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Investing in the city’s future: preschool and senior center

Yes, Oak Ridge is finally going to have a new preschool and senior center. In the City’s 75th birthday year, the city government is investing for the future.

Council voted last Thursday to award construction contracts for the projects. Work should start in a couple of weeks. The preschool project will include construction of new recreation facilities in Scarboro Park (basketball courts, ball field, tennis court, pavilion and paved walking trails), where the school will be built.

It was a great relief that the construction bids came in below estimates — the projects won’t cost as much as we thought! Next Monday, October 22, we’ll have a special meeting to get the ball rolling on selling bonds for the building projects. (The bond issue is already approved.)

Read about the meeting at Oak Ridge Today or The Oak Ridger, or watch the video on the city website.

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Candidate forums for the city election

There are several upcoming opportunities for Oak Ridgers to meet and hear from candidates for city office.

  • Thursday evening (October 11) at 7 pm, there’s a City Council candidate forum on local cable channel 12 (on Comcast; it may not be available to AT&T customers). The five candidates for 4-year terms on Council have been invited to participate.
  • Tuesday afternoon, October 16, 4-6 pm, is a “Popcorn and Politics” event at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce, where attendees can meet various local candidates.
  • The League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge candidate forum is Tuesday, October 16, at 7:00 p.m. in the Oak Ridge High School Amphitheater, 1450 Oak Ridge Turnpike. The press announcement says that candidates running for Oak Ridge City Council and Oak Ridge Board of Education have been invited to participate, and Darrell Richardson has been invited to moderate. Although one of the candidates for City Council (Derrick Hammond, running for the two-year unexpired term) and all three candidates for the Board of Education are unopposed, because several of these candidates are new to Oak Ridge voters, to become better acquainted with the new candidates and reacquainted with the opinions of incumbents, the League is inviting all candidates to give opening statements, answer questions from the audience and the moderator, and give closing statements.
  • Thursday, October 18, 7-8:30, there’s an informal meet the candidates event at the Oak Ridge Civic Center, sponsored by Democracy for East Tennessee.

I’ll be busy, and I hope to meet some interested citizens!

(p-z)

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Election season 2018 has begun

Yes, it’s another Oak Ridge City election season in Oak Ridge! What with the excitement over the US Supreme Court and our Tennessee elections for Governor, Senate, US House, and state legislature, it feels like few people are paying any attention to the Oak Ridge election. The only race with more candidates than seats is the four-year term on City Council, where five of us are running for four seats. The League of Women Voters has posted a Vote411 candidate comparison page at https://onyourballot.vote411.org/race-detail.do?id=18069787. So far it’s only sparsely populated with content, but you can read my responses to the League’s questions.

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Martin Luther King Day events in Oak Ridge – 2017

Here’s the schedule I received today. Note that one of these events has already passed:

2017 Oak Ridge Celebrations
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday
Monday, January 16, 2017
“A Day On, Not A Day Off”
Schedule of Events

Wednesday, January 11th

10:00 a.m. Department of Energy, ORO, ORAU, 210 Badger Road
ORAU Pollard Technology Conference Center
Guest Speaker: Rev. P. Banneker Hatcherson, Pastor
23rd Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
Sponsor: Black Employment Program

6:00 p.m. Oak Valley Baptist Church, 194 Hampton Road
Dr. King Program and Soul Food Dinner
Guest Speaker: David Anderson, Regional Supervisor, Dept. of Children Services and
President, Anderson County Branch of NAACP
Theme: “Has Dr. King’s Dream become a Reality?”
Sponsor: OVBC Family Life Ministries

Monday, January 16th

8:00a.m. Atomic City Sportsmen’s MLK Breakfast, 194 Hampton Road
(Oak Valley’s Fellowship Hall)
Guest Speaker: Rev. Renee Kessler, Director of Beck Cultural Center
Sponsor: Atomic City Sportsmen

9:45 a.m. The “Community Speaks” Program, 602 Scarboro Road
New Hope Center, (Y-12) Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC.
Guest Speaker: Rev. Linda Wilson Calvert
Theme: “The Strength To Love”
Participants: SECME Inc. /Scholarship Awards/Music/Dance
Sponsors: Xi Iota Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Consolidate Nuclear Security, LLC., Oak Valley Baptist Church, Saint Stephens Episcopal Church

Lunch (New Hope Center Lobby)
Methodist Medical Center/Covenant Health
Desserts: By Church Women United

4:00p.m. MLK Basketball Benefit, Robertsville Middle School, 245 Robertsville Road
Teams: Robertsville Middle School vs. Oliver Springs Middle School
Girls Junior Varsity 4:00 p.m.
Boys Junior Varsity 5:00 p.m.
Girls Varsity 6:00 p.m.
Boys Varsity 7:00 p.m.

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Liquor licensees — changing the rules in the middle of the game?

citysealAt tonight’s City Council meeting some rules got changed in the middle of the game.  That was unsportsmanlike — and it was not business-friendly.

