By Steve Hunley

Out of the Mouths of Babes…

Mike McMillan, East Knox County’s member of the Board of Education, was really impressed by Aaliyah Riddle.  Aaliyah Riddle is a graduating senior at Austin – East High School who was critical of the school system’s announced intention to ban parents and families from graduation ceremonies.  McMillan was the most vocal member of the board in denouncing the idea of keeping parents and family members out of the graduation ceremonies.  Mike McMillan was especially outspoken in his dislike of the initial plan created by the central office staff and announced by Superintendent Bob Thomas.

Aaliyah Riddle made herself conspicuous by doing the unheard of thing by offering a better plan to one she had criticized.  Ms. Riddle wrote a detailed, three page memorandum to board members outlining various options for prospective graduation ceremonies.  Aaliyah informed board members of what area school districts were doing, as well as some systems beyond the region.  Ms. Riddle’s specific examples underscored McMillan’s belief it was entirely possible for graduating seniors to have an audience composed of family members instead of the school system bureaucracy.  McMillan was full of praise for Aaliyah Riddle.  “Here is an entire building of supposed experts, the great central office staff, most of whom earn in excess of $100,000 annually, who produced no memorandum of any kind.  That same staff did not give Board members any examples of arrangements for graduations in the area, as Aaliyah Riddle did.

“The truth is Aaliyah Riddle’s memorandum was of more value and use than everything done by the entire central office staff,” McMillan said.  “Aaliyah produced an intelligent, well-documented, and well-articulated memorandum.  We may well have identified a way to save some money in the coming budget.”

Along with the memorandum, Aaliyah and her friends put together a video on You Tube expressing why they thought it was important for graduating students to have a graduation that celebrated their accomplishments.

When first told of the proposed ban on family members, Mike McMillan was aghast and outraged.  McMillan rightly predicted there would be push back from parents and graduating students.  “The school folks seemed astonished I would think so,” McMillan said drily.  “I can’t begin to tell you how much it distresses me to believe our highest paid people in the school system failed to recognize the optics were terrible and that it was just plain wrong.”

Several of McMillan’s colleagues on the board of education seemed to be paralyzed by the situation following the announcement of the original plan.  The idea the principal, the myriad of assistant principals at every high school in the county, and the faculty would suffice for every graduating class due to the pandemic seemed to be a controversial topic and most Board members didn’t want to risk making anyone mad.  Not so Mike McMillan.  As more than a few of his colleagues on the Board joined with the administrative staff in attempting to hide behind the slight figure of Dr. Martha Buchanan, head of Knox County’s Health Department, McMillan pursued the matter.  It was Mike McMillan who questioned Dr. Buchanan and got her to admit that she could not dictate the circumstances of each high school’s graduation.  That admission made it mighty hard for the better part of a school system and most of the Board of Education to hide behind one little woman.  That was also before the cry of dismay of Buchanan’s boss, expressed his own dismay with the plan offered by school officials.  Mayor Glenn Jacobs didn’t like the plan either.

A few of McMillan’s colleagues on the Board went silent, which is quite nearly amazing as some of them ordinarily couldn’t be hushed with a sleeping pill and a gag.

Mike McMillan had urged school administrators to adopt a different, more family-friendly plan, giving each graduating senior two – four tickets to distribute to loved ones.  McMillan’s proposal allowed for social distancing and masks and the proper protocols with the Corona virus.  At first, school bureaucrats were unmoved.

McMillan was critical of the statement the graduating seniors were the children of the school system, too.  “To put it plainly would be impolite,” McMillan growled.  “We didn’t raise those young people; their parents and families did.  I don’t see that it is really hard to understand seniors want someone they love to witness their big moment.  It’s only natural.”

Mike McMillan gave Aaliyah Riddle credit for focusing the discussion.  “Aaliyah pointed out the true defects in the original plan.  She said it lacked empathy and ignored community involvement.  Putting it slightly differently, it lacked heart,” McMillan said softly.  “Aaliyah clearly saw the original proposal was not designed to serve the very people our school system is supposed to serve – – – the students and their families.  Instead, it was wrongly focused upon the school bureaucracy and that was shameful.”

Asked what he thought of what Aaliyah Riddle had done, Mike McMillan grinned.  Raising one finger, McMillan said, “I predict a very bright future for that young lady.  Aaliyah Riddle also demonstrated a very important lesson to her peers and our community.  Aaliyah saw the government about to do something wrong and she, along with her friends, spoke up and offered a solution.  They made a difference.  Their voices were heard loud and clear.”


