A million here, a million there

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

An anomaly of local government is the limited power of the county mayor. On the surface, Knox County’s $851 million budget puts it far ahead of the city’s $434 million. But Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon runs the city. She appoints the department heads, sets budget priorities and generally prevails in rare disputes with a part-time city council.

That’s just not the case for Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. From his $851 million, whomp, out comes $508 million for Knox County Schools, run by a nine-member elected school board that hires the superintendent.

Another whack is the $94 million that goes to public safety. Yes, law enforcement is run by an elected sheriff. On and on it goes. Jacobs can’t even hire a lawyer. He gets advice from an elected law director.

Elected sheriffs, law directors and school boards are political. They form alliances, raise campaign funds and generally just want to be left alone. And the county mayor finds himself reading to kids and collecting food for The Love Kitchen.

The sheriff rebrands

Sheriff Tom Spangler called a press conference Thursday. Wow, I thought. He’s caught a fugitive, or he’s announcing a plan for enhanced security at the City County Building. Or maybe he’s going to start enforcing the curfews and mask rules set by the health board.

The new logo for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office was designed by Jim McMichael Signs & Truck Painting.

Nope. Sheriff Spangler announced a new logo.

“It honors veterans,” said Kimberly Glenn, communications director.

“The new logo says law enforcement is here to help,” said the sheriff.

Glenn said the logos will be installed on new vehicles, not existing models. And she said cars funded and ordered in 2019 and 2020 are back-ordered because of factory shut-downs during the Covid pandemic.

The new logo was modeled on two gleaming white Dodge cruisers. And I wondered what brand Spangler’s 2018 opponent, Lee Tramel, would have chosen.

Larsen Jay wants to help

Knox County Commission chair Larsen Jay has formed a special committee to examine the relationship between the sheriff’s office and its merit council. We asked Jay why and what he hopes to accomplish.

At-large Commissioner Larsen Jay

“I discovered the relationship is incredibly fractured,” he said. “The system is broken and it falls under the purview of the Knox County Commission.”

This is true. The commission appoints members to the merit council, generally rubber-stamping recommendations of the sheriff.

Jay, who has done several ride-alongs with deputies, said the broken system hurts the officers. “I saw an opportunity to be helpful.”

He hopes to:

  • Hear from everyone involved; open dialogue
  • Bring back to commission common-sense reforms that help officers and the relationship
  • Discover policy decisions that need to be made by others

“We’ll report our findings to the sheriff, the merit council and the commission. We’ll say, ‘If you don’t deal with these issues, you will start losing a huge number of officers.’

“We want to shine a light. No one likes change. Everyone gets their haunches up fast.”

Well, this could be fun.

Committee members: Commissioners Jay, Richie Beeler, Courtney Durrett; KCSO administrators Mike Ruble, Lysette Aviles; KCSO officers Lt. Krystal Gibson, Lt. Gabe Mullinax; Merit Council member Gina Oster and administrator Paul Taylor; citizen rep Scott Broyles.

Next meeting: 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, via Zoom; streaming

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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