Chamber forms Progress PAC, two Council members seek legal action

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m.

Two Oak Ridge City Council members have requested a special meeting this week to consider litigation against the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, seeking to prevent the business organization from conducting political activities on public property, including through a new political action committee.

The special meeting, which would be open to the public, has been requested by Oak Ridge City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland. Baughn said she requested the meeting to “vote upon initiating litigation against the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce so that the city may seek either injunctive relief and/or a temporary restraining order with regards to their conducting political activities on public property.”

Stephen Whitson

Stephen Whitson

On Friday, the Chamber announced it had formed a political action committee named the Progress PAC. The multi-candidate PAC will support candidates in the November elections for Oak Ridge Board of Education and City Council, a press release said.

Stephen Whitson of Oak Ridge has been elected Progress PAC chair, and David Bradshaw, also of Oak Ridge, has been named treasurer. Both are past chairs of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

In the press release, Whitson said the Progress PAC will only consider supporting candidates who respond to an issue-based written questionnaire and participate in an interview with Progress PAC members. [Read more...]

Guest column: Council looks to future in policy, planning meetings

Note: This is a brief report to the town on Oak Ridge City Council meetings on policy and planning.

Following a vote in June to do so, City Council has been having two policy and planning meetings each month.

At our first meeting, we agreed to follow the general outline of the Comprehensive Plan in order to give ourselves focus. We added a section for the U.S. Department of Energy. Council members Chuck Hope, Trina Baughn, David Mosby, Charlie Hensley, and Anne Garcia Garland have been attending. City attorney Ken Krushenski, a couple of interested citizens, and the press have attended also.

The most encouraging outcome so far has been that the five have begun to operate as a team. We are looking at ways to improve the council’s effectiveness.

Those who follow the Council agenda online will have noticed that Monday’s agenda included a resolution from Council to have four things occur: [Read more...]

Nineteen candidates for Oak Ridge City Council, School Board

Vote Logo

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

Ten candidates have qualified to run for Oak Ridge City Council in the November 4 municipal election, and there are nine candidates for Oak Ridge Board of Education—a total of 19 candidates.

It’s the largest field of candidates in recent memory, and it’s not immediately clear when, or if, there has been a field as large.

The deadline to qualify as a candidate in this fall’s municipal elections in Anderson County was noon Thursday.

There is a mix of incumbents and newcomers in Oak Ridge, Clinton, Rocky Top (Lake City), Norris, and Oliver Springs.

Oak Ridge

In Oak Ridge, two incumbents, including Mayor Tom Beehan and Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller, are not seeking re-election. Meanwhile, the other two incumbents whose terms expire this November, Anne Garcia Garland and David Mosby, are running for another four-year term.

In addition to Garcia Garland and Mosby, the other Oak Ridge City Council candidates are:

  • Kelly Callison,
  • R.G. “Rick” Chinn,
  • Warren L. Gooch,
  • Gary L. Love,
  • Pedro J. Otaduy,
  • Aditya “Doc” Savara,
  • Ellen D. Smith, and
  • Eric Tobler.

[Read more...]

Mayor Beehan won’t seek re-election to City Council

Tom Beehan and Gary Wade

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, left, is pictured above earlier this month with Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade at Razzleberry’s Ice Cream Lab and Kitchen. Beehan will not seek re-election to Oak Ridge City Council in November.

 

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, who has served on the City Council since 2001, will not seek re-election in November.

Beehan said he has been considering whether to run “for some time,” and he announced his decision to not seek re-election on Wednesday. Before making the decision, Beehan said, he wanted to be sure that quality candidates with a vision for the city’s future were ready to run.

“It’s clear that there are candidates who have the vision and ability to serve the community on City Council,” Beehan said in a press release. “I have enjoyed serving Oak Ridge as mayor and as a City Council member, but I think it is time for new leadership to take a fresh look at moving Oak Ridge forward.”

Beehan said he has spent 20 years as an elected official in local government in Oak Ridge and in Covington, Kentucky—before his family moved to Oak Ridge.

“I consider this a retirement from public service as an elected official, but I plan to continue to be engaged in community activities,” Beehan said. [Read more...]

Thursday deadline to qualify for municipal elections across Anderson County

Vote Logo

Thursday is the deadline to qualify for municipal elections across Anderson County, and so far, there appears to be a mix of incumbents and newcomers in Oak Ridge, Clinton, Rocky Top (Lake City), Norris, and Oliver Springs.

Eleven people, including the four incumbents, have expressed an interest in running for four seats on Oak Ridge City Council in November, and seven candidates have qualified so far.

Meanwhile, three people, including one incumbent, have qualified to run for three seats on the Oak Ridge Board of Education. A total of nine potential candidates, including the three who have qualified, have picked up petitions to run for Oak Ridge school board.

The November 4 election is the last in a series of three elections this year. The deadline to qualify is noon Thursday, August 21. A candidate needs 25 verified signatures on a nomination petition to qualify.

Those who have qualified to run for Oak Ridge City Council are: [Read more...]

Council starts discussions on taking over Clark Center Park

Clark Center Park Water View

A view of Melton Hill Lake near a boat ramp and between two picnic areas at Clark Center Park in south Oak Ridge.

