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My Background and Platform

RETIRED LAWYER AND 20 YEAR MILITARY VETERAN

In 1986, I enlisted in the Navy and spent 8 years as a Russian Linguist.  I did my language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  My first assignment was at a small listening base on the Black Sea in Sinop, Turkey.  

My final assignment in the Navy was at the On-Site Inspection Agency.  There I was an interpreter on Arms Control Inspection and Escort Teams.  When the Russian teams would come here or we would go to the former Soviet Union, I would help interpret, escort, and inspect under the auspices of the START, INF, and Nuclear Testing Treaties.

After the Navy, I used my GI Bill to go to law school.  I got my Juris Doctor (J.D.) at Salmon P. Chase College of Law in Northern Kentucky (where I was born and raised).  I also received a Master of Laws (LL.M.) in International Economic Law at the University of Houston Law Center.

I went back into the military in 1999, this time to the Air Force, where I was a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG).  I was stationed in Missouri, Florida, California, Japan, Maryland and Washington, D.C.  

While in the Air Force, I deployed to al Udeid AB in Qatar where I was a judge advocate in the Combat Operations Division of the Combined Air Operations Center. I also deployed at to Baghdad, Iraq, where I was the Interrogations Law Attorney at Camp Cropper.

I retired as a Major from the Air Force in 2012 and went to work at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  At the CFPB, I worked in the Consumer Response Division, where we handled consumer complaints about banks, mortgage servicing companies, credit card companies, debt collectors and more.

BUILDING A LIFE IN KNOXVILLE

I left the CFPB and moved to Knox County in 2015 to marry the love of my life – Susan Beth Frommeyer.  She was my college sweetheart whom I let get away so many years ago.  Susan is an OB/GYN at Fort Sanders Women’s Specialists and has been practicing in East Tennessee since the early 2000s.  We have a blended family.  My son is a rising Sophomore at UT and my step-daughter is a rising 6th grader, about to start at West Valley Middle School.

WHY I’M IN THIS RACE

I’m in this race because I’ve seen how many of the races in Knox County end up in the general election with a Republican running unopposed.  I wanted to make sure that voters would have a choice in 2020, which I think is the most consequential year for elections in my lifetime.  Susan told me, though, that she wasn’t going to support me just to get my name on the ballot.  I had to try and win.  And so that’s what I’ve been doing.

WHAT KIND OF RACE I AM RUNNING

I determined early on that I wanted to run a different kind of race.  I think money is a big part of what’s wrong in politics and that includes Knox County politics.  So I decided to draw a distinction with the Republicans in my race who have raised 10s of thousands of dollars.  I take no big money, by which I mean PAC contributions or the $500/$1000 checks that monied interests give to candidates.  I don’t put a donate button on my website on purpose.  I don’t make calls asking for donations.  I think the big money in politics tends to provide SOME with more access to the candidates.  Those who have money get their issues heard first and most.  I want to be open to all – no one gets special access with me.

REASONABLE AND RESPONSIBLE DEVELOPMENT

I’ve been attending Commission meetings since I got in the race.  I’ve seen that development in Knox County seems to be dictated by the developers.  I think Mayor Jacobs and the current Commission have enabled that way of thinking.  I’m for Reasonable and Responsible Development.  That means that I want to give more of a voice to the people who are affected by the development than they currently have.  I want the Planning Commission to live up to its name and make sure there’s some planning in the process.  

I WANT TO BE A VOICE FOR THE LITTLE GUY

Most of all, I want to be a voice on the Commission for the people who traditionally have not had a voice in Knox County politics.  In the Air Force, I worked as the military equivalent of a public defender.  I stood with the Airmen who were having the full force of the Air Force brought down upon them.  At the CFPB, I was helping individual consumers fight back against big banks and other consumer financial companies.  I want to continue that mindset on the Commission and help the little guy as much as I can.

Two Cents

It’s been a busy couple of weeks of budget talk in Knox County.

First, Knox County Schools put out their proposed budget. You can read about it here in the local media. The Knox County Schools page also has some info. The headline is about $4.4 million in cuts, including some job losses, furloughs, and a huge cut in the allocation of money sent to the schools for supplies and materials.

Then Mayor Jacobs announced his proposed budget on June 1. He put out a video highlighting various things, good and bad, in the budget. And he definitely wanted to make sure you know that there is no tax increase in the budget. It’s right there in the title of his YouTube video. The Mayor described the budget as “not pretty.” He said this is an “unprecedented situation.” He said the last couple of months were “anything but normal.” But he also wanted to make sure that we all remember his pledge during his campaign not to raise taxes.

Oh, yeah, he also said that he wants the Commission to approve this budget with the understanding that it is a working document. He said they may come back to the Commission multiple times over the coming fiscal year to seek to amend the budget. If their projection of sales tax revenues proves to be too conservative, then they can come back and perhaps undo some cuts. Likewise, if things get worse, he might also seek to amend the budget down further. In this latter situation, it didn’t need to be said, but clearly, based on the Mayor’s pledge, he would seek to fix things with more cuts, rather than consider any tax increases.

The Commission had their first public meeting on the budget on June 15. I was there to watch and I also spoke at the public forum part of the meeting. I followed three different speakers who were advocating for fully funding the schools. One of the speakers also mentioned the question of why property taxes aren’t on the table. It was the perfect setup for the remarks I had prepared.

I’ll throw the actual remarks I gave at the end of this piece, but here are the questions I raised and the points I made.

As I said above, the Mayor has described the situation as not pretty and unprecedented. He presented a budget that he tried to portray the budget as a shared sacrifice. Except, since he’s bound himself to this pledge of no tax increase, property owners seem to be excluded from that sacrifice.

