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League of Women Voters

It’s candidate forum season

citysealThere are lots of candidate forums and “meet the candidates” occasions scheduled this year for Oak Ridge City Council and Board of Education elections. All are open to the public, without charge.

  • Wednesday, September 17 – League of Women Voters forum for school board and state candidates (yes, you already missed it!)
  • Thursday, September 25 – League of Women Voters forum for Oak Ridge City Council, 7 pm, Oak Ridge High School amphitheater (upstairs from the lobby)
  • Tuesday, September 30 – Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce forum for City Council candidates, 7:30 am at the Chamber offices (informal meet and greet starts at 7:00 am; light breakfast available)
  • Wednesday, October 1 – PTA/PTO candidate forum for school board, 6:00 pm at Oak Ridge High School amphitheater. Meet and greet starts at 5:30 pm.
  • Thursday, October 2 – Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce forum for school board candidates (see September 30 for time and location, etc.)
  • Wednesday, October 8 – PTA/PTO candidate forum for city council, 6:00 pm at Oak Ridge High School amphitheater. Meet and greet starts at 5:30 pm.
  • Thursday, October 9 – DFET (Democracy for East Tennessee) meet-the-candidates event, 7:00 pm at Oak Ridge Civic Center gym
  • Tuesday, October 14 – Elks Lodge Meet the Candidates Night and forum for City Council, 6:00 pm at Oak Ridge Elks Lodge, 684 Emory Valley Road
  • Thursday, October 16 – Elks Lodge Meet the Candidates Night and forum for School Board, 6:00 pm at Oak Ridge Elks Lodge, 684 Emory Valley Road

Added September 26: There’s also a local League of Women Voters forum about the state constitutional amendment referendum questions on the ballot:

  • Tuesday, October 7, 7 pm, at Pollard Auditorium.

Early voting starts Wednesday, October 15, and runs through Thursday, October 30. Election day is Tuesday, November 4.

Updated October 12 after I discovered that the Elks Lodge is holding two candidate forums.

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Too busy to blog?

Whatever I’ve been up to lately, it’s clear I haven’t been doing much blogging. So what have I been up to? Here’s a partial list.

  • EQAB is about to finalize the first report on Oak Ridge’s progress in implementing the climate action plan and meeting the greenhouse gas reduction goals that City Council adopted in 2009 and 2010. The city and the community are on track to meet the first greenhouse gas goals that we adopted for 2015. That’s good news, but the goals for 2015 were modest ones — baby steps toward what needs to be done over the longer term.
  • I’ve been fretting about events surrounding the May 6 county primary election in Anderson County. The way things used to be, our local newspaper would publish profiles of the competing candidates in local elections — so voters could see a factual  report on who was running (at a minimum, the paper would provide basic facts like name, address, age, and occupation). Apparently those days are over — it looks like our local newspaper is no longer attempting to provide election guides. (I hope I’m wrong on that — but since early voting is almost over, a guide published now would be almost too late.) It used to be that the League of Women Voters would hold campaign forums where people could hear all of the candidates in an impartial setting, but this year one of the county’s political parties decided to schedule its own “forum” the same evening as the LWV’s forum. It used to be that local candidates tried to deliver positive messages about themselves, rather than publishing attacks at their opponents, but this year we’ve even received attack ads from candidates for judgeships. All in all, I think it’s harder than ever for voters to make good, informed decisions about the election.
  • And I joined a volunteer crew that pulled up garlic mustard in the greenbelt behind the Garden Apartments (now known as the Rolling Hills Apartments). Garlic mustard is an introduced plant from Europe that’s an invasive weed in this area — it threatens to out-compete our woodland spring wildflowers. It’s not common around this areas, but there’s a population behind the Garden Apartments, in an area that has a pretty amazing collection of spring wildflowers. After several years of volunteer effort, we just might manage to eradicate this weed.
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How should Oak Ridge deal with homelessness?

Homeless man in Memphis

Homeless man in Memphis

Homelessness is the topic of the Lunch with the League (sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge) on Tuesday, March 5. As I wrote two years ago, there are homeless people here — and by now social service agencies know more about who they are and where they are than they did in 2011. In late January, the 24-hour “Point-in-Time Count” for Anderson County counted 72 people in the county who were “literally” homeless (both “unsheltered” homeless, who might be sleeping outdoors, in cars, in vacant buildings, or in all-night businesses, and “sheltered” homeless who were staying in shelters or supportive housing) and another 68 who were “precariously housed” (otherwise known as “couch homeless”). The homeless count has increased from year to year, probably because local agencies now have a better idea where and how to find the homeless here. I volunteered for this year’s count (because I wanted to learn more about the situation of this population and because I wanted to help) and participated in the midnight to 3 am shift, which looked for unsheltered homeless.

