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Hammond addresses West Knox Republican group


Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond felt certain he was among friends when he spoke to the Farragut Republican Club Thursd

But the broadcasting executive, a Republican seeking re-election to Commission Seat 5-A, briefly found himself a lightning rod for members’ pent up fury about an array of perplexing local issues.Among those:

• An unpopular countywide wheel tax whose revenues were earmarked to ease overcrowding in Knox County Public Schools, especially those in West Knoxville and Farragut.

• Knoxville’s plans for spending $139 million, during the next few years, to redevelop South Knoxville’s waterfront.

• Apparent school budgeting shortfalls and construction delay on a planned northwest sector high school for which officials broke ground weeks ago on Hardin Valley Road.

• Continuing communication difficulty among government entities — Knox County Commission, Knoxville City Council and Knox County School Board.

Hammond, who faces independent Randy Sadler in the Aug. 30 general election, told his fellow Republicans at a meeting where Vice President Bill Johns presided, he had learned at least 10 tough lessons since succeeding Mike Arms as commissioner two years ago. For openers, he said, he learned “how to count to ten.” All 19 commissioners must develop that skill, he joked, because without a 10-member majority, nothing gets done. Debate and compromise are essential, he noted. Hammond said he also learned:

• Jurisdictional limits mean commissioners cannot resolve all constituent service requests.

• Commissioners must not anger easily or take criticism personally.

• Zoning issues are the commission’s hottest matters.

• People hate tax increases.

• Relatively few citizens understand government process well.

• Government seldom plans ahead well.

• Everything is political. Everyone has an agenda.

• Since commissioners have two ears but only one mouth, they must learn to listen more than they talk.

• Commissioners must vote their convictions to be able to “look at themselves in the mirror mornings.”

In response to audience concerns, Hammond said:

“There was division between County Commission and the school board for seven years, and that’s been a problem. There’s a lack of communication among government entities. We have got to get

along, sit down together and

communicate.

“I don’t want to run the school system. But voters, he noted, were told the wheel tax would ease school crowding.

“If a new school won’t eliminate crowding, we need to know that.”

He advocated that the commission set up a budget committee to act as school board liaison and help commissioners better follow school budgeting progress. Commissioners now learn nothing of schools’ budget until May 17 — just 30 days before they must digest and approve its contents.

Hammond called it impossible for all 19 commissioners to follow school budgeting matters year-round. A budget committee could help, he said.

“I’d at least like to give it a try, and see if it works,” Hammond added.

When asked how commissioners might oversee school revenues earmarked for a new high school, Hammond said: “Once we approve their budget, the schools can spend money however they want, and there’s noting we can do about it. We can’t hold them accountable, but citizens can.”

Some club members roundly criticized a city waterfront improvement proposal, saying its costs would add to city debt swollen already by convention center costs. One club member urged commissioners to rein in on project spending if city government seems “asleep at the switch.”

Another urged commissioners to “watch taxpayers’ back” if city council members merely “rubber-stamp” costly waterfront plans.

Hammond said, “City Council and County Commis-sion don’t really get together” on such city projects. He favors closer cooperation, he said.

“But such waterfront projects, nationwide, have done well when properly planned,” he added. “The city is making sure the plan is sound.”

In any case, Hammond doubted citizens were ready for a fourth effort toward a metropolitan government.

“Some advocate that,” he said. “But I don’t think people are ready. We don’t want a charter crammed down our throats. If we ever consider another charter, the sheriff’s office must be at the table. Every other [aspect] of Knox County must be represented. It’s at least a two-year process. I won’t support just a few people sitting in a room” drafting a proposed new charter.

Rather than consolidate government, Hammond said he’d prefer that city, county and school officials meet to discuss ways to improve the process and save tax money.

 

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