Guest column: City manager urges citizen engagement in key decisions

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Many projects are happening in Oak Ridge at the present time. Our city does not slow down and is affected by issues at the state, federal, and local levels.

As your city manager, I am concentrating on matters such as the implementation of EPA sewer requirements on a tight timeframe, creation of a national park, development of a new mall, and installation of a new dispatch center.

Among its many other decisions, Oak Ridge will be facing a pair of major initiatives which particularly important for our community. The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE), owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory contractor UT-Battelle, is under new leadership as veteran museum director David Moore takes the helm. With this change, the DOE knows that the long-term viability of a museum is dependent upon local and regional involvement.

Recently, the AMSE Foundation and the City of Oak Ridge have been co-hosting a series of community meetings about AMSE to discuss options for developing a new operating model for the museum. Two of four public discussions have been held about this topic.

Last week, we heard from the directors of the MUSE in Knoxville, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol to hear how today’s museums remain current and relevant to their visitors. Turnout for the first two meetings has been very encouraging; the next public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 25, from 6-8 p.m., when heritage tourism will be discussed. [Read more...]

Letter: Commissioner-elect says ‘thanks,’ offers tips to November candidates

Theresa Scott Thank You Sign

Submitted photo

To the Editor:

Since May, I have knocked on doors and visited with residents, homeowners, and voters of District 7 while campaigning for a seat on County Commission. I heard from many about their frustrations at several candidates in various races who chose to gain attention by means of mail, recorded phone messages, and numerous yard signs throughout their neighborhoods and on the main roads.

When the signs were allowed to be posted at the Wildcat Den for early voting, it was as if there was a corrugated plastic explosion overnight. Some were so disgusted that they chose not to vote during that period. It is very unfortunate that such a distraction would cause someone to choose not to make their voice heard.

With another election coming up in just a few months, I would like any future candidates to take note of the following tips that could possibly help them reach more voters. When canvassing a neighborhood, keep in mind there may be a dog or child on the other side of a gated fence. Respect a resident’s privacy and do not solicit or trespass onto their property if signs are posted not to enter. You should not cross through the yard when going to the neighboring property but use the sidewalks. [Read more...]

Letter: Write-in House candidate says coal is obsolete

Leslie Agron EPA Clean Power Plan Hearing

Oak Ridge resident Leslie Agron testifies at an EPA clean power plan hearing in Atlanta on July 29. (Submitted photo)

Note: This is a copy of testimony given July 29 in Atlanta by Oak Ridge resident Leslie Agron, a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary for Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the EPA. Thank you for taking my testimony.

My name is Leslie Agron. I am from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. As the son of a Manhattan Project scientist, I was born and raised there. I grew up within walking distance of Appalachia.

I am currently a candidate for the Tennessee state legislature. I have previously served on Oak Ridge’s Environmental Quality Advisory Board. I hold an Executive MBA from The Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. Given that credential, the thrust of my remarks will be about business and business climate.

I hold that, contrary to industry remarks that coal makes jobs, coal is not good business. To be clear, in a historical sense, coal was very important to the development of America in the 19th and 20th centuries. During those historical times, coal very much enhanced the business climate of our country by supplying affordable energy when no other source of energy was available. [Read more...]

Letter: Prefer humanitarian aid to Gaza, rather than ammunition

To the Editor:

I see on television that our country is providing more ammunition for the Israeli government to slaughter residents of Gaza.

In spite of attempts by humanitarians from various countries, Israel has kept the citizens of Gaza malnourished and miserable by its blockade. It is now slaughtering men, women, and children like shooting fish in a barrel.

I would much prefer our country to provide humanitarian aid with my tax dollars, rather than providing more ammunition.

Paul Spray, MD

Oak Ridge

Letter: NRA endorses Ragan

To the Editor:

The National Rifle Association recently posted their candidate ratings for the Tennessee House of Representatives.

In the race for House District 33, State Representative John Ragan (R–Oak Ridge) received an A rating and the endorsement of the pro-Second Amendment organization.

According to a release from the NRA, Representative Ragan is their choice in the upcoming August 7 Republican primary. Since being elected to office in 2010, Ragan has supported various bill centered around protecting the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans. [Read more...]

Letter: Anderson County Commission needs wake-up call

Anderson County is a wonderful place to live and work. Our economy should easily out-perform Knox County’s. Yet, we consistently fail to do so—and our County Commission seems to be asleep. Between 2000 and 2010, Anderson County grew at only 41 percent of Knox County’s growth rate. That’s unacceptable.

Over the next decade, Anderson County taxpayers will pay close to $2 million in salary and medical/dental/retirement benefits for its county commissioners. The commission needs to get focused and get busy. Our economy was dealt a significant blow when the commission opted for an expensive jail expansion. Commissioners could have sought support from a newly-elected Republican governor for more time to resolve jail overcrowding through less-costly administrative means—but did not. Instead, they chose the jail expansion, ignoring its impact on our taxes and our economy.

The commissioners made a second error when they passed the jail expansion without dealing with the new jail’s increased operating costs. This mistake drove jail costs even higher and raised the real possibility of a second tax increase. Thankfully, a second increase was prevented by the efforts of Mayor Frank. [Read more...]

