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Live blogging the May 16th City Council special called meeting

The special meeting is about proposed amendments to the city budget for FY 2014, which starts July 1, 2013. The agenda for the meeting, plus backup material about staff analysis of the different proposals by council members, is online on the City of Oak Ridge website. Mayor Tom Beehan has asked to have discussion of the ideas before motions are introduced. Other council members are asking to discuss the budget-cutting items before the items that would add to the budget. 5:23 PM

Trina Baughn says her goal is to reduce the property tax rate by 5 to 10 cents. (The total tax rate currently is $2.39, per $100 of assessed value. Single-family residences, farmland, and forest are assessed at 25% of appraised value; commercial and industrial property is assessed at 40% of appraised value. She wants other Council members to state their goals up-front, too. 5:28 PM

City manager Mark Watson said that the last 3 years have seen a lot of shuffling of personnel in the city organization, during which time the city has maintained the same tax rate. He’s been wanting to keep the tax rate level. He hears in the community that people like the way things are going and think they get a pretty good bang for their buck in city government. Good things that are happening include 20% reduction in crime, the upcoming dog park, new roof at Woodland School, traffic improvements paid for by red-light camera money, etc. Finance director is concerned about not reducing reserves. 5:33 PM

Mayor Tom Beehan says people are happy with the services they receive. He doesn’t want to cut services or raise taxes. Cutting services or raising taxes would send the wrong message to people who are considering moving here. 5:35 PM

Anne Garcia Garland says our tax rate isn’t a problem. It’s not egregious. It’s not a burden on most people. It’s lower than a lot of rates in other parts of the country. City manager has been making some significant changes, trying different things, and we need to give that process a chance. He’s proposed some changes in his proposed budget. We’re looking forward to growth there. There are setbacks now due to the federal government, but this is the wrong time to be making cuts. Focus on how the city’s organizations and services are managed, not on cutting what we spend. Keeping our tax rate level for several years has meant that we are cutting things every year because the budget isn’t keeping up with inflation. 5:39 PM

Trina Baughn says that she was elected based on a campaign to make Oak Ridge financially competitive. We are losing ground to the communities around us. Our competitors aren’t New York and California, but the communities around us. Says there was a $6 million surplus last year and that this is money to achieve our goals. Says city spend $31 million on economic development since 2002. Spent money earlier to build a golf course the people didn’t want, and we can’t sell it for what we owe on it. Our citizens have sacrificed tremendously to stay here. People tell her that if things don’t turn around, they’re gone. 5:42 PM

Chuck Hope says his views differ from some others. He’s been here since the early 1970s and the city has been good to him and his family. His suggestions this year are to support some of our city manager’s proposed new initiatives. He’s proposed a trifecta approach to economic development. We’re seeing some new projects, some on the drawing board and some coming to fruition. If we don’t put resources into economic development, we’ll be stuck before we get off the ground. If we’re going to try a trifecta approach, it needs to be funded. Recent efforts have been very successful for retail and restaurants. Want to see the Chamber of Commerce continue to adapt and change their role. We’re in competition with our surrounding communities that are also trying to bring retail and economic development to their communities, too. A lot of good things happen in this community. DOE complex is the economic driver of our region. We need to do everything we can to make that work. Also talked on Monday about maintenance and operation. As a car mechanic, he knows the importance of maintenance. We try to get the most out of our facilities. Without maintenance, they will break down, and it’s always more expensive to fix after they break down. We can’t extend the life of our equipment forever. Nobody wants a 23-year-old fire truck to break down when it’s on the way to their house. If we stop now, we’ll fall on our face. 5:48 PM

Jane Miller says everyone here was elected to watch over the city’s money. She agrees with the mayor that we shouldn’t cut the property tax. She has made two proposals to reduce budget, for just one year: reduce staff through attrition and reduce travel/training by 36% for all components other than police and fire. Agrees with Chuck Hope about funding the Chamber. Need strong business community and strong relationship between city and business community. Make the best of the Uranium Processing Facility project. Agree with Chuck Hope that we need maintenance, for example, repair of potholes. Personnel freezes are used by the private sector. Not asking for layoffs/furloughs. Reduction is travel is also a best practice. Save money by these cuts to pay for the projects that she and Councilman Hope support. 5:52 PM

