Liveblogging

School Board Candidate Forum

The five candidates for three seats on the school board are all present, as the rules are explained to the audience.  Each candidate is permitted a three-minute opening statement, followed by questions from the local media, then quesitons from the audience.

Opening Remarks:

Dan DiGregorio – Dan arrived in Oak Ridge in 1969, knows the Oak Ridge Schools from many different viewpoints: teacher, coach, parent, grandparent.  Some of the recent events, the departure of our principal and coaches, have highlighted one of our challenges.  The average tenure of a superintendent in Tennessee Oak Ridge is five years; our current superintendent has been here for seven.  You should elect someone who can best represent you in the duty of selecting a superintendent.  Our three main foci are planning, policy, and promotion.  With regard to policy, we need to do a better job; some of our policies are ancient, and what was appliicable then may not be applicable now.  I’ll push harder to get our five-year plan current.

Bob Eby – has served twice before on the board, including service as Chairman in the 1990s.  His wife, Jean, has taught for many years at Linden Elementary.  Bob is the technology director for USEC, and is actively involved in many community boards.  He is an Eagle Scout, a professional engineer, and a certified instructor of problem solving.  

Brenda Fellner – Moved here ten years ago following an article in Money Magazine about the quality of the schools here, so that both of her sons could be educated here.  She has taught in several states and systems, including Oak Ridge.  She has a lot of experience with changing demographic populations.  Wants to make use of our senior population, as they could be a valuable resource as tutors in the schools.  We need to educate the public, much like the Council Night Out.  Not all of our parents have access to newspapers and the internet, so we need to find other ways to reach them.

Jenny Richter – Grew up in Oak Ridge, left for 12 years, then returned so that her children could attend school here as she did.  Jenny has served two terms on the Board, both with Ann McNees, and with John Smith, who has decided not to run this time.  Many things have happened in the last eight years, with the capstone being the completion of the high school renovation.  But, we can’t remain static — we must respond to change in a thoughtful, deliberate manner.  We face serious curriculum changes, and budget challenges  I understand the pressures, and look forward to addressng the solutions.

John Soldano — a dentist here, as long as a long-time resident.  His whole family are graduates of ORHS (youngest daughter graduating in June).  He presents the opportunity to vote for a candidate with a wealth of business experience.  

Media Questions:

Q) How would you suggest that ORS resolve their budget problems:

DiGregorio: How do we get more money?  From Tuesday’s forum, bring in more families, more recreational activities, more retail.  We need young families.  We must promote the school system, and build the tax base.

Eby: Obtaining the budget that the school desires can only occur through open dialogue with City Council.  All citizens must be cognizant of what the funds are used for.  School Board goes through the entire budget line by line, and it’s up to the citizens to participate.  The only source for additional revenue is from the City.

Fellner: We do need to work hand-in-hand with the city, to find out what parents think needs to be done differently.  One area that we could look at is the communications budget, which increased sharply this year.  There are some things that we do that could be tailored back, such as ordering supplies through the central office rather than at each school.  We must work with the City; it’s very difficult to get any extra funds from the County.

Richter: If you look at the budget, you’ll see that the great majority of funds is used for instruction, and that means people.  To cut the budget, you almost must cut people — people in the classroom who instruct children.  The one item that has the greatest impact on the education of a child is the quality teacher.  I am absolutely FOR maintaining the quality of our instructional personnel.

Soldano: I read the 142 pages of the school budget.  As a business person, I would review the budget to determine whether each expenditure is indeed legitimate.  Only after reviewing the entire budget to look for savings, should the school board go to Council for more money.

Q) What personal strengths do you bring to the table.

Eby: Engineering and business education; personal experience in technology and management; community involvement.  All of these things are great assets to the school system

Fellner: The diverse background in education that I have, serving alongside board members in other schools to improve services in other systems.  I’ve served on building and system leadership teams that evaluated schools for SACS accreditation, as well as for school improvement.  I’ve taught teachers in best practices.  I have the ability to communicate with all parents, all children, and adults in the system.

Richter: I could listen to a wall.  You have to be prepared to walk slowly through Kroger, because people in the community are comfortable in talking in informal settings.  I’ve learned a great deal through listening.  In my work at UT, higher ed is very much like K-12, just bumping up the age group.  I’m constantly lobbying for UT’s new hires to come to Oak Ridge.  

Soldano: I bring 4 things: business experience, experience as a former student, as a parent understanding the issues that confront students today, and I bring my listening skills.

DiGregorio: I’m just great.  I’ve got 38 years with Oak Ridge Schools, from many different viewpoints.  I believe that I’ve answered every single e-mail that has been sent to me.

Q) How can Oak Ridge attract quality teachers in the coming years?

Fellner – We need to look at the teacher training programs, and actively recruit the best and brightest.  We need to utilize the internship program at UT, where we get at 6-12 week preview of what these teachers would be like in the classroom.  Senior teachers could mentor the new teachers, meeting several times per year to mentor.

Richter – While it’s impossible to replace people, but we can send out ambassadors to recruit, pushing the qualities of Oak Ridge, making Oak Ridge an attractive place to teach.  Our teachers should know when they go into a classroom, that they will have the tools necessary to be successful.

Soldano – The easy answer is more money, but that’s not always the right way.   Hands down, most teaching graduates said that support of their principals, relevant inservice training, and recognition for their education and performance would be key.

DiGregorio – The Board and administration must behave professionally, to treat the teachers with the respect they deserve.  If we don’t have good teachers, we won’t have good students.  We do need to have a competitive salary and benefits package.  Teachers also need the opportunity to grow, to keep up with the current trends.

Eby – Oak Ridge has a history of outstanding teachers.  When they leave, how do we replace them?  There are several factors besides the facility; community support and involvement are also important.  Secondly, teachers need to be involved in the critical decision making.  Let teachers advise on curriculum matters; provide highly competitive pay and benefits.  Provide state of the art tools and quality teacher development.

Q) Appointed or elected school superintendent?

Richter – We’ve always had an appointed superintendent, so that he/she can be selected on the basis of qualifications and experience.  We have certain, expected minimums for every staff member.

Soldano – I also support selected, rather than elected, superintendents.  With an election, it’s possible to get a charismatic individual without the necessary skills.

DiGregorio – No (that’s my short answer).  Heck no (that’s my long answer).  I was an educator, and have no confidence  in an elected superintendent.

Eby – selected, not elected.  First and foremost, you want an educator.  You want the best person you can get from all over the country.  Elections preclude the widest range of choices.

Fellner – I’ve taught with both methods in place, and a selected superintendent is far, far better.  We get a lot of community involvement in the selection, and that’s one of the best reasons to have selected.

Q) What is the biggest problem right now?

Soldano – It seems like every year, we come down to this issue of funding, but that’s not to overlook issues like drugs.  Making sure that we have the proper funding and materials is the biggest issue now.

DiGregorio – I think our biggest problem is going to be how to educate all students to all the new standards that take effect this year.  Whether or not we agree, we must comply.  I don’t think we can continue to teach the way we have always taught; there have to be changes in the way children are taught.  Giving a child a zero for not doing their homework is counterproductive; somehow, we have to get the kid to do the work.  That decreases failing grades, increases the graduation rate.

Eby – There are many problems facing ORS today, and it is difficult to choose the biggest one.  Changing demographics is a big one.  Ensuring student safety, new graduation requirements, and lack of resources to address these problems.  Meeting all the needs of ALL children is the biggest challenge.

Fellner – to motivate and educate all the students in Oak Ridge.  We must educate ALL children, not just the college bound students.  We should work with labor unions, with the ROTC, and other resources that we need to tap into in order to accomplish this.

Richter- The greatest short-term challenge will be to implement and educate people about the new curriculum standards that are now in place.  Ultimately, we hope it will raise the standards for all children around the state.  We will have students being funneled into programs wth requirements that they have not faced before.  Students will now have to take courses that are not of their own choosing.  

Q)  Do you support providing transportation to all students?

DiGregorio – Yes.  Transport them all.  We don’t have a very walk-friendly community.

Eby – We ought to provide transportation opportunity to all schools.  Safety is an important factor.  However, we have to do it within the bounds of working with the City for crossing guards, sidewalks, and the funding to support transporting students.

Fellner – I agree that we need to transport all students.  The 20-mph school zones are a bit of an inconvenience, but we must ensure safe transportation for all students and help the city to provide safe avenues for students to do choose to walk.

Richter – it’s a harder question than it seems.  Children have different methods of getting to school, and we must recognize that not all students will ride the bus even if it is offered.  However, unformed officers make a tremendous difference in traffic safety, as not all children will ride the bus.

Soldano – if all students are required to attend school, then we should provide safe transportation to and from school.

Q) Are gifted students treated better, and is that right?