 

It’s an 80-acre “crown jewel” park, the site of cherished memories dating back decades. But now the future of Clark Center Park is in doubt.

The U.S. Department of Energy is considering turning the park over to the federal General Services Administration, which could sell it, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told City Council members Monday. He said it’s part of a cost-cutting effort in DOE’s Oak Ridge Office.

Watson suggested DOE was moving quickly and could shut down the park as early as this fall. But before that happens, Watson said, he wanted to give residents and officials a chance to weigh in.

“This is an important community decision,” Watson said during a Monday night work session. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” [Read more...]

In final vote, City Council again rejects tax increase for schools

Oak Ridge City Council Budget Meeting

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday again said “no” to a property tax rate increase to give more money to Oak Ridge Schools. Council is pictured above during a June 9 budget meeting.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. June 17.

Two last-minute attempts to pass smaller-than-requested tax increases for the Oak Ridge Schools failed on Monday, and the City Council voted 4-2 to approve a budget that does not raise taxes in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The decision to not raise taxes for the seventh year in a row came after a parade of residents in two meetings this month asked Council to fully fund the schools. Many said they moved here because of the schools, and they said the educational system is Oak Ridge’s primary asset. School teachers, administrators, and school board members also said they support a greater investment in the schools.

“Flatline budgets will eventually produce flatline results,” said Steve Reddick, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Jefferson Middle School and co-president of the Oak Ridge Education Association.

The schools had requested $17.9 million from the city, but the no-tax-increase budget lowered that amount to $14.6 million. School officials had previously said they will have to “go back to the drawing board” and make cuts if Council did not approve the tax rate increase. It’s not clear yet what cuts might be made. The Oak Ridge Board of Education could discuss changes to the school system’s budget, which was approved in May, during a Monday evening meeting.

[Read more...]

In first vote this month, Council rejects schools request for tax increase

Oak Ridge City Council Budget Meeting

The Oak Ridge City Council rejected the school system’s request for a 37-cent tax rate increase on Monday, instead voting in the first of two votes this month to keep the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row.

Note: This story was last updated at 9:55 a.m. June 10.

In the first of two votes this month, the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday rejected a request from school officials for a 37-cent tax rate increase that would, among other things, help fund a technology initiative meant to eventually provide an electronic learning device or tablet to all students.

Council member Charlie Hensley said the tax increase would be the largest in the city’s history, and it came in late in the budget process.

The property tax rate is now $2.39 per $100 of assessed value. The increase would push it to $2.76, and it could cost the owner of a $200,000 home another $15 per month.

“I was looking to support a tax increase, but the one that we got asked for is really, really high,” Hensley said.

There was a two-part vote on the budget on Monday. The first reduced the amount transferred to the schools to roughly $14.6 million, which was about $3.3 million less than the school board had requested, and it kept the tax rate steady for the seventh year in a row. The vote on that amendment was 5-2, with Hensley and Council member Chuck Hope voting no. [Read more...]

Letter: Will not vote for tax increase, wants better communication with schools

Note: This is a copy of a June 2 letter from Oak Ridge City Council member Anne Garcia Garland to Parker Hardy and members of the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce. 

Dear Chamber:

The Oak Ridge City Council has always supported the needs and beyond of the city school system. This current council has lived in that tradition. We honor and appreciate our students and our teachers and have voted to provide whatever can reasonably be provided. We have also weathered the annual School Board predictions of educational catastrophe if the increased budget projections are not allocated.

This town depends upon the base of education and economic largesse of its original homeowners at the beginning of the 1950s for its sense of pride and place in academia. It is, however, that early well-being and the growth and optimism of the early post-war years which have created a myth of extraordinary wealth and erudition with which we are burdened today. Our reality is that we are a lovely small Southern town with great diversity of education, income, and opinion. We are neither young nor old, rich nor poor, progressive nor conservative. We are all of these descriptions and many between.

This town created a wonderful culture and honored its natural environment in such an outstanding manner that it has attracted citizens from neighboring counties to live and work here. Perhaps because we did not have a large stock of new or above-average priced homes, we have not attracted a large number of the professional transferees to the federal facilities in the past couple decades. After all, “youngish” professionals selling homes in more expensive markets need the tax protection of buying comparably priced homes in this area. [Read more...]

City to use traffic camera money for parking lot work at Blankenship Field

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

The Oak Ridge City Council agreed last week to use $180,000 in traffic camera money for improvements to the lower parking at Blankenship Field.

 

The Oak Ridge City Council agreed last week in a 5-2 vote to use $180,000 in traffic camera money for improvements to the lower parking lot at Blankenship Field, which is used for football games and high school graduation.

The request from Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan was reviewed at a City Council work session on April 28.

The work could include resurfacing work at the lower parking lot and access to the lower levels and visitors bleachers under the American with Disabilities Act. The project has been reviewed by the city staff, and it could include resurfacing, ADA improvements, handicapped parking, and new pavement and striping.

The work would complement a project to replace the demolished visitors bleachers at Blankenship Field, a $455,000 project that was unanimously approved by the Oak Ridge Board of Education in March. The bleachers had been deemed unsafe, and school officials are hoping to replace them before the first home football game on Aug. 29. The school board agreed to use the school system’s fund balance to pay for the replacement bleachers. [Read more...]

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...]