Charlie Hensley says his goal is to maintain city services. Finance director has said that the city needs to get through this difficult year. He doesn’t want to be the cheapest city in Tennessee. Increase in taxes is not appropriate in our current economy. Need to increase security in the schools; could use the redlight camera money for the $300K/year needed for 3 more school resource officers. Maintain parks, add 8th lane to the rowing facility, other good items. Develop the center city and protect our open space and parks. Protect the library. A lot of elder citizens in our community use it. Look at how many high school students are in the library every day. It’s important to homeschoolers, too. If we don’t grow the center city, if we don’t put resources into economic development, we won’t be able to protect our other sources. Right now, DOE is an economic driver for the region, not for the city. If we get the right results with UPF, it will pay off later in other opportunities related to the nuclear industry and other things. 5:57 PM

David Mosby says that others have taken all the thunder already. It’s not an issue of competitiveness. It’s not about protecting the library. It seems like we’ve lost our way. We hire a city manager to manage the city day to day and present a budget. He’s done that. If Council changes the manager’s budget, it undermines the manager. Agree with Chuck Hope that Council should have acted several months ago to communicate goals to the city manager. The proposals being presented right now are too detailed. Let’s focus on giving the manager policy guidance for his next budget. Don’t second-guess him at this late stage. Every decision we make right now has an equal and opposite impact somewhere else. We’re focusing on our pet ideas, not on the big picture. Give the manager policies and direction. 6:01 PM

Mayor Beehan says that public will have a chance to comment, but not right now. He suggests that Council follow the order of items on the agenda. Try to talk through them first, one at a time, before introducing motions. 6:03 PM

Tom Beehan sees four separate issues in Chuck Hope’s proposal: $75,000 for Chamber of Commerce, $125,000 for economic development contingency fund, $250,000 for capital maintenance fund, and $50,000 for drawings for a new fire station (to move the east side station to Melton Lake Drive to provide better coverage of the Park Meade area). 6:07 PM

Chuck Hope made a motion. Mark Watson says the economic development items cost $200,000 total. This money would need to come from city reserves. Have encumbered $125,000 for the Chamber, plus a $25,000(?) set-aside for possible economic development opportunities that come. Also give funding for Small Business Development Center. 6:09 PM

Chuck Hope: The current proposed funding for the Chamber doesn’t cover their personnel costs. Since that proposal was made, city established the “trifecta” of the Chamber, Ray Evans, and Steve Jones, each working on different parts of economic development. Resources provided are too low to make this trifecta approach work. The $125,000 that he proposes setting aside for contingency is only to be spent if opportunities develop. Doesn’t mean we have to spend it. Doesn’t mean we need to spend it all on one project. 6:13 PM

Trina Baughn quotes annual expenditures of $2 million to $3+ million for economic development in years past. [Ellen says: I don’t know where her numbers come from. Expenditures haven’t been nearly that high.] Other cities don’t pay for their chambers of commerce. Chamber takes credit for Kroger Marketplace, but Kroger was already here. Can’t support funding the Chamber at such an extravagant level. 6:15 PM

Anne G.G. says she likes the Chamber, but there’s an inherent conflict of interest in having a Chamber of Commerce perform a city’s economic development. 6:16 PM

Chuck Hope says that Trina’s numbers for economic development are wrong. This was money in the economic diversification budget, but it didn’t flow through the Chamber. Chamber has had discussions about the inherent conflicts of doing economic development the City under contract. If we were to develop a city department to do this work, it could not be done over a one year period; it would take more time. We are using the resources of another organization to develop this area. 6:19 PM

Jane Miller says that people need to recognize the role of the Chamber in projects like Panera and Aubrey’s. Business is a powerful force in the city and we need that community. Open Meetings law would prevent city from being effective in recruiting business. [I think she means open records law.] Tom Beehan says a strong relationship with business community through the Chamber of Commerce is important. We’re not talking about cutting the relationship, just the amount of money that’s sent to them to do their work. This is not an issue about the Chamber and the work they do; it’s about the amount of money provided. 6:23 PM

Anne Garcia Garland wants the city attorney to speak to the question of public records. City Attorney Ken Krushenski says that conversations aren’t subject to open records law; it’s only records that are subject to disclosure. Anne G.G. says she has understood that any information she gets orally as a Council member should be public; Ken Krushenski says that’s not true, that only records need to be disclosed. 6:26 PM

Comments by David Mosby and Mark Watson about the fact that the city is coming to the end of a 3-year contract with the Chamber. David Mosby wants to know if Chuck Hope’s proposal is really just a one-year proposal, or if it would apply to both years of the proposed two-year contract with the Chamber. Asks if the contingency funding for economic development would be earmarked for the Chamber, or if it could be used for other opportunities that Steve Jones and Ray Evans identify. 6:28 PM

[I’ve never done this before. I now understand why live blogs generally must be “read up”. This is because the software takes me to the top of the page every time I save!]