Eby – No.  The goal of public education is to offer challenging opportunities to all students.  We offer a very broad curriculum, have teachers who can teach at all levels.  We offer a range of classes that encourage all students to reach academically.

Fellner – Maybe not treated better, but there are disproportionate opportunities for gifted students, such as many more AP or honors classes than remedial classes at the high school.  If we do a better job in the elementary school, we won’t need as much remediation in the high school.

Richter – No, I don’t belive that we treat our gifted students better.  All courses are open to all students.  We encourage students to attempt material that they haven’t taken before.

Soldano – The gifted program reflects the population that we live amongst.  The national trend is 28-30% AP courses, so at 34%, we’re in line with the rest of the country.

DiGregorio – I don’t know, but it’s disturbing to me that it’s still being asked.  Whether it’s real or imagined, it’s a problem.  We must get rid of that perception.  We provide a good and complete education for all students, without prejudice.

Q) The administrators are interviewing candidates for the next ORHS principal.  What qualities do you want to see?

Fellner- a broad educational background, who knows about our diverse demographics.  I want someone who cares for all students, who supports all teachers, who can keep a clear line for all budget issues, and is on top of technology.

Richter – we need someone who lives, eats, and breathes high school issues.  I would be looking for someone who is highly educated, understands the 9-12 system, and who understands the demands that will be placed on the person leading this high school.  They must understand the value of the teaching force that we have here, and rely on them for key decisions.

Soldano – You need a good leader who supports the staff, understands the students and the mandates.

DiGregorio – I am sorry to see Chuck Carringer go.  I want a new principal who likes kids, is a good educator, and who is involved in the community.

Eby – I agree with the others’ statements.  When I think of an outstanding principal, it is someone who will listen closely to the staff and lead quietly.

Q) What policies may need to be changed?

Richter – there are several that we have been trying to plow through and change, but I can’t think of one that warrants particular focus at this moment.  A few years ago we changed our cell phone policy somewhat, and there are a few things like that that change as time goes on.

Soldano – has anyone tried to pick up a document from the administration lately?  There’s a five-day waiting period.  Zero tolerance probably needs to be re-evaluated.  I understand the reason for rules, but sometimes it can be cumbersome.

DiGregorio – staff residency and school trips are two that come to mind.  

Eby – the travel policy is one; if we have a policy, we need to ensure consistent execution.

Fellner – There’s no one policy that stands out, but consistency is of utmost importance.  That goes back to communication with the public.

Q) Teachers and staff have not received a salary increase.  How would you propose giving staff a raise next year?

Soldano – You can get so far behind that you’re trying to play catch-up.  In my business, we try to at least do a cost of living increase each year.  We have to ask the City for the money.

DiGregorio – I am not in favor of cutting staff positions to give a raise; with that, there is no other alternative except to ask the City for additional funds.

Eby- There’s only a finite amount of money.  If we do get the money, we should look at several different options.  For the last two years, the teachers with the most longevity got nothing.  Two possible methods would be to add a step at year 25, or to add a longevity bonus as the City did for City staff.

Fellner – If there’s no money, there’s no money.  We are falling behind, but if we’re no longer competitive, we’re no longer going to get the best and the brightest.

Richter – We may end up receiving some additional funding, so we may be able to provide a small raise.  Every percent raise costs us $350k – $380k, and this needs to be recurring funding because that cost will recur each year.  We are hoping to get additional information on the longevity bonus.

Audience Questions:

Q) Could cost be reduced by sharing resources with the City government, like offices or cars?

Soldano – Yes.  Duplication of costs; sharing will reduce the cost.  However, it’s likely to be an unequal division.

Q) How would you feel about members of the administration home-schooling their own children?

Fellner – If you’re making decisions about our students, those decisions should apply to your own children.

Q) The school sytem is trying to increase the graduation rate.  Are there any programs for people who have already dropped out, and should the school sytem be involved?

Eby – the alternative school is for students who cannot progress, or who have been expelled, or cannot learn in a traditional environment.  There are also GED programs, and the school sytem should absolutely be involved.  Some people elect to be in the alternative program.

Q) What would be the top 3 elements of a 5-year plan that you would support?

Richter – 1) re-examine the curriculum in light of the new standards, making sure our curriculum is properly aligned, both vertically and horizontally.  2) Prioritize and find a way to work with the City or County to return having police officers present in our middle school program (school resource officers).  It was a true safety element.  (ran out of time)

Q) the curriculum is under pressure, that is squeezing out some subjects.  How can we get PE, music, and art back into the classroom?

DiGregorio – those things still are in our classrooms, but the question is whether we can continue with the new standards, and the two additional credits required.   Now, our students are being asked to major and minor in something.

Q) What impact will the new graduation requirements have on the vocational program?

Richter – the new requirements will affect everything.  The new grad requirement is ONE PATH, and that is the college prep path.  A student must use all of their three electives to select a career path now.

Q) Over the last 10 years, overall enrollment has gone down, while spending and staffing has increased.  The school sytem has asked for additional money from the City.  Do you feel this is a sound fiscal practice?

DiGregorio – In the last two years, we have not requested anything from the city except what is in the financial model.  Enrollment going up and down is just a reality, and yes, costs do go up.

Q) Where do you rank the preschool facility in terms of need?

Eby – I would add the preschool/school administration building to Ms. Richter’s list of priorities; the preschool program has proven itself to be valuable, and we have to give them a better facility.

Q) What is your position on proposed merit pay for teachers?

Fellner – Teachers who go the extra mile deserve to be rewarded.  Going back to the GED programs, the requirements come from the State, not from the Board.  Some systems have night school classes, and one of those are GED classes.  We could do that, even with a modest tuition.

Q) According to the current rankings, OR now ranks 929 out of 1,300.  Why do you think our rankings have dropped, and how do we get back on top?

Soldano – Oak Ridge’s graduation rate is 4th among comparable schools nearby.  We have to decide if we want to stay basic, or if we want to go a cut above?

Q) How should the community be more actively engaged with the school board?

Fellner – We need to do a School Board night out, particularly in areas where the parents are less likely to come to board meetings.   We need to be available for communication, to go out into the community and work hand-in-hand with the public.  

Q) How would you characterize the current relationship between school board and city council, and what one action would you take to improve it?

DiGregorio – I think we’re working better now than we were four years ago.  The one item for improvement would be communication.  Going back to test scores, the ranking may rest entirely on the number of students taking the AP test.  If more take it, we rank higher; if fewer take it, we score lower.

Q) How much input should the school board have in regard to administrative decisions, and how do you hold them accountable for their decisions.  

Eby – there is a very clear delineation of responsibility, set out in the city charter, in state law, and in federal law.  The board must hold the superintendent accountable for adhering to policy.  With regard to the relationship with City Council, we used to have a 10-year plan.  We need a strategic plan that lays out where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there.

Q) Should alternatives to evolution be taught in the Oak Ridge Schools?

Soldano – Yes.  Education is a process of looking at all viewpoints.

Q) What do you feel is the greatest need, facility-wise?  Why, and do you have a course of action.

Richter – My #3 on the priorities list is the preschool.  If you have not been there, I encourage you to go see it.  I went to school there as an elementary student, and it was old then.  The preschool has been a high priority for perhaps 20 years; we need to come up with a creative way to fund it, like we did with the high school.

Closing statements:

Soldano: ORS was ranked in the top 100 schools in the country when the current administration took office.  Now, we’re 929.  If you’re satisfied, re-elect the incumbents.  If you’re not, then I ask for your vote.

Richter – I look around this audience, and see so many who helped guide my life through supporting the schools.  On Tuesday, how many of the candidates said that they moved here for the schools?  You can look at measures or matrices, but what I ask you to do is take a look at the product that our schools provide.

Fellner:  I have had a passion for education since I was 3 or 4 years old, and wish to continue my service through election to the school board.  We need to manage our budget to get the most bang for the buck.

Eby – Why would I want to be on the school board?  For a love of the town, a love of the schools, and to help the children.

DiGregorio – It’s not for money or power, but to follow the lead my dad gave me.  I want to support the next generations.  It is all of our responsibility to provide for the next generation.

Council Candidate Forum

The format of tonight’s forum will be that each question will be answered by two candidates, then they’ll go on to the next question, and next two candidates answering.  With ten candidates in the running, it should be answering.

Tom Beehan opens with a brief biography.  He has been on City Council for eight years.  We’re beginning to address the issue of crime in our neighborhoods with increased patrols; we’ve begun to address housing and our older neighborhoods.  Lastly, we’re improving retail, particularly in working with some of the small retail neighborhoods like Jackson Square.