I pointed out that property values in Knox County have gone up over the last 20 years and Tennessee has a certified tax rate law that says local jurisdictions can’t increase their revenues because property values go up. So, as a result, property tax rates have to go down. In the last 20 years, the property tax rate in Knox County has gone from $3.32 to $2.12 per $100 of assessed value. It’s gone down 120 cents.

I also pointed out that the Mayor’s budget document says that one cent of property tax equals $1.274 million in revenue. So, if you were to raise property taxes from $2.12 to $2.14 per $100 of assessed value, you would gain an additional $2.5 million in revenue, which could be used to offset the decline of revenue from sales taxes. If you own a $200,000 home, that would mean your property taxes would go up $40 annually. And, obviously, if you own a more expensive home, it would go up more.

My proposal would be to do the two cent increase in property taxes and let that extra revenue go to fill some of the holes in the Knox County Schools budget. I’ve made the same pitch in the answer to some questions from the Knoxville Focus (which I’ll write about later) and on Renee Hoyos’ Knittin’ and Politickin’ Facebook Live show.

I also asked the question in my comments whether it might also be appropriate to dip into the rainy day fund further to make sure that the Schools are taken care of. I suggested that the Mayor says these are unprecedented times and, maybe, that’s the exact use for a rainy day fund.

After I finished my comments, the Commissioners called up various officials to discuss the issues we four speakers had raised. There were a lot of excuses for why the rainy day fund couldn’t be touched. On property taxes, they noted that they projected the same amount of revenue this year as they did for last year. Even though there is more property on the rolls, because of the economy, they project they’ll have a harder time collecting.

I’m going to give some credit to Commissioner Larsen Jay, but maybe I’m damning him with my praise, since he’s a Republican. He was the only Commissioner to raise the question of why we are dependent on sales tax revenues, which are subject to the vagaries of the economy, to fund our schools. He didn’t come out and ask the same question I’m asking – why are property tax increases off the table – but he was in the ballpark.

I’ve said before, but it bears repeating. I think it’s irresponsible to make a pledge not to raise taxes. You never know when you’re going to face a global pandemic and have the economy shut down for two months. If you make that kind of pledge, you’re tying one hand behind your back. And, as the executive of a pretty big county, when things get tough, you’re stuck with using cuts or taking on debt to fix things.

The Schools budget is the biggest and most important part of our county budget. To my mind, it should be the last place you’re looking to cut corners. The Mayor shows what his true priority is when he allows huge cuts from the Schools just because he’s ideologically inclined to stick to a pledge which just hurts everyone in the county.

On the Facebook Live with Renee Hoyos, I was asked what would be the one thing I will want to take with me onto the Commission. I have a number of issues that I care about and which I think need to be addressed in the short term. I’m for Reasonable and Responsible Development. The lack of transparency at the KCSO. But I think the Schools is going to have to be my first priority. The Mayor says they may come to the Commission multiple times to amend the budget. I hope it means sales tax revenues are better than expected. In that case, I will advocate for the Schools to be first in line. But if the Mayor comes back and wants to amend the budget down, then I’m going to raise this issue again. It can be two cents or whatever level we can all agree on. But this is discussion that needs to happen. Under the Knox County Charter, the Commission has the power to adopt and amend the budget. And the Commission is not bound by the Mayor’s campaign pledge.

It is not lost on me that being the candidate in favor of a tax increase can make it hard to be elected and reelected. This is why I don’t expect this Commission to come anywhere near this idea. I also know that my opponent has pledged the same as Mayor Jacobs not to raise taxes. I wouldn’t blame him if he tries to hit me on this. As a matter of fact, I note that he’s added a post to his campaign Facebook page describing himself as “fiscally responsible.” At the end of the day, one of the main tenets of my campaign is to be transparent and stand for transparency in others when it’s called for. I’m for fully funding the Schools and I would raise property taxes in order to do that. You, as a District 4 voter, know where I stand on this issue. I think that’s important.

Mr. Chairman/Commissioners

The Mayor in his video announcement of the Knox County budget described this budget as “not pretty.”  He says the last couple of months have been “anything but normal.”  He also described this situation as “unprecedented.”

The Mayor said there is some good and some bad in the budget.  And maybe the sense of this budget is a little bit of shared sacrifice.  Some items maybe stay the same as last year.  But many items get a little cut here and there. 

So First, look at the Schools part of the budget, which has some serious holes.  To the tune of about $4.4m.  It looks like they’re cutting 20 jobs.  They say they’re saving $700k on 5 day furloughs.  There’s a $1m cut from school allocations that supplement costs for supplies and materials.  And they’re reducing funding for professional development plans.

To me, the schools part of the budget is not only the largest chunk of knox county’s budget, but it’s the most important.  To my mind, this Commission should seek to amend the Mayor’s budget to fill in those holes from the Schools budget.

And it seems to me you can do it one of two ways.  The first option is to draw down the rainy day fund some more.  Now here’s where you can maybe answer questions for me.  In his video, the Mayor said that they would be drawing down the rainy day fund by $3.7m and that would leave 3 months of operating funds.  There’s a chart on page 38 of the budget document which seems to show the rainy day fund from 2008 til now.  And if I’m looking at the right chart, that means that the rainy day fund was at about $39m in 2008 and got up to $68m in 2019.  The proposed budget would take the rainy day fund back to about $62m this year.  If I’m looking at the wrong chart there or misunderstanding, I hope the Commission or the Mayor can explain.  But if that chart does reflect the rainy day fund over the years, I’d like some better explanation for why more of that can’t be used to offset the current $4m cut.  I mean, we’re calling it a rainy day fund after all.  When you describe the situation as not pretty and unprecendented and you say you might need to come back for multiple amendments to the budget over the course of the fiscal year.  That feels pretty darn rainy.

