Opinion: Responding to Baughn, Hardy says Chamber a voice for business concerns

Parker Hardy

Parker Hardy

By Parker Hardy

Note: This is a response to a July 9 column by Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn.

Let me begin by expressing my dismay at the continued war of words fueled by “guest columns” such as Ms. Baughn’s. The practice can be divisive, driving wedges of conflict into community unity that is crucial to Oak Ridge’s future. At worst, it can be destructive, damaging the morale and reputations of  volunteers, elected and appointed officials, professional staff, local organizations, and community institutions engaged in moving our city in positive directions. I am concerned that it also may discourage residential and business prospects that are considering locating in our city.

The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce is a voice for business concerns, and it is sad that a public official thinks there’s something wrong with such a traditional role and such a fundamental right. In our almost 70 years of existence, we have built a broad membership base, most of which are small businesses. We are proud that our diverse membership ranges from local “mom-and-pop” companies, to respected professionals, to major corporations in the community and the region. In fact, if your readers will visit our online membership directory, perhaps they will recognize and support the hundreds of companies, individuals, and organizations that are investing in Oak Ridge through support for chamber initiatives. Yes, we count not-for-profits, government contractors, and out-of-town companies among our members. I believe they deserve praise, not punishment, for supporting our mission to enhance Oak Ridge’s economic vitality and business climate, and to provide business, leadership, and advocacy opportunities for our members. [Read more…]

Guest column: All AC communities decreased in assessed value, which is unprecedented

Note: This is a copy of a letter from Leonard A. Abbatiello, Anderson County/Oak Ridge Equalization Board representative, to Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and City Council regarding the 2015 Board of Equalization results.

Dear Honorable Mayor Gooch and Members of City Council:

I currently serve as the Oak Ridge representative on the Anderson County Board of Equalization.

The Anderson County Board of Equalization has completed its task of appraisal hearings for 2015. Attached is our report which has been sent to the Tennessee State Appraisal Office. It is the first year ever when there has been a decrease in the total appraisal base, Anderson County’s first in history.

This is also the lightest Board workload in recent history. This year, we evaluated 208 cases totaling $125,886,000 of appraised value, reducing their total to $95,781,000. Commercial appeals are now dominating Anderson County appeals, with the requests for changes in commercial exceeding residential values by 5.6 times. Some commercial cases are expected to also appeal to the state for additional relief. [Read more…]

Guest column: Won’t support tax increase, urges residents to prevent further waste

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

Sixteen years ago, Partners for Progress successfully lobbied the city to spend over $15 million of your (the taxpayer) money to launch a major development on the West End of Oak Ridge. The promises were enough to make people starry eyed. There was to be a picturesque subdivision of nearly 4,000 homes along with an industrial complex that, when all was said and done, would produce 17,000 jobs, $1 billion in payroll, and nearly $13 million in additional annual property taxes.

Three years ago, many of the same folks behind Partners for Progress began a similar PR campaign touting the sale and redevelopment of the mall. “More shopping choices are coming!” they proclaimed. To date, the city has approved the use of $1.5 million of your money for infrastructure costs and a $13 million TIF (tax increment financing), which will  suppress property tax revenue at current levels for the next 30 years. In other words, no matter what happens, the 64 acres will continue, as it has for the last decade, to produce only 10 percent of its original value because any increases will be used to repay the TIF loan. Developers and city officials claim that the project will produce $1 million (or 20 percent) in additional sales tax revenue to the city, though, historically, the national retail sales growth rate range is between -11.51 percent to +11.18 percent. Even if we find a way around the notoriously stringent Wal-Mart non-compete covenants and actually bring in real retail, it is absolutely impossible to expect these projections to materialize, since, even in the best of times, we’ve not seen half that level of growth. [Read more…]

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Guest column: Good things continue to happen in Andersonville

Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department Fire Truck

Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department Fire Truck

 

By Theresa Scott

The Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department recently had a task to complete. Assistant Fire Chief Brian Casto took a crew to Oak Ridge. Upon arrival at the City of Oak Ridge’s main building, Assistant Chief Casto was directed to the Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson’s office. It was time for the papers to be signed. The title needed to be transferred and keys handed over. Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley was there to give further verbal instructions.

While the department heads were inside signing documents and discussing the final technicalities, the crew waited outside. However, without patience, they were found opening doors to compartments, checking out gauges, wiping off the windshield, checking out the view from the driver’s seat of the big yellow fire truck. This big, yellow Quality fire truck is going into full service but in a different zip code. It will still get the same hands-on care that it always had, but now it will be with a new crew out in the country. Perhaps out in the country, but still in the same county. The Andersonville Volunteer Fire Department was getting one of the surplus trucks. Most of the crew were laughing and chatting like a bunch of children on Christmas morning.  The excitement was obvious.

