Guest column: Serving the city helps achieve community goals

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

By Mark S. Watson, Oak Ridge City Manager

The City of Oak Ridge is one that prides itself on the interest, knowledge, and involvement of its citizens in local government. Oak Ridgers are always willing to add a different perspective, technical information, and just darn good opinions on topics that affect them.

On January 12, 2015, the Oak Ridge City Council will appoint citizen volunteers to fill vacancies on boards and commissions that have occurred due to term expiration and attrition from the board membership.

Applications must be received in the City Clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31.

Over the past years, the City Council has found it sometimes challenging to fill the vacancies of its various boards. People are busy, and getting busier! Some feel that many governmental matters require special knowledge. Others have not thought of providing their talents to shape their community. [Read more…]

Guest column: Small gifts can have big impact

Lydia Birk

Lydia Birk

By Lydia Birk

United Way of Anderson County 2014 Campaign Chair

You might recognize them, four special days that have grown up around Thanksgiving.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, “Cyber” Monday, and Giving Tuesday all start with Thanksgiving, a day when all Americans reflect on family and give thanks for their many blessings.

On Black Friday, Americans turn their attention to shop for great deals to stretch out those blessings; Small Business Saturday, we are all asked to support our locally owned small business; and Cyber Monday, Americans are all clicking away online for that Christmas bargain.

#Giving Tuesday is new, only three years old now. Americans everywhere are asked to consider sharing a little of their blessings with organizations that can turn their small gift into large rewards. [Read more…]

Guest column: A simple gift

Kaylain Tolbert and Naomi Asher

Clinton High School student Kaylain Tolbert, right, and Naomi Asher of CASA of the Tennessee Heartland are pictured above. (Submitted photo)

By Naomi Asher

A simple envelope can hold a heartwarming gift.

At the beginning of October, CASA of the Tennessee Heartland got one of those simple envelopes. It contained a check and a note from a teacher at Clinton High School.

One of their students, Kaylain Tolbert, had raised money for CASA as a candidate for Homecoming Court. Kaylain chose to give her donation to CASA.

While many of the other students chose organizations that others had chosen in years past, Kaylain chose CASA. She babysits for a CASA volunteer’s children, and this volunteer encouraged her to look into the cause. [Read more…]

Guest column: ‘A Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer’

John Ragan

John D. Ragan

In October of 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation “recommending” to the people of the United States a day of “Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer.” He urged Americans to remember “with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” He published this proclamation, less than a month after the Constitution was signed, at the request of Congress.

Seventy-four years later, in the midst of a bloody and bitter civil war, a different president issued another Thanksgiving Day proclamation. In his proclamation, Lincoln called for “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” He urged Americans to acknowledge “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”

School children of my generation were assigned to read and study such Thanksgiving proclamations from our presidents. But today, it seems school children are seldom required to become familiar with such historic proclamations. Why is this? Are our schools, and popular culture in our nation, conspiring to obscure the meaning of Thanksgiving? [Read more…]

Guest column: League’s positions on three proposed constitutional amendments

League of Women Voters Logo

League Matters—Making Democracy Work

Tennesseans will be voting on four proposed amendments to the state constitution. The League of Women Voters (LWV) has long-standing positions on three of these issues. League positions are taken only after detailed study by League members and consensus among all local leagues.

These three proposed amendments will have long-term effects for Tennesseans, and the League urges voters to carefully and thoroughly consider the issues before casting a vote.

Amendment One Summary—Amendment to Article 1 of the Tennessee Constitution’s Declaration of Rights states that nothing in the Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.

The League of Women Voters does not support this amendment. The LWV believes that public policy in a pluralistic society—one of many faiths and many cultures—must affirm the constitutional right of privacy of the individual to make reproductive and medical choices.

Of particular concern is the wording of this proposed amendment. This amendment allows future Tennessee legislatures to pass into law unbounded restrictions on reproductive privacy without public dialogue and and electorate input. The wording specifically allows legislators—at any time in the future—to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.” [Read more…]

Guest column: Smith responds to Progress PAC endorsement

Ellen Smith

Ellen Smith

By Ellen Smith

I was surprised and gratified by the recent news that the Progress PAC (the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce political action committee) endorsed my candidacy for City Council. To my dismay, several citizens have told me that this endorsement indicates that I have somehow “sold out” to the Chamber of Commerce. I am writing to respond to their allegations.

The Progress PAC endorsement was a surprise to me because I have never been aligned with the Chamber, I have strongly opposed some Chamber initiatives in the past, and I am not shy about my support for principles like conservation of publicly owned open space and putting the interests of existing residents and owners ahead of the interests of new business development.

However, I respect the Chamber as the main representative of and advocate for a very important element of our community—and a group whose members and volunteers who are passionate about the future of Oak Ridge. We share many common goals and interests for this community, and if we are going to make progress as a community, it’s necessary for government, the business community, our nonprofit sector, and (ideally) all citizens to try to understand each other’s interests and needs and work together for the benefit of all. [Read more…]

Guest column: Running for BOE to give hope, a voice to the 47 percent

Laurie Paine

Laurie Paine

By Laurie Paine

47 percent.