Of course, we don’t really need to touch the rainy day fund if it can’t possibly go below $62m.

There’s another way to fix this.  You raise property taxes.  Yeah, I know the Mayor’s got this pledge not to raise taxes.  But how about some reality here. 

The mayor’s budget document states that 1 cent of property tax is equivalent to $1.274 million dollars.

In the last 20 years, property values in Knox County have gone up, but Tennessee has something called the certified tax rate law.  This says when your local property assessor says your property is worth more, that can’t mean that the county gets more revenue from you.  So the property tax rate has to go down to compensate.  

So, in Knox County over the last 20 years, the property tax rate has gone down from $3.32 to $2.12 per $100 assessed value.  In different terms, It’s gone down 120 cents.

So Here’s my two cents.  Pun intended.  Increase the property tax rate from $2.12 to $2.14 and use those funds to fill in the holes in the school budget.  That’s about $2.5m.  Maybe let the teachers have their professional development funding back.  That seems like an important thing to help attract and keep quality teachers in Knox County.  Or how about you put back that $1m for supplies and materials so that schools aren’t having to scrimp and run fundraisers and teachers aren’t having to pay for things out of their own pockets.  Or maybe 20 people don’t have to lose their jobs.

So, just 2 cents.  If you’ve got a $200,000 house, that’s an extra $40/year if my math is right.

This Commission is not bound by the Mayor’s pledge not to raise taxes.  It says in Sec 2.01 of the Knox County Charter that the Commission has the legislative power to amend the county budget and fix all county tax rates.  I think this Commission should do just that and send that extra money to the Schools.  

The Knox County Charter Review Committee And The Law Director

Geez, that title sounds like a boring cozy mystery or something. But, no, it’s where I was speaking and what I was speaking about on this past Thursday.

The Knox County Charter says that a Charter Review Committee must be constituted every eight years in order to determine the desirability of amendments to the Charter. There are a few ideas that seem to be getting attention for possible Charter amendments, but the biggest one I’ve seen is the idea to change the Knox County Law Director from an elected position to appointed by the County Mayor.

Due to the pandemic, the monthly Committee meetings were put off a couple of months. They finally got back to it on Thursday. I attended the previous meeting and knew that the question of the Law Director would likely be discussed at the next meeting, whenever it happened to be. Once I learned they were going to go on Thursday, I requested to speak at public forum. Doing that proved no problem at all. I emailed the public email for the County Commission and, after a little email back and forth, I was on the schedule.

I will note one thing. I knew this was coming, so I was ready. But the public notice on this meeting was not great. The notifications for the Charter Review Committee are posted on the County Commission website in a similar fashion to how they post notifications for Commission meetings. They provide a link to the agenda so that you can see what the Commission will be discussing. The Charter Review Committee had its agenda up, but it was bare bones, with no real details included. With the Commission, there are sometimes attachments that are linked to the agenda. You can click on the link and see the document in question. The link to get to attachments was there, but there were no attachments. And I think there should have been. They were discussing two proposals for changes to the Charter. Clearly all of the Committee members had copies of the proposals. They talked about them quite extensively. But the public wasn’t given access to the proposals on the website and no one read them for people to hear. Of course, there were only three people in the gallery that stayed til the end of the meeting – one member of the press, Commissioner Larsen Jay, and yours truly. But still. Would’ve been nice if they had just read the proposals out loud.

Anywho. Two people spoke at public forum. I spoke on the Law Director issue (I’m for keeping the position elected) and a representative of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office came and spoke on a different subject. I’m going to add the text of my remarks at the end of this post. Not because they’re especially great, but in the interest of transparency.

It became clear to me that support or opposition to this amendment to the Charter was a pretty decent proxy for whether you’re a strong supporter of the Mayor or not. From what I could tell, most of the Mayor’s appointees to the Committee were in favor (although one abstained). The Commission appointees seemed to vote in lockstep with the Commissioner who appointed them. And the Commission broke Nystrom, Smith and Anders for the amendment and Gill, Carringer, Schoonmaker, Busler, Beeler, and Dailey against. The amendment went down 12-10 with one abstention. I note that Chairman Anders (who voted in favor of the amendment) thought the amendment needed work and probably would have liked to postpone a vote until the amendment could be worked on. There is an outside chance the amendment could make another appearance I guess, but, for now, it’s not going to appear on the ballot in November. That’s the outcome I was hoping for (as you’ll see in a moment), so I’m relieved.

So, here are my comments. I can’t attest that I didn’t stumble and skip certain things in here when I actually spoke. But this is essentially what I said and what I think on this issue.

Mr. Chairman.  Members of the Committee.

I am here to speak in defense of keeping the Law Director position as elected, rather than making it a position appointed by the County Mayor.

As I’m sure you know, but for the benefit of those who are listening.  Section 3.08 of the Knox County Charter says that the Law Director is directly accountable to the qualified voters of Knox County by standing for election every 4 years.

If the Law Director leaves his or her position before the end of the term, the vacancy is filled by the Commission, not the County Mayor, until the next general election.

I’ve seen it written somewhere that most counties in Tennessee have attorneys appointed by a county mayor or commission. I don’t believe, though, that we should change our Charter based on the idea of being like all of the other counties in Tennessee.

The Attorney General of the state of Tennessee is not appointed by the governor.  He or she is appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court for a term of 8 years.

So, I come at this from the perspective of a retired lawyer.  Almost all of my lawyering time was as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Air Force.  You know, like the the show JAG or the movie a Few Good Men, except I wasn’t also a fighter pilot and I didn’t get to cross-examine Jack Nicholson.

