In my Examiner column for today, I examine the cloud of secrecy surrounding the proposed inter-modal project in Jefferson County, and that secrecy's likely violation of Tennessee law:
Opponents' biggest concern is the fact that Jefferson County Mayor Alan Palmieri has admitted that he signed a confidentiality agreement with Norfolk Southern so that he could learn more about the railroad's plans for the inter-modal project.
Occassionally, I have some exciting news about a new assignment or a new topic I will be covering. In this case, the news is that I will continue to cover something I've been writing about for quite awhile, but at a new and potentially larger venue.
Perhaps you've heard of the website Examiner.com, and if you have you know that Examiner has local sub-sites geared toward community content. Each major metropolitan area has it's own Examiner, and I have joined the team at The Knoxville Examiner. So what, you ask, will I be examining?
My new role places me as the chief commentator for all things related to the State Capitol, as the Tennessee "Statehouse Examiner." A few articles are already posted, those who view my Examiner page will note this. With the General Assembly adjorned until January, many of the postings you will find now are some rehashes of the session that ended this past June. Don't let that discourage you from visiting my Examiner page and commenting. If you liked my work here, I hope you'll love it there. We will have continuing coverage of Special Election developments in both the Senate and the House.
When the Legislature resumes in January, there will be a lot of content which I will make exclusive to The Examiner, and some will be posted in both paces, though at different times. This blog will continue, however. I would encourage readers who enjoy my Capitol writing here to check out the Examiner in the months ahead.
"There's probably 50 different opinions about how health-care reform ought to work," Bredesen said in an interview for The Tennessean Monday. "The main interest of the governors is just not picking up the tab for health-care reform."
When the history of Phil Bredesen's tenure as Governor is written, it may be said of him that he became a bit too much like his hated predecessor Don Sundquist, at least in the sense that he ended his first term as one of the most popular Governors in Tennessee history. Bredesen may conclude his second term as a far less popular man, just as did Sundquist. While the Governor has not done anything nearly as politically heinous as did Sundquist (who unsuccessfully pushed for a highly unpopular State income tax), his legacy is marred in the eyes of some by how he handled the dismantling of the TennCare debacle. As opponents warned when TennCare was established in the mid-90's, the most seriously ill would be the ones to suffer when the State decided that it could no longer pay the bill for a system designed to make sure that as many Tennesseans were insured as possible. The task fell to Phil Bredesen to carry out the inevitable dismantling of the TennCare health apparatus as it had been previously understood.
The plug was literally pulled for many of the State's sickest and poorest patients, with a few people even being pulled off of life support. The political consequences of these actions did not make themselves apparent until after Bredesen was re-elected in one of the biggest landslides in Volunteer State electoral history, but Bredesen is keenly aware that TennCare may indeed sully his legacy in a State rich with colorful political history. Because of his experience as a former health care executive, as well as having endured the political storms of TennCare, Phil Bredesen is very aware of the financial difficulties associated with the federal government pushing the cost of its reform package to the States, and he wants nothing whatsoever to do with it.
Governor Bredesen is one of the few Democrats willing to discuss the idea that the federal health proposal is flawed and may not work for the States or the people, and he knows from experience.
In just the first three months of the year, state representatives collected an average of $6,300 in daily payments for their work. Over that same period, senators received roughly the same amount, plus $8,200 in the second quarter, records show. House records for the second quarter are to be released soon.
Lawmakers, however, say per diems are an important part of their compensation package, helping them cover the cost of a job that frequently consumes 60 hours or more each week.
There is little question that many legislators have abused the privilege of per diem, especially those who live in Davidson County and can go home every night. It is quite legitimate to question whether Davidson County legislators ought to receive per diem. Those members who do not need per diem in order to do business in Nashville should not be able to claim it. I will, however, defend the notion that legislators who travel to Nashville from other parts of the State for some six months out of the year-putting away their professional and personal lives to do it-ought to be paid per diem, and it should be roughly the same amount they are currently paid.
That isn't a popular position, but it is reflective of reality. Since I have spent a week at a time at the Capitol on a couple of occasions now, I can report firsthand about the personal expense of doing business on the Hill. Even with the steep legislative discount that some hotels close to the Capitol give members of the House and Senate and some staff, the cost of a room plus three meals and any personal incidentals that traveling always will incur eats into a legislator's per diem pretty heavily, and depending on the cost of their hotel or the rent on their apartment (those of you who live in Nashville should know something about rent anywhere remotely close to Charlotte Avenue) it might very well take the entire day's allowance. Per diem is based on how much the federal government says that it costs a person to live in Nashville per day.
Many rightly point out that legislators pocket their office allowance. This is a perk which should only be reserved for those members who intend to open district offices, as it is simply a means of additional income the way the system now works. If members are pocketing that allowance as income and being taxed on it, either work it into the base salary of legislators or eliminate it altogether as money to be given.
