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Gannett buys News Sentinel, Commercial Appeal

Gannett, the company that now owns The Tennessean and three smaller newspapers in Tennessee, announced Wednesday that it has agreed to buy Journal Media Group, which owns the News Sentinel of Knoxville and the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, according to reports in the impacted papers.

From USA Today, also a Gannett paper, as posted by The Tennessean:

Gannett, the publishing company that owns USA TODAY and media businesses in 92 local markets, said late Wednesday that it has agreed to buy Journal Media Group for about $280 million, following through on its strategy of acquiring additional local news outlets after it was spun off from its former parent in June.

Shareholders of Milwaukee-based Journal Media Group will receive $12 a share in cash. That is a 45% premium from the Wednesday closing price of $8.30.

Journal Media Group owns the 178-year old Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, 13 other daily newspapers, 18 weeklies and their affiliated websites in 14 local markets in the U.S.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2016. It was approved by both companies’ boards of directors and is subject to approval by Journal Media Group shareholders.

Shares of Gannett closed at $14.94, up almost 4%.

Gannett, based in McLean, Va., will finance the deal through cash and borrowing under the company’s $500 million revolving credit line.

“Gannett is excited to be joining forces with an organization that is so respected by their communities and industry,” said Gannett CEO Robert Dickey. “Just over 100 days ago we laid out the importance of expanding our local market footprint and we are very pleased that our acquisition strategy has kicked off with such a highly regarded company. This transaction will allow us to focus on creating quality journalism for our communities while building substantial value for our shareholders. We welcome the employees of the Journal Media Group into the Gannett family and look forward to continuing to be an industry leader.”

After the deal, Gannett will have a media outlet in 106 local markets in the U.S. It will result in “a combined digital audience of more than 100 million unique visitors a month,” it said. Its print circulation will rise by about 675,000 on weekdays and 950,000 on Sundays, it said.

Note: Besides The Tennessean, Gannett also owns The Jackson Sun, the Leaf-Chronicle of Clarksville and the Daily News Journal of Murfreesboro.

The Commercial Appeal report is HERE; the News-Sentinel version HERE. Headline on the Chattanooga Times-Free Press report: Gannett has now bought all but one of Tennessee’s major newspapers

NRA backs lawsuit against Knoxville gun ban

Loudon County resident Pandora Vreeland is suing Knoxville over the city’s decision to ban guns at Chilhowee Park during the Tennessee Valley Fair, reports the News Sentinel.

The National Rifle Association is backing the suit, filed Wednesday morning in Knox County Circuit Court. It seeks to overturn the ban.

“The Mayor and city of Knoxville are in clear violation of Tennessee law,” said Lacey Biles, director of NRA State and Local Affairs. “The 5 million members of the NRA stand in full support of the plaintiff and look forward to a positive resolution.”

Nashville attorney Lela Hollabaugh is representing Vreeland.

“We believe state law is clear and Knoxville is violating that law with regard to Chilhowee Park. We hope to have the issue addressed in court soon,” Hollabaugh said.

The Tennessee Firearms Association has stated its intention to file suit following the decision by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero to ban guns from Chilhowee during the fair. That suit has not been filed yet.

The conflict stems from a law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in April that allows handgun carry permit holders to bring their gun into parks. After several lawmakers questioned whether the law applied to event centers, an opinion issued by the attorney general’s office in July said the law applied to most municipally owned recreational venues.

Rogero disagreed, saying Chilhowee Park was not a park as defined under the law. She has stated her desire for the Legislature to provide clarity on the issue.

Rogero coasts to new term as Knoxville mayor

Mayor Madeline Rogero and most other incumbent city officials easily won new terms in Knoxville’s city elections Tuesday, reports the News Sentinel.

The only City Council seat left to be decided pits small-business owner Pete Bonovich against incumbent Finbarr Saunders in November.

“This campaign was a lot easier this time around,” Rogero said on stage at The Standard following her victory. “I think because of the outstanding success of our first term.”

Rogero had 3,711 votes, according to unofficial returns, versus 46 for write-in candidate Jack Knoxville. (Note: All election results HERE.)

