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...]

Guest column: Technology in the classroom

In 2012, the scientific community was shocked to see six Italian scientists arrested and placed on trial for the manslaughter of 309 people. How did they manage to kill 309 people? Easy: They failed to predict an earthquake.

As insane as it sounds, two years later these scientists are still stuck in an appeal process, and they are still facing a potential six years in prison. Now long off everyone’s radar, the questions this prosecution poses to Western civilization have faded from our memory.

At stake and at issue are the underlying ideologies of what our machines and the data they generate actually mean to us as human beings. Unfortunately, these ideologies remain in the background of our educational and technological decision-making. The lives and the minds of our students are rapidly becoming intertwined with their technologies and the haste we feel in harnessing this cultural phenomenon is driven by a competitive economic desire to “stay ahead” of the technological curve.

With the exception of perhaps a few hold-over “Luddites,” no one I know is against the use of technology in the classroom. On the flip side, however, I must say that in all my conversations about classroom technology, I have never—not even once—heard a citizen or educator discuss what the use of that technology actually means to a human being. [Read more...]

Guest column: Oak Ridge—moving ahead!

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

In December of 2013, the City of Oak Ridge was given a Christmas present: a strong, viable prospective property owner that would help reclaim the center of our precious city. Crosland Southeast, well-respected developers from North Carolina, came to our city and said they could help us redevelop the crumbling mall within our city. This mall, newly named Main Street Oak Ridge, had come to symbolize the ultimate development challenge for our city.

Now, 10 months later, the time has come for the details of our work to begin to come out in the open. This project has taken several courses. First, the City of Oak Ridge and Anderson County said that they would support the development of this project with what is known as a tax increment district, or TIF. The governments would continue to receive their marginal values in property taxes, but the “new” value created by the private investment in Main Street Oak Ridge would be used to pay for public improvements on the project such as new traffic configurations, road improvements, and building demolition. In return, the private developer would borrow money at his own risk and develop major new retail shopping, with a potential hotel and residential development on the 65-acre site.

This effort has been successful, and major retail tenants have been lined up for filling a targeted 260,000 square feet of new facilities. Our Belk store will receive a facelift, and JCPenney will continue to perform. At present, stores are in the initial inquiry stages of building and will be moving to make announcements by the first of the year or shortly thereafter. I would love to tell you the names of the stores (which I have seen), but we need to honor the wishes of the companies as they make their expansion announcements. I believe the Oak Ridge community will be pleased! [Read more...]

Guest column: Community officials make advances in preventing underage drinking

By Allies for Substance Abuse Prevention (ASAP) of Anderson County

The Anderson County Underage Drinking Task Force is completing its first year of existence, one which proved to be quite productive.

The Task Force kicked off last September when it assembled key stakeholders from beer boards, law enforcement agencies, government officials, and businesses across different jurisdictions in Anderson County to identify barriers to compliance with underage drinking laws, with a focus on developing local solutions. Over the last year, the Task Force has worked to review alcohol policies of all jurisdictions in Anderson County.

As part of the review process, the Task Force identified a need for consistency throughout the county on alcohol regulations. Through collaborative dialogue, members discovered that many business owners have locations in two or even three different municipalities, each regulated by different rules. [Read more...]

Guest column: IRS warns of continuing scam phone calls

NASHVILLE—The IRS continues to warn the public to be alert for telephone scams. The callers often claim to be with the IRS and usually demand money.

Based on the most recent figures released, there have been at least 90,000 complaints about these phone scams and about 1,100 victims who have lost an estimated $5 million.

“Be suspicious of anyone who calls demanding your money or your private information,” said IRS spokesman Dan Boone. “These con artists can sound very convincing and will probably try to intimidate you into giving them what they want.”

Boone said the callers may know a lot about you and usually alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling. They use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. If you don’t answer, they often leave an “urgent” callback request. [Read more...]