Remembering that all three levels of Knox County government failed to protect our Northshore neighborhoods and it was only the courts that stepped in for us, we believe the judicial races are quite important.
No one better knows how our judges are performing than the attorneys who practice before them. Here below, are the results of the survey of the Knoxville Bar Association. (If this link works!)
The race for Knox County Commission Seat 11 At Large is the important one for those who believe that planning and budgeting for roads, sewers, schools and fire and police protection – before issuing building permits, is responsible governance.
Jesse Mayshark and his team at COMPASS, our in-the-know, dig deeper, online paper have done a great job of profiling the two candidates.
We hope you do yourself and your neighbors a favor. Read this article before voting.
In the interest of full disclosure we should state that Kim Frazier was an early friend to Northshore Corridor Association, knowledgeably and impartially guiding us through the difficult, complex processes of Knox County zoning when we knew very little.
(DownTown West and Farragut Town Hall near us, M-F 10-6)
Primary is May 3rd
You asked. Here’s our answer on the candidates.
Perhaps the most important lesson learned from our experience working to protect our neighborhoods the past three years is this.
Notwithstanding some excellent public servants, Knox County government has a long way to go to achieve best practices.
Good governance comes from ethical, qualified leaders whose genuine interest is service, not self enrichment. In Knox County there is a long history of scandals and a much too close network of family members and personal business interest promoters on the county payrolls. Isn’t it time for merit rather than connections?
The frequency of unnecessary lawsuits like ours (NCA) and the scandals that continue to plague county offices and officials are costly embarrassments, and they ultimately are our responsibility as voters and taxpayers.
We can stop the mistakes and conflicts of interest by replacing weak and conflicted leaders with stronger ones. In general, that means new blood.
The dreadful mess in which we Knox County taxpayers find ourselves as we stare down the massive shortfall in roads, sewers, and schools has been made necessary by the reckless issuance of building permits without diligent planning. Some of that comes from conflicts of interest, some comes from the lack of relevant education and experience by our commissioners and office holders.
Having closely watched the reckless waving through of multimillion dollar corporations (but only the favored) who petition the county for over-rides of zoning, but pay nothing in impact fees, and contribute almost nothing toward much needed sidewalks, parks and other improvements, we were more than surprised to hear Commissioner Larsen Jay telling listeners at the League of Women Voters/Board of Realtors candidate forum last week, the following:
(The sound system was poor so please forgive if we have misunderstood, but this is the understanding of our several attendees.) Per Commissioner Jay –
1) We should first say YES!!, then ask what is needed by any business with a proposition for the county
2) We should have a short list of preferred developers and offer them a streamlined process
3) Unless our ears tricked us, Mr. Jay also suggested subsidies (precisely for whom and for what, we are not certain).
Mr. Jay is in the camp of those who believe new single family homes net the county revenue. (In reality they bring the county around $8,000 each in new infrastructure costs, $5,000 to schools alone, $3,000 more for sewers, fire, police, etc).
We learned by yesterday’s headlines the county is re-assessing our homes. For a potential tax increase? Why is a tax increase needed if the stupendous new housing boom we are experiencing is filling the tax coffers? But we digress, except to say that if a candidate blasts from your television – NO NEW TAXES, who you gonna believe?
We must replace those on Commission whose employment and business affiliations influence their decisions. That’s another way of saying follow the money. In our opinion, county employees should not serve on County Commission. Neither should CEOs of development companies, nor presidents of their trade associations. Those whose livelihood is tied to the issuing of permits, or the rezoning of land (too often for private profit taking), or the issuance of county contracts should not serve on Commission.
Unfortunately, prior Commission decisions on rules have made it possible for those conflicts to occur. County Commission and Planning Commission are, as we have said before, conflict laden. We would add to that list, those who derive benefit from promoting those industries.
Let’s get new leaders who understand what conflict of interest means, who have the integrity to address the problems and who bring the skills and experience required to comprehend and address complex financial and legal issues. A great deal of money passes through Knox County’s coffers. That calls for serious education and demonstrated skills. Take a look at what two local reporters, both long in the know inside Knox County have to say about the two Republican candidates for Knox County Trustee.
The Knox County primary election is upon us! Early voting begins April 13. You have asked for guidance on the candidates.
Our interest is in races with a direct impact on the safety and health of our neighborhoods. County Commission seat 11 is hotly contested and land use is the big sizzle.
Long time community volunteer Kim Frazier and wife of Dr. Russ Frazier, who has just returned from volunteering in Ukraine, is pitted against wrestler/gym owner Devin Driscoll who seems to have a strong youth athlete following.
Mrs. Frazier is a long time advocate for neighborhoods, better schools and roads and Mr. Driscoll, heavily supported by the development community is said to be the face of a sports themed development in Farragut.
