Oak Ridge upgrades courtroom media equipment for City Council meetings

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

With help from a contractor, the City of Oak Ridge has upgraded the media equipment in the Municipal Building Courtroom to provide a better viewing experience during televised City Council meetings.

The city contracted with M&M Productions USA of Oak Ridge in June to help with the broadcast upgrades, a press release said. Part of the upgrade included permanently mounting pan, tilt, and zoom (PTZ) high-definition, robotic cameras that would “provide for better viewing angles of City Council, city staff, and audience members during televised City Council meetings,” the release said.

This recent broadcasting upgrade further complements the audio and City Council voting equipment improvements that were completed in 2014 as a result of deteriorating equipment and Courtroom needs, the release said.

“The PTZ cameras provide for better area coverage and greater detail of City Council meetings,” Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said. “Additionally, there have been several broadcast efficiencies experienced with all of the media upgrades, not to mention that the upgraded equipment has added to the professional composition of the City Council meetings and the Courtroom.” [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…]

Letter: Chamber board lists spending priorities

Note: This is a copy of a June 8 letter from the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce and its Board of Directors to Mayor Warren Gooch and members of City Council, and Chairman Keys Fillauer and the Board of Education.

Mayor Gooch and Chairman Fillauer:

The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted, following the recommendation of our Advocacy Committee, to request the following be given serious consideration as discussions and voting occurs for your respective Fiscal Year 2016 budgets.

Spending Priorities:

  • Development and funding of a prioritized capital improvement plan for infrastructure improvements such as city/school buildings, streets, utilities, etc.
  • Pay increase for Oak Ridge Schools teachers and staff and City of Oak Ridge staff.
  • Waterfront improvements.

While we understand that the city is faced with adjusting the tax rate to reconcile with lower property appraisals, we do feel strongly that the city needs to prioritize spending around these three areas in order to position Oak Ridge as a community of choice for new and expanding businesses and residents.

Sincerely,

Melinda Hillman

Chairman of the Board

 

Parker Hardy

President/CEO

Letter: Gives thanks, says this year’s Police Week a ‘great success’

Police Week at Oak Ridge Police Department

This month, the law enforcement community celebrated Police Week 2015. For those who do not know, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.

Currently, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge on Washington, D.C., to participate in a number of planned events that honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Here in Oak Ridge, the Police Department celebrated on a smaller scale, honoring officers everywhere with a ceremony at the Police Station on the 15th. The week was also marked by a proclamation given by the City Council declaring an official Police Week in Oak Ridge.

I represent a group of wives of police officers in Oak Ridge. We worked to make this the best police week ever for our husbands and the rest of our blue family. We organized meals, snacks, and treats for the officers, and hung banners of love and support in the station to let them know we “see them.” [Read more…]

Letter: PBA chapter president hopes for fair, thorough investigation of ORPD

Editor’s note: This is a copy of a March 3 letter to Oak Ridge City Council.

Dear Oak Ridge City Council members:

I am honored to communicate with you today regarding a very important issue affecting the members of the City of Oak Ridge Police Department. Many of them are affiliated with the Knox County Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association.

Before I discuss the issue at hand, I want to give you a very brief background regarding the PBA. We are not a union. We do not engage in union activities such as work disruptions or strikes. We are respectful when working with the administrations our officers serve. I’ve found most problems can be resolved if both parties come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to compromise.

The law enforcement officers from Anderson, Loudon, Roane, and Knox counties that make up our chapter depend on our local chapter board to monitor situations and protect their interests. Mostly those interests are confined to the following: a fair working environment and returning home safely at the end of a watch. [Read more…]

Letter: Praises Baughn, says City Council needs more like her

To the Editor:

I would like to commend the outstanding job that Trina Baughn is doing on City Council. Of all the members of City Council, she is the most knowledgeable about the city’s massive and rising $186.4 million debt. Trina Baughn understands the history of how this debt was accumulated; she also has developed a strategic plan to help the taxpayers resolve this debt.