Oak Ridge has an ordinance (dating back nearly 50 years) requiring that owners and operators of retail liquor establishments (liquor stores) must be city residents, unless Council votes to waive the requirement. And Council has routinely waived that residency requirement for everyone who requests a waiver. I’m not aware that anyone was ever denied a waiver — and very few liquor sellers actually live in the city.

Since we don’t require owners of any other type of business to live in the city and since the residency requirement hasn’t been enforced, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to keep it on the books. It’s just one of several antiquated ordinances related to liquor that need to be updated (a topic I’ve discussed with legal staff). But we have to live with it for now.

Tonight Council considered a request for a residency waiver and a “certificate of good moral character” from two young men (I think they are brothers) who purchased a long-operating local liquor store and needed city council approval in order to get a state license. All the usual checking of police records, etc., had been done to verify that they met the legal requirements for “good moral character,”  and one of the young men even told us that they used to live in Oak Ridge and hoped to move back here (from Knox County) after getting into business here.

I expected they would receive the approvals that are routinely granted to liquor license applicants, but it didn’t happen. One Council member said he wanted to support local small business, and he wasn’t sure he likes  the residency requirement, but he would vote against a waiver because he didn’t like the idea of waiving the residency requirement. He said he understood that it had been waived in the past, but he had never voted for a waiver and he didn’t want to start now. Another Council member apparently agreed with him and voted not to grant the waiver. Two “no” votes was enough to defeat the resolution because it needed 4 votes to pass, and there were only 5 Council members voting (Councilwoman Trina Baughn was absent and Mayor Warren Gooch had recused himself due to a possible conflict of interest).

So Council changed the rules in the middle of the game for these young men. And contrary to that Councilman’s recollection, he had voted for waivers previously. As recently as March of this year, he voted “yes” when 6 members of Council voted to waive the residency requirement for 7 applicants for new or renewed licenses. (It’s recorded in the minutes of that meeting.)

So two young men who invested in a local small business and were eager to get started are being told “no” because of Council members who decided to change the rules in the middle of the game. In my book, that’s arbitrary regulation — the exact opposite of “being business-friendly.” I hope that this action doesn’t lead to the closure of the store these young men bought.

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Not a crisis, just a slow news day

Oak Ridge is a place where unusual and interesting things happen. No one knows that better than the area news media who know they can use a ho-hum story from Oak Ridge to create an attention-grabbing headline on a slow news day.

The week after Christmas is slow news time, and Tuesday’s Knoxville top newspaper headline was “Radioactivity lingers at Oak Ridge sewer plant.” A crisis? No! Revelation of an environmental cover-up? Not!

Rather, Frank Munger’s article tells about a situation that has existed for over a year, wasn’t kept secret, isn’t a health threat, and is under control (although it’s not fully resolved yet). It makes a scary headline that helps sell papers and is likely to convince a few people not to move here, but the actual story is pretty dull. And there’s no reason for public concern.

So how did radioactive material get into our city sewers?

It didn’t. This radioactive material isn’t in the city sewer system. It got into the sewer pipes at the former K-25 Site (ETTP). Sewage from the K-25 Site now goes to the City of Oak Ridge’s satellite wastewater treatment plant at Rarity Ridge. DOE’s K-25 site is now one of the City’s sewage treatment customers.

During the ongoing cleanup of the K-25 Site, some radioactive material leaked from the soil into cracks in the old sewer lines under the K-25 Site. (DOE thought they had sealed off the pipes, but subsequent events revealed that the sealing wasn’t 100% effective.)

The radioactive material (the isotope technetium-99) ended up in the Rarity Ridge wastewater plant where it got attached to the solid material in the sewage sludge.

Isn’t radioactive sewage sludge dangerous?

Well, you definitely shouldn’t eat it, but you shouldn’t eat normal sewage sludge either. This isn’t “hot sludge,” contrary to the words a creative headline writer used in a subtitle on Frank Munger’s article. The level of radioactivity is too low to be a danger for workers or the public. But  sewage sludge contaminated with technetium (which has a very long half-life) isn’t allowed in Tennessee landfills.

To comply with the law, for over a year DOE has been hauling Rarity Ridge sewage sludge to Richland, Washington, for disposal — all at DOE expense.

Is Rarity Ridge contaminated?

No. This has absolutely nothing to do with the residential community there — now known as The Preserve at Clinch River.

What is the City doing to put a stop to this?

Um, nothing. Actually, DOE and the City are cooperating, and this is DOE’s problem, not the City’s. DOE is taking full responsibility and is bearing all of the costs. DOE has made changes at ETTP to make sure this won’t happen again, but they haven’t yet succeeded in clearing all of the radioactivity out of the sludge. Until that happens, they’ll continue to take sludge to Washington.

In summary, this has been an annoyance for DOE and for City personnel, but it’s temporary, it’s not a secret, there is no health and safety risk, and there’s no cost for the City of Oak Ridge. Just one of those unusual and interesting stories about Oak Ridge, and it helped fill a newspaper on a slow news day.

