Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Thursday, September 27, 2007

KSO Performing Ancient Chinese Song

Too Ning

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Afternoon Session Notes

1:00 Mr. John Schmid takes the stand. He says he was sorry that more members of the commission did not join him in appealing the decision that struck down term limits. When Ms. Stackhouse reminded him that she and John Owings joined in on that appeal, he reminded her that they only did so for the commissioners,and not the fee offices and sheriff. He also reminded her that she and Mr. Owings tried to have him removed as a third party to the appeal.

Mr. Schmid then testified that he was met after the press conference where Mayor Ragsdale made his proposal by Chairman Moore and Commissioner Lambert, who were very angry with him for supporting public hearings. Ms.Stackhouse asks a very general question, then allows the witness to respond at length. Hollow and Moncier ask very pointed direct questions requiring a yes or no answer.

I heard well before the meeting of the 31st that Cate and Tramel were locked in for the district 4 seats.

I talked with Commissioners Moore, Lambert, Ballard, Smith, Norman, Hammond. I didn't offer to trade votes, just asked for their support for my choice for my seat, just as I would support their choice for their seats.

I tried to pitch Mr. Fischer as a compromise candidate, since there was a power struggle between the mayor's faction and the sheriff's faction.

Schmid testified that Commissioner Griess told him that RIchard Cate was being sworn in early to break the deadlock. He confronted Mr. Cate and convinced him not to swear in early, and then had some "heated words" with Commissioners Lambert and Pinkston.

Schmid admits that he spent a lot of time during the recesses trying to convince Mr.Guthe not to pass, and to vote for Scott Davis.

Mr. Hollow begins his cross.
"Were there certain power structures in place in Knox County Government?" "Yes."
"Do you believe there was a contemptuous attitude displayed towards the law and the citizens of Knox County on the part of certain commissioners in the appointment process?" "Yes"
(The above question and answer was objected to and removed from the record of the trial.)

Mr. Schmid testifies that the agenda for the special meeting on Jan 31st never went through the agenda committee.

Mr. Hollow went through the meeting of the 31st.

Mr. Schmid testifies that the Supreme Court did not place a time limit on the proceedings, and there was no reason to hurry.

Mr. Hollow makes the point that by Chairman Moore's rules, there was no chance for the commission to publicly discuss the candidates and their merits, and Commissioner Schmid agrees that that was the case.

Mr. Hollow points out that by the rules Chairman Moore set up, the only time the commissioners could deliberate with each other was during recesses.

Mr. Hollow points out that the agenda showed the swearing in would occur at 2:00PM but no vote was taken to modify the agenda to allow Mr. Cate and Mr. Bolus to be sworn in early.

Mr. Schmid says he knew early on that the four county offices were a "done deal," and that there were invitations circulating for a reception for the new sheriff well before the 31st.

Mr. Schmid says he believes there was a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Mr. Hollow almost seemed to be the one testifying during this entire cross. Mr. Schmid spent most of his time nodding his head and agreeing with Mr.Hollow. I asked Mr. Hollow about this during a break, and he told me that leading questions are allowed during a cross examination. I think he went beyond leading questions to tying a bridle to the witness. But Ms.Stackhouse never objected.

2:00 Mr. Moncier begins his cross: The only thing different from the normal operations is that the events of the 31st raised the curtain on the way the government works. Schmid agrees.

Mr. Moncier points out that term limits were passed in 1994, and Schmid testified that the State AG at the time ruled the term limits unconstitutional. Moncier leads Schmid through a history of the term limits legislative battle in Tennessee. Ms. Stackhouse objected repeatedly to the long drawn out nature of the questioning, as it moved far afield from the issues of the trial, namely, did the commissioners deliberate in private. Mr. Moncier points out the contrast between Commissioner Schmd, who retained a lawyer who filed an appeal to the Weaver decision which held term limits unconstitutional, with the behavior of Commission Chairman Moore and his frequent and lengthy conversations with lawyer/lobbyist "Prince" John Valliant before and during the Jan 31st meeting.

He asked if Mr. Schmid saw conversations and lobbying going on during the recesses of Jan 31st. He testified that he saw Diane Jordan in a conversation during a recess with Commissioners Pinkston, Lambert, and Moore & Hutchinson (maybe), after which she changed her vote from Davis to Tramel.

2:20 Ten minute break

2:35 Former Commissioner John Griess called to the stand:

Ms. Stackhouse asked how he prepared for the appointment process. He said he started off trying to find a mechanism other than appointment. Griess said that (paraphrase) when it became apparent that we would have to appoint rather than elect, it was my job to find a candidate that was capable and knowledgeable about the history of the government. IN this process, I floated names past Craig Leuthold and Mike Hammond to get their response, and that's how I came up with Frank Leuthold. (end paraphrase)

Griess said the only commissioner that really lobbied him was Lumpy Lambert. He then remembered about BIlly Tindell lobbied him for the clerk's position. Ms. Stackhouse asked why he didn't sign onto the call for a special meeting and he replied that at that time, he was still trying to get a special election.

2:49 Cross by Mr.Hollow: Griess testified that he wanted a special election so he didn't have to do it himself. An appointment is very difficult and costly politically and personally.

(Short break while Chancellor Fansler was apprised of the birth of his grandchild.) Mr. Hollow briefly went through the events of Jan 31st,paying attention to the early seating of Chucky Bolus.

2:58 Cross by Mr. Moncier: Nothing major. Just that there was a phone call from Scott Moore. Mr. Griess testified that Mr.Moore only wanted to know who he was going to nominate for his seat.