In my time as a JAG, I had the opportunity to give legal advice to a number of different commanders.  I found there were two basic types.  The first, better type, was the commander who wanted his legal advisor to give him or her plain unvarnished legal advice on a matter.  The second was the commander who said, here’s what I want to do.  Go to the UCMJ or the Air Force regs and figure out how I do it.  Give me something to hang my hat on, I don’t care how dodgy.

Obviously, as a lawyer, I preferred working for the former, rather than the latter, if for no other reason than it ensured I wouldn’t face any ethical issues.  One felt like being a legal advisor.  The other felt like being a fixer.

The Law Director’s duty, according to the description on the Knox County website is to execute and administer the legal affairs of the county.  The law director, his deputies and staff provide legal advice to county officials concerning their offices, serve as intermediary between other offices and departments of government, and litigate on behalf of the county in civil actions.

Based on that description, I think the drafters of the Knox County charter got it right to make this position accountable to the voters of Knox County, rather than the choice to be hired…and fired by the County Mayor as he or she sees fit.

Now, I have heard some on my side of the political aisle come out in favor of appointment of the Law Director based on the state of elections in Knox County.  The idea being that all elected party affiliated positions in county government except one are held by Republicans.  So, better to take this position out of the world of partisan elections.  Or so the argument goes.

My response to that is, one, I hope there are a few more Democrats in County government after the coming elections.  And, 2 –  that the Mayor, a Republican, is just as capable of putting a partisan hack in the job as are the voters of Knox County.  If we can get a partisan hack in either case, I think the job of choosing that person should rest with the voters, rather than one single person.

Another argument against changing how the Law Director is selected played out over the last year in the drama that was the TVA Tower deal.  The current Law Director, Bud Armstrong, was elected by the voters and is a Republican, just like the County Mayor.  The Mayor and his administration put together a complicated deal to buy/lease the TVA Tower.  Law Director Armstrong didn’t just roll over and give the green light. He raised legitimate legal questions about the way the deal was structured.

To my mind, I don’t think it mattered that Law Director Armstrong was in the same political party as the County Mayor.  I think the Law Director felt he had independence enough to raise those questions because he was elected by the voters of Knox County to be their Law Director.  I am not confident that a different Law Director who was appointed by the County Mayor would always be able to be that independent.

I want a Law Director who gives plain, unvarnished legal advice.  I think the best way to get this is to keep this position accountable to the voters of Knox County.

Campaign Miscellany – Middle Of May Edition

I’ve got a few little blurbs I wanted to get out, so I thought I would just throw them down here.

  • I was really disappointed to see that Knox County Sheriff Spangler renewed the KCSO’s involvement in ICE’s 287(g) program for another year. I strongly believe this program is bad for the country and for Knox County. I’ve posted about this on Facebook a couple of times and wrote on this blog at some length. Ironically, I made that post here on the same day that Sheriff Spangler announced the renewal. I’ll note with interest that last year, Sheriff Spangler signed the renewal on May 14, 2019, but didn’t actually announce it to the public until June 28, 2019 – two days before the agreement was set to expire. This time, at least, he didn’t wait til the last second to announce. Small consolation, though. I’ll repeat here what I’ve said elsewhere. I oppose this program and, if elected, I will work to provide oversight and anything else I can do to help end our county’s involvement with this odious program.
  • Speaking of the 287(g), there was a small protest, followed by a parade of cars on Friday. I went down to the protest site in solidarity with the protestors, but did not take part in the parade of cars. There was some coverage on the local news. You can see those here and here. And if you want more information about the program, go check out AKIN’s website.
  • I had another edition of #indiwalksknox #crocs4knox this morning. We decided to try out IC King park. I missed the entrance on first pass coming north on Alcoa Highway. When we got there, it was clear this part of the park (there’s some mention of trails and a dog park) wasn’t really what the Yellow Lab was looking for. Well, strike that. She would have loved to jump in the water, but it wasn’t super conducive for doing that. I noticed there was a south entrance to the park that was blocked off. Maybe things aren’t entirely opened back up? I’m not ready to write this park off yet, but it didn’t have what I was looking for today. On the other hand, if you’ve got a watercraft of some sort or want to fish off a pier, this might be the place for you.
  • But with a hyperactive lab in the van, I knew I had to go somewhere. I decided to run down to Sequoyah Hills Park. Yeah, I know this is a City administered park, but I had to get the dog out of the van before she blew a gasket. We had a nice 2 mile or so walk and the Lab got to go chase sticks in the water a bit. Dr. Frommeyer is on call today and the 10 year old is with her dad for a week, so it’s just me and the grandmas and the dogs today. It was nice to get out and get some exercise.
  • As of the writing of this, there are 83 days left until election day. And about 63 days left until early voting. It’s coming up quickly!
  • This week, I’ll be doing an online Town Hall with the Knox County Democrats. I’ll make sure to share on social where you can watch. On June 2, there may another big online event that I’ll be involved with. Stay tuned for more on that.
  • Important dates:
    • You can request an absentee ballot from now until 7/30/20
    • Tuesday, July 7, 2020 – Final day to register to vote before election
    • Friday, July 17, 2020 – First day of Early Voting period (Registered voters can vote at ANY Early Voting location)
    • Saturday, August 1, 2020 – Final day of Early Voting period
    • Thursday, August 6, 2020 – Election Day (Registered voters MUST VOTE AT THEIR ASSIGNED PRECINCT)
  • Til next time…

Let The 287(g) Contract Between ICE And The KCSO Expire On June 30, 2020

[UPDATE: Unfortunately, yesterday, May 13, 2020, Sheriff Spangler renewed for another year Knox County’s involvement with the ICE 287(g) program. You can read about it here. This is one of the many areas where Knox County government needs some oversight from County Commission. I am committed to helping to provide that oversight as the Commissioner from District 4. Vote August 6!]