Jimmy Bouchard is introduced next; he doesn’t think that experience should be measured for this office, as he comes from the “best high school in America.”  The high school senior will turn 18 on May 22, qualifying him for office.  He says that he will not vote his own convictions, but those expressed by the people.  He plans to major in nuclear engineering at UTK next year.  He’d like to diversify the city’s economy by supporting small businesses; he’d like to go ahead and build the new senior center that was promised.

Anne Garcia Garland follows, citing that she no longer has any ties to special interests like DOE and their contractors.  She’s not entirely happy with the way things have gone recently, with a Council who claims to know what is best.  “Oak Ridgers need to decide who we’re going to be when we grow up.”  We need to take care of the existing retail we have, in order to encourage others to come.

John Alex Groff works at ORNL, at the SNS.  Vision for Oak Ridge: the population today is the same as it was when he was born.  Growing the population depends on growing the industrial base.  Why haven’t we tried to entice some of the off-road industry to Oak Ridge, with more than 700 miles of off road trails nearby?  

Rick Hasbrouck notes the lack of retail, and that improving retail would ease the property tax burden.  We need to add police officers rather than relying on overtime.  Says that he is new to Oak Ridge.

Martin McBride: undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Delaware, married 35 years.   Got his graduate degree in bionucleonics.  Worked the cleanup at Three Mile Island, then moved to oak Ridge to work for DOE.

Jane Miller has been an Oak Ridger since the age of three; she works in PR for BWXT.  She is disappointed in the last couple of years, but thinks that we’ve gone overboard with citizen input to the point of not being able to accomplish anything.  We need to be more flexible, more business-friendly, and need to treat our citizens as our customers.  Small, one-issue groups should not be able to halt progress; public input is important, but Council must make the hard decisions.  We need that can-do, Manhattan Project attitude that we’ve always had.

David Mosby, trusted for the last eight years on Council, is “ready to continue the work that we have started.”  Property tax revenue has been increased about $1M from the new, privately-owned DOE buildings.  Supports new initiatives like the recycling plan, the sustainability plan, and the acquisition of hybrid vehicles for the City.  We have to find better and more effective ways to combat crime and drugs.  We need to pay attention to our seniors, and to keep the pressure off of our property taxes.

Eric Tobler, an Oak Ridge native (1983 graduate), worked for Bechtel then Y-12.  Following a boating accident, he started Tobler Enterprises, which is both a landscaping and development enterprise.  Owns residential and retail property in Oak Ridge — if OakRidge fails, he will fail.

Tony Turner is a West Point graduate.  Followng his military retirement, he settled in Oak Ridge — his first hometown.  He is the program manager for Homeland Security at ORNL.  The City needs leadership now, vision + action.

(End of the introductory speeches)

Stan Mitchell asks: what does the City need to do to get citizen support for projects?

David Mosby responds that citizens have ample opportunity for input, and that they exercise those opportunities.

Tobler: Council needs to share what their goals are; we’re not sure what the goals and vision are.  If Council would show their plan to the citizens, then people would understand where we’re going.  It seems like all the talk is about taxes.

Q) What do you think the City could do to attract more young families, and what will happen if we don’t?

McBride: The City has a problem due to certain constraints.  We have, for so long, allowed people at ORNL and Y-12 to drift away from Oak Ridge, so when someone new comes in, they’re surrounded by people who live in Farragut instead of here.  First, we have to get them interested in coming here.

Garland: We need a different approach.  We need to concentrate in attracting the kind of families who would want to live here; for people who want to escape big city life and rat races elsewhere.  We should advertise to specific target audiences.  If we can make the town feel friendly to small business, that’s who takes the risk.

Q) What would you do to enhance revenues for the City:

Beehan: Because of a different relationship with DOE, we didn’t have to raise property taxes.  Some of the innovations like the private buildings are really helping.  The stimulus and cleanup programs have insulated us from the woes that other cities are facing.  DOE is the 900-lb gorilla in town, and the best way to deal with it is to work with them.

Groff: Growth is the answer.  We can grow through industry, retail, or commerical, but we have to grow.  We have to market ourselves to these businesses.  We have to work with City staff to help them understand we must bend over backward to make business welcome.  Voted against Crestpoint, but now realizes his error.

Q) Is there anything specifically that we could do as a City to attract more retailers?

Bouchard: Retailers look at many different aspects, such as demand and demographics.  It’s hard for a city our size to attract them, unless we show that we can attract more people to live and shop here.  A tax abatement would show that we are committed to helping them.

Hasbrouck: Need to work closely with the Chamber of Commerce; we need to advertise to let others know that Oak Ridge is open for business.  The realtor that was bringing Target, is no longer interested in working within Oak Ridge.

Q) What do you think should be the City’s #1 priority?

Miller: Jobs, housing, and retail.  We’re fine on jobs, we’re improving on housing, but our main problem is retail — one of the two only ways to get money into the City.  We can’t address other things until we fix that problem.

Turner: Crime is our most pressing issue.  We have a higher crime rate than most of the rest of Tennessee.  Most of our crime is driven by the drug trade.   Anderson County is the only county in our region that is not affiliated with the High Intensity Drug Trafficing Area effort.

Q) After a string of home invasions, has the additional overtime patrols and neighborhood watch been effective?

Hasbrouck: I haven’t seen the stats to know if we’re making progress or not.  Instead of overtime, we need to expand the police force.  Police and landlords can solve the problem.

Groff: I think these measures have been effective.  Criminals are getting caught, but they’re getting smarter.  They’re carrying smaller amounts of drugs, not carrying weapons, so they get less time.  We have eighty-some people in the police department, but only half of those on patrol.  We have eighty-some personnel in parks and recreation.  Overtime is not the answer.  We can’t afford to have someone out there who’s been working 16 hours straight.

Q) Roane State is trying to raise $5M; do you support the City contribution of $500k.

Mosby: I’m concerned about the repayment method, but appreciate the benefit that Roane State brings and think it will pay dividends in the long run.

McBride: I fully support that.  Where is the money coming from?  I would reduce the City’s lobbyist contract to find (part of) the money.  Our schools need continued funding increases, along with police and fire.  We must prioritize, and we take money from things at the bottom of the list.

Q) How does the City move forward, while preserving our historic areas?

Tobler: We cannot hold on to dilapidated buildings; if somehting must be preserved, could we use volunteer effort to do so?  Sometimes, volunteers are chastized for their efforts.

Garland: If we’re going to move forard, we have to know what direction “forward” is.  Am not necessarily a proponent of growth for the sake of growth.  I support any and all historical projects that do not require the City borrowing money.

Q) What is your take on the marina redevelopment?

Miller: I am in favor of the redevelopment.  I don’t want to harm the natural beauty, but think that we should have appropriate restaurants, restroom facilities, human-powered sports businesses.  But, we have to work with the developer, because the City does not have the money to fund it.  Does not want motorized boats there.

Bouchard: development of the marina is crucial.  The development shows that Oak Ridge cares about the options and opportunities, but we’ve done very little to promote the second-best rowing venue in the whole country.

Q) What is your position on red light and speed enforcement cameras in Oak Ridge?

Turner: I’m against the cameras, because of the very emotional reaction generated amongst the citizens.  I did not find a competting reason that justified installation against the will of the citizens.

Beehan: The cameras are part of an overall program to protect the children in this community.  The red light cameras are the same kind of technology as radar was a few years ago.  We have new school zones, we have crossing guards, and we’ve gotten a safe schools grant.  The cameras are not about revenue, they’re about safety.

Q) The majority of people at the DOE facilities live outside Oak Ridge.  Why do you think that is?

Groff: One of the reasons is because that’s where their co-workers live.  Once people get in the hands of Knoxville realtors, they’re lost to us.  We need a relocation specialist.  We have so much that Knoxville doesn’t have, but people don’t know that.

Hasbrouck: It’s not just DOE, it’s a lot of our employers.  A lot of it is that the Knoxville realtors get to them first.  Part of the problem is that our property tax rate is so high.  Red light cameras won’t help, either.

Q) Do we need a new senior center, and how do we fund it?

Miller: I think we’d all love to see a new senior center, but until we have more revenue, we cannot address these new issues (like police, Roane State, etc.).

Beehan: I’d love to have a new senior center, but we’re in a 5-year contract with the current building.  The building is only a place — we also need to look at the services offered, and those may be located elsewhere.  Back to police, no one is working 18 hours.  We are applying for five new officers under the stimulus funding.  The best way to address the problem NOW is to reward our officers with overtime.

Q) If you’re elected, how would you operate as a leader?

Bouchard: If elected, I promise that my seat will be a seat for the people.  No small group should hold up anything, but public opinion matters a great deal.  I will bring enthusiasm, a new viewpoint.  We need to target the 18-35 age group.

Turner: Leadership is the ability to influence people.  I have the ability to follow through.

