2014 in Review: Accomplishments, continued improvement, but big challenges ahead 

Chris Phillips and Terry Frank

Chris Phillips, left, director of Anderson County Accounts and Budgets, and County Mayor Terry Frank are pictured above. (Submitted photo)

 

 

By Chris Phillips, director of Anderson County Accounts and Budgets, and County Mayor Terry Frank

We recently finished our Popular Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, and we wanted to share a snapshot of Anderson County’s financial health. While there are many factors that go into evaluating our county’s overall ability to promote prosperity for the people of our county, our financial health as a county government has a direct impact on the lives of families who live here and the business and industry that operates here.

Noteworthy accomplishments from 2014: [Read more…]

Guest column: The last insult

By Joan Berry and District Attorney General Dave Clark

The law in Tennessee has recently changed in a way that insults the memory of murder victims. Not a single photo of a victim prior to their murder is allowed to be shown during their killer’s trial. This problem needs to be solved, and voters can help.

Sadly, the gruesome photos of a corpse are the only presence homicide victims are granted during a trial. The defendant is allowed to be present and to be “cleaned up” and “dressed up” for the jury; but no picture of the victim can be presented.

For decades, it was a common practice for prosecutors to introduce into evidence a reasonable likeness of the victim prior to their murder in addition to crime scene photos. However, due to recent high-court rulings, trial judges now do not allow the practice for fear of having a verdict overturned. [Read more…]

Guest column: Changing the future of our community, one child at a time

There are some exciting things on the horizon for our local Boys and Girls Clubs! The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Clinch Valley operates two campuses: the Lawrence A. Hahn Club in Oak Ridge and the Roane County Club located at Harriman Middle School.

Each club offers affordable after-school and summer programming, and the Oak Ridge Unit offers the city’s only independent athletic leagues. The clubs charge a nominal annual membership and weekly fee; however, no child is turned away for an inability to pay.

The organization’s mission is to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. [Read more…]

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Guest column: What do ‘vouchers’ mean to Tennessee taxpayers?

By Tammy Grissom

A school voucher is a publicly funded credit or certificate whereby a student may be enrolled in a private school and apply the credit to tuition.

So, why should Tennessee taxpayers care?

  1. Vouchers use your money to help pay for a student to go to a private school that answers to private administrators and not you, the taxpayer. Public schools must answer to the people and are held accountable for the use of local, state, and federal educational tax money.
  2. Article XI, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution specifically states, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support, and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Nowhere in our Constitution is the General Assembly directed to take taxpayer money and use it for a voucher system so parents can use public money to send their children to private schools.
  3. Private schools are not public institutions, and without proper oversight, the “qualifications and standards” for students may fall short of expectations and undermine the fundamental idea of equality in education.  Vouchers require the public to supplement these standards even if they are contrary to state and federal education law.
  4. Vouchers force the public to support two drastically different educational systems, one over which the public has no oversight.

[Read more…]

Guest column: Moving forward in Oak Ridge

With the recent uproar centered around the Police Department in our rear view mirrors, I think it is important to review what was accomplished and why.

The decision to perform a functional audit on the Police Department is a good step especially when taken in context. These kinds of audits focus on best practices, applied over the department’s field of responsibility that need to be reviewed periodically depending on a department’s complexity and size. Besides just by a calendar rotation, other events to trigger such reviews may include leadership turnover in the department to give incoming management a clean slate of actions and priorities.

I believe that since this door has been opened, it would be wise to broaden it city-wide. Think about whether such an audit could have raised awareness of our lack of proper sewer maintenance over the decades and prevented the rush and financial inconvenience that the mandate from the EPA imposes. [Read more…]

League Issues—Making Democracy Work: Immigration

In April 2008, the League of Women Voters of the United States announced its League position on immigration.

The League supports immigration policies that promote reunification of immediate families; meet the economic, business, and employment needs of the United States; and are responsive to those fleeing persecution or humanitarian crisis. The League supports federal comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship. The League agrees that the deportation of unauthorized immigrants who have no history of criminal activity is inappropriate.

What does the executive action on immigration mean?

The executive action taken by President Barack Obama on November 20, 2014, is consistent with the League’s position as are the 39 similar executive orders issued by every president over the last 60 years in orders that have affected as much as 40 percent of the undocumented immigrant population.

The League supports the president’s action and believes this action is within the executive authority of the president. [Read more…]

Guest column: Sen. Yager asks for constituent input

Ken Yager

Ken Yager

NASHVILLE—The 109th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee convened at noon on January 13, 2015, for an organizational session. Among other items on the agenda, the Senate and House of Representatives elected their speakers and adopted rules for the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. At the end of the week, on January 17, we will inaugurate the state’s 49th Governor, Bill Haslam, to begin his second four-year term. After a short recess, we will reconvene on February 2 and remain in session until mid to late April.

State spending in a tight budget year will be the predominant driver for legislative action in 2015. Other significant issues expected to be on the legislature’s agenda in 2015 are jobs, healthcare, education, taxes, and legislation stemming from the ratification of the constitutional amendments passed by voters in November. It is very important that I hear from my constituents on these issues as some of them will be controversial.