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while. The current Sheriff of Knox County, Tennessee, Tom Spangler, renewed the controversial 287(g) partnership between ICE and Knox County last summer. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the two parties “delegates some federal immigration enforcement powers to local agencies.” In this case, to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO).

There is a local organization which has been fighting the Sheriff’s office on this – Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors (AKIN). A member of the AKIN Steering Committee, Sarah Margaret Hutchison, wrote an op/ed with some interesting facts about this program. She noted that the KCSO is one of only two law enforcement agencies in Tennessee participating in this program. She also pointed out that “jurisdictions participating in 287(g) engage in practices that target Latino residents at higher rates. In Knox County, Latino residents are frequently targeted and arrested on offenses that non-Latino residents receive only citations for.”

Aside from this, the KCSO has been rebuked by the judge in a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office for its lack of cooperation and disclosure of arrest records related to the 287(g) program.

It turns out that you can see a copy of the Memorandum between ICE and the KCSO on the ICE website. I’ve given this 20 page agreement a once over. I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert in immigration law and I’m sure there are lots of details that I don’t know about how this agreement between ICE and the KCSO works. But there are a few things I find interesting in the agreement.

First, in Section V, it talks about Inter-Governmental Service Agreements whereby the KCSO “will continue to detain, for a reimbursable fee, aliens for immigration purposes, if ICE so requests, following completion of the alien’s criminal incarceration.” It appears that the KCSO does have such an agreement. AKIN has a copy of the contract on their website, so we have some details. But, how can we know how whether this fee makes up for the full cost of keeping extra prisoners in our already overcrowded jail? Does it make up for the extra man hours that KCSO officers (who are deputized ICE agents under this agreement) spend dealing with these extra prisoners? ICE doesn’t pay the salaries of KCSO ICE deputized officers. Does that mean they take on extra ICE duties in addition to their regular duties? Do they need to pay overtime to make up for the extra work? Or do they have to hire more officers to make up the slack?

Second, in Section XII it says, “the KCSO will be responsible and bear the costs of participating KCSO personnel with regard to their property or personal expenses incurred by reason of death, injury, or incidents giving rise to liability.” So, if I’m reading that correctly, Knox County is on the hook to be sued and potentially have to pay damages for any negligent or unlawful actions taken by their ICE deputized officers. I note that Nashville had to pay almost $500,000 for their treatment under the 287(g) program of a pregnant woman who was shackled while she gave birth after being arrested under the 287(g) program. Is this really an expense we want to incur on behalf of a federal agency? In general, I question why we’re OK in Knox County with expending the time and resources of our local law enforcement officers to do the job of federal law enforcement.

Third, I’m troubled by the KCSO’s secrecy on this program. It’s clear that Sheriff Spangler signed the extension to the MOA on May 14, 2019. News reports show that the KCSO did not announce the extension until a “news dump” on Friday, June 28, 2019. The Addendum to the MOA extended the term of the agreement until June 30, 2020.

I am opposed to this program for all of the reasons above and so many more. But I’m equally troubled by the lack of transparency by the KCSO in dealing with their involvement with ICE. I assume that the KCSO believes in this program. But they hide and delay and don’t cooperate with requests for information. It’s a bad look for the Sheriff’s office.

Now, in Spring 2020, there’s another reason to be rid of our involvement with the 287(g) program in Knox County. I saw a news item in my email last Friday about how Washington County in Arkansas had suspended their participation in the 287(g) program because of the strain of COVID-19 on the county jail. This is evidently at least the second jurisdiction to halt the program because of the coronavirus. Florida’s Monroe County did the same in April. I understand we have pretty bad overcrowding in our county jail. This fact is made worse (I assume, but don’t know because the KCSO won’t release data) by the number of 287(g) detainees in there. Why do we put our residents in more danger of infection by COVID-19 for the sake of this optional federal program?

The list of reasons to be against the 287(g) program are long:

  • It harms the relationships between law enforcement and minority communities;
  • It leads to increases of racial profiling;
  • It does not improve community safety or prevent crimes from occurring;
  • It leads to more overcrowding in our county jail;
  • It does not save Knox County taxpayers money;
  • It may even cost us more money if you count man hours lost;
  • It means that our local law enforcement is distracted from their local duties in order to perform federal law enforcement duties

The list of reasons to be in favor of the 287(g) program is…incomplete. Since the KCSO won’t provide information to the public and won’t come out publicly to defend the program and refute criticism with actual data, I can’t come up with a single thing to put on the list in favor of this program.

So, here’s my bottom line pledge as a candidate for County Commission. I oppose Knox County’s involvement in the 287(g) program. I believe it is bad for the country and bad for Knox County. I hope that Sheriff Spangler does the right thing and lets the agreement expire without renewal on June 30, 2020. If Sheriff Spangler continues Knox County’s involvement with this program and I am fortunate enough to be elected to the County Commission, I will be a voice and vote for transparency on this program. I will be an ally of AKIN and any other residents of Knox County who oppose this program. I will do everything I can as County Commissioner to end our involvement in the 287(g) program. #end287g #spanglerend287g #knoxvilleunited

Political Action Committees In Knox County Politics

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not taking big money donations and I’m not taking donations from Political Action Committees (PACs). While I’m not really taking any donations to speak of, when I talk of “big money,” I mean the $500 and $1,000 checks that a lot of the candidates for Knox County Commission receive from their donors. In a local race such as mine, the donation per election is $1,600 (the limit for statewide races is higher). Primary and general elections count separately for these purposes.