Q) Share your opinions on west end development?

McBride: One of our significant challenges is that we’re a long, thin city.  The west end looks like a golden opportunity to develop retail centers, which turn out to be quite important.  One of our largest new developments is on the extreme west end, and we’ve invested a great deal in the infrastructure to get there.  We are in competition, and we have to develop the entire city.

Garland: Ditto.  If we can continue to encourage people to love their neighborhoods, we should do just fine there.

Q) The City has a tax abatement policy, awarding levels of support depending on the level of investment.  Do you support it, and why or why not?

Mosby: I support an abatement policy.  The abatement doesn’t make the deal, but is considered as something factored into the business plan.  It needs to be flexible, but structured enough so that there’s a reasonable assurance of a return on investment.  I would like to see it change to address the under-utilized properties, and try to help us grow the west end.

Tobler: Tax abatements can be a good thing, but need to be considered individually.  Big businesses push for them the hardest, but the small businesses usually need them the most.  We need to be ready to negotiate, so that more money can come back to the city once they’re on their feet.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS: (Selected in random order)

Q) Why can’t we encourage all city employees to live here:

Turner: I have no idea why they would not.   We need to talk to the new employees and tell them the positive things about Oak Ridge.

Q) The percentage of economically disadvantaged kids in the school system is reaching new highs.  what would you propose to do?

Tobler: Get with the school board and empower them to do what needs to be done.

Q) Will you support a property tax increase to finance the city’s needs?

Mosby: it depends.  I ama proponent for trying to hold back on tax increases by finding new revenue sources, such as by the new alternative financed DOE buildings.  We’re trying to become more efficient.

Q) What are your plans for the waterfront, and have we asked for input from our rowing customers?

Miller: The city has been involved with rowing, and have an ongoing good relationship with the rowing community.  I’m not sure if we can measure the return on investment, but it’s a quality of life issue, and I don’t want to see it go away.

Q) How do you feel about fees, tolls, wheel tax on non-resident workers?

McBride: Memphis has struggled with this, having the highest property tax rate in the state.  I don’t favor that kind of option, because we might damage the relationship with those kinds of tactics.  I prefer a congressional investment, due to the service we provide for the nation.

Q) Should Oak Ridge focus on manufacturing business on the west end, being closest to the interstate?

Hasbrouck: We need to focus on business everywhere in the city.

Q) What steps will you take to improve housing, through incentives to homeowners?

Groff: There are several programs at the lab that deal directly with residential energy efficiency.  Unfortunately, none of those are in Oak Ridge.  Why not?

Q) Should the City use eminent domain to acquire the Alexander Inn for renovation?

Garland: I don’t really know the parameters.  I would reserve eminent domain for only the most critical community projects.  Taking property is pretty un-American.  We should have codes to prevent property owners from allowing their property to deteriorate.  We can condemn, but we cannot just take.

Q) How will you ensure that a developer who commits to a major project, will follow through and complete the project?

Bouchard: I would carefully consider the project at the outset, before it is started.  Follow through should be ensured before the developer begins.

Q) How can we encourage more business on Illinois, and keep Woodland homeowners happy?

Beehan: I don’t know.  We did a corridor study which now establishes guidelines as to how far you can go into a neighborhood, so now developers know what they can do, and homeowners know what they can do.  We’ve done good studies on the marina, and on sustainability; we could build consensus on other subjects as well.

Q) Is there too much cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce?

Turner: Since we have a contract, the relationship really should be client-customer.  But it needs to be more than that; it should be cooperative.  The Chamber does what it is called to do in its contract.  The relocation specialist is a tremendous opportunity.  The City could listen more to the chamber, particularly in removing the obstacles to new businesses coming in.

Q) What do you recommend to change the image of becoming old, to becoming younger and more vibrant.

Tobler: promote the lake and the schools.  bring people from Knoxville to events in Oak Ridge — concerts, etc.  We need to create places for people to have fun.

Q) If you could only accomplish one thing, what would it be?

Mosby: I would like to see the community figure out that it is a special place, and develop into something that is attractive, so it’s not hard to entice people and businesses to come here.

Q) Do you support capping property taxes for seniors, based upon economic need?

Miller: I think we need to study that, and we need to do that.

Q) What action plan to you have for a serious effort to develop the Oak Ridge Mall?

McBride: The mall occupies a very central place in our city.  No meaningful progress has occurred in the last 7 years.  We need to take initiative on the mall covenants; Wal-Mart has an incredible amount of influence over the rest of the property.  We need to approach Wal-Mart and ask for a break on the restrictions.

Q) How can a city like Maryville/Alcoa have extensive retail, when Oak Ridge doesn’t?

Hasbrouck: I don’t know.  There is opportunity in this city.  All of the anchors have stipulations in place at the mall; maybe that’s where we need to consider eminent domain.

Q) Where do the schools fall in your budget priorities?

Groff: I have two kids in school.  Education is #1 priority.  We have to focus on increasing education.  I’d like to see the vo-tech programs come back.

Q) What would you do to help the older retail centers?

Garland: We need to make adjustments to our sign ordinances, with signs on the turnpike for these business areas, directing traffic to these off-turnpike shopping centers.  Advocates forming a “small business” chamber of commerce, to strengthen their influence.

Q) What are your suggestions for older housing?

Bouchard: I am a proponent for reinforcing our residential neighborhoods.  We could extend incentives to homeowners to improve their buildings; the City could do something with the properties that have fallen under par.  The City could revise one portion of the city to like-new 1940s condition.  

Q) What would you propose to reduce crime in Oak Ridge?

Beehan: I would call a meeting of the police chief, sheriff, and district attorney, to establish cooperation and run the drug dealers out of town.  We need to bring on the five new police officers.  The neighborhood watch program is very successful, and I’m very proud of them.  It’s incredible the things that are happening.

Q) When consensus cannot be achieved, how to proceed?

Turner: on Council, the majority wins.  That doesn’t necessarily work with the citizens.  But at some point, you have to lead — vote your vision.

Tobler: you’re never going to make everybody happy, so you have to make the best decision for the city.

Mosby: A lot of times, we bail out before consensus can be reached.

Miller: Just the people at the microphone doesn’t necessarily represent the majority — phone callls and e-mails also factor in.

McBride: the high school project was the best example of building consensus.  The more that Council can do that, the more successful we’re going to be.

Hasbrouck: Consensus is a difficult thing among seven people, much less 27,000.  That said, more surveys would be a useful thing.

Groff: Dissent gives you the opportunity to explore the reasons for differing opinions.  You want everyone to walk away feeling like they got a good deal.

Garland: I don’t think the citizens expect consensus, but they expect an opportunity to be heard and considered.

Bouchard: Communication goes hand-in-hand with consensus.

Beehan: Consensus is good and I wish we could do it on every issue, but that’s not possible.  We do get a lot of communication, especially via e-mail.  There are issues where we do need to communicate better.  Ultimately, our job is to make the best decision we can based on the information we have.  It’s like sausage — you like the end product, but making it is not pretty.

The forum will air on BBB (channel 12).  Air times will be posted on www.bbbtv12.com.

Liveblogging: Charter Commission Forum

First, the rules: no questions will be allowed that are directed to a particular candidate.  Questions are screened to eliminate redundancy.  Opening remarks are limited to two minutes, and answers to questions are limited to a minute and a half.  No video recording is allowed; the media is allowed to tape the forum, but are not allowed to permit the recording to be altered in any way, nor used for any candidate advertising.

Gene Caldwell, Pat Postma, and Dave McCoy had their opening comments read by representatives, as they were unable to be here.

Each candidate makes an opening comment.  Of the first six, Chuck Agle is the first to stay within his time limit, but finding time to remind the audience of our history with district elections — that candidates were elected with fewer than 100 votes, and that in 1971, more than half of the council races (seven of twelve) were uncontested.

Ella Dubose compares the city to a computer, with the City Charter as the operating system.  We’re charged now with determining whether an "upgrade" is needed, especially since all software doesn’t work with all systems.

Scott Linn, a history teacher at Jefferson Middle School, says it’s essential to be open minded and reasonable when considering changes to the City Charter.  District representation didn’t work — Oak Ridge can’t afford to experiment with failed policies.  We need to work together.

Mike Mahathy points out that challenges are opportunities, but the future of Oak Ridge rests in the results of this Charter Commission.

Mary Helen rose recalls that she was the recording secretary for the last Charter Commission, and served on the Charter Review Committee last year.  "When I’m unhappy with Council, it’s usually because I don’t like one of their decisions, but I doubt that I would be any happier if they were elected by district, or if there were nine instead of seven."

*  *  *

Questions from the local media are next on the agenda.  Stan Mitchell, publisher of the Oak Ridge Observer, asks first:

Because the current City Council is elected at large, it has been said that this leads to some areas being unfairly represented.

