaged during the week, I drove up to Gatlinburg on a
beautiful Saturday afternoon. For any of you out there considering a visit
this spring to the Gateway to the Smoky
may I suggest a weekday, even if you must take a vacation day from work. If
not, try a Sunday morning, Saturday morning, Friday at midnight, any time
other than Saturday afternoons.
There were, of course, the
usual mobs of tourists and shoppers, which always make the trip into town a
bit adventurous. I hit the traffic line about a mile short of the city
limits. Slow going, but nothing unusual for Gatlinburg. Then I approached
the cutoff north toward
and Cosby. Traffic leading west was now moving at a crawl; road crews were
stabilizing a rockslide and Gatlinburg’s Main Street was cut down to one
lane in each direction.
Finally I reached the turnoff to the aquarium, joined the
line into the parking garage and found a space. So far, so good. After
talking with folks in the education department about school group rates,
classroom programs and the like, I forked over twenty-five bucks for one
adult admission. This was necessary so I could tour the place and estimate
how long it will take our school group and what the kids will see.
Again, so far, so good. Then it was time to depart. Exit
the parking garage. Well, exit the parking space. Then I joined the line on
the third level trying to exit the garage, and went nowhere. An hour later,
I had made it to the first level, and could almost see the ticket booth.
Last Monday night, county commissioners raked
Environmental Service Director Don Boshears over the coals. They were angry
over his decision to cut hours at convenience centers and all the calls they
are receiving from an angry public.
These people weren’t angry. Angry is the emotion one feels
when you sit in line for an hour and a half creeping slowly out of a parking
garage, get within four car lengths of the exit, and watch some pencil neck
walk down to his car, parked two spaces from the exit, start his engine and
back out when the car in front of you lets him break the line. Total wait to
the exit, approximately 60 seconds.
Finally out of the garage, after paying an extra hour’s
parking fee for the time spent in line trying to get out. It was immediately
clear why the wait had been so long. A long line formed on the side street
where the garage exited, waiting for a chance to turn left on Main Street
into the bumper-to-bumper single lane of traffic leading back toward
I inched slowly forward as about one car every five
minutes was able to make the turn. Finally I reached the place where the
street divided into two turning lanes and whipped to the right, turning east
toward the national park.
No traffic at all, no stops except at pedestrian
crosswalks, all the way through town. Finally, passing mile after mile of
backed up cars leading into town, I reached the park visitor center and the
cutoff for the Gatlinburg bypass toward Pigeon Forge.
Traffic through Pigeon Forge heading away from the
mountains was as light as I’ve ever seen, all the cars still being backed up
in the Gatlinburg bottleneck. Question # 1: Were all these motorists
strangers to the region and clueless about where roads lead? Question # 2:
What part of the sign reading “Gatlinburg bypass to Pigeon Forge” did all
those folks coming out of the mountains not understand?
Fast forward to Tuesday. Time
for me to teach my after-school third grade class and distribute permission
slips for the April 1st field trip. A beautiful day, so I planned an outdoor
class to look for minerals in the Nature
Five minutes after the kids all gathered we got the word:
“Lock-down.” A man who was not authorized to be there tried to pick up a
child, probably an estranged husband/father. So, lock-down; no teaching
materials, no rocks, just 23 slightly amused, slightly nervous children with
nothing to do.
“Can I go out to my car and get an educational DVD for the
kids to watch?”
“No, we won’t let you back in and a security officer
might shoot you.”
So we played my version of the “quiet game.” Everyone kept
quiet and tried to keep a straight face and not giggle while I went around
the room trying to make the kids laugh by whatever facial expressions or
strange noises I could think up. Good thing these kids don’t have cell phone
cameras – I would never live it down.
Finally, after 25 minutes or so, we received the all clear
and could finally go outside. So much pent-up energy should be bottled and
sold. Finally I got them settled down to the challenge of identifying
minerals such as calcite, quartz or “fool’s gold” among the limestone
boulders and fossils in the rocks along the nature trail.
“Mr Boomer, here’s some fool’s
gold. Can I have this rock?”
“That rock weighs 40 pounds. Can you lift it?”
“Then you can’t have it.”
“Here’s a squidward fossil, Mr Boomer! Can I have it?”
“I saw it first. I want it.”
“Hold on. Here’s two, three fossils on the rock. I’ve got
my rock hammer. I’ll break it in half and you can each have some.”
And so it went, until time to go in for snacks and wait
for parents to pick them up. Great thing about kids, they’re resilient. One
minute worried because there’s a “bad man” near the school. The next,
enthralled by a fossilized bug on a muddy chunk of rock.
Keeps me young. Come April Fool’s Day, we’ll go back to
Gatlinburg, hope for lighter traffic and take whatever comes. It’s worth a
trip back to Hades to see the smiles on their faces.
Congress, on the other hand,
appears more concerned with staying in the good graces of the National Rifle
Association than whether children can continue to smile. I wish for Congress
that they should all go to Gatlinburg on a Saturday afternoon, and not find
their way back out. (UPDATED FOR THE WEEK OF
MONDAY, MARCH 25, AT 6:00 AM, 03/22/2013)
Words can be powerful things, the wrong words can get you in trouble
You will have to forgive me for showing a bit of bias, but
as a writer, I’ve always considered words to be powerful instruments, more
powerful than guns or bombs. They reach more people and tend to hang around
Choosing the right words can make someone immortal – “Four
score and seven years ago;” “Ask not what your country can do for you.”
Choosing the wrong words can end a political career. Choosing the wrong word
can also lead to unintended consequences.
Take our own dear county commission. A proposal brought up
at last week’s workshop calls for the creation of a “solar panel oversight
committee.” The stated purpose of said committee would be to review the
records, energy production and financials of the solar panel project to
determine if it is a good idea to expand it from school buildings to other
The school board’s attorney advised the board to
“respectfully decline” the invitation from the commission, should it be
offered. The board appeared in agreement with his advice. In other words,
“Stay out of our business!”
Attorney Dail Cantrell also pointed out that all of the
records the commissioners want to “oversee” are public records open to
inspection upon request. The rub was not the school board not wanting their
business reviewed by commissioners, the rub was in that one little word,
The county commission by law can have no oversight over
the business of the school board, beyond approving or disapproving the
school budget. Any attempt to do otherwise would lead to a quick slap on the
wrist from the courts.
The commission can re-name their committee, something like
“solar panel assessment committee” or “solar panel study committee” and get
away with it, but that one little word, “oversight” indicates some level of
control, which is not legal.
Of course, the three individuals suggested to serve as the
“oversight committee” are all folks, who forgive me if I’m mistaken, have
taken a critical stance against the solar panel project. It might be better
termed the “Find Fault Committee,” because I suspect that is exactly what
they hope to do.
Ah well, I’m sure somebody will come up with the right
words before it’s over, perhaps something more appropriate such as
“urinating contest,” or other words to that effect.
The squires are also being
asked to endorse several pieces of legislation that are being bounced around
down in Nashville.
One would endorse a cemetery preservation law. The commissioners were
hesitant to wholeheartedly endorse that one until they are sure that the
county would not assume some level of responsibility for the cost of
preserving abandoned cemeteries.
Another bill would hold local government officials to the
same open meeting restrictions as members of the state legislature. Sounds
impressive, doesn’t it? What that bill actually does is change the law to
allow county and city officials to meet in secret to discuss policy
decisions as long as a quorum is not present.
Currently, if two or more
commissioners meet to discuss or debate policy, they have to do it in public
with adequate notice. The legislature, in passing
“sunshine law” was careful to exempt themselves from the restrictions. This
bill would have little real impact, since local officials get together over
a Shoney’s salad bar or a Hardee’s breakfast and talk about public business
all the time. It’s technically a violation of the sunshine law but few
people, including the media, ever challenge them on these social violations.
The difference is that if this new law is enacted, county
officials could make the secrecy official and schedule meetings to discuss
policies, as long as they are one vote short of an official quorum for
conducting business. Six or seven commissioners or four school board members
could have all the secret meetings they want.
Another resolution that the commission is being asked to
endorse is “in support of the rights of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Sounds like something our local county commission should jump on with both
feet, doesn’t it? Endorse the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and
protect the rights of legal, law-abiding gun owners who just want the right
to protect themselves, or hunt deer or collect antique guns.
Again, we come up against words. The final paragraph in
the resolution reads that the county commission “Supports and requests the
legislature of the State of Tennessee adopt and enact any and all measures
as may be necessary to reject or nullify the enforcement of any federal
acts, laws, executive orders, rules or regulations in violation of the
Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States . . .”
The word can be a powerful
thing. In this case the word is “nullify.” The Constitution of the United States
also denies states the power to nullify federal law. The State of South Carolina
tried that back nearly 200 years ago. The state “nullified” federal trade
tariffs that South
Carolina felt were hurting business
in the Port
The President of the
South Carolina a
message. He threatened to send the Navy to blockade
declare martial law, send the Army to occupy the state and jail the entire
backed down. The state’s politicians knew the President, a hard-nosed
Tennessean by the name of Andrew Jackson, did not make idle threats.
If the Congress, by some miracle, was to actually pass a
law restricting automatic weapons or high capacity ammo magazines, it would
more than likely not be a violation of the Second Amendment, which
guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms but doesn’t define what
those arms may be. Congress already passed a automatic weapons ban once, a
couple of decades ago, but the law was allowed to expire.
If such a law is
unconstitutional, the courts will quickly strike it down. Meanwhile, any
attempt by a state government to nullify a federal law would definitely
violate the Constitution. The ghost of Andy Jackson might rise from his tomb
at the Hermitage and lead the ghosts of 250,000 Tennesseans who fought for
during the Civil War in sweeping the rabble out of the state capitol, if the
current President doesn’t order the 101st
Airborne to do it first.
One final word about words. The word “entitlement” has
certainly gotten a lot of play lately, especially among conservative
politicians and conservative pundits who bandy it around in much the same
way they did “welfare.”
Entitlements? Aren’t they the things that are bringing our
country to ruin because lazy people who don’t want to accept personal
responsibility are relying on entitlements to live off hard-working
Americans while that socialist Obama turns our country into a welfare
I just started collecting my entitlement last month, in
the form of a social security check. This year I reach the unenviable age of
66, at which point I can continue to work full time and draw my social
security without penalty. I opted not to wait until age 70 in hope that I
might be able to pay off my debts before I reach an age where I can no
Of course the check I draw is merely paying back some of
the money that has been held out of my pay checks for the past 40-odd years
that I have worked and paid taxes. If I’m really, really lucky, I might live
long enough to collect everything I paid in, plus some of the interest that
money would have earned.
As long as I continue to work and earn over $25,000 a
year, I will also have to pay income tax on my social security income. Since
federal income tax is calculated on net income before social security is
withheld, I am in essence paying taxes on the same money twice.
That is my personal “entitlement.” Next time I hear
somebody toss that word around like it’s a federal giveaway program for
welfare bums, I will feel entitled to reach down their throat, pull out
their tongue and tie it around their nose. They won’t really miss their
tongue anyway, since they do all their talking out of the other end. (UPDATED FOR THE WEEK OF MONDAY,
MARCH 18, 2013, 6:00 AM)
Academy Awards miss out, ignore school board and Stacey
I have a confession to make. I purposely delayed writing
this column until Sunday night, after watching the Academy Award show. I
wanted to see if the Campbell County Board of Education was going to get a
last minute nomination, but ended up disappointed.
Alas, there is no justice in the world and true talent for
theatrics again goes unnoticed. But our county commission recognized the
talent when they saw it. Last Tuesday night the squires met, quickly
dispensed with business by agreeing with each other on an unprecedented ten
consecutive unanimous votes, and went home. They knew they couldn’t hold a
candle to the school board in the “Best Actor” category and didn’t even make
There is certainly some strong competition, however, if
one’s gaze is drawn to our state capitol, where the General Assembly is in
we have bills to allow guns in parking lots, bills to require teachers to
become armed guards and bills to require Tennessee
law enforcement officers to arrest federal law enforcement officials who try
to enforce federal gun control laws in our state.
that once before, I recall. Got our butts kicked at Fort Donelson, Shiloh,
Missionary Ridge, Fort Sanders, Franklin and Nashville, to name but a few.
The Confederate States of America
to leave the Union
and join the Southern cause.
they told us, “Oh, we forgot to mention, since ya’ll are on the border,
we’ll fight all our battles in Tennessee,
leave the state devastated, your crops trampled, horses stolen, cattle
slaughtered, chickens plucked and courthouses burned, but don’t ya’ll fret,
it’s for a good cause!”
TEA Party crowd in Congress wants Tennessee’s
Congressional delegation to join in their rebellion against the big bad
federal government by letting us plunge over the cliff, lemming style, as
the March 1 deadline for automatic budget cuts takes effect.
Later, the Republicans from Kansas, Indiana and
Mississippi will undoubtedly say, “Oh, we forgot to tell you that between
Oak Ridge, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fort Campbell, the Army
Corps of Engineers, TVA and Tullahoma, you Tennesseans will suffer about ten
times as many layoffs and job losses as our states, but don’t you’uns fret
none, it’s for a good cause!”
Hmmm. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on
But back to the subject of dramatics and academy awards, I
have one final suggestion. Stacey Campfield.
The Knoxville News-Sentinel ran an article last week
entitled “Who keeps electing Stacey Campfield?” They tried to make sense of
how a clown who has been a regular butt of jokes by Stephen Colbert and
other national comedians can not only get re-elected, but has advanced from
the lowly House to the powerful Senate down in Nashville.
They reviewed Stacey’s track record: his early attempts to
gain admission to the Black Legislative Caucus, his “Don’t say gay” bill,
his bill to arm classroom teachers and his bill to cut welfare payments to
families if children do poorly in school.
The News-Sentinel failed to come up with an adequate
answer as to why Stacey keeps getting re-elected or even why he does the
things he does, but I think I’ve figured it out. Stacey Campfield is neither
a clown nor a fool, He is a political genius.
about the district he represents, West
Sequoyah Hills, Concord
and Farragut. These are people who live in mansions on
Lake, or in
upscale, gated communities in
most wealthy neighborhoods. They have memberships in Cherokee Country Club,
lifetime memberships in the Vol Navy and season tickets on the fifty at
Neyland Stadium. They shop at Turkey Creek, dine at the Orangery and dress
their registered bull terriers in matching jacket and booties.
These people, the voters who keep Stacey Campfield in
office, don’t need anything from state government. Their idea of a perfect
legislature is one that will do as little as possible and leave them alone
with their money.
Americans, however, they do like to be entertained. Stacey always manages to
introduce a bill or two down in Nashville
that entertains, and gets the attention of news media desperate for anything
to entertain their readers and viewers.
Even before he was in a position to introduce legislation,
Stacey knew the value of a good show. While running in his first,
unsuccessful campaign for the legislature, he managed to make headlines by
getting himself tossed out of a barbeque sponsored by Congressman Jimmy
Duncan when he tailed Governor Phil Bredesen around with a sign reading “Tax
and Spend Governor.”
One year, after the legislative session was long past and
Stacey found himself hard-pressed to entertain his constituents, he donned a
Halloween mask and tried to gain admittance to the Tennessee-Kentucky game.
When he later put the mask back on and refused to remove it, he was
unceremoniously tossed out of the stadium. More headlines; more
entertainment for the masses.
purposely insults his critics in emails and blogs, suggesting they may need
psychiatric help. When the manager of a Market Square
restaurant refused to serve him, he was ecstatic. More publicity, more
So here’s to ya, Stacey, you old fox. You may be the butt
of late night comedians, banned from Tomato Head and an embarrassment to
your fellow Republicans, but you will probably stay in office as long as you
keep coming up with new material.
But be forewarned. Once the
jokes get old and the material stale, the public will seek a new act and
you’ll be forced to seek a living doing stand-up comedy at a gay nightclub
in Vegas. (UPDATED FOR THE WEEK OF MONDAY,
FEBRUARY 25, 2013, 6:30 AM)
‘Doing the Little Sidestep’ – school board
meeting or just a bad dream?
Boomer's Corner - Charles "Boomer" Winfrey
I had the strangest dream
Tuesday night. Woke me up with a start around 2:00 A.M. I was thrust into
the middle of a movie, one that any of you who, like me are on the backside
of 50, will recall vividly even if you didn’t see it. Dolly Parton fans will
certainly recall her role in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
The film was a musical comedy that appeared in theaters
in the early ‘80s, starring Dolly as the madam of “The Chicken Ranch,” a
legendary bordello of such historic renown and tradition that the winning
football team in the annual Texas-Texas A&M Thanksgiving game was always
treated to a night with the ladies, paid for by loyal alumni while
university officials looked the other way.
In the film a crusading journalist slips a camera crew
into the ranch, filming scantily-clad ladies scampering in all directions
until the local sheriff (Burt Reynolds) tosses the intruders out.
The crusader, played by comedian Dom Deluise has his
proof, however, and kicks off his television expose with a little song &
dance number, “Texas Has a Whorehouse in It!” In my dream, however, Dom
Deluise is replaced by our very own R. L. Gibson. I didn’t know R.L. could
carry a tune, but then this was a dream after all.
Cut to the chase. My dream continued with Dolly and
Burt doing a few songs together. (Unfortunately for the film, Burt could not
carry a tune) until we get to the big song & dance production at the state
In the movie, the
governor is faced with a dilemma – a knot of good ole boys and major
contributors on one side who insist that the traditions of the Chicken Ranch
be upheld, while a parade of protestors, led by Christian ladies’ sewing
circles from across the state, demand that the house of ill repute be closed
The governor does this hilarious number, where he
dances to one side of the stage, tips his ten-gallon hat to the good ole
boys, then shuttles across to the other side, reversing his hat as he sings
and dances “The Little Sidestep.”
Only in my dream, this
number is played out by a chorus – the Campbell County
school board, all dancing across the stage in unison to “The Little
Sidestep,” ten-gallon hats and all. Over in one corner, Eugene Lawson sits
alone on a stool, wearing a dunce cap and scowling at the show.
As you can imagine, this is the point where I woke up,
my T-shirt soaked in sweat, and realized I had not yet finished my report
for Channel 12 on the recent school board meeting.
Say what you will, the school board can rival the cast
of “Best Little Whorehouse” for drama and entertainment value. Rector Miller
opened the proceedings by reaffirming his love and respect for Director
Donnie Poston and telling folks that his lone concern had been the fact that
Donnie didn’t appear willing to fight off the evil Finance Director, Jeff
“Moneybags” Marlow over potential teacher lay-offs in the upcoming year.
“Mr. Poston assures me that he will do everything he
can to avoid losing another twelve teachers. I’m going to support you, Mr.
Poston, for as long as you want to remain Director,” Rector proclaimed, with
a tip of his ten-gallon hat.
Rector asked me if I
couldn’t say something nice about him this week for a change, so I will.
Rector, you are even more eloquent than the
governor in the film, and in my dream’s dance sequence, you’ve got some
really nice moves!
Danny Wilson was next to speak at the meeting. Danny
supported Director Poston from the get-go, but there appears to have been
some unfortunate exchanges with his fellow First District board member, the
contents of which we can only imagine. Danny offered his sincere apologies
to Rector for “things said,” although most in the audience had no idea what
was said by who about whom for what reason.
Once all the speechifying and peacemaking was complete
Johnny Byrge, another of the original “Get rid of Donnie” group, offered a
motion to schedule a special called meeting at the end of the mandatory
15-day public notification period, “For the purpose of extending the
contract of Donnie Poston as Director of Schools.”
The motion passed by a unanimous vote of 10-0, the
audience applauded and ten-gallon hats were tossed into the air. Everybody
loves a happy ending.
Well, most folks do. My
money is on Eugene Lawson to vote “no” on extending the contract. A teacher
I ran into after the meeting said, “Eugene
is going to live forever. God will keep him around to give him a chance to
change his ways, but he’s too stubborn to change.”
Probably so, but disagree
or not, I confess that I admire
for sticking to his guns, even if he’s dead wrong. You always know what he’s
thinking and as Moneybags Marlow told county commissioners on Monday night,
“I hope everyone of you gets re-elected to office. I prefer the devil you
know to the devil you don’t know every time.”
Some of the squires didn’t seem overly pleased to be
referred to as “the devils I know,” but then that’s Moneybags for you. He is
a master at working with figures, keeping the county out of financial hot
water and finding ways to get things done despite commissioners’ propensity
for wanting to get things done without paying for it.
Where Jeff differs from other accountants and money
czars is that he’s not afraid to voice his opinion, sometimes in rather
plain English, sometimes peppered with some colorful adjectives unprintable
in family publications.
He told the school board at one point Tuesday night, “I
go over to a county commission meeting and they give me grief because they
accuse me of representing the school board. I come to a school board meeting
and you accuse me of representing the county commission.”
The truth is, Moneybags is not personally the target of
official disdain, so much as the position, “Director of Finance.” This
county, some of you may recall, was dragged kicking and screaming into the
Financial Management System from the get-go. The commission would never have
voted to adopt a system that set one person up with control and oversight
over all money matters, if a delegation of bankers and business leaders had
not insisted upon it.
Those community leaders, fed up with budget
mismanagement at every level of county government, more or less suggested
that they would dedicate however much of the money they controlled to
financing the electoral defeat of every commissioner if something wasn’t
done. The squires got the message. They didn’t like it, but they got it.
The school department was another matter, and
stubbornly held out for some time, wanting to control their own money
in-house as they had always done. The year the school budget was so far out
of balance that the board and Superintendent had to cancel bus service for
the last month of the school year was the straw that broke the camel’s back,
and soon the voting public elected some new leaders and the school
department’s bookkeepers were transferred to the Finance Office.
But bowing to pressure and doing it doesn’t mean they
liked it. Marlow is the subject of rumors from every corner, questions about
whether he is favoring certain vendors and contractors, or paying his help
too much, or simply not treating other officials with the respect they
deserve. Every time a vendor gets a contract to do work for the county,
somebody in county government suspects foul play, it appears.
Moneybags may have his faults, but I can only make one
observation. If he’s doing all these things that are unethical or illegal or
simply immoral, and given the number of people out there who are out to get
him, and given the fact that the state comptroller’s office keeps a sharp
eye on the books, why is he not behind bars by now? Marlow has, after all,
served under two county executives, two county mayors, an interim county
executive and comptrollers for at least three, maybe four governors.
Nah, he just gets under
people’s skin. Now he’s probably gotten under the skin of yet another
person, school board attorney Dail Cantrell. Jeff announced at the board
meeting that the State Department of Finance has finally ruled on a request
he made over a year ago, to look into allegations that coal mined in
had been credited to
and the severance tax sent to
Yours truly had a small
role in this little adventure as well, when Moneybags asked me to
was getting all of the severance tax it was entitled to. He suspected, based
on production figures and severance tax payments, that somebody wasn’t
paying their taxes.
What I discovered was that
Premium Coal Company was operating a mine in
but no severance tax was being paid to Campbell County.
Premium wasn’t cheating, however. They were paying the tax but since their
tipple and business office is in Anderson County,
the state was sending everything Premium paid to
Moneybags requested a
correction. The state took its time but finally agreed with us. They denied
Moneybags’ request for $240,000 in misallocated funds, I assume because too
much time had passed, but agreed to give
$120,000 from future severance tax owed to Anderson County.
The catch is, nobody is
currently mining coal in
so we’re going to have to wait awhile, hopefully a short while. Where does
Dail Cantrell fit into this tale, you ask?
Dail is on the school
Our schools will eventually get $60,000 out of this severance tax correction
with the other half going to Dennis Potter for asphalt. Dail’s school board
will kiss $60,000 goodbye. Might make those checks he gets for serving as
our board attorney a little less sweet, since his school system is paying
for them. Hi Ho. (UPDATED THURSDAY, FEB 14,
2013, 6:00 AM)
“Unsurpassed integrity” or the lawyer whose mouth is moving: who to
This past week has been a sad one for me, on more than
one level. First came the realization, after the LaFollette Press hit the
streets last week, that Donnie Poston will probably not continue as Director
of Schools after his contract expires this year.
The school board, or is that “fool board,” deadlocked 4-4
at their January meeting on a motion to extend Poston’s contract. Since they
had voted tentatively 9-1 in December to extend it another year if some
changes were made, it appeared this might just be some shucking and jiving
by one or more board members flexing their muscles.
After reading the newspaper interview with Poston, that
appears to not be the case, and whatever bridges were left standing may be
burned beyond repair.
Eugene Lawson, who has already landed the board in
litigation over his propensity for speaking his mind, even when his mind
goes blank and his comments border on libelous, appears to be the spark
behind the latest explosion as well.
Poston told the Press that Lawson and Rector Miller
visited him in his office in November, where Lawson gave Poston the names of
three school system employees he wanted terminated in exchange for Lawson’s
vote to retain Poston as Director of Schools.
Lawson, of course, denies any such thing, but Miller took
a dive, telling the Press, “On advice of my counsel right now, I have been
advised not to comment on that.”
Hmmm. Miller also told the Press that he considers Poston
an “outstanding Christian” with “integrity that is unsurpassed” but feels
some changes need to be made in the school system.
If Miller was present at the alleged meeting between
Lawson and Poston, and if Poston claims Lawson demanded the firing of three
employees in exchange for his vote, and if Miller still considers Donnie
Poston to have “integrity that is unsurpassed,” well, I’ll leave it up to
you readers to decide who you believe.
for his part, has the support of board attorney Dail Cantrell. Poston also
told the Press that he spoke with Cantrell about the alleged meeting later
that afternoon, but Cantrell denied the story.
“Based on my investigation, that did not occur, and I
don’t have a problem making a public statement to that effect. I have no
clue as to how this story has ever gotten out,” Cantrell said, adding, “It’s
a story that I’ve now heard repeated, but based on my investigation, that
exchange did not occur.”
I assume Cantrell’s
investigation involved asking Eugene and Rector if they met with Poston and
actually asked for the heads of three employees. I can only guess as to what
they told him, but I keep coming back to that old joke: “How do you know if
a lawyer is lying or not? Look to see if his lips are moving.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Dail Cantrell
would tell anything other than the truth, of course. But I keep recalling a
lawyer friend of mine who once told me, “There are many kinds of truths.”
Cantrell does work for the Board of Education, remember, and not the
Director of Schools.
So where does this leave the
school system? Some directors would go screaming and kicking out the door,
filing lawsuits left and right, transferring relatives of school board
members to Stony Fork (when that was an option) and conducting a scorched
earth policy as they wreck the Central Office and disrupt the entire school
system on their way out.
Donnie Poston is too much the nice guy to do any such
thing. He served briefly on the county commission back a couple of decades
ago and decided to not run for re-election because he was disgusted with all
the seamy politics going on around him.
He told the Press, “For the sake of the kids let’s make a
smooth transition.” The board could bring the contract up for another vote
at their next meeting, but Poston said he doesn’t want that.
“We need to do everything we can as professionals. I’m
not a politician,” Poston said. “That just gets me back on course to what
I’d originally offered to start with and planned to do. I have a peace it’s
hard to describe.”
Donnie Poston may be at peace, but if Campbell County
parents give a tinker’s dang about their school system and the future of
their children, the Campbell County Board of Education may see anything but
peace in the upcoming year.
This particular school board is, in my humble opinion,
close to being a failed institution. There is entirely too much political
maneuvering going on behind the scenes, too many board members with personal
agendas, too little real concern for the future of the children and too much
just plain meanness.
I chalk much of it up to too much testosterone. If ever a
school board needed a few strong women to tone down the bar room bull, this
board is a prime candidate. It’s a while yet until the next election, but
it’s certainly not too early for parents to get involved and let this board
know they’re being watched. Might be nice to see a few more people in the
audience at board meetings who aren’t school employees for a change.
Another sad moment for me
probably went unnoticed in
and for that matter, received scant notice in the Knoxville
press as well. This week Stan Musial died in
at the ripe old age of 92.
Who, you ask, is Stan Musial? Well, here in Big Orange
Country where serious baseball fans are few and far between, and where the
handful of serious baseball fans are hard pressed to recall anyone who
hasn’t played the game in over half a century, the name probably means
In the City of
I imagine they will close city hall, shut down the Budweiser brewery, let
out the schools and drape the Riverfront Arch in black. “Stan the Man” meant
that much to fans of the St Louis Cardinals and many baseball fans around
Musial played outfield back in the 1940s and ‘50s,
retiring in 1963 after breaking practically every National League hitting
record on the books. Except home runs – he didn’t usually hit those towering
fly balls that would float up into the upper deck and threaten to bring
Stan was one of those line drive hitters whose home runs
left the park at the speed of a jet airplane but as often as not banged off
the outfield wall, so he set records for batting average, hits. doubles,
runs, RBIs and all those other little things while usually only hitting
30-40 homers a year.
But it was the way in which
he went about playing the game that would be his lasting legacy. Defined by
the news media as “baseball’s perfect knight,” Musial seldom argued with
umpires and never complained when a pitcher threw a ball too close to his
head. He would simply get up, dust off his uniform and knock the next pitch
into the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan or
depending on where they were playing.
He was never in so much of a hurry that he wouldn’t take
time to give a kid an autograph, and in an era when ballplayers didn’t make
millions of dollars (Stan’s salary topped out at around $120,000 a year), he
was notoriously generous with charities.
When the first African-American ballplayers began to
break the color barrier in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Musial was one of a
handful of white ballplayers who spoke out against the racism they saw in
the dugouts, and went out of his way to make players like Jackie Robinson
feel at ease.
I became a Cardinal fan back
in the late ‘50s. The only baseball team you could watch on local television
was the hated New York Yankees but if you lived in
you could always pick up KMOX Radio, “The Voice of the St Louis Cardinals,”
at night with Jack Buck and Harry Carey announcing the games.
Finally, one year when my
family was taking a trip to
Iowa to visit
relatives, my dad agreed to go by way of
so I could see my heroes play as a birthday present.
We ordered tickets two rows up behind the Cardinal dugout
along the baseline in old Sportsman’s Park. Late in the first game of a
double-header, Stan the Man fouled a ball off into the stands. My dad, who
was not at all a baseball fan, trampled several people and nearly broke his
back to retrieve that ball for me.
He paid a ball boy ten bucks to take it into the dugout
and see if Stan would autograph it. Musial had reached base on a force play
and then went into the field so it was a long time before he returned to the
dugout. Quite a bit of time passed and we thought either a) the ball boy
forgot about us or b) Stan the Man was too busy to bother with autographs.
Suddenly Stan stepped to the front of the dugout and
motioned the ball boy over, sending him up our way with the prized baseball,
a smile and a wave.
“Since Stan was out running the bases, they just sort of
passed it around the dugout so a whole lot of the team signed it as well,”
the boy told my father.
Still got that ball. The scratch
where it bounced off a railing is still visible, along with the signatures
of Stan Musial, his buddy and fellow Hall of Fame player Red Schoendienst,
outfielder Curt Flood and a little-known pitcher named Bob Gibson, plus a
few more of my childhood heroes. (UPDATED AT
NOON ON 01/25/2013 FOR THE WEEK OF 01/21/2013)
Gun debate ranges from contentious to outrageous to just plain
Just another typical week in
teeters on the brink, La Follette officials have egg on their faces and the
school board doesn’t know whether to go forward, backward or just stand
still and hope nobody will notice them.
are questions unanswered of course. Will the IRS padlock the City of
Why, exactly, did Hansford and Cade have to go all the way to Memphis to
discuss a program with the State Department of Corrections and why did
nobody else at LaFollette City Hall know anything about it? More to the
point, did anyone at the Department of Corrections know anything about it?