On the other hand, PACs can donate more per election than can individuals – up to $8,100 per election. When I started this campaign, I was surprised by the number of PACs which donate to candidates for the Commission. Most don’t come close to the limit (with one exception), but there are a fair amount of players. I looked back through the last couple of election cycles and found:

The biggest players in the County Commission races from the above PACs (as best I can tell) are the Building Industry PAC and the Tennessee Realtors PAC. They have given to many of the Commission candidates’ campaigns in the last couple of cycles. The biggest donor in money looks to be the Making a Reasonable Stand PAC, which gave $5,000 each to two different candidates for Commission and to Mayor Jacobs. The Commission candidates won if you were interested. McPAC, Farris Mathews Bobango, PLC PAC and BWSC PAC gave to Mayor Jacobs’ campaign, but not to any of the Commission candidates as far as I can tell.

I’ve written about PACs before. You can read that post here. I’ve also done a couple of interviews with PAC affiliated organizations. I wrote about the interview with the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors here. This organization seems to help direct Tennessee Realtors PAC money to candidates in the Knoxville/Knox County area. I also sat down with the Knox County Education Association, which has given PAC donations in the past. I was looking back in the archive and don’t see where I wrote about that interview. It was a pretty good interview and I think I’m in line with their ideas, but, again, I’m not doing PAC money.

The reason I’m coming back to this is twofold. First, I found out some additional information about the PACs. I probably just didn’t dive deep enough before. And I know more of the players now. But, second, in the latest financial disclosures, I saw that my opponent – Kyle Ward – received his second $250 donation from the Building Industry PAC for the primary election. I previously talked about how the Republicans in my race have gotten a lot of their campaign donations from moneyed interests and people with an interest in the outcome of the development that the Commission often votes on. You can read that here.

Since the Building Industry PAC is back on my radar, I thought it might be worth a little deeper dive to see what they’re about. Based on the data available with a simple search at the Tennessee Online Campaign Finance website, this PAC seems to be an arm of the Home Builders Association of Greater Knoxville (HBAGK). They also seem to have some connection to the Housing Industry PAC in Nashville (based on how much money they send to them). The database has reports from this PAC back to 2004, so they’ve been around a while. They have given donations to plenty of Commissioners and other politicians, including $1,500 to Mayor Jacobs during his 2018 campaign.

As I’ve said before, this stuff is legal. I don’t like it. I’d like to see it change, but this is the system we’ve got. I’m not alleging anything nefarious on the part of Kyle Ward or any other recipients of big money or PAC money in their campaigns. But what this money means is access to the candidate and access to the representative. Or the Commissioner. Or the Mayor. Or the fill in the blank. I saw it in the fact of the interviews I went to with the KAAR and KCEA. I knew I wasn’t taking their money, but that’s not the case for everyone. And, after the election, do the representatives of these PACs get a direct line to you in order to talk about their pet issue? Do you feel like you have to take the call from the guy or gal who wrote you a $1,500 check during your campaign? I think money skews how it works. And the big money donors and the PACs have an agenda. Obviously. Maybe everyone has an agenda. But, if it’s the people with the money that get access to the candidate or the Commissioner, then it’s their agenda that gets heard. That’s not how it should work.

So, here’s MY pitch. I’m not taking big money and I’m not taking PAC money. There is a clear difference between me and my opponent in this regard. YOUR agenda is my agenda. I’m taking a stand against the influence of money in Knox County politics. I’m here for the people of Knox County who can’t afford to write $500 or $1,000 checks to a candidate’s campaign. Remember, the election is August 6. Please vote, even if you’re not voting for me. And stay safe out there!

My Campaign Financial Disclosure – 1st Quarter Report

Even with Covid-19 shutting us down for a while, the requirement to submit financial disclosure reports has not been quarantined. I got my letter around April 6 and sent it off by the end of last week. The deadline was Monday, April 13, 2020 and almost all of the candidates had their reports in on time. I’ve waited to write this post because I wanted to see what other candidates had submitted – in case there was something interesting to report. So, below you’ll find my details for the 1st Quarter report. You can find my previous posts here and here. And since I’m probably the only candidate throwing financials out on the ol’ campaign website like this, you can check out everyone else’s reports at the Election Commission website. This period covers February 23, 2020 to March 31, 2020.

My Donations:

I didn’t receive any donations during the period of this report.

My In-Kind Contributions:

A lot of the spending I did for this report I just ended up paying for, rather than making a contribution to my campaign and having the money come from there. The Facebook ad payments went through PayPal, for example. We also paid cash for the T-shirts and car magnet (thanks to Kreations by Kelly). The campaign buttons were from Speedy Buttons and I bought the postage at the Post Office on Cross Park Drive out here in West Knoxville.

  • Postage – $165
  • T-Shirts/Magnets – $411
  • Campaign Buttons – $67
  • Facebook Ads – $215

My Expenditures:

You can probably say that many of the items in my in-kind contributions count as expenditures. But I figured since I paid for them from my funds, rather than campaign funds, they fit better in the in-kind. The below items, though, came from campaign funds.

  • Envelopes (Envelope Superstore) – $61
  • Postcards and Address labels – $132

I didn’t have any outstanding obligations or loans.

The Summary page shows that I had $436.55 on hand last report. I had disbursements of $193 and that leaves me with $243.55 balance on hand. My in-kind contributions were $858.

Since the time of my last report, we’ve had the primary election and I know who my opponent on August 6, 2020 will be – Kyle Ward.