I will continue the practice of sending out weekly Senate reports during session and appreciate the local papers who publish them. We now send video updates to local papers and audio statements to radio stations during the legislative session which I hope you will access. [Read more…]

Guest column: Next six-month challenges in Roane County

Ron Woody

Ron Woody

By Ron Woody, writing in the January 2015 “County Executive’s Newsletter to the County Commission”

“Next Six Month Challenges”

As we begin the next calendar year, we thought it would be appropriate to identify some challenges which will come before commission in the next six months. As always, the beginning of the calendar year starts the annual budget process. Commission has made many major steps over the last number of years in establishing a more formal budget development process as budget focus has been divided into operating budgets and capital budget. We are not to the point we should be yet in both funding and understanding, but much as been accomplished and that I call a success.

Now to our six-month challenges:

  1. More deployment of capital budget. We plan on working on this in February and March. The questions to be answered are: Are we setting aside enough funds for replacement of our assets? Where do these set-aside funds come from and how do we protect these funds from competing services?
  2. Insuring that the county has a successful reappraisal program which includes not only accurate value but an understanding of the reappraisal impact.
  3. Funding of operational budgets which are either strained (general government) or suffering major loses (schools).
  4. Educational plans of capital improvements and related funding whether consolidation of schools are considered or not.

[Read more…]

Guest column: Becoming a healthy community

Stability and growth of that complex system called a community depends on honesty, equality, fairness, balance, foresight, continuity, healthy relationships, maturity, safety, common goals, and recognizable successes shared among all community members and good leadership.

Industry and government facilities were having great difficulty attracting highly educated and qualified professionals to Oak Ridge despite competitive salaries in the new millennium. One of the attractions that might help this problem was thought to be the existence of superior schools for the children of those professionals, combined with attractive, upscale housing.

As is so typical in Oak Ridge, many bright minds saw only their need and targeted the solution they hypothesized would make it work. Also, as so often happens with brilliant focused minds, the complexity of the economic and social organization, its influence, and the needs of the whole community were not factored into the equation. There was an assumption that the hypothesis of good schools, combined with an abundance of attractive housing, would solve the problem. So, $67 million was spent on building and equipping a state-of-the-art high school with amenities usually limited to high-priced, private, college prep schools. This, despite the critical need for a new preschool facility having been very high on the official city list of capital needs for over a decade. [Read more…]

Guest column: Investments—who do you trust?

Lydia Birk

Lydia Birk

By Lydia Birk

The air waves are filled with commercials regarding which investment firm you should rely on; after all, you want to eventually retire and live comfortably and healthy and maintain your lifestyle. Yet, how much do you personally know about investing: the timing, the company’s track records, transparency, can they be trusted? There is an overload of information spinning around, and for many of us, it is confusing and time-consuming, so we trust our investments to the professionals.

Those of you who donate to the United Way of Anderson County and check the box to have Fund Distribution Volunteers make investment decisions are doing the same thing. Trusting educated, informed, committed people to invest your dollars where they will do the most good. In Anderson County, we have a multitude of programs that serve the needs of youth through food programs, backpack programs, after-school programs, preschool programs, utility assistance so they don’t shiver at night, programs to inspire, to encourage, to challenge. And programs that address the mental and physical health of our youth. Which of these programs are most effective, which ones address the most pressing issues, which ones are transparent in managing your gifts, do you chose to put a roof over their heads or food in their bellies? [Read more…]

Guest column: President Obama’s manufacturing announcement—what it means for UT, ORNL, East Tennessee

Jimmy Cheek and Martin Keller and Shelby Cobra

University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek, right, stands with Martin Keller, associate laboratory director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in front of a Shelby Cobra printed as a collaboration between ORNL and UT personnel. The car served as a highlight of President Obama’s visit to the area on Friday. (Photo courtesy UT) 

 

KNOXVILLE—President Obama’s announcement on Friday that the University of Tennessee in Knoxville would be the lead institution in a $259 million advanced composites manufacturing project known as the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, or IACMI, was met with applause, but also a few questions.

Many wondered what advanced composites manufacturing really means, why the UT-led consortium was selected, and what the impact for the area might be.

Here are some answers.

What is IACMI?

IACMI is the newest federally funded institute for manufacturing innovation. Its focus is on advancing innovation in the manufacturing of composites used in automobiles, wind turbines, and compressed gas storage tanks. [Read more…]

Guest column: Glad she went on schools’ tour, encourages others to go

Art and Science Class

The microscope pictured above was in a combined class taught by art teacher Jim Dodson and science teacher John Beard at Jefferson Middle School. (Photos courtesy Mary Layton)

 

By Mary Layton

On Tuesday, December 16, I went on the inaugural Oak Ridge School’s Community Tour.

We met at the American Museum of Science and Energy bright and early at 8 am. We were divided into two groups. The Einstein Group was hosted by Tracey Beckendorf-Edou, and the Curie Group had as its leader Chris Marczak.

We began with a short history of Oak Ridge given by Ken Mayes. We were reminded of the important role our city played in World War II.

Bruce Borchers, superintendent of Oak Ridge Schools, welcomed us to the tour. He told us about the Keys to College and Career Readiness. These goals were developed by interviewing and surveying Oak Ridge students, parents, staff, and community in late 2013. The goal of the keys is to prepare students to go to college, obtain industry certification in a skill, or receive military preparation by graduation. Borchers told us that our tour would show us how they were working to obtain these goals. [Read more…]