Guest column: ORS made gains on most of Seven Keys to College, Career Readiness

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

In any transition year in which the state’s standards and/or tests change, it is difficult to make meaningful comparisons with the results on those tests from previous years. Comparisons within the year can be meaningful, such as the fact that the percentage of students in Oak Ridge Schools that were at or above proficiency is higher than the state average on nearly every test administered; or that the state said that “strong gains” were made on the high school tests, and our data shows that ORS continues to far outperform the state on every high school End of Course examination.

That being said, ORS did find areas for growth and also celebration within our results. Our overall student population did not achieve as highly as we had hoped. However, we did see significant increases in some of our subgroups. In fact, ORS closed the achievement gap in 10 of the 16 areas monitored by the state. For instance, our English Language Learners had a nearly 8 percent increase in the number of students who were proficient on the state’s mathematics examination.

So what do we do when the state changes the standards and tests? Is there a way that we can continue to monitor our progress to ensure the success of our students? Yes! We can look to the measures that we know indicate the success of our students—ORS Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness. These Keys were developed collaboratively with the community and focus on the steps needed to prepare students for the rigors of life after high school. In our Keys, we see positive gains on the majority of measures. [Read more...]

Guest column: Tennessee retention elections explained by LWVTN

By League Issues: Making Democracy Work

On August 7, Tennesseans will vote in a statewide retention election for appellate judges. Included are three of the five Tennessee Supreme Court justices as well as judges currently sitting on the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals.

The August 7 retention election represents the last such election under the much-respected Tennessee Plan—the 40-plus year plan for merit selection and retention of appellate judges. The plan was designed to reduce partisanship and outside influences in electing and retaining our appellate judges. The final phase of the plan—merit retention—expired June 30, 2014.

This year’s retention election is particularly important. Fair and impartial court supporters in our state—including Governor Haslam—are concerned about media reports that the three Supreme Court justices seeking retention in Tennessee might become the targets of heavily financed campaigns organized by groups outside the state. There have been reports of such campaigns targeting high court justices in several other states across our nation.

What does merit retention mean? [Read more...]

Letter: Democrat supports Gallaher for Register of Deeds

To the Editor:

This letter writer supports Bill Gallaher, Republican, for Anderson County Register of Deeds.

I am a senior citizen on fixed income. I was born and raised on a farm at Andersonville and have lived in Anderson County my entire life. I retired after a life-long career as a librarian in Anderson County.

I am also a life-long Democrat, supporting Bill Gallaher. [Read more...]

Letter: Two greatest tasks—protecting taxpayers’ purse, public services

To the Editor:

When “how things are” and “how things can be” come together, growth occurs. However, not acknowledging “how things are” denies the opportunity for growth.

I wish to speak to you as if we were face to face. Whether you may agree with what I say or not, you will know that I am speaking from my heart. I want to talk about Oak Ridge because it is something that I am personally very passionate about.

The scientific achievements from Oak Ridge are extraordinary, with some of the best research in the world developed here. I am very proud of Oak Ridge and our contributions to the world. Whether exploring the deep structure of matter or the genetic code, our scientists are leading the way. But, we must confront the hard truth that we can no longer count on the federal government to carry us through. For decades, we have been avoiding this and other avenues of development. We’re starting to make progress but still have a long way to go. We need to create a balanced economy that will provide prosperity and economic security for the people of Oak Ridge and Anderson County. [Read more...]

Letter: Register of Deeds opponent says six-year deficit exceeds $440,000

Bill Gallaher

Bill Gallaher

Note: This is a copy of a press release submitted by Bill Gallaher, who is challenging Anderson County Register of Deeds Tim Shelton in the August 7 general election. Gallaher and Shelton have had a back-and-forth debate about office finances. You can see Shelton’s press release here.

The burden on the taxpayers of Anderson County to maintain operations in the Register of Deeds Office just got heavier. The taxpayer savings account known as the Undesignated Fund Balance decreased by $92,391.20 this summer due to the Register of Deeds office excessive spending.

Bill Gallaher expressed concern that the Register of Deeds Office is heading in the wrong direction.

“This makes six straight years that our current Register of Deeds has allowed the office to be bailed out by the taxpayers,” Gallaher said. “It is an alarming amount of money that is required to subsidize the Register of Deeds Office each year.” [Read more...]

Letter: Register of Deeds audit shows surplus, refutes opponents’ claims

Tim Shelton

Tim Shelton

Note: This is a copy of a press release submitted by Anderson County Register of Deeds Tim Shelton. Shelton and his challenger, Bill Gallaher, have had a back-and-forth debate about office finances. You can see Gallaher’s press release here.

The Anderson County Register of Deeds office has concluded an internal audit of all revenues and expenditures dating back to 2002, the year that current Register of Deeds Tim Shelton first took office. The results appear to refute the claims made by opposition candidate Bill Gallaher that the office is operating in the red. According to the audit results, the Register of Deeds office has generated a surplus of $546,286 over the past 12 years, with revenues coming in at $3,661,700 and expenditures totaling $3,115,700 for the same time period.

“I felt it important to provide this information to the public so that the confidence which our citizens have in the register of deeds office could be validated,”” stated Shelton. “”We went receipt by receipt, totaling every revenue and expenditure since I took office, double and triple checking to ensure that nothing was missed.””

The controversy of fees began a few weeks ago when a mail piece was sent out by Bill Gallaher, who is opposing current Register of Deeds Tim Shelton in the August 7 general election. Shelton disputed the accusations during two recent joint appearances by both men, one on radio and the other at a public forum in Oak Ridge. [Read more...]