Demolition permit applied for at Main Street Oak Ridge, site plan approved

Main Street Oak Ridge Site Plan Work Session

Barry James, Crosland Southeast senior vice president, standing, explains part of the Main Street Oak Ridge site plan to the Municipal Planning Commission on Thursday, August 6, 2015. Seated from left are planning commissioners Terry Domm, Jane Shelton, Claudia Lever, and Charlie Hensley. At left in the background is Steve Arnsdorff, chief manager of Oak Ridge City Center LLC, the current owner of the property, the former Oak Ridge Mall. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 9:10 p.m.

The demolition permit has been applied for and the site plan approved, two crucial steps in the proposal to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall as Main Street Oak Ridge, a 60-acre site that could include retailers, restaurants, residential units, and a hotel.

Developers applied for the demolition permit last week, Oak Ridge Community Development Director Kathryn Baldwin said Thursday. It will now be reviewed by the city staff. The demolition could include the existing space between the two remaining anchors, Belk and JCPenney, although those two stores would remain.

The site plan is for the construction of the first phase “building footprints” and the infrastructure to serve them, Baldwin said. Construction drawings for the buildings themselves will come later.

The site plan for the core retail area was approved unanimously by the 10-member Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission on Thursday evening. It incorporated comments by the city staff. It does not require approval by the Oak Ridge City Council. [Read more…]

City budget raises trash fee, provides more for city infrastructure

Oak Ridge City Council on July 28, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council raised the trash pickup fee by $3.50 during a special budget meeting on Monday, July 27, 2015, and the Council set aside an extra $260,000 for capital projects such as buildings and schools. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today) 

 

Note: This story was last updated at 10:05 a.m. July 28.

There will be a $3.50 increase in the monthly trash fee, and more money—$260,000—will be reserved for capital projects such as buildings and schools, while city officials are not expected to change the new property tax rate provided by the state after five-year reappraisals completed this year.

The trash fee will increase from $7 to $10.50 per month. That change is expected to provide another $335,000 per year in revenue.

The new tax rate—state officials call it a tax-neutral rate—is $2.52 per $100 of assessed value. It was approved in the first of two readings by the Oak Ridge City Council during a three-hour special meeting on Monday. The second reading hasn’t been scheduled yet, but the meeting is expected soon. [Read more…]

Oak Ridge may not increase tax rate above reappraisal change

Oak Ridge City Council 2014

The Oak Ridge City Council is pictured above in 2014. (Photo courtesy City of Oak Ridge)

 

Property tax rates are already expected to go up in local cities and counties because of an unprecedented drop in property assessments.

And additional increases have been approved or are anticipated in budgets that have already passed in Anderson County, Clinton, Oliver Springs, Roane County, and Rocky Top.

Oak Ridge could be the exception. The city could see an increase in the certified tax rate (state officials call it a tax-neutral rate) from $2.39 per $100 of assessed value to $2.52.

So far, no Oak Ridge City Council members have publicly endorsed raising taxes beyond the change in the tax-neutral rate required by the five-year reappraisals completed this year.

Four City Council members, a majority of the seven-member body, said during a budget work session on Tuesday that they will support the $2.52 tax-neutral rate or that it’s important to stay at that rate for now, until they have more information. [Read more…]

ORPD review expanded to include all employees, some former workers

Oak Ridge Police Department Cars

But MTAS will have to agree to changes

The review of the Oak Ridge Police Department has been expanded to include interviews with all employees. The review could also include interviews with former employees who have left the Police Department since Police Chief Jim Akagi started almost four years ago.

Initial plans had called for a limited review of the Oak Ridge Police Department and interviews of a random sample or cross-section of employees.

But the Oak Ridge City Council expanded the review during a special meeting on Tuesday. That special meeting was called after concerns were raised about the initial list of randomly selected interviewees being sent to the police chief, city manager, and all Police Department employees, which raised questions about the impartiality and confidentiality of the review.

By one estimate, the expanded review could include interviews with more than 100 people. And it’s not clear if the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee will agree to the expanded review, or if they might charge the city.

The City Council agreed to expand the review during a three-hour special meeting on Tuesday that included criticism of MTAS, accusations of collusion between Council members, and an attempt by Council member Trina Baughn to have resident Joe Lee, one of her chief critics, stop taking pictures during a public comment session. [Read more…]

MTAS: ORPD review to be extensive, but not clear who will be interviewed

Oak Ridge Police Department Review Protest

Protesters who want all officers to be able to speak to a consultant reviewing the Oak Ridge Police Department are pictured above outside the Oak Ridge Municipal Building before the Monday night City Council meeting.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 9:35 a.m. April 20.