David Mosby proposes adding $50K to the Chamber contract in the proposed budget, but not funding the other economic development items in Chuck Hope’s proposal. His motion hasn’t gotten a second yet. 6:32 PM

David says this is a transitional proposal. Over time we need to do things better. He wants it to be clear that the city wants a strong relationship with the Chamber. This is a show of support for their efforts. 6:34 PM

Tom Beehan saw the economic development contingency fund being under the city manager’s control, not the Chamber’s control. David had a different understanding. 6:35 PM

David clarifies that his proposal would take Chuck Hope’s $75,000 down to $50,000 and eliminate the $125,000, so it would increase economic development by $50,000, instead of the $200,000 in Chuck’s proposal. 6:38 PM

Chuck’s motion is still on the floor. It would add $75,000 to the Chamber’s allocation and would give the city an additional reserve of $125,000 for economic development opportunities that come up. He anticipates that City Council would have to vote to spend that reserve money. 6:41 PM

Apparently Chuck Hope seconded David Mosby’s amendment, so it’s the item on the floor. Anne Garcia Garland says she supports the manager’s budget proposal for economic development, and she supports his overall budget proposal as a plan to get the city through a tight year. 6:43 PM

Public comment on this item: Andy Marathe says before you vote on the nickel and dime, the 7 members of Council need to reach agreement on goals.

Vote on the amendment: Passes 4 to 3 (Baughn, Beehan, and Garcia Garland opposed). 6:46 PM

Public comment on main motion: Andrew Howe says city shouldn’t be funding a chamber of commerce or economic development in general. City should fund schools, emergency services, etc., but let the free market work things out. Kroger Marketplace must have had city action behind the scenes to make it work. Sees that there is money laundering going on. Thinks that the city is in the red (apparently referring to the city’s long-term debt, which is actually for capital items such as schools and which is roughly equal to the city’s total annual budget).

Charlie Hensley objects to the suggestion that something was done behind the scenes for Kroger. Howe says he has no actual evidence. This is just what he assumes when $5 million is spent.

David Bradshaw, speaking as the public, says the Chamber proposed the contingency fund for the community’s economic development needs. It’s not for the chamber. 6:51 PM

Public comment: Mike Massey says community development is typically another eatery and typically gets a tax abatement and that the business has declined or goes away by the time the abatement expires. This isn’t good use of city money.

Martha Fowler suspects that the horse has left the barn on this budget and it’s not a good idea to amend it tonight. But she’s impressed with Trina’s figures and her comparisons with Farragut and Lenoir City, both of which are booming economically. We should study those cities and find out what they are doing right, and try to follow their example. [My note: Both of those cities are on an Interstate highway. Oak Ridge is not.] 6:54 PM

Vote on the motion on the floor, after clarifying: Passes 4 to 3. Hensley, Hope, Miller and Mosby in favor. 6:55 PM; time for a break in the meeting.

Reconvened at 7:05 PM. Chuck Hope’s next item is a proposal to increase capital maintenance by $250,000. Manager’s budget reduces the total cap maintenance budget for city and schools to $250,000 each. These facilities are under a lot of stress and costing us in utilities. Don’t want things to break down. Add $250,000 to be split between the city and the schools. Motion seconded by Charlie Hensley. 7:07 PM

Mark Watson refers to memo from Janice McGinnis, city finance director. Reserves shouldn’t be used for capital maintenance. Could use the traffic camera money, which previously has been allocated only for safety-related expenditures. Schools are proposing to use their $250,000 in capital maintenance money for roof at Blankenship Field, HVAC at an elementary school, card readers for schools, other items. He doesn’t think that they are using the money for the kinds of building maintenance needs that the city thinks the money should be used for. Council might want to consider restricting the use of money allocated to the schools. 7:11 PM

Jane Miller thought this money was for things like roads. Didn’t know it was to be shared with the schools. This is a good idea, though. We have a beautiful city; would hate to see our infrastructure falling down around us.