3:03 Craig Leuthold takes the stand: Ms. Stackhouse examined his reaction to his father being appointed to commission. Craig Leuthold says he was trying to get out from his father's shadow, so he wasn't thrilled to have him on the commission. She asked him how he prepared for the appointment process. Leuthold said he read the resumes, faxes, emails, and letters from constituents and applicants.We've heard several times about the huge volume of interest in joining the county commission. How is it that we ended up with relatives/friends/associates of current or former commissioners?

Ms. Stackhouse asks if he had any conversations regarding appointments with any other commissioners? "I didn't want to be a part of any possible deal making because my father serve with integrity, and I'm trying to do the same thing."

Ms. Stackhouse asks if he had interaction with Commissioner Pinkston during the meeting on the 31st? Commissioner Leuthold answered yes, that Commissioner Pinkston asked him if he wanted him to vote for his Daddy. Leuthold testified that he hadn't asked anyone to vote for his father to that point and he wasn't about to start.

Mr.Hollow begins his cross: Revisits the interaction with Commissioner Pinkston and introduces a photograph depicting that meeting. Asks him if he decided to support the nominee of the term limited commissioners. He answered that it was a factor, but not the only one. The Mr.Hollow ran down a list of Mr.Leuthold's votes and for the most part, they did go along with the recommendations of the term limited commissioners.

Mr. Hollow asks again about the agenda,and again,Mr.Leuthold, like the other commissioners before him doesn't know who or how the agenda was written,and that he never voted on it.

Hollow: "Were you surprised that Mr. Bolus was sworn in early?" "Yes"

Hollow asks if Mr. Leuthold makes more money now that you're on the commission,and he says yes,about $17k.

3:37 Mr. Moncier begins his cross: Mr. Leuthold got a promotion from Fred Sisk after the commission meeting leading to his increase in income. Mr. Moncier asks if Commissioner Leuthold was elected because of his father's name. Leuthold responds that he campaigned very hard for his position.Moncier is making a big deal about the raise given to him by Fred Sisk. As innuendo it's effective but it would be more convincing if we had his full pay history available. There may be a very good reason why he got that raise.

Moncier then moves on to the phone records. There are only a few calls on the record. Mr. Moncier tries to get Commissioner Leuthold to admit to there being two factions on the board but Mr. Leuthold wasn't going along.

Mr Leuthold says that he knew they had 30 days to make the appointments, but couldn't tell the court where he knew it from. He also testified that Mr. Owings told him that a special election was not allowed by the law.

Mr. Moncier asked about the encounter between Mr. Leuthold and Mr. Pinkston. Mr.Leuthold had nothing to add and refused to characterize the encounter as an exchange.

A very brief redirect from Ms.Stackhouse that points out that Mr.Leuthold did not vote for Tramel.

3:56 Commissioner Ivan Harmon takes the stand. Ms. Stackhouse asked him how he prepared for the appointment process. He replied that he was happy that the 3rd district had no term limited commissioners,so his primary concern was the continued funding of on-going projects in his district. He said he attended the group meeting at Whittle Springs School.

Ms. Stackhouse asked of he and Ed Shouse encountered Commissioner Paul Pinkston at a Shoneys. Mr.Harmon said yes, but there was no deal making going on.

There was another meeting at another Shoneys with Greg Lambert and Mark Cawood. There was no discussion about nominations or appointments.

She asked about conversations during recesses from the Jan 31st meeting. He said there was one conversation with Mark Harmon on supporting his choice for fee office. Mr. Ivan Harmon declined to do so.

End of the day.

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Third Verse, Same as the First

by Richard Hailey
Just last night, I was reminded of
Just how bad it had gotten and
Just how sick
I had become.

Violent Femmes

Testimony in the Open Meetings Act lawsuit brought by the Knoxville News Sentinel against the Knox County Commission has reached a kind of relentless sameness as commissioner after commissioner admit to deliberating over everything from how the appointment process will be handled to which candidates would be appointed, and all outside of the public eye. This morning it was former Commissioner Guthe on the stand. While he tried to take a more conciliatory tone on the stand than did Commissioner Smith on Monday, his testimony was no less damaging to the defense. Mr.Guthe testified that he abstained from voting for either Davis or Tramel both because he was angry that his choice for his replacement wasn't honored, as he had honoered other commissioners, and because "[I]t was understood that one candidate would get ten votes."
Mr. Hollow "And that candidate was Mr. Tramel."
Mr. Guthe "Yes."
Mr. Hollow "And that those people worked somehow, someway, somewhere other than at the meeting [Jan 31st] to make that come about?"
Mr. Guthe "I'm sure of it."

Mr Herb Moncier, representing the nine Knox County citizens who joined with Knoxville News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy's suit against County Commission has begun working a new angle into his questioning. While it has no bearing on the case at hand, Moncier is making sure the jury, and the people following this case at home, know that incumbents have a huge advantage during an election cycle,and that these 8 commissioners will be running as incumbents unless Chancellor Daryl Fansler removes them from their seats as a result of this lawsuit.

This afternoon's testimony is expected to be taken up with former Chancellor Schmid's testimony.

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Wednesday AM Trial Notes

Here we go again. And again, italics means the comments are my reactions.

9:35 Tim Greene takes the stand, testifies that the only contact he had with commissioners was with Mr. Pinkston and Mr. Clark. He also said that he knew the sons of another commissioner, Mr Alshie(sp?). On cross, Mr. Hollow asked if he was running for election, and determined that his campaign chairman was the same Mr. Alshie(sp?). Mr. Moncier elicited testimony that Mr. Greene would not want to remain in the seat if the appointment process was found to be in violation of the law. There was a noticeable pause when he answered that question.

