Monthly Archives: December 2011

Comments reveal ugly anti-Hispanic bias

robledso01_t300.jpgHere’s a sad comment on comments.
Today, Mayor Madeline Rogero named Patricia Robledo, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee, to head a new Office of Business Support at City Hall. The position is one Rogero promised to create to make it easier for businesses to deal with government in Knoxville.
Within minutes of the story appearing on this morning, comments were posted questioning her immigration status, mocking the Spanish language and arguing that her appointment would attract unwanted businesses to Knoxville.
As the story stated, Robledo, a native of Colombia, has been a U.S. citizen since 1990, and she and her husband own a company that redevelops historic buildings downtown.
There’s no way to interpret such comments as other than bigoted toward Robledo’s ethnic group, and we quickly disabled the thread.

Flanagan takes over as TCOG director

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has picked Kent Flanagan to be the organization’s next executive director. Flanagan replaces Frank Gibson, who has moved to a new advocacy role with the Tennessee Press Association.
flanagan.jpgTCOG represents several organizations with an interest in government transparency, including the News Sentinel and several of the state’s other large newspapers, the press association, the state broadcasters association, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, as well as individuals such as former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe.
In his new role, Flanagan will work to educate the public on the state’s open-government laws and will advocate for transparency before the legislature and other government bodies.
Flanagan served as a journalist in residence at Middle Tennessee State University after spending more than 20 years as bureau chief in Nashville for The Associated Press. He is a graduate of Angelo State University, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and Germany, and worked at newspapers in Shelbyville; San Angelo, Texas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and San Antonio, Texas.

A story with a happy ending for Christmas

In the newspaper business, you soon learn that it’s tough to bring about big changes in society, but it’s easy to help individuals in meaningful ways.
YWAC-logo-75x90.gifA couple of week ago, I wrote a Sunday column about Pearl and her kittens, the cats my wife and daughter have been fostering for the Young-Williams Animal Center. Well, it turns out that an older couple in Campbell County read the column, and it struck it chord. Though the years, it seems, they’d had two other cats, both white and both named Pearl. Their most recent beloved Pearl died a few months ago at the ripe old age, and when they saw my column they believed instantly they had found their Pearl again.
The couple contacted Young-Williams, and last Wednesday Pearl went back to the center to be spayed. After the surgery, the folks arrived and took her to her new home, where, I have little doubt, she will live happily ever after.
It’s nice to have a story with a happy ending to share for Christmas.

Still time to vote on top local story of 2011

baum_poster__t120.jpgNot surprisingly, the revelations surrounding Richard Baumgartner’s drug abuse is leading the News Sentinel’s readers’ poll on the top news stories of the year. The former judge’s plunge into infamy has garnered almost half of all the votes cast.
The year’s weather disasters are in second place with 15 percent of the vote, and LadyVols coach Pat Summitt’s dementia diagnosis is in third with 12 percent of the vote. Knoxville’s election of its first female mayor, Madeline Rogero, barely cracks the top five, with 4 percent of the vote, trailing the demise of another hero — Bruce Pearl — which is running fourth with 6 percent of the vote.
There’s still time to vote. The results will be published on New Year’s Day along with lots of other special content, including:

  • * A giant year-in-review crossword puzzle featuring 1,500 clues.
  • * Humorist Dave Barry’s special year-end column
  • * Sports writer Mike Strange’s top 10 sports stories of the year, and
  • * Two pages looking back at Charlie Daniel’s year in cartoons.

News Sentinel updates its apps

We’ve launched new versions of our iPhone and iPad apps.
QRcode.jpg The new iPhone app offers a slicker presentation that highlights the latest breaking news and the stories that are trending most popular on the website. The app still includes tabs that take readers to our news sections, a gallery of photos, weather information, electronic advertising inserts and an events calendar.
The IPad update makes that app run smoother. It features a complete replica of the paper presented in an easy-to-scan fashion with enlargeable type and enriched with video and photo galleries.
We’ve begun running a QR code on page 1A, too, that will take smartphone users to our apps page for easy downloading. Check it out.

Happy birthday, First Amendment

freetotweet.jpgToday is the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, and that means it’s the birthday of the First Amendment, which guarantees Americans freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly and petition.
The First Amendment Center in Nashville wants Americans to be more appreciative of those five freedoms and is working with the Knight Foundation to celebrate the First Amendment today by exercising the Right to Tweet.
All Americans are urged to Tweet about freedom of expression today, using the hashtag #freetotweet. Students especially are urged to join in. In fact, 22 of them will be awarded $5,000 “Free to Tweet” scholarships for creative Twittering today.
Spread the word. It’s free!