I do not propose that the Tennessee General Assembly should be made full time. Some States do have legislatures that are full time and it is a recipe for legal, social, and political mischief and thoroughly rotten government (see Congress, United States). The longer any legislative body is in session the greater the chance exists to impose tyranny upon the public in the name of popular sentiment. However, asking legislators to serve part time is a sacrifice on their part, and should be seen as such both by legislators and constituents. The majority of our elected legislators are personally decent people, but if you think there are some bad apples now, take away per diem allowances and see what happens. Doing away with per diem would keep the decent folks out of the Legislature (they couldn't afford it), and give us a General Assembly made up of a collection of the independently wealthy and the scoundrels trying to find a way to graft their expenses. If you thought Tennessee Waltz was bad, we would have the Waltz times ten without per diem.
As it stands now, our General Assembly gives us a few people from nearly every walk of life in Tennessee-lawyers, doctors, businessmen and women, firefighters, salesmen, teachers, farmers, accountants, property developers, and many others. We should endeavor to want to keep it that way for the sake of the public good. The Speaker of the House is right to want to limit any per diem collected when the Legislature is not in session to essential business. It should not be completely eliminated.
At least one Anonymouse who likes to post things disparaging of Rep. Frank Niceley has been picking at me for why I don't say anything about Niceley's position on the proposed Norfolk Southern inter-modal. Besides the fact that Frank and I agree about the inter-modal project, people often forget that the Niceleys are property owners who are absolutely entitled to voice their opinions about a development that could greatly impact them and their neighbors.
I am asking for a public apology and explanation for the News Sentinel article titled "Niceley shifts again on rail truck facility" with the subhead, "Lawmaker lobbied for site boosting his property values."
As a daughter of state Rep. Frank Niceley, understandably I was insulted and outraged. But so were a host of others in Jefferson and Knox County. In light of that, I'd like to set a few things straight.
To help support the subhead's alarming untruth, the article never mentions the land Frank Niceley owns with his two brothers in Strawberry Plains - which is three or four miles from the New Market site and roughly the same distance of any Niceley property from the Mascot site.
Secondly, everyone knows property values generally decrease around this kind of development. Take a look around John Sevier Yards. The writer of the story quotes Jefferson County mayor, Alan Palmieri, who states "Niceley would definitely profit from it." This is the same mayor who kept plans for the development secret from his constituents for at least two years, and is enduring considerable heat now from Jefferson County residents. Within the very title of the article is a highly unsupported and manipulative accusation.
Mayor Palmieri has indeed kept the inter-modal development plan secret from us, the citizens. He (and others) have done so in violation of both the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and the Open Records Act. However, there is no mention of that in the News-Sentinel, the supposed champions of open meetings and open government. The reality is that the Knoxville News-Sentinel only cares about government openness when it suits them and their agenda. As for the rest of us, well we aren't the newspaper and are therefore not all-knowing, so who cares what we might think-especially about a project that could impact every Jefferson Countian for generations to come.
As Jennifer Niceley points out, this is only the beginning of a railroad land grab, and once you open the bottle and the genie out, you can't put it back in.
Aside from disregarding the fact that Niceley represents a portion of Knox County as well, the article omitted the actual number of jobs Norfolk Southern has used repeatedly in reference to this proposed facility in New Market - 77. These 77 jobs roughly cancel out the current agricultural jobs that would be sacrificed. Mayor Palmieri himself has said, "It's not going to create thousands of jobs, but its going to give us the opportunity to do that." The proposed idea is to keep taking people's homes and land all around the intermodal for an industrial park and distribution center. Meanwhile, we have sitting in Jefferson County empty industrial parks and vacated distribution centers - which had promised the same "growth."
Alan Palmieri and his secretive allies are running scared because the public reaction over this boondoggle. No one is opposed to responsible industrial development, but not development that comes at the cost of all too many homes, farms, and gives no real promise of growth.
Credit should be given to the News-Sentinel for publishing Jennifer Niceley's remarks, but somehow I doubt that an apology is forthcoming.
As we now understand it, Bishop Stika traveled to Florida to visit a sick friend and became ill with severe flu-like symptoms, which precipitated a diabetic crisis. Although the Bishop suffered a mild heart attack related to the diabetic crisis, his heart was thoroughly examined and found to be in great shape.
He had a very good night and is stable and responding well to his treatment. He is looking forward to returning home to Knoxville.
I pray that the Bishop returns to health for so many reasons. His episcopate has just begun and already shows unbelievable potential for growing the Catholic faith in East Tennessee. Having met Bishop Stika and had the pleasure three times now of hearing him say Mass (including at his ordination), I can say that the only thing that has ever bothered me about the Bishop is that he is so outgoing and has such a fine spirit about him that I fear he won't be with us for a terribly long time-he may be called to some other place of ministry.
One thing we do know about the Bishop's daily habits is that his job requires him to do a lot of travelling. That being the case, he probably doesn't have much time for a home-cooked meal, and I am sure that all of that fast food and stress coupled together will take a toll on anyone's health.
A conservative journal of social, cultural, and ecclesiatical affairs grounded in a realistic Catholic Christian worldview. It is my hope that this site will be a reflection of Christ,the teachings of His Holy Church, and of the basic vision of a Christian social morality.