Mark Watson clarification: This money isn’t allocated for specific projects. Generally rely on Pat Fallon to advise on the greatest facilities needs in the organization. These are small projects that don’t go to Planning Commission for review as part of the Capital Improvements Program. 7:14 PM

Watson says that Council could direct allocation of an amount from the traffic camera revenue to be used for capital projects upon specific approval by City Council. Tom Beehan: If we allocate this, it needs to be managed by city administration to have control of priorities. 7:15 PM

Anne Garcia Garland says “If we designate it, they will spend it.” Would prefer to wait for specific proposals to consider when needs are identified. Chuck Hope says he intended this money for facility maintenance, not for enhancements like the ones that the schools apparently are proposing. If we add this money, it should be restricted specifically for actual maintenance. Amending his motion, with second from Hensley. Beehan asks for a motion to amend the motion to say that this money should come from red-light camera funds. Motion was made and seconded. Trina Baughn opposes this because it was promised when the cameras were acquired that they would be used only for safety-related projects. She hopes to make the cameras go away by improvements to the city.

David Mullins (public): If money could be taken from reserves for economic development, why not take this money from reserves, too? Staff had no problem with taking $200,000 from reserves for econ development, so why not take money from that source for economic development?

Trina Baughn: There is $750,000 available to be spent from reserves.

Beehan asked if red-light money was used for Woodland School roof. Watson says it was not.

Watson is concerned about spending from reserves.

Amendment to spend money from red-light funds passes 5-2 (Baughn and Garcia Garland opposed). 7:23 PM

On to main motion. David Mosby looked at the proposals offered. He thinks there’s about $50K that could be recovered from other sources. Recently an unexpected maintenance activity was addressed by Council when it came up. He doesn’t support the proposal to add budget for unexpected unidentified maintenance items. Vote on motion: Fails 4-3. (Hensley, Hope and Miller in favor, others opposed.) 7:25 PM

Hope’s next proposal is $50K addition to pay for planning a new fire station on Melton Lake Drive to be closer to southeastern part of city that is beyond the 5-mile range and where people are getting increases in fire insurance rates. Anne Garcia Garland wants Fire Department to tell its perspective on the topic. Deputy Chief David Harrington says there have been 3 structure fires in that area in 8 years. All were highly successful w/r/t fire suppression efforts. 7:27 PM

Tom Beehan says he was in insurance business for many years. Many companies no longer use the ISO ratings that used to determine insurance rates. Now they use a lot more data. Distance to a fire station is no longer important, but having a professional fire department (as we do) is significant. How much are people really getting as increases? How real are those numbers people provide? There are many companies here with different rates. How much future cost will city commit to if it undertakes a million-dollar-plus project to move a fire station? How much do we spend to lower unknown insurance rates for unknown people from an unknown insurance company? Charlie Hensley says that data from fire department shows a 2-to-3-fold increase in rate in going from an ISO 5 rating to an ISO 10. He thinks that $50k for engineering is a prudent expenditure. Beehan says it’s a lot of money in this year’s tight budget. Trina Baughn wants to know how many other fires the city gets. Answer from Harrington is 30 to 40 fires annually, on average, city-wide. He says cemesto houses were built to withstand fires. Many of the newer homes were built a lot cheaper. Smoke detectors do work most of the time, but newer houses built with synthetic material burn hotter and faster than older houses did. City has been fortunate that these homes have good wiring. Two of the fires there started as lightning strikes, homes might not have been saved if the homeowners hadn’t been at home. Trina Baughn asked how many bills city officials have seen to verify the higher rates. Harrington says his ISO data was assembled quickly last night. He hasn’t had time to verify anything. Watson says that this illustrates the deficiencies of reacting so quickly to these budget proposals. He lives in the area that has longer response times; he wasn’t aware of that until this came up. Now that the ETTP fire station situation has been resolved, it may be time for the fire department to consider new directions for east-side fire protection, in discussions and planning. The issue is that Parcel A is outside the fire radius. Trina Baughn is concerned that moving the fire station away from Oak Ridge Turnpike could put closely spaced homes in the northeast quadrant at greater risk. In response to question from Mosby, Chuck Hope says he thinks this is timely to consider because there are some pending upgrade needs at the east side fire station. Mosby notes that nothing has changed; this same situation existed when the Parcel A houses were built. Garcia Garland: This is an issue already being considered by fire department. It’s precipitous for Council to address this until the fire department has had a chance to develop a proposal and bring it forward. Hensley says that the studies would indicate need; Mosby says pre-engineering doesn’t make sense until you have some siting studies; Hensley says that Chief Kerley has looked at possible sites already. Watson says that a new southeast fire station was in the CIP in the past, but was taken out. A lot of legwork is needed regarding the rates and current situation before spending money on this. Garcia Garland says “we’re jumping the gun”. Beehan says if you want to use insurance rates, you need to go to the Insurance Commission to get solid data on rates, but that service to the community should be the main consideration. 7:45 PM

Hope motion to add $50K for the fire station engineering study; Hensley seconded. Mosby amendment, seconded by Garcia Garland, to (instead) make this a planning goal for staff in the year’s plan.