Both (council) candidates lamented the historically low turnout that continued Tuesday, with just 4,748 votes cast in a city with roughly 105,000 registered voters. Knox County Election Commissioner Cliff Rodgers said he was expecting between 4,000 and 5,000 voters. About 2,000 cast their ballots during early voting.

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TN Firearms Association plans to sue Knoxville

The Tennessee Firearms Association is preparing a lawsuit against the city of Knoxville for what its leaders contend was a violation of the state guns in parks
law during the Tennessee Valley Fair at Chilhowee Park, reports the News Sentinel.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said Chilhowee Park does not meet the legal definition of a city park, noting it is not managed by the city Parks and Recreation Department.

An email sent to TFA members over the weekend solicited donations for the lawsuit.

“Although it’s difficult to predict what the costs of this may be, TFA leadership presently estimates that even if the legal services are donated the costs of such an action (filing fees, depositions, etc.) could easily be in the range of $10,000 and substantially more if there is an appeal,” the message said.

The mayor is not ready to respond to the TFA claims, a city spokesman said.

“We typically can’t comment on pending litigation, and we likewise can’t comment on a potential lawsuit that hasn’t yet been filed,” spokesman Eric Vreeland said.

Knoxville attorney Andrew Fox said he would be representing the TFA. The lawsuit is still in the conceptual stage but will definitely be filed, he said.

Fox said the mayor was playing word games when she arbitrarily created her own definition of which areas are parks. It really doesn’t matter whether Chilhowee Park is a park or whether it’s managed by the Parks and Recreation Department, he said.

On Knoxville mayor’s transgender write-in opponent

A write-in candidate for Knoxville mayor, named Jack Knoxville, tells Georgiana Vines he’s running as a write-in candidate against incumbent Mayor Madeline Rogero in Tuesday’s city elections because “I don’t think any candidate should run unopposed.”

He is transgendered — born Jessica Ann LeMin — and talks about the change freely.

Knoxville, a native of New York, said he spent most of his life in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and came to Knoxville about three years ago when “I was in the process of becoming Jack.” The name was legally changed in Chancery Court in January.

He said he is running because he is concerned about a lot of things and has a lot of ideas. He cited trash on the sides of roads that needs to be cleaned up.

“Knoxville is so beautiful,” he said.

Knoxville, 36, describes himself as a freelance web designer with a business, Smoky Mountain Media Group.

“I’m a jack of all trades,” he said.

He’s spent only $90, according to a filing with the Knox County Election Commission, and he donated the money. He hasn’t named a treasurer, which Elections Administrator Cliff Rodgers said is “inconsistent” with state law.

…In response to Knoxville’s comment about wanting the mayor to have an opponent, Rogero said she didn’t understand how running just to give an incumbent opposition “and without mounting any kind of visible campaign serves to elevate our city or public discussion.”

“I do think our city is served when candidates with a record of voting and civic involvement are willing to engage in vigorous outreach and the dialogue about our city and its future. That’s what I did in my four previous campaigns (1990, 1994, 2003 and 2011) and how I’ve served as mayor,” she said in an email.

Haslam backs Knoxville’s ban on guns at fair

From the News Sentinel:
Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he agrees with the city of Knoxville’s decision to ban all guns from the Tennessee Valley Fair because Chilhowee Park isn’t a city park as defined by a new state law allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in local parks.

But the governor, who is the former mayor of Knoxville, also said the new Knoxville controversy points to the need to clarify the law when the Tennessee Legislature reconvenes in January.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said Thursday that guns, including those carried by permit holders, won’t be allowed at the fair because the new state law prohibiting cities and counties from banning permit-holders from going armed in local parks under their control doesn’t apply to Chilhowee. Although Chilhowee Park is owned by the city, city officials contend it is not a “park” as defined by the law but rather a “public assembly, entertainment and education venue used for civic events and by contractors for special events.”

Asked Friday about the city’s action, Haslam said, “I’m not a lawyer so I can’t get in there, but I think the mayor’s point there is that by any definition of a city park — it’s not run by the city Parks and Recreation Department — it doesn’t fit that definition. So I’ll trust the city’s law department, the conclusions they’ve come to.”