9:45 Commissioner Huddleston takes the stand. States he had conversations with Commissioner Smith and Ballard about his appointment but that he didn't go to any public meetings. On cross, Mr.Moncier asked if he was running for election, and if he was collecting money. Moncier also got the same statement from Huddleston about not serving if the appointment process was found to be in violation of the law. Mr. Moncier also asked if Commissioner Huddleston was aware that there was an Appellate court case asking for a special election in Knox County. Commissioner Huddleston said no.

9:50 Former Commissioner Guthe takes the stand. Asked what he did to prepare for the appointment process. He states that after the decision, he met with Commissioner Griess and together, they decided that a special election would be the best way to fill the term limited seats. They consulted with County Chief Law Director John Owings who told them that an election was not allowed by law,that the seats must be filled by appointment. Guthe said he investigated further, asking the State Senators if a special election were possible, and was told that if they got a super majority of commissioners to sign on, the senators could make an appeal to the legislature. Costs were discussed, as well as the oncoming Presidential primary. After discussion on the 26th, it was clear that there weren't even 10 commissioners in favor of a special election. He says he suggested to Chairman Moore the January 31st date.

Commissioner Guthe said that before, during and after meetings, there are conversations and "opportunities for commissioners to say 'Who do you want to nominate?' "
"I never disclosed who my choice is going to be."
"I will support whoever you [the term limited commissioner] nominate and I hope you'll do the same for me."
"Commissioner Schmid came by and he began laying out his scheme for filling our seats."

Commissioner Guthe stated that he did not go along with the plan,and he also said that he kept his silence on who he would nominate. He said he got a phone call from Greg Lambert to support George Stookesbury for County Clerk and informing him that Lambert was going to nominate Sharon Cawood. He got a call from Mike Hammond and Billy Tindell and told them both he would support their choices in their districts and hoped they would support his. Guthe heard from Schmid that Lee Tramel had the inside track to the seat Mr. Guthe was vacating. Mr. Guthe then said that he decided if the silent commissioners were working behind the scenes to place their candidate in his seat, he was going to make them work for it.

Mr. Guthe said that during the recesses, he just sat in his seat during two of them. During one, he left the building. "I needed to get some distance between me and what was going on inside."

He said Commissioner Schmid pointed out to him that Diane Jordan had changed her vote. He asked her why, and then said he didn't remember her answer.

Guthe was asked about the motion he made after he saw Chucky Bolus take his seat on the Commission. He said it was all about having another chance to get his candidate in. Again, he said he wanted to make whoever won the seat work for it.

10:28 On cross, Mr. Hollow emphasized Mr. Guthe's efforts for a special election, and then detailed the debate over an 'open' appointment process. Guthe said he was against a public hearing process, mainly because it provided commissioners political cover for their appointments, and it panders to special interests. "It would have been an exercise in futility, wouldn't it?" "Yes" Mr. Hollow then asked about the Jan 31st meeting, and whether the rules in place effectively removed all public input and oversight into the process. Mr. Guthe was a little evasive, but essentially agreed. When asked directly if the votes were lined up before the meeting, he was evasive, but then Mr. Hollow took him through each district seat up for appointment, and Mr. Guthe agreed that the choices of the outgoing commissioners were known ahead of time, and that he was going to respect the wishes of the outgoing commissioners.

Mr.Guthe testified that he abstained from voting because "[I]t was understood that one candidate would get ten votes."
Mr. Hollow "And that candidate was Mr. Tramel."
Mr. Guthe "Yes."
Mr. Hollow "And that those people worked somehow,someway, somewhere other than at the meeting to make that come about?"
Mr. Guthe "I'm sure of it."

10:50 Ten minute recess.

11:03 Mr. Moncier begins his cross. He begins by eliciting Mr. Guthe's knowledge of the good ole boys (my term) network in Knox County. Reviews an email between Guthe and Griess, in which Guthe wrote that "Scotty says that whatever Ragsdale's plan is, he wants to do the opposite."

Mr. Guthe said yes that he, Commissioner Griess, and Scott Moore were deliberating about how the process would take place. Moncier tries to get Guthe to admit that he was trading votes. Guthe would not make that admission, stating that his support for other commissioner's candidates was based on respect for the commissioner, not on an attempt to trade votes. Mr. Guthe seems to be trying very hard not to be as antagonistic towards the commissioners as Larry Smith was. He's working at not drawing conclusions about commissioners' actions. Is he trying to be fair, or to maintain his political connections?

Moncier then proceeds to question Mr. Guthe about the lawsuit to declare the Knox County Charter invalid. Mr. Guthe said he wasn't trying to maintain his seat, only to clarify the law regarding the charter. Previously in testimony, he called the day that the ruling on his suit came out as "Black Friday." Mr. Moncier is blasting away at Guthe for the lawsuit.

Redirect: Ms. Stackhouse revisits the idea of the special election, specifically a letter from the State Commissioner of Elections that stated that a special election was not authorized. Mr. Moncier asks if the State Commissioner of Elections is the same person who ruled that the term limited commissioners could remain on the ballot. Mr. Guthe says yes. Mr. Hollow points out that the letter doesn't say that a special isn't allowed, only that it can't be called by the County Election Commission.

11:47 Break for lunch till 1:00PM

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Greg Lumpy Lambert Speaks

Prior to the County Commission meeting Monday, I had the chance to speak briefly with Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert. He talked a little bit about blogging, and said he had also blogged for awhile, but lost his taste for it when his favorite venue went off line. The conversation shifted to the Sunshine Act and the trial, and he said that if the KNS interpretation held up, it wouldn't be the end of the world, that the commission could still function, it just might be a little bit harder. He mentioned adding workshops where the commissioners could hammer out their differences out of sight of the public, but with the press present. He didn't want to discuss the trial too much since he hadn't taken the stand yet, but he did say that anything he said in private, he repeated in public. He said specifically that he supported his candidates publicly as well as privately with the other commissioners. I'm paraphrasing and expanding a bit on what he said, but his thought was that lobbying and debating is an integral part of the process, but a part that works best when the commissioners feel they could speak completely candidly, without excessive public scrutiny. However, he also said that when discussion becomes deal making, i.e. "I'll vote this way if you vote that way" was an abuse of that process.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Knox County Commission in Action

I decided to attend the County Commission meeting since court ended early, in order to see the commissioners in action. One of the recurring themes of testimony in the trial has been that nothing unusual occurred at this meeting, that long recesses involving discussion of the issues were commonplace.