Is Donnie Poston’s job in jeopardy or are some school
board members just flexing their muscles by voting against his contract
extension after voting for it a month earlier?
I’m still waiting for answers to these questions myself,
so have no opinions to share, at least not until more facts emerge. Did
Hansford Hatmaker, as the rumor mill has it, really drive a city vehicle
clear across the state to watch a lady friend graduate from a prison rehab
Facts are fuzzy but one thing is certain. I don’t want
Hansford serving as my designated driver anytime soon.
Is there reason to suspect illegal activities at Jellico
City Hall, where the town appears to have failed to pay employees’
withholding taxes to Uncle Sam, or is it merely a matter of not enough
revenue to pay the bills and putting off paying Peter in order to pay Paul?
Facts again are fuzzy, but the one thing that is certain
is that Jellico needs more revenue, and that will mean higher taxes if the
city is to continue to function. The other fact that seems clear is that
whoever was in charge of auditing the city’s books has failed miserably.
While we must wait on more facts to make any informed
comments about local events, that is certainly not the case in the national
debate over gun control. There have been more than enough comments, both
informed and uninformed, to turn anyone’s stomach, most of those comments
serving one of the numerous vested interests on one side or the other.
The President has finally come out with his list of
recommendations. It include bans on automatic weapons and high capacity
magazines as well as universal background checks on anyone buying guns,
plugging the gun show loopholes. Good luck on any of those, which will
require the cooperation of Congress.
He can, without the help of Congress, push for more
stringent enforcement of existing laws. I noticed on the news that of the
79,000 people nationally who have failed background checks or been found to
have lied on background checks, only 41 have been prosecuted.
even the NRA has voiced support for stronger enforcement of existing laws, I
suspect that we will see more federal sting operations such as the one that
just landed Roane
brothers in federal custody for possession of firearms by a) a felon and b)
while in possession of illegal drugs.
An outright ban on assault rifles and high capacity ammo
clips will probably still be debated in Congress when the next mass killing
occurs, and the next after that. If those massacres occur in schools, we
will see more schools take on the appearance of armed camps, which will suit
the NRA just fine. More armed guards and armed teachers will mean more gun
sales by the firearms manufacturers that bankroll the NRA.
I wonder if the NRA would still be pushing armed guards
in every school or arming and training teachers if the federal government
suddenly agreed, and because such programs would cost billions of dollars,
announced new federal taxes on the sale of guns, with higher rates on
assault weapons, in order to pay the price tag?
Meanwhile, even if Congress should by some miracle pass a law that limits
assault weapons, gun happy states like Tennessee
have fearless legislatures prepared once again to take on the big bad
federal government. Rep. Frank “I hate TWRA” Niceley and Rep. Jeremy Faison
of Cocke County, home to moonshiners, pot growers, chop shop and cock
fighting rings and corrupt law enforcement, have teamed up to save the day
for Tennessee gun owners.
Niceley and Faison are offering a bill to prohibit the
expenditure of state or local funds to enforce any new federal gun control
laws, and to prohibit local and state agencies from enforcing federal laws
unless Uncle Sam foots the bill.
course a lot of state and local officials are tired of unfunded federal
mandates that put more burden on local taxpayers. The Niceley-Faison bill
may be “In-your-face Uncle Sam,” but others are probably more dangerous,
including one by
Rep. Eric Watson to allow permit holders to take their handguns into
schools, with proper training and the school superintendent’s approval, of
The debate in Congress and state legislatures promises to
be heated and contentious, but at least predictable and more or less sane.
Not so, some of the comments and discussion appearing in local letters to
the editor or on the Internet, where insanity can be shared freely with the
the most disgusting report I’ve heard is about conspiracy theory nuts who
have been attacking the parents and victims of the mass shooting in
accusing them of being part of a government conspiracy to take away guns and
even going so far as suggesting
was faked by the government and the victims don’t really exist.
Parents who have just lost a beautiful six-year-old child
to a senseless act of murder have enough to deal with. They don’t need to
learn they are being called liars and actors by Internet conspiracy nuts,
set on providing inspiration for the next crazed gunman.
noticed a letter in the News-Sentinel today from a fellow named Tom Ferguson
that pretty well says it all. Speaking of the Bushmaster rifle used in
declares, “All but the willfully ignorant know that this rifle and hundreds
like it are not intended for hunting or sport shooting. They are
paramilitary weapons that are intended for paramilitary use.”
continues, “The Second Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution, not to
hunt Bambi or shoot sporting clays, but to oppose all enemies foreign and
domestic, and to protect against civil disorder and tyranny. . . Why would
anybody need a gun like that? Because we are not serfs. We are a free people
living in a republic of our own design. We may consent to be governed, but
we will not be ruled.”
Hmmm. I have not been a gun owner myself since my 20s.
Never felt a need to have one, personally, but Mr. Ferguson’s letter may
lead me to change my mind. I really feel like perhaps I need to arm myself
for protection against people like Tom Ferguson.
7:00 AM ON 01/16/2013 FOR THE WEEK OF 01/14/2013)
A sad moment for all us dreamers,
NASA plans to hold a fire sale
This week has been a real challenge: What to write about
in this first full week of 2013? The rest of the scribbling, blogging and
talking head world is still fixated on guns in schools, fiscal cliffs,
Superstorm Sandy and how much everyone hates Congress.
Tough. I’ve already said all there is to say about guns
in schools, particularly turning teachers into armed guards – “BAD IDEA.”
the rest of
I’m suffering from fiscal cliff fatigue and we’ve got at least two more
fiscal cliffs approaching. This will give the media plenty to talk about
besides the weather and give
at least two more opportunities to plunge us all back into another
Republican lawmakers in the Northeast discovered the hard way just how far
party loyalty goes with Republican lawmakers in Kansas,
when the latter dropped the hammer on the former and refused to vote to let
go of disaster recovery funds.
wait to see what happens when the next string of killer tornadoes or
crippling floods hits the
those Republican lawmakers go searching for disaster aid.
Seems some hard right Pachyderms take their “no tax”
pledge to Grover Norquist more seriously than their oath of office. There
used to be a time when we called that sort of thing “high treason,” but oh
yeah, that was the conservatives talking about far left liberals back in the
‘50s and ‘60s when everyone feared that the Russians were coming.
as Congress, it’s amazing that only eleven percent of Americans approve of
the job done by the recently expired 112th
Congress, and yet most of those turkeys won re-election. One pundit wrote
that we need to hunt down that eleven percent and separate them from the
rest of society.
I disagree. We need to find that eleven percent, and
whether we agree with them or not, give them government jobs. They are the
only honest people around willing to stand behind their secret ballots. At
least half the country, those yahoos who voted for Congressman X, then tell
the pollsters they disapprove of Congress, are hypocrites at best,
bald-faced liars at worst.
I can safely say this because I haven’t voted for an
incumbent congressman since . . . I’ve not sure I’ve ever voted for an
incumbent congressman. I did vote for an incumbent congresswoman, Marilyn
Lloyd. I think the answer to our country’s Congressional nightmare is to put
more women in charge.
only appropriate. Women generally outlive men, so in the end they wind up
owning everything. That means if the country goes down the financial tubes
forecloses on Disney World, women will lose the most while we guys will just
take our guns and go fishing.
You want something done right, put people in charge who
have the most to gain or lose.
So now that I’ve talked about
all the important issues of the day, what’s left? How about space
exploration? Now that the space shuttle program is history, NASA is having a
fire sale at Kennedy
For a few measly millions, you can buy the launch pad that sent the shuttles
into space, or lease the Saturn rocket assembly building or a 15,000-foot
personally find this very sad. I grew up during that magic period when the
most important thing driving America
was the race to beat the Russians to the Moon. The thrill of John Glenn’s
first orbit around the Earth, Neal Armstrong’s “one small step, one giant
leap,” the agony of the loss of Apollo I and the Challenger shuttle, these
were moments that froze time, that not only left all Americans, but the
entire world riveted to their television sets and radios.
Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface not just for
but for all mankind. Now the remnants of those great accomplishments are
left to rust in a
marsh unless the government can find buyers.
The space agency hopes to find takers among the world’s
private individuals and corporations. Now that we’ve spent billions of
taxpayer dollars paving the way into space and the moon, it’s time to let
private enterprise move in and find a way to make a profit from all that
government technology and research.
Perhaps NBC will launch their own weather satellites in
the future, as the old ones fall into disrepair. They can charge the
government a fee to let them in on where and when the next hurricane will
strike – or FEMA can just stay tuned to the Weather Channel.
Prison Corporation of America
might want to look into building orbiting lock-ups, or even construct a
maximum-security facility on the Moon or Mars. The initial costs will be
astronomical but think of how much can be saved on maintenance and security!
No guards, just a robot or two.
science fiction for you? Well, we could just handle space technology the way
we (and the Russians) handle international relations, by selling arms and
armaments. We can lease a few spy satellites and orbiting missile platforms
The Russians can then sell spy satellites and missile platforms to Iran.
Everybody’s happy, at least until al Qaida hijacks one and fires on Hollywood.
Seriously, despite the cost, I hope we will continue to
push the envelope in exploring space. There is so much to learn. Think about
it, we were clueless about how the Solar System and Universe formed until
scientists looked into deep space from outside our atmosphere. We weren’t
really sure how old our Earth was until we brought back and dated rocks from
If we hope to save our Earth from our own destructive
activities, we need to fully understand what makes it different from the
uninhabitable planets, why Mars lost its atmosphere, where our water came
from, is it possible to create an atmosphere where one does not exist?
Many Christians may feel that
there is nothing to learn, that our Bible says it all. As I often tell my
science enrichment students at Valley View, the Bible tells us what happened, but the
ancient Israelites didn’t have the knowledge to explain how it happened. That is
left to science.
I once hoped to live long enough to see men walk on Mars.
I think the current state of the world makes that highly unlikely, but I
would like to think that those ten and eleven-year-olds in my class will see
it happen. Who knows, one of those budding young scientists might even help
make it happen. We humans, after all, have always based our dreams in the
10:00 AM ON 01/14/2013 FOR THE WEEK OF 01/07/2013)
Think 2012 was a rough year? Look
at fractured forecasts for “Lucky ‘13”
All in all, 2012 was a pretty good year. Even that 48 %
who voted against Barack Obama found a few things worth smiling about – the
economy improved, we finally got Osama bin Ladin, and the election? It
could have been worse. Think President Donald Trump.
On the other hand, Mother Nature continued to fight back
in the war that we humans are destined to lose. Tornados, Superstorm Sandy,
drought, wildfire and floods continue to remind us who is boss, and it ain’t
the TEA Party, pilgrims.
But enough about what has been. What can we look forward
to in 2013? Will things continue to look up or will we discover, to our
horror, that due to an error in counting, the Mayans actually meant to
predict January 21 as the day the world will end?
Once again I humbly present my own predictions, and give
you Boomer’s Fractured Forecasts for the year “Lucky ‘13.”
– Congress fails to find a compromise and the nation falls off the fiscal
cliff. Markets are in turmoil, many businesses close their doors and
millions of taxpayers prepare to march on Washington
with vats of boiling oil. The City of
however, holds a massive New Years’ Day celebration at the
of God Tabernacle.
“Finally Jellico has caught up with the rest of the
country,” Mayor Les Stiers announces. “Now we’re all up the creek without a
- Campbell County School Board member Eugene Lawson resigns his seat,
announcing that it would be a conflict of interest now that he has been
hired as the chief contract negotiator for the American Federation of
only way we figured we could keep Eugene
off our backs is if we’re paying his salary,” AFT president Sharon Marlow
explains. “And besides, he has such compassion for the challenges faced by
– State Senator Stacy Campfield introduces a bill in the Tennessee
Legislature mandating that all public school teachers be provided with side
arms and required to wear them at all times in school. The bill is later
amended by lobbyists for the National Rifle association to include pastors,
hospital orderlies and football coaches.
Meanwhile in Washington,
it is revealed that Tennessee Congressman Scott Desjarlais once operated an
abortion clinic in
Despite this news, a poll of Fourth District voters shows that Desjarlais
enjoys an 87 percent approval rating.
– Torrential spring rains fall on
and an underground river floods the excavation site of the new
After repeated attempts to drain the flooded hole prove unsuccessful, the
architects present an alternate plan to construct the jail above a basement
level swimming pool.
“This will cost the county an additional $5 million, but
you can then lease the facility to the federal government for incarcerating
white collar criminals. The pool will be a nice touch,” a representative of
the architectural firm Bustem, Cheatem & Scratch points out.
to require teachers and others to wear side arms while working runs into
problems. To pay the costs of buying all that firepower, sponsor Stacy
Campfield adds an amendment to his bill that would place an additional tax
on the sale of firearms and ammunition. The NRA immediately drops its
support of the legislation.
commissioners begin the process of reviewing the upcoming fiscal year budget
and are surprised when Road Superintendent Dennis Potter announces that he
has no need for additional money to pave roads. “I’ve managed to pave over
50 miles of county roads this year and plan to pave another 50 miles next
year,” Potter tells the commission.
“You’ve managed to pay for all that asphalt without a tax
increase?” Commissioner Bobby White asked.
“You would be surprised at what you can do with careful
money management,” Potter replied.
of Tennessee Athletic Director Dave Hart
announces that an analysis of the football recruiting class for the upcoming
season shows that the Tennessee Volunteers rank number 122 nationally,
slightly below Wofford
and only slightly above the
“With this in mind, there is no way UT can have a winning
season for at least the next three years, so we’re decided to go ahead and
fire Coach Butch Jones and his staff now, before the season starts. This
will give UT a head start in the search for a new coach.”
When asked how UT athletics
can afford to pay off another $12 million in contracts before the staff has
even coached a single game, Hart replied, “We have discovered that the
athletic department holds the deed to all UT campus parking. From now on the
must pay the athletic department rent on those parking lots or students and
faculty will have to park downtown and walk to school.”
“We’re also shaving the costs
of athletic department personnel, “Hart added. “As an example, we’ve laid
off our public relations department and hired a veteran sportswriter from
Wilder, to head up media relations. Dwane knows his job, but having worked
for outfits like WLAF and the LaFollette Press, he’s accustomed to working
– A Washington
watchdog group announces that it has proof that Tennessee Congressman Scott
Desjarlais was once a business partner of Doctor Victor Kevorkian, providing
assisted suicide services in the
area. A poll of likely Fourth Disrtrict voters shows that Desjarlais’
approval rating has increased to 94 percent.
is rocked by a 5.3 magnitude earthquake. The quake causes only minor damage
to buildings and other structures, but the underground river feeding the
Olympic swimming pool in the basement of the new
vanishes and the pool can no longer hold water.
“Too bad. We just finished redesigning the jail to
accommodate the subsurface swimming pool. Well, it’s back to the old drawing
board,” architects tell the county commission.
At the same meeting
commissioners prepare to vote on a 5-cent property tax increase to pay for
design changes in the Justice
Commission watchdog James Slusher protests the proposed tax increase,
telling commissioners, “Why can’t you operate the county like Dennis Potter
operates the highway department? Fifty miles of paved roads and he’s not
begged for a penny of taxpayers’ money.”
– In the early hours of Labor Day Monday, two elderly PETA members, a
Catholic nun and a Hindu pediatrician slip through security at the Campbell
County Animal Shelter and release 136 dogs and cats, two hamsters and a
Thanksgiving turkey from their cages into the wild, scribbling “God loves
all creatures” on the side of the building and covering the office with used
An investigation results in the suspension of two unpaid
volunteers for security lapses while Senator Stacy Campfield promises to
pass legislation to arm all animal shelter employees across the state.
– In the most damning revelations yet, Congressman Scott Desjarlais admits
that he is a regular contributor to National Public Radio, once allowed his
children to watch
on TV and although a strong defender of the Second Amendment, personally
does not own a gun. His approval rating among likely voters in the Fourth
Congressional District dips to a historic low at 18 percent.
– A state safety inspector visits the
County garage and
notices something mysterious: several vehicles in various stages of
disassembly and a trailer from an 18-wheel rig filled with bootleg Hostess
Agents from the TBI, ATF, FBI
and Interstate Commerce Commission descend on
where they discover that a chop shop and car theft ring has been operating
out of the Campbell County Highway Department garage for the past 18 months.
“I just told my boys that I didn’t care how they did it,
but just find a way to pave some roads. I didn’t take a dime,” Road
Superintendent Dennis Potter says while protesting his innocence.
The following August, while serving 3 to 5 years at a
federal facility in Atlanta, Potter will be re-elected to another four years
as Road Superintendent with 97.4 percent of the vote.
– The “Christmas Quake” strikes
County on December
24, registering a magnitude of 5.8. Miraculously, damage is restricted to a
few buildings near the epicenter in Jacksboro, where a crevasse opens up and
swallows the nearly completed
Prisoners have yet to be moved into the new facility so
fatalities are light, restricted to one missing assistant DA, three trusties
and an inspection team from the architectural firm of Bustem, Cheatem &
6:00 AM ON 01/01/2013 FOR THE WEEK OF 12/31/2012)
A column that nobody will read – if the Mayans turn out to be right
I don’t really know why I’m
bothering to write this column. After all, it’s 9:00 p.m. on December 20 and
in three more hours the world is coming to an end. That is, of course, if
you put any stock in the forecasting abilities of the ancient Mayans.
Unfortunately the Mayans didn’t say whether the
world is ending at midnight, or perhaps not until noon or even 5:00 p.m.
Since I’m a writer with a writer’s ego, I can’t resist the temptation to get
in one last word, assuming the end comes later in the day and someone has a
chance to read this first.
Personally the worst thing about all this
apocalypse nonsense is that I underwent surgery on Monday. I’ve have been
stuck at home watching TV all week, which has been dominated by an endless
parade of really bad B-movies about the end of the world.
The best commentary I’ve seen about the predicted
end was actually in a comic strip. Two Mayans were carving stone calendars
and one said, “Oops, I just ran out of space!”
“That will really blow some minds in a few
hundred years,” the other Mayan observed.
And so it goes. The Mayans were a people so bad
at urban planning that they managed to eat themselves out of house and home.
They built impressive cities, then farmed the surrounding thin tropical
soils until their farms could no longer grow enough food to support the
cities’ populations, then merely abandoned their temples to the jungle and
Those who seriously place any faith in
questionable calendars created by such losers must really be bummed out by
the world as it is, and have just been counting the hours until the end of
Sadly, as this Christmas approaches, one loser
who wanted to end it all managed to do so in spectacular and tragic fashion,
taking 26 innocent lives with him in
The tragic school shooting earlier this week has
cast a pall over all Americans at a time when we hope to rejoice and
celebrate life. It has dominated the news and predictably been taken up as
the topic of the moment by the chattering classes, those of us who like to
share our opinions with everyone else.
A call has once again been raised for more
control over guns, a call that I predict will get lip service from a lot of
politicians until it comes time to actually do something.
Then Congress, fearful of the deep pockets of the
National Rifle Association, will again hmm and haw and do nothing. Assault
rifles and high capacity magazines will continue to be sold to the public
and the whole thing will blow over once the memorial services have ended –
at least until the next time that some nut job decides to end his own
pathetic life and take a lot of innocent people with him.
Some critics say the National Rifle Association
has blood on its hands. That’s not quite true. The NRA is awash in the blood
of innocent Americans. Innocent blood flows through the hallways of the
NRA’s Washington offices and
drips from the fingertips of their lobbyists each time they write a check or
hand out a campaign contribution.
Anyone who likes to hunt should have the right to
possess as many hunting rifles and shotguns as they want. Anyone who wants
to protect their home should be allowed to keep handguns and rifles for
You don’t need an AK-47 to protect your home, and
its illegal to hunt with them. You don’t need a pistol that fires twenty
rounds without reloading to feel safe from intruders or muggers. Such
weapons are handy, however, for carrying out a massacre. Their only other
logical purpose is if you want to conduct guerilla warfare against your own
Is this what the NRA condones, mass murder or
high treason and armed rebellion? If not, they should join the voices
supporting restrictions on the sale of high capacity assault weapons, not
fighting such restrictions.
Assuming that gun control is an improbable goal,
there have been numerous other suggestions for how we might avoid future
school shootings, from more focus on mental health issues to armed security
officers in all schools.
Tennessee is one of ten
states where probably the worst idea of all has emerged, to arm teachers and
principals. Do teachers really want to be required to learn how to use a
firearm and be responsible for shooting it out with an armed intruder while
their first graders look on?
And just how traumatic would it be for children
to see all their teachers walking around packing pistols, and how long
before a curious child looks in a teacher’s purse while she’s in the
bathroom, removes a gun and it goes off with tragic results? I can see the
legislation now, sponsored by the indomitable Stacy Campfield, to require
all teachers to take mandatory firearms training courses and obtain
concealed weapon permits.
I hope, should such a bill be brought to the
legislature, that lawmakers and Governor Haslam will remember that one of
the most recent school shootings in this area occurred when a teacher at
Powell shot his principal and assistant principal.
The sad fact is, there is no foolproof answer.
Tragedies involving firearms will continue to occur, no matter what steps
are made to prevent them. More resource officers in our schools will help.
Legal restrictions on assault weapons will help. More focus on mental health
will help. Together these steps can decrease the frequency of such tragic
incidents, and that may be all we can hope for, but mass shootings are going
to occur again, somewhere.
Perhaps the best we can do in this time of national
sorrow is place our faith in the spirit of Christmas, hold our families
close, love them and pray that it never happens to us.(UPDATED AT
11:30 PM ON 12/21/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 12/24/2012)
Charlie Herman proves a point: sometimes you win by losing
Tuesday night’s school board meeting started out on one
of those feel-good, joyous holiday notes, with AFT president Sharon Marlow
and other teachers handing out tins of homemade fudge and candy, various
board members plopping Christmas cards down in front of microphones and
everyone smiling and laughing,
They even managed to agree on most things, a notable
exception being re-establishing some standing committees that have been the
subject of controversy lately. The board split down the middle on that
question 5-5, so for now there are still no permanent standing committees.
Just when I thought things would pass peacefully into a
silent night, the board’s resident Grinch came through. Eugene Lawson
launched into a stinging rebuke of the teachers’ union, complaining that
previous boards had given away the farm to the teachers and that Director
Donnie Poston was still following the terms of a union contract that was
invalidated by the state legislature, rather than board policy.
didn’t ask for, or suggest any particular changes or actions. He seems to
have merely been venting in public before teachers voted this Thursday on
whether to continue with the AFT as their union representatives.
said he didn’t begrudge teachers being paid a fair wage and benefits; he
just hated it when they could insist that schools close every time the wind
blows or it rains. I’ve never noticed
schools closing down because of rain or high winds, but hey, with climate
change in full swing, we might get a hurricane next. Who knows?
Grinch act seemed to be catching, so Rector Miller then donned his Scrooge
hat and began pushing Director Poston and Finance guru Jeff Marlow about the
fact that the board appears to need six additional teachers after
eliminating nearly two dozen teaching positions to balance the budget.
Moneybags, speaking the always mysterious accountese
language, tried to explain how shifting positions to different accounts
would cover the need without appropriating more money, but Rector merely
seemed to be flustered by the explanation and ended his inquisition with a
While the school board holiday spirit got dampened a
little by sour grapes, not so at a gathering at the courthouse Thursday. The
occasion was a little retirement party for Charles Herman, who is retiring
from his post as public defender.
There was enough food to strangle a whale and a packed
courtroom to hear all the lawyers, judges, clerks and just plain folks wax
eloquent about Charlie and his service to the community.
Nobody that I heard even mentioned what is surely the one
disappointment in Charlie Herman’s career, when he lost his bid for
re-election as Circuit Court Judge many years ago to Rocky Young.
Young beat him out in a hatchet job campaign, accusing
Judge Herman of being soft on crime with too many people getting probation
or community service instead of hard jail time.
I wander if those same voters
would feel the same way today, as
taxpayers struggle to pay for another multi-million dollar jail expansion
and justice center to accommodate the constant increase in prisoners, many
for minor offenses that could be addressed by probation, fines, or community
If you live by the sword, you
die by the sword, as the old saying goes. Rocky Young eventually got his
comeuppance from the voters as well, and feeling rejected, moved back to
County where he
apparently felt more appreciated.
Charlie Herman did not. He
remained in Campbell
swallowed his wounded pride and took the job few other attorneys want,
defending people who are too poor and destitute to afford their own lawyers.
The testimony from his peers at Thursday’s retirement party underscores the
quality of Charlie’s service and his basic humanity.
I can recall a conversation I had with late Criminal
Court Judge Lee Asbury some years back, when I was still editor of the
LaFollette Press. Judge Asbury and I, and maybe one or two others were
having one of those pot-bellied stove sessions in his office, where the
Judge would wax eloquent about his favorite subjects - crime, politics, elk
and the Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association.
Somehow, the subject of Rocky Young came up (Lee didn’t
like him much, I gathered) and then Charlie Herman became the topic of
“You know, in the end
County may have
come out ahead,” Judge Asbury mused. “Charlie Herman was a competent judge,
but he is an exceptional public defender.”
Enjoy your retirement, Judge Herman. You’ve earned it.
Advice for new UT coach: ‘Keep the alumni sullen but not mutinous’
Some years back, I worked for a newspaper that
covered both Campbell and
County had a controversial
District Attorney General named Jim Ramsey, who was better at making
headlines and outraging judges than he was at winning convictions.
Jim had an assistant DA, Janet Hicks, who handled
the lion’s share of the prosecutions. Janet was a competent lawyer, I
suppose, but had the personality of a turnip and was generally unpopular
with attorneys, judges and the media.
I once asked Jim, in an off-the-record session,
how he ended up hiring Janet as his top assistant.
“Well I’ll tell you,” he replied. “I had a court
case once where she was the lawyer on the other side and I won the case. I
figured I needed to hire her since I could beat her in a courtroom.”
The thing about Ramsey was, you never knew for
sure when he was joking.
I tell this story because I was reminded of it
last week when the
of Tennessee finally
managed to find a coach willing to leave behind a secure and successful job
elsewhere to jump into the frying pan that is Big Orange Country and our
In Derek Dooley’s unfortunate tenure as
Tennessee’s coach, he managed to lose a couple of heartbreaking games to LSU
and North Carolina in his first season while his second Volunteer team lost
to Kentucky and managed to beat only one quality opponent all year. Right,
he beat Butch Jones’
Dooley’s third team was so inept that they
reached all new lows on defense and a disheartened team with a coaching
staff that already knew they were on the way out went down to Nashville and
got embarrassed by Vanderbilt.
So Dooley was sent packing before the final game
and UT sent out invitations to the party. But what happens when you throw a
party and nobody shows up?
Tennessee’s first choice
never seriously considered leaving his lucrative job at ESPN. The second,
third and fourth choices decided they were better off where they are. So
finally Tennessee pulled a Jim
Ramsey and hired the one guy we were able to beat.
I hope Butch Jones does well at
Tennessee. I hope the fans, boosters and news
media will give him the space and time he needs to build back a devastated
program. I noticed that this year’s
recruiting class ranks about three notches from the bottom in the SEC, not
surprising with four coaches in six years.
I suspect, if Jones has a losing season next
year, John Adams, GoVols.com and the rest will start writing his coaching
obituary, which will encourage fans to call for his head, which will make
potential recruits nervous about playing for
added to the already suicidal SEC schedule, how can we expect anything but a
losing season next year? Midway through his second season, Jones had
better be working his miracle or fans will begin calling for another
coaching head to be spitted on the stadium flagpoles.
I wonder if they will give Jones and his staff
time to work until their contracts expire, or ask students and faculty to
subsidize another $10 million buyout package?
UT once had a great All-American lineman named
Herman Hickman who, after playing for General Neyland, went on to a long
coaching career at Yale University, back when the Ivy League still counted
for something in football circles.
Herman was never all of that successful, usually
losing about as many as he won, but he coached Yale for many years. A
curious sports writer once asked him about the secret to his long tenure as
“I like to keep the alumni sullen but not
mutinous,” Hickman famously replied.
Phillip Fulmer failed to accomplish that feat. He
messed up and won a national championship in 1998 and when he could never
quite equal that accomplishment again, he finally got the axe for failing to
live up to heightened expectations. Derek Dooley never got UT’s program past
the mutinous stage and paid for it. Johnny Majors won an SEC championship
once in awhile, led his team to a minor bowl most years in between and never
put together two losing seasons back-to-back.
He kept us sullen but never mutinous and coached
as long as anyone since General Neyland, a true follower of the Herman
Hickman coaching philosophy. So Butch Jones, a word of advice. Strive
for mediocrity, it’s safer.
Congress, it appears, is striving for mediocrity.
The Republicans are beginning to realize that they, unlike President Obama,
must run for re-election sometime down the line and have the most to lose if
they steer the country over the fiscal cliff.
Hard-nosed TEA Partiers like Jim DaMint of
South Carolina are
bailing out, looking for lucrative Beltway consultant jobs while their
personal stock remains viable. The moderates, while continuing to keep
America on the
edge of our collective seat, seem headed toward some accommodation with the
White House that will avoid fiscal Armageddon.
But Congress continues to baffle me with their
collective buffoonery. The latest? The Senate refused to ratify a United
Nations treaty supporting fair treatment for people with disabilities,
despite the presence of longtime Republican Senator Bob Dole in the chamber.
This is a treaty modeled largely on our own
Americans with Disabilities Act, so why the opposition? Because it is a
United Nations treaty, of course, and all good conservatives in Congress
know that anything coming out of the UN must be a Communist plot, or worse
still, an Obama plot.
Bob Dole’s presence made little difference. This
longtime icon of American conservatives would be judged a wimpy moderate by
today’s TEA Party standards.
Congress would be well advised to follow the
Herman Hickman model and keep the voting public sullen but not mutinous.
Obama’s victory in November is a strong sign that the mutiny is right around
4:00 PM ON 12/07/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 12/03/2012)
Politics smells, corporations take, but only people can love and
finally has something in common with folks in
not to mention Oregon
Washington state. What
we have in common is, unfortunately, that our courthouses all had to be
evacuated last week after receiving bomb threats to the
were no bombs, of course, and most likely the crank calls originated in
compliments of the fact that anybody anywhere can access public phone
numbers over the Internet and route cell phone calls through any number of
phones with little fear of being traced.
Some people are desperate for
entertainment, it seems, but not so here in
Here one can venture up to
and watch school administrators and teachers duke it out, or attend county
commission meetings or any variety of city council meetings and watch grown
men and women make fools out of themselves.
For anyone truly desperate for entertainment, simply sit
in the courthouse parking lot and watch the excavation progress on the
official county hole in the ground, which may end up being an underground
parking garage, a dungeon for the new county jail or if they hit the water
table first, a really expensive public swimming pool.
I personally think the county missed a great opportunity
to raise funds a couple of months back, when the demolition crews dismantled
the old jail to make space for the aforementioned hole. The county should
have erected bleacher seats and advertised the destruction of what was once
known as the “Bates Motel” because you could check in, but there was no
guarantee you would ever check out.
More than a few former residents might have paid good
money for a comfortable seat to watch the destruction, cheering as each wall
came tumbling down. Sheriff’s deputies could have peddled snacks while old
timers debated who had clocked the most days behind those ancient bars.
