June 2006

Forum or Brawl, part ii

The Oak Ridger’s coverage of the forum is up. Looks like one of the more interesting punches was taken by Don Layton, regarding his

…lack of adequate oversight of Anderson County Probation Services, and his closeness to Alan Beauchamp, probation services director.

Layton said it isn’t his job to supervise Beauchamp, but Rex Lynch’s guest column from December 21, 2000 indicates that Layton certainly had a hand in setting up the program, even giving Layton and Murch “most of the credit.”

Anne Phillips’ letter to Lynch from November 2003 says, in the next to the last paragraph,

Judge Layton told me that he had created that department so that Alan “would have something to do” if you were ever voted out of office.

That site has a number of interesting documents, and the URL has been circulating via e-mail this week according to the person who told me where to find it.

Forum, or Brawl?

I really regret missing the League Forum for local candidates last night; I hear that it got very interesting.

However, BBB Communications did record the event, which will be aired on Channel 12 Friday evening at 8:00 provided that the sound and images are of sufficient quality, according to General Manager Brad Jones.

I do wish I’d been there, but it will be interesting to see how the local papers cover it, especially the Observer (which comes out Thursday at noon, and is available at these locations).

Political Thermometer

The heat of political races, both for the county general election and the state/federal primary on August 3, is rising right along with the temperature outside.

Other political news is getting hot too: former County Commissioner Bubba Scarbrough is in trouble again (and still). Shelby County poll worker Verline Mayo was running from the law, wanted for her role in a Memphis election fraud case (see Ophelia’s Fine Mess for older links).

Locally:
The League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge is hosting two candidate forums next week. On Tuesday, candidates for Chancellor (Lantrip and Ramsey), General Sessions Judge Div. 1 (Stuart and Layton), Juvenile Court Judge (Meldrum and Hess), District Attorney (Clark, Hunt, and Coria), Trustee (Stair and Archer), and Sheriff (White v. White) will face off in the Roane State auditorium in Oak Ridge (across from Home Depot and the new National Fitness Center).

On Thursday, candidates for Anderson County Commission and School Board from the three Oak Ridge districts will go through the same process, at the same place.

* * *
Not long ago, I ran across some interesting statistics on the number of court cases in Anderson County, which is the entire 7th Judicial District.

The courts have no backlog of criminal cases. Only three criminal cases went to trial between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005, the last full year in which records are available. The courts have no need to increase the number of days available for criminal trials.

The office Chancellor Lantrip’s opponent now holds, that of Anderson County District Attorney, brought only three criminal cases to trial that year. Why is he urging that the days available for criminal trials increase?

Excellent question. Of course, since we’re going to have a new DA, it seems possible that we might actually have a few more criminal trials after this election… and that’s a good thing.

* * *

In the US Senate primary, Bryant, Hilleary, and Tennessee Right to Life are piling on Bob Corker, saying he’s misleading voters by calling himself “pro-life” because he would make exceptions for rape and incest.

Anyone who would not make such an exception is a heartless monster. Somehow it seems that Republicans have lost their way, forgetting the third basic principle of their own philosophy:

Government activities should be limited to those things that people cannot do at all, or cannot do so well for themselves.

Check back: I’m tracking down something very interesting on the local scene.

School in any other language

This year’s “buzz” in education funding is “English language learners,” or ELL. This seems like a silly term to me, as I hope we expect all children to be learning English (and math, science, etc.), but the phrase refers to children who speak a foreign language at home.

The City Paper carries an article today about Nashville’s complaints, but rest assured that the same arguments are being made in each of the state’s four largest cities, as well as a few rural areas with growing immigrant populations.

Although the clamor for funding and specialized staffing is new, the problem is not: in this country, we have always had immigrant children in our schools. In Oak Ridge, we have traditionally had a more diverse array of languages than most, but even in the tiny rural school that my husband attended, there were children of migrant farm workers who spoke only Spanish at home.

Children adapt more easily than adults, and are able to learn a new language much more quickly through immersion. Whether Hispanic, Russian, Chinese, or any other nationality, kids can and do pick up English if they’re exposed to it every day through their peers. Although I did not attend school during my adventure as an exchange student, I went from knowing little more than “please” and “thank you” to literally dreaming in Spanish — within a few weeks’ time.

Do we risk doing more harm by segregating these children into special classes comprised of other non-English speaking students, thereby separating them from those from whom they would learn the language most quickly?

Or, is the real goal to leverage more funding from the state for yet another specialized program, serving a few at the expense of the many?

ALL children can learn. They will not learn at the same rate, nor will all attain the same levels of mastery in all subjects. They are, like the rest of us, unique individuals. However, to give immigrant students the best opportunity to succeed in this country, it seems that we should immerse them in our language, culture and customs in our schools.