We'll see.

The first part of the meeting almost proceeded by rote. The agenda was amended to streamline the proceedings and multiple issues were dispensed with lightening efficiency. Then came the new insurance contract. It appears that the committee appointed by the commission to make a recommendation has recommended Cigna, but Cariten is protesting, saying the accounting process was flawed, and they should have been found cheaper. Knox County employees spoke, saying that they wanted to be part of the process.

Lee Tramel said that in the future, he would like for the whole thing to go to the Commission next year, not a committee.

Matt Myers, Knox County employee and head of the insurance committee, was called by Tony Norman to explain how the committee went about their business. Myers was ready with a prepared report, defending the decision of the committee, which he read to the commission.

Commissioner Richard Cate explains that his reluctance to approve the contract is based on reports that the deductible is at $1200, compared to the current $200.

Francis Fogerson, Knox County Human Resources Director, answers that the deductibles are based on maintaining premiums as close to current levels as possible. Commissioner Smith is blasting the insurance companies for "spreading rumors" to scare the employees. "That's the oldest sales trick in the insurance industry." "The subcommittee has taken their time and done their job. We don't need a workshop."

Sam Harb, Knox County Trustees office. "If we were given a place on the committee, we would have been there with bells on!"

Commissioner Lambert. We shouldn't cram this down the employees throats today. "I've gotten calls from employees saying 'We want Cariten.' I've gotten calls from employees saying 'We want Blue Cross.' I've yet to get a call from an employee saying 'We want Cigna.' "

Commissioner Pinkston challenges Commissioner Smith to explain the differences between the policies. Commissioner Smith responds "I'll sell you some life insurance." Commissioner Pinkston "You couldn't sell me anything."

Motion is passed to deny the recommendation of the insurance 16-3 Mark Harmon, Larry Smith, and Tony Norman(?) vote against.

Storm Water Management

Tony Norman says he considers the Ordinance is watered down and does not meet the agreement the County has with the City. He wants to ask Commissioner Lambert a few questions. He asks if Lambert actually wrote the amendments and Lambert says no, he had a lawyer draw them up. Nobody asked who drew them up.

Richard Cate is for the amendment and is angry about a postcard sent by Pete Delay

(Paul Pinkston conferred with John Valliant during the discussion on the postcards then came back and turned on his light.

Recess for sheriff's press conference. Come back and continue discussion.

Back after the press conference. It took the commission a few minutes to remember where we were. Voting on the amendment to change the minimum fine from $50 to $250. Passed unanimously.

Mark Harmon: There are basic flaws. "Spot checks are like audits; they don't catch everything." "Despite Commissioner Lambert's valiant efforts to be an attorney..."

Ivan Harmon calls Sam Parnell again: Reads a prepared statement saying that his years of experience as City Engineer have taught him that storm water drains in critical situations should be concrete pipe. Any other decision will result in more expense down the road, through failed roads and lawsuits from county residents.

Pinkston: On the attack over the metal pipe on Papermill. Wants Sam Parnell to admit that the city made a mistake. Ivan Harmon points out that the city made a mistake he wants to keep the county from making. Pinkston asks Parnell if he knows about HDPE, which is different from PVC. Pinkston calls Robert Campbell. Design engineer for 15 years. This debate is about engineering and not ordinances.

Craig Leuthold asks John Owings if the county has to use concrete piping to fulfill the agreement with the city. Owings answers that he would defend the case based on the recommendations of Knox County Engineering and Public Works Director Bruce Wuethrich even though the consultants said otherwise. Leuthold then moves to amend the ordinance to require concrete pipe in accordance with the consultant's recommendation.

Thomas Strickland notes that the city of Knoxville is serious about suing the county if they enact a weakened standard.

Time to vote. Voting on the amendment to match the city ordinance. No's: Pinkston, Green, Ballard, Moore, Smith, Lambert, Cawood, Hammond, Tramel, Cate, Bolus. The concrete pipe will not be used as the city does and the consultant recommended.

Voting on the Stormwater second reading. No's: Huddleston, Leuthold, Leuthold, Ivan Harmon, Norman, Harmon, Strickland. Stormwater passes on second reading.

It's 5:45 and I have another place to be. County Commission will have to get along without me for the remainder of the session.

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Gus’s Restaurant

French fries hand cut when you order them. Hamburgers made with fresh ground beef, cooked on a griddle and nestled between to butter grilled buns. Hand dipped milk shakes with real ice cream and milk. All served hot and quick at Gus's Restaurant and Affordable Catering on the Market Square.

Since I had an hour or so to kill between the trial and the Commission meeting, I decided to take the rare opportunity to eat on the Market Square. I chose Gus's because I was in the mood for a good burger, and that's exactly what I got. What I didn't expect was for Charlie to grab a potato and start cutting up my fries right then and there. No bags of frozen, batter dipped fries here; just good old potato fries that only need a hint of salt, and a splash of ketchup.

The burger was hot, and fried up just right. Now normally, I like my burgers grilled, but if you're going to fry it, it is essential to do it right. If your griddle isn't hot enough, you end up with a flaccid beef slug that just sits on the bun, oozing grease. A properly fried burger has a slightly crunchy outer layer that seals in the juices, and helps it stand up to the mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. Gus's place gets it right.