Ms. Frazier’s camp has alleged their signs are being repeatedly vandalized and stolen from private property and volunteers have filed police reports. Mr. Driscoll, when asked to intervene with his volunteers allegedly responded “Arrest ’em.”
Here is an article by astute, long time political scene reporter, Betty Bean printed in KNOXTN News. Like us, she is curious why so much money and paid expertise is being poured into the campaign of a candidate, who, like our Mayor, is a former wrestler with no prior civic experience.
This one concerns us, but draw your own conclusions. How much is a candidate worth and why are home builders spending more than $100,000 (as of last January, surely more by now) to elect him? Why would a community volunteer decide to go pro and largely self-fund her campaign?
Did you ever work with a salesman that gave you all the facts you needed – but only after you inked the deal? Sometimes timing is everything.
After recent experiences a few Knox Countians are asking some questions. Us too.
Is information useful if it isn’t timely?
Is it really “available” if it is hard to get and the cost is out of the reach of average citizens?
Recently, when a community group wanted solid information to intelligently participate in county processes, they report that the requested information not only took weeks to get, but it cost hundreds of dollars. We wonder who knows that far in advance all the right questions to ask. Whose citizen/volunteer crown is stuffed with hundreds of folding bills?
Another citizen group is still waiting for information requested at least weeks ago, this time through a commissioner well known for his fiscal vigilance and ability to drill down into a spread sheet. They wonder if the sloggery is just coincidence or foot dragging. We all recognize there are many excellent public servants in the county offices who work hard. We do not wish to disparage them. We just want information when we need it.
The county sheriff’s department was successfully sued last year when a request for information was impeded and/or denied.
It’s no coincidence and no insignificant matter that citizens in our nation and state have demanded and gotten freedom of information and open meetings laws. Governments do not run well in darkness.
Is it a coincidence that just days from the start of early voting,
in an administration not free of scandals, getting Knox County information is like pulling logs off the river bottom? A number of county incumbents are running for re-election. One wonders, was there a secret handshake sealing a vow that no bad news should cross the threshold of any County office before the election? (humor)
The county information atmosphere seems to have moved from snail’s pace to glacial after an engineer/economist presented an analysis in January showing that, rather than increasing the county’s revenue, as commissioners have claimed, newly built subdivisions are actually costing, not returning revenue.
The analyst’s figures showed that the fiscal impact on schools alone, was around $5,000 annually per dwelling unit, and when other infrastructure essentials, like roads and sewers were added in, the figure rose to the around $8,000 – and he pointed out that those costs were perpetual. There were literally red faces in the room that night.
Several citizens who attended the recent public events and asked county representatives fiscal questions report that their queries were uniformly answered with a strong an emphasis on “other” county revenue sources such as county service fees (document recording fees, permits, licenses) and bond revenues. The citizens we talked with felt it should be pointed out that bonds are debt, not income and that just as with personal credit card debt, the county pays interest. Bonds are also accompanied by handsome, some say eye-watering, fees that are associated with the issuance or restructuring of municipal debt.
It is Knox County election time. How can citizens hope to make educated decisions on how well their government is being run if they cannot readily access the facts?
Former Knoxville Mayor, Victor Ashe in his column for the Shopper News last week sounded an alert, that maybe not all is well with our Knoxville Mayor’s well packaged new plan, Advance Knox. Mayor Ashe is concerned that the initial meeting for Advance Knox was held behind closed doors. Knox County has an embarrassing history with that (please search Black Wednesday, New York Times, if you are not aware). Not all the players have changed since then.
Mayor Ashe also told us the price tag of Advance Knox is a million dollars. Let’s use those dollars wisely and show up at the meetings -tonight at Hardin Valley Middle School and tomorrow night at Northshore Elementary where the consultants will record our views. At a price tag of upwards of $50,000 per public meeting we should certainly work to get our money’s worth.
Also last week, Hancen Sale, a very young man with a very long title and on the payroll of the Board of Realtors, appeared on the Realtors’ behalf before the County Commission. He presented an alarmist report on Knoxville’s housing crisis. The press covered and ran with it, likely primed by advance press releases.
There’s no denying it’s a red hot seller’s market and housing affordability is a major concern. However, those who have combed the report’s stats suggest a major caveat.
The baseline for the report is the Covid years, certainly major statistical anomalies. People were working from home, many others homebound due to illness or trying to avoid it, homes could not be shown for sale, and a time when our schools were closed and businesses shuttered or struggling.
Should we base important decisions on such of data? Those who have lived through boom bust cycles understand that a significant overnight hike in interest rates, the very thing the Federal Reserve is already discussing may put the brakes on and turn the boom to bust. They ask what then will happen to the thousands of apartment units already adorning the slopes around Knoxville. If history is a good teacher, therein may lie the answer to affordable housing. Facing huge mortgage payments and a dwindling pool of capable high rent payers, will the absentee investor owners then turn to the subsidy programs of the federal government? Worse, will some of those go into default and sit neglected for the years it takes lenders to foreclose and eventually remarket?
