The play’s the thing (at county commission)

Larry Van GuilderAs I see it

You could think of a Knox County Commission Work Session as you would a movie trailer or a dress rehearsal – a tantalizing preview of things to come. Last night’s preview was spicy, with unexpected twists and a classic, almost Shakespearean warning thrown in for good measure.

The evening’s first curve came as a startling shift from the norm, especially in red-state Tennessee. Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center will contract with Knox County forensics types to perform autopsies.

I can hear the snickering from here. Yeah, yeah, the old pols in the City County Building know where all the bodies are buried so it’s only fitting the county perform autopsies. But you amused cynics are missing the point. This is the first time in recent memory that the private sector has engaged the public sector to do anything in which one might remotely expect to turn a profit.

Twist number two: Commissioner Randy Smith endorsed a concept which is anathema to city planners far and wide – spot zoning. Smith didn’t use the term, but when he said he would be more comfortable with “site-specific” zoning for the business in question rather than a wholesale zoning change, the shock was nearly enough to make Gerald Green “unannounce” his retirement. What will those crazy commissioners come up with next?

The autopsy contract and the semantic gymnastics around zoning were entertaining, but the high drama, the story for which we forked over the admission price, was the highly anticipated “to be or not to be” move of the schools administrative offices to the TVA East Tower. (The actual vote will be Monday, Jan. 27.)

Commissioner Carson Dailey got the ball rolling with his concern about “splitting government,” with some offices in the TVA Tower and others left behind in their current quarters. Dailey, in true confessions mode, said he had spent many sleepless nights worrying about the moves and he expected to lose a lot more sleep before the issue had been put to bed or – to use Mayor Jacobs’ more colorful idiom – “chokeslammed” into submission.

Now we come to the moment of highest drama. In true soothsayer fashion, and with the unspoken hope that the TVA Tower issue might be resolved before the Ides of March, Commissioner Larsen Jay provided a climax fitting for old William himself:

“This should not be the biggest issue in Knox County,” Jay declared. “There are much bigger issues than moving some administrative offices.

“This body,” he continued, “is so risk-averse we’ll talk ourselves out of ever doing anything.”


Or, if I may paraphrase the master, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our TVA contracts/ But in ourselves….”

(ring down the curtain)

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


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