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...]

Board orders demolition of five homes in Highland View

117 Wade Lane Home

A city board on Thursday declared this home at 117 Wade Lane to be unfit for human habitation and ordered it demolished within 90 days.

Note: This story was updated at 11:40 p.m.

From the outside, the homes look they’re in decent shape and not the worst in the neighborhood.

But inside and underneath, problems range from collapsing floors and settling foundations to leaking roofs and tens of thousands worth of mold damage.

On Thursday, a city board declared the five vacant homes to be unfit for human habitation, and members ordered them demolished within 90 days. The city could use federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to buy and demolish the homes. [Read more...]

Council does not extend traffic camera contract

Traffic Camera at Oak Ridge Turnpike and New York Avenue

The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the traffic camera contract with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Phoenix, Ariz., on Monday, and the current five-year contract expires April 21.

Note: This story was last updated at 8:30 a.m. March 25.

After five years, some vigorous opposition, and a few contentious meetings, the traffic cameras in Oak Ridge will be removed. The Oak Ridge City Council did not extend the five-year contract with the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, on Monday.

The vote to extend the contract for two years with a few changes was 3-4.

Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan, Mayor Pro Tem Jane Miller, and Council member Charlie Hensley voted in favor of the extension. Council members Trina Baughn, Anne Garcia Garland, Chuck Hope, and David Mosby voted “no.” The current contract expires April 21.

Among the proposed changes, if an extension had been granted, were mobile units, different camera locations, and a new revenue split between the city and Redflex.

[Read more...]

School Board, City Council resolve high school debt dispute

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt appeared to have majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

Despite opposition from a few residents and municipal officials, the Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education have resolved a dispute over Anderson County sales tax revenues and debt payments for the $66 million renovation of Oak Ridge High School.

The dispute, which started several years ago, centered on how to use the Oak Ridge school system’s portion of Anderson County sales tax revenues generated by a tax increase approved by county voters in a 2006 referendum. School officials had argued that they could keep their share of the revenues generated in the county outside of Oak Ridge, while city officials had said all the revenues, whether collected inside the city or outside of it, should be used for high school debt payments.

A resolution unanimously approved by the school board in February and the City Council in a 5-2 vote on Monday, March 3, allows the schools to keep its portion of the new Anderson County revenues collected outside the city. However, the resolution spells out how the money has to be spent: on technology enhancements, debt reduction, capital repairs and equipment, and grant matches and innovative educational projects. [Read more...]

Council postpones traffic camera vote

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

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday postponed a decision on whether to extend or terminate a five-year contract with its traffic camera vendor.

Note: This story was last updated at 11:40 a.m. March 4.

The Oak Ridge City Council postponed a vote on traffic cameras on Monday. Council had been expected to either extend the five-year contract with the camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Arizona, or terminate it.

But council member Chuck Hope had to leave unexpectedly, and it wasn’t clear that there would be a majority to either extend the contract for two years or end it. That meant that both resolutions could have failed in 3-3 votes.

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said the contract could now be discussed during a March 24 special meeting or during the regular April meeting. But the current contract expires April 21. [Read more...]

Council has special meeting today on high school debt, school budget

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt had majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

The school board approved it unanimously on Monday, but a few City Council members have questions about a proposed resolution of a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt so they have called a special meeting for this evening (Thursday evening).

At issue is a proposed resolution of the dispute over certain Anderson County sales tax revenues and debt payments for the $66 million renovation of the Oak Ridge High School.

Before it was approved by the school board on a voice vote Monday, the resolution was discussed in a joint work session with the council on Friday. A majority of city and school officials expressed support for the resolution during the non-voting work session.

It is next scheduled to be considered by the City Council on Monday, March, 3.

Tonight’s special non-voting meeting has been called by City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland. [Read more...]

Guest column: The Oak Ridge High School debt chronicles

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The Oak Ridge High School Debt Chronicles—How a $40 Million Project Will Cost Taxpayers Over $126 Million (So Far) 

It appears that the nearly three-year long debate between the Oak Ridge City Council and the Board of Education (BOE) over who owes what on the high school renovation project—the single largest financial expenditure that this city has ever made—is about to be resolved once and for all (or so some hope). To many, this will provide a welcomed relief. For all, it will once again extend and increase a debt obligation far beyond what anyone ever imagined.