…The Tennessee Firearms Association issued an “urgent call to action” to its members by email Thursday, encouraging them to call the governor, the mayor and Knoxville Law Director Charles Swanson and ask that the fair “comply with state law.”

TFA Executive Director John Harris said the city’s ban “places permitted citizens at risk of arrest if they attempt to enter Chilhowee Park with their lawfully carried handgun.” He also said it may place the city and the far “at risk of being sued for violating the civil rights of handgun permit holders.”

Guns banned TN Valley Fair despite state law

Guns will be banned at the Tennessee Valley Fair this weekend in Knoxville despite a state law that allows handgun carry permit holder to take weapons into city parks and a state attorney general’s opinion saying the law applies at ticketed events, reports the News Sentinel.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero’s reasoning: The law applies to city parks and the location, Chilhowee Park, is not a city park.

City-owned Chilhowee Park, despite its name, is not a park but “a public assembly, entertainment and education venue used for civic events and by contractors for special events,” the mayor said in a written statement.

“Chilhowee Park is not managed as a city of Knoxville park by the Parks and Recreation Department, nor does it function as a park or recreation facility,” Rogero said in the statement. “It has, for a number of years, been managed and marketed by the city’s Public Assembly Facilities Department for entertainment events and exhibitions. Therefore, guns will continue to be prohibited at Chilhowee Park, pursuant to state law, including at events such as the Tennessee Valley Fair.”
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Knox mayor’s ex-wife charged with identity theft

Allison Burchett, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s ex-wife, has been charged with with identity theft, violation of computer law and tampering with evidence, reports the News Sentinel.

A presentment from a Knox County grand jury this week outlined 13 charges, primarily linked to a series of logins to electronic accounts connected to Jo Nicole Strickland, the estranged wife of Bandit Lites CEO Michael Strickland.

At one point, according to the indictment, Burchett posted on Nicole Strickland’s Facebook account with the intent to affect a pending “official proceeding.” The charges don’t explain what the post was.

Burchett was booked Friday at the Knox County Detention Facility and released on $10,000 bond.

The presentment alleges Burchett, on six separate occasions, used Strickland’s personal information to commit computer-related crimes. She is also accused of copying information from Nicole Strickland’s computer on six occasions.

A tampering charge alleges she created a fake document in a bid to affect the outcome of a divorce action.

The six identity theft charges carry a penalty range of between two and four years in prison each. The tampering charge carries a penalty range of three to six years.

Six unlawful use of a computer charges — related to making copies of records — are misdemeanors.

The charges came after a May 14 raid by the FBI Cybercrimes Task Force and the Knoxville Police Department, when officers and agents executed simultaneous search warrants at Bandit’s corporate headquarters on Sycamore Drive and Michael Strickland’s home in an upscale West Knox County neighborhood.

…Allison Burchett filed for divorce from Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett in 2012. Nicole Strickland filed for divorce from Michael Strickland in 2010.

Sunday column: Eyeing the summer’s big city mayoral races

While Knoxville is poised to reelect Mayor Madeline Rogero to a new term with a yawn, voters in Tennessee’s two larger cities have been witnessing a wondrous summer spectacle of political combat between multiple mayoral candidates that has involved some wild spending and strange doings.

Whether this is a cause for celebration or envy in Knoxville, of course, is a matter of opinion. But for political junkie entertainment value, the contests in Nashville and Memphis are darn near on a par with the presidential campaigns on the national level – and the outcome will have ramifications in the rest of the state.

Insofar as general human interest goes, maybe Memphis tops Nashville. Consider that one of the 10 candidates, Leo Awgowhat, was charged last week with vandalizing a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest by painting “Aw Go What” on it – a new type of campaign ad? — and another, perennial contender Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges, professes to come from the planet Zambodia.

By most accounts, incumbent Mayor A C Wharton is the favorite – but not by much – and his chief challenger is Jim Strickland, a prominent city councilman. The election is Oct. 9.

Memphis has a majority black electorate and race is often an underlying factor in its elections. Wharton is black and so are most other contenders, including another city councilman, the Memphis Police Association president and a former school board member. Strickland is white.