Jeff Collins (citizen) says residents were aware of the fire situation before they built. Building a new fire station for 170 homes would be a waste.

Vote on Mosby’s amendment is 5-2; with Baughn and Miller opposed. Vote on main motion, as amended, to not spend money but put this in staff goals for year. Passes 6-1, with Baughn opposed. 7:50 PM

Next item is Miller-Baughn proposal to cut staffing this year via attrition. Miller expects this (not filling 3 vacated positions) to save about $260,000. Says this is a best practice in government and private sector. Watson says city has ~350 employees. Anne Garcia Garland says this proposal is not a budget amendment, but a policy direction. Ken Krushenski ssys that Council needs to remember that the EPA wastewater mandate requires hiring some additional
people this year. Anne G.G. says this meeting was advertised as a budget meeting and should not include consideration of personnel policy changes. Watson says question of how to handle attrition is normally handled on an individual basis when a staff member leaves or retires. Decision can be made not to fill a particular position; may reassign duties or reshuffle instead of replacing a departing staff member. It’s a very fluid situation. Leaving a position open for a couple months is a tool they can use to save money through the year. 7:57 PM

Jane Miller says: “All I ask is that you look at those positions.” Consider incentives to encourage high-paid people to retire, so they can be replaced by someone at a lower salary. 7:59 PM

Trina Baughn is concerned that no source has been identified for the $50K in extra funding allocated to the Chamber of Commerce earlier. Watson says expectation was that it could come from general fund reserves. 8:00 PM

Trina Baughn says no one but her is committed to returning some budget savings to the taxpayers via reduced tax rates. Her intent was to return money to the citizens. She is withdrawing all of her previous motions and will not seek further reductions. 8:02 PM

Charlie Hensley wants to ensure that police stay at full force and wants city police to get certification. Doesn’t want attrition to reduce the department strength. Beehan points out that the Miller-Baughn proposal would not affect police and fire personnel. 8:04 PM

Mosby asks if this is intended to be a freeze applying to 2013 levels or 2014 levels. Beehan says that this is not a freeze, as described by Miller. Mosby says that there are 464 authorized positions in the personnel plan, not the 350 people that Watson indicated. Personnel director Penny Sissom says there are 304 positions paid from the general fund. After subtracting police, fire, and temporary employees (such as summer lifeguards), there are only 112 positions that could be affected by the proposal to reduce staffing via attrition. 8:10 PM

Anne Garcia Garland: Council needs to decide how much to let the city manager spend on personnel, then let him manage that money and his people. It’s micromanagement to tell him who to hire and who to fire. Jane Miller says she doesn’t seem to have any support for her proposal, so she’s dropping it. 8:12 PM

Trina Baughn says she is dropping her other proposals because she doesn’t think it’s fair to cut spending if there’s no commitment to follow up by cutting the tax rate. 8:14 PM

Next item is proposal to cut travel and training by 36%. Watson says the General Fund budget for this is $179K, with most of this for police and fire, which would not be affected by the proposal. Part of the travel cost for city manager and council comes from water and electric funds. A 36% cut in the budget for other travel comes to a savings of only $23K. Trina Baughn said her estimate of savings was based on treating the entire budget for vehicle maintenance and replacement as “travel”. Staff and other Council members clarify that it isn’t. She also says that Council members shouldn’t need to travel as much as they do. Jane Miller says she is asking for for a $13.8K reduction from the Council travel budget and 20% from other non-police/fire travel, leaving $24,200 for Council travel. Miller motion: Reduce non-police/fire component of the $179K travel budget by 20% and reduce council travel budget by 20%. Seconded for discussion by Baughn. Miller says her motion is best practice in government and industry. Watson points out that some non-police/fire training travel is mandatory. He says that staff is prudent with travel costs and doesn’t always spend its entire travel allocation; only about 1% of the general fund. Baughn questions why some of the allocation is going unused. Janice McGinnis says that 2012 spending was $160,234 vs. $179,065 in budget. Anne Garcia Garland asked for 2013 actuals, but Janice says she doesn’t have them yet. Baughn asks if city makes it a practice to reduce budgets when they weren’t spent in a prior year. Baughn wants to make a motion to reduce Council travel budget by $3000, as her share, because she doesn’t intend ever to leave town on Council business. Motion was seconded. Anne Garcia Garland says this is another area where Council is nickel and diming and restricting the manager’s actions. Vote on motion: It fails 6-1 (only Baughn voted for it). 8:26 PM