I finished off the meal with a real chocolate milkshake that finished me off.

Now I need a nap, which is perfect timing, because the county commission meeting is about to start.

Posted by Rich
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Gloomy Day for Defense in Sunshine Trial

by Richard Hailey

Stories with my name in italics above are ones written as a comparison to the KNS coverage. I write these as if I were a reporter for a paper, instead of a guy with an opinion and a laptop. They should be used to guage the accuracy of the KNS content, and with any luck, will be unbiased enough to show any bias in the KNS coverage.

The defense called Commissioner R. Larry Smith to testify today, and plaintiff's attorney Richard Hollow made the most of it. On direct examination by Knox County Chief Deputy Law Director Mary Ann Stackhouse, Smith detailed the extensive preparations he made for the appointments meeting held on the 31st of January, personally contacting over 70 interested applicants by phone. Hollow elicited even more detail on cross, getting into Smith's rating system, and his methods for evaluating applicants for all the seats. This made Smith's testimony that other commissioners "took the lazy way out" all the more devastating. Commissioner Smith went on to say that he nominated one candidate because he was "tired of family members being appointed to office."

Commissioner Smith was visibly angry at one point, when Herb Moncier, lawyer for the nine citizens who joined the KNS suit, informed him that a candidate selection committee selected their candidates without ever meeting with the public. "That was not how it (the selection committee) was represented to me. To me that’s not fair to the applicants."

While Smith had strong words for the behavior of the commissioners, his most damaging testimony came at the expense of Chairman Scott Moore, who testified earlier that he had no knowledge of Chucky Bolus's early swearing in. He testified that after the critical recess, as he returned to his seat, Moore told him, "We've got this taken care of now." He further testified that when he saw Bolus taking his seat, he knew exactly what the Chairman was talking about. Not only did this testimony directly conflict with Moore's, it also dovetailed with Commissioner Mark Harmon's testimony last week.

Commissioner Frank Leuthold and County Clerk Billy Tindell were also called to the stand, with their testimony mainly acting to confirm what was already presented. Court was adjourned early due to the regularly scheduled County Commission meeting this afternoon at 2:00pm. The defense case is expected to take the rest of the week, as Ms. Stackhouse has said she will call each commissioner to testify.

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Live Blogging Monday

It's Monday, and that means more live blogging from the KNS v KCC trial. It's going to be a short day today since the Commission is meeting, but we'll see what happens. Italicized comments are my responses, thoughts, opinions, or questions.

9:38 Larry Smith begins testimony. Received 78 notes of interest in open positions on commission, and interviewed by phone about 70. Met a couple of candidates during a Commissioner's night out. Brief interruption while Smith deals with cell phone issues.
Ms. Stackhouse: Did you talk to any other commissioners? Yes, Hammond and Ballard and maybe one other. Discussed candidates in general.
With all the faxes and resumes you claim you received, how is it that a convicted drug dealer is chosen as the best possible representative? "It got to be kind of a joke…and that’s good." "I was going strictly on qualifications."
Cross exam Hollow: You had a rating system that divided applicants by seat, party and a series of check-marks, what are they? I evaluated people like it was a draft and the check marks showed my favorites. More checks means better. Hollow: You marked Scott Davis very favorably. Why? He impressed me by what he said. Hollow: When you were doing ratings, had you heard from Mr. Tramel? Nope. Hollow: Was there a gentleman’s agreement about letting commissioners decide their own districts? I’ve heard it before, and early on. As we got into the process, there’s a lot of viable candidates and if the commissioners are doing due diligence, then that’s ok. Hollow: Did you show your notes to other commissioners? Yes. Hollow: Were you aware that the fee offices were basically a "done deal." I read that in the paper. Did you feel that the second in command was the logical choice for those offices. Sure. It didn’t work for the clerk office,did it? Nope. Hollow: Who made up the agenda? “I assume our chairman.” Did you ever vote on the agenda? I don’t recall. The agenda said that everybody would be sworn in at 2PM, correct? Yes. Why did you move District 4 to the head of the line? Because there were two seats to be filled. Hollow Ed Shouse, an experienced city councilman, got zero votes. And no floor candidates received a vote,correct? Yes.

10:09 Issues with internet access. I keep losing my connection. Makes live blogging interesting.

10:11 Hollow continues a lengthy recap of the voting on Jan. 31. Points out that Diane Jordan switched votes on the 7th balloting for seat 4b and Guthe switched from passing, to Davis to maintain the tie.

10:16 "Mr. Jordan interviewed very well."

10:23 Commissioner Smith "I was tired of family members being put into office...I think it was wrong."

10:25 Were you aware of a nominating committee in the 9th district? Yes, but it didn't turn out like I thought it would. I thought they'd listen to the community and let the people select their candidate. Instead, they had a meeting in a grocery store, and between themselves, selected the candidate, Mr. Green. Mr. Hollow: Would you be surprised to find ot that no-one was invited to those meetings? Yes. Would that change your feeling about those meetings? It's not the right thing to do.

10:29 Commissioner Smith is visibly angry and says that this wasn't how the 9th district nominating committee was presented to him. It's interesting watching Commissioner Smith, who was called by the defense, become visibly irritated during cross, not at the plaintiff's lawyer, but at the actions of Jan 31, the very actions he's being called to defend.

10:31 Commissioner Smith reports that after the recess where Chucky Bolus got sworn in early, Chairman Moore told him, "We've got this taken care of now."

10:33 Were you surprised to see Commissioner Bolus seated early? Yes, but those guys think outside the box. They push it.

10:37 I felt like the commissioners disrespected the candidates. They didn't listen to them, they ignored them at the Whittle Springs meeting.

