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...]

Letter: Encourages candidate forum groups, objects to ‘harassment’

While state and federal elections (at least here in Oak Ridge) are somewhat uninspiring this year, with many races either uncontested or practically so, our municipal election has drawn an unusually high number of candidates. That there are several open seats where incumbents chose not to run—two on City Council and two on the Board of Education—is probably the reason for the larger number of candidates.

Ten are running for four seats on City Council, while eight are competing for three seats on the Board of Education.

The League of Women Voters is doing its usual outstanding job of hosting candidate forums, but despite standing-room-only attendance at the first of those, it’s inevitable that not everyone was able to attend. Fortunately, several other interested groups have also scheduled candidate forums or meet-and-greet events: the Oak Ridge Schools’ PTA/PTO Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and Democracy for East Tennessee.

It’s important to get to know the people who seek to represent you, to hear their views on issues of interest, and to see how they respond to questions.

Unfortunately, one member of Council who is not up for election this year is seeking to eliminate some of these opportunities, based on the fact that they’re scheduled to be held on city property. The Chamber of Commerce is situated on land leased from the city, although they own the building. The PTA/PTO forums will be held at Oak Ridge High School, and have been promoted through the schools (as most PTA/PTO activities are). [Read more...]

Chamber forms Progress PAC, two Council members seek legal action

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m.

Two Oak Ridge City Council members have requested a special meeting this week to consider litigation against the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, seeking to prevent the business organization from conducting political activities on public property, including through a new political action committee.

The special meeting, which would be open to the public, has been requested by Oak Ridge City Council members Trina Baughn and Anne Garcia Garland. Baughn said she requested the meeting to “vote upon initiating litigation against the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce so that the city may seek either injunctive relief and/or a temporary restraining order with regards to their conducting political activities on public property.”

Stephen Whitson

Stephen Whitson

On Friday, the Chamber announced it had formed a political action committee named the Progress PAC. The multi-candidate PAC will support candidates in the November elections for Oak Ridge Board of Education and City Council, a press release said.

Stephen Whitson of Oak Ridge has been elected Progress PAC chair, and David Bradshaw, also of Oak Ridge, has been named treasurer. Both are past chairs of the Chamber’s Board of Directors.

In the press release, Whitson said the Progress PAC will only consider supporting candidates who respond to an issue-based written questionnaire and participate in an interview with Progress PAC members. [Read more...]

Guest column: Council looks to future in policy, planning meetings

Note: This is a brief report to the town on Oak Ridge City Council meetings on policy and planning.

Following a vote in June to do so, City Council has been having two policy and planning meetings each month.

At our first meeting, we agreed to follow the general outline of the Comprehensive Plan in order to give ourselves focus. We added a section for the U.S. Department of Energy. Council members Chuck Hope, Trina Baughn, David Mosby, Charlie Hensley, and Anne Garcia Garland have been attending. City attorney Ken Krushenski, a couple of interested citizens, and the press have attended also.

The most encouraging outcome so far has been that the five have begun to operate as a team. We are looking at ways to improve the council’s effectiveness.

Those who follow the Council agenda online will have noticed that Monday’s agenda included a resolution from Council to have four things occur: [Read more...]

Anderson County Tea Party re-forms, Council member to speak Tuesday

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

The Anderson County Tea Party is being re-formed and will hold its first meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 9, at the Oak Ridge Red Cross building. The featured speaker will be Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn, a press release said.

Other agenda items will include a brief history of the ACTP, establishment of a charter, and setting a vision for the future. The book, “The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea,” by Paul Ryan, will also be raffled off, the press release said.

The Red Cross building is located at 908 Oak Ridge Turnpike in Oak Ridge. The Tuesday night meeting is open to the public and will last until approximately 8:15 p.m., the release said.

Guest column: Oak Ridge…a story of excellence

Bruce Borchers

Bruce Borchers

Let me first state how thankful I am to be part of the Oak Ridge community. I have not worked in, nor do I know of, a community and school district that has a stronger board of education or staff that is focused on students. There are many reasons and indicators of this, but one does not have to look too far to understand that the academic achievement in Oak Ridge has remained steady and/or improved despite a 30 percent increase in the number of students in poverty (over 50 percent of our students now come from a home of poverty) over the last decade. This is a true testament to the dedication of our board, staff, parents, and students.

I have enjoyed my transition both to Oak Ridge and Tennessee as superintendent and look forward to my second year in this role. I have become active in the community and am happy to be a member of Noon Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce Board, and the Methodist Medical Center Board. I look forward to participating in additional activities and offerings that this great community is so fortunate to have. My wife and I have also enjoyed a wonderful personal transition to Oak Ridge. My son will be a freshmen at Oak Ridge High School next year, and my daughter will be a part of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band this fall at the University of Tennessee. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be the Oak Ridge superintendent as well as being a father of a current Oak Ridge student.

This is too great of a community and district to let negativity infiltrate the very essence of Oak Ridge. The creation of this amazing community and the Oak Ridge Schools is too great of a story for our country (the world really) to move in such a negative direction. Therefore, I pledge to do my part to keep the conversation civil, accurate, and most of all focused on the 4,440 students that walk through our doors every day who depend on the adults to make decisions based on the needs of children and not the comfort level of adults. [Read more...]

Guest column: Afterthoughts on the 2015 budget

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

A lot of incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, information has been disseminated to the public regarding the Fiscal Year 2015 city and school budgets. Such inconsistencies compound citizen frustrations as they begin to feel the impact of both bodies’ decisions. I would like to offer some clarification along with supporting resources, which will also be hyperlinked within my website, trinabaughn.com.

First, let me address the claim that council is “not supportive” of our schools. I assure you that each and every one of us actively supports the education of Oak Ridge children with both our private and public contributions of time and money.

Furthermore, when factoring in debt payments, council allocates roughly half of all property taxes toward our schools. In fact, there are only four other communities in all of the state that out fund Oak Ridge at the local level. And even though council did not increase the tax rate this year, we did increase funding to the schools by over $500,000 due to the high school mortgage obligation shift. And contrary to claims that funding levels have been flat or declined, a simple comparison from 2005-2014 shows that total school spending has increased from $42.3 million to $55.5 million.

Second, both city and school representatives are guilty of understating their employees’ history of pay increases. City employees have received pay raises four out of the last five years. Teachers, too, have received raises every year of the last five years. The range and form of those raises is worthy of further discussion, and I intend on broaching the subject in our next joint Council/BOE meeting. [Read more...]

Parents protest ‘walk zone,’ expanded area with no school bus service

Kathie Creasey at Walk Zone Protest

Kathie Creasey, right, holds a sign during Thursday’s protest against Oak Ridge Schools’ expanded parent responsibility zone. The zone change eliminates transportation services for students who live within 1.5 miles of their school. (Photo by Sara Wise)

 

Critics of Oak Ridge Schools’ expanded parent responsibility zone protested Thursday morning at the intersection of Oak Ridge Turnpike and Illinois Avenue.

Laurie Paine, who lost her daughter, Ashley, at the intersection in 2007, joined almost 15 other parents and community members to rally for change.

“I don’t want anyone to go through what my family went through,” Paine said. She started a Facebook page to unite community members who were against the walk zone and used that website to spread the word of the protest.

Robertsville Middle School parent Kathie Creasey became emotional at the protest, saying that her own son was close to Ashley. She was protesting because she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her kids. [Read more...]