Miller wants to know if travel and tuition for Leadership Oak Ridge is affected by the budget she’s been aiming to cut. Clarification that travel for the Leadership class is included in the tuition of ~$1200. Trina Baughn wants to know if city is paying the Chamber of Commerce for staff to participate in Leadership. (Answer is yes. She also wanted to know if all staff are sent to Leadership…) Watson clarifies that Leadership Oak Ridge tuition comes from this fund. 8:29 PM

Anne Garcia Garland says that training is done to maintain qualifications and also to help employees qualify for additional responsibilities. Miller says total reduction from her proposal is $38,400. Vote on her motion: Fails 4-3, with support from Miller Hensley, and Mosby. 8:31 PM

Next item is Trina Baughn’s proposal on traffic cameras. She says millions have been collected in this fund. She originally supported them to support safety. Thinks two locations have been effective, but not the other two. She wants study of alternative safety solutions for the two effective locations in advance of next year’s contract negotiations. Locations she’s interested in are ORHS crossing and Illinois-Robertsville. Motion by Baughn, seconded by Garcia Garland. Motion by Hensley to divide the question into two parts. He says this type of motion is non-debatable under Robert’s Rules. City clerk is studying her copy of Robert’s Rules to clarify. Says he’s right. Vote on motion to split: passes 4-3, with Anne, Chuck and Jane opposed. 8:36 PM

First part of revised motion is to direct city manager to study alternative safety solutions in advance of next year’s contract negotiation. Mosby says that this item is more appropriate for inclusion in manager’s goals for the year, not in budget. Citizen Andrew Howe says he’s trying to be the voice of the people. He says people like the cameras at the schools, but not at other locations. Mosby proposes to amend this motion to direct the city manager to include this item as a goal in the budget. Hensley second. Vote is 4-3; motion fails.

Second motion is to dedicate traffic camera money to solutions for safety situations at traffic camera locations. Passes 6-1, with Miller opposed. Beehan says he doesn’t want to lock all that money up. 8:42 PM

Watson says he was considering bringing a proposal to use some of this fund to fix the sinkhole in the ORHS soccer field. Chuck Hope says he wants to use the money for safety, especially in school zones. 8:44 PM

Mosby says there are current plans for this money. Baughn clarifies that her new proposed motion would prevent the use of this money for pedestrian improvements at sites other than the camera locations. Says cameras are here because of school safety. 8:47 PM

Mosby says that identified projects were approved by Council resolution. Unclear about path forward if this passes. 8:48 PM

[Around this time there was a bit of a hiatus in my blogging because I wanted to go to the podium to speak. Before I spoke, staff told about the status of several pedestrian projects that were just completed or that are about to begin construction. These would be curtailed if Council were to direct that traffic camera money could only be used at two specific locations. When I spoke, I stated (in agreement with several Council members) that the topic of discussion was direction to staff on an expenditure, not part of the budget. I suggested that it should be discussed at a later date. I also noted that a couple of years ago, Council passed a similar resolution directing that the traffic camera money be used for projects that enhance traffic safety, especially of pedestrians. Regarding camera locations, I noted that staff had studied the ORHS crossing location already and provided a proposal for a pedestrian-activated stoplight there — a project that should resolve the safety issues that the ORHS traffic cameras are there for now. I told Council that I had attended a disappointing Traffic Safety Advisory Board meeting a while back where the city engineer went through the “Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices” criteria for installing a stoplight like that. The analysis presented at that meeting indicated that the location qualified for a light on the basis of the number of children crossing in an hour and the absence of natural breaks in the traffic to allow for safe crossing. However, the Manual advises trying measures like school zone speed limits and crossing guards before resorting to a light, and that assessment was that speed limits and crossing guards were keeping kids safe during the peak hour of street-crossing, so a stoplight couldn’t be justified. I thought that was crazy, and I still think a stoplight would be an excellent solution to a problem people have been griping about for decades.]