Insofar as spending goes, Nashville unquestionably tops Memphis. It appears that seven candidates collectively spent about $15 million prior to the Aug. 6 general election, not counting Super PACs that got involved. In Memphis, it appears the collective total so far is around $1 million – mostly by Wharton and Strickland – though more can be expected as the election develops. Rogero had $76,718 in her campaign account at last report.

Nashville does have a runoff, scheduled for Sept. 10. It pits Megan Barry, a city council member, and David Fox, a former school board member and hedge-fund manager in a classic liberal-versus-conservative contest. Under state law, all municipal elections are nonpartisan, but this one has strong partisan overtones – and many think that benefits Barry in Nashville, which is fairly characterized as a blue island surrounded by a red sea comprised of adjoining Middle Tennessee counties.

The biggest spender in the regular election, real estate developer William Freeman, finished third and is out of the picture. He spent about $4.5 million, most of it self-financing.
Fox leads Barry in spending, having pumped more than $1.5 million in personal funds into the pre-runoff race. He also was supported by $500,000 in spending by a Super PAC, which turned out to be totally funded by Fox’s brother, who lives in Connecticut.

Fox has sought to portray Barry, who presided at Nashville’s first gay marriage ceremony, as an extreme social liberal. Barry has sought to portray Barry, who attends Republican fundraisers, as an extreme conservative. Both try to portray themselves as somewhat centrist.

It’s notable that most of the state’s leading Republican politicians, including Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, who represents part of Nashville in the Legislature, have declined to take sides – as has the city’s Chamber of Commerce.

Last weekend, Fox attended a fundraiser for state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican presidential candidate, was keynote speaker. Johnson endorsed Fox and Barry subsequently declared in a debate that Fox, “left Nashville to get the endorsement of a Republican legislator who is focused on overturning the will of Nashville.” Johnson has indicated he may file legislation to override a Nashville charter amendment that requires hiring of local residents for work on city-financed construction projects.

That got more Nashville media attention, by far, than Walker’s campaign appearance. Johnson told The Nashville Scene that he endorsed because what happens in Nashville, as the state’s capitol, has an impact statewide and he think its important that a “pro-business” mayor be presiding there.

He included outgoing Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former Mayor Phil Bredesen, who went on to serve eight years as governor, as examples of pro-business leaders, even though they’re Democrats. Bredesen has endorsed Barry.

The state’s “Big Four” mayors – those from Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis – jointly lobby the Legislature each year on issues impacting cities. So there’s some common interest there. They’re also all Democrats now and, with Republicans dominating the statewide scene, the mayors are increasingly viewed as leaders within their party.

Dean and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who is not up for reelection until next year, have been mentioned as prospective 2018 gubernatorial candidates. Maybe Rogero should get some attention, too, since she must be a consensus builder to avoid opposition in a city that is not as Democrat-dominated as others in the Big Four.

But then again, she isn’t getting much campaign experience.

Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for the News Sentinel. The edited version is HERE.

Finance disclosures filed in House District 14: Carson ahead in spending

Karen Carson has outspent Jason Zachary in Knoxville’s state House District 14 special election so far, but Zachary has more money on hand for the final days of campaigning, according to disclosures filed Wednesday with the state Registry of Election Finance.

Carson, a Knox County school board member, reported expenditures of $32,318 from July 1 through Aug. 2. She had previously reported spending of $6,336, a total of just under $39,000 for the abbreviated campaign to succeed former state Rep. Ryan Haynes, who vacated the seat in April to become Tennessee Republican Party chairman.

Zachary, a businessman who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. in last year’s 2nd Congressional District Republican primary, reported spending just $7,929 during the same period. Coupled with $6,336 in earlier expenditures, his total spending is now just over $14,000.

But Zachary reported $21,111 cash on hand while Carson has $11,475. No further disclosures are required until Sept. 22, by which time the winner of the seat will have been decided. No Democrat is seeking the seat, so the Aug. 12 Republican primary will effectively decide Haynes’ successor.

The general election is Sept. 29, the same date as city elections.
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