What do you think of when you hear that number? As a parent, I can tell you that if that was my child’s grade I would be heartbroken, concerned.

“How can I help?” would be my next thought.


47 percent is roughly how many Oak Ridge students are economically disadvantaged. This is one of the most frequently quoted statistics recently, and sadly, it is often used to justify spending for less-than-stellar results. Rarely, the children behind this number are even given a face or a name…

So who are the 47 percent? [Read more…]

Guest column: ‘One-shot’ voting unwise in Oak Ridge

Aditya "Doc" Savara

Aditya “Doc” Savara

By Aditya “Doc” Savara

“One-shot” voting is unwise in Oak Ridge.

This year, there are four seats for City Council and three seats for the Board of Education up for election in Oak Ridge.

A column that appeared online at Oak Ridge Today and in the print version of The Oak Ridger advocated “one-shot” voting—where a person only votes for a single candidate instead of using all four of their votes for City Council (or three for Board of Education). I disagree with that view and tell my supporters to vote for whomever they want on City Council.

There are 10 candidates for City Council. Let’s call them A,B,C,D…Suppose you like only two out of the 10 candidates, A and B, but like candidate A the most. With four seats available, the only time you would want to “one-shot A” is if you are afraid A and B are “neck and neck” for the last position with B beating A—for example, if the results turned out D,C,E,B,A,F,…where the first four win the election.

For any other situation, you would want to vote for both A and B. For example with D,B,A,C,E,F…you would want to vote for both A and B to make sure they both beat C. [Read more…]

Guest column: The road to excellence

Mike Mahathy

Mike Mahathy

By Mike Mahathy

“Thus we began. With a sense of adventure, with a determination to make the most of a situation, we started out…looking forward to giving the children of Oak Ridge the best system we could develop.”

So said Dr. A.H. Blankenship years after accepting the role of starting the Oak Ridge school system.

From the very beginnings in 1943, Oak Ridge leaders wanted the best for their children. They choose a road less traveled by in this area.

Decades have passed, but there has remained one constant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee: a great school system where students have excelled in academics, the arts, music, athletics, and have gone on to be productive Americans. [Read more…]

Guest column: Progress PAC helps broaden conversation of community issues

By Progress PAC

We are very proud that the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce has entrusted us to serve as the members of Progress PAC, the multi-candidate political action committee created by the Chamber and focused on our upcoming school board and city council elections. Though we are appointed by the Chamber’s Board of Directors, we operate independently from that same board.

Some people in the community have questions about how Progress PAC will operate, who we might support, and how endorsements might be made. Some have criticized the timing of Progress PAC’s establishment, and we acknowledge it could have been better. However, our primary goal is to have a positive impact in this election cycle.


Now that Progress PAC has been created, we are largely autonomous. The Chamber’s Board may not approve or disapprove of any endorsement decisions we may make; the Chamber’s Board cannot approve or disapprove of contributions that Progress PAC either receives or distributes. The Chamber contributes no funds to PAC operations; we are supported by donations made directly to the PAC and we must report those to the appropriate election commissions. [Read more…]

Guest column: 2014—The year that Oak Ridgers take back their government

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

By Trina Baughn

Did you know that most of our local elections have historically been decided by less than 20 percent of our population? In fact, one of the biggest financial decisions ever made in our city’s history—the high school renovation project—was determined by only 11 percent (3,198) of our residents.

A number of factors have empowered the establishment for decades. If they have their way again this year, half of your elected officials will come from the most affluent neighborhoods in Oak Ridge, with half of them living on the very same street of McMansions! Given that the our average household income is $48,716, this is not even close to a true representation of the people in our community.

This year, though, the establishment is nervous and they should be for three very big reasons. [Read more…]

Guest column: Candidate calls for enlightenment, trust, ‘unified team’

Andy Howe

Andy Howe

By Andy Howe

Roughly 200,000 years ago the direct ancestor of modern man evolved in Africa when a small group of proto-humans adapted a genetic trait that previous forms of hominids only hinted at. This sub-species was capable of something never seen before—forward-thinking imagination. Our brains were changed to “fill in the gaps” on a conceptual level. It allowed us to invent complex tools and to plan for the future. Since then, we haven’t changed much.

Despite the belief that we are unique in the animal kingdom because we are lead not by our instincts but by our logic, the reality differs. The core of our nature is actually emotional and instinctual—our higher-order thinking skills only allow us to counter our more base reactions.

Studies have shown that people in groups tend to lose touch with their individual morals and principles. Biologically, part of our brain simply shuts down. We choose a side and don’t consider other perspectives, we defend that side wholeheartedly against our perceived opponents without recognition that we may actually be our own worst enemy. These insights are crucial in understanding human nature on both an individual and group level. [Read more…]