Watson has confidence in police chief, no further investigation planned

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson on Thursday said he has “absolute confidence” in Police Chief Jim Akagi and has no plans to further investigate concerns raised this week by City Council member Trina Baughn.

Baughn raised concerns about the turnover rate in the Oak Ridge Police Department and claims made in a grievance filed by former officer Chris Bayless. In a Sunday email, Baughn said her calculations showed that the police force had lost 30 members in 3.5 years under Akagi, and that equates to 11.7 per year, or an estimated 15 percent turnover rate.

Baughn said some officers who have resigned felt “forced out,” while others who remain are “just counting the days” until they can leave.

“I believe that our turnover issues are not a reflection on the character of the majority of our men and women in blue; rather they are attributable to leadership,” Baughn said in an email to Watson and carbon-copied to Oak Ridge City Council members and reporters.

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

She said she is ready to help Watson “immediately address these problems and stabilize our police department.”

But city officials questioned Baughn’s numbers and said they don’t think the turnover rate is significantly out of line with what it has been previously. An average of 7.25 employees per year have left in the last four years due to resignations, retirements, or being asked to leave, Watson said Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s a significant change,” he said. [Read more…]

School Board could make Preschool recommendation tonight

Charlsey Cofer and Oak Ridge City Council and School Board

Principal Charlsey Cofer, left, discusses the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool with Oak Ridge City Council members and City Manager Mark Watson, seated at table, during a Jan. 15 work session with the Oak Ridge Board of Education.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 12:25 p.m.

It’s been on the city’s wish list for decades, but city and school officials now appear closer to finding a solution to repairing or replacing the city’s preschool.

Officials said they’ve “kicked the can down the road” for years, but the discussion gained urgency after lead-based paint was found on the exterior of the 70-year-old building during a routine inspection in the spring of 2014. It could cost up to $150,000 to make repairs. Officials have characterized that as a Band-Aid or “last investment.”

“We’re going to have make a decision now, unfortunately, because of the paint,” said Keys Fillauer, Oak Ridge Board of Education chair. “The bottom line is: How are we going to pay for this?” [Read more…]

BOE, City Council to tour possible new preschool building

161 Mitchell Road

The Oak Ridge Board of Education and City Council will tour this building at 161 Mitchell Road on Thursday afternoon. It’s a possible new home for the Oak Ridge Preschool.

 

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

The Oak Ridge Board of Education and City Council will tour a building on Mitchell Road on Thursday afternoon that could be a new home for the Preschool.

Built as a temporary building, the current Preschool on New York Avenue is 70 years old and in need of repairs.

A new School Administration Building and Preschool has been on the city’s wish list for years. But now education officials say the Preschool has to be renovated or vacated by next year in order for the school system to continue to receive federal Head Start funding.

They’ve recommended a long-term lease for the Preschool, with an option to purchase. Oak Ridge Schools has also recommended buying the Chamber of Commerce building for a new School Administration Building and remodeling the G Building at Oak Ridge High School to accommodate administration support services, a “better defined” Alternative School program, and the ROTC program. [Read more…]

Heitman family wants death investigation re-opened

Alexander John Heitman

Alexander John Heitman

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

The family of a former Oak Ridge school employee found dead of a shotgun wound in Cocke County more than three years ago wants authorities there to reopen the investigation of their son’s death, a press release said.

The family of Alexander “Alex” J. Heitman has also hired an attorney, retired Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh B. Ward Jr. of Knoxville law firm Young Williams. Ward has Oak Ridge connections, serving on several local boards and as the city’s administrative hearing officer.

Heitman’s family asked for the death investigation to be re-opened after Cocke County Circuit Court Judge Ben Hooper on Monday ordered Coroner Terry Jarnigan to stay away from crime scenes and dead bodies in Cocke County. The Newport Plain Talk reported that Jarnigan allegedly compromised a corpse he was told would be sent for an autopsy in November.

WBIR-TV in Knoxville reported that Jarnigan resigned Tuesday. The Heitmans said the former county coroner oversaw their son’s crime scene.

The Plain Talk reported in June that the District Attorney’s office in Newport said it saw no reason to re-open the investigation of Heitman’s death, which has been ruled a suicide. [Read more…]

Feed the People at Grove on Thanksgiving; volunteers, dishes needed

High Places Community Church

The Feed the People dinner is at The Historic Grove Theater from 3 to 7 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

A grassroots effort will provide food and friendship for all who need them on Thanksgiving, organizers said.

Feed the People has scheduled a dinner from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday, November 27 (Thanksgiving), at The Historic Grove Theater at 123 Randolph Road in Oak Ridge.

Volunteers will be needed to help as early as 9 a.m. and as late as 8 p.m.

“Whether you can help for an hour or more, we need you!” Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn said in an email.

She said meals will also be delivered throughout Oak Ridge. Call (865) 730-0331 to request a delivery for yourself or anyone you know of that is need. [Read more…]

Gooch elected mayor, Smith mayor pro tem

Oak Ridge City Council November 2014

The new Oak Ridge City Council is pictured above. From right they are new member Kelly Callison, continuing member Charlie Hensley, new members Rick Chinn and Warren Gooch, continuing members Chuck Hope and Trina Baughn, and new member Ellen Smith. Council members are elected in staggered terms, so Baughn, Hensley, and Hope won’t be up for election until 2016. Callison, Chinn, Gooch, and Smith won their seats in the November 4 municipal election.

 

Note: This story was last updated at 9 a.m. Nov. 25.

New Oak Ridge City Council member Warren Gooch has been appointed mayor, and returning City Council member Ellen Smith has been elected mayor pro tem.