For close observers the most interesting part of Mr. Sale’s presentation came at the conclusion by way Commissioner comments. Both Mr. Jay and Mr. Smith showed they were well pleased with what to others may have looked like a dog and pony show designed to gird the effort to gut zoning and allow the build-out of Knox County’s remaining land. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, is enduring advice. A message crafted by an industry spokesperson should always be viewed with a discerning eye. All information needs context.
(Please share and ask your friends to like this Facebook page, OK? It’s important.)
The County Mayor has hired a consulting firm to lead a process to update the Knox County Growth Plan – that really, really, really important thing that we talk about here so often.
The process is called Advance Knox. You will find a link to the schedule for “Ideas Week” below. Meetings begin next week. Yikes. (Don’t blame us. We just got the information.)
We strongly urge you to show up at a nearby school and share your ideas and concerns regarding Knox County’s future.
The Mayor (Same guy. I swear.) and development community, led by Scott Davis (I don’t have to remind you who he is, right?), previously mounted a very strong effort to eliminate the County Growth Plan (that document that defines and mandates the best use of county land), saying it was time consuming and costly. Only the unwillingness of the Town of Farragut to endorse their proposal stopped that effort. Whew!
A little later on, the Knox County Law Director’s Office took the position that the Growth Plan had sunset, died, dead, done! But that was in conflict with opinions of the State Attorney General. That left an unfortunate state of confusion as to whether County Commission was bound by it. Seems they chose – they’d rather not.
Last month, the Law Director’s office reversed its decision back into alignment with opinions of the State Attorney General (they didn’t tell us why.) As a result of these challenges and changes there is understandable wide skepticism among citizen groups across the county.
Still. Nevertheless. No excuses. For real. This Is It.
Advance Knox does provide an important opportunity for citizens to speak up and hopefully (if there are enough of us and we look like sorta like voters) we taxpayers can have an important impact in re-crafting this very important law.
Inside Baseball (Mayor’s Office) Wait. I forgot. Inside Wrestling
An Advance Knox citizen “stakeholder” committee has been appointed to help shape the process. We have only a little information about the members and their role but it appears they will not be a voting body (so they get to meet in the dark, away from prying eyes like yours). It is our early perception that, like the predecessor committee, after the Mayor’s earlier effort, its membership may be weighted toward the development community (Secret. – from which the Mayor and several sitting commissioners and commission candidates have received major $$$$$ campaign funding. Shhh. ).
Who Cares? You do!
If you care about the direction Knox County is headed, this is your big chance to get a seat at the table, see what’s afoot and speak up. (If we don’t participate should we complain later? What would your mother say?)
Why Does it Matter?
In spite of well organized efforts by many citizen groups to retain current zoning to protect their neighborhoods, farms and green spaces; to save a teeny little bit for parks, etc., hundreds of Knox County acres have been rezoned for development and thousands of building permits have been granted – with grossly inadequate fiscal planning for the impact on schools, roads and utilities. Actually, it seems nobody really knows how much. We’re trying to find out.
Unfortunately, there is no readily accessible snapshot of the permits issued, their status or their expected impact that we can show you. We have asked for the information and will share it here if we obtain it. We believe this lack of information is a serious flaw in County planning and just one of many problems the new plan should address.
Let’s be better informed. We hope you will not only participate in Advance Knox but that you will start preparing right now to vote in the upcoming County election. Early voting starts in April! We hope you will begin by taking a look at required campaign disclosures. That’s where the rubber meets the road, where you can actually see who’s putting their money behind who and maybe figure out why, then decide for yourself who you want representing you.
While we maintain healthy skepticism about Advance Knox, we know there are some very good citizen members on the stakeholder committee, as there are also some excellent County Commissioners. We will participate. See you there?
Here Are A Few Facts for Your Use:
1) Knox County is experiencing an unprecedented building boom
2) Already upwards of 80-90% of Knox County land is developed.
3) Housing demand is tremendous as people abandon high crime, high tax communities and flee to communities they perceive to be safer and more affordable.
4) Knox County is high on that list. We welcome our new neighbors but know –
5) Knox County is not prepared!
6) As we have reported here before, developers ask County Commission monthly, and most frequently it approves requests to rezone rural or otherwise low density land such as farms, ridges, hills and flood prone parcels (hint – that’s why they are zoned low density). This is done without an overall vision/plan that is respected and adhered to by County Commission.
7) Much more land has already been approved for development.
In fact, according to the Board of Realtors 16 percent of all building permits and site approvals for the state for 2021 were issued in Knox County alone!
Now is the moment for citizens to be engaged with Advance Knox and with our County elections.
Early Voting is April 13-28. Primary is May 3rd and the General Election is August 4. Next year will be too late.