Thank you to the City of Oak Ridge for keeping this (as well as the one that was recently transferred to our Medford Volunteer Fire Department) in our county. It is important that we continue to pay it forward amongst ourselves as we may very well need to depend on it sometime in the future. The residents of Andersonville are very fortunate to have such caring volunteers. These men and women put their lives on the line when called to the scene of an automobile accident, a working residential or commercial property fire, or even to the water if there’s been a boating accident. [Read more…]

Guest column: The 2015 Karma Ride

Andre Block

Andre Block is pictured outside the former Kroger store on South Illinois Avenue in August 2012. (File photo/Mare Martell)

 

By Mare Martell

– August 30, 2012

Outside of the old Kroger store, I met a man named Andre Block purely by chance. He had a trailer on the back of his bike with a cardboard hand written sign that read, “Virginia to Missouri for my son.”

He was riding 822 miles from Virginia to Missouri to see his son Andre Block Jr. Read the original post here.

His ride successful, he returned to Knoxville to settle in, that is, until his pedaling feet got the itch again.

– May 24, 2015

Outside of the new Kroger store, I met a man named Andre Block purely by chance. He had a trailer on the back of his bike with a cardboard hand written sign that read, “Karma Ride.” This time, Mr. Block has chosen an even bigger piece of the pie. He started off in Knoxville, Tennessee, yesterday (May 23) on a 2,600-mile trip that will land him in Venice Beach, California.

It was a grand reunion with hugs and laughter, but the seriousness of the cause Karma Ride is riding for this time is something important to Andre. He’s riding across the country to raise awareness of Lupus. [Read more…]

Guest column: Council member offers summary of events related to ORPD investigation

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

By Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn

Given that there is some confusion over recent events, I offer the following summary about where we are, how we got here, and where we are headed with regards to the Oak Ridge Police Department investigation.

The ORPD has seen a total turnover rate of 45 percent in the last four years, having lost 34 of our 76 employees. Five of those individuals have departed in the last four months. Since February, all Council members have received communications from at least seven former officers, three current officers, and countless citizens expressing concerns about leadership and a potentially hostile work environment. Others have communicated anonymously citing similar concerns and attributing their anonymity to fears of retaliation.

On February 9, during a five-hour televised meeting, and in front of the largest audience any of us had ever seen, City Council formally committed to investigate the root causes behind the turnover, morale, and policy issues in the Police Department.

The resolution that was ultimately approved was brought forward by Council member Kelly Callison who stated that “We think that’s a broad, a very broad term that allows an investigator, an independent investigator to look at the issues that might be present…”  At the end of the meeting, councilmember Chuck Hope stated, “The investigation that we’ve come to an agreement among the seven of us was reached unanimously…there’s enough information that it warrants an investigation…”

During this same meeting, Council committed to ensure that the investigation would allow for the anonymity of all participants and would include both current and past employees. Mr. Callison also suggested that council select Municipal Technical Advisory Service, specifically Rex Barton, to perform the work. Council did not select MTAS at the time, but agreed to hold a special meeting to select an entity to conduct the investigation and define its parameters. Information regarding the other resolutions that Council rejected can be found here. [Read more…]

Guest column: 2015 OREA salary, benefits proposal

Note: This is a copy of comments by Oak Ridge Education Association Co-President Steve Reddick during a March 30 meeting of the Oak Ridge Board of Education, when teachers and principals requested a 4 percent salary increase in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

2015 OREA Salary and Benefits Proposal

Good evening,

On behalf of the certified teaching staff of the Oak Ridge Schools, OREA is honored to present to you our FY ’16 salary and benefits proposal.

As in years past, we make this proposal with eyes wide open and without illusions: [Read more…]

Guest column: Increasing personalized learning in Oak Ridge Schools

By Oak Ridge Schools

We have all heard the phrase “going one-to-one,” but what is one-to-one all about? And why are Oak Ridge Schools interested in one-to-one?

The overall idea behind one-to-one is not about having specific devices; rather, it’s about providing personalized learning experiences to students aligned to the Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness in which students can collaborate, learn, reflect, and solve problems in ways that engage and motivate them. Highly effective teachers are essential in the development of personalized learning; they facilitate learning experiences both within their content area and spanning beyond the classroom and into the community. With personalized learning under the direction of highly effective teachers, student engagement increases, discipline problems decrease, attendance increases, and students become even more prepared for college and careers.

Most importantly, students who may not have access to technology due to financial or other considerations will have equal opportunities as their peers. [Read more…]

Guest column: Imperial religion has no place in the Kingdom of God

Preparing for the greatest day of the year, Easter, was a bit harder this year than last. On Thursday, the night we remember how Jesus was betrayed and handed over to both the religious and political empires of his day, I happened to read of the new bill that seeks to designate the Bible as the state book of Tennessee.

There are a ton of ways to scream “no” to this legislation, starting with the both the Tennessee Constitution and the United States Constitution. There is also the objection that the bill places the transcendental and eternal qualities of the Bible on the same footing as the lily (our state flower) or the raccoon (our state animal). Of course, then there’s just downright common sense: The laws I use to influence my neighbor’s religion (or lack of) can easily be the same laws by which my neighbor one day attempts to subjugate me.

Those are fine ways to oppose this bill, but they are of lesser concern to me as a Christian pastor of 25 years. I am most deeply concerned at the way in which an action like this stands in stark opposition to the actions and words of the Bible itself, most especially as revealed in the person of Jesus. [Read more…]

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…]