Meanwhile Black Friday is behind us and the Christmas
shopping season is in full swing. This year consumers are spending as if
there is no tomorrow, which is good news for retailers and credit card
banks, at least until the bills start showing up in January mailboxes.
we should also know if the donkeys and pachyderms in
are going to make like lemmings and plunge the nation over the fiscal cliff.
Perhaps that is the real reason folks are shopping so heavily this holiday
season – many fear that there truly is no tomorrow!
around a hundred employees at the Merita Bakery in
the fiscal cliff came early when Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy and
closed down all of their operations around the country. No more Twinkies, no
more Dum Dums but more importantly, no more jobs for a lot of people just as
The company blames the union for refusing to grant
further concessions and staging a crippling nationwide strike. The union
blames corporate greed and points out that while asking workers to accept
further cuts in wages and benefits, large bonuses were being granted to
upper level managers.
While there is usually some truth on both sides of such
disputes, it is rather damning that Hostess asked the bankruptcy courts to
approve large bonuses to top managers so these “crucial” administrators
would stay on board long enough to complete the liquidation of assets.
Even more disgusting, the courts approved the bonuses.
How much expertise does it require to go out of business, for Pete’s sake?
Simply lock the doors, walk away and let your creditors hire people to fight
over the remaining assets.
The fact that Hostess had been taken over by venture
capitalists says it all. Think Bain Capital. Think buy a company in trouble
at fire sale prices, play around with it for a couple of years while
granting huge salaries to CEOs and directors, then liquidate the assets at a
nice profit, leaving creditors and longtime employees out in the cold.
Some people’s misfortune can
be other people’s good fortune, as one
minister proved the day before Thanksgiving. XXX discovered that trucks
loaded with loaves of Merita and Wonder Bread were sitting outside the idled
bakery, unable to be delivered and going bad. He got permission to load up a
truck with bread, buns and rolls and bring it to Lafollette, where he gave
it away to people on the street outside WLAF.
Thanks for reminding us all
that despite fiscal cliffs, nasty politics and greedy corporations, there is
still good in the world. Christmas is not just about Black Fridays, shopping
and holiday stress, but a time to reflect on, as one writer put it, the
“better angels of our nature.”
4:00 PM ON 12/03/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 11/26/2012)
Joseph and Mary lack a photo ID? Billy Joe
White would ‘have an app for that’
Ah, the good ol’ Tennessee legislature. Just when we
thought, with elections behind us that all the loony entertainment was
over, it is almost time for the General Assembly to reconvene in
A preview of some of the witty, zany fun that is in
store for the pubic this year is already making the rounds of county
courthouses, including our own.
Commissioners on Monday night were presented with a
resolution from the Mayor’s office, presumably drafted by some of our
legislators, supporting a bill to require registration of all adult
guests in motels, hotels and the like. This law, they were told, would
make it easier for law enforcement officials to keep tabs on fugitives,
meth dealers and other evildoers who use motel rooms for their evil
The bill would require motels to keep the register
of all adult guests, with names, addresses, dates of birth and vehicle
license information. With the notable exception of those people opposed
to further invasion of privacy by the government, this seems pretty
harmless so far, but . . .
Another provision of the bill promoted in the
resolution requires anyone registering for a motel or hotel room to
present a valid state or federal photo ID card, such as a photo driver’s
So, if you’re one of those elderly Tennesseans who
has a non-photo ID, don’t try traveling around the state of Tennessee.
You will find, as Mary and Joseph did, no place at the inn and be forced
to sleep in the stable.
I can also visualize this scenario.
Tired motorist: “I need a room for the night.”
Motel clerk: “Yessir. May I see your photo ID
“Motel clerk: “Uh, I’m sorry, I need to see a
federal or state issued ID.”
Tired motorist: “That is a federal issued ID. It’s
my Canadian drivers’ license.”
Clerk: “I’m very sorry but that isn’t a valid ID in
Tennessee. I‘m afraid I can’t rent you a room.”
“I just drove all the way from Toronto on my way to
Florida. It’s midnight and I’m falling asleep at the wheel. How far do I
have to drive to find a place where I can stay?”
Motel clerk: “Let’s see. That would be Rossville,
Georgia. It’s only about 150 more miles.”
That proposed law still needs some tweaking before
the GenAss passes it, I suspect. That didn’t keep our own county
commission from considering the resolution, photo ID and all.
Fortunately a handful of the squires had the good sense to be skeptical
and vote against it. The resolution failed by one to gain enough votes
for a majority and Mayor Baird, seemingly surprised, ruled it as failed.
That is the kind of poorly thought out bill that
Chancellor Billy Joe White would take much pleasure in shooting down in
his courtroom. Sadly, Judge White passed away this week following
complications from a stroke.
I will miss Judge White, not least because he was a
fan of my newspaper columns. But he was also a good judge, one who could
be relied upon to rein in government when it overstepped its bounds and
wield a heavy hand if government failed to govern wisely.
My personal highlight of Judge White’s career was
back in the early ‘90s when he was forced to rule on a Campbell County
budget impasse that had delayed the opening of county schools for nearly
The school board kept presenting a budget that they
felt was a bare bones minimum to keep the quality of schools from
slipping, but the county commission was just as determined to avoid a
hefty tax increase at all costs.
The squires kept sending the budget back,
unapproved, to the school board with one message: “We’re not going to
raise taxes to fund this budget. Lay off teachers, close some schools,
or cut out bus service, whatever you have to do to give us a budget
without a tax increase.”
County Executive David Young finally resigned as
chairman of the commission so he could file a lawsuit against both the
commission and the board, placing the matter in the courts, or rather,
in Judge White’s court.
The Chancery Court Judge heard the various arguments
from attorneys for both sides and then declared, “ I don’t see where you
cannot come to a compromise that will enable Campbell County children to
begin going to school.”
Judge White then instructed the board and the
commission to retire to an adjacent room and come back to him in one
hour with a balanced budget that could be approved.
“If you can’t do it in an hour, we will all go
downstairs where I will have you all locked up for contempt of court
until you do agree on a budget,” the Judge added. “One way or another,
children are going to school in this county come Monday morning.”
Melvin “Doctor No” Boshears admits that this is the
only time in history that he ever voted for a tax increase. The school
board made some concessions while the commission voted a small tax
increase and enacted a $30 wheel tax, and the schools opened on Monday.
Judge White could just as swiftly step on the toes
of local government when it overreached its authority. Several years
later, the Campbell County Board of Education passed a “zero tolerance
policy” that mandated an automatic one year expulsion for students
caught with drugs, drug paraphernalia or alcohol in their possession on
The zero tolerance also extended to cell phones.
Back in those times when cell phones were considered a luxury rather
than a necessity of life, the Board reasoned that the only reason for a
kid to have a personal cell phone was to make drug deals.
It was not long before a child in seventh grade at
Jacksboro Middle School was caught with a cell phone and expelled from
school for a year. When it became known that this child had been given
the phone by his parents, who both worked and needed him to call them
when he needed to be picked up, the board was “sympathetic but zero
tolerance is zero tolerance!”
The parents predictably sued. Judge White heard the
case over in Tazewell, listening patiently to arguments from both sides
“The problem here is a policy that ignores common
sense and a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime,” Billy Joe told the
board, ordering that the child be readmitted to school immediately. He
added to the parents that while their child could return to school, the
cell phone stays at home, or he would find them in contempt of court.
Billy Joe could also be rather outspoken when he was
riled up. Recently, lawyer Dave Dunaway expressed displeasure with the
pace at which some of his workers’ compensation cases were being
processed and set for trial by the Campbell County Clerk & Master’s
office. Lawyer Dave filed a complaint with the court, and asked Judge
White to recluse himself from ruling, since he appointed Clerk & Master
Bill Archer and they were personal friends.
Judge White denied Dunaway’s complaint, and in his
order, handed down one of the most stinging pronouncements on an
individual attorney I’ve ever seen in official court papers.
Judge White stated that he would no longer hear
cases brought before the court by David Dunaway, but would refer all
such cases to another judge. His reason? David Dunaway is “a liar when
under oath and a liar when not under oath,” Judge White wrote in his
As I said earlier, Judge White will be missed,
probably not by David Dunaway, but certainly by the majority of
attorneys who argued before his bench. We can only hope that his
replacement will have the same knack for tempering the letter of the law
with a good dose of common sense, something too often lacking among
those who make the laws. (UPDATED AT
6:00 AM ON 11/23/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 11/19/2012)
Really want to secede? Just move to
– after we sell it back to Mexico
Wow, just when I thought the American people had spoken
and all the election madness was behind us, we have a new wave of insanity
making the news.
talking about, naturally, the “secession movement” being promoted through
petitions on social media. Apparently some 60,000 Texans have petitioned to
secede from the Union,
as have close to 24,000 Tennesseans.
These are most likely people who, as I’ve pointed out
earlier, just can’t bear the thought of having a black man in the White
House for four more years. They deny that, of course, instead claiming as
Ron Harwell of the Roane County TEA Party has, that they just can’t take “a
communist sitting in the White House.”
F. Kennedy was more liberal by far than Obama, but nobody petitioned to
leave the Union
when he was narrowly elected in 1960. Lyndon B. Johnson expanded the modern
welfare state and signed into law the civil rights voting act, but nobody
petitioned for secession then. Of course, both those ultra liberal
presidents were white guys, weren’t they?
Well, secession is not an option for these poor deluded
sore losers, since that act was defeated on the battlefield in 1865 and
officially banned by the Supreme Court a few years later.
What a shame. My great-great grandpappy, like those of
most of us who can trace our roots in East Tennessee back to the 1860s,
donned Union blue and shot secessionists on behalf of his country. Might be
fun to follow in his footsteps just once.
of course, but one can always dream. Meanwhile, another series of online
petitions have been started urging that anyone signing a secession petition
be deported. Despite the old Vietnam
era rant of “America
– love it or leave it,” we can’t deport people just because they don’t like
the government. Besides, no self-respecting nation would take these loonies
so we’re stuck with them.
I have an
alternate plan that makes better sense. Sell
Texas back to
If we hurry, we can still get something for it before the droughts turn it
into a worthless desert. We’ve already pumped most of the oil out of that
state. With the end of the manned space program we no longer need Mission
Control in Houston
and nobody will much miss the Houston Astros or the Dallas Cowboys anyway.
then erect a border fence and deport all of the secession nuts to
This will have the added advantage of making George W. Bush, Rick Perry and
Karl Rove illegal aliens. We would have to grant citizenship to Willie
Nelson, of course, or at least grant him a permanent work visa.
The fact is, there are always a lot of sore losers after
an election, most often heard mouthing off down at the local diner over a
cup of coffee or in the bars and American Legion posts after a beer or
One of the great tragedies of the modern online world is
that social media gives these loud-mouthed loonies a forum and an audience
of millions. The news media picks up on their rants and raves and actually
treats it as “news” while late night TV comedians have more fodder for their
monologues. In the end, they do, however, manage to provide us with cheap
entertaining is the ongoing tragedy of Big Orange football. Instead of
seceding from the Union, Tennessee
may instead need to secede from the Southeastern Conference if things don’t
begin to look up.
I never would have thought, back in the glory days of the
late 1960s or the more glorious days of 1998, that the Vols would fall on
such hard times, with three coaches in five years, possibly now four coaches
in six years, and a defense that couldn’t stop a high school team.
The more outspoken critics among the Big Orange Nation
are calling for Derrick Dooley’s scalp, led from the rear by News Sentinel
sports editor John Adams, who has been pouring fuel on the anti-Dooley fire
since the season began.
always suspected Adams, an LSU alumnus, of being a secret mole inserted into
Big Orange Country to disrupt UT football and bring an end to LSU’s “Tennessee
I’m not so sure that firing
Dooley and searching for yet another miracle worker to stop the bleeding is
such a good idea. If there has ever been a testament to the failure of a
“three years and you’re out” approach to building a football program,
County should be
the poster child.
What’s it been? Thirty years, thirty-five? How many
coaches? The Cougars may just now be approaching the point where they can
consider a .500 season as normal rather than a resounding success.
fact is, UT may have made a mistake in firing Phillip Fulmer in 2008. True,
his program had declined from his 1998 national championship year and he was
having problems beating Florida,
but Fulmer had just lost his offensive guru and hired a replacement whose
complex new offensive scheme was a disaster.
UT fans and UT administrators gave Fulmer no time to fix
the problem before turning the program over to Lane Kiffin, who had no
loyalty to the university, no loyalty to the fans and no principles when it
came to NCAA rules.
Kiffin left us high and dry to go out and attempt to take
back into probation, we should have felt relief, but what he left behind was
a football program in shambles. Many of his recruits bolted for greener
pastures and Derrick Dooley was left to inherit a UT football program at an
all-time low ebb.
old single wing Tennessee
teams of the late 1950s and early ‘60s were still competitive, capable of
upsetting number one teams on occasion and fielding strong defenses. Doug
Dickey took over a team in 1964 that included the best defensive lineman in
the country in Steve Delong, two future All-American linebackers and the
most effective punter in UT history.
No wonder he was able to turn a 5-5 team into a
championship contender in a mere three years.
Dickey abandoned UT to return to his native Florida,
Bill Battle took over a program that was at the top – SEC champions. Battle
couldn’t keep the program on top, and was relieved of his job after six
seasons when only one of his teams failed to make a post-season bowl.
Battle probably needed to go, as UT football had steadily
declined under his leadership, but he left his successor, Johnny Majors,
with a program that was only a couple of years removed from ten victories.
hero, was if nothing else, a master of public relations. He immediately
began poor mouthing the program he had inherited, moaning that Tennessee
football had declined to such a point that it might take several years for
him to “bring UT to a new level.”
level became apparent when Majors lost to the likes of Rutgers and Army and
was still struggling to reach an eight-win season or compete with Bear
teams half a dozen years later.
fans and administrators were patient with their hometown hero, however, and
eventually Majors was able to produce a program that could occasionally
compete for an SEC championship and a spot in the Sugar Bowl.
Majors finally lost his job to assistant Phil Fulmer, not
so much because the program had been on a decline, which was true, but
because he was laying down hints that he would like Doug Dickey’s job as
Athletic Director. Dickey canned him in self-defense, you might say.
this history is merely to say that UT’s current coach has inherited a
program that has never, since the 1920s, been as far down on its luck. The
rebuilding task faced by Dooley was unprecedented in modern
It is obvious that Dooley or somebody has made a serious
error this year when it comes to the defensive side of the game. Either the
defensive coordinator is the wrong guy, his defensive scheme is unsuited to
the personnel or the talent is lacking.
the cause, Tennessee
fans and media would probably give a Johnny Majors another year or two to
sort things out, at least until his contract expires. Dooley, not a
fair-haired hometown hero, may not get that time.
John Adams will get his wish and Tennessee
will again roll the dice with yet another new coach, who will take at least
another three years to build up a program that is competitive, or in his
turn, be replaced. UT will also have to raise ticket prices again to pay off
the millions of dollars owed to Dooley and his staff when they are let go
before their contracts expire.
UT administrators need to grow a backbone and at least
give the current coaching staff until the end of their contracts to find
some answers. A few hundred empty seats at games might cost a few bucks, but
not nearly as much as paying off all those coaches.
Meanwhile, I strongly suspect that most of the hotheads
calling for Dooley’s scalp sit at home and watch UT football from the
comfort of their couch rather than supporting the program. If they switch
channels, they won’t be missed. (UPDATED AT
8:00 AM ON 11/19/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 11/19/2012)
Quake nothing to worry about, just Kentucky Senator McConnell
blowing his stack
The election is mercifully over, and the American people
have spoken, which leaves a whole lot of Republicans trying to figure out
what, exactly, happened last Tuesday.
Some members of the GOP brain trust are moaning about how
Mitt Romney was obviously not the right candidate, that the GOP had a Romney
problem. I contend that the opposite is true and Mitt Romney had a GOP
Republicans lost all of the so-called “swing states” except
lost the popular vote by a modest margin and the electoral vote by a
significant margin. Face it folks, the election wasn’t even all that close
in the end.
voters in Florida,
and New Mexico
helped put those states in the Obama column, not surprising since the
Republican Party has all but declared war on undocumented immigrants and
alienated the country’s fastest-growing minority group.
Women helped Obama win in Iowa, Virginia, Ohio and
Wisconsin, not surprising since Republican senatorial candidates in Indiana
and Missouri made headlines with their comments about rape, pregnancy and
“God’s will.” Both candidates were legitimately raped by female voters and
can now crawl back underneath their rocks.
The solid Republican South,
aided largely by a healthy dose of racism among white male voters, was the
Republicans’ only bright spot. Racism was not a factor, you say? Wake up. My
hometown of Lake
has been a bastion of Democratic voters since FDR.
always voted 60 percent donkey and 40 percent pachyderm in every election I
can recall since the days of Eisenhower and Stevenson, including the Ronald
Reagan landslide over Michael Dukakis and the ill-fated candidacy of
ultra-liberal George McGovern in 1972. Always, that is, until the Democrats
put a black man on the ballot.
voted 40 percent Democrat, 40 percent Republican and 20 percent Democrats
who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a black President.
The Republican Party needs to take note of the fact that
the South lost the Civil War. The GOP isn’t going to win many national
elections with a philosophy designed to win big in the South and alienate
the rest of the country, but that is the way the party seems headed.
The GOP is fast becoming a party of old white guys. That
means they have a corner on most of the money and can inundate us with
negative political advertising, but 2012, if nothing else, shows that you
can’t always buy your way into power.
GOP message about fiscal conservatism and “what’s good for business is good
doesn’t wash. Financial manager David Moon, in his News-Sentinel business
page column on Sunday, pointed out that the stock market generally performs
better when a Democrat is in the White House, returning an average since
1900 of 15.35 percent annually on investments under Democratic presidents
compared to 8.61 percent under Republicans.
Moon goes on to explain that much of the difference can
be attributed to the fact that when several Democratic presidents took
office, the stock market was in such bad shape that it had nowhere to go but
up. In other words, the economy under Herbert Hoover had hit rock bottom and
had to improve under FDR, and the economy under George W. Bush had slumped
so badly that it had to improve under Barack Obama.
By contrast, the economy under Bill Clinton was so
healthy at the end of his second term that poor George W. had nowhere to go
but down, while despite all the negative opinions about Jimmy Carter’s
presidency, the economy was strong enough when he left office that it
improved very little during Ronald Reagan’s first four years.
Republican hard-liners stubbornly insist that this election proved nothing,
that Americans basically voted for the status quo, or more gridlock in
Washington. They point
to the continued GOP control in the House as an indication that Americans
have not totally rejected the Republican Party. They fail to recognize that
unlike the Senate, where Republicans lost ground, Congressmen are elected by
districts, districts that were purposely gerrymandered to protect Republican
Congressmen and put Democratic incumbents at risk.
The fact is, the Republican-controlled legislatures in
many states did everything possible to insure a Republican victory in 2012,
from voter ID laws designed to hold down voting by minorities and the poor
to re-districting plans tilted to heavily favor Republican candidates to a
Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate spending on political
Nothing worked. The Republicans lost because the GOP has
been hijacked by the extreme right wing of their party, while the majority
of Americans are moderate fence sitters. Democrats allowed their party to
stray too far left in the 1970s, resulting in twelve years of Republican
control until Bill Clinton, a moderate, brought the party back toward the
Despite all the red-baiting, name-calling and questions
about religion and national origins, Barack Obama is also a moderate, not an
extreme liberal, Democrat.
Republicans have allowed the social conservative,
anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, pro-military wing of their party to
take the GOP too far to the right to suit the tastes of most Americans. They
will continue to lose ground until they wise up and move back to the middle.
Meanwhile, how many of you
felt the 4.3 magnitude earthquake we experienced on Saturday? The epicenter
has been pinpointed in the neighborhood of
but some Kentuckians I know tell me that we need not worry about any
catastrophic earth movements.
The quake, they say, was simply caused by Kentucky
Senator and GOP minority leader Mitch McConnell blowing his stack when he
learned that popular country singer and actress Ashley Judd is thinking
about challenging him for the U. S. Senate in 2014.
Mitch, of course, is that fellow who declared, back in
2008, that the GOP’s primary objective for the next four years would be to
insure that Barack Obama’s presidency was a failure. For the President to
fail would, unfortunately, mean that the nation would also have to fail.
Last time I looked, working to bring down your own nation is considered
parts of the world, they still line people up against a wall and shoot them
for high treason. Mitch is lucky; he’s just going to be legitimately raped
by the female voters of Kentucky.
6:00 AM ON 11/14/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 11/12/2012)
New election year slogan: “Climate – the one change you can believe
Mercifully, it is merely one week before Election Day,
and an end to political ads, mailers, robo-calls and pollsters. I’m one of
those old fashioned geezers with a landline in my home and a listing in the
As a result, I get an average of three calls a day from
candidates or groups conducting “unbiased” polls. Since everyone who isn’t
unemployed is generally away from home during the day, they always time
these calls for that exact moment when my dinner is coming out of the oven,
or in the middle of the six o’clock news.
these calls all involve local races or Congressional races, since both the
Romney and Obama campaigns wrote off
as a solid “red” state long ago. We will all dutifully fulfill our
obligation to cast a vote, knowing that the outcome in
already a foregone conclusion and that our nation’s future will be
determined by Yankees in
Ohio, prostitutes in Nevada
and beachcombing retirees in Florida.
I’m tempted here to offer my own personal predictions on
the outcomes of various races, at the risk that readers will take them as
endorsements. Well, perhaps not. It won’t be much of an endorsement to
predict that several candidates in state legislative races will defeat
As much as I would like to see “Unopposed” win a race
here and there, the odds are against it. “None of the Above” has a better
chance of forging a victory or two here and there, if enough voters write
Mr. Above in on their ballots, but asking for a paper ballot is more trouble
than most people are likely to endure.
But I’ll go out on a limb here and predict “None of the
Above” as the victor in the race for Mayor of LaFollette. Seems a logical
choice to me.
We in Campbell
fortunate to no longer be represented by Congressman Scott DesJarlais, which
means we do not have to choose between voting for a liar or a fool.
After being exposed as a hypocrite for urging a mistress
to get an abortion while claiming to be a “family values” politician,
DesJarlais has now seen a second former girlfriend come forward who claims
he provided her with prescription drugs.
Still, the Democrats are the fools, presuming that their
candidate can win not by convincing voters that he can give them what they
want, but that he is less immoral than the disgraced incumbent. I’ve got two
words for that approach: “Bill Clinton.”
Voters already assume that most politicians are immoral;
they are more interested in knowing what a particular scumbag, if elected,
is going to do for them.
could be elected in a landslide today, Monica Lewinsky not withstanding.
Fortunately for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Constitution only
allowed Bill two terms in office, so Americans must choose between them.
Romney might have a chance of unseating the incumbent
President, except for one problem – his party includes other candidates such
as Missouri Senator “Legitimate Rape” Akin and Indiana Congressman Mourdock,
who thinks if a woman becomes pregnant due to rape, it’s “What God
I predict that Mitt Romney is about to learn the truth of
the old axiom, “If you lay down with dogs, you will get fleas.” The
Republican Party seems Hell-bent on becoming the party of rich old white
men. That might give them a big edge in campaign fundraising, but when it
comes to numbers, women rule.
GOP-dominated legislatures in many states, including Tennessee,
have tried to level the playing field with all of these voter ID laws,
passed supposedly to prevent voter fraud. These laws are guaranteed to
prevent two or three illegal aliens or perhaps a convicted felon here and
there from casting ballots.
do that, along with millions of poor people and minorities without driver’s
licenses or birth certificates (who tend to vote Democratic), some young
people who have yet to obtain driver’s licenses and also tend to vote
Democratic and elderly folks without photo IDs who may be holdover Roosevelt
Democrats. Here in East
Tennessee, I predict the GOP
strategy will backfire. Most elderly
tend to vote Republican.
the City of Memphis
has thrown a monkey wrench in the legislature’s works by challenging the law
in court. Memphis
won a ruling that City of
library cards can qualify as appropriate IDs despite the fact that the law
requires a “state-issued” ID. The court ruled that in the
city government is merely an extension of state government and city-issued
IDs are legitimate for voting purposes.
leads one to suspect that county-issued IDs are also legitimate, and we can
expect more legal appeals as time goes on. Eventually a re-elected President
Barack Obama will get to appoint one more justice to the Supreme Court of
the United States.
That Court will then rule all voter ID laws unconstitutional infringements
on the right to vote and put an end to the madness, at least until the next
Meanwhile, the big winner this election cycle appears to
be Mother Nature, which has delivered another of her numerous messages on
the subject of “Climate Change – the one change you CAN believe in.”
But we already know that climate change is so much
baloney made up by Godless tree-huggers and leftist politicians, don’t we?
There ain’t no such animal. It’s all just part of the natural cycle of
things and just like women who won’t get pregnant when they are raped, it’s
all as God intended it.
on the downside of 65. I don’t have to concern myself with the fact that by
will be a dust bowl, hurricanes will routinely slam into
New York City
and half of
will be under water.
to you 20-somethings out there is to sell your
brownstone, buy some cheap swampland in central Georgia
and wait for it to become sea front property. Oh, and sell
Texas back to
now, while we can still get something for it.
3:00 PM ON 10/30/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 10/22/2012)
Jellico could have
tourism angle, only ‘ghost town’ in eastern
The big news
in these here parts this week was that the City of
Jellico failed to make
payroll last week when management decided to pay a $16,000 insurance premium
that was due, rather than delaying payment in order to make the $10,000-plus
payroll for city employees.
Mayor Les Stiers called it “a bill-paying error,” but how
can you possibly call it an error to pay your debts when they are due? The
only error I see is that Jellico has no fund balance to draw upon when
things get tight. With that sort of situation, you can expect more of the
same in the immediate future.
The mayor and city council are moving to come up with
some additional revenue, jacking up garbage collection fees and looking to
sell some city-owned land. That might resolve the immediate crisis, but it
looks like Jellico is suffering the same fate as many other small towns
around the state and nation in this recession.
The straw that broke the
camel’s back for Jellico was probably the bursting of the
bubble. If it had succeeded, that high-end real estate development would
have brought a big boost to the town’s tax base. Instead, it is just so much
unoccupied mountain land, most of which has already been sold at the
county’s delinquent tax sales for a fraction of the appraised value.
Jellico isn’t the only berg
that is suffering in the current economy. LaFollette isn’t exactly the
picture of a thriving metropolis either, while
can barely afford to keep cops on the street and its water system is
springing leaks at an alarming, and costly, rate.
Sad fact is, if Jellico and
were towns out in the Arizona
desert, the only inhabitants would be rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters lurking
among weather-beaten abandoned buildings. The word for that is “ghost town,”
which is what happens in barely-habitable regions when the mines in a mining
boom town play out. The population packs it in and heads for a friendlier
We already live in a friendly climate, so folks hang on,
even after the economic engine that powered the town has run out of gas.
Coal mining boom towns don’t disappear overnight like they do out west. They
just shrivel up and die a slow death.
The answer to this inevitable decline is not easy. It
takes leadership that can recognize changes and adapt to them. It takes both
business and political leaders who will sit down and work together to
utilize a community’s strengths and address its weaknesses. Oh, and it takes
a touch of good luck.
Jellico and Lake
already had their share of good luck back in the 1960s. It’s called
Interstate 75 and if Uncle Sam had decided to build that highway 30 miles
west of its current route, both towns would by now be wide spots in a
seldom-used secondary road.
But I-75 in a sense was also a curse for both towns. It
made it too easy for city leaders to sit back and expect retail trade from
the interstate to solve all their financial challenges. Downtown is decaying
and stores are boarded up? Bound to happen, the town is just moving out to
the interstate exit. No need to plan.
Too many communities also cling too long to a past that
isn’t going to return. King Coal is dead. Even if somehow a new technology
made it possible to develop Tennessee’s modest remaining reserves of mostly
high-sulfur coal, it would not be in the same way as in the past. Mining
jobs would be few and far between.
The healthiest communities are those with diversified
economies based on a balance of industry, retail trade, transportation,
services and tourism It’s easier when a community finds that balance from
the beginning and much more difficult when a community must reinvent itself,
but not impossible.
It does take unity, determination and the setting aside
of petty political feuding. Unfortunately, the only commodity that most
small towns have in abundance is petty politics that divides rather than
Getting Jellico’s politicians to work together? Might be
easier to just become a ghost town, at least that would attract tourists.
Speaking of dividing, the presidential race is coming
down to a climax as early voting has begun. After two presidential debates
and countless hours of political advertisement, it looks to me as if we can
predict a winner: Big Bird.
Yes folks, the latest news is that following Mitt
Romney’s statement that if elected, he will cut funding for public
television, Big Bird Halloween costumes are flying off the shelves at
astounding rates. It is practically impossible to find a costume of the
popular Sesame Street character anywhere across the country and
manufacturers are pushing production to take advantage of this unprecedented
demand before its too late.
In a totally unscientific poll that I conducted this week
with parents waiting in line to pick up kids at Valley View Elementary
School and among old timers at both the Hardee’s Breakfast Club and liar’s
bench outside Scottie’s, the results are clear.
If the election were held this week, Mitt Romney would
receive 23 percent of the vote, Barack Obama 16 percent and Big Bird 58
percent. The remaining three percent were unaware that there is an election
Meanwhile, leave it to irreverent TV political pundit
Stephen Colbert to coin the quote of the week. Colbert, commenting on the
revelation that Congressman Scott DesJarlais, formerly representing Campbell
County, had urged a mistress to get an abortion while touting his
anti-abortion family values, had this to say about DesJarlais:
“He is still adamantly against abortion, except when it
endangers the political life of the father.”(UPDATED AT
2:00 PM ON 10/19/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 10/15/2012)
County commission not the only thing going to the dogs this week
years ago, before
had built the Adrion Baird Animal Shelter, I ruffled some feathers when I
criticized the operations at the shelter operated by the City of
referring to it as “Fluffy-Belsen.”
The comparison to the notorious Nazi World War II death
camp was accurate, considering many animals were being put down as soon as
they were brought in by the animal control officers, without waiting to see
if owners might come searching for missing pets.
There were even reports of animals being dispatched not
with chemical injections but bullets, and unceremoniously dumped in nearby
That sort of thing was supposed to end with the
establishment of a county animal control program and modern shelter. Late
commissioner Adrion Baird, whose name is honored by the shelter, was one of
many Campbell Countians who worked to see an effective control program that
would deal with stray animals in a humane manner and encourage adoption and
an effective spay & neutering program.
Complaints from a newly-formed group called “Friends of
Campbell County Animals” reveal that the county is a long way from realizing
those goals, with 80 percent of the animals brought into the shelter being
killed, many as soon as the mandatory three-day waiting period expires.
Bad blood exists between shelter personnel and animal
lovers who would volunteer their time and even money to encourage more
adoptions and fewer kills, to the point where the Friends group is turning
to the county commission and news media to make changes.
After listening to the complaints and suggestions for
change that “Friends” spokesperson Michelle Davis laid out to commissioners
Monday night, I think I can put my finger on much of the problem – money.
