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Life in General

About the blog, personal life, etc.

Where black bears come from

Black bear sightings are almost getting to be routine around here. This cartoon is topical. (It’s been shared on Facebook — wish I could tell where it originally came from.) Update: Thanks to Linda Mann for finding the source: This is by Adrian Raeside and was published on his website at http://raesidecartoon.com/dbtest/images/1/2961.gif



Yes, Oak Ridge does have public transportation!

There were many more buses in Oak Ridge back in the Secret City days than we have today, but the fact that we do have public transportation may be one of the better-kept secrets of 21st-century Oak Ridge.

A friend asked me recently about transportation options for people who no longer drive and want to get around Oak Ridge without feeling dependent on family and friends. Actually, I know of two services supported by public funds, but when I tried to look up the details, I discovered that the information was elusive. Eventually I did assemble the needed information. For the benefit of others who may need the information, here are some details of Oak Ridge’s transit services:

Van Transit. Vans operate in Oak Ridge from 8 am to 4:30 or 5 pm (sources differ), Monday through Saturday, except for major holidays. Anybody can ride. It costs $1.50 per ride ($3 for a round trip). Young children ride for half price. The phone number for the service is (865)482-2785 — you need to call 24 hours in advance to reserve a ride. The service has a website at http://oakridgepublictransit.org, but it isn’t functioning right now.

Taxi coupons. Oak Ridge residents who are over age 55 or have a physician-certified disability can get coupons that provide discounted rides in the local yellow taxis. The coupons cost 75 cents each (sold in books of 12 coupons for $9). One coupon covers the first $3 of your cab fare; you have to pay for any cost over $3. They are sold at the city senior center on Emory Valley Road between 9 am and 4 pm, Monday through Friday. Phone the senior center at (865)425-3999.


Spring cleaning

Litter picker-uppers earlier this springPlenty of spring cleaning is going on in the community (and I  need to do some at my house, too).

Melton Lake Cleanup. Volunteers are needed on Saturday, March 23 (rain date March 30) to pick up trash on the shores of Melton Lake. TVA has lowered the lake level for the occasion. Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary, Greenways Oak Ridge, and Keep Anderson County Beautiful  are partnering for the event. Assemble at the new pavilion in Melton Lake Park (Oak Ridge) at 9:00 AM, wear sturdy shoes, and bring work gloves.  The City is supplying the trash bags.

Log your litter collection activity for the Great American Cleanup. The months of March through May are the Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup. Citizens who pick up litter and trash around the community or on the lakefront are urged to go to the Keep Anderson County Beautiful website to log your hours of effort and pounds of litter picked up. Many of us pick up litter when we are out walking. If you tell KACB about your efforts, we (I’m on the board) will tell the world (including the state and national organization, as well as Anderson County government) about the amount of work  that volunteers have done on behalf of the community. I’ve logged 27.5 pounds of litter (that was actual weight, but many people estimate) already this spring, just in my own neighborhood.

Garlic mustard pull and wildflower walk. See native wildflowers and help eradicate an invasive weed on April 6 on the Wildflower Greenway behind the Rolling Hills Apartments (formerly Garden Apartments).  This annual event is sponsored by Greenways Oak Ridge and Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning.

Household Hazardous Waste. Saturday, April 13, 2013, from 9 am to 2 pm, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Anderson County Solid Waste Management will conduct the county’s once-a-year Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event at the Oak Ridge Public Works Building at (100 Woodbury Lane in Oak Ridge, located behind the K-Mart/Kroger shopping center).

This is for waste generated by residents — no commercial or agribusiness waste will be accepted. Wastes they will accept include household cleaners, adhesives, paint removers, herbicides, pesticides, solvents, antifreeze, oil additives, rechargeable batteries, lithium batteries, pool chemicals, an similar items. Don’t bring paint, electronics, empty containers, medical waste, explosives, radioactive materials, or alkaline batteries. (Paint and electronics are accepted year round at Anderson County’s Blockhouse Valley Rd. facility; and alkaline batteries can go in regular trash.) It’s OK to bring household hazardous waste for your friends and relatives who cannot attend.

