Leave Safety Building’s future to next mayor

Frank CagleFrank Talk

The city of Knoxville has an extensive and comprehensive development agreement to build a science museum on the site of the current Safety Building. It is comprehensive and seems to cover every eventuality. The only problem with the agreement is that Jim Clayton has not signed it, committing his reported $150 million contribution. Meanwhile, the city is proceeding with the plan to move the police and fire headquarters to the site of the former St. Mary’s Hospital complex.

Clayton’s decision making these days is best described as “mercurial,” and it is reported that he is also looking at other sites for the museum. The city and Clayton’s foundation signed a memorandum of understanding well over a year ago to allow the foundation to study the proposal, or, as the city calls it, exercise “due diligence” on whether to sign the agreement. Clayton has been doing due diligence for 14 months.

The city needs a new headquarters for the police and fire department. It needs a new city courtroom. Building a new building on the current site and tearing down the old building would be much less expensive. The building could also be designed specifically for the uniformed services rather than renovating an existing building at St. Mary’s.

The city estimates that the museum would attract 1 million visitors a year. That will certainly be a boon to the community, and Clayton is to be commended for his contribution. Once the agreement is signed, the city would have a period of time to vacate the site. But it is still possible that the museum could wind up someplace else. Until an agreement is signed and the location is decided and specified in a contract, and until the new mayor takes office, prudence should dictate caution.

The city has said the Safety Building site and the St. Mary’s site are not linked together. Each is a separate development. It is the only prudent thing to do. It would be great if the Lincoln Memorial University nursing school located at the St. Mary’s site were expanded and related enterprises could be recruited. LMU has been a school on the move in recent years, spurred by an alum named Pete DeBusk. It could be that a medical-profession campus might develop and the surrounding community could avoid having vacant buildings in its midst. Considering what the city is paying for the site – $1 – the city could make LMU a helluva deal.

My point in all this is that, given the ifs and buts and the long-term consequences of the decision-making process, the decisions ought to be left to the next mayor.

CRONY POSITION: In all the speculation about replacing House Speaker Glen Casada it was pointed out that Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn would become the acting speaker. But shouldn’t the No. 2 guy be the Deputy Speaker, currently Matthew Hill?

Some of you other geezers might remember that once upon a time House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh was faced with turmoil in the party. State Rep. Brenda Turner from Chattanooga had a lot of support to be Speaker Pro Tem, and she wanted the job. Naifeh created the job of Deputy Speaker, which satisfied Turner supporters, and the largely ceremonial post has been around ever since. Since the Republicans took over, the Deputy Speaker had been state Rep. Steve McDaniel, one of the longest-serving House members. McDaniel chose not to run again last year.

Casada made Hill the Deputy Speaker. Hill is chair of the Ethics Committee and serves on “Budget Sub,” the Finance Ways and Means committee through which all spending bills must pass.

But the easiest way to explain it is the Speaker Pro Tem (Dunn) is a constitutional office elected by the members. Deputy Speaker (Hill) is a made-up position used by the Speaker to reward a crony.

SUIT TO CONTINUE: A federal judge has turned down TVA’s request that a suit by Franklin Haney be dismissed. Haney has spent millions trying to buy the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant site in North Alabama. TVA canceled the deal, saying Haney did not meet the deadline last fall to make the purchase.

Haney gave $1 million to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to grease the skids on the nuclear plant deal. Cohen is on his way to jail, and TVA refuses to go through with the Haney deal. Haney won the right to buy the plant in an auction, where he paid $22 million down. Haney, a Chattanooga developer, has made a career of contributing money to politicians and renting office buildings to government agencies.

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