Abbatiello: Both forms of government are representative; it’s just a different technique.  Districts create yet another sub group.  It can work reasonably well, until you never have enough candidates to compete.  Our primary issues are citywide, and we need to find the technique that allows us to focus on these citywide issues.

Burns: Two recent decisions were on the mall, and on Crestpoint.  Council’s votes on those matters indicate that Council is not hearing, or not listening, to the people.

Agle: During Abbatiello’s term, our tax rate remained relatively stable.  If we changed to districts representation, there would be no hope of restraint in spending.

Dittner: The Woodland hotel issue illustrates that the current Council is not working, that Council is not listening to neighborhoods.

DuBose: I believe that our Council represents all of the city, and that they’re working on neighborhood revitalization.

John Huotari asks, why districts?

Fain: A broad opportunity for people to be listened to, strengthening the health of our democracy, would be supported by district representation.

Flowers:  There are pros and cons for district representation.  You can get into some one-upsmanship, with Council members refusing to vote for a project because another district council member voted against a different project in their own district.  "If you don’t like the way the coach is calling the game, you don’t change the rules."

Humphries:

Linn: what concerms me about district representation is that it takes away from the individual’s voting power.  Now, we vote for 100% of council members; under the CDAR proposal, one would only be able to vote for up to four of nine.  The Founding Fathers did provide for a blended government (districts for the lower house, at-large for the senate), but they also made the constitution very difficult to amend.  It is a concern how easily our charter can be amended.

Stan Mitchell asks if we need to raise the threshold for referendums.

Mahathy: I believe that the standard for a referendum should be raised.

Jones: Of course we need to have referendums.  We wouldn’t have this call for change if they felt like they were being heard.

Rose: I’m inclined to think that it should be a little more difficult to call for a referendum, especially for a Charter Commission.

Schramm: Referendums are absolutely necessary.  This is not the end of the process, it is the beginning.  If we elect a Charter Commission

Jjohn Huotari asks, what other issues do you think the Charter Commission ought to consider.

Abbatiello: the democratic process is designed to garner input in a respectful manner.  He outlines the sections of the charter, but does not answer the question.

Burns: only interested in the district question.

Agle: Need to point out the unintended consequences.  Recent court rulings indicate that we may end up with a ruling that we must also have a district or hybrid school board.  The charter is an opportunity to put into place some planning mechanisms.  We have no real plan for growth going forward, so every time there’s an opportunity — it’s a surprise!  We need to take the surprise out of the process.

Dittner: I got into this only to discuss districts and the number of council members.

DuBose: I think the things that should be considered is driven by the citizens.

Stan Mitchell asks, who do you think runs this city, and do you think a strong mayor form of government should be considered?

Fain: On the map of the city, there is a strong pattern of where Council members, as well as people who sit on city boards, live.  There are neighborhoods that are seriously out of balance int he amount of power.  (She didn’t answer the question).

Flowers: With the City Manager form of government, you have a strong separation of powers.  In a town this size, you’ve got to have someone whose administrative role is to attend to the day-to-day form of government.  I’m a strong proponent of the City Manager form of government.

Humphries: It should be the City Manager who runs the city, but Council meets only once per months.  Now, they have a meeting before the meeting, which is better, because the other way looked too much like rubber-stamping the City Manager’s proposals.  I have no personal feelings on the strong mayor form.

Linn: a balance of legislative policy with city council and with the city manager dealing with the business seems to work well.  I would be open-minded to look into something like that, but the current practice seems to work well.

Iskander: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But I think it is broken.

Mahathy: If you’re not happy with the results, vote for a new Council.  If elected, I will move to adjourn on the first meeting.

Jones: 26 cities in Tennessee have a mixed form of government.  She recalls that in Knoxville, a Council member named O’Connor favored at-large, and a council member named Cas Walker favored a mix of at large and districts.

Rose:  We keep hearing that we’re not represented, but I believe that our 7-member Council represents us well.  When we are unhappy, it’s not because the Council member doesn’t live in our district, it’s because we’re unhappy with some decision that was made.

Schramm: the previous charter commission didn’t even consider districts.  Running at-large takes a lot of time, and more importantly, a lot of money.  People who run are those with the deepest pockets.

*  *  * (5-minute break) *  *  *

Candidates have answered audience questions, but there wasn’t really any new information brought forth.

 

City Council, Nov. 19

Following the invocation and pledge, Mayor Beehan read the following statement on the loss of Ashley Paine:

The family of Ashley Paine has suffered a tragic loss. On behalf of this Council, and the city as a whole, I want to express our deepest sympathy to the family of Ashley Paine. This has been a tragic loss for the city, as well, and we as Councilmembers grieve for her family’s loss.

She was not only a blessing to her family, but to her town, her church community, and especially to Robertsville Middle
School.

This loss, on a personal level, has changed us as indivuals and as a community. We have been deeply moved by this event, and the celebration of Ashley’s life.

This was a tragic accident, and in our opinion, not a time to place blame, but an opportunity to make a difference, and to refocus our community to be even better.

We will continue to work in partnership with the Oak Ridge School Board to create solutions to issues of traffic safety. And in the same vein, it’s time now to look at traffic safety issues all over the city, not only in and around our schools, but in our neighborhoods and our main arteries, such as the Oak Ridge Turnpike.

We need to ensure the our town is “walker friendly”. We should revisit our greenways, sidewalks and bike paths systems to make sure they are adequate, accessible, and safe. Our passion will be to make this a pedestrian friendly city. Greenways and bike paths are a great assets to communities that are revitalizing in America.

God bless Ashley, and her family. The entire Oak Ridge Community is mourning her death. And the same time celebrating her life, and what she has passed on to others that they may live productive and fulfilling lives.

May God bless her as she enters to his loving care, and may he comfort her family and friends with the knowledge that even though she was here a short time, by her life and death, she has made a tremendous impact on the lives of others.

Jim O’Connor then presented some of the solutions investigated by the City. The new school zone lights are installed and operational along Illinois Avenue near Robertsville. Speed and traffic light camera enforcement is being investigated. Pedestrian rights of way are being studied for Council to consider. More specific detail on these issues is requested for the December Council meeting, and Mayor Beehan requests that citizens utilize electronic communication (e-mail) on the city’s website to submit specific suggestions and ideas.

A discussion ensued as to the practicality of the pedestrian crossing buttons on traffic lights; the standard design in Tennessee is to have the pedestrian button on the traffic island, such that a pedestrian has to cross the turn lane before being able to activate the crossing signal.

The School Resource Officer is already working with students who walk/bike to school to promote safe practices.

Tom Hayes points out that speed is a major factor in traffic accidents in Oak Ridge. Tom Beehan points out that there will probably be some angry citizens when tickets are issued for speeding and running red lights, but that everyone needs to understand that this is for the overall safety of our residents.

On approval of the agenda, Mayor Beehan added a first reading of a zoning change for a new Tractor Supply in the old Food City East location. Next, he asked if there were any citizens present who wished to speak during the "appearance of citizens" (normally at the end of the agenda). He was prepared to move that to the beginning, but no one indicated a desire to speak. The agenda was approved as amended.

On the issue of rezoning Clark’s Preserve, there were no citizens to speak at the public hearing. Next, they addressed the proposed rezoning of 203 Michigan Avenue (site of the First Christian Church that burned) from residential to office, for a medical office park. Again, no one rose to address Council on the rezoning. The third item for public hearing was the 08/09 Community Development Block Grant plan; again, no one addressed Council on any of these three items.

Next, Council heard the annual report of the Oak Ridge Heritage Railroad Authority. Approximately $1.4M in state funding has been garnered to maintain bridges and railroad lines.

On the rezoning of property at 203 Michigan and west Madison Lane, Ellen Smith noted that council members are in receipt of a petition opposing the rezoning.  However, the petition was never submitted to the City Clerk, so it cannot be included in the minutes from the last meeting (when the petition was presented).

I’m not feeling at all well, so I’m hanging it up for the evening.

Liveblogging: EdEvangelist Ian Jukes

Talking way too fast for me to accurately transcribe, self-described education evangelist Ian Jukes lectures to the final session of the NSBA T+L conference this morning in Nashville.

His message is simple, yet almost indescribably complex: today’s students — everyone 25 and younger — are simply, physically and intellectually different.

It’s rather widely known that various experiences alter the development of neural pathways in the developing brains in children. The digital bombardment of interactive experience with games and computers. The new field of neuroinformatics studies the ways that specific mental processes occur.

In short, they’re finding that today’s students, whom he calls "digital natives," are using measurably different neural pathways to process the same tasks as those who are older. I rather wish that Joel was here to give me some hints about the validity of this research. One of my questions would be, will these same digital natives process information the same when they’re 40 as they do at 16 (when they’re less hormonally handicapped).