Contact Anderson County Solid Waste at (865) 463-6845 for more information. The Household Hazardous Waste Mobile Collection Service was established by the Solid Waste Management Act of 1991 to remedy improper disposal and to educate the public. This service is paid for by the Solid Waste Management Fund, which receives its revenue from a surcharge of tipping fees from Tennessee landfills and incinerators and from the $1.35 fee on each new tire sold at retail in Tennessee.

City Trash and Brush Pickups. Finally, the city of Oak Ridge spring trash pickup starts April 1, 2013, followed by brush pickup starting April 29. (Don’t mix trash with brush.)  Details and the trash pickup schedule are on the city website. Trash collection starts in Burnham Woods, followed by Woodland and the city’s southeastern quadrant in the first week, and finishes up in the west end of the city in week number 4.


Why diversity matters

Madeline Rogero, March 1, 2013

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero speaking on March 1, 2013

I recommend Donna Smith’s report (in Monday’s print Oak Ridger) on the the speech that Madeline Rogero gave at the International Women’s Day event in Oak Ridge on Friday. I paid particular notice to Rogero’s anecdote about Congresswoman Lindy Boggs and the federal legislation against discrimination in mortgage lending.

Before that legislation passed in the 1970s, some lenders would not issue mortgage loans to women. If a woman — such as a Vietnam war widow with a good job — wanted to buy a house, she needed to find a man to cosign the loan. Boggs was the only woman on the congressional committee that was considering proposed legislation  that would make it unlawful to discriminate against borrowers on the basis of race, age, or veteran status. Aware of the way women were treated by lenders, she thought women also should be protected, so she quickly and bravely drafted an amendment to add gender and marital status to the list in the bill. She expected to get some pushback when she proposed it, but the men on the committee accepted her amendment without debate — the only reason gender and marital status weren’t in the bill was that no one had thought to add them until Boggs proposed them.

To me, this story seems like a perfect illustration of why today’s well-managed organizations consider diversity to be a vital asset. Unless and until the “other” kinds of people are on the inside, around the table (as Boggs was that day in Congress), the organization will never know what critically important perspectives it is missing.


Don’t fall for this scam

This press release from the City of Oak Ridge is good advice — be suspicious when strangers phone you about anything to do with money.

City of Oak Ridge Exposes Utilities Scam on Customers

Oak Ridge, Tenn. — The City of Oak Ridge has become aware of a scam to steal money from our citizens. A customer has reported that she received a phone call reporting to be from the City of Oak Ridge Utility Business office.

The customer stated that she was told her that her account was more than 30 days past due and that if she needed to make a payment of at least $50.00 to an individual who would come by and collect the funds. If she did not make the payment, her power would be disconnected. The call came from a blocked phone number. We checked this customer’s account and it is not past due.

The City of Oak Ridge does not call delinquent customer or accept partial payments in the field. Additionally, all City employees carry identification wear uniforms and operate clearly labeled trucks.

Any citizen who receives a call regarding the status of their bill should check with the City’s business office by calling 865-425-3400.


Announcement of candidacy for re-election

Here’s the press release I sent out a little while back to announce that I’m running for re-election. It’s appeared in The Oak Ridge Observer and on Oak Ridge Today, but I haven’t seen it in The Oak Ridger yet.

Oak Ridge City Council member Ellen Smith, who was first elected to Council in 2007, has announced her candidacy for re-election in the November 6, 2012, city election.

In announcing her candidacy, Ellen Smith said: “It has been both an honor and a significant responsibility to serve Oak Ridge’s citizenry as one of the city’s elected leaders. I hope that my work over the last five years has justified the citizens’ trust, and that Oak Ridge voters will choose me for another term in office.”