The vision of the early supporters of the animal shelter
included a countywide pet registration program that would help fund the
animal control program as well as provide owner identification of animals
and a low-cost optional spaying & neutering program.
balked at being forced to register their dogs and cats and that idea was
quietly abandoned by the squires in office at that time, ever eager to
silence any squeaky wheels among taxpayers and voters.
What I see now is an animal control program that is more
about money than it is about animals. The Friends group complains that the
shelter charges $95 to anyone wishing to adopt a pet, to cover a $15
adoption fee and the balance for spaying and neutering, and that is much
higher than what veterinary clinics charge for the same service. Money.
They also protest that the
County shelter is
selling the remains of dead cats to an outfit called Boyd Kennedy
Enterprises, where they eventually end up in biology labs at colleges and
high schools for dissection classes. The incentive here seems to favor
executing Fluffy rather than adopting her out. Again, money.
complaint? While we cannot afford to keep Campbell
animals much beyond the three-day minimum before putting them down, the
animals, I assume for a fee. Money?
So what is the answer to this problem? It would seem to
be more funding from the county, either from a registration fee or
taxpayers’ dollars, in order to take money pressures off the shelter’s
operations. Ain’t gonna happen, pilgrims.
But some things can be done to improve the situation.
Mayor William Baird has made some tentative steps toward improving the
adoption rate, agreeing to utilize social media sites to showcase adoptable
animals and looking into Channel 12’s “Green Screen” as a possible way to
expose cute puppy and kitten pictures to the public.
Finding a way to resolve the bad blood between the animal
lovers in the Friends group and the shelter personnel would be a logical
next step. Potential volunteers need to understand the pressures on shelter
personnel to keep the population of animals at manageable levels. That may
mean putting down dogs and cats after a few days rather than having all
animals surviving for longer periods, but living in overpopulated and
At the same time, the
shelter’s paid staff needs to take advantage of, and welcome, volunteer
help. If they get a little edgy over volunteers wanting to save every animal
they can, the shelter employees might do well to remember who is responsible
for their jobs in the first place. Without the pressure from animal lovers,
there would be no Campbell
shelter and law enforcement officers would still be resolving stray dog
problems with a bullet and a shovel.
isn’t the only place that seems to have gone to the dogs lately. The
campaign between Campbell
congressman, Scott DesJarlais, and Democratic challenger Eric Stewart is
declining into another smear campaign similar to the one that resulted in
DesJarlais upsetting Lincoln Davis in the last election.
Now it has come to light that DesJarlais, while promoting
himself as a pro-life, pro-family conservative, encouraged a mistress during
one of his numerous extramarital affairs to seek an abortion.
I can respect the opinions of both those who support a
woman’s right to choose and those who feel that abortions are wrong. There
appears to be little middle ground and room for compromise in this debate,
but at least proponents on both sides are sincere in their beliefs.
I cannot abide a hypocrite, and DesJarlais is a hypocrite
with a capital H. His opponent, alas, is little better, condemning
DesJarlais while his own record on abortion votes in the legislature is
spotty at best. Voters would probably do well to elect “None of the Above”
to that congressional seat.
County, most of the
county was moved into Chuck
congressional district after the recent census and no longer has to rely on
Congressman DesJarlais, who couldn’t find Jacksboro if he had a GPS attached
to his rump.
Our choice in the upcoming congressional election rests
between an unabashed liberal, Dr. Mary Hedrick, and a rock hard conservative
in Fleischman. Whichever way you lean, you can at least know that both
candidates are being honest about their positions and not pandering for
votes by saying whatever they think we want to hear.
White Oak and environs were moved into Congressman Jimmy Duncan’s district.
Jimmy is arguably the most conservative Tennessean in Congress, but he’s no
was the only Republican to oppose President George W. Bush’s invasion of
arguing it would be too costly and there was no clear evidence that
supported Al Qaida terrorists or had weapons of mass destruction. History
has proven him right on both counts.
unlike many of his Republican colleagues who are pandering to the TEA Party
crowd, was a rock hard conservative even back when conservative wasn’t cool.
Agree with him or not, you’ve got to respect him for being consistent in his
athletic department nearly went to the dogs last week as well, when a
lawsuit filed by former Lady Vols associate athletic director Debby Jennings
included an affidavit from legendary Coach Pat Summit stating that Athletic
Director Dave Hart told Summit
she would no longer be coaching the Lady Vols after last season.
Before more damage could be done to UT’s reputation, Pat
Summit released a statement saying she was not forced to resign and it’s all
a big misunderstanding. Maybe, or maybe Pat is falling on her sword for the
good of the university and longtime assistant Holy Warlick.
It was painfully clear to all of us Lady Vol fans last
year that there were times when Pat wasn’t fully into the games, that her
Alzheimers was taking a toll and Warlick was really in charge of the
being said, Pat Summit is the reason that Tennessee
women’s basketball is where it is, the dominant power in the sport over the
past three decades, with Summit
being universally recognized as having done more for the sport of women’s
basketball than anyone in the country, period.
and all Lady Vol fans, owe it to Pat Summit to have allowed her to make the
call when it was time to step down. If she insisted on coaching another year
or even longer, UT should have honored her wish, even if she had to be led
to courtside by a nurse or carried in a hospital bed.
If, as Jennings alleges, Hart did in fact tell Pat Summit
that her physical condition was too serious for her to continue as head
coach and that she must step down, I’ve got only one thing to say: “Dave,
you know how to find the highway back to Alabama and if not, there are a lot
of fans willing to show you the way.”
6:00 AM ON 10/12/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 10/08/2012)
John Belushi wasn’t dead, just moved to UT’s fraternity row
Confession time. I stayed home Monday morning and watched
the special Today Show college broadcast from UT. I could point out that I’m
nursing a bad cold, had plenty of paperwork to do here at the house and
decided to stay out of the chilly rain, but I would be lying through my
I do have plenty of work to keep me right here at my
computer, and am still nursing the final stages of a roaring head cold, but
I couldn’t resist watching the Hoda and Kathie Lee Big Orange scream fest
from UT’s “Hill.”
I really, really hoped that somehow, the disgraced frat
boys from Pi Kappa Alpha would pull a true “Animal House” moment and try to
sabotage the television program in revenge for losing their charter. That
would be worth watching – a John Belushi “Bluto” look-alike springing from
the shadows dressed in pirate garb to kidnap Kathie Lee in mid-sip.
Didn’t happen. Not only did the Pikes keep a low profile
but Kathie Lee isn’t nearly as big a lush as she is portrayed on Saturday
Night Live, and not half as entertaining.
be thankful that it was the Today Show on campus and not Jimmy Fallon or Jay
Leno. The university and
East Tennessee would have not
gotten off so easily, I fear, if one of those comedians had been
broadcasting live from Big Orange Country a week after the Pi Kappa Alpha
fraternity reached all new lows of depraved fraternity behavior.
Depraved might be putting it mildly. I have heard of just
about every wacky way that human beings have invented to get high, but
ingesting alcohol through the rectum to get higher faster might be hitting
an all new low for alcohol abuse. It certainly wins high marks for
stupidity. The kidneys are there for a reason, you know, to keep drunks from
poisoning themselves among other things.
The one frat brother who ended up in the hospital and had
his stupidity immortalized thanks to social media is actually quite
fortunate that the jokes about him are not post mortem.
When I first read about the fraternity’s “butt chugging”
party, however, my reaction was “Pi Kappa Alpha? Of course, who else?”
comparisons to the “Animal House” movie are most appropriate in the case of
the Pikes, who had a reputation as the party house as far back as my college
days in the 19th
Century. Well, maybe not that far back. I entered UT as a freshman in 1965,
and Pi Kappa Alpha was “the” fraternity to pledge if you wanted to be cool
and party on, dude.
Being neither cool nor
independently wealthy, I chose not to pledge a fraternity at all, but many
of my dormitory mates went through rush week, became pledges and endured the
ruthless hazing that was part of fraternity life in those days. A couple of
my fellow Lake
City mates even
pledged Pi Kappa Alpha, so I heard about many of their shenanigans
In those days, UT’s neat fraternity park had yet to be
constructed. Fraternity row was basically a collection of former private
homes in a two-block area adjacent to Hess and Melrose Halls. Directly
across the street from my dorm sat the Sigma Nu House.
Sigma Nu was considered the nerd fraternity on campus.
Most frats bred future lawyers, businessmen and politicians. Sigma Nu bred
shy bespeckled guys with slide rules hanging from their belts, the type that
would eventually put man on the moon and invent the Internet. Think George
W. Bush or Donald Trump versus Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.
All of the other frats looked upon anyone belonging to
Sigma Nu with disgust and loathing, while the Pikes reserved a special level
of hatred for the nerds. One early morning, somebody knocked on the front
door of the Sigma Nu house. When a sleepy Nubian opened the door, the nozzle
of a fire hose was thrust into the house and the water turned on full force
from the nearby hydrant.
The masked “firemen” kept the hose trained until
furniture, fraternity brothers, stereo systems and wine decanters were all
washing out the back door. Sigma Nu, in effect, was cleansed of its sin,
which was being un-cool. The university investigated, of course, but found
no definite evidence of those responsible and chalked it off as “a
Everybody knew the Pikes were the culprits. They were the
only fraternity well connected enough to get access to a fire department
hose and hydrant and crazy enough to use them. Years later, individual Pike
members would eventually confess to the deed after safely graduating to the
esteemed position of “alumni with bank accounts.”
university might have shrugged off the cleansing of Sigma Nu as a prank, but
the National Park Service took a less forgiving stance when one of their
Civil War cannons went missing from Georgia’s
Chickamauga National Battlefield. I seem to recall that the Pikes ended up
on probation over that little incident.
As the ‘60s moved on into the early ‘70s, fraternities
became less dominant in campus social life. During the pot-fueled Hippie
era, fraternities in general became “un-cool” remnants of an earlier age.
They survived, however, and eventually became cool again. Unfortunately,
judging from recent events they don’t seem to have matured much.
While UT fraternities go out of their way to join wacko
politician Stacy Campfield in making our area a national laughing stock,
Kathy Lee and Hoda should have taken their road show north to Caryville this
the Louie Bluie Festival, the Today Show could have received a better lesson
in what makes East
Tennessee so special, from mountain
scenery to great music to arts, crafts, elk, wild turkeys and rainbow trout.
You name it, you could hear it, learn about it or buy it at
State Park on
And for the first time in a couple of years, the weather
cooperated fully. Two years ago the festival was held in June and we learned
the hard way that summer’s 90-dregree heat is coming around earlier these
days. Last year it was held in October and we learned that winter’s chilly
weather is coming earlier as well. Late September, however, turned out to be
almost perfect, a little cloudy early with a slight chance of rain that
stayed away and temperatures that were just right
I volunteered for an early shift and hung around to hear
some music until the cold bug wore me down. By early afternoon the three
performance tents were packed, eateries and craft booths were swamped and
vehicles were stacked up in every available space. Attendance appeared
headed for five figures before the day’s end.
members of the county commission have been talking about how
needs a “fall festival” like many other communities in
My first thought when I heard this was, “Don’t we already have one?”
After this past Saturday I can
only repeat that question. Why would we want to organize a fall festival to
compete with our own fall festival? Louie Bluie is the real McCoy,
folks. We’re not likely to create anything that can top it for
participation, support, or publicity. Let’s work harder to make it even
better, if that’s possible, instead of seeking to divert support from
something that clearly works well.
6:00 AM ON 10/02/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 09/24/2012)
Time honored tradition - making mole hills from which to build
Campbell County’s commissioners, having no weighty,
history-making decisions to make, on Monday night did what they have done
best over the past thirty years or so and constructed mole hills so they can
proceed to make mountains of them.
One good example was a budget amendment to make possible
the purchase of a couple of new garbage trucks and some containers for the
Since the squires chose to hold the line on a tax
increase and additional spending this year, they face the challenge of
keeping the ship of government from sinking when it springs a few leaks here
and there. One leak appears to be a couple of the trucks used to pick up
garbage from the county’s convenience centers for transfer to larger tucks
bound for the landfill at Chestnut Ridge.
One of those trucks, Sanitation Supervisor Don Boshears
told squires, is in such poor shape that they restrict it to runs close to
the garage so the mechanics won’t have so far to go to patch it up during
the frequent break-downs.
At a budget committee session, squires nixed one proposal
to buy replacement trucks on credit and save money to pay the bonds off by
closing convenience centers on Saturdays. Finance Director Moneybags Marlow
then worked up an alternate plan, to pay off the notes by using the money
each year normally reserved for capital projects in the sanitation budget.
Squires were uncomfortable with that plan as well,
worried that there would be no money left when a capital expense, such as a
new garbage truck, needs to be funded in the future.
So let me see if I’ve got this straight: the county
shouldn’t use the capital outlay funds to pay for garbage trucks because we
might need that money later, to pay for garbage trucks. Ohhkay.
Predictably, what the commissioners could agree on was a
field trip, as the environmental committee and other interested parties plan
to go out and inspect the questionable trucks and see for themselves if they
are in as bad a condition as Don claims they are.
We’ll see if school teachers, clerical workers and
businessmen can see something that the mechanics have missed, I suppose. Or
maybe it’s just a good excuse for postponing the inevitable in hopes that
something good will happen, such as one of the trucks being swallowed by a
sinkhole so the insurance will pay for a replacement.
Another more or less routine piece of business stirred up
a minor fluff when Mayor William Baird presented his list of committee
assignments for the commission. It was pretty much a carbon copy of last
year’s list, with the addition here and there of newcomer Wendell Bailey and
deletion of retired commissioner Melvin Boshears.
Thomas Hatmaker, the commission’s perennial squeaky
wheel, was unhappy with the list and asked to be added to both the emergency
management and environmental committees, claiming, “I always attend their
meetings and give input anyway, but don’t have a vote.”
The committees that have oversight over the ambulance
service and the sanitation department? I can’t imagine why Mayor
William would leave Thomas off those two committees.
The mayor refused to add Thomas’s name before the
commission voted to approve all assignments, but Thomas simply offered a
motion after the list was approved to add his name. Everybody except the two
squires from Jellico – J. L. Davis and Alvin Evans – voted “yes.” Translate
that vote as “I wish I could get out of all these danged committee meetings
and here this fool wants more of ‘em. More power to him.”
So every committee now has five members except the
aforementioned emergency management and environmental services, which have
six, while Thomas Hatmaker now sits on six committees, which is more in line
with the average. Five other squires sit on six committees, including
newcomer Bailey. A couple, David Adkins and Bob Walden, are on seven, while
most of the others are assigned to five.
These numbers don’t include the Budget & Finance
Committee, which by statute includes every member of the commission.
If one considers having to attend committee meetings as a
good thing, I suppose an argument could be made that the Mayor had
short-changed Squire Hatmaker, placing him on only four committees, a couple
of which meet only once in a blue moon.
A stronger argument could be made that the Mayor’s
selections exhibit a bit of good ol’ boy sexism. Marie Ayers and Beverly
Hall were the only squires to be assigned to only three committees. Marie is
chairwoman of the Budget & Finance Committee, but every commissioner sits on
that committee automatically, and the commissioners, not the mayor, selected
Marie to be the chair. Sue Nance was named to five committees, the low end
of the average.
So the big debate at this month’s commission meeting
involved assignment to jobs that most everyone tries to figure a way out of.
As I said earlier, mole hills, of which mountains are made.
national scene, the big news, now that the protesters in the
have exhausted themselves and wandered back home, is Mitt Romney’s gaffs at
a Republican fundraiser.
In case you’ve been vacationing at the International
Space Station and missed it, Mitt told GOP contributors at a presumably
private affair earlier this year that he didn’t concern himself with the 47
percent of Americans who don’t pay taxes, consider themselves to be victims
on the government dole and will vote for Obama anyway.
One would imagine that all the retired Republicans on
social security are not amused, but I doubt that the statement will change
many minds. Republicans are going to vote for a Republican and Democrats are
going to vote for a Democrat, regardless of how poor the candidate.
Most young people and
minorities are going to vote for Obama, regardless of how high the
unemployment rate is on Election Day. Racists will vote against Obama, even
if unemployment hits an all-time low and Al Qaeda announces that it is
defeated and throwing in the towel the week before the election. That leaves
us Whigs to decide the outcome.
4:00 PM ON 09/28/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 09/17/2012)
School board hears a clucking sound? Chickens are coming home to
country, and the news media, has been riveted this week to what’s going on
in the Middle East,
where another wave of anti-American violence has turned ugly and fatal.
There still seems to be some question as to whether the deadly attack in
was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim film or was a carefully planned
act of terrorism set on the anniversary of 911.
The film, a low budget attack on the Prophet Mohammed and
the Islamic religion, appears to have been produced by a shady character of
Egyptian ancestry who is a follower of the Coptic Christian religion. He and
his supporters apparently wanted to reach a large segment of the Muslim
world by putting out an inflammatory trailer over the Internet.
worked. Muslims in over a half dozen countries have taken to the streets,
shouting their “Death to America”
chants, storming embassies and burning flags. Here at home, American leaders
paused to mourn the loss of life at our consulate in
then were back to sniping at each other in typical pre-election fashion.
Politicians simply can’t help themselves, but continue to
be politicians under any and all circumstances. Forget seeking any real
solutions to the problem. It is more important to put the right spin on
things and go after those undecided voters.
sobering fact is that it does not take much to encourage crowds to storm the
streets in the Muslim world chanting “Death to America.”
A negative film, a
Florida preacher announcing he will
burn the Koran, any accidental slight of their religion by our soldiers in
and thousands will protest and some will die.
have to recognize that we are not liked in the Muslim world, period. Even
our supposed allies, such as the president of Afghanistan
and the governments of Iraq,
don’t like us very much. They put up with us because we pump billions of
dollars in military aid into their countries or in the case of President
if we leave the Taliban come back and shoot him.
as we continue to be a staunch ally of Israel,
many Muslims around the world are not going to like us very much, it’s as
simple as that.
longest time, through the 1950s into the ‘70s. we could hang back, provide
the bombs and bullets and let the Israelis do the fighting. We guaranteed a
steady supply of Middle Eastern oil just by supporting a few selected
despots such as the royal family of Saudi Arabia
or the Shah of Iran.
increase of international terrorism beginning in the 1970s has changed all
that, forcing the United States
to send our troops to the region. First it was
with tragic consequences, then
Wherever we send our soldiers, we end up making more enemies than friends
and resolving very little.
right in his decision to pull our soldiers out of
If he has made a mistake,, it is probably in hanging around those
God-forsaken places too long.
probably end a lot of the anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world by
taking a hard line with Israel.
Tell the Israeli government, “Pull all Jewish settlements out of the West
Bank, grant the Palestinians complete independence over their own affairs,
allow Jerusalem to become an international city, serving as capital of both
Israel and Palestine or we will stop all military aid.”
do that, of course, and it probably wouldn’t work anyway. The Israelis would
simply say, “OK. We’ve already got the bomb. If the
ceases to help us, we’ll just nuke our neighbors if they attack us again.”
probably still a few isolationists in America
who would say, “Tap all possible energy reserves to end our dependence on
Middle Eastern oil and tell ‘em all to go the Hell.”
We won’t do that either. Too many oil sheiks have bought
too many shares of stock in American companies and our own economy depends
too much on how well European and Asian economies are doing, economies
dependent upon Middle Eastern oil.
The sad fact is, in this increasingly complex and
economically interwoven world, there are no easy answers. The “Arab Spring”
applauded by so many around the world as a sign of hope that Middle Eastern
countries would replace authoritarian dictators with western-style
democracies has an ugly downside – weak governments increasingly at the
mercy of mobs in the streets.
In my view, the most sobering thing about the current
violence is that it took so little to set it off. Perhaps the producer of
that controversial film really is a Coptic Christian who hates Muslims, but
he could just as easily be an agent of Al Qaeda who hates Americans.
terrorist enemies want to stir up massive anti-American sentiment around the
Muslim world, it is far too easy to do. A low budget film lampooning the
Muslim religion traced to the United States
and voila! Instant riots in a dozen countries! Much easier, and cheaper,
than plotting a terrorist attack on an American city.
One thing we can all do is show a little more tolerance
right here at home. There is entirely too much anti-Muslim sentiment in this
country, against American Muslims who have nothing to do with the violence
in foreign lands. Hatred only begets more hatred.
Here on the home front,
are small in comparison. The squires are wrestling with how to keep the
garbage moving, now that they have passed a budget with no money to replace
a couple of aging trucks. One wag suggested killing two birds with one stone
by simply using the garbage to fill in the potholes on decaying county
The school board, meanwhile, left a room filled with
citizens waiting around Tuesday night for 45 minutes while they held a “five
minute” private executive session with attorney Dail Cantrell at the
beginning of the meeting. Wouldn’t be so bad, but this is the second
consecutive month that this has happened.
I suggested to new board chairman Josh Parker that
perhaps the attorney wouldn’t mind waiting until the board had concluded its
other business before having his executive session. He is, after all, paid
to attend the meetings while members of the public certainly have better
things to do than admire the paint job in the courtroom.
I pointed out a couple of weeks back that citizens
attending school board meetings or watching the telecast probably don’t get
much enlightenment anyway, as much of their business appears to be hashed
out at committee meetings and simply rubber stamped on a consent agenda
without discussion at meetings.
Anyone wishing to see a list of those “consent” items
could always ask for a copy of the agenda, of course. But now the board has
decided to go paperless and a printed copy of the agenda is no longer
available to the public. We members of the media can always ask to have the
documents emailed to us before meetings but that doesn’t help the general
The Campbell County Board of Education, alas, has long
had a culture of sharing as little as possible with the public. Over a
decade ago, I once wandered into a Jellico restaurant for a bite of lunch to
discover nearly the entire school board holding an unannounced meeting. They
all got up and left as soon as I walked into the room.
Those people are long departed and the current board has
simply inherited that culture, but they continue to violate the spirit, if
not the letter, of the state’s open meetings law. One of the items on the
board’s not-so-public agenda Tuesday night was to eliminate their standing
Not only was too much public business being conducted in
non-public settings, but it appears that the board’s own policies restrict
committees to specific purposes and don’t allow permanent standing
My deep throat contacts within the school department tell
me that some unfortunate comments uttered by a board member about a school
employee at one of the aforementioned committee meetings has resulted in a
formal complaint. A hearing officer may take none too kindly to the fact
that the meeting was illegal to begin with.
Although Tuesday night’s
executive session was held in private, I thought I heard clucking sounds
coming out of the room at one point. Obviously the chickens have come home
6:00 AM ON 09/19/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 09/10/2012)
a Whig in the White House
The donkeys finished their coronation
Thursday night, with President Barack accepting the party’s nomination. I am
still hoping to live long enough to see an incumbent President show up at
the convention and announce, “After giving it considerable thought, I’ve
decided that things are too bad and the thankless American people just want
somebody to blame it on, so I’m out of here. Ya’ll nominate the vice
president or some governor or the washroom attendant, I don’t care.”
Lyndon B. Johnson is the only Prez in my lifetime to
announce he wouldn’t run for re-election, but LBJ ruined all the fun by
bowing out on television early in the primary season. Would have been so
much more entertaining if he had strung the public and the news media along
until the convention, then landed a bombshell.
Ah well, one can always hope. At the same time, I’m just
about sick to death of all politicians of either stripe. Friday the dreaded
jobs report came out. The economy only added around 85,000 new jobs in
August, far short of the 200,000 needed to lower the unemployment rate,
which remains above eight percent.
What did Romney and his Republican supporters do? They
were predictably overjoyed because now Romney can keep hammering away at
Obama and the Democrats on the sour economy.
I’m sorry folks, but why should we trust somebody as our
leader who is happy that millions of Americans are out of work?
Not that the Democrats are any better. Bill Clinton
unseated President Bush the elder back in 1992 with his slogan “It’s the
Fact is, whichever party is out of power sits around
cheering for the country to go to Hell so they can get back into power. What
was it Kentucky Senator and Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell said
four years ago? “Our number one priority is to see that Barack Obama is not
O.K. Mitch, so your number one priority was to see Obama
fail, which since he is President, means your number one priority was to see
the country fail. The Pachyderms almost pulled it off, too. They refused to
raise the debt limit, taking our nation to the edge of fiscal default,
unless the Democrats agreed to a bipartisan commission to draw up a plan for
lowering the deficit. Then they refused to go along with the commission’s
recommendations because they included higher taxes on the wealthy.
That means we’re pretty much back where we started,
facing another fiscal cliff early next year because the debt limit was not
raised significantly enough to take us forward more than a year or so. And
we face all those mandatory budget reductions that go into effect because
the deficit commission report was rejected, reductions that will put
hundreds of thousands more Americans out of work.
simply have let the country default on its debts last year, I suppose. We
could all be treated to the spectacle of watching the Chinese dismantle the
and move it to Peiking while the Swiss bankers auction off Disney World and
the Grand Canyon.
Or . . . we could do what some politicians like John
McCain seem to think would be the answer to all our problems and start a
couple more wars. At least the people who work for the companies making
bombs and body bags would still have jobs.
forgot. Taxpayers have to pay for those wars. That’s one of the reasons
we’re in the deficit mess we’re in to begin with. Eleven years of continuous
war in Iraq
I honestly don’t believe that any politicians have an
answer for what ails us, because what ails us is politicians, whether donkey
or pachyderm. Nobody believes in the art of compromise these days; it’s all
“my way or the highway.”
The TEA Party crowd feels taxed enough already and wants
government off their backs. But they do want good roads to drive their
pick-ups on, a billion-dollar border fence to keep all the wetbacks out and
a few more billion dollars spent on prisons and more cops to keep those
unruly radical poor in check.
The liberals don’t know what they want and the
Republicans just want to be back in power. Oh, and maybe a few more tax
breaks for millionaires so they can become billionaires a little quicker.
May I once more suggest an alternative? The Whig Party
appears to be our only hope. First of all, Whig politicians have not become
corrupt, because there are no Whig politicians. Secondly, you can’t blame
any of our current problems on the Whigs because the party disintegrated
after the election of 1860.
Third, and most importantly, the Whigs were the very
definition of the word “compromise,” something Washington is in dire need of
these days. Henry Clay of Kentucky was the great Whig icon, along with
Daniel Webster, and together they crafted several compromises that kept the
country from falling apart over slavery. Clay is known to history as the
Actually, their tendency to compromise had much to do
with the demise of the Whig Party, that and the fact that the anti-slavery
abolitionists in the North and the slave-holding gentry who controlled the
South were much like the conservatives and liberals of today – “my way or
the highway,” or in their case “my way or civil war.”
The last Whig President, Millard Fillmore, put the power
of the White House behind what became known as the “Compromise of 1850,”
securing peace between North and South for a few more years until ol’ Honest
Abe was elected.
That compromise, like many, satisfied no one completely
but it did avoid war for a time. Poor Millard outraged the Southern
Democrats, who wanted to be able to take their slaves with them when they
immigrated to California, and he outraged the Northern Whigs, who wanted to
draw a line at the Texas-Louisiana border and allow no slavery in the
Alas, the Whig Party power brokers refused to nominate
their own President for re-election and Millard Fillmore retreated to the
obscurity of retirement. Well, almost. He came out of retirement four years
later as a candidate for President under the banner of the “Know Nothing
Party.” They knew one thing – they couldn’t elect Millard to the White
The Whig Party enjoyed a brief, but obscure role in
American history. The first Whig President, William Henry Harrison, holds
the record for the shortest tenure in the White House. William Henry caught
a cold at his inauguration on a blustery early spring day and three weeks
later died of pneumonia.
Vice President John Tyler, known thereafter as “His
Accidentcy,” was the first Vice President to assume the mantle of power
through the death of a President. His stay in the White House was likewise
brief, as the Whigs expelled him from the party before his term in office
The last elected Whig President was General Zachary
Taylor, the Mexican War hero. “Old Rough and Ready” might have done great
things, but nobody will ever know. Taylor became ill and died a year into
his first term in the White House, leaving the thorny job of crafting a
compromise that would save the Union to his Vice President, the
aforementioned Millard Fillmore.
Why should this history lesson be of interest to us here
in Campbell County? Well, for one thing, East Tennessee Republicans aren’t
really Republicans at all, but Whigs. When Abraham Lincoln defeated Democrat
Stephen Douglas and Southern Democrat John Breckinridge for the White House
in 1860, East Tennessee overwhelmingly supported John Bell, the last Whig to
run for President.
Since the Whig Party vanished after the Civil War, East
Tennessee Whigs had no choice but to throw their support behind the party of
Lincoln, rather than the Southern Democrats dominated by that bunch of
ex-Confederates over in West Tennessee.
If you doubt my word, just look at some of our East
Tennessee Republican leaders. Lamar Alexander? A Republican who supports
environmental causes, wants to restrict mountaintop strip mining and is big
on spending money for education, not mainstream conservative stances at all.
Governor Bill Haslim? He has outraged some conservative
Republicans in Middle Tennessee by leaving gays and (gasp!) Democrats in a
number of state jobs and appointing a Muslim woman to a position in the
Department of Economic Development. The fact that she is a Tennessee-born
Muslim woman seems to have made little difference to the pachyderms calling
for Bill’s scalp.
Shucks, Bill even appointed Madeline Rogero, his former
Democratic opponent, to a job in his administration when he was Mayor of
Knoxville, helping Madeline secure the Mayor’s office for herself a few
Knoxville Congressman John Duncan, who is generally the
very definition of “conservative,” outraged many Republicans and President
Bush the younger by refusing to go along with the war in Iraq, saying it was
a tremendous waste of money.
Right here closer to home, State Senator Mike Williams of
Maynardville, who once represented Campbell County, outraged the new
majority State Senate Republicans from Middle and West Tennessee by
compromising to support Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, a Democrat, when
the Republicans tried to oust him.
For this betrayal of the GOP, Williams was tossed from
the party. That was the only way the Republicans could get rid of him, since
his home district voters liked the way he did things and would never have
voted against Williams in a Republican Primary.
The reason, my friends, that these East Tennessee
Republicans seem out of step with the state and national GOP is simple.
They’re not Republicans at all, but Whigs.
So my answer to the gridlock
in Washington is simple: revive the Whig Party and elect a Whig to the White
House. If we aren’t satisfied with the job they do, we won’t have to suffer
long. Whigs are notorious for being short-term Presidents.
6:00 PM ON 09/09/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 09/03/2012)
A country where it’s easier to buy an automatic rifle than to cast a
The GOP convention successfully dodged Hurricane Issac
and Mitt Romney received his coronation with only minor hiccups here and
there, such as Clint Eastwood’s conversation with a chair and Vice President
wannabee Ryan’s little problem with accuracy.
But then, since when has any politician let a little
thing like accuracy or the facts stand in the way of a good speech?
Now it’s the donkeys’ turn to dominate prime time TV and
I’m sure Joe Biden is up to the challenge of making at least as big an a**
out of himself as anyone in the Republican Party.
Of course here on the home front, Republicans wishing to
make horse’s rumps out of themselves will have to get in line behind Stacy
Campfield. Stacy has managed to make quite a name for himself of late, even
being featured by a national magazine.
Tennesseans, of course, have for decades been featured in various national
publications. Howard Baker’s photographs made
Magazine and Tennessee Conservationist.
Al Gore has been featured in Nature,
Audubon and most
scientific journals. Pat Summit has more than once been a
Sports Illustrated cover
girl. Only Stacy Campfield, however, has managed to make it as a subject of
voters of opulent West
Knoxville should be proud. Having
everything that they can possibly want already, the only thing the residents
of Farragut and Bearden obviously want out of an elected representative is
entertainment value, so they keep re-electing Stacy.
