Commission moves ahead on TVA East Tower deal

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it, Inside 640

Anyone who compares attaining harmony on the current Knox County Commission to herding cats never witnessed the now (gratefully) defunct 19-member commission at work. The present-day collection of commissioners is a restrained and scholarly bunch in contrast, as demonstrated by their 11-0 agreement on Jan. 27 to move ahead on the plan to lease the TVA East Tower for the offices of Knox County Schools administrators. The proceedings didn’t leave a speck of blood on the floor.

Mayor Glenn Jacobs set the tone by thanking everyone involved in the process. Still, he was careful to note that the law director only explained the rules and did not set policy.

The remark may be attributed to the mayor’s perception of foot-dragging on the part of Bud Armstrong on the topic of “indemnification,” a luxury enjoyed by TVA’s current client on the property but which is – according to the state attorney general – off-limits to Tennessee municipalities. In short, no deal can be made with TVA unless the indemnification clause is out. TVA’s attorneys have committed to making it disappear but have yet to show Armstrong their cards.

Attorney Mark Mamantov pointed out during the meeting the contract language does not allow the mayor to sign unless the indemnity clause is out. Still, Armstrong’s belt-and-suspenders approach to the legalities is commendable where taxpayer funds are concerned.

The “sunset” provision in the proposed agreement is Sept. 30, 2020. If terms aren’t agreed upon by then, it probably wasn’t meant to be.

Commissioner Charles Busler wouldn’t lament the deadline passing with no action. The proposed easements, he said, are “too complicated.”

But Busler had other concerns to unload, especially on the matter of “sovereignty.” That’s what the county will sacrifice when we send money for the TVA Tower to the federal government instead of keeping it at home where it would more greatly benefit the schools, he said.

In recent years the words “sovereign” and “sovereignty” have acquired ugly connotations when bandied about by extremist groups, many an outgrowth of the Tea Party movement. We’ll accept that the commissioner had no such worrisome associations in mind, although the remarks should remind us that words matter.

Commissioner Richie Beeler said he was “grateful” for prayers from friends and constituents as he considered his vote on the issue. He concluded the easement agreement with TVA was a fiscal benefit for taxpayers, “well-documented.”

Commissioner Larsen Jay went fishing for some words of confirmation from attorney Mamantov (see above) and got them. Because the agreement can’t be signed until the offending indemnity language is gone, nothing keeps the process from moving forward.

Commissioner Randy Smith called the question, and the vote on a substitute motion by Commissioner Evelyn Gill (which incorporated a batch of late-arriving emails) sailed through. If you’re keeping score, Mayor Jacobs’ proposal to sell the Andrew Johnson Building was deferred for a month.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday. Contact him at

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