The lack of emergency shelters for the general homeless population in this county reduces the number of homeless here (local people lacking shelter are likely to end up in Knoxville shelters), but the numbers from this annual survey indicate unmet needs. The fact that their needs aren’t being met doesn’t mean they aren’t costing us money — a University of Tennessee study that found that in East Tennessee a chronically homeless person (the survey classified 56 of the Anderson County homeless as “chronically homeless”, based on a federal government definition of that term) costs the rest of us an average of $37,000 annually in costs for drug and alcohol treatment, jail time, emergency room care, and other services.

Mike Dunthorn is Tuesday’s luncheon speaker. His topic is “Solutions to prevent, reduce and end homelessness”. Dunthorn is an Oak Ridge native and ORHS graduate who is Program Manager for homeless service in the City of Knoxville’s Community Development Department, where he has worked since 1999. He was a co-author of the Knoxville-Knox County Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness and is now working on developing a new revised plan. His presentation will focus on the issues confronting the City of Knoxville and efforts being made to address issues of homelessness by providing permanent solutions. He will address the value of partnering with many other organizations in providing assistance to the homeless, and will discuss how Oak Ridge and Anderson County may be able to benefit from some of the lessons learned in Knoxville. I look forward to hearing his perspectives on this topic.

Note: Lunch with the League is a free public event. It starts at noon in the Social Room at the Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church, on the corner of Robertsville Road and Oak Ridge Turnpike.

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“Perfect storm?” – Part 2

An eSlate voting “booth”

Continuing my exploration of the convergence of conditions and events that led to my very poor showing in the recent Oak Ridge city election… In the first installment, I mused about the dramatic increase in voter participation compared to past city elections, my notion that this expanded voter pool had a lot to do with the election results, the possible role of the new eSlate voting machines in inducing people to vote on ballot items that they hadn’t expected or prepared to vote on, and  the shift from a pro-incumbent to an anti-incumbent bias that may have accompanied the expansion in the pool of voters participating in city elections. This installment continues my speculative consideration of the question of how these new (or infrequent) city-election voters chose who to vote for.

Declining influence of traditional media. The years of my engagement with Oak Ridge city government (which began in approximately 1991) have seen dramatic changes in the news media. Traditional media (that is, newspapers) no longer reach very many people and no longer are able to provide nearly as much information. While new media outlets have appeared and have changed the way people interact with information resources, the new media haven’t c0me close to filling the gaps left by the decline of their more traditional predecessors.

When I first served on the Environmental Quality Advisory Board (EQAB), most households in the city received and read The Oak Ridger daily newspaper. The paper had a full staff of reporters who provided extensive coverage of city government activities and affairs. As an example, a reporter almost always attended EQAB’s evening meetings — and the next day’s paper carried a fairly comprehensive report on what had been said and done at the meeting. In that era, it was fairly easy for citizens to keep up with the activities of local government. We may not have understood the specifics of the issues or known the personalities of city officials, but we had an overview of what was being done by elected officials and appointed boards.

If Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep in Oak Ridge 20 years ago and woke up today, he wouldn’t recognize today’s information landscape. The Oak Ridger is still publishing 5 days a week, but its circulation is way down. The many people who don’t read the print edition don’t see it elsewhere, as most of its content is no longer available online, even to subscribers (something that bugs me when I’m out of town!). Only a skeletal news staff remains, with barely enough time and space to cover some of the actions by City Council and occasionally some city boards. The Knoxville News Sentinel reaches fewer people in Oak Ridge, but sometimes equals or exceeds the local daily in the scope of its coverage of Oak Ridge city government. Several years ago, the weekly Oak Ridge Observer joined the daily as a local print outlet; its readership has a big overlap with the daily’s, and because of its distribution methods it reaches some people who don’t ever see the daily, but it’s also limited in its circulation and its capacity to cover the news. The online Oak Ridge Today is a new addition to the scene that typically is more timely than the print media, but also has significant limitations in capacity — and it reaches only some of the regular Internet users in Oak Ridge (which is not nearly everybody).

When I was campaigning this year, a large fraction of the citizens who indicated an interest and awareness in city government said they got most of their information about City Council from watching our meetings on cable channel 12. Those people may know about as much about the goings-on of city government  as regular readers of the Oak Ridger did two decades ago (and they know more about the personalities of individual Council members), but not nearly everyone finds City Council meetings sufficiently interesting to watch them on TV regularly. Social media, including online forums, Facebook, and blogs (like this one), have been playing a role in informing some people about local government actions and officials, but their reach is also very limited — and the content often lacks journalistic objectivity.