Coalition for Open Government seeks director

gibson1e_t300.jpgThe Tennessee Coalition for Open Government is looking for an executive director to replace the venerable Frank Gibson, who has taken another advocacy job with the Tennessee Press Association.
If you’re an open government fanatic, or you know one, check out this job posting:
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
Notice of Job Opening: Executive Director, Nashville, Tenn.

Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) is seeking candidates who are interested in joining our organization as its Executive Director.
TCOG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and non-partisan alliance of media, citizen and professional groups working to educate Tennesseans about their right to know about the affairs of their government as set out in the Tennessee constitution and Tennessee’s “sunshine” laws, including the open meetings and public records laws.
Our purpose is to serve as a clearinghouse of information on problems and solutions in the “open government” arena at the state and local level.
TCOG seeks to keep citizens, media and public officials informed about developments and threats to these laws, through projects, and programs — with an understanding that the best way to preserve and improve access to public business is through research and education.
This position currently requires an average of 30 hours per week – with more time required during the state legislative session and study group meetings and less time the rest of the year.
The optimal job candidate will have:

  • • a bachelors degree and experience that provides a working knowledge of the Tennessee public records and open meetings laws, court precedents and relevant opinions of the Attorney General. Needs to be able to advise citizens and reporters on about these statutes and opinions without presenting this information as legal advice;
  • • the skills necessary to collaborate with a wide range of groups and individuals;
  • • the ability to organize and maintain a system to identify threats to open government, including monitoring proposed legislation, legal developments, statewide news coverage and calls from citizens and journalists who inquire about problems;
  • • the ability to successfully seek funding through grants and contributions and to coordinate fundraising activities with TCOG board members and other supporters to support a level of services the Board of Directors determines appropriate;
  • • the capacity to develop and maintain a communications system that keeps the public, TCOG board, TCOG Advisory Committee and TCOG partners up to date on developments affecting open government. This includes writing and editing skills needed to produce op-ed and educational pieces, help maintain a website, and use social media;
  • • the ability to manage the business affairs of the organization, ensuring that all administrative and regulatory filings are completed on time to protect the group’s 501(c)(3) tax status. These include the IRS 990 tax return, corporation annual report and Charitable Solicitations permit with the Secretary of State, and filings with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
  • • the ability to respond to calls for information and other assistance from journalists and citizens, making it clear that guidance provided does not constitute legal advice. Track and report on those calls.

A letter of application and resume should be emailed as a PDF or similar format to by December 15, 2011.

Does News Sentinel share Baumgartner blame?

A few comments have been popping up saying the News Sentinel should have known of former judge Richard Baumgartner’s drug-abuse problems and reported them.
“You too are to blame for not acknowledging things you had to know — You snoop in everything else, so don’t deny it,” wrote one emailer. “How shameful that these poor people have to go though another agonizing trial again. I guess we do need the vigilantes back to do what people like you and the sorry lawyers have ignored.”
Jamie042510palin1_t120.jpgA similar question came up today during a live chat that our court reporter, Jamie Satterfield, did on
“Ms Satterfield, you sat in the courtroom with Judge Baumgartner throughout the Christian-Newsom slaying trial, and countless other trials since 2007 – did you notice anything odd at any time about Baumgartner’s behavior? That he was nodding off, speech was slurred, acting … different?
Satterfield answered: “We all noticed his behavior on the final day of Vanessa Coleman’s trial. I confronted him afterward and he said he had health issues and was taking time off, which he did. When he returned, he initially seemed better … I only witnessed this behavior on the last day of the Coleman trial. He attributed it to health issues, took vacation and returned in better shape. After that I was only in his court for two other trials and he seemed fine, though haggard.”
When Satterfield broke the news that the TBI was investigating Baumgartner, she reported that he had appeared disoriented at the end of the Coleman trial. That report apparently triggered a subpoena for her testimony at the hearing over the motion for new trials in the Christian-Newsom case. The subpoena was waived after attorneys agreed that any testimony she gave would match what she reported in the story.
As it turned out, there was plenty of evidence of Baumgartner’s problems beyond what a newspaper reporter could see from a courtroom bench.