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Seven Days

Wednesday, Nov. 8
County Commission votes to put the new jail project on hold once again, pending further review and/or sufficient dwindling of public interest to allow it to squeak through. But it's sitting on the $55 million in capital funds that would pay for the project—just in case something comes up. Heck, for that kind of dough we figure the county can just put inmates up at a Quality Inn whenever the jail gets too full.

Thursday, Nov. 9
Congressman-for-life John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. (who must have the most J's in his name of anyone on Capitol Hill) says he'll look for new congressional stomping grounds to run now that his stint heading up the aviation subcommittee is done. Among the possibilities is the water subcommittee—so watch for Knoxville to suddenly start getting lots of grants for experimental aquatic programs. Maybe the Vol Navy could qualify as a civil defense force...
The increasingly misnamed Parkside Drive is officially extended through the Turkey Creek development on the border of Farragut. Mayor Victor Ashe praises "the landscaping in the median." Oh. Sorry, we didn't notice. We must have been distracted by all the scraped earth and vast expanses of asphalt.

Friday, Nov. 10
A recall is issued across Tennessee on various brands of cheese. Does that include Lee Greenwood?

Monday, Nov. 13
The Knox County Election Commission meets to figure out why they had computer glitches last Tuesday. And also to send flowers to those poor bastards in West Palm Beach.
TVA dedicates three giant wind turbines on Buffalo Mountain outside Oliver Springs. Hey, if this Green Power thing really catches on, we can put those on all our scenic mountaintops!

Knoxville Found

What is this? Every week in "Knoxville Found," we'll print the photo of a local curiosity. If you're the first person to correctly identify this oddity, you'll win a special prize plucked from the desk of the editor (keep in mind that the editor hasn't cleaned his desk in five years). E-mail your guesses, or send 'em to "Knoxville Found" c/o Metro Pulse, 505 Market St., Suite 300, Knoxville, TN 37902.

Last Week's Photo:
A surprising number of people correctly placed this ghostly graffiti in a secluded doorway along State Street (near the intersection with Summit Hill Drive). Not only that, but we got some explanation of what it actually is: one of several local works by a since-relocated Knoxville guerrilla artist who variously went by the handles "Zero" and "Big Worm." According to the man himself, "It's a self portrait of me. Well it became more than that. It transformed into a statement of many different social and political issues. I used this medium to bring the art directly to the public. By bypassing the traditional gallery space it creates a new art space that is self-reflecting upon the subject. I have a whole family of these images that I have created. They all speak about the polymorphisms of values in contemporary humanity i.e. cloning, technology, drugs, etc. There is a better print in the 4th and Gill section of town." He adds, "Wow, I can't believe someone found this." Yes indeed they did—and the first to identify it was Chad Negendank of Knoxville, who wrote, "I've always been curious as to who the artist/graffiti artist is, but have yet to discover its origin." Happy to help, Chad. And as a bonus, you get this week's prize: a miniature set of die-cast metal "Police Dept." cars, trucks, and even a helicopter (don't tell Sheriff Hutchison—he'll get jealous). Made, of course, in China.

Meet Your City
A calendar of upcoming public meetings you should attend

2 P.M.
County Commission's regular monthly meeting has been moved up a week, to the third—not the fourth—Monday of November, because of Thanksgiving. Among the highlights: discussion of the 2001 capital budget, postponed because of the justice center/jail dispute.

4:30 P.M.
The election commission is scheduled to certify the results of the Nov. 7 elections. That's what they're supposed to do, at least. But with this election, who knows?

6 P.M.
MPC officials will meet with local residents to discuss the East Knox County Sector Plan, a proposed set of development guidelines for the slow to catch on eastern end of the county.

7 P.M.
City Council's regular meeting.


Zoning Out

Will the Empowerment Zone turn into a political minefield?

The infighting has begun. From the day Knoxville was designated an Empowerment Zone, with the promise of up to $100 million in federal funding over 10 years, it was clear that deciding how to spend the money was going to be a tricky proposition.

The Empowerment Zone is a 16-square-mile section of central Knoxville, stretching from the Burlington neighborhood along Magnolia Avenue to Fort Sanders and Mechanicsville, from Old North Knoxville across the river to Vestal. All of downtown is in the zone. Knoxville was one of just 15 cities to receive the federal designation nearly two years ago, based on an extensive proposal submitted by the city administration and the non-profit Partnership for Neighborhood Improvement. The program promised $10 million a year for 10 years to foster self-sufficiency in low-income neighborhoods.

Knoxville's EZ plan is proceeding as laid out in the original proposal, under the management of PNI. So far, that has meant a lengthy organizing period, which is supposed to culminate early next year in the appointment of seven Zone Advisory Councils representing different clusters of inner-city neighborhoods. The ZACs, which will be made up of residents and business owners in each area, will set priorities and make recommendations for funding projects (which could range from job training to home ownership programs).