Just over one week after the initial public revealing, council will vote on a resolution to end the debate on the high school mortgage issue. The root problem that this resolution will address is not ambiguity in the 2004 referendum or in any “gentlemen’s agreements.” No, the reason that this resolution is necessary, according to the fifth “Whereas,” is “changing community economics and increasing educational needs.”  The need for this resolution, which will violate the original understanding and intent of the 2004 referendum, boils down to an implied need by the Oak Ridge schools for more money.

If passed, this resolution will allow the BOE to retain the portion of the half-cent sales tax revenues collected outside of the City of Oak Ridge and will accomplish the following: [Read more...]

Blankenship bleacher project could cost $550,000; funding not clear

The Oak Ridge Board of Education on Monday will consider whether to demolish the visitor bleachers at Blankenship Field.

Demolition work has started at the visitor bleachers at Blankenship Field, which are pictured above in January. Replacing them could cost $375,00 with another $175,000 requested for related projects.

It could cost a total of $550,000 to replace the visitor bleachers at Blankenship Field and complete related projects ranging from repairing the Wildcat Crossing stairs on the home side of the field to replacing the retaining wall and removing trees behind the visitor bleachers.

Demolition work on the deteriorated bleachers has already started. The Oak Ridge Board of Education approved that project in January.

It could cost about $375,000 to replace just the bleachers, said Allen Thacker, maintenance and operations supervisor for Oak Ridge Schools. And the seating capacity would be reduced from 3,400 seats to 2,000.

But it’s not clear yet who will pay for the replacements or supply the extra $175,000 for related projects, which also include replacing stairs and sidewalks at the visitor restrooms. [Read more...]

City, school officials endorse resolution of sales tax, high school debt dispute

Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education

A proposal to resolve a dispute over sales tax revenues and high school debt had majority support during a non-voting joint work session of Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education on Friday.

Note: This story was updated at 1 p.m.

It hasn’t been approved yet, but a majority of city and school officials on Friday said they support a proposal that would resolve a long-running dispute over whether to use some sales tax revenues collected in Anderson County to help pay for renovations of Oak Ridge High School.

The dispute has centered on how to use a portion of new sales tax revenues collected in Anderson County outside of Oak Ridge under a May 2006 referendum. School officials had argued they could keep that portion of the revenues, but municipal leaders had said the money should be used to help pay down the debt on the $66 million renovation of the high school.

The amount of money in question is in the range of $250,000 to $300,000 annually, although the total varies from year to year. [Read more...]

A Hero’s Welcome: Community thanks soldier returning from Afghanistan

Welcome Home Sgt. Neal Martin

An estimated 150 people welcome home U.S. Army Sgt. Neal Martin, who served 10 months in Afghanistan.

It might have been the first organized welcome-home ceremony for a veteran returning home from overseas in more than two decades. Organizers hope it won’t be the last.

An impromptu, grassroots ceremony on Monday morning welcomed home U.S. Army Sgt. Neal Martin, who returned to Oak Ridge after serving for 10 months in Afghanistan.

Val Emery, a friend of Martin’s wife Julie Martin, was the chief organizer.

“Every soldier deserves a hero’s welcome,” said Emery, who described herself as a “military brat” whose grandfather was killed in Laos in 1966 and has his name inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. [Read more...]

City move could add another police officer to Oak Ridge Schools

Oak Ridge High School

The number of reported crimes is down at Oak Ridge High School since police officers were given office space there in August, and a move recommended by city administrators could add another school resource officer in the Oak Ridge school system.

The number of reported crimes is down at Oak Ridge High School since police officers were given office space there in August, and a move recommended by city administrators could add another school resource officer in the Oak Ridge school system.

It’s part of a program to improve student safety and use law enforcement to reduce unacceptable student behaviors, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson and Police Chief Jim Akagi said.

Oak Ridge Schools now have one school resource officer, or SRO. There have been discussions about adding more officers, especially since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, but funding has been an obstacle.

On Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council will consider a resolution that would allow the Oak Ridge Police Department to hire an extra police officer, exceeding its authorized personnel staffing levels, in order to assign an existing police officer as an SRO. There have been proposals to add more—in December, City Council member Trina Baughn proposed one at each of the city’s two middle schools—but Watson and Akagi are recommending one additional officer now. [Read more...]

Oak Ridge city manager being considered for job in Texas

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson is being considered for a job in Texas, three council members confirmed Thursday evening.

Watson is a finalist for a city manager position, and a decision could be made in January, Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said.

The mayor said he hopes Watson, who started here in August 2010, stays in Oak Ridge.

“Mark Watson has been an outstanding city manager,” Beehan said. “He was a great hire.” [Read more...]