Motion on the floor has been a new Baughn motion to restrict the use of this funding to only projects for the two locations. Motion to table; it passes 5-2. 8:56 PM

Hensley wants a staff recommendation, on date of second reading on the budget, on whether additional school resource officers can be added to the budget. 6-1 vote in support of his motion to do this. ADJOURNED. 8:58 PM



  1. Angi Agle says:

    Thanks for doing this, Ellen. I was counting on watching it on TV while I catch up on other work.

  2. Katy brown says:

    Ellen!! Mike is working late tonight & I couldn’t rearrange for the kids to have a sitter, THANK YOU for doing this!! What a job you have here, but no doubt, you are thorough!

  3. Sandra Irwin says:

    Fabulous job, Ellen. Thank you for your interest, time and details!

  4. Connie Martin says:

    Thanks for the detail. Unfortunately I was unable to attend tis session.

  5. Mark Harvey says:

    Thank you for the great reporting, Ellen! You missed your calling!

  6. Emily Jernigan says:

    Ellen, thanks so much for giving us a synopsis of the meeting. You provided good and accurate detail in reporting it. It’s wonderful for people like me who don’t have the patience or time to sit through it.

  7. Martha Maria says:

    Ellen, you’re correct about Farragut and Lenoir City being on interstate highways and Oak Ridge is not. However, Oak Ridge has a huge employer that neither Farragut or Lenoir City have. We have thousands of people who WORK in Oak Ridge, and then use that great highway system to get the hell out of Oak Ridge and back home to Farragut, Knoxville, Lenoir City, Kingston, etc. We cannot get people to spend their non-working hours in Oak Ridge. Other than a plethora of restaurants, what do we have? Not much. Bob and I go to Knoxville every weekend and spend our money there. We do so reluctantly. But frankly, there’s nothing in Oak Ridge that we want to buy. Other than Kroger’s and Shell gas, our money goes to Knoxville. So, the question is, what are Lenoir City and Farragut doing that lure people to want to actually live and spend their leisure time there? That is what we need to study and try to emulate.

  8. Ellen Smith says:

    Hi, Martha.

    I do perceive that much of the current growth in the Farragut-Lenoir City corridor is attributable to location and not to any policies or initiatives that these communities are (or aren’t) pursuing. People knowledgeable about the business-location business nationwide say that one of the main things that commercial and industrial clients seek is proximity to an exit on a limited-access highway — the best locations are within one mile of an exit. The Farragut-Lenoir City area has those kinds of locations, and Oak Ridge doesn’t.

    Furthermore, in our society, the “natural” expansion of metro areas is along highway corridors on the edge of the metro area. Since at least the 1960s (before I came here), Knoxville has been moving west along Kingston Pike and the Interstate. Bearden was once the western frontier, then West Town, then Downtown West (the hot new shopping area when I moved here), then the Cedar Bluff area, now Turkey Creek, and soon Lenoir City (but not traditional downtown Lenoir City, which is becoming a ghost town). The influx of retirees to Tellico Village and other lake developments in Loudon County is another factor in growth there, and I think that the closure of Bethel Valley Road to the public probably helped business in Lenoir City (a little bit, anyway) because it made it harder for people there to get to Oak Ridge.

    Given their location in the path of Knoxville’s expansion, I think that the current growth in Farragut and Lenoir City was almost inevitable. Oak Ridge is entitled to be jealous of the businesses there, but it would be a mistake to assume that those communities have enacted policies that Oak Ridge should emulate, because the happenstance of location (luck) is an important ingredient in what’s going on there. (I’m reminded of the Texas political joke that said that George W. Bush was “Born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” Not every success can be fully credited to the efforts of the person who achieves it.)

  9. […] on May 16th will be forthcoming. In the meantime you can read Ellen Smith’s live blog account here  and/or read a truncated version of the four hour meeting at Oak Ridge Today .com […]

  10. […] nor aired on local access cable. However, Ellen Smith live-blogged the entire 4 hour meeting here. THANK YOU […]

  11. Andrew Howe says:

    See my comments here:


    Thanks for transcribing, Ellen! I didn’t know you were doing this. I knew you were cool, but not ‘transcribe a four hour hullabaloo’ cool!


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