Commission, BOE to select new leaders in upcoming meetings
Almost 20 Knox County leaders, including judges, fee officers and members of the legislative and executive branch, officially took office on Tuesday morning, participating in a formal swearing-in ceremony at the City County Building.
Now, they say, they're ready to get down to business.
"In 2010, I stood here and jingled the keys to a county-owned vehicle (which he sold) and promised a new direction in Knox County," said Tim Burchett, now in his second and final term as county mayor. "Today, in 2014, I'm proud to say that we're heading in the right direction."
During a brief speech, the mayor listed a number of achievements during his first term: reducing debt by $65 million; increasing school funding by $46 million; building an elementary school for the Carter community; and improving the county's bond rating.
He also said that his administration and the County Commission approved measures that guarantee a job interview to any veteran meeting the minimum qualifications for an open position.
He's said that consolidating some city and county departments, like the tax collections office or parks and recreation, for example, are high on his to-do list in the coming years.
The Knox County Commission, which includes four new board members, will hold a reorganizational meeting next Monday. The first task? Picking a new chairperson who will set the monthly agenda and manage the meetings.
So far, officials say to expect a close vote between current chairman, Brad Anders, and Commissioner Dave Wright.
"We'll have four seats changing, so to keep some continuity and keep things rolling in a smooth direction, I think it may be the best thing for me to stay at this time," Anders said. "It would only be for one year."
Wright, who knows each of the four new members, said either him or Anders could do the job.
Earlier Tuesday, incoming Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond swore in some 80 of his employees.
Hammond is taking over an office at the forefront of a WBIR 10News investigation that unveiled mistakes leading to residents losing their freedom, their driver's license and their right to vote – all because of breakdowns in training, technology and communication inside the office, and then-Clerk Joy McCroskey's failure to admit and address the problem.
Hammond, prior to taking office, interviewed the clerk's office employees and eventually let six go. He also hired six new people, he said Tuesday.
"I feel like I'm ready, but it's a huge undertaking, no question about it," said Hammond, whose department oversees the paperwork for criminal court, fourth circuit court and general sessions court. "We're going to be spending this week getting organized . . . (and) we're going to be restructuring some of the offices. There are a lot of internal things that we're going to do that may not be apparent to folks outside the building, but inside the building I think you will see that it's very efficient."
Ed Shouse, who officially took over as county Trustee on Tuesday, said at this point he's met with most of his employees and does expect to slim down his staff, but will more than likely do it through attrition. He said several people are retiring and a few are quitting.
In the meantime, his former opponent – Craig Leuthold – in the May Republican primary will go back to his old job in the county's Property Assessor's Office, working as its public information officer. Leuthold stepped down from the job when the commission appointed him in July 2013 to serve as interim Trustee.
BOARD OF EDUCATION
The Knox County School Board, which held its swearing-in ceremony at the Andrew Johnson Building Tuesday afternoon, gets up and running immediately with its first voting meeting Wednesday evening when members are expected to pick a new chairperson and talk about the 5-year strategic plan.
Officials initially approved the plan last month with a so-called "emergency" vote, but new board members – there are four – want a chance to discuss it.
Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said he's ready to get to work with the new board
"We focus on the education of children . . . so anyone who is there for the right reasons because they want to improve the education of our children, I'm looking forward to working with them," he said.
In addition, school board leaders during their first retreat on Sept. 19 plan to talk about an agreement between the BOE and the superintendent that some new board members say they are not prepared to approve.
The agreement, which in part is designed to guide the conduct of school leaders, raised eyebrows several weeks ago when it was presented to new members during an orientation.
Incoming BOE member Amber Rountree asked the county's law department to look into whether it was binding.
"I had some concerns about the agreement, going in as a new board member and wanting to be as transparent as possible and also wanting to have as much information as possible representing the people of South Knoxville," said Rountree, adding that "I'm glad it's out in the open."
Attorneys in the law department said the agreement wasn't binding and even suggested that it "limits members' freedom of speech."
"It goes without elucidation that free, open and vigorous debate in meetings, forums, the press and before the public in general should be the norm for the members of any deliberative body," Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong stated in a memorandum to board members last week. "Any restriction on such is inimical to the concept of representative government."
The agreement contained a number of items that concerned some officials.
For example, it said school board members could not asked questions designed to "stump" the superintendent. It also restricted a board member on the losing side of the vote to discuss his or reasoning. Instead, that board member would be required to publicly support the majority decision or refer comments to the board's chairperson.
The board, in the past, has approved the agreement a number of times.
McIntyre said the document was mostly just an outline for the BOE "deciding how it wants to work together" with other board members and with him.
"In a lot of ways it's just good governance," he said. "It's just that these are the goals and the expectations to which we aspire – to which they aspire as a school board – so it's certainly something we'll have additional discussion on moving forward."