Not only do the local news outlets have diminished readership, but they’ve greatly reduced their coverage of local elections. This year, no media outlet asked me for the kinds of very basic information they used to publish in comparative guides to the candidates — details like age, address, employment, and marital status. In another contrast with several past city elections, this year there were no candidate interviews broadcast on cable channel 12 – presumably the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored these in the past, no longer has sufficient funds for this sort of thing. All of the print and online media outlets published candidates campaign announcements, although I was disappointed that it took a few weeks for my announcement to show up in The Oak Ridger. The only one of the three local papers to attempt its own “compare the candidates” coverage this year was The Oak Ridge Observer, which printed candidates’ 75-word responses to a series of weekly questions. All three of the local news outlets published at least one report on the candidate forums held by the League of Women Voters and the Chamber, but coverage of the forums consisted largely of selected quotations – far less than the comprehensive comparisons I recall from past years.

With traditional news media reaching fewer people with less information, it’s not obvious to me where the many voters who apparently don’t follow local media get their information. The Internet has become a tremendous resource for candidate research for people who have access and are familiar with using the Internet, but not everyone has access – and it was clear from my conversations with voters that many did not have enough interest in the city election to go to the trouble of looking up candidates on the Internet. As a candidate this year, I ran ads in the daily, weekly, and online papers, in spite of a little voice in my head that told me that their readerships overlap a lot, so my multiple ads would reach a limited audience. I’m still curious to learn about the information sources that were used by people who don’t normally follow local government or media, but did vote in the City Council election.

The summer 2012 special election. One unanticipated effect of changing city elections to November of even-numbered years (please note that City Council neither proposed nor endorsed that charter change — it was proposed by an elected charter commission and approved by referendum) was that the special election for the unexpired term created by Tom Hayes’ resignation in summer 2011 had to be held  just 3 months before the regular election for that same seat. It seems to me that the special election on August 2 had an unanticipated impact on the November 6 election.

In the past, a special election wouldn’t have occurred so close to the regular city election. The charter says that when a vacancy occurs, it should be filled temporarily by appointment  until a special election can be held on the next regular election date. When city elections were in June of odd-numbered years, any special election to fill a vacancy could happen at the next city election in June (giving the winner the two remaining years of a 4-year term) or  in August or November of an even-numbered year (in which case the winner would serve at least 7 or 10 months, until the next June election). Under the new arrangement, the only possible election dates are August and November, so the most likely time for any special election will be the August primary (and county general) election that is held 3 months before the city election in November.

The two candidates in the August election, Chuck Hope and Trina Baughn, both began campaigning in the spring. Trina formally announced her candidacy in March, and Chuck’s interest in being elected to the seat had been clear ever since he was appointed to the seat in the summer of 2011. In the spring they began a grueling 6 or 7 months of campaigning, including lots of door-to-door work during the spring months and those long days of June. State candidates who expected to be on the November ballot, such as Jim Hackworth and John Ragan, also started getting busy during that period. Around the time in June when campaign signs started appearing in advance of early voting in July, people asked me: “Aren’t you up for re-election this year? Why aren’t you out campaigning?” My answer was that I was running, but I couldn’t start campaigning due to the awkward situation created by the special election. The focus for city election voters at that time was on choosing between the two candidates who were competing for the one seat on the summer primary ballot. It would have been seriously confusing for the other November candidates (Charlie Hensley, Kelly Callison, and I) to introduce ourselves to voters and try to explain that we weren’t up in this next election, but wanted their vote in the one after that, when the very same two people they were now considering would be on the ballot again for the very same office. As a result, Charlie and Kelly and I had a short campaign season, starting in August.

Looking back on the earlier part of the summer, it dawns on me that while Charlie, Kelly and I were impatiently sitting on our hands, the special election and Chuck and Trina were getting more attention from local news media (and one more League of Women Voters forum) than the fall election for city council ended up receiving. Additionally, with just two candidates, there was more individual focus on each of them as individuals than when there were five of us running for City Council (and when both voters and the news media seemed to be more interested in the presidential election).

It seems likely that the exposure they received in the summer campaign had a lot to do with why Chuck and Trina polled so exceptionally well (placing first and second) in the November election. I think they both recognize this. For example, in Oak Ridge Today‘s its first report on the November results, there is a statement that “Baughn and Hope both said the August special election helped prepare them for Tuesday’s municipal election.” Kelly Callison also told one of the local news outlets that he thought that he would have done better in November if he had run in August. There’s no doubt that Chuck and Trina worked hard to earn the votes they got, but I see two things that “ain’t right” with the election schedule they faced. Firstly, it’s rough on candidates to run for the same office twice in 3 months. and secondly, it doesn’t seem like a “good government” plan to hold what is essentially a “pre-election” for City Council (similar to a primary) that is open to only some of the candidates.

That’s the end of Part 2. See the upcoming Part 3, covering the ballot order effect and other topics.

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It’s campaign forum season! Here’s a schedule…

Campaign forum season starts Tuesday, October 2 with the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge forum for City Council and school board, 7 pm at the amphitheater classroom in Oak Ridge High School. Candidates will speak briefly and field questions, with LWV volunteers enforcing limits intended to keep things fair for all.

