Lee keeps seat on housing board despite Council member’s removal request

Anne Garcia Garland, Trina Baughn, and Chuck Hope

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday rejected a request to remove resident Joe Lee from a city housing board. Pictured above at left is Council member Anne Garcia Garland, who made the request. Also pictured are Council members Trina Baughn and Chuck Hope.

Note: This story was last updated at 11:20 p.m.

Those who wanted to remove Joe Lee from a municipal housing board said he had shown contempt for Oak Ridge City Council members, insulted traffic camera critics, embarrassed the city, and bullied others.

But those who wanted to keep him on the board said Lee ought to be given a second chance. They said he had performed well on the board—the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals—particularly when considering the city’s code violation cases against the Applewood Apartments.

On Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council rejected the request to remove Lee from the board. The proposal failed in a 2-4 vote.

Voting in favor of the removal were Council members Anne Garcia Garland and Trina Baughn. Voting against it were Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller and Council members Charlie Hensley, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby. [Read more...]

Council member asks for removal of city board member over e-mail ‘contempt’

Oak Ridge City Council

Pictured above, the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday will consider removing housing board member Joe Lee, not pictured, because of a critical e-mail he wrote after a 4-3 vote on the controversial traffic camera contract in March.

Note: This story was last updated at 2:30 p.m.

An Oak Ridge official wants the City Council to consider removing Joseph Lee from a city housing board because of his criticism—she called it contempt—for the council members who voted against renewing the controversial traffic camera contract in March.

The City Council will consider removing Lee, who serves on the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Code Appeals, during a Monday, April 14, meeting.

“I was not at all surprised by the 4-3 vote,” Lee wrote in a March 28 e-mail to Council member Anne Garcia Garland, who made the request to consider removing him on Monday. ”After all, it was not about safety or the money, it is about the votes. Take the fact that your entire campaign to be elected to city council and combine that with the nut jobs that you are aligned with and cater to, it has been obvious for a very long time that we were never going to hear the end of your whining until you got another shot at this issue. [Read more...]

Council does not extend traffic camera contract

Traffic Camera at Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue

The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the traffic camera contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz., on Monday, and the current five-year contract expires April 21.

Note: This story was last updated at 8:30 a.m. March 25.

After five years, some vigorous opposition, and a few contentious meetings, the traffic cameras in Oak Ridge will be removed. The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the five-year contract with the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, on Monday.

The vote to extend the contract for two years with a few changes was 3-4.

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller, and Council member Charlie Hensley voted in favor of the extension. Council members Trina Baughn, Anne Garcia Garland, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby voted “no.” The current contract expires April 21.

Among the proposed changes, if an extension had been granted, were mobile units, different camera locations, and a new revenue split between the city and Redflex.

[Read more...]

School Board, City Council resolve high school debt dispute

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt appeared to have majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

Despite opposition from a few residents and municipal officials, the Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education have resolved a dispute over Anderson County sales tax revenues and debt payments for the $66 million renovation of Oak Ridge High School.

The dispute, which started several years ago, centered on how to use the Oak Ridge school system’s portion of Anderson County sales tax revenues generated by a tax increase approved by county voters in a 2006 referendum. School officials had argued that they could keep their share of the revenues generated in the county outside of Oak Ridge, while city officials had said all the revenues, whether collected inside the city or outside of it, should be used for high school debt payments.

A resolution unanimously approved by the school board in February and the City Council in a 5-2 vote on Monday, March 3, allows the schools to keep its portion of the new Anderson County revenues collected outside the city. However, the resolution spells out how the money has to be spent: on technology enhancements, debt reduction, capital repairs and equipment, and grant matches and innovative educational projects. [Read more...]

Council postpones traffic camera vote

Red-light Camera at Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday postponed a decision on whether to extend or terminate a five-year contract with its traffic camera vendor.

Note: This story was last updated at 11:40 a.m. March 4.

The Oak Ridge City Council postponed a vote on traffic cameras on Monday. Council had been expected to either extend the five-year contract with the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Arizona, or terminate it.

But council member Chuck Hope had to leave unexpectedly, and it wasn’t clear that there would be a majority to either extend the contract for two years or end it. That meant that both resolutions could have failed in 3-3 votes.

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the contract could now be discussed during a March 24 special meeting or during the regular April meeting. But the current contract expires April 21. [Read more...]

Council has special meeting today on high school debt, school budget

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt had majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

The school board approved it unanimously on Monday, but a few City Council members have questions about a proposed resolution of a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt so they have called a special meeting for this evening (Thursday evening).

At issue is a proposed resolution of the dispute over certain Anderson County sales tax revenues and debt payments for the $66 million renovation of the Oak Ridge High School.

Before it was approved by the school board on a voice vote Monday, the resolution was discussed in a joint work session with the council on Friday. A majority of city and school officials expressed support for the resolution during the non-voting work session.

It is next scheduled to be considered by the City Council on Monday, March, 3.

Tonight’s special non-voting meeting has been called by City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland. [Read more...]