Less entertaining are the myriad of voter ID laws that
have been passed around the country by Republican-controlled state
legislatures, including our own.
Now I have no problem with political parties pulling
every hat trick they can in their quest for power. Re-districting voting
blocks to favor the party in power is an old and time-honored practice on
both sides of the political aisle. Exaggerations, misconceptions and
outright lies by politicians are as American as apple pie.
I draw the line, however, with attempts to deny people
their right to vote. That is what the voter ID laws are all about, making it
prohibitively difficult for the poor, the elderly and minorities to cast
Voter fraud? Bull. You can count the number of instances
on one hand where Tennesseans tried to vote who are ineligible. Illegal
immigrants? They have no intention of attracting attention to themselves by
trying to vote illegally.
No, the majority of accusations of voter fraud that I can
recall don’t involve voters, but election officials, from the dimpled chat
uproar that gave George Bush the election in Florida, all the way back to
the missing ballot box that reappeared in time to give a young Lyndon B.
Johnson victory in his first Texas congressional election.
The Battle of Athens shortly
after World War II had nothing to do with ineligible voters attempting to
cast ballots, but a corrupt McMinn
sheriff who seized all the ballot boxes and locked them away in the
courthouse while his men changed enough paper ballots to give him the
Returning WW II veterans seized the National Guard armory, blasted the
crooked sheriff and his cronies out of the courthouse and didn’t stop
chasing him until he reached the Georgia
Fortunately, the federal courts will have the last word on most of these
recent voter ID laws. Two federal three-judge panels have already shot down
both the voter ID law and the congressional re-districting plan passed by
ruling that they discriminate against minorities and the poor.
will be next and then, perhaps
Republican politicians predictably are blaming the Obama administration for
federal rulings on the voter ID laws, but they overlook the fact that most
federal judges have lengthy terms on the bench. These judges were for the
most part appointed during the Bush administration. Their rulings have less
to do with politics and more to do with the Constitution.
I predict that most will either be struck down or states
will be forced to make photo IDs much more accessible and at no additional
cost in order to stand the constitutional smell test. As one political
cartoon I noticed said, “You have to wonder about a country where it’s
easier to get an automatic rifle than it is to cast a vote.”
While our erstwhile leaders seem intent on increasing
security of the ballot box, they can’t even insure the security of nuclear
weapons at Y-12.
I notice that while various government commissions have
criticized everything from upper level management to maintenance of security
cameras and alarms, the only person actually fired for the recent security
breach at Y-12 was the guard who finally did respond to alarms and catch the
His sin was apparently that he treated the Catholic nun
and two old men with kid gloves after he found out who they were, rather
than slamming them to the ground, pummeling them with his nightstick and
cuffing their unconscious bodies together. For that, the guard lost his job
while the higher ups just got transferred around to other positions.
The government appears poised to
throw the book at the three elderly peace protesters, but we might consider
giving them medals instead, for exposing the flaws in nuclear weapon
security before somebody named Osama tried the same trick.
(UPDATED AT 10:00 AM ON
09/03/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 08/27/2012)
GOP, like Veep Joe Biden, should stay out of storm’s path and not
Ho hum. The big commission brouhaha over the budget was a
non-starter Monday night, leaving all of us media types and other observers
with little in the way of entertainment value.
The squires managed to find another way to come up with
matching funds to earn the federal grant for an industrial park railroad
spur in Jellico, and passed the budget as advertised, without a tax
With no fireworks to report, our two county newspapers
turned to some investigative journalism for a change, both featuring
articles that I found both interesting and informative.
The Press carried a front page article on the county’s
tax equalization board, which rolled back the property tax appraisal on
Emerson Properties by enough to cost the county around 50 grand in potential
Emerson last year bought out much of what had been
Villages of Norris Lake, one of those optimistic high end developments that
took it on the chin when the real estate bubble burst in the past few years.
The new owners lost little time in appealing the appraisals placed on these
lakeside and lake view lots when the last state property reappraisal was
conducted, claiming that they were grossly over-valued.
The local board agreed, but may have gone overboard in
lowering values on some lots by nearly 90 percent. The board was also
inconsistent, in that another property owner with lots in the same
development had its appeal denied. Property Assessor Brandon Partin appears
to feel it was too much of a tax break, and says he plans to appeal the
decision to the state board of equalization.
is one of a unique handful of states in one respect. All states have some
vehicle for appealing your own property appraisal if you think it is
unfairly high. Tennessee
allows taxpayers who feel that another property owner is paying too little
to also appeal, something that is rarely done because hardly anyone knows
that the right exists.
organization, famous or infamous depending on one’s point of view for its
opposition to strip mining, actually got its start back in 1971 when a
handful of mountain residents in Campbell
and four other counties appealed the appraisals on coal lands owned by a
handful of big land companies.
They failed to budge the local boards of equalization,
but won big at the state level, resulting in coal lands being reappraised
across the state to reflect more accurately the true value of the mineral
wealth beneath the surface.
This took a great deal of courage by this handful of
people, many of them long gone. The land companies wielded tremendous power,
both at the courthouse but especially up in the mountain communities where
many people still lived in rented “company houses.”
Most property owners would never take advantage of this
right to appeal other people’s property appraisals. We are usually concerned
only with what we pay, not what our neighbor isn’t paying, but this appeal
process can have interesting results.
the early 1980s, I owned a small tract of mountain land near
amounting to less than ten acres on a flat natural bench of
My land was reappraised at around $600 an acre but I noticed that my
neighbor, Coal Creek Mining & Manufacturing Company, was appraised at $90 an
acre for identical road front land on the same flat bench. I appealed to the
“What do you think your land should be valued for?” the
state appraiser asked.
“Oh, I think $600 an acre is a fair amount, maybe even a
little low,” I replied. “But Coal Creek owns around 50 acres identical to
mine and they’re valued much too low. They should be raised up to at least
$300 or $400.”
The appraiser from the state was dumbfounded. Apparently
he had never had this happen before. “Uh, well, we appraise large tracts
differently than small tracts because not all the acreage is the same,” he
“Still, the land company could divide the road front
tract off and sell it for much more than $90 an acre,” I argued.
In the end, the appraisal team wasn’t about to increase
the land company’s appraisal and face their battery of high-priced lawyers.
They simply applied grease to the squeaky wheel instead and lowered my
appraisal, and that of my other two neighbors, down to $150 an acre.
So, if you feel you’re valued too high, don’t get mad,
get even. Look around for a few properties similar to yours, find one that
is appraised much lower and ask that they pay more. The Board of
Equalization, faced with such an unusual appeal, may lower your appraisal so
that you will just go away.
The county’s other newspaper, the Journal-Leader, decided
to pick apart a school board policy change that basically says the board
must grant permission for cameras to be used to take photos or film board
Of course the school board is not likely to ever attempt
to ban cameras from public board meetings. That was just one of several
policy manual changes endorsed by the Tennessee School Board Association and
sent on for local boards to adopt.
But the principal of the thing was what attracted the
attention and condemnation of the newspaper, for good reason. Simply stated,
such a policy violates the state’s open meetings law. The TSBA, which I’ve
always viewed as a bunch of dunderheads advising a flock of sheep, comes up
with a lot of anti-teacher, anti-news media, anti-student and anti-parent
policies that make no sense whatsoever.
This was a good example, a policy based on an attorney
general’s opinion that was reversed by the same attorney general the same
year he wrote it. Somebody forgot to tell the TSBA, or they conveniently
ignored the reversal, and now have passed it down to local boards, creating
a minor furor.
Sadly, openness has never been a strong point with the
Campbell County Board of Education. I’ve been filming the meetings for years
for Channel 12 and can honestly say that if cameras were banned, the public
wouldn’t miss much.
The board prepares a consent agenda that is approved
without discussion, and the agenda provided to the public contains no
explanation of what is contained in the various policy changes and
resolutions. Much of the board’s work involves personnel matters that are
likewise not discussed in public, or the myriad of lawsuits and litigation
involving the school system. That is all hashed out in private “executive
sessions” with board attorney Dail Cantrell.
It is little wonder that the only people who attend most
board meetings are school department supervisors, the news media and
teachers or students who are invited to receive recognition of some sort.
The rubber-neckers who regularly attend commission
meetings gave up on the school board years ago, after falling asleep for the
third or fourth time.
at least the national political picture is growing more exciting.
senatorial candidate Todd Akin, otherwise known as Congressman
Foot-in-Mouth, is about to be legitimately raped at the polls by the women
of the Show-Me State. Even the national Republican Party, which desperately
needs a victory in
to capture the Senate, has pulled the plug on Akin’s candidacy.
The Pachyderms, meanwhile, are about to find out if God
truly blesses the GOP agenda, as they prepare to gather in Tampa to nominate
Mitt Romney while the season’s first hurricane blows it’s way toward the
Gulf of Mexico.
Considering the way Congress has behaved in the past couple of years, smart
politicians of either stripe would do well to not risk the Lord’s wrath.
Vice President Joe Biden is not about to tempt fate, and has canceled his
planned trip to
11:00 AM ON 08/26/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 08/20/2012)
Re-thinking the budget – squires eye ‘James Slusher Honorary
The cast is off and I’m back to normal, whatever that is,
following minor surgery a couple of weeks back. Now I can look forward to
months of physical rehab as I train my left hand to function properly once
I went in
for my first rehab session at Patricia
in Oak Ridge
last week, to be greeted by a sweet young lady who appeared much too young
for her nine years of experience, or perhaps I’m simply showing my age.
I made some crack about expecting my therapist to come
out wearing black leotards with a whip and taser gun and a “Pain is Good!”
tattoo, but she merely smiled and said, “Oh, you must mean Lucretia. You’ll
see her next week.”
Sure enough, when I received my two-month schedule, my
therapist next week is named Lucretia. This is the last time I will ever try
to be a wise*** with anyone who has control over a part of my body.
I would say here that I’ll limit my wise*** comments to
politicians such as our own esteemed body of county commissioners, but other
citizens, such as career commission watchdog James Slusher, have beaten me
to the punch.
When last we heard from Mr. Slusher, he was scolding the
county over the findings listed in the state comptroller’s audit, which
included the oft-repeated suggestion that courthouse offices need more
separation of duties so that the same people who handle money do not keep
This has come up numerous times in the past with the same
response – courthouse elected officials run their own offices and decide how
many personnel to hire, totally independent of the squires. Most choose to
keep personnel, and costs, down by not separating duties.
Of course this is the same Jim Slusher who a month
earlier, had been at the commission meeting browbeating the squires, who he
called a “failed institution,” for even contemplating a property tax
increase. He got his wish in July, when commissioners cut all requests for
additional spending, trashed their own discretionary fund and approved a
school budget that personnel-wise, is cut to the bone, but with not even a
penny of increase to the property tax.
Monday night the commissioners held their workshop, where
they might have expected some praise from Slusher and the no new tax crowd
for their frugal decisions.
What they got from Mr. Slusher
was another browbeating. Everything the squires cut from the budget was the
wrong thing to cut, they were told. The county needs an industrial
recruiter, the county needs more money in the Road Department for asphalt,
the county needs to take advantage of that federal grant to build a railroad
spur at Oswego
What’s more, since
those commission discretionary funds are critical for the survival of many
worthwhile small organizations dong charitable work in the county.
James read the squires the riot act and I can’t say that
I don’t totally agree with him on the importance of most of these things.
The discretionary funds have been a major source of support for volunteer
fire departments, senior citizens and other critical functions of our
community. We need industry, and Jellico seems to have taken an unfairly
lopsided portion of the budgetary hits.
Where I do differ with James Slusher is in my approach to
funding these important functions. I said before that our county is, like
all others across the state and the nation as a whole, suffering the effects
of trickle-down economics. In our case the trickle-down is when Uncle Sam
cuts federal spending and brags about it, but simply passes the costs of
doing the public’s business down to state government.
The members of our state legislature, bless their little
pea-brained hearts, then cut state spending, thump their collective chest
for being watchdogs of the public dollar, and pass the costs on down the
line to county and city governments.
The county commissioners turn around to pass the costs on
down to . . . uh . . . oops, nobody left below them to pass the costs
to except taxpayers. “Surprise, surprise, surprise,” as Gomer Pyle would
For my part, I think a modest
property tax increase each year or two would keep the county current with
rising costs, fund a few things that we need like paved roads and partially
offset the decline in revenues from Uncle Sam and Auntie Nashville. Four to
six cents on the tax rate isn’t going to deprive the average
homeowner of more than a couple of Happy Meals, or more likely, a dozen
As for those retirees out on
Lake with $700,000
homes, well, if they can afford the home they can afford the extra hundred
bucks or so to keep their local volunteer fire department viable and pave
the road to their front door.
Slusher, instead, continues to insist that all these
important things should be paid for without increasing taxes a cent. His
answer is to take a scalpel to the budget and carve out the fat, meaning
jobs of county employees. James told the squires, “Government isn’t in the
business of providing jobs, but providing services with the fewest people
He said this while bragging about his role as chief
financial officer at an unnamed college, where he laid off 81 people to
balance the budget while receiving threats, nails under his tires and hate
emails. I thought for a minute there we were listening to Mitt Romney
talking about his days at Bain Capital.
Well, some commissioners responded by pointing out that
county employees pay taxes, spend money and contribute to the local economy
as well, and massive layoffs would just put more people out competing for
the limited number of jobs, drawing unemployment benefits and becoming a
drain, rather than an asset, to the community.
Slusher cheerfully pointed out that the federal
government is preparing to end the 99-week unemployment benefit and we will
all return to a 26-week unemployment cycle, saving taxpayer dollars. Oh joy,
more people without jobs and without benefits. When faced with a choice
between welfare, starvation or selling drugs, guess what most people will
choose? There is something in our natural selection process that prevents
most of us from starving ourselves to death for the good of the taxpayer.
Of course I have a more pointed criticism of the “lay off
people to buy more asphalt while keeping taxes down” approach. Who’s gonna
lay down the asphalt? Who’s gonna collect the taxes? Who’s gonna separate
those duties in courthouse offices?
Slusher and his allies, if he has any left after three
months of conflicting criticisms, seem to think there are all these
dead-enders collecting county paychecks while doing nothing worthwhile.
Some of you out there are now saying, “Yeah. We call them
elected officials and all they do is run for office and collect a check
after winning the election.”
Perhaps so, but elected officials are mandated by state
law. They can’t be laid off. If personnel cuts are made in any county
department, those cuts will be primarily among the people who actually do
the work, and anyone who has been forced to stand in line at a courthouse
office, wait too long for response to an emergency call or sit with a
hundred others in a crowded courtroom all day over a speeding ticket
probably knows we have no great surplus of people doing the work.
Slusher probably would pick on his favorite whipping boy,
the Finance Office, with a staff of thirteen people managing the county’s
money, insurance benefits, payroll checks and budgets. If any of those
employees are dead wood doing nothing, they do a good job of covering it up.
I’m never in that office that everyone isn’t busy doing something, but say
you could cut three, even four positions from Finance, what would that get
Maybe an industrial recruiter, or half a mile of asphalt,
but certainly not everything that the commissioners have had to cut from the
budget to avoid a tax increase, or even make a significant dent in the list.
The squires agreed unofficially to take another look at
the budget next Monday night before final passage, partly due to Slusher’s
protests and partly, I suspect, because several were uncomfortable with the
zero tax increase, zero progress budget to begin with.
Maybe they should put some of
those things back in the budget after all, and jack up the property tax by a
dime or so to pay for them. They could call it the James Slusher Honorary
10:00 AM ON 08/17/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 08/13/2012)
Let’s hear it for the NRA and back yard surface-to-air missile
It has taken awhile, but I’ve finally mastered the art of
typing with one hand. The trick is to write really long sentences, in which
one needs to shift to capital letters less frequently, in order to avoid the
need to hit both the shift key and the letter key at the same time, which of
course requires the use of two hands.
It also helps to avoid using proper names, such as dennis
potter, brandon partin or wendell bailey, so you may notice that I will
refer to these gentlemen simply as the “incumbent” or the “victorious
challenger” in subsequent paragraphs.
Suffice it to say that there were few surprises in
Thursday’s election, at least in this neck of the woods. The incumbent
property assessor was re-elected without much trouble, as was the incumbent
road superintendent and most incumbent school board members. One school
board incumbent, David Lynch, was unseated by a victorious challenger, as
was the recently appointed county commissioner, Scott Stanfield.
Scott’s sister swears that the whole family worked hard
and is disappointed by the loss, but I wonder if Scott, having seen the
details of next year’s budget train wreck looming ahead, didn’t throw the
election. We have only his word that he voted for himself, after all. My
condolences go out to Wendell Bailey.
The one-hand typing comment is partly in jest. I do have
the use of a couple of fingers on my left hand after having surgery last
week, but most of my hand is wrapped up from fingertip to elbow in a bandage
and cast. This has left me with several things for which I can offer thanks.
Number one, I’m thankful that the surgery went well and
I’ve suffered only minor pain and discomfort. The inconvenience has only
given me a greater appreciation for those people who must learn to function
with permanent disabilities.
Number two, I’m thankful that my surgery coincided with
the London Olympics. Three days of TV sitcoms and MASH reruns would probably
have been more than my fragile sanity could bear, but I enjoy watching the
Being in anesthetic pawpaw land for a couple of days also
helped me avoid the final barrage of pre-election political ads. It also
gave me an excuse to not jump up to answer my phone every time it rang,
which is a good thing.
In addition to political robo-calls
from Congressman Chuck “I’m an Obama-hating conservative” Fleischman and
challenger Scottie “I’m an Obama-despising arch conservative” Mayfield,
had two candidates running for county mayor who spent enough money on the
race to balance the budget.
They should have both resigned from the race and simply
turned over their campaign funds to the taxpayers – it would have done more
for the county than either one is likely to achieve as mayor. I received a
minimum of one automated call from Terry Frank each day for a week and
nearly as many from Warren Gooch, and enough slick campaign mailers to
wallpaper my living room. Anyone who wants a public office that badly should
not be trusted.
The election results elsewhere around the state held few
surprises. Four Democratic state legislators lost their seats to four other
Democratic state legislators after the Republican-controlled legislature
shifted districts around to match incumbent donkeys against each other.
The Democrats cried “foul” but in all honesty, the
donkeys have been guilty of the same tactics in the past when they held the
The GOP didn’t exactly come out unscathed in their
primary either. Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart lost her bid for
re-election after the National Rifle Association poured $75,000 into the
race to help her opponent. Maggart, who votes staunchly conservative on most
issues, angered the NRA by refusing to go along with their “guns in parking
The NRA’s decision to punish one of the GOP’s legislative
stars has angered many in the Republican leadership, who accuse the NRA of
bullying. The NRA, bullies? Surely not.
GOP members of the legislature had an ounce of courage and self-respect,
they would push a bill next year to abolish possession of automatic weapons
and teach the NRA a lesson. That will not happen. Courage and self-respect
are woefully lacking in the Tennessee General Assembly, on either side of
the political aisle.
Instead, the NRA will probably get their bill passed next
session to allow gun owners to carry their firearms in their vehicles onto
university campus parking lots, private business parking lots, hospital
parking lots and church parking lots, regardless of the wishes of the owners
of said parking lots.
After all, our Constitution guarantees every citizen the
right to arm bears, uh, bear arms. I’m for that. I firmly believe that every
American has the right to possess and carry around at least one
muzzle-loading flintlock rifle weighing somewhere around fifteen pounds,
along with a powder horn, some spare flints and a bagful of .44 caliber lead
That is the type of firearm that was in use when our
founding fathers wrote the Constitution and I firmly believe in adhering
closely to the intentions of the framers of the Constitution, just like the
As far as automatic weapons capable of firing off a
hundred rounds in rapid succession without reloading? Only the police and
the military should be allowed to possess such firepower. Automatic weapons
are no good for hunting – they are forbidden by most states’ hunting
regulations. They are no good for protecting the home or person –
takes too long to get them out, loaded and in action and you can’t pack them
into your favorite restaurant.
Automatic weapons are useless in target-shooting
competitions and too modern to be considered antique collectors’ items, so
of what possible use does the average citizen have for one.
paranoid militia types who believe they will have to defend the homeland at
some point from an invasion of turbaned fanatics from Azerbaijan
want them. Also, crazy little computer game shut-ins living with their war
game fantasies in Momma’s basement want them. When they finally snap, they
want their automatic weapons so they can go out and commit mass killings of
innocent women and children.
Every time we have a Columbine, or an Aurora or a
Virginia Tech, the media leaps into a frenzy about automatic weapons and how
easy it was for the nut case who did the shooting to obtain their
instruments of destruction. Then the NRA fires off some press releases
quoting the Constitution and the same old “Guns don’t kill people, people
kill people” rhetoric, and the whole debate goes away again.
another nut case, say in
Tucson or Wisconsin
or at a Unitarian
goes off the deep end and more innocent people die. People with guns kill
people. The fruitcake who massacred all those movie-goers in Colorado
couldn’t have done it with a slingshot. The lunatic who shot Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords couldn’t have killed all those innocent bystanders with a
The NRA again has blood on its hands. They feed off the
paranoia of Americans who need a pistol in their pocket to feel secure. They
convince us that any small limits on our ability to own and possess any type
of firearm we might desire are the first steps toward taking away all our
rights to possess firearms.
“First our automatic weapons, then our handguns and then
our hunting rifles and shotguns.” That is the mantra of the NRA and it
appears to work.
So to protect our constitutional, God-given right to bear
arms, we need to expand the definition of “arms” to include as wide a range
of weaponry as possible Let’s hear it for legalization of the back yard
surface-to-air missile! Keeping up with Jones could take on a whole new
AT 2:00 PM ON 08/07/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 08/07/2012)
should have broken off when we had the chance – in 1865
The big showdown over the budget turned into a no-show
last week when tax protesters got their way and the commission passed a
budget with no property tax increase.
Finance Director Moneybags Marlow did what the squires
instructed him to do and took a scalpel to the budget, trimming a bit here
and there, nudging a little more projected revenue where possible and
leaving off all of the add-ons from departmental wish lists.
There are, of course, victims. The patient survived the
surgery, but not with all body parts intact. Gone are the commissioners’
discretionary funds, which leaves a number of school sports and band
programs, volunteer fire departments and other non-profit groups that
depended on donations from these funds begging money from other sources.
Expect a marked increase in fundraising roadblocks, bake sales and just
plain begging in the upcoming year.
Also gone are plans for an industrial recruiter, a new
garbage truck and additional driver, modest raises for county employees, 25
percent of the county’s support for Jellico’s ambulance service and a
million dollars’ worth of asphalt to pave roads.
The garbage truck may not be needed if the county’s aging
fleet holds together. If one falls apart, well, the squires can replace it
by pulling emergency funds from the fund balance, then figure out how to
replenish the fund balance before the next fiscal year begins.
Many squires through the years treat the fund balance
like a rainy-day fund, but it’s more than that. It is the cash on hand that
keeps the county operating during the first few months of the fiscal year
until current year property tax collections begin to come in after October.
If the fund balance is allowed to fall to a point where
it cannot meet spending requirements, the county faces the unhappy prospect
of borrowing money and paying interest just to keep the lights burning.
Now, this group of squires can look forward to the next
budget, when state revenues will continue to shrink, costs will continue to
rise, and all the fat and a significant amount of meat and bone has already
been removed from the carcass. I suppose they figure that if roads have
deteriorated to a point where the “no tax” crowd can’t drive to the
courthouse, dealing with a potential tax increase will be less painful.
I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but
why resist modest increases year after year and then end up having to pass a
significant property tax increase, and possibly tack on a higher wheel tax,
all at once just to keep things from falling apart?
The six cent increase in the tax rate that was needed
this year to offset declining revenues and state-mandated increases in local
education spending would have cost a taxpayer with a $100,000 home a grand
total of $15 a year. That is much less painful than the combination of a $10
wheel tax increase and ten cent tax increase that these same squires had to
pass a couple of years ago because the previous commission refused to pass
modest tax increases when they were needed.
And some of the revenues projected to balance this budget
are non-recurring and may well be pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. One
example is the coal severance tax, projected at $60,000 or so in the current
fiscal year, despite the fact that no mines are currently producing coal in
That 60 grand is money that
the Finance Director has determined should have been paid to
by one company, based on coal production statistics. Since that company’s
offices are located in
it is presumed that the state sent all of the company’s severance tax
payments to our neighbor. Moneybags has requested the State of
investigate the matter and make sure the funds are re-directed to
where the coal was actually mined.
state has nothing to gain or lose in this readjustment, it is taking its
sweet time. We may or may not receive this $60,000 in the current fiscal
year. The money will have to be withheld from other state revenues owed to
as the company is no longer producing coal in either
The other big happening in
County this past
week was the Congressional candidates’ forum sponsored by county veterans
down at the courthouse.
Congressman Chuck Fleishman was there, along with
Republican opponents Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp. I passed on
attending this shindig, just to hear each candidate insist that he is more
conservative than the other conservatives.
“I’m a rock hard conservative Republican and I’m endorsed
by the NRA!”
“Well I’m a cast iron conservative Republican and I’m
endorsed by the NRA, Right to Life and Sons of the Confederacy.”
“That’s nothing, I’m a titanium steel conservative and
I’m endorsed by Soldier of Fortune Magazine, the KKK and Sarah Palin!”
quite get the part where these candidates forget that East Tennessee
Republicans tend to be moderates who have elected people like Howard Baker,
Lamar Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam. They were speaking to a crowd in
the only county in East Tennessee that voted for Al Gore as president over
George Bush because, after all, Al was a Tennessee
boy regardless of political persuasion.
East Tennessee Republicans have always been more or less moderate, dating
back to Abraham Lincoln. East Tennesseans supported the
Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party. West and Middle Tennesseans
supported the Confederacy, Jeff Davis and the Democratic Party, which at the
time was the party of Southern planters and slaveholders.
Reconstruction ended, Democrats continued to rule
politics for nearly a century – conservative Southern Democrats. Then the
national Democratic Party embraced the Civil Rights Movement and all those
Southern white racists switched to the Republican Party.
finally given Tennessee
a Republican majority in the legislature but folks, it’s not the Republican
Party of my grandmother. Too many conservative Southern white former
Democrats have caused the party of Lincoln
to tilt much further to the right than most folks are comfortable with.
Governor Bill is getting a dose of this right now, as GOP
leaders in a number of counties have all condemned him for retaining too
many state employees who are gay or worse yet, Democrats. They are
especially hard on him for hiring a Muslim woman, Samar Ali, to head up
international marketing in the Office of Community & Economic Development.
Accusing Ms. Ali of intending to bring Shariah Law into
state government, some Republican leaders in Williamson, Stewart, Carroll,
Humphreys and several other counties have circulated petitions that
basically call Governor Haslam a turncoat.
how Samar Ali, who grew up and attended high school in Waverly, and her
family feel about Republican leaders in her home town criticizing her
hiring. I notice that all of the county
Republican groups that signed
on to this criticism are in Middle and
I also can’t help but wonder how many of these racist jerks used to be
Southern Democrats before the Civil Rights Era.
mountain folk decided they didn’t want to fight against their country for a
gang of rich
plantation owners, they broke away and formed their own state. I often think
it’s too bad that we in
East Tennessee didn’t do the same
The only thing Nashville’s got going for it is the home
of Country Music, and let’s face it folks, the Grand Ole Opry stole all the
music from East Tennessee. Maybe it’s still not too late to restore the
State of Franklin.
AT 6:00 AM ON 07/30/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 07/30/2012)
Forget snake handling; it’s
little ole us versus the United States of America
Just as I predicted, we had company at Monday night’s
county commission meeting. Channel 12’s little camera was dwarfed by crews
covering the meeting for WATE, WVLT, WBIR, CW and Fox.
They were all present to see
County would go
down in history as the first local government to vote for the legalizing of
snake handling at religious services. Well, technically the commission would
be voting to ask the state legislature to legalize the handling and keeping
of poisonous snakes.
happen, The squires lost little time debating a motion by Beverly Hall,
seconded by Thomas Hatmaker, to send a resolution of support to
Representative Dennis Powers. They voted the motion down 10-2, but Reverend
Andrew Hamblin at least got his moment in the sun. He was interviewed by
every TV network in
pledging to go pray about it and keep on trying.
The only fireworks at the meeting came when a few other
folks tried to horn in on Reverend Hamblin’s moment by grandstanding for the
TV cameras. Local blogger Jerry Chadwell and constant Finance Department
critic and tax protester James Slusher conspired to take advantage of a
clerical oversight that has existed for months.
While the squires voted last year to allow citizens to
address the commission only at the workshop held one week before monthly
commission meetings, the commission agenda continued to have an item labeled
“Citizens wishing to address the commission” printed on the front cover.
Chadwell admits he pointed this out to Slusher, who
demanded his right to speak at the meeting. Mayor William Baird finally
relented after County Attorney Joe Coker ruled that since the item was on
the agenda, the squires would have to vote to remove it or allow Slusher to
The commission voted 7-5 to remove the item but with
three squires absent, the vote fell one short of a majority. Slusher then
launched into a re-play of the same complaints he had addressed to the
commission a week earlier, about the findings of an annual state audit which
pointed out several deficiencies. Nearly everything was old news that has
been discussed at commission meetings before, but this time there were all
those television cameras rolling.
I’m not at all sure that the squires had to allow anyone
to speak, despite the county attorney’s opinion. The rules set down by the
commission require that members of the public wishing to address the
commission must sign in on a sheet provided for that purpose before the
meeting is convened. There was no sign-in sheet so Mr. Slusher did not sign
up to speak before the meeting began.
At one point, Slusher crowed, “The Director of Finance is
on defense and I’m on the offense. It’s the offense that scores points.”
Predictably, after that, Finance Director Moneybags
Marlow had to defend himself and explain the audit findings. His
explanations were adequate, but lengthy. Accountants do not offer short
explanations of anything.
After entirely too much of this circular discussion,
Bobby White had heard enough and made a motion to adjourn the meeting,
stating, “We’re not down here doing the business of the people.”
Jerry Chadwell, sitting on the front row next to Slusher,
told White, “You ought to resign.”
White told Chadwell to “Stick it,” and invited him to run
against him. Chadwell replied, “I don’t live in your district,” and White
shot back, “Move into it!”
By this time, William Baird had seen enough and called a
five-minute recess to allow things to cool off. After the recess, White
apologized but Chadwell said something else critical and received a warning
from Baird: “The next comment from the audience and I’ll ask the Sheriff to
remove you from the room.”
Alas, James Slusher’s efforts
were mostly in vain, as all those Knoxville TV stations were present to
report on snake-handling, not
politics. He has constantly harped about the need for the county to set up
an audit committee to oversee the Finance Department.
This harping started shortly after Mr. Slusher was
removed by the commission from membership on the Financial Management (FMS)
Committee, which already provides oversight, theoretically, over the Finance
Department. James appears to feel the FMS Committee doesn’t provide enough
oversight, now that he’s no longer a member.
As for Jerry Chadwell, he might be an activist, a
reformer, or a crusader, but one thing he is not is a journalist.