Thursday, October 4, 7 pm – LWV Forum for 3rd District Congressional and state legislature candidates (Anderson and Roane County districts), same time and place.

Tuesday, October 9, 7:30 am – Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce candidate forum at the Chamber — for City Council and School Board.

Tuesday, October 9, 7 pm – Democracy for East Tennessee candidate forum, Oak Ridge Civic Center rooms A & B. This forum is less formal than the others. After introductions, people can talk with candidates one on one.

Monday, October 15, 7 pm – Elks Lodges Candidates Night at the Elks Lodge on Emory Valley Road.

Added October 7:

Monday, October 15 at 4 pm, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce forum for candidates for State House Districts 32 & 33.

Thursday, October 18, 5:30 pm, Candidate meet and greet for City Council and School Board, clubhouse at the Preserve at Clinch River (formerly Rarity Ridge)

All of these events are open to the public.

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International Women’s Day Forum at Roane State Oak Ridge

This is a really impressive program line-up.

International Women’s Day Forum
Prepared Girls – Powerful Women
Friday, March 9, 2012
12:00 PM (Registration) to 4:30 PM
at the
Oak Ridge Campus
Roane State Community College

The forum is FREE.
Refreshments will be provided.
FREE parking is available in front of the facility.

Speakers:

  • Power and Priorities, Lori Tucker, News Anchor, WATE-TV
  • Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking: The Unimaginable Physical and Emotional Toll on Women and Girls, Silvia Calzadilla, Community Coalition against Human Trafficking
  • How Have We Gotten Here?!? The History and Politics of Women’s Reproductive Health Care, Corinne Rovetti, Family Nurse Practitioner, Co-Director Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health
  • Immigration: A Women’s Rights Issue, Meghan Conley, PhD candidate, UT Department of Sociology
  • Healthy Women, Healthy Children: Mental Illness and Substance Abuse, Freddie Nechtow, MS, Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Provider and Rachel Cooper-Ross, MS, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Ridgeview
  • International Women’s Day 2012: The View from East Tennessee, Fran Ansley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, UT College of Law

Sponsors are Women’s Interfaith Dialogue Group, AAUW Oak Ridge Branch, League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge, and Altrusa International of Oak Ridge.

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One mystery solved

Now I know why Bethel Valley Road was blocked last Tuesday when I was trying to drive into Oak Ridge from my office to attend the League of Women Voters luncheon. From Frank Munger’s blog, I learned that the two military helicopters that flew in low over my head and landed somewhere ahead of me were ferrying some top military brass to ORNL for a briefing.

I eventually made it to the LWV luncheon (late) by turning around and driving the “back way” into Oak Ridge, and heard Steve Stow (a former colleague) at ORNL discuss long-term stewardship for the “environmental legacy” conditions on the Oak Ridge Reservation. Having been engaged with the topic  of stewardship for a number of years, I’m glad I managed to get there (in spite of the helicopters), as it reminded me of a number of unresolved issues and I got to hear people’s questions and comments.

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The League of Women Voters is busy this summer

Phew! The Oak Ridge League of Women Voters will be busy this summer, holding a bunch of candidate forums before early voting starts on July 16 — plus a public forum to meet the finalists for the position of Oak Ridge city manager. Here’s the schedule:

June 22 – Roane County Forum
Candidates for County offices
Oak Ridge area County Commission, School Board members
Rarity Ridge Wellness Center, 7:00 pm

Directions from Oak Ridge: Go west on Oak Ridge Turnpike (TN 95S) to Guard Gates (at Westover Drive). Follow TN 95 for 3.3 miles; go straight on TN 58S toward Kingston for 3.9 miles (past the Heritage Center and across Gallaher Bridge). Turn right at Rarity Ridge onto Broadberry Ave. Go 1.0 mile to Rarity Ridge Information Center sign; turn left into parking lot. The forum is in the Wellness Center building, with additional parking in the rear of the building.

June 28 – Join the Oak Ridge City Council for City Manager Candidates Forum and Reception
Pollard Auditorium, 5:30 – 7:30 pm

July 8 – Third Congressional District Forum
Candidates in Democratic and Republican Primaries
Pollard Auditorium, 7:00 pm
(Cosponsored by OR Chamber of Commerce)

July 13 – Anderson County Forum #1
County Mayor, Trustee, Juvenile Judge, Sheriff, Circuit Court Clerk, County Clerk,
Registrar of Deeds, Road Superintendent
Oak Ridge Room (A 111), Roane State Community College, 7:00 pm

July 15 – Anderson County Candidate Forum #2
All County Commission Districts in Oak Ridge (6,7,8)
Anderson County School Board (Districts 6,7)
Civic Center Rooms A & B, 7:00 pm

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