In politics, it is hardly unusual when a politician stacks the deck before dealing the cards. Mayor Glenn Jacobs has certainly done that with the announcement of his appointments to serve on the Knox County Charter Review Committee. Every ten years, the county is required to review the charter and make recommendations for changes and/or additions. The charter is the document which is the equivalent of Knox County’s Constitution.
With the late announcement of his appointees to this very important body Mayor Jacobs certainly isn’t the first mayor to stack a charter review committee and certainly won’t be the last. At least four of those appointments have significant conflicts of interest, which should disqualify them, in my opinion, from serving on a Charter Review Committee.
Amanda Benedict is a county employee, working directly under Mayor Jacobs. Do you imagine for a moment Ms. Benedict will perfectly and accurately reflect the views of Glenn Jacobs? Mike Arms, former county commissioner and chief of staff to former Mayor Mike Ragsdale—and still in business with Ragsdale for that matter —helped to broker a deal involving the TVA Tower for the Jacobs administration. Attorney Mark Mamantov is the lawyer for the TVA Tower interests. John Valiant is the mayor’s attorney in the pension dispute/lawsuit that has allowed deputies to retire at pensions in excess of what is currently allowed by the charter according to the Knox County Law Director.
I can only say there is nothing subtle about these appointments. The biggest question to ask is WHAT are these folks, all of whom have special interest ties to the Jacobs administration, being appointed to do? By that I don’t mean merely review the charter, but what do they hope to accomplish? My guess is they want to make the county law director an appointed office, rather than one elected by you, the people. I suspect that very well could be true of the other elected county fee offices. That would concentrate virtually all the political power in the county in one person: the mayor. It would give the mayor a veritable patronage army at his disposal and a powerful voting bloc in countywide elections. There is little doubt in my mind that this is the mission that Mayor Jacobs wants to accomplish.
The Jacobs administration has also made moving the school system out of the Andrew Johnson Building and into the TVA Tower a priority, no matter what the cost or the loss to the taxpayers.
By offering the school system $1.5 million annually, they knew certainly knew what bait to use. Mamantov and Arms are both heavily involved in that deal. Mayor Jacobs has also allied himself with the sheriff’s deputies, perhaps not realizing the danger to the average taxpayer, but the danger is profoundly real. The charter explicitly states that no one may retire at more than 75% of full salary, but it has been happening. Law Director “Bud” Armstrong has repeatedly proved to be a public servant absolutely committed to the taxpayers and the letter of the law. A compliant law director who is less the people’s lawyer than the mayor’s personal and political attorney would be a mighty handy thing if Jacobs can pull off a charter change to appoint the law director. Armstrong has bucked both the mayor and the sheriff’s department to follow the law in the pension dispute and the Andrew Johnson Building flap. Armstrong is an honest man, a person of rock solid integrity who cannot be intimidated nor bullied.
Not all of the Charter Review Committee appointments are bad or subject to conflicts of interest. There are several outstanding citizens and elected officials.
For those of us with institutional memory, this fight has been fought once before and the people decided the issue and decisively so. Three-quarters of those voting insisted elected offices remain within the hands of the people, not the politicians.
It remains one of the greatest victories by the public against the politicians and the special interests in Knox County’s history. It is time for you, the public, to pay attention once again. We certainly don’t need an all-powerful King Mayor.