Mr. Ward took in an additional $1,325 on top of his $14,422 balance on hand, but he spent it all except for about $26. So, based on all of his reports, it appears Mr. Ward raised $30,041 and spent $30,014 in defeating Scott Broyles for the honor of taking on little ol’ me in the general election. He also gave himself a loan of about $3,400 which he paid off at some point during this period. Loan repayments count as part of your disbursements, therefore, the loan repayment is included in the $30,014 I noted that Mr. Ward spent.

As of the writing of this post, Mr. Broyles’ most recent financial disclosure has not been posted at the Election Commission website. In his first two financial disclosures, Mr. Broyles raised about $32,500 and spent about $25,000 in the primary race. I assume these numbers would have been higher counting the funds raised and spent after February 22, which is when the last report before this one ended. Mr. Broyles also gave himself a loan of $5,000, which has not been repaid as of the end of the last statement. [UPDATE: Soon after I posted this, Mr. Broyles 1st Quarter Financial Disclosure was posted to the Election Commission. He had no receipts and spent an additional $3,112. He did not pay his loan off, so the $5,000 loan is still outstanding. He has about $4,200 balance on hand.]

On the other hand, I’ve spent about $2,174 of my own money. No loans. So, I won’t be raising money to pay myself back.

I wanted to point out this disparity in the fundraising and spending to emphasize what I think is a problem in Knox County politics. The two Republicans in my race raised over $60,000 combined for their campaigns. They spent almost that much. And that’s just in the primary election. If you take a look at how they raised the money (and I have), they did it from a relative few donors. The kinds of donors that can write big checks. They gave themselves loans which they can turn around and raise money in order to pay off.

This is the purest example of how money in politics gives certain people access to our elected representatives. But, I’m trying to do it differently. I’m taking a stand against this kind of politics. It’s bad enough that Mayor Jacobs raised over $300,000 and spent over $240,000 in his race to be County Mayor. Or that the spending in the last Tennessee gubernatorial race was in the millions. Or that the next presidential race may top a billion in spending. I feel like in the race for 1 of 11 County Commissioners, we shouldn’t be focusing on how much we can raise and spend.

If you agree with me, I hope you’ll consider giving me your vote on August 6. Early voting runs from July 17 to August 1. If you’re 60 or over and want to avoid the crowds at the polls, you can request an absentee ballot with no excuse and vote by mail. Go to the Election Commission website for more details.

If there is anything I can do to help in these uncertain times, don’t hesitate to reach out via social media, email or give me a call – (865) 850-1894.

Vote By Mail In Tennessee

As a Democrat, I stand for the idea that we should improve our representative democracy. It’s in the name after all. One of the main ways to do this, in my opinion, is to make it easier for citizens to vote. I believe voting should be considered a right, rather than a privilege. I don’t agree with the idea that only certain people should be entitled to vote or that whatever obstacles are put up in the name of eliminating voter fraud are OK, because people should have to put in some effort to get to vote. And this isn’t just a straw man argument. Back in my early arguing on Facebook days in 2015-16, I encountered many people (almost all of whom were Trump supporters) who made these arguments or reasonable facsimiles thereof.

We live in a world of: Voter ID laws (your gun license is an acceptable ID, but not your student ID?); various forms of voter suppression, including some which are specifically and expressly targeted at people of color (I’m looking at you North Carolina); and increasingly sophisticated gerrymandering. As a rule, red states tend to try to make it harder for people to vote and blue states make it easier (although, what’s up New York? Get your act together). Really egregious gerrymandering tends to happen more in red states than blue, but this tactic crosses party lines (I’m looking especially at you Maryland). If you happen to disagree with my characterization of which side engages more in voter suppression and gerrymandering, hit me up on social media and let’s discuss. I can get on board with criticizing the Democratic Party where they fall short in these areas. I just think Republicans do it more.

Tennessee is generally considered a red state. Reliably goes for the Republican nominee in Presidential years. Pockets of blue near the cities, but otherwise fairly red. As far as gerrymandering goes, I think there are issues, but it’s not as bad as in other states. I want to dive into gerrymandering at some point here. Not just as an academic exercise, but because the County Commission will be doing a line drawing exercise in Knox County after the census – in or about 2021. I hope to be on the Commission at that point, so I want to take a harder look at the process to make sure I know how it’s been done in the past and how it ought to be done this time. Stay tuned for that.

Today, though, I want to focus on how Tennessee handles voting. From what I can tell, as far as red states go, Tennessee isn’t terrible. We have some early voting before elections. We don’t seem to be in the headlines, like some other red states, for egregious purges of voting rolls. Voting by mail (absentee voting) isn’t no excuse for everyone, but if you’re 60 or older, it is no excuse. You can see the full list of authorized reasons for voting by mail (absentee) at the Tennessee Secretary of State website. Besides the 60 and over excuse, some other excuses are:

  • the voter will be outside the county of registration during the early voting period and all day on election day
  • the voter’s licensed physician has filed a statement with the Election Commission stating that the voter is medically unable to vote in person.
  • the voter is hospitalized, ill or disabled
  • the voter is a candidate for office in the election, is an election day official or an employee of the election commission.
  • religious grounds
  • member of the military or overseas citizen

It’s interesting to me that, as a candidate, I can request an absentee ballot. I’ll do early voting, I’m sure, but good to know it’s an option.