10:41 Moncier takes over and goes back to the earlier meeting. Commissioner Smith says he likes his independence. "I don't need somebody to tell me how to vote." This implies directly that Smith feels that other members of County Commission do in fact allow somebody else to tell them what to do. Moncier points out that Smith never got a phone call from Lambert, Moore, or the rest of the sheriff's faction. Moncier: The end result of Jan 31 was that the sheriff's block maintained control. Smith: Yes. Why on earth did Stackhouse call Smith? He sounds more like a witness for the plaintiff. All I can figure is that they've based their defense on "Sure, it stinks to high heaven, but you can't prove anything," so we don't care how bad it looks.

Smith: You could see them all line up and march to the sheriff's .office

Moncier: "[Knox County is] controlled by the people who can count to ten." Referring to the majority faction on the commission.

11:00 10 minute break

11:17 Moncier: How much does a commissioner make? Smith: About $24k.

Moncier: DId you know that recesses were called to allow commissioners to talk in a back room? Yes. Do you approve? In general yes. There are times when you need to talk about somebody and you don't want to embarrass them.

Moncier: I read the transcript, and you said "What's going on here?" and people laughed. You were serious, weren't you? Yes. You weren't part of the plan, were you? No. The people weren't either, were they? Nope.

Redirect: Stackhouse: Are the 12 positions filled at the meeting up for election in 2008? Yes.

11:22 New witness, Frank Leuthold.

Stackhouse: Did you talk to any commissioners about applying? Yes. Did you talk to your son, Craig Leuthold? Yes. Did you attend any community meetings? Yes, with other candidates for fee offices.

Cross examination.

Moncier: Mr. Leuthold, even I would vote for you. I would hope so.

Questioning of Mr. Leuthold was very brief, with no real new information. No redirect by Ms.Stackhouse.

New witness Billy Tindell

Ms. Stackhouse: How long were you in county commission? 37 years in seat 2b. Did you decide after the Jordan decision that you wanted to be County Clerk? Yes. How did you let other members of county commission about your support for Jonathan Wimmer. Between Jan 12 and 31, what did you do to get ready for voting? Nothing in particular. I received hundreds of faxes and I read them then threw them away.

Cross examination

Hollow: Were you aware as you went into the commission meeting that if you were appointed to the position as county clerk, that you would not be ale to vote on the rest of the appointments? Yes. Mr. Jonathan Wimmer was your choice. Yes.

Moncier: Need a second. Hollow provides stage direction lessons for Herb. Moncier questioned Tindell about the decisions on how to conduct the meeting, and when to hold the meeting. Then Moncier questioned him about a sheriff's faction. He also asked about Scott Moore's plans to run for county clerk in 2008.

Court's done for the day.

Posted by Rich
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The Ripple Effect:  What Happens When This is All Over?

This is not part of the live blogging, or the coverage of the KNS, but is my own take on the KNS V KCC flap.

Well, that's the big question, isn't it?

Assuming that Chancellor Fansler rules for the plaintiffs,and finds that the County Commissioners did in fact violate the State Open Meetings Act, what can he do about it? And more importantly, what will happen afterward?

According to the law, Fansler has a couple of options. He can issue an injunction to the Commission telling them to cut it out. The injunction will carry with it specific penalties for continued violations of the Sunshine Act, but will leave the commissioners in place. Or he can void any actions taken by the Commission that he feels derived from violations of the Sunshine Act. This could include the removal of some or all of the folks appointed on Jan 31, leading to a complete do-over.

My guess is that Chancellor Fansler would lean towards an injunctive remedy if he felt that while there were violations of the Act, they were primarily individual in nature, and not symptomatic of organized activities by members of the commission. On the other hand, if he finds that the abuse was organized and widespread, then he may very well invalidate the proceedings of Jan 31.

That's when things really get interesting, because then every ruling made by the commission from Jan 31 to the present will be called into question. We could be dealing with lawsuits for years, as people who came up on the short end of zoning decisions, or other county business will appeal based on the fact that the commission was invalid. It could get very interesting and that's not even mentioning the battle over how to fill the vacated seats. The folks who gamed the system show no signs that they will go away without a fight.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

So, Let’s Sum Up

If you believe Scott Moore's testimony, then you must believe the following:
  • That Scott Moore spent 3 hours on the phone from Jan 12 through Jan 31 with Chucky Bolus, his former campaign manager, and the man he nominated for the 2nd district seat b, without ever discussing the nomination.
  • That Scott Moore spent an hour and a half during the same time period talking to Lee Tramel, the man he backed for district 4 seat b, again, without ever discussing the nominating process.
  • That Scott Moore spent an incredible 7 hours talking to Greg "Lumpy" Lambert during the same time period without ever discussing nominations.
  • That Scott Moore's call to "Prince" John Valliant moments before he (Valliant) escorted Chucky Bolus to get sworn in early, was totally unrelated to the process.
  • That Chucky Bolus decided all by himself to go find Chancellor Fansler and get sworn in early, even though a group swearing in ceremony was scheduled for later in the afternoon, and despite the fact that Richard Cate, appointed earlier to seat 4a, admitted that he had been pressured to swear in early in order to replace Schmid and get another Hutchison man on the Commission

You must also believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Great Pumpkin.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sunshine Act Trial-Tuesday Morning

My impressions in italics.

9:32 Mr. Hollow, Lawyer for the Plaintiff begins by citing case law supporting the validity of their request for a summery judgment against Commissioner Lambert for the failure to produce his phone records. He says that Lambert intentionally failed to produce the phone records.

9:35 Deputy Law Director Stackhouse responds by pointing out that even though Lambert did not produce his records, because the plaitiffs can work around it by correlating other phone records, a summary judgment is unecessary.