Bounds vs the Bills

Speaking of the Board of Education, Patti Bounds officially kicked off her campaign for the State House last week.  Bounds had originally indicated she was thinking of running against sitting State Representative Bill Dunn.  Dunn has served the Sixteenth District for twenty-eight years and is Speaker Pro Tem of the Tennessee House of Representatives.  Bounds had floated the idea of challenging Dunn following the passage of Governor Bill Lee’s signature legislation, the ESSA bill.  Bill Dunn had long been the voice of parental choice in the House of Representatives, as well as the most ardent supporter of vouchers and charter schools.  Teachers’ unions fiercely oppose both vouchers and charter schools.  The Knox County Board of Education has lately been occupied by a slew of retired teachers who are less interested in representing a constituency than a special interest.  Bounds’ campaign was ignited by teacher outrage over the passage of the ESSA legislation, which would have only applied to schools designated as failing and largely helped minority students.  Patti Bounds gave a hurrah when a local judge ruled the ESSA bill unconstitutional on her Facebook page.

Bounds faces County Commissioner Michele Carringer inside the Republican primary to get to Nashville.  Carringer has the advantage of having run inside Republican primaries before, while Bounds has never run a partisan race.  The folks pushing Patti Bounds to run against Bill Dunn are not exactly Republican activists and likely haven’t supported a GOP nominee since Richard Nixon.  Those same folks won’t likely be supporting either Bill Hagerty or Manny Sethi for the U. S. Senate or Tim Burchett for Congress.  Karen Carson, a long-time member of the board of education, tried to make the jump to the House of Representatives and even had the tacit support of the governor at the time, Bill Haslam.  Jason Zachary cleaned her clock.

Bounds has served a couple of terms as chair of the board of education before being beaten by a colleague.  Patti Bounds has carefully avoided controversial issues form the most part and what she knows about the issues facing a state attempting to find its way in a faltering economy.  Would Bounds be one of those who would still vote to increase the salaries of teachers – – – and the average teacher makes $48,700 annually in Knox County- – – while so many folks are out of work and businesses have closed?  Probably.

This will be the first real test of Patti Bounds’ popularity inside the district, as she’s never faced an opponent before.  A former kindergarten teacher running on a single issue – – – maintaining the teachers’ monopoly on education – – – may find it rough going opposing the Bills – – – Lee and Dunn – – – inside an honest-to-God Republican primary.



One of the eternal oddities about the political process is the absolute certainty some wayward politician will attempt to glom onto an issue or outcome for his/her own personal political gain.  Mind you, it matters not at all that he/she had nothing to do with the eventual outcome.  I don’t doubt for a moment if sunshine and warmer weather does indeed kill the Corona Virus, MSNBC will give Andrew Cuomo the credit for it.  Everybody knows the sun would never shine for Trump.  Such is the case with a local internet poster who is trying awfully hard to insist the credit for the recent announcement by the school system to allow families into the graduation ceremonies belongs to Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Commissioner-At-Large Justin Biggs.  As already printed in this column, if that credit belongs to anybody, it belongs to Mike McMillan.  Mayor Glenn Jacobs did give the school folks a big wake-up call with his vocal dismay at the notion of banning families from graduation ceremonies. Mayor Jacobs also promised the cooperation of the Health Department.  What did Justin Biggs have to do with anything?  Good question.  Biggs had as much to do with the outcome of the graduation ceremony decision as our little dog, Sophie.  And Sophie Hunley doesn’t even know schools exist, or Justin Biggs either for that matter.


Much Ado About Nothing

It never ceases to amaze me how much time our national media – – – and some of our local media – – – focuses on nothing.  We even have people protesting about nothing these days.  For instance, Sheriff Tom Spangler just renewed his department’s agreement with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.  Knox County opted into the agreement in 2017 and Spangler stated in a video statement the Knox County Sheriff’s office would NOT be prowling through neighborhoods looking for people here illegally.  Spangler made it crystal clear he and his department would only be interested in those who have committed crimes.  Government has no higher responsibility than the safety and welfare of its citizens.  It is called law enforcement for a reason.  The new reality is we have a bunch of folks who really don’t want to see the law upheld or enforced.  The Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors said the Knox County Sheriff’s office cooperating with ICE “threatens the well-being of our community.”

The logic is pretty simple: don’t commit a crime and you have nothing to worry about.  That doesn’t threaten anybody’s well-being.  Ignoring criminals threatens an entire community’s well-being.