Publisher’s Positions

By Steve Hunley

A Scary Night at the Zoo

A story of two Kyles begins with the annual fundraiser for the Knoxville Zoo. Judge Kyle Hixson of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and Knox County Commissioner Kyle Ward were in attendance with their wives, Rachel and Katie. The festivities were interrupted by the announcement of a zoo employee that a highly agitated and bleeding man was on the premises and the attendees were asked to remain in the Reptile House. The police had been notified and were on the way. It was quite an unsettling and ominous announcement.

Kyle Ward spotted a hulking man approaching who was bleeding and coming toward the Reptile House. Several women, including Rachel Hixson and Katie Ward, who is expecting a baby in November, along with a few older women, went into a restroom where they locked the door at the insistence of their menfolk. Ward positioned himself by a small gate, placing his foot against it as the belligerent and bleeding man made a beeline straight for it. Ward and Hixson both realized at once the man was quite large. Ward, a former member of the military, stands at least 6’2, and the county commissioner recalled the disturbed man appeared to be even bigger. The man threw all his weight against the gate, which opened, colliding into the commissioner, who got blood all over his shirt. Ward was prepared for the worst when the man went around him and Judge Hixon and began pounding on the glass of the Reptile House before leaving.

As quickly as he had arrived, the agitated homeless guy disappeared into the dark but just about everybody present had random thoughts about being in a building full of venomous snakes behind glass barriers.

Later that night the man was located and arrested by police. It was quite an evening for all concerned.


Help You, Rhonda, Help, Help You Rhonda

County Commissioner Rhonda Lee, who won her election by promising to do something about the rates charged by the Hallsdale-Powell Utility District, placed an item on the county commission’s agenda for discussion. The topic? The Hallsdale-Powell Utility District, naturally. Lee is a lawyer by trade, and she began by citing the county’s charter when her colleague Larsen Jay pulled up a copy of the charter on his computer screen. Jay wondered where exactly was the section Lee was citing from the Knox County Charter. Lee only reluctantly acknowledged the subject wasn’t addressed in the charter. It was like an episode of “Matlock” with Jay’s persistent questioning peeling back Lee’s statements layer by layer, before leaving only a worn-out nub. Well, Lee finally blurted out she just didn’t like the fact Mayor Glenn Jacobs reappointed Kevin Julian to another term as a member of the Board of Directors for the Hallsdale-Powell Utility District.

While Rhonda Lee picked the right issue to run on, county commissioners have almost nothing to do with utilities, which are regulated by the state. Over the years, Hallsdale-Powell has accumulated a hefty amount of debt, which of course must be paid off. Unfortunately, it is the ratepayers who must pay off that debt.

Nor was that the only embarrassment Commissioner Rhonda Lee suffered during last week’s meeting of the Knox County Commission. Lee demanded a consent item pertaining to the funding of the Young-Williams Animal Shelter be pulled off the Consent Calendar of the Commission. Lee huffed and puffed about salaries paid to administrators, which was likely intended to embarrass Janet Testerman, the able city councilwoman who lost the August GOP primary for the state House seat presently occupied by Eddie Mannis. Testerman opposed perennial candidate Elaine Davis, whose campaign was run by Erik Wiatr. Wiatr coincidentally also ran the campaigns of Rhonda Lee and Gina Oster.

Lee tried hard to defer the funding item for the Young- Williams Animal Shelter, making a motion to delay consideration for 30 days. For once, in the cavern of the winds that comprise the Knox County Commission, there was dead silence. Not a word was spoken and Lee’s motion died an ignominious death for lack of a second.

As the Merit Board Turns

The county commission also tussled with the sheriff’s merit board yet again and one could just about hear Helen Reddy singing the “I Am Woman” anthem as the ladies of the legislative body banded together yet again. It was four Republican women – – – Kim Frazier, Terry Hill, Gina Oster and Rhonda Lee – – – who last month nominated and elected one of the two Democrats on the 11-member commission to serve as chair. This time it was the girls against the boys over the appointment of a member of the merit board, which hears grievances from employees in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

The commissioners had no trouble appointing Chris Manning, a former law enforcement officer and current alternate on the council, to a three-year term unanimously. The fight erupted over the second slot between Denny Ford, a pastor, and Steve Weiner. Yep, the ubiquitous Steve Weiner who had been recruited by Erik Wiatr to run against Commissioner Larsen Jay inside the Republican primary last May. Written into the ordinance of the merit board is a provision requiring its members not to be actively involved in politics. Once again questioning by Larsen Jay revealed Weiner wrapped himself in the robes of the Lord God Almighty as tightly as he possibly could. It’s a wonder he didn’t smother. Weiner, a lawyer, said he disagreed and was not really subject to the mere laws of man, but rather only obliged to follow those of the Lord God. In other words, Saint Weiner had no intention of abiding by the no-political involvement rule. The women on the commission, minus Commissioner Dasha Lundy who was absent due to illness, joined together to back Steve Weiner. Wiatr’s commissioners, Gina Oster and Rhonda Lee, pushed for Saint Weiner, along with Commission Chair Courtney Durrett and Kim Frazier. Durrett is a Democrat and her vote for a former far-right candidate likely won’t sit well with the members of her own party. Frazier had plenty of Democrat backers in the last election and they can’t be tickled to death either.

The vote was tied 5 to 5, which means the motion failed and the appointment will be carried over to next month’s meeting of the Knox County Commission. Look for yet another edition of As the Merit Board Turns.