Tennessee needs to provide adequate funding to educate all students, and stop wasting time and resources trying to divide an inadequate pie.

Etc.

The past week or so has brought a couple of worthwhile achievements — and working on others. If you didn’t read last Thursday’s (June 15) Oak Ridge Observer, pick up a copy before they’re gone. It’s free, and they’re all over town.

I have a column on the op-ed page, sort of an expansion of the thoughts seen in Calling Council’s Hand. I’d rather you read the whole paper (the main editorial is good food for thought as well), but if you can’t get it in time, you can read the text of my piece here.

On the heels of that endeavor, our whole family engaged in the time-honored tradition of helping friends move. They only relocated about a mile or so, but it was from a house that was getting a little cozy (now that their boys are 9 and 15) to their dream home. So our family — along with several others — packed, loaded, transported, unloaded, and helped unpack the essentials.

I was exhausted and more than a little sore, but it felt really good to help accomplish something neighborly, the way people used to help each other as a matter of routine.

Next was Gamma’s birthday — daughter #3 turned 14. Her wish for the day was for the whole family to do something together, so we all hung out at the Secret City Festival for a while, and she attended the concert Saturday night with her father and me. While at the festival, I snagged a copy of Cooking Behind the Fence, a collection of recipes from the 43 Club.

Father’s Day was a laid-back affair, with my husband enjoying an uninterrupted nap for most of the afternoon. We went to my parents’ house for supper, where my father ranted about Phil Mickelson’s meltdown on number 18 in the US Open. I told Dad he should have been caddying for Mickelson, to which he responded “damn right! I would have told him to use a 2-iron.”

Somehow, I have no doubt that Dad would have no problem doing exactly that. And he probably would be right. Funny how the older I get, the more he knows.

I also spent a bit of Sunday missing my father-in-law, gone a little over five years now. I treasured knowing him for 15 years, long enough to recognize that my husband is who he is in large part because of his own father’s influence.

The upside of the moving experience is that it has inspired me to do a little packing of my own — packing up things we don’t need, that is, and clearing some of the clutter that has accumulated over the past 20 years. There’s a long way to go, and we’re not likely to be cured of our pack-rat tendencies in this lifetime, but at least we can be a bit more organized.

With Alpha college-bound in August, the remaining three are eyeing how to divvy up the added space. Gamma has set out on the ambitious project of cleaning out the “office” (a room which was once an office, but has now become a repository for boxes of stuff that doesn’t belong anyplace else), so that youngest sibling Delta can move out of her shared room.

Seems like just last week that I was nursing one, trying to keep the other three from writing on the walls or disassembling the electric outlets. Where have the years gone?

On a lighter note…

Some situations are so challenging that you simply have to make light of it. In Memphis, where politics has had a somewhat different twist going back to the days of Boss Crump, John Harvey has taken the inititative to empower ordinary people to help fix the problems.

www.votinginMemphis.com has an assortment of information and actual tools — like a link to the Social Security Death Index, so that an army of regular citizens can help search the database for dead people still registered.

And, for your listening pleasure, a new take on an old tune.

BTW, Anderson County will be using brand-new voting machines (as a result of the Help America Vote Act) for the August election, and early word from one of the election workers is that you might want to take the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the machines before time to cast your ballot for real. The Election Commission will have the machines on display at this weekend’s Secret City Festival, with staff on hand to answer any questions.

Betrayal

How’d you like to wake up to this news, then spend the day wondering if your spouse was one of the 100 unlucky folks at Y-12 today?

Welcome to my world.

When he called a few minutes ago after a late meeting to see if I needed anything on the way home, I had to ask… and he doesn’t yet know the answer. Said he’d have to check his e-mail to find out.

For the NNSA — which sounds quite like an oxymoron at the moment — to know that personal data was stolen and NNSA administrator Linton Brooks knew about it ten months ago, but failed to either inform DOE or the 1,502 affected employees, is absolutely inexcusable.

I don’t know how this is going to end, but hiding bad news and hoping no one will see seems like a particularly poor choice.

County Pay Hike?

Bob Fowler has an interesting story this morning, but to me, the most shocking news is old news.

County elected officials in Tennessee are paid according to a state scale based upon population ranges, and officeholders in Anderson County are seeking to be reclassified to the 150,000 to 175,000 population range to close the gap between the pay of those offices and that of the County Mayor. The County Mayor is paid based on the salary for counties having a population of 200,000 – 225,000, or $92,648.

Anderson County has a population of 71,330 according to the 2000 Census.