She commented: “In 2009, the members of City Council drafted a vision statement that said we want Oak Ridge to be ‘a highly sought after community for people of all ages to live, work, play and do business.’ Add to that a concern for people, a concern for fairness, a conviction that government decisionmaking should be transparent to the public, and a never-ending pursuit of value for the public’s money, and you’ll have a pretty good summary of what guides my government actions.”

Ellen Smith is an environmental scientist on the research staff in the Environmental Sciences Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Originally from Connecticut, she is a graduate of Carleton College (Minnesota), where she majored in geology, and she holds a master’s degree in water resources management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She and her husband, Rich Norby, have lived in Oak Ridge since 1981. They have one adult son who was born and raised here and attended Oak Ridge Schools.

Before her election to City Council, Ellen was a 16-year member of the city Environmental Qjuality Advisory Board (EQAB), serving for several years as its chairman. She represented EQAB and later the City on the Board of Directors of the Local Oversight Committee, chairing that body from 2007 until 2011.

She is a member of organizations including the League of Women Voters and Altrusa, and is a founding member of both Keep Anderson County Beautiful and Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation, on whose boards she serves.

As a City Council member, she has added to her understanding of local government and worked to build connections with other communities through conferences and other activities of the National League of Cities and the Tennessee Municipal League, as well as by completing Level 1 of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service’s Elected Officials Academy and several additional classes. Currently she is participating actively in the five-county Plan ET regional initiative.

Some of her earlier volunteer civic activities include being a charter member and officer of the East Tennessee Chapter of the Association for Women in Science in the 1980s; participation in the 1992-1993 Greenways Task Force that developed a master plan for what is now the city greenway network, the 1992-1994 Lower East Fork Poplar Creek Citizens Working Group, and a late 1990s city task force that investigated and made recommendations on karst problems; and service as a volunteer leader in Linden School Cub Scout Pack 226.

Ellen’s website at www.ellensmith.org provides information about the candidate and her current campaign, as well as blog postings and other commentary posted over the 8 years since the website was established.


On “the trail” again

I’m on the campaign trail again, running for re-election to Oak Ridge City Council. The city election is on the November 6 ballot, but early voting starts October 17, and people are starting to get seriously interested in the city election.The League of Women Voters is conducting a candidates forum on October 2 and Democracy for East Tennessee will hold another forum on October 9.

Much has changed in the 5+ years since I was elected…

Happily, I’ve met a number of people who are new to town in the last 5 years. I’m also very aware of the loss of many good people from our community and my personal life.

The economy tanked in 2008. Oak Ridge didn’t fare nearly as badly as many areas, and the community benefited from a Recovery Act projects at the local DOE facilities as well as in the community. City government has put off  addressing some deferred needs in order to avoid over-burdening our taxpayers.

A charter change in 2010 resulted in my term of office being extended by 17 months (it was originally supposed to end in June 2011).

City Council hired a new city manager. Several other key city personnel have retired or moved on, and have been replaced.

The Oak Ridge City Center (former Oak Ridge Mall) is looking even less viable now than it did 5 years ago, but the city is seeing new commercial vitality at Jackson Square and the Woodland Town Center development, and there’s a new Kroger Marketplace development on the horizon.

The city has been challenged by an EPA administrative order that requires big expenditures on our wastewater system.

The Knoxville metropolitan region, of which Oak Ridge is a significant element, is working together more than it did before.

… I could go on and on. I also could list some things that haven’t changed nearly as much as I would have wanted. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to serve my city as part of its elected citizen leadership for these 5 years, and I’m ready and willing to continue to address the city’s needs and challenges for another 4 years, if the voters are willing.


Voting day rules

Although a lot of folks took advantage of early voting, tomorrow is the official election day, and there will be lots of campaign activity outside precinct polling places around town. Recalling past elections when there has been confusion and misinformation about the rules, thinking about the questions that will arise tomorrow, and looking ahead to my candidacy for re-election in November, I reviewed the Tennessee state law (part of Title 2, Elections) on behavior at polling places.