The review of the Oak Ridge Police Department will be extensive, but it’s not clear yet who will be interviewed, an official said Friday.

The proposal submitted by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service and approved by the Oak Ridge City Council in March called for interviewing a randomly selected group of police department employees. It also called for interviewing other city employees and officers and possibly talking to community leaders not directly employed by the city.

But some have expressed concern that others who want to speak, including former officers and city residents, might not be able to under the limited 30-day review and random selection proposed by MTAS.

“These men deserve to be heard, all of them,” said Christen Thomas, wife of Oak Ridge Police Department Officer John Thomas.

The independent MTAS review will use Police Management Consultant Rex Barton, a former administrative captain for the Athens, Tennessee, Police Department. MTAS is part of the Institute for Public Service at the University of Tennessee. [Read more…]

Council approves ORHS stoplight contract in 4-3 vote

Oak Ridge Turnpike Stoplight at Oak Ridge High School

In a 4-3 vote Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council approved a contract to install a traffic signal at the Oak Ridge High School on Oak Ridge Turnpike.

 

Note: This story was updated at 8:42 a.m. April 15.

The City Council approved a contract to install a stoplight on Oak Ridge Turnpike in front of Oak Ridge High School in a 4-3 vote on Monday.

Public Works Director Gary Cinder said the light will be green most of the time on Oak Ridge Turnpike. But it will turn red when cars are leaving the High School, giving those drivers a green light.

And the traffic signal lights will turn all-red when pedestrians are crossing, Cinder said. [Read more…]

Council rejects ORPD investigation proposals, approves MTAS review

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

On Friday, March 27, the Oak Ridge City Council agreed to use the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee to conduct a 30-day review of turnover, morale, and administrative policies in the Oak Ridge Police Department. (File photo)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 12:30 p.m. March 30.

Despite calls for an investigation, the Oak Ridge City Council on Friday approved a proposal from a University of Tennessee agency to review—rather than investigate—the Oak Ridge Police Department, focusing on turnover, morale, and administrative policies.

A series of motions by City Council member Trina Baughn, who has pushed hardest for an investigation of the ORPD and its police chief, were rejected. Among other things, Baughn’s proposals would have required all Police Department employees to spend at least 10 minutes with the investigator, regardless of whether they wanted to say anything; sought to interview all former workers who have left since May 2011, when Police Chief Jim Akagi was hired; given those interviewed a chance to participate in a “no confidence” vote against the chief; and look into Akagi’s previous history, including his prior employment with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Council also rejected a motion by Baughn to investigate the allegations included in a grievance filed by a former police officer and claims made in letters by former officers.

The 30-day review that was approved Friday was first proposed as a general concept by Oak Ridge City Council member Kelly Callison during a February meeting, with more detail added since then.

[Read more…]

Council to consider reviewing, investigating ORPD in special meeting Friday

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, Feb. 9, agreed to a third-party review of turnover and morale in the Oak Ridge Police Department but rejected requests for two other probes. On Friday, March 27, the Council could consider reviewing or investigating the ORPD—there has been a dispute over which term to use—placing the police chief on administrative leave, or accepting a proposal from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to conduct a 30-day review. (File photo)

 

The Oak Ridge City Council will consider whether to review or investigate the Oak Ridge Police Department during a special meeting on Friday, March 27. The Council will also consider whether to place the police chief on administrative leave during the investigation, if one is conducted.

City Council members Trina Baughn and Rick Chinn called for the special meeting earlier this month, and it was set for this Friday, March 27. Baughn and Chinn asked to set the parameters of an investigation and possibly select an investigator during the special meeting. They also asked to discuss and possibly vote on placing the police chief on administrative leave during the investigation.

Once it became clear that the special meeting would be called, Council members Ellen Smith and Charlie Hensley asked to consider selecting a reviewer to conduct the police review, as opposed to an investigation, approved in February. [Read more…]

City Council schedules special meeting for ORPD review, investigation

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday, Feb. 9, agreed to a third-party review of turnover and morale in the Oak Ridge Police Department but rejected requests for two other probes. On Monday, March 9, the Council did not consider a proposal from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service to conduct the 30-day review, but members did call for a special meeting on Friday, March 27, to consider a review or investigation. (File photo)

 

Note: This story was last updated at 8:20 p.m.