9:37 Chancellor Fansler says Lambert responded in a "cavalier manner." He wants to look at the the law cited by Hollow and wait for Cricket to respond to plaintiff's request for the records. He will wait a couple of days before ruling.

9:41 Jury arrives.

9:42 Courtroom is full today.

9:43 Chairman Scott Moore called to the stand. Mr. Moncier returns to the issue of the rules for County Commission meetings, which Moore used to deny citizens the ability to speak regarding any candidate for appointment. When Mr. Hollow asked Commissioner Moore about the rules,Moore said he didn't know exactly where the rule was. Mr. Moncier asked if Moore had had enough time over the weekend to find the rule. Moore reads the voting procedure. "In my mind, it's like baking a cake...If we added an extra step to it, you'd screw it up."

9:50 Moncier asks if Moore was aware that the County Charter said that the Commission could make the rules for the appointment process as they saw fit. Moore answers he's not sure, but he'll take Moncier's word for it. Moncier asks if Moore remembers telling Commissioner Schmid "no" when Schmid moved to allow the public to speak. Moore says he doesn't recall.

9:57 Moncier asks Moore if there was ever a vote on the agenda and Moore says there wasn't.

9:59 Moore wants to argue rather than respond. Moore testifies that the agenda was published and there was no objection. Moncier asks if Moore remembers getting a 4 page letter from citizens detailing objections to the planned meeting. Moore asks if any of those citizens ever contacted him or any other commission member. Moncier asks him to answer the question, and Moore admits he got the letter.

10:08 Moncier asks how did Moore's proposed agenda get sent to the KNS as the official agenda? Moore responded that somebody had to lay out the framework.

10:11 Moncier points out that there was a proposal to seek legislation for a special election, and asked Moore if he planned the date of the meeting to be before the legislature could pass the special legislation. Moore said no.

10:13 Moncier: Your proposal was to allow the Commissioners to make the appointment rather than allow the people to have an election, wasn't it? Stackhouse objects. Fansler overrules.

10:15 Owings was appointed by the County Commission wasn't he? Yes.

10:20 Mr. Hollow begins his questioning. Hollow: Are there any specific rules in the Charter regarding special called meetings? Moore: I don't know.

10:21 Mr. Hollow reads rules that say that the agenda cannot be changed for a special called meeting. Moore responds that the rule says nothing can be added, but things can be moved around. Mr. Hollow reads County Commission rules that state that if any commission rule conflicts with state law, the commission rule is not in effect.

Moore worked hard to avoid answering some questions, and to redirect answers for others.

10:25 Scott Barker called to the stand.

10:26 Moncier explores Barker's article reporting a possible meeting of commissioners discussing possible appointments. Barker testified that he talked with Commissioner Ivan Harmon, and that Commissioner Harmon admitted to talking to Commissioner Lambert in general terms about the appointments. Barker also testified that of the 8 commissioners he spoke to, 6 acknowledged talking to other commissioners about the appointments. Moncier has Barker read a direct quote from Moore on Jan 30th stating that lobbying commissioners would be against the law.

10:33 Jury sent out on morning break while an objection to a deposition Mr. Hollow wants to read. Objection overruled. 10 minute break.

10:54 Mr. Hollow reads from Commissioner Schmid's deposition. Schmid says he submitted a plan including public hearings, public debate, then an appointment process. He says that the plan was similar to that proposed by County Mayor Mike Ragsdale, and at one point, Chairman Moore also supported public meetings, but he changed his mind. Schmid was asked about factions on the commission. Scott Moore and Greg Lambert were aligned with the sheriff. "We can do anything we want." Lumpy Lambert regarding the appointment process as quoted by Schmid in his deposition.

Schmid "pled his case" for his candidate. He wanted a compromise candidate that wasn't aligned with the sheriff or the mayor. He also mentioned that the county wide offices, sheriff and the three fee offices had candidates that "had the votes."

11:11 Reading from the deposition continues. It was a "done deal" for the folks being appointed to the county wide offices. Recesses were commonly used when impasses occurred at County Commission meetings. They would take a break to try and "work things out." Often recesses were used to try and change commissioners minds to a new position.

11:16 The first recess came from an impasse over Guthe's seat. There was major lobbying and Schmid admits to being part of the lobbying. Guthe was angry that his candidate, Jim Smelcher didn't make it when that was the "gentleman's agreement" in place. There was heavy pressure on Diane Jordan to change her vote from Davis to Tramel. There was an effort to swear in Commssioner Cate early, but he backed out. Lambert called Schmid a "peckerhead." Commissioners invloved in trying to get Cate sworn in early to break the deadlock: Pinkston, Lambert, and Moore.

11:29 Reading from Schmid's deposition completed.

11:33 Moncier calls Hayes Hickman(sp?) to analyze telephone records. Hickman is a reporter for the Sentinel, and was tasked with going through Scott Moore's phone logs to determine his contacts with other commissioners. Long list of phone calls added to the record detailing contacts between Scott Moore and commissioners, the county mayor, and eventual appointees.

11:51 Moncier is stressing call volume patterns based on external events,ie County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's announcement of his plan for replacing the term limited officeholders.

12:00 Break for lunch

Posted by Rich
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Hallerin Hilton Hill Show

I got an email from producer Chris Marion asking me to call in to the show around 8 to discuss the trial from a blogger's perspective. Tune in and you'll discover that not only do I have a face made for radio (see the picture above) I have a voice made for newspapers.