Since I’m immersed in my campaign, I am acutely aware of the various voting related dates that apply to my general election day (August 6, 2020) and also the national general election day (November 3, 2020). One of the things that I’ll be focusing on in my online campaign is to try to let as many people know if they can vote by mail and when they can request that ballot. The dates are:

  • First day to request an absentee ballot – May 8, 2020
  • Final day to request an absentee ballot – July 30, 2020
  • Early Voting Period – July 17, 2020 – August 1, 2020
  • Election Day – August 6, 2020

The other thing that’s on my mind is how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect people’s ability to cast their votes on August 6 and November 3. In an ideal world, I think Tennessee ought to direct that all registered voters be sent ballots to vote for August 6, 2020 and November 3, 2020. Unfortunately, though, I don’t see that happening. But I hope at least that the state can see a way to make voting by mail (absentee voting) more accessible for anyone who doesn’t otherwise qualify for an absentee ballot, but fears that going to the polls will put their health in danger. It seems like the state could take away the requirement that a licensed physician submit a statement and just state that anyone who fears for their health because of the pandemic can request an absentee ballot. Keep the rest of the process the same (although you might need to modify the absentee ballot request form to include the pandemic as a reason).

Considering the slow response to the crisis by Governor Lee and Mayor Jacobs, I’m not optimistic that the State will take this step. After all, they’re Republicans and they probably adhere to the conventional wisdom on voting, that less restrictive voting procedures make it more likely that Democrats will win. I hope they can see past their partisan bias and enact voting procedures that make it easier for all Tennesseans to vote this year.

A Little About Me – The Intersection of Music and Covid-19

During this time of social distancing because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we still try to keep to some of our normal routines. As much as we can anyway. One of those things for me is getting ready to sing at a wedding in June. Yeah, really. Let me explain.

Over at the ol’ Facebook campaign page, I’ve been doing some additional writing about my views and about me. In one of those posts, I talked about my time in the Navy as a Russian linguist and how, when I was studying Russian in Monterey, I was also in a Russian Choir. You can see the blurb and pics here. I’ve also done some other singing over the years. This includes the fact that I’ve been the lead singer in a few garage/basement bands over the years. The most recent one of those is a group called The White Hot. When I was living in Northern Virginia, I hooked up with some guys and we played around a bit. A few gigs. Mostly learning songs in the basement. After I left Northern Virginia and moved to Knox County, some friends of the band asked if we’d play a wedding. I was already here in Tennessee, but I had reason to go back to Virginia occasionally, so I agreed. The gig (which we played for free) went well. The family had a good time and so did the band.

I thought that might be my swan song on stage, but then, in March 2019, some other friends of the band were scheduling a wedding for June 2020. They had a great time at the other wedding. Would we be willing to play their wedding? After much discussion, we said yes. Fifteen months should be enough time to put together some songs, especially if we relied mostly on the stuff we’ve done before. So, for the last year I’ve been flying into town and practicing with the guys to get ready for this coming wedding. I’ve written here and here about those practices, if you care to get some more details.

But now we’ve got a pandemic that has shut down almost everything. I was going to fly up for a practice in April, but, uh, no thank you. Now, sensibly, the family has put off the wedding from June 20 to August 15. So we’re still a go. At least for now. And that means that I’m still doing my homework on this end, even with the pandemic. We’re a cover band, so I listen to the songs, work on my phrasing, make sure I can still hit the notes. Things like that.

Then last night, I heard the news that Adam Schlesinger had died from complications due to Covid-19. In case you don’t know the name, you might know some of his work. He was one of the members of the band Fountains of Wayne. He was a prolific songwriter. He did a lot of the songwriting on the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He also wrote (or co-wrote) the song, That Thing You Do, from the movie of the same name.

All of the deaths from this pandemic are tragedies. By focusing on the death of this moderately famous songwriter, I don’t mean to diminish any of the other deaths that have occurred or will occur. But this one hit me pretty hard. And for the silliest of reasons. He wrote two of the songs that we play or have played in The White Hot.

Our current setlist includes That Thing You Do…

And we have previously done Stacy’s Mom, by Fountains of Wayne. I’m gonna post a live version here because this is a family friendly blog. If you’re a guy of a certain age, though, you probably know the official music video which includes Rachel Hunter and a lot of pop culture references.

So, since last night, I’ve been checking out songs by him, including the ones we’ve done in the band. There’s lots of good stuff out there.

But, Mr. Schlesinger’s death is probably not going to be the last death from this pandemic that hits close to home for me. And there are many people out there who are losing loved ones or fearing for their own safety or the safety of others. This thing is bad and is probably going to get worse. Please stay safe out there. Listen to what the experts are saying. Let’s do everything we can to save as many lives as possible. This is a time for us all to pull together. Metaphorically, of course. If we meet out at the grocery store, though, don’t be offended if I stay six feet away.

Down at the bottom of the homepage of this blog is all of my personal contact information, including my personal cell phone. If I can help you with anything, don’t hesitate to call me.

Checking Out Knox County Parks #indiwalksknox

Campaigning in the time of Covid-19 requires one to think outside the box. In terms of traditional campaigning (until door knocking can commence), I’ve got some ideas. Stay tuned for more on those in the coming weeks. But, it came to my mind that I previously made a campaign pledge to walk the neighborhoods of District 4 and to bike as many of the neighborhoods and greenways as I can. I think I’m going to add something to that pledge.

My yellow Lab, Indianna, and I will walk around as many of the Knox County Parks as we can. The goal is to get some exercise and get outside. But also, I want to see the state of the Parks system. Maybe highlight places that are hidden gems or in need of some help. I do this with the idea of being more informed about the County I’m trying to represent on the Commission.

I’m going to dive into Knox County administered parks for the most part, but also want to see some of the parks that are in District 4, but administered by the City of Knoxville. For instance, I started this project #indiwalksknox this morning at Lakeshore Park, which is listed among the parks administered by the City and is located in District 4. We did the outer loop (about 2.3 miles according to my Apple watch) at a leisurely pace. It was cool out, but nice for a walk.

You can follow along with our progress on social media – @fro4knox4 on FB/Twitter/Insta. Hope to see you out there!

Yeah, and we named the dog Indianna.