Despite concerns about the timing, the Oak Ridge City Council later this month will consider steps that could be used to help review or investigate—there has been a dispute over which word to use—the turnover, morale, and administrative policies in the Oak Ridge Police Department.

City Council members Trina Baughn and Rick Chinn requested the special meeting, and they asked that it be held at 6 p.m. Friday, March 27. They said the meeting could be used to discuss and vote on the parameters of an investigation and possibly select an investigator. The two members also want the Council to consider the merits, and possibly vote on, placing Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing.

Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch expressed concern about having the special meeting that week because officials from the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Energy are expected to be in town. Gooch, who would prefer to discuss the issues in a regular meeting, said he thought it would be a mistake to have a special meeting like this that could interfere with the visit by NPS and DOE officials. [Read more…]

Council OKs review of ORPD turnover, morale; rejects other probes

Oak Ridge City Council Crowd

Many of those in this standing-room-only crowd that spilled out into a lobby Monday night turned out for an Oak Ridge City Council debate on whether to open an investigation into Police Chief Jim Akagi or, alternatively, reprimand City Council member Trina Baughn for the way she’s publicly handled concerns about the Police Department and its chief. In the end, Council approved a third-party review of ORPD turnover but rejected requests for two other probes.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 11:45 a.m.

After hearing from two dozen residents and a few former officers, the Oak Ridge City Council on Monday agreed to conduct an independent third-party review of turnover and morale in the Police Department. But members rejected a proposal to investigate the relationship between the police chief and city manager, and they declined to look into possible violations related to an order of protection issued against the police chief in Blount County in 2012 and dismissed in 2013.

The outcome appeared to generally please all sides, even if the process used to get there didn’t. It seemed to be a largely peaceful resolution to two weeks of divisive community debate and intense public scrutiny.

“I think we’ve taken a step in the right direction for addressing the concerns within the Oak Ridge Police Department,” said City Council member Trina Baughn, who first raised the issue publicly in a January 25 email about the turnover rate and other ORPD issues.

“I think it was a fair outcome, and one that came about as a result of the process working the way it was actually supposed to,” said Tasha Blakney, attorney for Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi, the subject of most of the allegations raised during the past two weeks.

The resolution to conduct an independent third-party review of the ORPD turnover was proposed by City Council member Kelly Callison during a five-hour meeting Monday night. It passed 7-0 after being amended to include a study of morale issues and administrative policies. [Read more…]

Two more Council members object to process used by Baughn

Chuck Hope

Chuck Hope

Kelly Callison

Kelly Callison

Two more Oak Ridge City Council members last week expressed regret about the process that was used by fellow Council member Trina Baughn to raise concerns about the Police Department and its chief.

Council members Kelly Callison and Chuck Hope said that Baughn could have first brought the issues regarding the Police Department and Police Chief Jim Akagi to the City Council in a work session or special meeting. That would have allowed all seven Council members to hear the information and work together to determine any next steps, they said.

But instead, Callison said, the issue was sent in parallel to City Council and the media, which bothers him.

“I feel that the process that she’s using is wrong,” Hope said. “It’s kind of circumvented the process. It’s all out there, across the press and across the social media.” [Read more…]

Former officers ask for investigation, hearing of officers’ concerns

Oak Ridge City Council November 2014

Four former Oak Ridge police officers have asked the City Council to investigate some of the concerns recently raised about the Police Department and its chief, or to hear the concerns of officers. The City Council will consider what to do next during its regular meeting on Monday. Pictured above from right in November 2014 are Kelly Callison, Charlie Hensley, Rick Chinn, Mayor Warren Gooch, Chuck Hope, Trina Baughn, and Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Smith. (File photo)

 

Four former Oak Ridge police officers have asked the City Council to investigate some of the concerns recently raised about the Police Department and its chief, or to hear the concerns of officers.

The officers were responding to recent news reports about the police department and concerns raised about its turnover rate, as well as alleged policy violations included in a mid-January grievance filed by former Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Christopher Bayless. A few also cited letters written to the media by former Police Chief David Beams and former Lieutenant Jack Mansfield.

The officers expressed a range of concerns that include the alleged policy violations by Police Chief Jim Akagi and a Blount County order of protection in effect from April 2012 to June 2013, questions about the turnover rate and the chief’s leadership, and decisions about promotions, spending, and weapons. [Read more…]