Mannis plan improves policing, avoids St. Mary’s debacle

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Update: Eddie Mannis says he supports the city’s plan to take ownership of the former St. Mary’s medical center property to avoid blight on the Oakwood Lincoln Park neighborhood. City Council is scheduled to vote on the purchase for $1 tonight (5/7). Mannis, however, does not believe the site is the best place to put the Knoxville Police Department headquarters.

The three leading mayoral candidates have ties to the administration of Mayor Madeline Rogero, but former Deputy Mayor Eddie Mannis is the only one who has taken a significant position different from one of her major projects.

Mannis has a well-thought-out idea about establishing a police presence in various sectors of the city, creating local precincts that become part of the community that they serve. That would mean a much smaller space would be required for police headquarters. The unspoken corollary to his plan is that it avoids the elaborate effort to remake the old St. Mary’s Hospital into police headquarters and then tearing down the current Safety Building in order to build a science museum. Mannis has not criticized the administration; he has just offered an alternative.

City Council member Marshall Stair and former Special Program Manager Indya Kincannon have endorsed the Rogero plan. They evidently have confidence in their ability to juggle: tearing down, renovating, building on two different sites while maintaining a functioning police department and building a science museum. On budget.

The St. Mary’s site is currently a liability on Tennova’s balance sheet but will soon be in the possession of city taxpayers. Tennova gets out of a six-figure property-tax bill and gets a $16 million tax credit to apply to building a facility out west. Medical facilities in West Knoxville are a developer’s dream project. We aren’t talking about revitalizing a blighted neighborhood or kick-starting the comeback of a vibrant downtown.

But back to Mannis’s reimagined police department. The city has long had sector plans, dividing up the city for officer patrols. But the patrols emanate from headquarters and when patrol officers get out of the car it’s usually to arrest somebody or to investigate a crime. A physical building in the community where citizens can interact with police brings new meaning to the term community policing. The plan would utilize existing buildings where possible and use money saved from a smaller headquarters.

Having a police precinct looking after the neighborhood establishes a clear line of authority. If crime is up in your precinct then you have to explain why to the chief and the mayor. And if you need additional resources, or a change in command, problems can be addressed. Officers would also have better morale taking pride in “their” neighborhoods.

Mannis has had business and management experience, so he might be more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems. The reinvention of the police department is one such.

Dangerous online game: The legislature passed a bill, and Gov. Bill Lee says he will sign it, that allows someone to get a handgun permit online without any training and never having fired a live round. I suppose it is designed for introverted manic-depressives who shoot people with lasers in video games all day until they decide to get a gun and shoot up the nearest schoolhouse.

Contrast: Lee’s schedule last week consisted of a prayer caucus, the Southern Baptist Day of Prayer, a Catholic Church event and a commencement address at a religious college. While he was doing all these events, a bill on his desk authorizing online sports gambling in Tennessee was becoming law. The bill was sponsored by Knoxville’s own Democratic state Rep. Rick Staples.

Cluck Cluck: U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, gobbled a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken last week and left the bucket and a chicken figure on the lectern where Attorney General William Barr was supposed to testify. Barr had canceled his testimony. “Saturday Night Live’s” Weekend Update had a field day. They sympathized with the rest of the people in the room having to “smell and watch an old man go to town on a bucket of chicken at 9 in the morning.” They also expressed sympathy for the intern who had to find a bucket of chicken at the crack of dawn.

And you can’t complain: The final version of Lee’s voucher bill has a provision that forbids the school boards in Memphis and Nashville suing to overturn the program. The school boards had threatened to question the constitutionality of the state passing an education reform and then limiting it to only two counties. The last day of session, the Tennessean reported the Senate had calculated that the ESAs will cost $330 million by 2024. The administration argued that the figure included state BEP money and the new money would “only” be $165 million. So rural legislators and Republicans from Knox County have voted to send money from their school budgets to pay for private school tuition in Memphis and Nashville. One question during debate was whether the $7,300 voucher would pay for private school tuition. Private Christian schools in Memphis range from $9,000 to $14,000 to $21,000. In Nashville the range is from $9,000 to $14,000. The $7,300 voucher will cover tuition at Pleasant View School in Memphis and the Nashville International Academy with tuition in the $5,200 to $6,000 range. Pleasant View and International Academy are Muslim schools.

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