The two were appointed to serve two-year terms by the seven-member Oak Ridge City Council during a Monday night meeting, the first after the November 4 municipal election.

It’s the first elected office for Gooch, a lawyer, although he previously ran for Anderson County mayor in August 2012. Gooch was the top vote-getter in the November 4 municipal election, and he is the city’s 10th mayor, according to City Council member Chuck Hope, who also sought to be mayor.

“I do think our best days are ahead of us,” Gooch said after two members switched votes and cast ballots for him, breaking an impasse that had lasted through five rounds of voting. “Great things happen here every day, and they have for 70 years.” [Read more…]

Four City Council members say they’d like to be mayor

City of Oak Ridge Seal

Note: This story was updated at 3:03 p.m.

Four members of the new Oak Ridge City Council that starts Monday have announced that they would like to be mayor. One would like to also be considered for mayor pro tem.

The seven-member City Council, which has four new members, will appoint a mayor and mayor pro tem during its Monday night meeting. The City Council picks two of its members to serve as mayor and mayor pro tem after each municipal election every two years.

In letters to Council, current member Chuck Hope said he is interested in serving as mayor and so did City Council members-elect Rick Chinn and Warren Gooch.

Former City Council member Ellen Smith, who regained a seat in the November 4 election after an election loss two years ago, said she would like to be considered for mayor or mayor pro tem. Under the City Charter, the mayor pro tem presides at meetings when the mayor is absent or temporarily disabled. [Read more…]

Letter: Proud of Progress PAC endorsement, positive campaign

To the Editor:

I read the article in Wednesday’s The Oak Ridger where the reporter contacted the five candidates who were not endorsed by the Progress PAC for comments. I wonder why The Oak Ridger did not contact all the candidates.

Either way, I found most comments professional, and in particular Mike Mahathy’s and Jean Hiser’s and in general Andrew Howe’s. Both Andrew Howe’s and Laurie Paine’s, however, referenced me so I feel necessary to respond. [Read more…]

Council to discuss DOE funding, support tonight

Oak Ridge City Council

The Oak Ridge City Council has a special meeting tonight to discuss U.S. Department of Energy support and funding. (File photo/August 2013)

 

The Oak Ridge City Council will discuss U.S. Department of Energy funding and support during a special meeting tonight. It’s described at least in part as an “information-gathering session.”

The special meeting was called by City Council members Trina Baughn and Charlie Hensley. Hensley, in particular, has raised questions about whether DOE is paying its fair share to the city.

Here’s the language outlining tonight’s discussion:

“to discuss and possibly take action on a plan to engage DOE officials with regards to their obligations to the City of Oak Ridge and its citizenry. Let it [the special meeting request] include formally requesting, in writing, a DOE Community Assistance Review as allowed within AECA 1955, PL 84-221, DOE Order 2100.12A, and other supporting legislation, including those self-sufficiency plans dating from 1980 through a Council Resolution and other joint local government collaborative action to include a specific date for a response.”

[Read more…]

Letter: Baughn endorses Garcia Garland

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

To the Editor:

This election cycle, some candidates have characterized City Council deliberations as combative or regressive. The truth is, however, that of the hundreds of decisions made every year by City Council, the majority are made by unanimous vote. The same is true of the Board of Education and our boards and commissions.

A well-balanced government should not be stacked with all like-minded people whose primary goal is to achieve harmony. Some might argue that unanimity, which should not be mistaken for progress, is what has gotten us into many of the messes we are in. No, an elected body should allow for all voices to have the opportunity to be heard and considered. [Read more…]

Guest column: 2014—The year that Oak Ridgers take back their government

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

By Trina Baughn

Did you know that most of our local elections have historically been decided by less than 20 percent of our population? In fact, one of the biggest financial decisions ever made in our city’s history—the high school renovation project—was determined by only 11 percent (3,198) of our residents.

A number of factors have empowered the establishment for decades. If they have their way again this year, half of your elected officials will come from the most affluent neighborhoods in Oak Ridge, with half of them living on the very same street of McMansions! Given that the our average household income is $48,716, this is not even close to a true representation of the people in our community.

This year, though, the establishment is nervous and they should be for three very big reasons. [Read more…]

Mall project clears critical hurdle Monday

Oak Ridge Village Area Rendering

 

Tim Sittema

Tim Sittema

Council, IDB approve TIF extension, grant, roadway work

The proposed redevelopment of the Oak Ridge mall cleared a critical hurdle on Monday when city officials agreed to extend a property tax agreement for the 59-acre project, authorize $2 million in roadway and other infrastructure work, and offer a $500,000 grant if some federal funding is not approved.

Officials described the proposed redevelopment, named Main Street Oak Ridge, as an $80 million project that could fill a “hole in the heart” of Oak Ridge, bring new retail life to the city’s downtown, and build a lasting legacy.

Monday’s moves were meant to reduce the risk for four local lenders that could combine to offer $13 million in loans to part of the redevelopment under a tax increment financing, or TIF, agreement. That incentive would use new property tax revenues generated at the mall site and 120 surrounding acres included in the TIF area to repay those loans. Officials said the loans could be repaid in 18 years, according to financial models.

David Bradshaw

David Bradshaw

But in two separate special meetings on Monday, the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board and Oak Ridge City Council agreed to extend the TIF term from 20 years to 30. That extra 10 years is meant to act as a “shock absorber” and help make sure that the banks are repaid if there is a “glitch” in the project that would push the repayment past the previously approved 20-year term, officials said.

“This is not a ‘home run’ project for us as financial institutions,” said David R. Bradshaw, Oak Ridge president of CapitalMark Bank and Trust, one of the financial institutions that could participate. But, he added, “It is the right thing to do for the community.” [Read more…]