Section 2-7-103 (“Persons allowed in polling place”) states that “No person may be admitted to a polling place [during voting] except election officials, voters, persons properly assisting voters, the press, poll watchers appointed under [state law] and others bearing written authorization from the county election commission.” Section 2-1-104(a)(17) defines “Polling place” to mean “the room or rooms where voters apply to vote and mark and cast their ballots”. That says to me that it is OK for people other than voters to be in the building where voting is occurring, as long as they stay away from the rooms where folks are voting.

There are special rules for the police: “No police or other law enforcement officer may come nearer to the entrance to a polling place than ten feet (10′) or enter the polling place except at the request of the officer of elections or the county election commission or to make an arrest or to vote.” I guess that means that police can’t be used to intimidate voters — a good rule to have, but hopefully not something that would arise in Oak Ridge.

Those of us who have taken our kids into the voting booth with us should be relieved to learn that this is legal. The law says “No person may go into a voting machine or a voting booth while it is occupied by a voter except as expressly authorized by this title,” but it also says “a child under seventeen (17) years of age may accompany the child’s parent or legal guardian into the polling place” and “such child may also enter the voting machine or voting booth with such parent or guardian to observe the voting process.”

Section 2-7-103 also says that “candidates may be present [in a polling place] after the polls close.”

Section 2-7-111 (“Posting of sample ballots and instructions — Arrangement of polling place — Restrictions”) deals with electioneering outside the polling place. The relevant excerpts say:

(a) The officer of elections … shall measure off one hundred feet (100′) from the entrances to the building in which the election is to be held and place boundary signs at that distance.

(b) (1) Within the appropriate boundary as established in subsection (a), and the building in which the polling place is located, the display of campaign posters, signs or other campaign materials, distribution of campaign materials, and solicitation of votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question are prohibited. No campaign posters, signs or other campaign literature may be displayed on or in any building in which a polling place is located.

(2) Solicitation or collection for any cause is prohibited. This does not include the normal activities that may occur at such polling place such as a church, school, grocery, etc.

(3) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person from wearing a button, cap, hat, pin, shirt, or other article of clothing outside the established boundary but on the property where the polling place is located.

Section 2-7-104 (“Poll watchers”) allows “each political party,” “any organization of citizens interested in a question on the ballot or interested in preserving the purity of elections and in guarding against abuse of the elective franchise,” primary candidates, and “independent candidates in general elections” to appoint poll watchers. Poll watchers must be at least 17 years old, they must be identified to the election day at least 2 days in advance. Parties and citizens organizations can have two poll watchers at a polling place at the same time, but candidates are limited to having only one poll watcher on duty in a polling place at any time.

Section 2-7-104(e) provides for poll watchers to observe the counting of absentee ballots, as long as they do not leave the room during the actual counting or have electronic communications devices in the room with them. (No spies, please!)

Section 2-7-130 (“Locking of machine — Canvass and proclamation of votes on voting machines”) states: “After the polls have closed … the judges shall then lock and seal the voting machines against voting. The judges shall sign a certificate on the tally sheets…. The judges shall then open the counter compartment in the presence of the watchers and all other persons who are present, giving full view of all the counter numbers. One (1) of the judges, under the scrutiny of a judge of a different political party, in the order of the offices as their titles are arranged on the machine, shall read aloud in distinct tones the designating number and letter, if any, on each counter for each candidate’s name and the result as shown by the counter numbers. The judge shall in the same manner announce the vote on each question.”

After an election, candidates can get detailed results, according to Section 2-8-116 “Right of candidate to receive certified copies of poll lists and tally sheets”: “Each candidate has the right to have delivered to the candidate by the state election commission or the county election commission certified copies of all poll lists and tally sheets used in the counties in which the candidate ran, upon demand and payment of the regular legal fees.”

Most that is relevant to candidates and their supporters, but issues arise for voters, too. Voters need to remember photo ID, due to Tennessee’s new laws, and Oak Ridge Today reports that people who vote at Jefferson Middle School will vote tomorrow in the front lobby instead of the gym, as the gym floor is being refinished.