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Civic Center recreation facilities to be closed August 1-4

From a City press release:

The Oak Ridge Civic Center Recreation building will be closed Saturday, August 1 through Tuesday, August 4, 2015, for gym floor refinishing. This includes the gymnasium, game room, all meeting rooms and the indoor swimming pool.

The indoor swimming pool will reopen on Wednesday, August 5. The offices, meeting rooms, and game room will reopen Thursday, August 6, at 8:00 am. The gym will remain closed until Monday, August 10.

Visitors to the Civic Center Recreation Building will need to use the main entrance that faces the fountain. Staff will be located at the Scarboro Community Center at (865) 425-3950 and the Oak Ridge Senior Center at (865) 425-3999.

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Not for sale

citysealIt’s rumor control time: The Oak Ridge City Council is not planning to sell the public library or the outdoor swimming pool, and we are not voting next Monday on either of these ideas.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s a little factual information related to this rumor.

  1. City Council meets Monday, July 27, 7 pm in the municipal courtroom to enact a city budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which started on July 1. (This is an important meeting.)
  2. At a Council work session earlier this week, the city manager told City Council that he would like to look into the possibility of hiring a private contractor to manage our public library. This has been done in some communities and reportedly has significantly reduced operating costs, mainly by changing the way new library materials are prepared to be added to the collection. According to the city manager, a contractor that serves many libraries can more efficiently label and catalog new materials, add protective covers, etc., thus greatly reducing “back room” costs — and possibly freeing up some “back room” space in our library for more interesting uses.
  3. The city manager also said that contracting might be a good option for increasing efficiency in operation of the indoor and outdoor swimming pool facilities.
  4. City Council members encouraged the manager to look into these possibilities. No decisions have been made and no vote has been scheduled.
  5. The city manager’s proposed FY16 budget provides full funding for the library and swimming pools as they are currently operated.

As for my opinion on these proposals… I am pleased that the manager is looking into opportunities to improve the efficiency of city government operations. A number of different functions of city government probably could be performed more efficiently by specialized contractors that do the same work for many communities. Contractors may be able to give Oak Ridge the benefit of their experience in other place and they may be able to obtain more competitive pricing and other efficiencies in procurement of products and services. Local government purchasing cooperatives are another option that some communities are using to reduce operating costs — and that our city should explore.

However, there are serious concerns in a contracting arrangement. For starters, local control and autonomy should not be sacrificed, and any cost savings achieved should not come from reducing employee pay or benefits (for both current and future employees).  The city manager says that this has not happened in the places that have brought in library contractors. I’m skeptical, but I’m interested in learning more…

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Looking ahead to the new City Council

citysealIs it three weeks since the election already?!? Yes, it is. I’m elected to Council again, sworn in, and now it seems I am the new Mayor Pro-Tem.

The election results posted by the county election commissions show that a total of 8,966 voters participated in the election in Oak Ridge — well over 40% of the registered voters. Here are the vote tallies, with my calculation of each candidate’s percentage of the voters, and winners marked in bold:
Kelly Callison 4022 44.9%
Rick Chinn 4151 46.3%
Anne Garcia Garland 2620 29.2%
Warren Gooch 4556 50.8%
Gary Love 1494 16.7%
David Mosby 3126 34.9%
Pedro Otaduy 762 8.5%
Aditya “Doc” Savara 1741 19.4%
Ellen Smith 3627 40.5%
Eric Tobler 3115 34.7%

Now we move on to the business of governing. Monday night’s swearing-in was more of a ceremonial occasion than I ever recall in the past, impressively conducted by long-time city judge Bob McNees in his judicial robes.

The vote for Mayor took a lot longer than I had expected, due to an unexpectedly even split of votes among the 4 announced candidates. I congratulate Warren Gooch on his new position as Mayor, and I hope to do a good job as his back-up in the position of Mayor Pro Tem (the Council member who fills in when the Mayor is absent). Thanks to my fellow Council members for entrusting me with that position.

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Special recycling event today (Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014)

Celebrate America Recycles Day — Sponsored by Keep Anderson County Beautiful

Saturday November 8, 2014

10 AM to 2 PM

95 Oak Ridge Turnpike in Oak Ridge (next to Willow Ridge Nursery)

Materials to be Collected for Recycling:
Computers and peripherals (processors (CPUs), optical drives (CDROM, CDRW, DVD, etc), network and communications hardware (modems, routers, hubs, etc), drives (hard drives, floppy), keyboards, laptops, mice, monitors, network hardware (servers), paper tape readers and punchers, plotters, printers, tape

Home Electronics:
No “white goods” (no refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, etc.)

We do accept TV’s (flat panel, plasma,LCD’s etc but NO TV cabinetry), microwaves, mixers, phones (corded, cordless, and cellular), entertainment goods (VCRs, DVD players, radios, speakers.
Please Note: $20 charge for CRT (wide) computer monitors & TVs (because of toxic screen phosphors and lead)

Personal documents for shredding (sponsored by ORNL Federal Credit Union)

Used rechargeable batteries (no alkaline or auto batteries)

Cell phones

Compact fluorescent bulbs (no long tubes)

Books (no textbooks, please!)

Eyeglasses

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