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Knoxville City Council to discuss banning vape products in parks, urban wilderness project construction cost

Councilmembers will also discuss whether to spend $150,000 for lobbying services in state and federal governments.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, council members in Knoxville will gather in the City County Building for a routine meeting. They will discuss some key items to support an ongoing Urban Wilderness project across the city and will make the final decision on whether to ban vaping products in parks.

Councilmembers will also discuss whether they should spend $150,000 on lobbying services, representing the council's interests in the federal government.

You can read more about some of the biggest items on the agenda below.

Resolution to spend $150,000 on lobbying services

Councilmembers will discuss whether to enter an agreement with Cornerstone Government Affairs, spending $150,000 over the course of 2022 to represent specific city-related interests in legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government.

Cornerstone Government Affairs would be responsible for arranging meetings with elected and federally appointed members of government, as well as monitoring policy changes as proposals make their way through Congress. They will also work with federal grants and appropriations, working to get the city money from federal funds.

Knoxville officials said that the cost is consistent with what other major Tennessee cities budget for similar work. The company also said it works with the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority, Shelby County, the Cherokee Nation and the City of Bainbridge among many other clients.

The company says that it assigns "team leads" who manage direct relations between clients and the company. Teams of lobbyists work to further the interests of clients, managed by a team lead.

"From an approach standpoint, Cornerstone operates as a complete, integrated and bipartisan team—when a client hires us, they retain not simply an individual, but the resources of our entire organization," the company said in a letter to Mayor Indya Kincannon.

The company uses "OpsWatch" to monitor federal grant opportunities related to higher education, health care and technology. Cornerstone Government Affairs also said it has experience working on issues related to transportation and infrastructure.

The team includes professionals who formally worked with leadership offices, appropriations committees, members' personal staffs, Cabinet-level executive agencies and political campaigns. They also said several team members gave strategic counsel to President Biden.

If approved, Knoxville's core team would have 11 members, including:

  • Mike Smith: A member of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee's Majority Trust Legacy Circle who speaks with many people about issues including health care, education, transportation, technology and taxes.
  • Lydia Verheggen: Before working at Cornerstone, she worked at Federal Solutions and was responsible for federal government relations among higher education clients. She also helped create OpsWach.
  • Lizze Messer: A former legislative assistant in Representative John Rutherford's (R - Florida) office. She was also an associate staffer to the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services.

They said Knoxville leaders should focus on developing a strategic federal engagement plan to increase the City's profile among federal decision-makers. They also said leaders should create a way to tell the city's story through briefing materials, and focus on finding new grant opportunities and successfully applying for them.

Mayor Indya Kincannon said Knoxville was the only major city in Tennessee that did not receive lobbying services.

Increasing an Urban Wilderness construction contract by $55,535

Knoxville's Urban Wilderness is an expansive network of 50 miles worth of greenways and natural paths. Most can be accessed around 5 minutes away from the heart of downtown Knoxville.

The system of greenways was started more than a decade ago through a partnership between the city and several nonprofit organizations. Many of the routes wind through South Knoxville, and construction is ongoing on the Urban Wilderness.

Council members will discuss whether to pass a resolution that would allow the city to pay Vaughn and Melton Consulting Engineers $55,535 more for ongoing projects on the greenways.

The company provides professional design services for the Urban Wilderness Gateway Project. They are expected to build two facilities for shaded seating, as well as bathrooms, parking lots, plazas and park furniture.

The work will be divided into two separate projects and after the city received only one construction bid. They also said contractors gave feedback, saying prices have risen dramatically for labor and raw materials and asked for the contract to be amended.

If approved, the construction work would cost a total of $1,057, 650.

The motion passed on Tuesday. 

Increasing Greenway Connector Project contract by $84,428

After construction started on the Northwest Greenway Connector, a half-mile stretch of trail between Victor Ashe Park and the pedestrian bridge spanning Western Avenue at Ball Camp Bike, the city is looking to expand the scope of the work.

They asked to increase the contract by $84,428 for a total of $1,207,729 and to extend the completion date to May 10. As part of those changes, leaders also asked to allow for additional tree work and said they underestimated the quantities listed in the original plan.

Second Reading - Banning Vapor and Tobacco Products in Parks

Knoxville City Council will also discuss whether to amend an existing policy to ban tobacco and vaping products on publically-owned facilities meant to be used by children.

According to the proposal, the city will use funds to buy signs notifying people about the changes at city parks. It will come from the Parks and Recreation budget.

The policy passed on first reading on March 8. If it passes on the second reading during Tuesday's meeting, it will go into effect.

Ordinance to spend $19,125 for community improvements through several agencies

City council members will also discuss an ordinance that would use $19,125 from the community improvement fund on several projects through several community agencies.

The University of Tennessee Foundation would get $1,650 for a health center at Vine School, while Fulton High School would get $2,250 for an independent reading program.

Catholic Charities of East Tennessee would also get $1,000 to give legal assistance to immigrants and refugees, while Chainfree Knoxville would get $975 for dog fencing.

Several other organizations could get money through the ordinance.

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