Posted by Rich
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Commissioner Lambert Takes Some Lumps

Richard Hailey

On Monday, the jury in the trial pitting Knoxville News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy and nine Knox County citizens against the Knox County Commission watched the public access tape of the January 31st Commission meeting that is at the center of the lawsuit. The record showed commissioners recessing several times when the appointment process didn't go smoothly,and spending a considerable amount of time discussing...something. The January 31st meeting moved quickly to it's conclusion, although on the recording, Commissioner Schmid referred to the process as "duplicitous and underhanded...insult to the people of the 4th district...selective swearing stinking up the room."

However, the real fireworks of the day in court didn't take place until after the showing was finished and the jury dismissed.

At issue was a motion by the plaintiff for some kind of relief against Commissioner Greg Lambert for failing to turn over his phone records as subpoenaed earlier in the run up to trial. Lambert was not in the courtroom at the time,but his counsel, Deputy Law Director Mary Anne Stackhouse, said that he notified the plaintiff that he didn't have the phone records in question, and it was too late to get them now, since Cricket, his phone carrier,does not maintain phone records past 6 months. She also argued that if the plaintiff's wanted the phone records, they should have issued another subpoena to Cricket, instead of to Lambert. Richard Hollow, the lawyer for the plaintiffs countered her arguments, saying that Commissioner Lambert had a responsibility to provide those records,or to notify the plaintiffs if he was unable to do so.

Mr. Hollow went on to document to the judge just why the phone records were so important. According to him, Commissioner Lambert admitted in deposition to actions that violate the Sunshine Law, including conversations over the phone. Mr. Hollow wants the records to determine exactly who Lambert was talking to in order to find out who else violated the provisions of the act.

Chancellor Fansler was unsympathetic to Ms. Stackhouse's defense of Lambert. He pointed out that the other Commissioners had turned in their phone records, and questioned why Lambert was the only one who did not. He gave Lambert until 9AM today to present a written statement before ruling on Mr. Hollow's request for a summary judgment against Lambert, finding him guilty of violating the Sunshine Act.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Trial Continues:  The Afternoon Session

1:29 Court is called back into session.

1:30 Video replay resumes with election of district1a. Jordon nominates her son, Josh. Harmon nominates Helen Lewis. Smith nominates Nick DellaVolpe. Had to spell it;couldn't pronounce it. But he knows about him to nominate him for County Commission. James Golden nominated himself. Robin Brothers nominated herself. Norman initially passes, then votes for Jordan. Jordan wins 16-1-1 NO discussion at all.

1:36 District seat 2b Mark Harmon nominates Amy Broyles. Norman nominates Jonathen Wimmer. Smith nominates Deborah Porter. Moore nominates Charles Bolus. Charles Giles nominates Joseph WiIliams. Billy Tindell tries to stump for Jonathan Wimmer. Ballard passes, then votes for Broyles. Bolus 7 Wimmer 6 Broyles 3 Porter 2 Williams 0 and is dropped.

1:42 Second vote Bolus 7 Wimmer 6 Broyles 2 Porter 2. Ballard abstains

1:46 Third vote Bolus 6 Wimmer 6 Broyles 3 Porter 3 Ballard votes Broyles. Ivan Harmon switches to Porter.

1:49 Short recess.

2:01 Short recess becomes less short.

2:03 Fourth vote. After the short, non-deliberative 14 minute recess: Strickland, Ivan Harmon,and Smith all switch from Porter to Bolus, Mills switches from Wimmer to Bolus, and Ballard switches from Broyles to Bolus. Jordan is late to the vote. Bolus wins 11-5-2. NO public discussions at all.

2:07 Seat 5c and a short 5 minute break for the court. 5 real minutes, not commission minutes.

2:10 Norman nominates Theresa Shupp. Griess nominates Frank Leuthold with a speech about how wonderful he is and the pension plan. Hammond echoes Griess and says that Leuthold will not seek re-election. Lambert nominates Robin Butler. Bayard Donahoo nominates Tom Salter. Leuthold 15 Shupp 1 Butler 1 Salter 1. NO discussion at all.

2:16 Seat 6a Lambert nominates Sharon Cawood. Smith nominates Howard Phillips. Charles Giles nominates Jimmie Shelton. Cawood wins 15-2-0. NO public discussion at all.

2:20 Seat 8b Mark Harmon nominates Maurice Freed. Mills nominates Jack Huddleston. Rodney McCroskey nominates Kay Frazier with fervor. Bill Young nominates Tom Pressley. Huddleston wins 17-1. NO public discussion.

2:25 Seat 9a Mark Harmon nominates Martin Pleasant. Clark nominates Tim Greene. Matt Myers nominates Josh Lowe. Josh Lowe nominates Matt Myers. Nomination for the "Good Guest," who knows when it's time to leave. Rubye Wright nominates herself. Anthony McMahan nominates Ronald Lee Tucker, "This is a travesty." Greene 17 Pleasant 1. NO public discussion.

2:32 5 minute recess.

2:40 Seat 4b. Chuck Bolus sworn in earlier, Schmid "duplicitous and underhanded...insult to the people of the 4th district...selective swearing in is stinking up the room." Guthe notes that a new commissioner is seated so starting from scratch with 4b. Lambert asks that any other new appointees can take their oath and take their seat. Schmid makes the motion. No second. Chairman Moore says we don't have time to take a recess. Schmid withdraws the motion. Harmon nominates Elaine Davis. Norman nominates WIlliam Daniels. Ivan Harmon nominates Lee Tramel. Guthe nominates Jim Smelcher. Hammond nominates Scott Davis. Scott Davis withdraws his name, saying he hates seeing what is happening on the commission, and he wants it to move forward and get past the fighting. Oddly, there has been no fighting evident during the nomination and voting process. Tramel wins 12-4 Smelcher-1 Ms. Davis-1 Daniels. Hammond, Ballard, and Mills joined the Tramel group after Davis withdrew. NO public discussion whatsoever.

2:56 Video ends. Audio and private video for tomorrow.

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