Guest column: The Oak Ridge High School debt chronicles

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The Oak Ridge High School Debt Chronicles—How a $40 Million Project Will Cost Taxpayers Over $126 Million (So Far) 

It appears that the nearly three-year long debate between the Oak Ridge City Council and the Board of Education (BOE) over who owes what on the high school renovation project—the single largest financial expenditure that this city has ever made—is about to be resolved once and for all (or so some hope). To many, this will provide a welcomed relief. For all, it will once again extend and increase a debt obligation far beyond what anyone ever imagined.

Just over one week after the initial public revealing, council will vote on a resolution to end the debate on the high school mortgage issue. The root problem that this resolution will address is not ambiguity in the 2004 referendum or in any “gentlemen’s agreements.” No, the reason that this resolution is necessary, according to the fifth “Whereas,” is “changing community economics and increasing educational needs.”  The need for this resolution, which will violate the original understanding and intent of the 2004 referendum, boils down to an implied need by the Oak Ridge schools for more money.

If passed, this resolution will allow the BOE to retain the portion of the half-cent sales tax revenues collected outside of the City of Oak Ridge and will accomplish the following: [Read more...]

City, school officials endorse resolution of sales tax, high school debt dispute

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt had majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

Note: This story was updated at 1 p.m.

It hasn’t been approved yet, but a majority of city and school officials on Friday said they support a proposal that would resolve a long-running dispute over whether to use some sales tax revenues collected in Anderson County to help pay for renovations of Oak Ridge High School.

The dispute has centered on how to use a portion of new sales tax revenues collected in Anderson County outside of Oak Ridge under a May 2006 referendum. School officials had argued they could keep that portion of the revenues, but municipal leaders had said the money should be used to help pay down the debt on the $66 million renovation of the high school.

The amount of money in question is in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 annually, although the total varies from year to year. [Read more...]

New SRO approved at Oak Ridge Schools, could start Monday

Oak Ridge City Council

The Oak Ridge City Council voted 5-1 on Monday to approve a move that allows another school resource officer, or SRO, to be added to Oak Ridge Schools.

Note: This story was updated at 9:45 a.m. Jan. 14.

The Oak Ridge City Council approved a move on Monday that will add a second school resource officer in the city’s schools, and the new SRO could start Monday.

The new SRO is Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Michael Swigert. The current SRO is Officer Sherrill Selby.

It’s not as big a step as some officials had proposed during the past few years. There have been various proposals to have a total of three SROs, including one at each of the city’s two middle schools, or even more, perhaps one SRO at each school. The discussions seemed to gain urgency after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, but funding has been an obstacle. [Read more...]

City officials clash over Secret City Festival spending costs

Rick Springfield at Secret City Festival

The Rick Springfield concert at the Secret City Festival in June was the largest ever for the annual festival, an organizer said.

Debate over the costs of the Secret City Festival—and whether the city can afford a $160,000 “party” every year—was briefly renewed again on Monday.

The sometimes-rancorous debate came up as the Oak Ridge City Council considered whether to approve two resolutions laying the financial foundation for the June 2014 festival.

Early in the debate, Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn moved to reallocate the Secret City Festival money and use it instead for a school resource officer in each middle school, or two SROs total.

But Council member Charlie Hensley said Baughn was essentially asking the city to take money it would collect from festival sponsors and use it instead for SROs.

“I think that’s fraudulent,” Hensley said. [Read more...]

Council agrees to buy car wash to build sewer system tank

Mullins Car Wash

The Oak Ridge City Council has approved the purchase of Mullins Performance Car Wash in south Oak Ridge to allow the city to build a sewer system holding tank.

A car wash in south Oak Ridge could soon be replaced by a sewer system holding tank.

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday voted 5-1 to buy the car wash, owned by businessman Terry Mulllins, for $125,000.

The land is at the southern gateway to Oak Ridge, near the intersection of Scarboro Road and South Illinois Avenue. The city agreed to buy the property so workers can place the proposed tank, officially called an equalization basin, farther away from the busy intersection and make it less visible. The intersection is used by thousands of drivers every day, including workers at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

The tank is one of three equalization basins that the city plans to build in order to comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that requires Oak Ridge to repair all sewer system overflows by September 2015. [Read more...]

Letter: Residents urge legislators to raise minimum wage

To the Editor:

Two bills in Congress to raise the minimum wage by about 95 cents per year for the next three years are HR1010 and S460. We, the undersigned, urge readers to contact their congressmen and senators to urge passage of these bills.

The minimum wage is now $7.25. If these bills pass, then over the next three years, the minimum wage would increase to $10.10.

Currently, if a worker is able to get 2,000 hours of work per year (in 50 40-hour weeks)—and unfortunately, not all can—he or she earns a yearly gross wage of $14,500, which is below the U.S. Department of Labor threshold of $1,245 per month ($14,940 annually) for receiving food stamps. If this worker’s wages increased by 95 cents an hour, he or she would earn $16,400 and thus would be raised above the poverty guideline. [Read more...]