One of the findings is that today’s students’ attention is much more strongly drawn to the upper left half of a page, with attention to the lower right half — think about that, and think about the context of a typical web page: where are the menus? Should the producers of educational materials take that into account?

Digital kids think differently, process information differently, than we do.

Our teaching and assessment methods, he says, is completely out of sync with they way they learn. Unlike us, they can process multiple forms of information simultaneously.

Six major changes he proposes are as follows:

  1. It is time for education and educators to catch up, to learn the new digital world.
  2. In the information age, students need to be both producers and consumers of content. We have to move beyond 20th century literacy to 21st century fluency — being able to use technological tools without thinking about it. "Focus on headware, not hardware."
  3. Educators need to shift their instructional approach from director to facilitator, encouraging higher-order thinking skills. After two weeks, students remember 10% of what is read, but 50% of what is seen and heard (simultaneously), and 90% of what they both say and do. He thoerizes that rather than experiencing an epidemic of ADD and ADHD, we’re simply not teaching effectively to the way students learn today. If we want understanding and comprehension, we must teach in a new way.
  4. We need to let students access information natively. Just as calculators were scoffed in the 1960s, social networking is similarly cast aside in schools today — where it needs to be an integral part of learning.
  5. Let kids collaborate
  6. Prepare them for their future, not our past.

If you’re gonna “just say no…”

I thought about liveblogging tonight’s Council meeting, but I’ve settled instead for watching it from the comfort of my bed.

Everyone in Woodland seems happy about the recent police roundup of crackheads, but too many are just as exercised, breathlessly decrying the "encroachment" of business into our community.

We said NO to a new, upscale shopping center that would have provided a nice accent to our quality of life. We said NO to growing our tax base, keeping more of our sales tax dollars at home. Tonight, it seems like a fair number of Woodlandites have turned out, pre-written speeches in hand, to say NO again.

Sadly, the proposed hotel would be far nicer, far more upscale than any of the adjacent homes. Let’s hope Council shows some backbone and votes, like the Planning Commission, unanimously in favor of Shalish Patel’s Holiday Inn Express.

Jane Miller moves approval, which was seconded. Tom Hayes asks about the center turn lane (Jerry Kuhaida’s referenced "suicide lane"), which does indeed carry traffic in both directions. It does that regardless of whether or not the hotel is approved.

Ellen Smith says she intends to vote against it, but proceeds to ask a number of questions anyway — about sidewalks, about construction access (which will be off Illinois Ave, not through Woodland), about whether the landscaping will be on the hotel’s property, elevation drawings, etc. A lot of questions, from someone whose mind is already made up?

If you’re gonna say no, don’t be unhappy when no business wants to even look in our direction. Don’t complain that your only choice is Wal-Mart. Don’t gripe if all our rowers end up staying (eating, spending their money) in Knoxville. And please, don’t gripe when your only neighborhood business is the crack dealer.

The rezoning passes 4-3, with Golden, Mosby, and Smith voting no.

Liveblogging the New Council

Mosby moves the election of Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem to the beginning of the meeting; it was seconded, and passed.

Paper ballots were filled out and collected; Golden votes for Golden; Smith for Beehan; Miller for Beehan; Mosby for Golden; Hayes for Beehan; Hensley for Beehan. Tom Beehan was elected mayor with four votes.

Ballots were collected for the election of Vice-Mayor: Golden votes for Mosby, Smith for Mosby, Miller for Miller, Mosby for Mosby, Hayes for Miller, Hensley for Miller. Following the 3-3 tie, a second round of ballots were collected.

On the second ballot, Golden marked his own name, then asks to correct it voting for Mosby. The second round of ballots ended up exactly the same; Mosby says they’ll vote one more time, then if the tie is not resolved, the election of Vice-Mayor will be put off until the next meeting when the presence of seven members (Beehan is absent) will break the tie. On the third round, the votes remain at a tie.

Upon clarification by City Clerk Jackie Bernard, Mosby suggests that perhaps they should elect a Mayor Pro Tem just until the next meeting. Tom Hayes moves to cast two more ballots, then to elect a temporary Mayor Pro Tem until the next meeting.

A fourth round of ballots is collected, resulting in exactly the same tie. The fifth ballot is exactly the same tie. A motion to delay the election of Mayor Pro Tem until the next meeting passes unanimously. Mosby entertains a motion by Smith to elect Willie Golden temporary Mayor Pro Tem until the next Council meeting, which passed unanimously on a voice vote. A brief break was called to change seats.

Willis is sworn in as the Mayor Pro Tem until the July Council meeting, and takes the center chair.

Moving back to the agenda from the beginning, Councilman Mosby notes that there are several items to be added: one repealing ordinance #13-06, a resolution on bids and contracts (awarding a $42k contract to a landscape service, and a third that I didn’t get.

Dan Barnett of Blue Ridge Development appears to speak to the rezoning of a parcel in Commerce Park. Their intention is to develop the parcels, or sell them for development similar to the existing businesses in the area. He proposes to rezone a parcel at the corner of Bethel Valley Road and Scarboro Road to provide a convenience store, bank, or other retail and service operations. Charlie Hensley notes that the Planning Commission recommended UB-2 rather than B-2, and asks why the change. Barnett replies that UB-2 is "use on review," which would require extensive review for each individual business. B-2 is a more business-friendly zoning. O’Connor notes that this site does not have access back to the rest of the industrial park.

Tery Mullins, owner of the adjoining property, says that they moved to Commerce Park so that they would be separated from commercial and residential development. He would like to see the adjoining properties remain Ind-1 or Ind-2. Mullins owns all adjoining property. There seems to be a bit of disagreement over whether either party refused to meet with the other. Barnett lists the other developments they’ve done including some along Northshore Drive, Pellissippi Parkway, and others.

Hayes asks if it’s acceptable to mix retail and industrial, but O’Connor replies that Commerce Park is really mixed use — it’s more office than industrial, and it has been rezoned to include one church. Because of the traffic volume and the location of the parcel, O’Connor says they feel that it would not have an adverse impact on Commerce Park.

[It seems to me like a decent opportunity to capture some sales tax revenue… let’s do it!]

Item E, adoption of a resolution authorizing the City’s continuing participation in ETEDA, is removed from the consent agenda by Ellen Smith.

The first reading of the ordinance discussed by Barnett and Mullins comes up for first reading. Ellen asks if the access needs of business use are different from the access needs of industrial use. O’Connor says that the City must provide access from the public road, but also has the right to designate certain limitations, such as right-turn in and right-turn out. The motion passes with only Mosby in opposition.

Hensley moves to move the Youth Advisory Board meeting up, so that the young people present may learn their fates. There are six candidates for five positions. Jasmine McKamey and Ethel Bonner (?) are present, running for the Freshman and Junior representatives, respectively. A tie was reached for the fifth position, between Robinson and Shire, with Hayes, Hensley, adn Mosby voting for Robinson, and Smith, Miller and Golden voting for Shire. A second round of ballots were collected, yielding another tie. Smith moves to postpone the election of this position until the next meeting. Hensley asks if this would pose any hardship. Matt Reedy, YAB representative, notes that they do plan to meet twice before than the next Council meeting. He points out that Ms. Shire has taken the initiative to attend a couple of YAB meetings to familiarize herself with the process, while he has not met Ms. Robinson. Business can continue with a quorum. Golden asks that they vote twice more, and calls the question (to postpone),and the vote tied, meaning that the motion fails. Two more ballots will be taken (if not resolved by one). On the third ballot, they tied again on the same lines. They only have one more piece of paper, and it tied again. Mosby moves to move this election back to the regular place in the agenda, given that neither candidate is present. The motion passed, so it will be moved to later on tonight’s agenda.

An ordinance to amend Title 15, Chapter 5, to allow for speed limits lower than 25 miles per hour based on design speeds and roadway plans. This is intended for some of the new high-density neighborhoods. Streets in Rarity Ridge may be affected. The ordinance passed on first reading.

After approving a grant resolution, Council next takes up adopting a new salary schedule for City employees, designed to keep employees from topping out, and to remain competitive with surrounding market labor rates. Essentially, it just moves the entire salary schedule up 1%, and it passed.

A resolution to purchase the National Guard Armory for not more than $40,000 is next; Girls Inc. and the Kennel Club have expressed interest, but it is the City’s jurisdiction to dispose of the property as they see fit. O’Connor’s plan is to transfer the property with full restitution (so one or both entities would purchase it from the City). If sold to a nonprofit, the City could build in a restriction saying that if the nonprofit(s) ever decided to sell the property, the City would have right of first refusal, for the same price as sold to the nonprofit. The resolution passed.