Journalists observe, interpret and report, but they do not insert themselves
into the story. If they have opinions, they reserve them for the editorial
Meanwhile, the most questionable thing I saw the squires
do on Monday night had nothing to do with snake handling, audit findings or
comments from the audience.
Attorney Mark Silvey, representing the Greg Coleman law
firm, approached the commission about joining a class action lawsuit against
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, those two controversial, federally connected
agencies that buy mortgages from lenders and issue guaranteed securities in
Freddie and Fannie were established to help make home
ownership more affordable for middle class families, but their tendency to
guarantee loans to people who couldn’t repay them contributed to the
collapse of the housing market and resulting recession.
As a result, Fannie and Freddie have been busy in recent
years foreclosing on a lot of homes, placing them on the market and
re-selling them. Attorney Silvey told commissioners that there is where the
rub is – Freddie and Fannie claim that like the federal government, they are
exempt from paying the transfer fees and taxes when those homes are resold.
explained that the counties, including Campbell,
are losing money when those properties are transferred without collecting
the fee, 37 cents on each $100 of value.
pointed out that around 97 percent of that fee goes to the State of
with the county retaining only a small portion. On a $100,000 sale, the
State would collect $370 but the county’s share would only be around nine
Thomas Hatmaker pointed out that since the county
receives money from the state, it can only help if the state gains more
revenue. Bob Walden made a motion to join the class action, Hatmaker
seconded the motion and all twelve squires present quickly approved the
Silvey then congratulated
County on being
“our first plaintiff.” That is when I began to have this sinking feeling in
the pit of my stomach.
“If this is such a good deal,
why is Campbell
the only county to sign on so far?” I asked myself, “And why, since the
State of Tennessee
stands to collect considerably more than the counties, has it not already
filed a lawsuit challenging Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s claims of
By Thursday, I got at least part of my answer when the
Knoxville News Sentinel ran a story about Mayor William Baird filing a
lawsuit on behalf of Campbell County in federal court against Fannie and
Of course William had done no
such thing, but with the commission’s vote on Monday night and subsequent
vote to authorize Mayor Baird to represent the county in this matter, they
had given the Coleman law firm permission to sue on
Apparently the Coleman firm
didn’t feel a need to approach any other counties to join the class action
suit, once they had Campbell
the poster child for the entire state. So it’s little ole us against Fannie
Mae, Freddie Mac, and oh yeah, the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Attorney
Silvey failed to mention that Uncle Sam would be a direct plaintiff in the
lawsuit as well.
This may not be a bad thing. Campbell County could stand
to gain a couple of thousand dollars at most, and by being the primary
plaintiff in a class action, help a lot of other Tennessee counties collect
a few hundred or a few thousand dollars at most and help the state collect a
few hundred thousands or millions of dollars.
It seems that perhaps the federal government, which is
already battling record deficits, will end up paying the bill on this in one
way or another, which means all us taxpayers will pay the bill. That
includes the legal fees that will be earned by the Coleman law firm if they
are successful, and you can bet that will be a few hundred thousand bucks at
the very least.
Maybe the commission should
have taken this matter under advisement and inquired further into why the
state and other, larger counties had not already jumped on the bandwagon.
Maybe it’s just me, but I always have a problem with enriching a gang of
class action lawyers at taxpayers’ expense.
AT 4:00 PM ON 07/20/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 07/23/2012)
Answer to county’s road woes: build bike trails - very wide bike
much posturing and gnashing of teeth, the Battle
of the Budget kicked off for real this week. County commissioners have heard
from all sides now. Moneybags Marlow has laid out the cold, hard facts that
loss of revenue from the state means at least a six cent increase in the
property tax while various “wish list” items from department heads add
another twenty cents or so to the pot.
With James Slusher as lead spokesman, the squires have
heard from the “no new taxes” crowd, consisting largely of people with no
children in the school system. Without coming right out and saying it, this
group’s message seems to be, “Our kids are already educated and on their
own; your kids can always get jobs at Taco Bell. We’re not paying for their
If this sounds a bit harsh, I
meant it to be. I pay taxes down in
where the county commissioners in recent years have seldom seen a money
request from the school board they didn’t like.
taxpayers have not only a higher tax rate than
generally higher appraisal values on their property, so it’s costly to live
of the reasons that property values are higher is that the schools are
better and jobs more plentiful, a result of all that spending on education.
You get what you pay for.
watches the parade of cars coming and going at Caryville each day on its way
south to Clinton
Oak Ridge – where the
jobs are. Meanwhile our young people can always work at McDonalds . . .
or sell drugs.
But all the screaming and crying did accomplish
something. School Director Donnie Poston and Moneybags got together, pulled
a little money out of the schools’ capital outlay budget, carried over some
once-in-a-blue-moon savings from utility costs thanks to our mild winter,
and were able to scale back the Board of Education’s request from ten cents
Of course the next time we don’t have a mild winter, that
$290,000 will have to be made up somewhere so it’s a temporary fix at best.
Still hanging over the squires is that other twenty-cent
increase in “discretionary” spending. A couple of pennies can be saved by
just saying no to Mayor William Baird’s proposal to give non-school
employees a 2 % raise. Another penny or two can be cut by denying the
sanitation department a new truck and driver to operate it. That just leaves
the small matter of a ten-cent tax increase to buy asphalt for the Highway
Ironically, spending on the asphalt is the least
objectionable thing on the tax protesters’ hit list. They may not worry too
much about education, but they all have to drive on the county’s
increasingly-potholed roads. But ten cents, added to six cents that seems
unavoidable, means a pretty hefty tax increase.
Those opposed to increasing taxes would, I suspect,
prefer to see their roads paved by laying off a few courthouse clerks here
and there, stopping any further work on the Justice Center, maybe shutting
down the recycling center or the animal shelter or the health department.
I’ve got it! We can close the property assessor’s office and lay off all
those people, since we won’t be making any changes to the tax rate or the
tax base in the foreseeable future.
Nah, state law won’t let us do that, and while James
Slusher was protesting proposed tax increases on the one hand, he was
complaining about an oft-repeated audit finding that there is inadequate
separation of duties in the courthouse clerical offices on the other hand.
To separate the people handing money in those offices
from the people keeping the records would be commendable, but would also
require hiring additional clerks, which would require an increase in the tax
Read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Catch-22” for the answer to
this riddle. The book focuses on our hero who wants a medical discharge from
the Army because of insanity, but in order to receive a discharge he must
apply for it. However, anyone who is sane enough to apply for a discharge on
the grounds of insanity is judged to be too sane and the application denied.
However, we may after all have an answer to the problem
of getting our roads paved without raising taxes by a million bucks.
At last Monday’s workshop, squires were treated to a
number of fascinating presentations. Todd Fisher explained the business
incubator program, wherein trained professionals will help prospective
entrepreneurs with business start-ups. He was there presumably to justify
the county leasing an upper floor of a bank building to provide professional
office space, although I’m not sure their clients so far, an individual who
wants to open a metal-working shop and someone interested in growing beans,
really need professional office space in a bank building.
Reverend Andrew Hamblin from the Tabernacle Church of God, who explained
that his congregation believes in a literal translation of the Bible,
including the taking up of poisonous serpents. He asked the squires to pass
a resolution in support of legislation to repeal
law against keeping and handling poisonous reptiles. I could write more
about this but think I’ll wait until next week, after the squires discuss
this request at their regular meeting on Monday.
Of course if word gets around, I’ll have competition from
WATE, CNN and Jay Leno. We’re going to make the big time once again,
Finally, a young CCHS teacher, Jennifer Seals, made a
presentation about the county’s declining health statistics and the need for
bike and walking trails out in the communities to encourage physical
Jennifer pointed out that a third of Campbell Countians
are obese and 13.2 percent are diabetic. She admitted that in a tight budget
year, spending money to construct paved bike trails alongside county roads
is not likely a popular idea. “But with our terrible statistics for obesity
and diabetes, Campbell County could qualify for many of the numerous federal
and private grants that are available to construct trails,” Jennifer added.
My first thought was, “Oh no. If we build bike trails
along the sides of Demory and Pinecrest Roads, when the roads get so
potholed that locals can’t drive on them, they will start driving on the
bike trails and take out a cluster of power walkers or bicycle riders.”
Then it hit me. Dennis Potter
can apply for grants to construct bike trails, paid for with physical
fitness dollars from the federal government and various foundations, and
make the trails wider than usual, say wide enough for a Ford F-150 and a
Toyota to pass each other on the curves. People, when money is tight and the
natives are restless, you’ve got to think outside the box.
AT 5:30 PM ON 07/13/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 07/16/2012)
may still get their fireworks show – at the courthouse
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s hot.
It’s still hot. But the timely rainfall last Thursday night accomplished two
things, in addition to raising havoc over in the Smokies and parts east of
here. 1) It saved local gardens, including my own, from completely burning
up and 2) it encouraged my grass, which always seems to grow when nothing
else can, to take off again, requiring mowing.
This weekend I bit the bullet and got out the lawnmower,
despite the near-100 degree heat. As a prelude to a little minor surgery I
have scheduled later this month, I must have an EKG. I just decided to
self-medicate and do the EKG myself by mowing grass in this heat. I must
have passed, as I’m still here to write about it, but it was brutal.
My personal approach to surviving the current heat wave
while working outside is simple. Work or mow for ten minutes, cool down in
the shade of the back porch for another ten, then go inside and cool off in
air conditioned comfort with a glass of ice tea for another twenty. Then, if
you don’t doze off on the couch, repeat the process.
I may get the whole lawn mowed sometime late next week,
just in time for the next rainstorm.
Neither heat nor rain was a
deterrent last week to Lake City’s
festivities. While LaFollette cancelled their fireworks show due to the hot,
dry weather, Lake City’s
fathers couldn’t afford that luxury. One thing my small dysfunctional
hometown gets right is the 4th
of July. The music, carnival atmosphere and ball games are prelude to one of
the best small town fireworks shows in
The show attracts thousands of spectators into town from
miles around, and gives local merchants a big financial boost. Any hint from
City Hall that the show would be cancelled might result in a lynching of the
mayor and board of aldermen. As a result, the show must go on regardless.
did make one concession to the heat and dry weather this year, hiring Pyro
Shows to shoot off the fireworks instead of the local fire department, which
left firefighters presumably better prepared to deal with any brush fires
resulting from said pyrotechnics.
The Pyro Shows crew selected a different launching site
as well, moving their mortars and shells further away from the maintenance
yard of Powell-Clinch Utility District. For many years I sat in my back yard
and awaited the “really big shew,” when a wayward rocket would slam into the
Powell-Clinch propane tanks. Alas, those in the know tell me it could never
happen, as the tank’s metal walls are much too thick to be affected by the
explosive potential of mere fireworks. But one could always hope.
My back yard is arguably the best seat in town, as the
launching pad for the show is behind the football bleachers, directly across
Coal Creek from my garden and back yard. I always distribute caps to guests
in case the wind shifts in our direction, as spent shells and debris
sometimes rain down on our seats. This year the wind cooperated and the
debris landed in the creek bed, so all we got was the show and the
traditional ice cream and berries afterward.
Campbell County may still get its fireworks show on
Monday night, when the county commission meets in the first of a series of
budget meetings to try to figure out a way around a tax increase ranging
from a low of six cents to a high of 32 ¾ cents.
The six-cent increase is pretty much a foregone
conclusion, as most of it is mandated by state requirements to boost the
local share of education dollars. The other 26 ¾ cents can be avoided if: 1)
Campbell Countians don’t mind waiting around for that once-in-a-lifetime
re-paving of the road leading past their front door (ten cents) 2) the
sanitation department does not receive a new truck and additional truck
driver as requested (1.5 cents) 3) county non-school employees do not
receive the 1.6 percent raise proposed by the mayor (two cents), 4) the
county does not hire an industrial recruiter (one cent) and 5) the school
board’s request is denied for additional money for improvements to education
not mandated by the state (six cents).
I’m sure the tax protesters will be out in force once
again to threaten and cajole the squires to hold the line and deny all
spending increases and promise that not a one of them will be re-elected two
years from now if any tax increase is approved.
Meanwhile, I notice that
representative in the State Senate, Ken Yeager, and our representative in
the House, Dennis Powers, both are running uncontested in their primary and
will be uncontested in the general election, as no Democrats have stepped
forward to challenge for the seats.
This can only mean one thing: the
voters are one hundred percent in favor of what the General Assembly is
doing down in Nashville, which is laying more and more mandated expenditures
off on local county government while providing no additional state money to
help with the funding.
AT 6:00 AM ON 07/09/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 07/09/2012)
Coming soon: the
on trial for “Contempt of Congress”
It’s hot, just plain hot. But not nearly as hot as the
Republicans are over the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Health
Care Act, aka Obamacare.
I haven’t figured out what all the fuss is about. We
already pay for health care for everyone as it is. Those without insurance,
when they get sick enough, just rush to the emergency room of the nearest
hospital. The ERs can’t turn them away, but charge about twice the amount
that regular care costs.
Since the uninsured often cannot pay these outlandish
charges, the hospitals write them off as charity care, for which they
receive tax breaks from Uncle Sam. We all pay for those tax breaks when we
pay our taxes, which are a little bit higher because we’re paying for health
care for the uninsured.
Insurance companies also get into the act, by charging
all of us a little bit more on our premiums to cover losses due to
under-insured patients who cannot pay their bills or are late paying them.
Meanwhile, since uninsured people often put off treatment until they are
seriously ill, costs are greater, losses greater and our tax bills and
insurance bills are higher to cover the difference.
When are people going to realize that there are no free
rides? Those complaining about the “individual mandate” seem to be of the
mind that if someone who is uninsured gets sick, we can simply do as the
Eskimos once did and set them out on an iceberg to die, or a good health
care fairy will suddenly appear and take care of everything.
I’ve got decent insurance now that I work for the county,
but for years I had to get by without coverage, when I worked for a series
of small newspapers that couldn’t afford to carry insurance for employees
and didn’t pay enough for employees to afford their own. Complicating my own
situation was the fact that I’m diabetic and therefore in the expensive
“high risk” insurance category.
I also suffer from a hereditary condition called “Dupuytren’s
Contracture.” Small cysts form on my hand that pull my small and ring
fingers inward until they are bent upon my hand. Makes it hard to toss a
baseball, or hold a canoe paddle, a fishing rod or do any of a dozen fun
things I used to do. Eventually it can make typing difficult as well,
affecting my livelihood.
About eight years ago my doctor
sent me to an orthopaedic surgeon in
Knoxville. He spent about ten minutes quizzing me
about why I didn’t have health insurance, and about three minutes telling me
that he did not recommend surgery to treat my Dupuytren’s.
“Surgery sometimes results in losing the feeling in part
of your hand, and generally the condition comes back after surgery in just a
few years. I would just let it go,” the specialist told me.
A good friend of mine also
suffered from the same problem. I told her what I had learned from the
orthopaedic specialist, but her doctor insisted on sending her to a
different specialist in Oak Ridge. That doctor had a different song to
“Surgery is the only treatment. It is almost always
successful, rarely ever comes back, and loss of nerve feeling in the hand is
extremely rare if the surgeon knows what he’s doing,” he told her.
She had the surgery performed on both hands and today her
fingers are straight and fully functional. When she first saw her
orthopaedic specialist, she had excellent insurance through her employer.
My fingers are now bent more severely than they were
eight years ago, but the surgeon in Oak Ridge thinks he can completely
straighten the all-important right hand while the more severely malformed
left hand stands a 50-50 chance of complete recovery. If that other doctor
had told me the truth eight years ago, those 50-50 odds would be 100 percent
But I didn’t have health insurance, the surgery is
somewhat expensive, and the truth was apparently less important than whether
I could afford to pay the bill.
The Affordable Health Care Act, if fully implemented,
will mean that nobody ever needs to be lied to about treatment they need,
simply because the doctor is worried about getting paid. It will mean nobody
needs to wait until a condition grows life-threatening enough to send them
into an emergency room before getting treatment. It will mean that when
someone becomes seriously ill, their friends, family and members of their
church will no longer have to take up collections to help them pay for the
treatment to keep them alive.
The politicians who are stirring up opposition to
universal health care are shameless opportunists, more concerned with
gaining political power than they are with the well-being of their fellow
Americans. Those average Americans who are opposed to universal health care
are at best, uninformed and misled.
The Congressional Pachyderms,
thwarted in their effort to erase Obamacare by their own Bush-appointed
Supreme Court Chief Justice, lost no time in firing back. They immediately
voted to hold the Attorney General of the
in criminal contempt of Congress for supposedly withholding documents
related to ATF agents who supposedly allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico in an
effort to trace the buyers.
The DA for the District of Columbia lost little time in
announcing that since the Attorney General was protected by the President’s
declaration of Executive Privilege, there would be no criminal charges in
this political parlor game. The Congressional Pachyderms, however, can now
claim a moral victory and can scream “cover-up” right up until Election Day.
Personally, I think it’s a shame that Eric Holder won’t
go on trial for “Contempt of Congress.” His defense could be to poll a
few hundred thousand American voters about how they feel about Congress.
I can hear the defense attorney now, addressing the judge
in this case: “Your honor, I contend that Mr Holder is indeed guilty of
contempt of Congress. However, our polls indicate that 250 million American
citizens also hold Congress in contempt. If you prosecute this man for being
in contempt of Congress, you must also prosecute the entire country for
being in contempt of Congress.”
That, my friends, would be a trial
worth watching. (UPDATED
AT 7:00 PM ON 07/01/2012 FOR THE WEEK OF 07/01/2012)
Common sense solutions to growing
cost of prisons? Not likely to happen
been singin’ them “jailhouse blues.” Not just in our county but in most
places that you look around East Tennessee and the rest of the state,
taxpayers are being asked, no told, that they need to pony up more of their
hard-earned cash to build bigger jails, hire more jailers, pay more for
inmate health care and so on.
Here at home everyone is well
aware of the multi-million dollar
that just keeps on expanding and costing. The new expanded jail, once
complete, will increase inmate capacity from 225 to 400 or so, capable of
holding roughly one out of every hundred Campbell Countians behind bars at
any one time.
raised property taxes a couple of years back to expand its jail. The sheriff
was before commissioners this month, arguing that without money to hire at
least eight additional jailers, the new, yet-to-be-completed lockup can’t
Last Monday, Finance Jeff “Moneybags” Marlow gave our
squires the bad news that another hundred grand must be taken out of the
county’s rainy day fund to pay for increased costs of keeping prisoners
healthy. That’s an amendment to this year’s budget. The commission will have
to find additional revenue to pay those costs going forward.
staged a taxpayers’ revolt, to little avail, when they learned that their
new jail would result in doubling their property tax rate in one year.
By now we could not be blamed for asking, “Where will
this all stop?” We need money to keep our roads from falling apart, money to
keep volunteer fire departments viable, money to meet ever-increasing
standards for our schools. Instead, we are pouring dollar after dollar into
keeping criminals off the streets at an ever-increasing rate.
I suggested several years ago that one way to decrease
the costs of incarceration would be to decriminalize or legalize marijuana.
Too many young people were being saddled with criminal records and too many
taxpayers having to pay the costs for fighting a drug that is arguably no
more dangerous than our nation’s legal drug, alcohol.
I also reasoned that kids smoking pot did not instantly
say, “Wow, now I want to try cocaine or meth or Oxycontin!” Most people
start with marijuana, but since it is illegal, they have to turn to dealers
for their supply, dealers who also often sell pills, or cocaine or can show
someone how to make meth.
Legalize pot, regulate the sale as we do booze, and tax
it. That will cut down on the costs of law enforcement, decrease young
people’s exposure to harder drugs and add tax dollars to government coffers
without straining taxpayers further.
Of course that might have been a good argument a decade
ago, but things have changed. Meth and various prescription painkillers are
the major drug culprits these days and I would venture that not enough
people are being jailed just for marijuana to make a significant dent in the
demand for jail cells. Still, any dent at all is worth looking at closely,
so I stand by my argument that legalizing pot would be a wise move.
If marijuana laws are not responsible for the ballooning
rate of convicted criminals, what is? The Knoxville News-Sentinel started
last Sunday with a series on the problem of drunk drivers that was
eye-opening in many respects.
numbers help explain, in my mind, why we are constantly being forced to pour
more money into jails and prisons. In 2011, Campbell
had 181 DUI arrests,
had 201, Roane had 290 and little Union County, 133. Statewide there are
54,081 three-time DUI offenders and 16,602 five-time offenders. Between a
quarter and a third of all traffic fatalities in the state involve alcohol.
The newspaper listed
County’s six top
repeat DUI offenders, who have collectively spent 4,005 days behind bars and
cost taxpayers $288,360 to keep them there.
I have great respect for the dedication of MADD and
others who have worked diligently to get drunk drivers off the streets, but
let’s face it, the increasing pressure on taxpayers to build more and bigger
jails coincides to a large extent with the enactment of laws requiring DUI
offenders to do jail time.
First time offenders spend a minimum of 48 hours behind
bars, ranging up to seven days for higher levels of intoxication. Second
offenders spend a minimum of 45 days in jail, third offense nets 120 days
minimum while fourth offenses are treated as class E felonies with a minimum
of 150 days in jail.
Jail time is no cure for an alcoholic. As soon as those
boozers get out, their first stop is likely to be a package store for a
fifth or a convenience store for a six-pack or two. If we’re lucky, someone
else is driving the car, but you can rest assured that the boozer will be
back behind the wheel eventually.
The same can be said for addicts, and an increasing
number of DUI offenders are on pills rather than alcohol, or a lethal
combination of the two.
Many law enforcement officials, judges and DAs, including
our own Criminal Court Judge Shane Sexton, support even more stringent
penalties for repeat DUI offenders. Shane has gone on record as supporting a
special class D felony for serious multiple offenders that would put them
away for two to twelve years.
That’s two to twelve years for which taxpayers must foot
the bill, paying for cell space, jailers, meals and the ever-increasing
costs of medical attention, dental services and hospitalization for this
largely unhealthy segment of our population.
I’ve got another suggestion for how to keep drunk drivers
off the streets, but it appears to have gotten little leverage among
officials and lawmakers for some mysterious reason. Take their cars away
Why, instead of locking a first-time DUI offender up for
48 hours, requiring construction of an expensive jail cell, can the courts
not simply fine them and impound their vehicle for 30 days?
Going without a car for a month will be a wake-up call to
many first time offenders, when they are forced to beg a ride to their job,
rent a car or walk to the post office and grocery store. Some might even
decide drinking and driving aren’t worth the costs. And those costs will be
increased when the offender has to pay an impoundment fee and tow bill to
reclaim the vehicle after 30 days. Why should taxpayers pay for that?
On a second offense, drunk drivers who haven’t learned
their lesson will have to pay a fine and do without their vehicle for three
to six months, which wouldn’t be a wake-up call, but a slap in the face.
Third offense or greater? The county or state seizes the
vehicle and sells it at auction to help cover the costs of impoundment and
enforcement. Before long, alcoholics who insist on getting behind the wheel
while drunk won’t have a car, won’t have a friend or relative willing to
loan them a car and won’t have a car dealer willing to sell them as much as
a bicycle. They will be off the roads, and taxpayers won’t have to house and
Legal minds will argue with me on this idea, pointing out
that often a bank or dealership or finance company has a financial interest
in the vehicle and is faultless when a driver is caught driving while
intoxicated. Car dealers could be required to refer to a state database of
DUI offenders and refuse to sell to anyone with a history of multiple
offenses. If they choose to make the sale anyway, they lose any financial
interest they might have if the vehicle is seized.
Or the courts could allow dealers and financial
institutions to reclaim their property by paying the impoundment fee and tow
bill, as long as the vehicle is not returned to the offender. The drunken
driver would still lose any financial investment he or she has made in the
vehicle, all those car payments down the drain.
For those who feel that taking a person’s car away is not
punishment enough for driving while intoxicated, and that they should be
forced to spend time in jail, I just ask, who is really being punished here?
Taxpayers have to pay more and more of their hard-earned dollars to lock up
people who have a sickness, while the offender gets free room and board and
all medical expenses paid. For some people out there, getting locked up is
an improvement over their normal existence.
one more factor can play a role in our burgeoning jail population. We in
have always claimed that we don’t have debtors’ prisons, that you cannot be
jailed for being in debt. That is, of course, unless you fail to pay fines
imposed upon you by the courts.
Convicted criminals who serve their time and are released
on parole or probation are often saddled with fines and incarceration costs
that they can’t pay and end up back behind bars. Sounds like debtors’ prison
to me. Let’s work out a system to allow those who can’t pay to perform
community service instead. Putting them out on the roadsides or cleaning up
parks is better than paying to put them back behind bars.
Will any of these common sense ideas ever take hold among
those people who make our laws? Probably not. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
once warned Americans about the dangers of developing a “military industrial
complex” where the builders of bombs and warplanes drove our economy and
made war a necessity for economic health.
are seeing instead in America
is a judicial industrial complex where far too many people, from cops,
judges and lawyers to the companies operating red light cameras and
privatized prisons, depend on a certain number of criminals being arrested,
convicted and jailed for their economic well-being. (UPDATED
AT 6:00 AM ON 06/21/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 06/18/2012)
Could tax hike doom squires’ re-election chances? They should
be so lucky!
The natives were restless
Monday night down at the ol’ courthouse. Well, “native” might be a misnomer,
since a good majority of the folks I observed in the audience at the county
commission workshop are residents of a more recent variety, having retired
for the lake, the mountains and not least of all, the low tax rate.
And that was the rub, it seems. The crowd of concerned
taxpayers had read in the Journal-Leader that the squires might be facing
“the largest tax increase in county history,” and they were in attendance to
let it be known that they feel very TEA (Taxed Enough Already) about things.
Jim Slusher, the former
chairman of the Financial Management Committee, was particularly hard on
county officials. Jim referred to Finance Director Moneybags Marlow as, more
or less, a fiscal dictator. He told the squires that they were a failure,
that David Adkins in particular should resign due to absenteeism, and that
is a “monstrosity” and a “boondoggle.”
Jim reserved his only praise for Road Superintendent
Dennis Potter, who he pointed out, had balanced his budget by laying off
people and cutting costs instead of asking for a tax increase. “His
reward?” Slusher concluded, “No budget increases for asphalt.”
Slusher’s protests were echoed by others, Don Feeney
saying simply, “Me too,” before pointing out how roads out around the lake
are in need of repair. Bill Deguire added, “I’m sick of paying over and
over, higher and higher.”
The rest of the crowd sat in silent agreement with the
speakers, seeming to stir a bit only when a discussion about the future of
Pinecrest Volunteer Fire Department, now called Norris Crest VFD, came up.
Squires told department treasurer James Gross that they want to help the
embattled department survive by agreeing that it can commit the county’s
annual $8,000 donation toward paying off debt, but there is no promise that
the money will be there year after year.
What’s that old saying, “Beware that you may get what you
This group of residents, many of them retirees with no
kids in the school system, want no new taxes and cuts in county spending.
The State of Tennessee is determined that the state’s share of funding for
the Better Education Program, BEP, will grow smaller each year as local
government takes a larger share until each entity is an equal 50-50 partner.
This is bad news for county governments across the state.
Our fearless state legislators can wave their conservative credentials
around and brag about cutting state spending, when all they’re really done
is pass the costs on down the line to local government.
Another old saying is “SH**
always flows downhill.” Washington
is at the top of the hill. Nashville
is a good way below the top and guess who is at the bottom.
Anyway you cut it, the school system is faced with a
$250,000 increase in spending for its share of BEP. To fail to meet that
requirement is not an option as long as the state holds the purse strings
for education. Other increases, such as utilities, insurance, workman’s
comp and so on, can be offset by cuts elsewhere, but that won’t help our
schools get better.
course, if you’re retired, if your kids were educated in
or even Anderson
County, you don’t
have a dog in that fight, do you? In that case your concern is that the
road past your front door is paved and you have adequate fire and police
I know that the expensive
properties out around Norris
Lake contribute a
significant portion of the county’s tax base. A nickel increase in the tax
rate only costs someone with an average $50,000 home a little over six
bucks. The feared 29-cent increase would mean a property tax increase of
less than the annual cost of the county’s wheel tax sticker.
own a half-million-dollar home out at
then you’re facing another $400 a year and that’s not pocket change in
anybody’s book. Can’t blame those folks for protesting but they need to
keep things in perspective. They could be living across the line in
where the tax rate is even higher, not to mention property values. Or, they
could be paying property taxes in
New York and freezing
their behinds off in January.
As far as the projected tax increase, that is all it is
at present, “projected.” The squires have now heard from one segment of the
peanut gallery. In coming weeks they will hear from department heads about
how this or that department has eliminated positions, cut to the bone and
still needs more money.
They’re already heard from the insurance carriers about
increases in the county’s casualty and workman’s comp coverage. They will
hear from fire departments, non-profit groups, libraries, health care
providers and others, all claiming they have cut costs as far as possible
but need a little more to function.
Jim Slusher predicted Monday night that most of the
squires will not be re-elected come the next election. I predict, the way
things are going at present, most of them won’t care. I ride the
commissioners frequently in my columns, always have, but for the most part
they have a thankless job that most reasonable people wouldn’t want.
AT 9:00 AM ON 06/15/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 06/11/2012)
The secret of our dysfunctional county has finally been revealed
Taxpayers and voters are
constantly wondering what is wrong with government, whether up in Washington
or right here at home in Campbell County.
You hear it all the time, sometimes coming from the peanut gallery at county
commission meetings, other times down at Hardee’s among members of the old
timers’ breakfast club.
“What’s wrong with that bunch down at the courthouse?
A new jail that was already too small before the concrete was dry, roads
that are crumbling, deputies driving into the sides of houses, school
directors indicted for fudging resumes . . Don’t nobody know how to do
nothing around here?”
Pilgrims, I believe I’ve finally put my finger on it!
In my little drop box over at the Finance Office this
week was a packet of forms, identical to those that went out to every county
employee, to be signed and returned before the next payroll check can be
The forms represented the “latest revision to the
Campbell County Personnel Policies dated January 17, 2012” and required
employee’s signatures to be on all forms and to be received by the
Payroll/Benefits Department by June 15. They included the usual -
acknowledgements that employees are aware that tampering with government
records is illegal, that employees agree to use computers only for
authorized county business, agreement with the county’s policy regarding
comp time, acknowledgement that employees will abide with the county’s drug
abuse policy and so on.
Then there was that other form, tucked in the middle of
all the rest, that I believe explains a lot about why we at times seem to
have a dysfunctional body politick.
The form reads, and I quote word for word, “Admission of
Drug Use or Alcohol Misuse: I ______, freely and without duress and without
coercion admit to the use of _______________ (i.e. amphetamines, cocaine,
marijuana, opiates, phencyclidine or alcohol misuse as defined within the
policy). I acknowledge that such use is a violation of Campbell County
Government Drug Abuse Policy which prohibits such use. . . . My admission of
use and acknowledgment and agreement to the terms of this statement is
indicated by my signature below.”
To make things simple, all county employees are required
to sign a form admitting to drug use or alcohol misuse, or not receive a
paycheck on June 15.
There was no indication in the collection of forms as to
where county employees might go to find said drugs, so I assume employees
are on their own there, to seek out the dealer of their choice in order to
conform to the requirements of the policy.
Now obviously there is a major typographical error in
here somewhere, but at least one courthouse employee I know had already
noticed the conundrum and solved the problem by writing in “Non” in front of
“Admission of Drug Use” and signed the form, rather than rushing off to buy
drugs in order to meet the county’s new policy.