How to vote on the “retention of judges”?

I’ve been asked for advice on whether or not to retain the two Tennessee appellate court judges listed on the August election ballot. I don’t know anything good, bad, or indifferent about either of them, but I’m voting FOR keeping them in office because I believe the state’s high courts should be independent of politics. Their decisions should based on their interpretation of the law, not on what’s popular.

Some years ago, after Justice Penny White got removed from the Tennessee Supreme Court, I concluded that those of us who support an independent judiciary need to vote FOR retention of judges unless we know something that causes us to want to remove a particular judge. Many voters skip over the judge retention items on the ballot, which makes it easier for narrow political interests to target specific judges (like Penny White) for removal for “not making the right decisions”. Thus, a FOR vote is a vote for a judicial system that is not controlled by politics.


‘Tis the season for political signs

People have been asking me (and sometimes complaining) about the campaign yard signs that started popping up around town earlier this month. This is a perennial issue — see the June 2010 post “Signs Too Early and Signs Too Flashy” on this blog.

In no particular order, here are some answers to this year’s questions:

  • Yes, there are restrictions on these signs in the city of Oak Ridge. City ordinances (specifically, the “Sign Ordinance” section of the zoning code) tell where and when campaign signs can be displayed.
  • Yard signs can’t go up until 30 days before early voting begins in the relevant election. Since early voting for the August 2012 election begins on July 13, signs began to appear legally on June 13.
  • One of the races on the August ballot is a special election to fill the remainder of an unexpired term on the Oak Ridge City Council. This is the seat to which Tom Hayes was elected in 2007. After he resigned last year, Chuck Hope was appointed to serve until a special election to be held on the next regular election date. That turned out to be August 2012. The person who is elected will serve for just 3 months, as this seat will be on the ballot again in November when the regular City Council election is scheduled. Three Council seats (including the one that I hold) will be on the ballot then. I will run for re-election.
  • The two candidates in the special election for City Council are Chuck Hope and Trina Baughn. Both of them are also expected to be candidates in November. (In effect, they will be running for office from now until November.)
  • You shouldn’t be seeing yard signs for me or other November candidates for City Council yet. That’s because we won’t begin campaigning seriously until after the August election. (The situation of two elections 3 months apart is confusing enough as it is – it would only add to the confusion if we started campaigning before the special election!) We can’t legally put up yard signs until the date in mid-September (30 days before early voting begins for November).
  • A city charter referendum in November 2010 changed City Council elections from June of odd-numbered years to November of even-numbered years. City Council had nothing to do with initiating this. (In fact, I think most Council members preferred the old arrangement.) The proposal to change the election date came from an elected charter commission and it was approved by an overwhelming majority of voters. To make the transition to the new election schedule, the current terms of office for all elected city officials were extended by almost 1-1/2 years.
  • It’s been suggested to me that certain local candidates have signs that are too large, but my experience is that local candidates pay attention to the rules for the size of signs, so the signs they buy are in compliance.
  • Candidates’ eager supporters – for candidates at the national, state, and local level — are a different story. They often are unaware of the rules, so in every election some candidate signs pop up too early or in prohibited locations such as traffic islands or less than 15 feet from the pavement of an arterial street.
  • Not covered in the city ordinance, but something residents should know: Candidate signs shouldn’t be placed on private property without permission. Sometimes, well-intentioned people stick signs for their favorite candidates in the ground without worrying about property owner permission – and, remarkably, I’ve learned that some property owners leave those signs in place because they think they are supposed to accept them. (No wonder people gripe about campaign signs!) Other times, pranksters pull up signs and place them in different yards. If a candidate sign appears in front of your home or business, but you don’t support that candidate or you don’t want to have a sign on your premises, take the sign down. (Particularly if it’s a sign for a local candidate, it would be neighborly to contact the candidate or campaign and let them retrieve the sign.)