The next resolution would appoint a seven-member Charter Review Committee (per the Charter) on July 16, provided that sufficient candidates are available at that time. Rick Chinn, who served as Vice-Chair of the Charter Commission which put this item in place, spoke to the reasoning for putting that provision in place. They put this provision in to allow for housekeeping items, so that future Charter Commissions will not have to spend so much time on aligning the Council with State law. The resolution was approved.

The next resolution authorizes the City to submit a grant application for operating assistance for public transportation (operated by ETHRA). About 5,300 trips per year are taken in the ETHRA van. They don’t have the numbers available on the taxi coupons.

Lastly, the ETEDA resolution (pulled from Consent by Ellen Smith) was reviewed: to pay ETEDA dues in the amount of $26,116 annually — half of which is paid by TVA. Smith asks what relationship ETEDA has to the other economic development organizations — like ETEDA, the Chamber, and others. O’Connor clarifies that some are more Oak-Ridge focused than others. The Oak Ridge Economic Parnership is primarily involved in industrial development; the Chamber on business and retail. We work with adjoining economic development entities (Roane Alliance, for example) for joint efforts like tenants for Horizon Center. ETEDA is a sixteen-county effort. JobsNOW! is another arm of the 16-county region — sort of a marketing/branding entity. After much discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

A contract for tree-trimming was approved for $856,543.03 to Seelbach & Company, the lowest & best bid. Their price is 69% of the next lowest bid, probably because they already have the people and equipment in place. Smith notes that EQAB has fielded a lot of complaints about the tree-trimming, and that Seelbach is less interested in "retail" customer service — making the homeowners happy, rather than the electric department. Nonetheless, it was approved unanimously.

Diversified Service Industries was awarded a mowing contract for $115,837.60 for Parks & Recreation. They were the sole bidders. Since the work is seasonal, it’s hard to hire (and train) the personnel to perform the service. They’ve done the work for 22 years, which may be why there was only one bidder.

A second contract to Diversified Landscape Industries (part of the same company) was awarded for litter pick-up. A 10-minute break was called. I’m going home.

 

Liveblogging Council, May 21

Following the invocation and pledge, items from the City Clerk’s memorandum were added to the agenda.

Under recognition of visitors, Homer Fisher was introduced as Chairman of the Y-12 Community Relations Council. Fisher explained the nature of the organization, then presented a resolution on behalf of the organization which strongly endorses the Crestpointe proposal, and encourages eligible BWXT employees and all other eligible Oak Ridge voters to register a positive (YES) vote on June 5, 2007.

Jane Miller presented a recorded greeting from US Rep. Zach Wamp, congratulating Mayor David Bradshaw on a job well done at this, his final council meeting before the June 5 election.

A Secret City Festival resolution was approved.

Another resolution was approved stating appreciation for the gift of student art, which has been displayed throughout the Municipal Building throughout the year. If you haven’t seen this display, walk through City Hall and marvel at the talent displayed. Fine arts matter, just as physics, math, English, and history.

Three additional resolutions were added, one each commending Leonard Abbatiello, Lou Dunlap, and David Bradshaw for their service to City Council. All three have chosen not to run for re-election, and will be replaced following the June 5 election.

Jane jokes about making Abbatiello laugh during the meetings; I have a joke of my own for Tom Beehan: Kramer. Watch and see if he chuckles next time he looks at his laptop.

 

Lou notes that they’re leaving some challenges for the next Council, and praises staff members Jackie and Sandy.

Jane recounts learning how to be a Council member from David. Tom Beehan praises his leadership style. Andy Marathe notes that he got to know David Bradshaw because he (Andy) bought a desk upon his arrival in town six years ago, and was the only person in Tennessee without a truck. David delivered the desk to his house — that’s constituent service.

The consent agenda was approved, and Council moved on to the second reading of the appropriations ordinance — enacting a ten-cent property tax increase, with the additional revenue divided evenly between the City and the Schools. After being moved and seconded, the Mayor asked School Board Chair to present the most recent information about the potential change in State funding. Smith took the podium and reviewed the information presented at the School Board work session last Monday, but also that the Legislature has changed course several times since last week. The outcome is uncertain, particularly with Sen. Woodson’s bill to reduce the cigarette tax increase to 20 cents.

Abbatiello again asks for answers to the questions which were previously answered at the committee meeting in April.

The City Manager presented his list of City needs, adding $115k to street resurfacing, $50k for an additional police officer, $15k to restore mowing services, $35k for an additional facility monitor (parks & recreation at the Scarboro Center), $21k for an administrative assistant, $30k for library materials, $14k for two additional issues of the city newsletter, $16k for mowing and demolition in code enforcement, $24k to increase dental reimbursement to 80% of $1500, $24k for network upgrades, $6k for GIS enhancements, for a total of $350,000.

Abbatiello questions whether the "equitable" distribution is really equitable; his premise is that the percentage increase for the schools is larger than the percentage increase for municipal operations. However, the schools have more than twice as many employees, more buildings, and a larger overall budget — so therefore, the distribution is NOT equitable, but not in the direction that Abbatiello alleges.

Mosby says he’s less concerned with equitability than with meeting needs, although he has some questions about the distribution of dollars for City needs. O’Connor clarifies that those numbers were modified to fit in the amount available, but because they’re recurring dollars, they can be funded over several years (such as network upgrades).

Lou Dunlap clarified that she realized, when proposing the equally-divided increase, that is was not "equitable" according to Abbatiello’s definition, but that it came closer to meeting the schools’ request, while allowing some improvement to the City budget.

What is the grudge that Leonard bears against the school system? Why do we have to go through this every year?

Beehan notes that he wishes that budgeting was more of a science than it really is. We think there will be additional state funding, but we don’t know for certain, nor do we know how much.

Save me some of that Shiraz, Joel… I think I’m gonna need it.

Bradshaw notes that the "windfall" (additional State money) that some have alluded to is not actually a windfall at all, but the State beginning to catch up to what they should have been paying all along.

 

Smith notes the uncertainly associated with additional State funding, and that he fully expects any new revenue to have strings attached — mandates that we may not necessarily have in our present budget. The budget will be amended, and the amended budget will come back before Council (even though no additional City dollars are required).

Mosby asks if the school board can’t wait until the end of the year to amend the budget; Smith clarifies that the federal dollars trickle in through the year, and it happens almost every year. Funds cannot be expended until they are included within an approved (by the school board and the Council) budget..

Abbatiello moves to amend the motion to adopt a tax rate of $2.55 (the budget & finance committee recommendation). It dies for lack of a second.

Superintendent Tom Bailey addresses Council noting that the School Board, the City, and the City’s lobbyist have worked hard to get to this point with the change in State funding.

Citizen comments follow.

Abbatiello again moves to amend, but with a $2.62 tax rate, decreasing the schools allotment to 3 cents. Dies for lack of a second.

Abbatiello say’s we’re in debt up to our eyeballs, that we’re not doing capital projects because of our debt levels.

Shane Deichman: I respectfully disagree with Mr. Marathe; I’ve lived here seven months, everyone has welcomed me with open arms, and that includes Dr. Bailey and Chairman Smith who have answered every question I had.

Raj Jain: I also disagree with Mr. Marathe.

Martin McBride: Mr. Marathe and i agree on many things, but this is one item that we disagree on. One of the things that we must look at is performance, and if you look at our schools, their performance is stellar. Schools are not cheap — they cost money. Looking at the way the school board does its budgets, they do a remarkably good job of dealing with their issues and financial priorities. Please fund the full request.

THE VOTE: Carries 6-1, with Abbatiello voting no.

Liveblogging: Council Budget Adoption

Continuing from last week’s meeting that was postponed due to a conflict with Ch. 12 after 7 p.m., the City budget presentation will be made during the regular City Council meeting, which begins an hour early due to a lengthy agenda.

First, a proclamation was passed in honor of "Police Week," May 13-19. A resolution announcing the retirement of Nix, an exemplary police dog, was also passed. Nix will live out his retirement with his handler, Jock Coleman. Police Memorial Day is on Tuesday, May 15. The ceremony is brief, and is worth attending.

Next, Council approved an amendment of the FY2007 Appropriations Ordinance increasing the general purpose school fund, by $557,868 as additional federal and state revenues were received and approved by the Board of Education. It didn’t cost the City another cent, but the rules require Council approval of any change in the gross amount of the schools budget. The funds were earmarked for specific expenditures (about $300k for one-time staff bonuses from the state, and the remainder was for federal grants tied to specific projects).

Following up from the recessed work session last week, Jim O’Connor presented the City’s proposed FY08 budget. The tax rate would increase from $2.55 to $2.62 — a seven-cent rise. Seventeen cents’ worth of city department requests were denied. Appropriations to nonprofits remain flat from last year.