This could, however, explain
all the things we have wondered about concerning
throughout the years, from Caryville’s missing tractor to the time the
county nearly drowned a boatload of touring industrial prospects to the
notorious gas well at Oswego
Everybody in Campbell Count government is not stupid or
dysfunctional; perhaps they’re just high. This also might explain the
unprecedented success of the Sugar Shack bakery a mere two blocks from the
Actually, I accosted Finance Director Jeff “Moneybags”
Marlow about the aforementioned form, since it originated from his office.
Jeff explained that Employees can just write “no” in the blank space and
that yes, the wording does seem a bit unfortunate but the forms were drawn
up by personnel with the UT County Technical Advisory Service.
That explains a lot. Often throughout the years when
reviewing some of their technical advice, I’ve wondered what those people
over at CTAS have been smoking. Now we know.
Ah well, at least we don’t live in Wisconsin, where
citizens recently had to live through a bombardment of negative political
ads costing more than the GNP of most Third World countries. In the end,
notorious Governor Walker survived the recall election, raising the spirits
of conservatives across the nation.
Many conservative Pachyderms
predict that Wisconsin’s
vote foreshadows the defeat of President Obama in November, but I’m not so
sure they’ve read the results properly.
governor survived because the election was all about being “against” him,
not “in favor” of his Democratic opponent.
opponent, the Democratic mayor of
appears to have not excited voters much and that’s the rub.
Voters have to be excited about their candidate if
they’re going to turn out in sufficient numbers to win an election. Since
most folks to a certain extent distrust all politicians, campaigning against
one is simply not enough of an incentive. That may be exactly why Barack
Obama could win re-election in November. Conservatives and Southern racists
may despise the man, but nobody can get overly excited about Mitt Romney.
Personally, when all the mudslinging and negative
advertising gets into full swing later this summer, I plan to unplug my TV,
cancel my newspaper subscription and retreat to my back porch.
There I can watch my garden producing the last vegetables
of summer and the birds frolicking in my back yard and pretend that it’s not
an election year. I’ve gotten quite a bit of pleasure from my birds this
spring. Swifts are nesting inside my storage shed while another family of
birds constructed a nest in a boarded up windowsill on my utility building.
That family turned out to be Starlings, not exactly the
most popular of our feathered friends, but I’ve enjoyed watching them
anyway. The mother bird found a small crevice where the plywood has buckled
with age and built her nest on the windowsill. Once the chicks hatched, she
spent hours roaming around the neighborhood, collecting insects and other
morsels, and darting back through the small crevice to feed her young.
I could always tell when momma Starling had flown in with
another treat, as the chicks would raise a ruckus, then she would emerge and
silently glide off to find more food.
Meanwhile, once the chicks were hatched and making a
racket, Papa Starling finally arrived on the scene. He would fly to the top
of the building, making this ugly gawking sound and just sit there,
occasionally flitting to a nearby tree and then back to the roof.
After a couple of days of doing nothing, Papa finally
gathered up a mouthful of insect himself, apparently intent on helping out
the exhausted mother. Alas, the male bird flitted around the small crevice
leading to the nest several times but couldn’t seem to figure out how to fly
inside. He finally gave up and returned to his perch while Mama Starling
continued to enter and emerge from the nest without any effort at all.
I watched this little drama unfold and thought to myself,
birds are really not that different from humans – when it comes to child
rearing, males are about as useless as hair on a doorknob.
AT 7:00 PM ON 06/10/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 06/04/2012)
Memorial Day - pausing to reflect on men and women we never knew
Many people gathered Monday
afternoon across the nation, in many cases such as here in
braving 90-degree heat, at various monuments and public venues to pay
respects to our fallen heroes.
I decided to observe Memorial
Day in a more private manner, by digging into my late grandmother’s letter
box. There, among various birthday cards, graduation announcements,
obituaries and the like, were a couple of dozen yellowing envelopes. Most
were postmarked as military mail from places like
Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, dated
from 1942 to 1944.
These letters were all from my
father and didn’t originate in New Jersey,
but North Africa, from places such as
and Tunesia. Most were vague as to where he was writing from, checkered with
blacked-out lines where military censors had obliterated any hint of
location or mention of anything that might provide useful information to the
Only when my dad returned home
at war’s end, were the missing lines in these letters filled in, that his
Signal Corps company had been secreted across the ocean long before American
troops invaded North Africa, to be attached to the British Eighth Army
under the command of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
The British, it seemed, had
lost most of their trained radio operators on the beaches of
Dunkirk, and had begged their American allies for men
who were trained to repair and operate long-distance radio centers. As a
result, Papa Winfrey spent a longer time overseas, over three years, but
never served on the front lines. I’m not complaining; that could be the
reason I’m here – he came home.
Also among my granny’s letters were two or three others
from overseas, from a different part of the world. These were letters from
my grandmother’s baby brother. Although he was my father’s uncle, Tom Sharp
was more like a brother, the two of them being only two years apart in age
and raised together in the same household.
I gingerly opened the first one
to read. It was on military stationary marked “U. S. Coast Artillery,
“Dear Sis, I hope this finds you well. Now that Jiggs (My
dad’s nickname) has graduated from high school, he should think about
joining up. With his radio skills, he would be a cinch to get a good posting
and quick sergeant’s stripes.”
“The army isn’t a bad life, especially these overseas
posts. The weather here is like summer year round. It can get pretty hot at
times but I’m posted near the ocean and there’s always a good breeze, most
“The thing I’ll remember most
about the Philippines are
the sunsets. The sun kind of melts into the sea in a brilliant play of
color. As it grows dark, the jungle birds begin a chorus of squawks, caws,
chirps and coos that lasts through the night. You would love listening to
Military life overseas is
different from stateside duty. Not as much spit and polish. As long as we do
our job and stay out of trouble, the officers are pretty easy on us. My
captain is pretty easy-going and I manage to get regular passes to go into Manila.
I’ve got a girlfriend there and I think you would like
her. She works at a Catholic school and speaks good English. Who knows, you
might end up with a Filipino sister-in-law! If Jiggs were to end up over
here, you might get yourself a Filipino daughter too. The girls are all very
pretty and eager to marry American boys. Ha.”
Got to sign off now. I’m in barracks tonight and it’s
near lights out. I’ve written Cliff a letter and tell Ola I love her and
will write her, as well as Jiggs soon. Love, Tom”
The letter was stamped and postmarked “October 16, 1941.”
The first time I read this letter and two others, I was
struck by my great-uncle’s writing ability. Compared to letters from my dad
and other family members, Tom wrote beautifully and his spelling and grammar
were nearly flawless. Perhaps, I thought, this is where I inherited my gift
for gab. I felt like I knew him, although we never met.
Tom sent one more letter from
the Philippines in
November, including a studio photograph of a very pretty Filipino girl.
Those of you familiar with
American history can guess the rest of the story, or at least part of it.
Less than two months after that letter was written, the Japanese bombed
Pearl Harbor and America was at
war. The Philippines
were soon invaded. After a courageous stand, the heavily outnumbered
American and Filipino troops on Bataan were
forced to surrender. The island fortress of Corregidor,
where Tom Sharp was stationed, held out for another month before Japanese
troops landed and overwhelmed the garrison.
The next letter my grandmother
received from her brother was on a plain printed postcard. Most of it was in
Japanese, but there was a message in English on one side: “Cpl. Harry L.
Sharp is a prisoner of war of the Japanese Imperial Army. I am interned
in camp number ___ , Philippine Islands. My health is ( ) good (x) fair ( )
poor. I am being well treated.”
That was it, end of message.
The postcard was dated sometime in 1943. The next year, General Douglas
MacArthur kept his promise to return to the
at the head of an American invading force. The Japanese, not wishing their
American POWs to be liberated, loaded the healthy ones on so-called “hellships”
bound for forced labor camps in
Tom Sharp joined 1,782 other
American prisoners on one of those ships, the
Arisan Maru where men were packed so tightly
together in suffocating heat that those suffering from dysentery simply
relieved themselves while standing. The Japanese guards lowered one bucket
of food and one bucket of water into each cargo hold daily, where desperate
men fought each other for a handful of rice loaded with weevils. Men died on
their feet and were eventually lifted from the hold to be dropped into the
Somewhere in the middle of the
South China Sea, the American submarine USS Shark launched two
torpedoes into the unmarked cargo ship, unaware that it carried American
POWs. Many of the desperate men in the holds reportedly cheered when the
torpedoes struck, knowing that their misery would soon come to an end with
Five Americans survived the sinking, five out of nearly
1,800. They found an abandoned lifeboat, avoided Japanese ships and
eventually drifted to the Chinese coast where they were rescued. After the
war, one of those men, who served in the Coast Artillery and spent two years
in a POW camp with Tom Sharp, visited my grandmother. He downplayed the
suffering of the POWs, out of compassion I guess, but his visit gave my
grandmother the closure that the official War Department letter could not.
Each Memorial Day, Americans pause from their daily
activities to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for
their country. They deserve to be honored. Their sacrifices are all the
greater because most of them, like Tom Sharp, were at the beginning of their
lives rather than the end. Many never had the opportunity to have families
and of those who did, most never got to watch their children grow up.
It is truly a shame that, as one writer observed, “Old
men make wars and young men must fight them.” Imagine a world where only
those of us over 50 were allowed to fight in wars. If that were the case, I
imagine there would be no more wars.
AT 11:00 AM ON 05/30/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 05/28/2012)
Vehicular headaches are nothing compared to air travel nightmares
headaches this week of the vehicular kind. The ancient
van has finally bit the big one, namely blown head gaskets – more to fix
than the van is worth.
I’ve been shopping around for
something in my price range, which is somewhere between “charitable
contribution” and the cost of a Mother’s Day dinner at
without much luck. Seems like everything I look over has two things in
common: 1) not likely to make it another twelve months and 2) the air
conditioner is shot.
The twelve-month factor I can live with. I’ve been driving
a vehicle for five years that my mechanic kept predicting wouldn’t last
another six months. That was each time he worked on it, installing one by
one a rebuilt transmission, a fuel pump, an oil pump, a radiator, timing
belt and water pump and various small parts here and there.
The air conditioner is another
matter entirely. With temperatures predicted to be in the 90s on Memorial
Day weekend, you can expect another long, hot summer. I practically live in
my vehicle, between commuting from
Jacksboro each day and driving around on my job. Add at least $800 to
whatever heap of junk I buy to repair the air conditioning unit and I’m at
least a hundred happy meals over my budget.
For the time being, the county
has been kind enough to loan me the “airport car.” That’s a retired
Sheriff’s Department cruiser that is kept out at the
accommodate state and federal officials, industrial prospects and other VIPs
that fly in and need ground transportation.
One neat thing about driving a car with government tags
and a spotlight still mounted above the driver’s side mirror – it creeps
other motorists out. I like to take my time on the road, usually dawdling
along on I-75 at a modest 65-70 and keeping to the 45 mph limit on the
four-lane between Caryville and Jacksboro.
When driving my old van, everybody else blew me off the
road, pushing well beyond the edges of the speed limit in their rush to go
nowhere fast. I love driving the former cop car around. I’ll head up I-75
toward Caryville at my usual 65 or so, cars will approach in my rear view
mirror doing 75 or 80 and then they will notice the government tags and
spotlight and drop back. Next thing you know, I’ve got a convoy.
Sometimes I drop down to 60, just to be naughty. Sure
enough, some cars still hesitate to pass me until they’re sure the speed
limit is still 70. Such is the power of fear and the cost of a speeding
ticket these days.
But all good things must come to an end and the airport
car returned to the airport. I’ll have to choose soon between bad, worse and
worst of all and purchase another heap. Looking at my options, pumping a
grand or so into keeping my old van on the road another year is looking
better all the time. At least the air conditioner worked.
I can’t say all the repairs I’ve had to make on the van
weren’t deserved. It had a hundred thousand miles on it when I bought it. I
piled another 160,000 miles on the old girl in five years, driving
everywhere from Chicago to New Orleans and St. Louis, numerous trips to
Alabama and some rough miles in western North Carolina. That is to a degree
because after 9/11, I resolved to not fly anywhere to which I could drive in
twelve hours or less.
It wasn’t the fear of terrorists that kept me on the
ground, unless you count the terrorists at the airport security checkpoints.
I just got tired of being treated like livestock by airlines and airports,
and overcharged for the privilege.
Funny thing is, that decision was made back when airlines
still let you check baggage for free, fed you a snack and beverage and
actually tried to accommodate passengers as much as possible to make your
trip comfortable and enjoyable, once you got past the misery of airport
No more. Airlines now charge for checked bags, blankets,
pillows, diet sodas and the little bags of pretzels. Just this week they
heaped what to me is the final indignity upon passengers – extra charges of
up to $25 each way for window and aisle seats that mean couples and families
must pay extra to sit together on most flights.
To me, this is beyond ludicrous. Not only are the airlines
penalizing families by dividing them on flights, but penalizing passengers
who paid that extra money for a window seat by asking them to sit next to
someone else’s eight-year-old for up to six hours.
I have now
officially expanded my boycott of airline travel to include anywhere to
which I can drive within two twelve-hour days, which should pretty well
cover everything as far as the Rocky Mountains, eastern Canada
and northern Mexico.
I once had a credit card that gave airline miles. That,
dear readers, is a fool’s errand if ever there was one. I didn’t fly all
that often, but my miles accumulated each time I used the card for
purchases. My goal was to collect enough miles for a trip to Europe, Only
thing was, I accumulated miles so slowly that they kept raising the required
number of miles for trips and I never quite got there.
Finally, Bank of America decided I had accumulated too
many miles, meaning I let my balance on that particular card get too high
for their comfort and they proposed to double my interest rate. I “opted
out,” halting use of the card to freeze the interest rate while I paid it
My accumulated miles, 50,000 or so, ceased to build and
activity on my miles account stopped. Naturally, the airline let me know
that all the miles I had earned would expire if I didn’t pay a fee to extend
to take a vacation to San Diego,
a place I have never seen, just to use some of my miles before I lost them.
Handling charge for using the miles: roughly $100. Then I had to cancel the
trip due to unexpected work requirements. Re-scheduling charge to change my
reservation: an additional $100. I let my miles expire, and with it, any
desire to give airlines another plugged nickel if I can help it.
on my bucket list of places I would like to see while I’m still capable of
enjoying travel, along with
and Tierra del Fuego.
Maybe I’ll get there by booking passage on a tramp steamer or a banana boat.
Alex Haley wrote “Roots” while traveling as a passenger on a tramp freighter
in the Pacific. That was before global warming softened up the Antarctic
icecap. With my luck, the boat I would pick would be the one that hits an
AT 4:00 PM ON 05/25/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 05/21/2012)
Politicians know how to make points
while getting nothing accomplished
to give Road Superintendent Dennis Potter an “A” for effort, and while we’re
at it, another “A” for political smarts. He met with officials with the
Tennessee Dept. of Transportation Thursday, a meeting that was well covered
stations along with local newspapers, to toss out his proposal for solving
the I-75 traffic woes.
Instead of detouring all those interstate travelers and
large trucks down crooked Highway 25W and through LaFollette and Jacksboro,
why not take cars off at the Stinking Creek exit and down the less than four
miles of Stinking Creek Road west to Highway 63, then right back onto the
interstate at the Royal Blue exit?
that stretch of Stinking Creek Road
is little used by anyone except deer hunters and is gravel the entire
length, so TDOT would have to pave it to make it safe for interstate
traffic. Trucks could remain on the one southbound lane of I-75 that is
going to re-open this weekend, but paving that little stretch of
Stinking Creek Road
would prevent the inevitable long delays on I-75 as Memorial Day weekend and
summer vacation traffic approaches.
“Of course TDOT rejected the idea, they didn’t think of it
first,” Dennis complained after the meeting, “but I tried.”
Dennis got nothing but sympathy from the county commission this year when he
asked for more money with which to pave roads. Why not pull a Tom Sawyer on
the State of
and get four miles of county road paved on TDOT’s nickel?
If state officials had
accepted the proposal, Dennis gets four miles of pavement. They rejected the
idea, so Dennis still gets credit with
voters, well documented by news media, for trying to alleviate the traffic
problems. It is an election year, after all.
TDOT officials did toss
County a few bread
crumbs while they were in town. I noticed that they announced on TV that
they would approve some emergency grant funds to LaFollette and maybe to the
county to pay for overtime by police and deputies for traffic control and
other related expenses. Of course TDOT also explained the reimbursement will
take time to work through the system, maybe a year or two down the line.
Meanwhile, has anyone driven in the far right lane of
westbound Appalachian Highway recently? That’s the lane most of the
eighteen-wheelers are driving in while following the detour route. I noticed
it is becoming increasingly rough already, compared to the eastbound lanes
and even the inner westbound lane.
Heavy trucks tend to do that, you know, destroy roads that
aren’t designed for them. It’s liable to be a long, hot and bumpy summer.
positive side, I noticed that Jacksboro Metals is busy erecting a fence
around their recycling business off Towe String Road.
State laws about fencing off junkyards and the like don’t apply to county
roads, but the company appears to be trying to diffuse some of the criticism
Those neighbors were out in
force at Monday night’s commission workshop, complaining about everything
from noise and traffic to loose metal bolts spilled on roadways. The squires
gave them little more than sympathy, since
has no zoning laws to restrict commercial activity from residential areas.
Even if the county were to pass zoning ordinances
tomorrow, Jacksboro Metals would not be affected. Under the “grandfather
clause,” government cannot retroactively restrict use of private property.
let’s face it, if the county had a zoning law already in effect, that area
out along Towe String Road
would most likely be zoned industrial and commercial. You’ve already got
Hatmaker Trucking, Creative Metals, the
limestone quarry, the county recycling center, C & C Concrete and more.
That, of course, didn’t stop Thomas Hatmaker and Scott
Stanfield from inviting the unhappy neighbors down to a town hall meeting to
vent their anger. Dennis Potter isn’t the only public official who’s quick
to take the opportunity for a little political grandstanding.
No harm done as long as people don’t get the wrong idea
about what the county can or cannot do. The county can “encourage” the
recycling business to fence off their property and perhaps keep the noise
down. The county cannot “force” it to do anything as long as Jacksboro
Metals avoids violating any laws, such as water or air pollution.
All of those people who have
shown up at the courthouse in past years, whenever zoning or planning is
being discussed, to loudly protest big government telling them what they can
or can’t do on their own property, need to take note. That tree falls both
AT 9:00 PM ON 05/18/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 05/14/2012)
Legislature may have answer to I-75 slide – repeal the ‘Law of
So many things going on that invite commentary! It’s
difficult to decide where to begin – our dysfunctional legislature, even
more dysfunctional Congress, traffic jams in LaFollette, shady politics,
schools, you name it.
I believe I will start, however, by discussing dinosaur
flatulence. That’s right folks, another British university researcher has
spent another small fortune in grant money to look at whether dinosaur
flatulence may have contributed to global warming a hundred million years or
The conclusion of Professor
David Wilkinson of Liverpool
is that the large herbivorous dinosaurs known as sauropods, which were
mainly just oversized cows, may have emitted as much as 570 million tons of
methane. That’s roughly equivalent to today’s worldwide totals produced by
livestock and the agricultural industry.
Of course, the world during Barney’s time was already much
warmer than it is today, so the conclusion of the scientists is that
flatulence may have contributed to keeping a warm world yet a little warmer.
Whew, must have been a smelly place back in the Jurassic. Perhaps, rather
than being done in by a meteorite, dinosaurs were victims of a teenaged
dinosaur prankster with a Bic lighter, setting off a mass explosion.
Dinosaurs, and the myriad of ways that university
professors can find to waste money, are on my mind because my third graders
at Valley View just finished their Earth Day project last Friday. The kids
set up a table with a variety of minerals that are found in the ground and
another holding products made from those minerals.
They then challenged children from the other classes to
match minerals with the products they make and gave out polished rocks as
prizes for three correct answers. I don’t know if the other kids learned
much from the demonstration, but my “teachers” certainly knew, by the end of
the day, that the blue crystals known as Celestine actually produce the red
color in fireworks, while the colorless mineral Calcite is the main
ingredient in concrete.
I may have made things too easy for the kids doing the
guessing with some of my clues. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure
out that a purple mineral called Fluorite that “you put in your mouth every
day” might be the fluoride in toothpaste.
Working with kids in grades 3-5 in my after-school science
enrichment program is still fun, most of the time. Each year it seems more
and more activities fill up the schedules of the kids in fourth and fifth
grades, with fewer of the older children having time to spare for extra
science instruction. This year, I had to cancel classes for over a month
while most of the students endured “TCAP boot camp,” an intense preparatory
period to get the kids ready for the yearly TCAP tests.
Don’t get me started on how I feel about teaching to a
test. Suffice it to say that under George W. Bush’s “No Child Left” program,
the test, and resulting rewards or punishment, are really a test of the
schools and the teachers. As a result, everything else takes second seat to
TCAPs, for better or worse.
One has to wonder, however, how much of the material that
is force fed into young minds in a few weeks leading up to tests, remains
with them after it’s over. I used to cram for exams at UT during my college
days. I remembered material that I had picked up along the way throughout
the year and carried that knowledge with me into life. I recall precious few
of the factoids that I memorized for final exam week.
One of the gems of knowledge that does come back to me
every so often is a discussion I once heard from Dr. George D. Swingle, who
taught structural and field geology at UT-Knoxville. George was a highly
respected geologist whose name remains to this day on many of the geological
maps published by TVA and the Tennessee Division of Geology.
When federal and state highway departments were designing
and planning the route for Interstate 75 back in the early 1960s, it was
predictable that they would turn to Doctor Swingle for advice.
advice to them was to move the route about fifty miles to the west,” Swingle
recalled, “to a more stable topography on top of the
They didn’t like that suggestion.”
westerly route would have been too far off the main north-south route
Atlanta, at the time
25W. It also would have required costly bridges across huge Lake
and by-passed population centers such as LaFollette and London-Corbin.
Swingle then advised that if
engineers were determined to build an interstate along the top of
needed to re-think their plans for filling drainage areas. “They proposed to
fill in low areas with dirt and shale and construct French drains at the
base of the fills to carry water,” Swingle pointed out. “I told them the
French drains would eventually become silted in or collapse from the weight
of traffic. The only way to fill those draws permanently would be with large
angular rock fills that would hold the weight and carry the water.”
On thing about highway engineering departments, they
always hire geologists to advise the engineers, then ignore the advice. We
can see the results of ignoring George Swingle’s advice today, as LaFollette
endures periods of bumper-to-bumper traffic and motorists crawl along old
25W for two hours on their way north and south.
Up on the mountain the problem
has become clear – a fill of slippery gray shale has become saturated with
water, presumably after the French drain at the base filled in and ceased to
function properly. And the “whole kit and kaboodle,” as George Swingle would
have put it, is on its way downhill to
Perhaps, in its next session, the Tennessee General
Assembly can come up with an answer to the problem. Senator Stacey Campfield
will probably be more than happy to introduce a bill that repeals the Law of
Gravity. That would make about as much sense as some of the other things
that came out of the legislature this year.
AT NOON ON 05/11/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 05/07/2012)
“Tough on immigrants” states are
actually getting tough on taxpayers
Last week I wrote about
delinquent property taxes and how the cost keeps going up the longer one
waits to pay their bill. One thing about it, the county will eventually get
its money one way or the other. A property tax lien takes precedent over all
over liens. Banks and finance companies must pay the taxes to protect their
investments and if there is no mortgage, the property owner pays or loses.
Collecting some of the
county’s other taxes can be more complicated. The wheel tax, about as
unpopular as any tax ever created, cost half the county commission their
jobs when it was first passed a couple of decades ago,
Many of the county’s drivers went to great lengths to avoid paying the tax,
driving to Clinton,
Knoxville or Tazewell to
buy tags and save thirty bucks. A wheel tax enforcement officer was hired to
run around checking tags and prosecuting violators. Alvin Sanders would at
times run up a thousand miles a month just checking license plates.
Since that time much has changed in Tennessee as far as wheel
tax collections are concerned.
was one of only three counties in the state to require drivers to buy a
local wheel tax decal when the commission first created the tax, as an
emergency fix to balance the school budget.
Today over 65 of the state’s 95 counties have a wheel tax of some sort or
increased the tax from $30 to $45 over a year ago, to make up for shortfalls
in other revenue and pay for the increasingly expensive new jail. Still, we
are merely in the middle of the pack, as some Middle Tennessee counties have
wheel taxes ranging from $70 to over $100.
This has meant changes in state law that make avoiding the wheel tax more
difficult as well. County clerks cannot issue a license plate to anyone who
does not have a home address in their county. A person living in LaFollette
can no longer obtain a license tag in Anderson
still has not enacted a wheel tax.
The one exception that continues to cause confusion is that car dealerships
can still issue new tags for the county where the vehicle is purchased.
Under the law, the new car owner is still required to drop in at the
Campbell County Clerk’s office and purchase a wheel tax decal, but many
owners wait until their out-of-county license expire, then pay the wheel tax
for a new
This obviously gives new car owners the opportunity for a year’s free ride,
while those drivers keeping the same vehicle for several years have to renew
and pay the wheel tax each year.
The drivers riding around with plates from Knox, Anderson or Blount counties
and no wheel tax are not necessarily violating the law on purpose. Many
assume that they are not required to pay the wheel tax until they renew
their plates in
Some are purposely misled.
One driver told me that when they bought their new vehicle, they asked the
dealer to transfer their old
County tags instead of issuing new
tags. The salesman told them, “If you do that you will have to pay the wheel
tax. If you take our plate, you won’t have to pay it until you renew.”
Over a thousand
drivers, since last April, have received letters telling them that it just
ain’t so. Most have come in, without any further nudging, within a 30-day
grace period and shelled out the $45. A few have needed a second reminder,
spelling out the penalty for failing to have a wheel tax – an additional $50
fine plus court costs up to $193.
One thing that the
increased wheel tax cost has caused appears to be theft. The Clerk’s office
has seen an increase in the number of people reporting that their wheel tax
decal, their license plate decal, or both, have been stolen from their
the estimates of stolen decals are accurate, a lot of thieves will be in for
an unpleasant surprise. Any tags registered in other counties with stolen
wheel tax decals will still show up on the list maintained by the Tennessee
Division of Motor Vehicles as a person living in Campbell
lacking a wheel tax decal.
The county gets a
regularly updated list from the state and those people will still get the
letter of violation, regardless of what they may or may not have on their
a vehicle license is registered in Campbell
drivers have to pay the wheel tax, unless they have also stolen the state
tag. Anyone driving around with stolen tags runs the risk of being pulled
over by deputies, local police or the highway patrol on some minor driving
infraction. If the officer runs the tags through the state computer to check
on outstanding violations, guess what he will find. Right – expired tag,
despite having a current decal.
The simple speeding
ticket then turns into a trip to jail for theft. It would take somebody
pretty gutsy – or incredibly stupid – to drive around the county under those
Speaking of “gutsy or
stupid,” either term might apply to undocumented immigrants, otherwise known
as “illegal aliens” living in a number of states that have passed new
Uncle Sam merely rounds up undocumented immigrants from
and elsewhere, holds them a few days and then deports them back to their
country of origin. States like
want to go a step or two further, making it a state crime to be in the
would find violators guilty of a misdemeanor with punishment ranging up to
six months in jail and fines up to $2,500, with repeat offenders guilty of a
felony with longer jail terms.
South Carolina, Indiana
have all passed similar laws. It’s interesting to note that most of those
states at one time tried to avoid being part of the
United States altogether – three through secession and
civil war while Utah
as a Mormon enclave also resisted federal control in the 1800s.
tough on them foreigners” might play well with certain conservative voters,
but you should always be careful what you wish for. The federal government
invests a little money to patrol borders and round up illegal immigrants and
a little more money transporting them back to Mexico, El Salvador or
wherever. Uncle Sam does not have to spend a fortune on new prisons and
jailers to incarcerate hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants simply
for not having the right paperwork.
That is what
and the rest of the “get tough on immigrants” states are proposing to do –
fill up the jails with poor Hispanic farm workers and restaurant busboys.
Then, while mama and papa are behind bars, the state can pay for foster care
for all their children.
we know a little about the cost of increasing jail populations. Can anybody
spell “w-h-e-e-l t-a-x”?
The U. S. Supreme Court is about to rule on the
constitutionality of Arizona’s
law and indirectly, the laws passed by the other states. If the Court
strikes down the state laws, they will be doing
taxpayers a favor.
3:00 PM ON 04/27/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 04/23/2012)
and floating houses, don’t forget the sunscreen, Brandon
On the weekend of April 14, I rolled up my sleeves,
grabbed the mop, broom and other implements of destruction and tackled
spring cleaning. That, unfortunately, also meant cleaning out my outdoor
By the time I finished sweeping and dusting all the
mold spores, spider webs, insect parts, rock dust, garden dirt, grass
clippings, fertilizer and mouse droppings and dumping same into trash bags,
I was already beginning to cough. Not the little shallow sneezes brought on
by allergies, but deep-seated Black Lung-type hacks reminiscent of my
This punishment to my system must have lowered my
resistance enough that I quickly caught one of the upper respiratory
infections going around in this changing weather. Last week was an up and
down roller coaster of good days, sleepless nights, bad days, worse nights
and so on.
Somehow I managed to pull myself together enough to
go to court Friday, where the judge was scheduled to hear the first half
dozen cases of people who had failed to get a wheel tax decal and had failed
to reply to all of the warning letters I sent them.
The court cases were an anticlimax. I showed up armed
with all my evidence, from utility bills to property tax cards to voter
registration records to prove the defendants were still residents of Campbell
County, along with printouts of their
license plate information to show they had a current license without the
wheel tax, copies of the letters they were sent and so on.
Every defendant had already been to the Clerk’s
office and purchased their wheel tax decal before court, so the Judge, being
in a forgiving mood, let them off the hook without a fine or court costs. I
got the sense that his generosity has its limits, however, if he keeps
seeing a parade of violators cluttering up the court docket each month.
What I fell behind on last week was one of my other
tax-related duties, and that will keep me heavily occupied for the next few
days. On May 1, the first advertisement will appear in the local newspapers
announcing a delinquent property tax sale in May. I always try to serve the
delinquent tax notices to as many as possible of those owners who failed to
receive the notice by certified mail, before the ad appears in the paper.
My goal to beat the newspaper ad has nothing to do
with bragging rights and everything to do with saving people some money. A
new state law was enacted around three years ago, dictating that delinquent
taxpayers must pay an extra $100 if their name appears in the published tax
Unfortunately, too many property owners, having
gotten into a pattern of paying their taxes late, wait until the very last
moment and rush in to pay the delinquent taxes, penalties and interest
during the last couple of days before the actual tax sale, often after
seeing their name in the newspaper notice.
By then it is too late to save the hundred bucks, and
a tax bill that may have originally been rather modest has ballooned, adding
18 percent interest for two years, another penalty added by the Clerk &
Master’s office, a fee to cover service of process, a fee to cover the
delinquent tax attorney’s title search and now the $100 publication fee.