While Oak Ridge slipped deeper into debt, past City Councils have wasted and squandered taxpayer funds on law firms in Washington, D.C., to lobby for more money for Oak Ridge’s government facilities, as if lobbying rather than the qualifications of local scientists could swing federal funding to Oak Ridge. The taxpayers derived zero benefit from those lobbyist payments or the largesse City Council has bestowed on the Chamber of Commerce over the years. [Read more…]

Guest column: Moving forward in Oak Ridge

With the recent uproar centered around the Police Department in our rear view mirrors, I think it is important to review what was accomplished and why.

The decision to perform a functional audit on the Police Department is a good step especially when taken in context. These kinds of audits focus on best practices, applied over the department’s field of responsibility that need to be reviewed periodically depending on a department’s complexity and size. Besides just by a calendar rotation, other events to trigger such reviews may include leadership turnover in the department to give incoming management a clean slate of actions and priorities.

I believe that since this door has been opened, it would be wise to broaden it city-wide. Think about whether such an audit could have raised awareness of our lack of proper sewer maintenance over the decades and prevented the rush and financial inconvenience that the mandate from the EPA imposes. [Read more…]

Letter: City willing to address questions, wishes county could say the same

To the Editor:

I can’t help but comment on the difference between our county government and the government of the City of Oak Ridge.

In Oak Ridge, questions have been asked about the city government, and most of the City Council said they had a duty to look into the issues and either address real problems or clear the names of the those being accused of wrongdoing.

Now look at our county government. I have been to too many committee meetings and full commission meetings to even count. We have meeting after meeting where the benches in the room are filled with concerned citizens. Many of us believe there is ongoing wrongdoing and abuse of our tax money in the office of the law director.

I and almost two dozen citizens put our names to paper to officially raise these issues, and there are many more who have given us support or who feel the same way. But no one on county commission seems to care. [Read more…]

Letter: Hensley wants to deny Baughn the right to serve, represent

To the Editor:

I was surprised to hear that Charlie Hensley even has a voice.

That when issues arise and he is not in charge of public discussion of important issues, he tries to silence or sweep things under the carpet.

This is so: That issues have no governing decision to bring the issue into a final end.

That’s like hiring a design firm for a Senior Center, then doing nothing.

The City Council wants everything to be status quo. [Read more…]

Letter: Please consider listening to officers’ concerns

Randy Myers

Randy Myers

Note: This is a copy of a February 2 letter from former Oak Ridge Police Department Officer Randy Myers to the City Council.

I wanted to respond briefly to the articles that have been written about the administration of the Oak Ridge Police Department. My comments are not directed at any one individual but only at the situation itself.

I’ve been in law enforcement for 25 years now. I know firsthand the stress that an administration can cause on their officers, but I wanted to point out something that most either do not know or just won’t bring it out.

No matter what agency you work for, there are issues within that department that some officer will complain about, or they simply just do not like. They may complain a little, but for the most part they move on with their life. [Read more…]

Baughn asks for investigation of police chief; Hensley seeks reprimand of Baughn

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

Charlie Hensley

Charlie Hensley

Note: This story was updated at 7:08 p.m.

On one hand is Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn. She’s called for an investigation of the police chief.

On the other is City Council member Charlie Hensley. He wants the seven-member Council to reprimand Baughn.

It’s not clear which side, if either, will prevail during the Monday night meeting of the Oak Ridge City Council.

The two Council members, who have a strained relationship, have dueling resolutions that could be considered on Monday. Either one would require a second from another Council member to be discussed and four votes to be approved.

Both resolutions follow more than one week of accusations and allegations that have roiled and divided the community. They have focused, in particular, on the management of the Oak Ridge Police Department by Chief Jim Akagi and raised questions about the turnover rate and whether it is high. Some of the most blistering criticisms have come from former Oak Ridge Police Chief David Beams, who said he still visits the city. [Read more…]