By Steve Hunley

Double Standards and Lack of Institutional Knowledge

Readers will recall Gina Oster, candidate for the Knox County Commission to succeed term-limited Randy Smith in the Third District, was a candidate for the GOP nomination for the Tennessee House of Representatives against Eddie Mannis. Oster cried foul when she lost the Republican nomination for the state House and claimed she had been defeated by the votes of Democrats voting in the GOP primary. Oster’s campaign strategist, Erik Wiatr, tried to sustain those charges and neither seemed to realize Tennessee has no party registration. Folks are free to vote in one primary in one election or the other in another election. It was a curious charge at the time and was never taken seriously by the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee. It was also more than a little hypocritical. Oster’s campaign manager, Wiatr, is from Chicago where he was active in politics – – – with the Democratic and Green Parties.

Gina Oster is also close to her colleague on the merit council, Jim Jennings, who is also a Democrat but likes to veer off into Republican politics for certain candidates like Jimmy “JJ” Jones and Lee Trammel. And then there is Oster’s odd friendship with County Commissioner Courtney Durrett, yes, she of the Crayola hair of many colors, surely a Dolly Parton song in the making. One of the terrible things about term limits is with the constant turn over, nobody has any institutional memory. I am about to the point to where I think there should be a Grand Poohbah of Institutional memory for Knox County. It would save the taxpayers a boatload of money irrespective to whatever the Poohbah was paid.

It was Durrett who was carrying the resolution for Gina Oster to give Oster and Jim Jennings their own tax-payer funded legal counsel during last week’s meeting of the Knox County Commission. The resolution failed, but Durrett’s proposal would have violated Knox County’s Charter, which is the county’s Constitution. The charter is very specific on the point that only the law director may hire outside counsel, which David Buuck has done to represent the merit council. Readers will remember the law director is suing Oster and Jennings and asking a judge to force them to recuse themselves because of alleged bias against the sheriff’s department’s administration.

Even some of those who have been around for a while seem not to know what the charter says; case in point: when Mike Arms and his traveling band went high and low, down and around all over the county not realizing it is the law director who writes the language used on the ballot in referendum. That proved to be a crucial point when the last effort was made to appoint the law director instead of electing same. A perusal of the charter would have been clear to one and all just exactly who was charged with writing the question for placement on the ballot. Then-Law Director Bud Armstrong wrote it simply, fairly and that was that. 82% of Knox Countians – – – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – – – made it abundantly clear they wanted to elect their law director rather than have the office appointed.

So now Commissioner Crayola, I mean Durrett, sponsored Oster’s resolution when Oster is already represented legally. Of course the only attorney Gina Oster and Jim Jennings seem to pay any attention to is John Valiant, yet another Democrat and widely known as a political animal, to put it politely.

For one who raised such Cain about supposed Democrats having given Eddie Mannis a majority inside the Republican primary, Gina Oster sure does love her some Democrats of her own. It may well be a case of the real pandemic gripping Democrats across the country; Gina may be suffering from a terminal case of rules for thee but not for me.


Mollenhour Appointed to State Board of Education

Congratulations to Jordan Mollenhour, co-CEO of the Mollenhour – Gross investors, who has been appointed to the Tennessee State Board of Education. Mollenhour replaces longtime former CEO of the Knoxville Chamber, Mike Edwards. Mollenhour was appointed by Governor Bill Lee. Governor Lee has, at least in my opinion, made a solid pick in appointing Jordan Mollenhour to serve in a very important post. He is a businessman and entrepreneur without any known ties to special interests. Mollenhour is young at 40 and is a step in the right direction in an age when parents are beginning to look at what their kids are being taught and speaking out.


I Stand Corrected

The Focus likely deserves some kind of public service award as apparently former Sheriff Tim Hutchison is NOT under consideration to be chief deputy should Jimmy “JJ” Jones defy term limits and regain the sheriff’s office. In a bellicose Facebook post that was sent to me, Jones chastises me in mistakenly identifying Lee Tramel as his chief deputy. Whatever his title, Tramel was Jones’ handpicked successor and according to many inside the sheriff’s department at the time, the defacto sheriff. I stand corrected! As to waking up on any day and discovering I am a minnow instead of a whale, I would say I claim to be neither fish nor fowl, but rather a mere human being. What I do know is “JJ” Jones’s time as sheriff was conceived in Tim Hutchison’s office and born in the mess that was Black Wednesday. Nobody is questioning the legitimacy of the merit council, but rather its membership who are, at least in the instance of Gina Oster and Jim Jennings, longtime political supporters of “JJ” Jones. Just about any public entity, unfortunately, can be corrupted and the plain fact of the matter is the merit council is not doing its job. The Martha Dooley case has simply sat somewhere in the nether regions of the merit council without even a toddle forward. Gina and Jim have a litany of excuses as to why there’s not even been a serious discussion about why the case hasn’t moved forward. Good Lord, it could have likely gone to the Tennessee State Supreme Court by this time. The merit council has no regular meeting schedule, instead meeting at the whim of the chair. Were it a court, the judge would likely be impeached for having a docket older than dirt. And while you are in a truth-telling mood, “JJ,” why not tell folks exactly why you believe Ivan Harmon and Scott “Scooby” Moore are “model public servants?” For those of you interested in facts, you will find the Tennessee State Comptroller’s report here:


Incumbent Republicans Beware

Erik Wiatr, the political strategist behind the five failed city council campaigns, was recently a guest on Seth Barber’s “Almost In Agreement” podcast. Wiatr announced his slate of candidates for the 2022 campaign cycle. Wiatr told Barber what most of us already knew – – – he would be helming Gina Oster’s campaign for the Knox County Commission as well as that of Rhonda Lee. Wiatr has apparently evolved from a Democrat and a Green Party activist to a conservative Republican. Of course Republicans are scarce in Chicago and much more plentiful in Knox County. According to what Wiatr told Barber, he expects to have six candidates running next year.

Republican officeholders, beware!