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…]

Lester to serve as president of Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary in 2015-2016

Tony Lester and Kelly Callison

New Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club President Tony Lester, left, accepts the president’s gavel from outgoing President Kelly Callison. (Photo by ORBRC)

The Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club president for the year 2015-2016 is Tony Lester, a press release said.

Lester has been a Rotarian since 1998 and has previously served as Foundation chair for ORBRC.

Having a close family member who has polio inspired Tony to become more involved in Rotary’s worldwide campaign to eradicate the disease.

He has also served on the boards of the Anderson County United Way, WDVX, and the Jubilee Community Arts. [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…]

The numbers: ORPD turnover 2007-2015

James T. Akagi

James T. Akagi

Turnover in the Oak Ridge Police Department is one of several issues at the heart of a contentious debate over the ORPD and its chief, James T. Akagi.

But since the debate started in late January, there hasn’t been much public discussion of how the turnover rate compares, in either numbers or percentages, to the rate before Akagi started on July 1, 2011.

Information requested by Oak Ridge Today and provided by the Oak Ridge Personnel Department and Personnel Director Penny Sissom sheds some light. That data goes back more than eight years, starting in Calendar Year 2007. That’s roughly 4.5 years before Akagi started and more than 3.5 years since.

Oak Ridge Today analyzed the data by calendar year (January-December) and fiscal year (July 1-June 30). The data shows that ORPD turnover ebbs and flows from year to year, with a high of 19 and a low of one.

Oak Ridge Police Department Turnover (2007-2015)

Here are the numbers by calendar year (CY), from January to December, based on city data: [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…]

Council to consider restart on ORPD review during special meeting Tuesday

Oak Ridge City Council on Feb. 9, 2015

The Oak Ridge City Council will have a special meeting on Tuesday, April 21, to consider three recommendations related to the 30-day review of the Oak Ridge Police Department that was approved in March. (File photo)

 

A 30-day review of the Oak Ridge Police Department had barely gotten started before it came under fire. But the Oak Ridge City Council will try to fix that on Tuesday.

The concern centers on a report that the list of ORPD employees randomly selected for the first 20 interviews was sent to Oak Ridge Police Chief Jim Akagi and all Police Department employees, raising questions about the impartiality and anonymity of the review. The reviewer, Rex Barton of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service at the University of Tennessee, apparently sent the list to the police chief for scheduling purposes, seeking to minimize overtime and minimize stress on the officers’ off-duty life.

But those who have pressed for an investigation, including Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, quickly objected when they learned that the list of interviewees had been sent to the police chief, who has been the subject of much of their scrutiny.

So, in a special meeting Tuesday evening, the City Council will ask Barton, an MTAS police management consultant, to create a new, random list of officers to interview. Council will also consider determining a point of contact in the Oak Ridge Police Department who can help coordinate the schedules of officers participating in the interviews. [Read more…]

Letter: Lunch 4 Literacy thanks 2015 sponsors

To the Editor:

Each year in March a special group of generous company sponsors pool their resources and, along with individuals from our community, support the annual literacy program of the Altrusa International Club of Oak Ridge and Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary Club. The Lunch 4 Literacy event raises between $15,000 and $20,000 routinely, which allows our community to support exceptional projects that promote literacy and ensure attention is given to the literacy needs that, without the generosity of our sponsors and individual contributors, could go unmet.

The lack of literacy skills is a serious problem within our communities. The reality is that often simple but effective programs can have a profound impact on individuals that enable them to realize their full potential in life. Without these very effective efforts made possible by grants from Lunch 4 Literacy, people in our communities, limited by a lack of basic skills, continue to fail in areas many of us take for granted. Until you have personally encountered illiteracy and its awful adverse impact, it is hard to fully appreciate the value of simply reading and understanding what is read. Through the continuing supportive efforts of our sponsoring companies we are making a difference in our communities! [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…]