According to the article, the change in the County Mayor’s salary was made “years ago.” I’m not sure when, and I’m not sure why, except that it does seem plausible that a lower salary would attract few really qualified candidates. As it is, it seems tough to entice attractive candidates.

Looking at the census tables, there isn’t any county in the 200,000-225,000 range; after Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton, the largest is Rutherford Co. at 182,023. Anderson is 15th in population ranking.

However, this response is the one that nearly made me choke on my coffee:

Lynch on Monday voiced objections to any pay hike request that doesn’t include the county mayor, calling such a move “discrimination.”

Lynch’s salary is already that of someone in his position in a county three times the size of ours, and he thinks that it’s “discrimination” to bring the others up to wages set for counties twice the size of Anderson without raising his own? Does he really think he’s that much better than every other elected officeholder in the County?

I don’t care what he thinks, frankly, and I’m offended that we elected someone who is actually capable of expressing such a sentiment.

Update: Case Closed…

An article in this morning’s Chattanooga Times-Free Press (or PDF here) quotes Jesse Register, Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, as saying:

“I think it’s good the case has been dismissed, because that means it’s been settled,” Dr. Register said. “I’m hopeful now with the small systems lawsuit out of the way that other inequities in the funding formula that don’t treat the urban systems well will be addressed, too.”

The TFP article does not directly quote the Chancellor, whose remarks in the AP story indicate that any major changes would be considered grounds for reopening the suit, and (attorney for the plaintiffs) Donelson’s argument against the dismissal specifically referenced the urban systems’ push for change.

Further down, it’s clear that Hamilton County Commissioners didn’t make that connection either:

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he and several other members of the commission are prepared to enter a lawsuit to change the BEP formula, if need be.

“We’re nowhere near where we ought to be (in terms of funding), and that puts an unnecessary burden on the citizens of Hamilton County,” he said. “That would be a last resort, but if it’s what we have to do, it’s what we have to do.”

Seems we’ll have to wait a bit before drawing conclusions about whether it’s over or not.

Case Closed!

A Davidson County Chancellor ruled yesterday to dismiss the 18-year Small Schools lawsuit, as no issues related to the suit remain unresolved. This morning’s Commercial Appeal has the story.

Lewis Donelson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, argued for keeping it open based upon intensive efforts by the state’s urban systems to change the formula so that they get more; the court responded that it does not deal with “what ifs,” but left open the option of re-opening the case if the BEP were repealed, or if substantial changes were made.

In this year’s annual BEP resolution, the Legislature again directed the BEP Review Committee to examine and make recommendations on moving to a system-level fiscal capacity model, which affects how the BEP funds are distributed based upon local governments’ ability to pay. Although such a recommendation was issued last year (see David v. Goliath), it failed to gain passage in the Legislature this year, probably because of the disparity in the winners and losers, along with the high cost of “holding harmless” those school systems that would lose significant funding.

I’m certain that it would be possible to develop a system-level fiscal capacity model that is fair, incorporating not only ability to pay, but also level of effort. The model proposed this year, developed by Harry Green of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), incorporates variables like the value of taxable property, volume of taxable sales, state shared tax revenue, median household income, child poverty rate, and taxable real estate assessment. Nowhere in the formula will you find consideration of tax rate, nor the percentage of local taxes already devoted to education.

I could get into the details of the formula, but that’s another 3,000 words or so for another post.

Will the ruling to close the lawsuit — with the Chancellor’s caveat that is could be re-opened if significant changes are made — will cause the Legislature to rethink bowing to demands of the state’s largest cities for more funding at the expense of smaller systems?

Update:

An article in this morning’s Chattanooga Times-Free Press (or PDF here) quotes Jesse Register, Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, as saying:


“I think it’s good the case has been dismissed, because that means it’s been settled,” Dr. Register said. “I’m hopeful now with the small systems lawsuit out of the way that other inequities in the funding formula that don’t treat the urban systems well will be addressed, too.”

The TFP article does not directly quote the Chancellor, whose remarks in the AP story linked at the top indicate that any major changes would be considered grounds for reopening the suit, and (attorney for the plaintiffs) Donelson’s argument against the dismissal specifically referenced the urban systems’ push for change.

Further down, it’s clear that Hamilton County Commissioners didn’t make that connection either:

Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said he and several other members of the commission are prepared to enter a lawsuit to change the BEP formula, if need be.

“We’re nowhere near where we ought to be (in terms of funding), and that puts an unnecessary burden on the citizens of Hamilton County,” he said. “That would be a last resort, but if it’s what we have to do, it’s what we have to do.”

Seems we’ll have to wait a bit before drawing conclusions about whether it’s over or not.

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