Each cent on the property tax rate generates approximately $70,000.

Local sales tax collections are declining, which puts pressure on the property tax rate. Like the schools, the City is using a significant sum from their fund balance. The growth shown in the property tax revenue bar represents both growth in property value as well as the proposed seven cents tax increase.

The largest single expenditure is to the schools, followed by police, fire, and debt service; next are recreation and parks, public works, administration, solid waste, library, capital maintenance, street maintenance, community development, grants, and economic diversification.

Cost increases come from energy and materials costs, insurance (medical budgeted to go up 10%), and a proposed 3% pay adjustment ($360,000).

The City proposes to add 29.82 positions in the FY08 budget.

Steve Jenkins reminded us that the "Major Policy Guidelines" specifies that the tax rate goal shall be $2.55 for FY08. By holding to those guidelines, the schools’ request adds $563,000+, with an impact of 7 cents on the tax rate — $1.75 per month for the average homeowner. Knoxville, Humboldt, and Memphis remain above us in tax rate, and would continue to be above us even if the tax rate increases seven cents.

David Bradshaw asks John Smith, Chairman of the Board of Education, if we have a response to the long-term estimates requested last week. Smith asked that Karen Gagliano, the Schools Director of Business and Support Services, provide the response.

Over the past seven years, the schools have requested an average of 8.3% annually (which was not granted). The increase goes to 19.6% if we incorporate the amount of fund balance used over that period. However, those numbers are using the current state funding model, and as everyone realizes by now, the Governor has proposed significant funding increases and other projects such as Crestpointe.

After this year, there will be less than $1M in the fund balance available to use. Hopefully though, the other revenue sources will materialize before we get to the FY10 budget where an anticipated 19% increase might be requested.

Lou Dunlap asks why the Chamber of Commerce does not receive the same percentage increases as, for example, the Convention & Visitors Bureau; O’Connor responds that the Chamber is a negotiated contract rather than a City department, and there are specific performance milestones (e.g., specific increases in both property and sales tax collections).

Steve Jenkins showed a chart illustrating the expected tax increases if the City departments’ and schools’ requests are funded (with no significant growth in revenue), indicating a seven cent increase this year, 40 cents next year, 42 cents for FY10. Those numbers assume NO GROWTH in sales tax collections — the picture should current efforts like Crestpointe fail.

The strategic plan assumed growth in the property tax rate beginning next year, but not these kinds of increases. Obviously, the strategic plan also assumed growth in revenues which have not materialized.

Mosby asks what kind of sales tax growth is needed to offset these increases; Jenkins responds that a 1% increase in sales taxes represents about $70,000 in revenue, which means that a 1% increase in sales tax collections saves a penny on the property tax rate. Jenkins further states that the problem can only resolved through simultaneous growth in sales and property tax revenues, because too much reliance on one or the other tends to stifle growth.

Discussion ensued between O’Connor and Jenkins about the cost/benefit of new homes — there are costs such as solid waste collection associated, but additional households also represent additional disposable income for sales tax collections.

There were also questions about the senior citizens’ property tax freeze now working its way through the Legislature (which is optional for local governments to adopt).

Jane Miller asks what would happen if the schools request is funded, but we then receive a "windfall" from the State. John Smith explained that he is prepared to call a work session so that we can be informed about the impact if the measure is passed. If that is the case, we would have to call a meeting to adjust the budget. There are too many unknowns at this point, not the least of which are potential strings attached that would dictate specifically how the money could be spent.

Karen Gagliano explained that of the proposal received to date. While we would receive additional funding for teacher salaries, ELL and at-risk students, we would lose the Cost Differential Factor which has benefited Oak Ridge. The new formula would be substantially more simple, so that normal people could understand it.

We have received no information yet on reporting requirements.

Lou Dunlap asks if we have any idea when the Legislature will act on these proposals, but all we know is that it is expected to be within this Legislative session (ending in late May or early June). Jim O’Connor says that Jim Hackworth told him today that the initial allotment is expected to be fairly large… but no one knows exactly when or how much.

Mosby asks if this year’s school budget is balanced, or if there are "black holes" in there. Karen explains that she had to do a BEP estimate before any of the current proposals emerged.

David Bradshaw reminded the public that City Council does not make line adjustments to the schools budget, but can do so with the City budget. The floor was opened for citizen comment.

Citizen comments are summarized here.

 

ABBATIELLO’S DIATRIBE

Abbatiello opened by putting up a spreadsheet showing the Oak Ridge Schools’ finances from 1996 to present, repeating his outright lie that the school board has “refused” to answer his questions.

“We will face a difficult time tomorrow without the schools sharing the responsibility for constraining spending.” He then proceeded to allege that Oak Ridge Schools are overstaffed, by showing the decline in student population against the increase in schools staff. However, these numbers have not been affirmed by the school system.

Oddly enough, his timeline would seem to show a correlation between the implementation of the strategic plan and the flattening of the sales tax.

THE VOTE:

The ordinance to fix the tax rate at $2.62 (a seven cent increase) was moved and seconded, reflecting the full request of the school system and the City budget as presented). David Bradshaw added that the Council has some flexibility in the timing of the second reading, but tax cards do go out June 1.

Abbatiello asks to have his list of questions and request for answers included in the permanent record.

Lou Dunlap asks Steve Jenkins to plug in a 10-cent tax increase, with five cents to the schools and five to the City. This would reduce the schools’ transfer by $140,000, and increase the City’s allocation by $350,000.. Funds on the City side would be allocated to the list of unfunded requests, which would be prioritized.

Jane Miller asks if this would make the tax rate $2.65. She then asked what would happen if we increased taxes by 14 cents (which would add $490,000 to the City budget, fully funding the schools). "I think we should worry about this year this year, and the out years when we get there."

Audience members wonder in whispers if this is a way to blame a 14-cent tax increase on the schools…

Abbatiello contends that the strategic plan has worked; Ms. Dunlap answers that it has resulted in growth, but not growth in revenue.

If the rate increase planned for next year (by the rate of government compensation increase, or something like that) were implemented this year, it would result in about a ten-cent increase.

Note to Daco: I’m not on Central Time… I feel like I’m reliving last year. But in just a few weeks, we’ll all be in the trendiest new acronym time: Post Leonard Abbatiello Years (PLAY).

Beehan notes that next year, we need to start this process much earlier. I agree. The problem is, like this year, we often don’t have the numbers we need — enrollment, state revenues and mandates like the "wellness coordinator" this year — to provide the kind of firm numbers needed for accurate planning.

Jane Miller expresses her highest regard for the school, it’s principals, teachers, coaches, and employees… but how will she vote?

Bradshaw: my preference is to tweak our policy and keep it in place until we have time to review it. If we move up the implementation of a 10-cent tax increase this year, what does that do to the model in the out years? What does that do in terms of growth rates and taxes?

Beehan: a plan is a plan, but if we see the need for adjustments, we can make them.

Abbatiello rambles on, summarizing that "DOE doesn’t pay its fair share."

Bradshaw’s big question is whether the estimated growth rate in city funding, combined with the Governor’s planned increases, are those two things combined enough to meet the schools anticipated needs? John Smith responds that we will certainly attempt to answer the at question, given the limits of what we know.

The motion on the floor is to set the tax rate incorporating a seven-cent increase. Lou Dunlap moves to amend by reducing the schools’ request by $140,000 and increasing the city’s allocation by $350,000, resulting in a ten cent tax increase, effectively moving the policy up one year by this proposed tax increase that was originally scheduled for 2009. Jackie Bernard clarifies that the guideline cannot be amended in the same motion as the appropriations ordinance, so the motion reverts to a simple 10-cent tax increase divided equally between the city and the schools.

Jim O’Connor clarifies that the additional city revenue would go to unfunded priorities such as street resurfacing and other items on the list.

Mosby proposes a proportional split rather than an equal split, given that the schools’ overall budget is such a large portion of the city budget.

Go ahead. VOTE.

ON THE AMENDMENT: passes unanimously. Now, the amended ordinance is to adopt a tax rate of $2.65.

The ordinance passes unanimously. The second reading is scheduled for two weeks from tonight.

Liveblogging Budget Continued

The Channel 12 staff had to leave at 7 p.m., and a discussion ensued among Council members about whether to recess the work session until sometime later this week, so that the City budget presentation could be televised.

Agreement was reached to try to have the rest of the work session on Monday night at 7 p.m., half an hour prior to the regular meeting. Mayor Bradshaw asked Council members to keep Monday evening free from 5 p.m. on, with the possibility of meeting at the School Administration Building to have their meeting televised on ch. 15.

City Clerk Jackie Bernard will check with BBB, and will announce the time and place of the meeting’s continuation.

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