Publisher’s Positions

By Steve Hunley

City Administration Needs To Be More Open And Transparent

A few weeks ago, Eric Vreeland, the city spin doctor for the Kincannon administration took issue with my description of the pay for former deputy mayor Stephanie Welch. Welch stepped down from her full-time position to move to Maine to be closer to her family.

However, Welch is being paid for part-time work to “shepherd” the proposed baseball stadium to fruition.  Evidently, that can only be done from Maine where Welch now resides rather than by someone in Knoxville.

In another media outlet, Vreeland characterized The Focus stating her salary was $90,000 annually as “grossly inaccurate.”  First of all, that is exactly what the line item (see below) in the City of Knoxville’s 2022 salary schedule clearly states.

On 12-19-22, I received an email from Eric Vreeland clarifying exactly what has been paid to Welch to date. Vreeland was a longtime journalist before working in the Rogero administration and now the Kincannon administration. If the city was not going to pay Ms. Welch $90,000 for five months work, then why did the city’s own salary schedule state $90,000? I’d like to remind Mr. Vreeland that it’s not The Focus’ salary schedule, it is the City of Knoxville’s salary schedule. I’m sure Mr. Vreeland, being a former longtime journalist, understands the use of footnotes. Maybe the City should have been more open and transparent about what they were actually going to pay Ms. Welch. But I’d like to remind Eric that it is not The Focus that has the transparency problem- it’s your boss and her administration.

That problem has already reared its ugly head with the hiring process of the new police chief. That lack of openness and transparency has already gone to court when the Knoxville News Sentinel sued the City over refusing to release records relating to the new police chief’s hire.  That situation has already been in court. The court didn’t find for the city, as I recall.  Now Indya Kincannon and City of Knoxville officials are subject to being deposed.

All of this actually leads to more questions. If there was no intention to pay Stephanie Welch $90,000, why was that amount listed as her salary on the salary schedule? Why was an explanation not provided to the public as to exactly how much the City intended to pay Ms. Welch?

All things considered, I think I was accurate based on the City’s own salary schedule. A free piece of advice would be:  City administration needs to be completely and totally open and transparent.



Politico on Burchett

Last week Politico published a piece on our own Congressman Tim Burchett.  The national online magazine stated what most of us already knew – – –  that Burchett is “approachable and unguarded” as well as “one of the least filtered” people serving in Congress.  In short, Tim Burchett is authentic.  The article says Burchett routinely makes comments to reporters most congressmen “would fight to bury.”  Politico acknowledges Burchett has won friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress “despite his conservative voting record.”  The online magazine, which is widely read by political types all across the country, quoted Burchett as saying, “I don’t take myself seriously.  I take the job seriously” in an interview just before Christmas Eve.  There are quite a few folks in the Second Congressional District who have heard Tim Burchett say that in person.

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy described Burchett as a “constituent-focused” congressman, which is exactly the type of representative the Second District has usually kept in Congress.  Both Jimmy Duncan and his father John, Burchett’s predecessors in Congress, were known precisely for that same approach to serving the people of East Tennessee.

Folks in Washington haven’t quite gotten over Burchett’s Christmas celebration in his Washington, D.C. office, which consisted of a make-your-own peanut butter and jelly sandwich “stand” and Burchett applying cheese whiz to Ritz crackers.  The Christmas music was provided, East Tennessee-style, by two fellow congressmen strumming guitars.  Some in Washington thought he was kidding and were astonished to discover he was serious.  What they don’t realize is Burchett went all out and they only got Ritz crackers because it was Christmas.  Burchett’s Christmas party lasted all of 15 minutes.

The theme of the article is Burchett’s well-known ability to make folks laugh, yet as the Republican Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy, points out, “He has the ability to take a serious situation, lighten the room, but also make his point.”  McCarthy also acknowledges Burchett is “very smart.”  None of it is news to us in the Second District, but it is kind of fun to see the reaction of folks in Washington, D.C.