A original tax bill of say, $200, can end up costing
the taxpayer anywhere from $450 to $600 by the time its all over, and that
extra money does not go to support your schools or build roads, but is eaten
up in clerical fees, attorney’s fees, postage fees and newspaper advertising
Some property owners get blindsided by a
misunderstanding concerning their mortgage holder, whether that be a local
bank, a finance company or some distant banking chain such as Wells Fargo or
I have property owners who complain when I deliver
their delinquent notice, that “The bank is supposed to take care of this for
True enough, if you have an agreement in your
original mortgage that requires the bank or finance company to pay all taxes
and add those costs back into the mortgage each year. Most often, if that
clause is part of your mortgage, the lender will take care of everything in
a timely manner.
The problem comes in where property owners read
clauses in their mortgage that state if the property owner fails to pay
taxes, the lender may pay those taxes to protect their collateral and charge
the taxes and penalties back into the loan amount. In such cases the
property owner is responsible for paying the taxes on time and if they fail
to do so, the bank will most likely step in and pay the taxes at the last
minute to prevent the collateral from being sold by the county.
In such cases, last minute means just that – last
minute. All penalties, interest, fees, fines, publication costs and
attorney’s costs will already by tacked on to the original tax bill. If a
bank is going to be forced to cover your behind to protect their collateral,
it’s gonna cost you.
Local banks will sometimes pay delinquent taxes as
soon as they receive a lien holder’s notice, usually several months before
the actual tax sale, saving the property owner at least some interest and
publication costs. Finance companies and big banking chains take their time,
and in some cases it is impossible for the county to notify the lien holder
before a tax sale because mortgage loans are passed around from one company
This year, while serving lien holder’s notices in Oak Ridge, I found that
four out of five finance companies had gone out of business. Somebody bought
up their outstanding loans, but the new mortgage holder is unlikely to
cover the taxes before the property is sold. If a property owner or
lien holder waits until the property is sold by the county, they can redeem
it for up to a year, but the costs keeps going up, as you must now also pay
interest to the buyer.
The moral of all this is simple – the longer one
waits to pay property taxes, the more expensive it gets, at an accelerated
rate. If you can’t pay on time, at least pay within the first year after
they are due, when your only extra cost is interest on the original tax
bill. After your taxes become “delinquent” – over a year past due – the
costs go up in leaps and bounds.
Speaking of property taxes, one group of homes that
has long escaped any tax liability is about to be added to the tax rolls.
So-called “floating houses,” large houseboats out on
tethered to buoys or shore by cables at some of the marinas, have escaped
the reach of the tax collector for a number of years.
The problems were 1) difficulty in determining
whether such structures were technically “houses” and subject to real
property taxes, or “boats” that are not and 2) tagging the floating houses
to an actual property tax map and parcel number for assessment purposes,
since Norris Lake is part of the “waters of the state” and has no map and
The legislature recently solved the first problem
with a law that defines floating houses, houseboats, marinas and docks as
real property subject to real estate taxes. Property Assessor Brandon Partin
has solved the second problem by assigning the map and parcel number of the
marina where the houses are docked, identified as a “special interest” in
the same way that mobile homes are identified in a mobile home park.
The challenge for Brandon and his employees now
remains to go out and personally inspect floating houses, confirm that they
are not capable of propelling themselves through the water (which makes them
technically a boat) and determine their value for tax purposes.
I imagine he might need to look into the whereabouts of former Sheriff Ron
McClellan’s speedboat and put aside a little money in his budget for
sunscreen. It will be a very difficult summer for the personnel in the
(UPDATED 7:00 PM ON 04/22/12 FOR THE WEEK OF 04/16/2012)
Global warming could sink
Florida, perhaps that will
be a mercy killing
Governor Bill Haslam,
being perfectly capable of adding and subtracting, declined to veto the
legislature’s infamous “monkey bill” this week. Since it only requires a
simple majority to override a governor’s veto and since both House and
Senate passed the bill by substantial margins, Governor Bill decided to let
a sleeping dog lie.
The bill, in its final
form, does very little, of course. It simply states that teachers cannot be
punished for allowing a discourse and discussion in their classroom about
alternatives to “controversial” theories such as evolution or global
Scientists the world
over, were not amused, however. With members of the scientific community, it
was the principle of the thing, that an elected government would give a
backhanded blessing to the mere idea that evolution and global warming are
controversial theories that invite debate.
Evolution may be
controversial in a theological seminary, and global warming may be
controversial in the boardroom of ExxonMobil or among conservative
politicians, but among scientists there is little controversy. Evolution is
fact, and scientists have relied on that premise to help them do everything
from locate pools of oil deep beneath the earth’s surface to develop cures
and treatments for disease.
Global warming is fact
as well. For every scientist, usually supported by grants from oil companies
or conservative think tanks, who publicly questions the idea that we are
making the world hotter, a thousand scientists agree with the concept.
The naysayers usually
agree that the world is getting a bit warmer and that our climate appears to
be changing, but deny that humanity pumping carbon dioxide into the air has
anything to do with it. “It’s a natural cycle,” they claim, that has
occurred at various times throughout earth’s history.
True, the problem is,
it has never occurred as quickly in the past as it is now, thanks to our
inability to control our ravenous apetite for energy.
When the earth has
undergone periods of severe climate change in the past, the change has
occurred over such a long period, thousands or tens of thousands of years,
that life has had time to adapt, that is, to evolve to meet the challenge.
The one time when
climate change occurred too rapidly for life to adapt was around 65 million
years ago, when a giant meteorite struck earth and caused a global winter
that lasted for years. The dinosaurs were in charge then, and we all know
what happened to them.
Oh, but then if you
deny the existence of climate change, you probably deny the existence of
evolution, right? So, how can one argue against climate change and still
point to “natural” shifts in climate that occurred millions of years ago?
After all, according to one Catholic Bishop who worked it all out a few
centuries back by counting backwards through the “begats” in the Bible, the
earth is only 6,000 years old.
Well, you get the
picture. Some things are controversial only if you toss all scientific
knowledge and discovery for the past two hundred years out the window as if
it never existed at all. Treatments for cancer, a cure for polio, control of
smallpox? Never existed. Man on the moon? Never been there. As a matter of
fact we can’t fly either. Airplanes are pure science fiction.
legislature’s monkey bill will not do much actual damage, since most
classroom teachers are sensible enough to help students work out the
fallacies in “alternative theories.” But there are exceptions. I once was
invited to a middle school science class to speak about geology and after I
finished discussing the age of the earth, the march of life as evidenced
through fossils and the shifting landscapes over time, the teacher added his
two cents’ worth.
“This is all one
theory, of course. Another theory states that the earth is only 6,000 years
old,” the teacher told his students. I never went back.
As far as the concept
of global warming and climate change, the coal and oil companies and their
political puppets are finding their arguments a bit more difficult to
swallow with each passing year. Radical shifts in temperature and rainfall,
continued melting of polar ice, longer and more devastating tornado seasons,
wildfires, droughts, 80 degree February days – these are things we can see
with our own eyes. We don’t need a scientific theory to tell us the weather
The only question is
whether human activity is playing a role, and how much of a role. This is a
rather important question, since it determines whether we can do anything to
stop the changes in time to avoid global catastrophe. The energy companies
and their allies would have us believe that climate change is natural and
inevitable, that decreasing our carbon footprint will not help, merely
increase the price of a gallon of gas.
Since most people have
difficulty envisioning life fifty, a hundred years from now, but can readily
feel the impact of $4 a gallon gas versus $3 a gallon gas, climate change
denial seems to be on the upswing.
I saw a statistic that
said the incidence of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” in
major newspapers decreased by 33 percent in 2011. The same article pointed
out that President Obama mentioned “climate change” only one time in his
State of the Union address while mentioning “energy” 23 times.
Many folks obviously are more concerned with today than tomorrow, with their
own well-being than that of their grandchildren. I can live with that. I
have no grandchildren. My advice to everyone is, stop worrying about global
warming. Go down to Macon,
Georgia and buy up some of
that cheap swampland along the
Someday, perhaps in your grandkids’ lifetime, it will be valuable ocean
Of course that will mean that the State of
Florida will no longer
exist. Florida, home to dimpled chads,
gun-happy neighborhood watch volunteers, loudmouthed baseball managers and
angry Cubans, not to mention the
of Florida Gators.
All that will one day end up underwater. It will be a mercy killing.
7:00 p.m. on 04/15/12 for the week of 04/09/2012)
trouble, alcohol invites trouble. Do they cancel each other?
Tennessee General Assembly is winding down its session as members prepare to
go home and begin campaigning for re-election. We will all be relieved when
the final vote is cast and the legislature adjourns.
You will be relieved
because you won’t have to read more of my ranting about how decrepit and
dysfunctional they are. I will be relieved because, quite frankly, we’re all
a bit safer when they are out of session and unable to cook up more
However, their last
days have not been without small acts of drama and black humor, all for our
entertainment. Representative Curry Todd made the news this week by skipping
out on a vote on the floor of the House that will give judges the authority
to order a blood alcohol test if a DUI suspect refuses to submit to one.
Constitutional scholars can debate this bill ad nauseum and it may or may
not stand up in court. For Representative Todd, however, the damage is done.
The West Tennessee Republican, you might recall, was the principle sponsor
“guns in bars” law passed awhile back. Todd then was busted earlier this
year by Nashville
police for DUI, carrying a loaded handgun while intoxicated and refusing to
submit to a blood alcohol test.
His trip to the water
cooler to avoid a vote simply brings Todd’s problems back in the public eye
right before campaign time. Good luck on re-election there, Toddie ole boy,
perhaps a future career as a nightclub bouncer will be more successful.
Speaking of guns, the
National Rifle Association has found that there is a limit to the blank
check it has from conservative Republicans to pass laws that permit everyone
capable of carrying a gun to carry one, anytime they want, wherever they
want, whenever they want.
The NRA’s “parking lot” bill would allow employees to keep guns in their
vehicles on company or school property even if the employer forbids weapons
on its private property. The bill had a lot of support from the
conservatives down in
until, whoops, big business got into the act.
My, oh my, big corporations versus gun lovers! This has to be a
conservative’s worst nightmare. In the end it looks like the corporations
have won round one, as Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, Tennessee’s most powerful
Tea Party conservative, has declared the bill dead for the session.
Personally I have
mixed emotions on this one. I cannot for a moment think of good reasons why
people should feel so threatened on their commute to and from work that they
would need to pack a loaded gun in their vehicle. I mean, if someone
threatens me while I’m behind the wheel, that is why cars have gas pedals
On the other hand,
there have been numerous occasions when I’m driving, that having a bazooka
or small handheld SAM missile would have been a true joy, like when the guy
cuts in front of me, forces me to slam the brakes, speeds up to pass four
cars on the inside lane, then turns off into a convenient mart.
I’ve got it! Maybe the
NRA can persuade car manufacturers to add built-in machine guns so you
wouldn’t need to carry a pistol around with you. That would give a whole new
meaning to the term “road rage.”
I jest, of course. Fact is, I support hunters’ right to hunt, even though I
haven’t hunted since I was a teenager. I also support people’s rights to
bear arms to protect their homes, although the only firearm I’ve owned for
the past twenty years is an ancient single shot .22 that my granny’s sister
used to shoot pheasants when she was a South Dakota homesteader in the 1880s.
For the life of me, I
can’t understand why anyone would want to carry a handgun into a bar, or a
restaurant, a movie theater or a grocery store. As far as I’m concerned, if
you go into a bar to consume alcohol, you do so at your own risk. That’s
your business, but society shouldn’t bless your behavior by allowing you to
carry a handgun while you’re getting inebriated.
My dad was one of the
most enthusiastic gun collectors I ever knew. He had German Lugers and
Walthams, Colt .45s, British .303 Enfields, M-1s, cap and ball pistols from
the Civil war, a couple of muzzle loaders from the early 1800s, a
double-barrel 12 gauge “Nitro Special” that kicked like a mule and a
single-shot .45-70 reputed to have been with Custer at the Little Big Horn.
He had regular ammo,
tracer ammo, armor-piercing ammo, banana clips, full belts for his
water-cooled Browning machine gun and hand grenades, which may or may not
have been defused.
He instructed me at a
young age that all of his weapons were always loaded, and should be treated
as such. I fired them all at one point or another, learning just how hard a
double barrel 12-gauge could kick and learning that single-shot .45-70
carbines throw out so much hot powder that after one shot you are partially
blinded. No wonder the Indians won at the Little Big Horn.
When my dad passed
away, I sat down with my mom and told her, “We need to sell this gun
collection quickly, and make sure everyone around here knows we’ve sold it.
Otherwise somebody is going to knock you in the head to steal it.”
We sold it, lock,
stock and bullet. Nobody ever broke into my mom’s house to steal anything,
since the one thing they would have wanted to steal was no longer there. She
later told me she never felt safe with all those guns around the house, and
never felt safer than he did once they were sold and gone.
The moral? I don’t
know, perhaps that guns invite trouble. Using them to hunt wild animals is
one thing, collecting them like coins or baseball cards another. Packing
them around in your pocket to make you feel like John Wayne? John was 6’4” –
he didn’t feel a need to carry a gun around.
Here on the home
front, Jellico’s Baptists are still protesting the city fathers’ decision to
allow beers sales within 300 feet of a church and to increase the number of
I feel like the members of Crouch’s Creek
are protesting the wrong thing. Allowing nearby convenient marts to sell
package beer is not likely to damage the moral fiber of the community nearly
as much as some of the seedy bars that have operated around Jellico for as
long as I can recall, and I’ve not noticed any church members picketing
their parking lots.
The town council and mayor argue that since Corbin,
Kentucky now allows
beer sales, Jellico must increase the number of beer-selling establishments
and make it more convenient to buy beer or lose revenue.
Seems like Jellico is looking to milk the cow after it has escaped from the
barn. The only reason Jellico has collected significant revenue on beer
sales over the past few decades is that
County has been dry
and all those thirsty Kentuckians made a bee line for the state line every
Friday and Saturday night.
I doubt that anyone
from Corbin is going to drive down to Jellico to buy beer, no matter how
convenient it may be, when they can buy it at home. Still, better to sell
Kentuckians package beer that they can haul back to Kentucky than to
encourage more watering holes on the Tennessee side of the line. Let the
Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, rather than the Jellico Police
Department, worry about drunken drivers.
allows guns in bars, before it’s over the Jellico Police Department may have
all they excitement they can handle anyway.
(updated 7:00 p.m. on
04/15/12 for the week of 04/02/2012)
Legislators’ logic appears flawed, but then you’ve gotta consider
What’s that old
saying? “The more things change, the more things stay the same?”
Here we are in a new
high tech, constantly changing world - revolutions by Facebook,
instantaneous disaster coverage via cell phone cameras, global warming,
universal health care (maybe), a black man in the White House.
Who’da thunk it, even
a mere ten years ago?
Meanwhile, as I
pointed out last week, the Tennessee Legislature is re-fighting the battle
of man versus monkey, dragging up the ancient Scopes trial out of the musty
archives of history, dusting it off and putting a new name to it, all for
While they’re at it,
the Legislature is digging up the 1950s, when politicians kept black people
and poor white trash from voting with poll taxes, literacy tests and the
like. Heaven forbid that the uneducated, poor or people of color should be
able to cast ballots. They might put a black man in the White House!
The current version of
voter discrimination is called the voter ID law, and is supposedly designed
to insure that all of us red-blooded Americans will not have our votes
watered down by allowing someone to cast a fraudulent vote, perhaps someone
voting for a dead person or, I shutter to think about it, an illegal
immigrant, a foreigner, casting a vote!
Sorry to rain on your
parade, legislators, but anyone in this country illegally is not likely to
want to attract attention to themselves by trying to vote. As the guy in
charge of enforcing the county’s wheel tax, I love it when the state
computer comes up with someone who has bought a new vehicle, has a local
address and has a Hispanic name
I sent one such person
a letter recently, telling them they needed to purchase a wheel tax decal.
The Clerk’s office was flooded with folks with names like Carlos, Fernando,
Juan and Jorge, all clamoring to buy their wheel tax decals before they too,
received a letter. I even think one or two people who live in Hamblen County
came in and purchased Campbell County wheel tax decals, just to be on the
I exaggerate, of
course, but my point is, those immigrant workers, whether you call them
illegal, undocumented, or simply confused, have no wish to get on the
government’s radar screen. They don’t vote; they just go to work, return
home and try to keep their heads down.
As far as voting dead
people, county election commissions do a pretty thorough job of purging the
rolls of deceased voters. In Tennessee, where most precincts are in small
towns and rural communities, the poll workers know practically everyone who
comes in to cast a ballot. They also know who has died, who has gotten
married, divorced, arrested and been in the hospital for gall bladder
It ain’t easy to vote
as your dearly departed Uncle Frank when the person running the precinct is
the mortician who laid Uncle Frank in the ground and Aunt Sadie is working
the sign-in table.
Again, I exaggerate
and I know that voting precincts in cities like Nashville and Memphis are
not so personal, although many poll workers live in the communities where
their precinct is located and know many voters. Still, there have been
precious few incidents reported of people trying to vote illegally as a
deceased voter. I cannot recall a single incident that has been reported in
the media in the past couple of decades.
Dennis Powers, in a column defending the voter ID law, argues that because
there is no photo ID requirement, there is no way to know exactly how many
fraudulent votes have been cast, inferring that the number may be
Well, in the eyes of
Dennis Powers and the rest of his ultra-conservative crowd, we can calculate
the exact number of fraudulent votes that have been cast. Just tally up all
the votes for Democrats in the last few elections, add votes cast for less
conservative independent candidates and you have the fraudulent voter list!
I really don’t have a
problem with a photo ID requirement. I have a problem with the types of
photo IDs the various state legislatures, all Republican-dominated, are
willing to accept. This, plainly, shows the true nature of these laws. Photo
driver’s license IDs are acceptable, as are passports, various federal
identity cards and the like. Photo employee IDs issued by state and local
governments are not acceptable – “too easy to falsify.”
IDs available at some trouble and expense at drivers’ license bureaus are
acceptable. Student IDs from universities and colleges are unacceptable –
“too easily falsified.”
Let us call a horse a
horse, a donkey a donkey and a Republican a pachyderm. College students are
dangerous voters. Many, but not all, tend to not vote for conservative
candidates. Some even vote for, gasp, liberals!
Non-students who lack
a photo driver’s license may include an abnormally large percentage of
non-working, stay-at-home mothers or grandmothers. Women, as a whole, tend
to vote less conservatively than men.
Dennis Powers goes on
to argue that the number of legitimate voters who might be denied the right
to vote is too small to take seriously. He refers to lawsuits in Georgia and
Indiana challenging voter ID laws in those states and says they were dropped
because plaintiffs couldn’t find one person who had been denied a vote
because of the new laws.
Perhaps, Dennis, that
is because the new laws haven’t been on the books long enough to impact an
actual election. Give ‘em time. Meanwhile, I seem to recall that some voters
in Tennessee have already been denied the right to vote, including a former
Democratic Congressman, and our photo ID law is not even in full effect yet.
At least Dennis Powers
made some intelligent arguments, if somewhat flawed in their logic. I
noticed that Representative Frank Nicely of Strawberry Plains has trotted
out a little bit of his own logic in arguing against a bill that would allow
school board members to vote on issues by video phone instead of being
present at a meeting.
I have no opinion on the bill at all, not even being aware that it existed
until it was passed this week and reported in the News-Sentinel. The paper
quoted Nicely as complaining that back in the 1860s, two “radical
Republicans” kidnapped two members of the Oregon legislature and
masquerading as the two missing lawmakers, cast the deciding votes in favor
of ratifying the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“The kidnapping thus
effectively changed the course of history and stole power from the states,”
Nicely was quoted as saying in expressing his doubts about the video voting
Best I can recall, the 14th Amendment is the one that abolished
slavery. Since most of the slave states were at the time in rebellion and
part of the Confederacy, the states remaining in the Union had little
trouble in finding enough votes to ratify the 14th Amendment,
with or without Oregon’s help.
Is Nicely trying to
say we shouldn’t have abolished slavery? Or perhaps he is suggesting that
the states like Tennessee and Mississippi, that were actively engaged in a
war against our nation, had their power taken away by these two fraudulent
At any rate, it’s hard
to figure out how a bunch of really dumb legislators could fail to recognize
two imposters among their ranks, how that relates to a video voting bill, or
exactly what Frank Nicely was trying to say anyway.
Representative Nicely has made most of his reputation
by waging what seems to be a one-man war against the Tennessee Wildlife
Resources Agency, and has a reputation as a bit of a legislative bully. I
notice Frank is also considering a step upwards, to run for the Senate.
Sounds more like he needs to consider a step outwards, as in it’s time to
retire before you embarrass yourself further, Frank.
3:00 p.m. on 03/30/12 for the week of 03/26/2012)
Legislators may prove
man has not yet evolved into higher form
Education has been
much in the news lately, with the state legislature managing to stir the pot
as usual, while lawsuit-panicked school boards are dragging the old school
prayer issue back into the news just in time for upcoming elections.
The problem is, the
public gets bombarded by issues that are very different and should be
separated, but they end up being stirred in the same pot until you end up
with the same old “them and us” polarization.
I overheard one lunch
counter philosopher going on Thursday about “them Godless liberals trying
again to shove evolution down our throats and tell our kids they can’t
worship the Lord in school.”
Well, as far as
worshiping in school, that’s pretty much old news, isn’t it? Formalized
school prayer was ruled unconstitutional a long time ago, while kids are
free to pray to God any time they feel a need. They just can’t be forced to
pray by a teacher or administrator.
The annual TCAP tests
are right around the corner, and I can pretty well predict that there will
be more than a few prayers offered up, such as “Lord, please let the right
answer be (a) and not (b).”
Meanwhile, the fallout from
refusal to let teenaged atheist Crystal Myers publish her editorial in the
school paper continues. The school board has now halted opening meetings
with a prayer, something the Campbell County School Board debated last year,
Our board, after
kicking around options such as holding a prayer session in private before
opening the meeting, finally fell right back into the same pattern as
before. There really is no reason not to continue praying before a meeting,
unless someone attending the meeting objects. If someone objects, then the
board can consider whether their principles are worth a court battle.
The other piece of this complicated secular versus spiritual puzzle rests
down in Nashville,
where the GOP-dominated legislature is kicking around bills that would allow
posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings as “historic documents”
and opening of classrooms to discussion of “alternate” theories of creation
than those being taught.
once made itself the laughing stock of the nation by jailing a teacher, John
Scopes, for teaching evolution in public schools back in the 1920s. As
scientific evidence mounted and evolution moved from being a controversial
theory to an accepted principal of science,
Tennessee’s “monkey law” remained on the books for
decades. It just wasn’t enforced when teachers dared to quote
and suggest that perhaps man evolved from a lower form of animal.
Leave it up to Campbell
County to stir the
pot. Back around 1965, when I first entered the University of Tennessee,
evolution was once more thrust into the news thanks to a
High School teacher
and the Campbell County Board of Education.
The Tennessee General Assembly, in no hurry to again become the laughing
stock of the country, promptly repealed the old law making it a crime to
teach evolution. Creationists have been searching for a way to give
Darwin the boot ever since, but there is just too
much scientific evidence. The best they can come up with is this recent
effort to mandate that evolution be presented as one of several theories
about the creation of the world, and particularly the creation of life
including human beings.
never touched upon the creation of the earth; he left that up to geologists
to work out while he developed his theory that all living things evolve over
time to better cope with changing environments and living conditions.
Truth is, I’ve always
been a firm believer in evolution as a scientific fact, but I have no
problem in justifying this belief with my faith in a divine power and the
teachings of Christ. Even in teaching earth science to third graders, I am
occasionally challenged by an especially sharp kid who has been paying
attention in Sunday school.
The fact that the
earth is 4.6 billion years old is usually what raises eyebrows, and some kid
is almost certain to object, “God made the world in six days.” Of course you
are just as likely, perhaps more so, to get the same objection from adults
who believe in a literal translation of the Book of Genesis.
To those adults I will
pose the same question I always ask the kid: “How long is one of God’s
Our day is 24 hours long, and determined by the length of time it takes the
earth to revolve once on its axis. Is the Supreme Being parked on Earth,
perhaps vacationing on the beach at Daytona or writing His memoirs in a
cabin in the Ozark Mountains? Of course
Science has determined
that the earth, and the rest of our solar system, was created some 4.6
billion years ago. If you follow Genesis, that makes one of God’s days
approximately 650 million of our years long.
I can live with that,
but it’s a bit complicated to wrap one’s mind around. I prefer to think that
the Bible tells us what happened, in the most basic sense, but does not tell
us how it happened. That is the job of science, to explain the “how,’ and
evolution, plate tectonics, the so-called Big Bang theory and all the rest
contribute to that storehouse of knowledge and understanding.
The simple truth is,
some things we are not meant to know, and must take on faith. The existence
of God is a matter of faith, and I can live with that because like most
people, I have faith. Science must be a matter of fact, because without it
we wouldn’t be sending people into outer space, we wouldn’t be able to cure
disease, predict the weather or make postings to a Facebook page.
For faith to work for us, it must be separate from fact, and for fact to
work, it must be separate from faith. It’s as simple as that. Let’s hope
that the only real monkeys running around Tennessee, down in the legislature, have
enough sense to realize that. Unfortunately, our elected representatives
provide the best evidence yet that
was wrong and humanity has not evolved.
The other controversy
that is stirring involves teacher evaluations, and a bill in the legislature
to keep them closed to the public. Most TV stations, newspapers and the
Tennessee Press Association will be screaming bloody murder about this,
joined by a lot of parents who want to know if their child’s teacher is any
good or not.
Teachers want the
evaluations kept confidential because 1) they are meant as a tool to help
teachers improve their performance rather than be put on a hot seat and 2)
there are still quite a few bugs in the evaluation system that haven’t been
worked out yet.
I tend to side with
the teachers against my fellow journalists on this one. I’ve never liked a
system that teaches to a test, rather than stimulating children’s natural
curiosity for learning. I’m not sure that evaluations based on test scores
are all of that useful or offer accurate reflections of a teacher’s
The last thing school
systems need are for newspapers to publish a grade card of individual
teachers’ evaluations and a mob of parents trying to steer their children
into the classrooms of the high-scoring teachers and away from teachers with
Instead, school systems need to continue seeking ways
to help all teachers meet a certain level of excellence so that the
difference in evaluations is barely discernable. Either that, or we need to
set evaluation standards for parents as well. Education does begin, after
all, in the home.
9:00 a.m. on 03/23/12 for the week of 03/19/2012)
uncomplicated, kids can be a balm for the soul, especially if taken in small
doses. I like to take the grandparent, rather than the parent approach –
entertain them for awhile, spoil them rotten and send them back to mom and
dad for all the tough jobs.
That is why I continue
to volunteer at Valley View Elementary to teach science enrichment as an
after-school program. The exposure to 9-10 year-olds keeps me young at
heart, while the fact that I’m exposed for at most, three or four hours a
week keeps me from aging prematurely.
This week my exposure
was extended somewhat, as it was time for our annual field trip, this time
up to the neighborhood of Johnson City to visit the Gray Fossil Site &
Museum operated by East Tennessee State University.
This is the second
time we’ve taken a group of kids to visit this museum, which focuses on life
in East Tennessee around four million years ago, when the climate was so
warm that alligators swam in our ponds, rhinos and elephants grazed on grass
and saber-toothed cats roamed the edges of the forest, looking to pounce on
an unsuspecting tapir or wild pig.
version of paleontologists run around digging up massive dinosaur skeletons
and Hollywood archeologists like Indiana Jones uncover rich caches of golden
treasure, the real-life scientists at Gray spend countless hours sifting
through a bag of sand hunting for one little tooth.
might spend an entire summer cleaning and preserving one single fossil bone,
but from that single bone might come an encyclopedia of information. For
instance, the chemical content of teeth uncovered at Gray indicate that most
of the herbivores dined on leafy plants, rather than grass, telling us that
the immediate area was heavily forested.
The kids of course,
learning that being a paleontologist involves long hours in a lab searching
for small clues to the past and does not include running around chasing a
T-Rex, lose some of their enthusiasm for going into that particular line of
Life is like that of
course, full of minor disappointments and reality checks. Pat Summit’s Lady
Vols could, in our dreams, bring her one last national championship in a
storybook ending to an incredible career. Nothing is impossible in sports,
of course, but an undefeated Baylor team with 6’10” superstar Brittany
Griner stands squarely in their way.
I don’t know why we
should fear them. We’re the nation that has enough nuclear weapons to
destroy the world several times over. We are also the only nation that has
ever actually dropped an atomic bomb on another country. Seems we could
simply remind the Iranians of these two inescapable facts.
I-75 has been shut
down more than once by pavement collapses, the most notable coming some
years back when the entire northbound section slid off into the valley.
Things like that happen when engineers design highways through mountains,
especially when those engineers ignore the advice of geologists who
understand the nature of the ground that is being disturbed.
One thing for certain,
if the pressure from freight and trucking companies to allow higher weight
limits on highways ever succeeds, we will see many more collapsed lanes.
Many of these highways were never designed in the first place to handle the
volume of traffic they now carry, and certainly not designed to handle
Now, it seems, the
Chattanooga Times Free Press has managed to put a price tag on the cost to
taxpayers of these Congressional mailings. Not only that, but they found
that Campbell County’s congressman, Scott DesJarlais, led the pack, spending
$224,000 in one quarter between October and December of last year.
This was the Republican primary, for goodness sakes.
“Republican” is an old Latin phrase which means “No tax, ever, on anything,
for any reason.” Look it up.
Seriously, it’s quite a challenge to convince anyone,
whether rich or poor, young or old, Pachyderm or Donkey, Christian, Muslim
or Jew, to pass a tax on themselves. That’s why we elect congressmen,
legislators and county commissioners, so they can pass the taxes and we’ll
have somebody to blame, cuss and vote against in the next election.
County Mayor William Baird expressed disappointment
that the public failed to approve the referendum, pointing out that allowing
the county road system to deteriorate is not an option. Vice Mayor David
Young suggested that one option, unlikely to be popular, might be to go back
to gravel roads.
Commissioner Thomas Hatmaker repeated his contention
that the county could sell enough rock from its quarries to other counties
to pay for asphalt to pave roads. LaFollette Mayor Mike Stanfield suggested
that the county wastes too much money and should cut spending instead of
They could raise the wheel tax, again. See option
number one: been there, done that to pay for the justice center.
The squires could place the sales tax referendum back
on the ballot in November. How could they be sure that the results would be
any different? Well, Dennis Potter could send his crews out to rip up a few
county roads, let the residents eat dust throughout the summer and hope they
vote for the tax increase to get their pavement back.
There are a few other options that we haven’t
considered, and this seems like an appropriate time to toss them out:
1) Make the Appalachian Highway between Jacksboro and
I-75 a toll road. The county could collect a small amount of the revenue
needed from all the people who leave the county daily to work somewhere else
and an even larger portion of the revenue from all the locals driving to the
liquor stores in Caryville.
2) Stock the numerous potholes forming in rural roads
with fish and charge a fee to anglers.
4) And my personal favorite – authorize Dennis Potter
to send highway department employees out to neighboring counties to boost
cars, turn the county garage into a chop shop and fund the entire highway
program as an officially-sanctioned criminal enterprise.
Ah well, as you can see, our options for funding
highway maintenance are somewhat limited. The good old days when federal and
state government shared revenue with local county governments are long past.