But in the last few months, a group of African-American activists has assailed the staff and volunteer board members of PNI—as well as the city of Knoxville's Department of Development—with charges that they're distributing funds unfairly. Accusations of racism have become a staple of PNI board meetings (despite the fact that PNI's board includes several African-American residents).

The rancor claimed one casualty this week, in the form of PNI executive director Sherry Kelly Marshall, who announced her resignation on Monday. In an interview just hours before she gave notice, an obviously frustrated Marshall said, "There are people in Knoxville who thrive on being part of an 'against agenda,' and they rotate and flotate between one 'against agenda' and another."

She added, "I have never seen a community that is against so many things and in favor of so few." (Laurens Tullock, the chairman of PNI's board, says Marshall is taking a job in her native Cincinnati but will stay here through the end of the year. PNI will begin a search for a new executive director next week.)

So far, congressional appropriations have been slow and sparse. Knoxville has received just $7.5 million in the first two years, with another $5 million coming next summer. Whether the program survives after that will depend on the next president and Congress.

According to Knoxville's EZ plan, the first two years' of funding were to be used for a handful of designated programs: a job training center, which is under development at Pellissippi State's new campus in the old Knoxville Catholic High School; an Internet initiative; and brownfield redevelopment in former industrial areas. The latter include the Center City Business Park near Mechanicsville (where the News-Sentinel, among others, is relocating) and the Coster Shop rail yards along I-275. The money has also gone to hire staff members for the Center for Neighborhood Development, which is organizing the ZACs.

But the program's detractors think some of that money should go to more explicitly African-American organizations.

"No African-American agency has received any funding directly, either through grants or loans, to better their agency," says longtime inner-city activist Umoja Abdul-Ahad. He and other members of the Black Business and Contractors Association have petitioned PNI to start sharing the money now.

Specifically, Abdul-Ahad and others want to see redevelopment along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, in the Five Points area near the Walter P. Taylor housing development.

Doug Berry, Knoxville's director of development, says Five Points is in the long-term EZ plan. But it's not a designated "brownfield" and therefore doesn't qualify for the limited funds currently available.

"What we've got to do is stand hard and fast and stay true to the original intent of the plan," Berry says. He notes the opponents' proposal also calls for funding to be in the form of grants rather than loans, which means it wouldn't be repaid and cycle back into other programs. In contrast, the brownfield plans calls for properties to be made attractive for investors and then sold, with the proceeds dedicated to future redevelopment projects.

But Sheri Carter, who works for Moore and Moore Development and the Community Healthcare Clinic in Mechanicsville, says putting so much money—about $2.5 million in brownfield funds—into a few large projects is a risk. "Can you project that you will make money on those projects?" she asks. "If you do not, what will be left over for the ZACs?"

Carter also raises questions about PNI giving the newly formed Digital Crossing a $68,000 grant for a technology-oriented business incubation project. "There were other companies experienced in the technical field that could have been given opportunity for that," she says.

"These are federal funds," she continues. "Ten percent of anything that goes on with this project should be appropriated for minority [or] female-owned businesses. We have not seen that happen." Carter wrote a letter expressing her concerns to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's EZ supervisor in Washington, D.C.

Marshall says, "What we have is a group of people who did not get their pet projects included in the proposal, who believe that their particular neighborhood should somehow be advanced in front of the other neighborhoods in the EZ."

Abdul-Ahad sees it differently. He says too many programs divert money from the people they're supposed to help. As for allegations that he and the other protesters simply want money for their own contracting businesses and community groups, he says there are many African-American organizations that deserve to share in the funding. "We've got a stack of vision," he says. "I don't see why anybody would begrudge somebody getting [a portion of the funds]."

But Berry says the plan approved by the federal government is clear about how funding decisions will be made. Once the ZACs are set up, he says interested groups or agencies can make proposals for consideration. He notes the EZ program is not racially-based, and only 36 percent of zone residents are African-American. "This program has nothing to do with what your color is," he says.

Still, he and others admit the allegations of racism have made recent meetings unpleasant and could pose political problems. "What has taken me by surprise is the hostility and ugliness of it," Marshall says. "It's verbal abuse, harassment on the phone. It has been downright ugly."

PNI is holding a public forum at 8:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 20, in the Morningside Community Center to try to address some of the concerns. But Abdul-Ahad says those raising questions won't be mollified easily.

"We're not going away," he says. "We can't wait another 10 or 20 years to get another Empowerment Zone."

—Jesse Fox Mayshark

Scared Sick

The delay in getting flu vaccine worries many

A shortage of flu vaccines has many Knoxvillians worried about the quickly approaching sick season, and doctors are scrambling to get the shots before it's too late.

There's also speculation and suspicion among doctors that large drug stores are getting the vaccine before doctors, hospitals and county health departments. "Why does Walgreen's have it if we don't have it?" says Farragut doctor Charles Barnett.

But the vaccines are apparently on the way, and most providers should have them by the end of the month or early December. "It's not as bad, I hope, as everyone says it is," says Dr. Stephanie Hall, head of the Knox County Health Department.

The delay was caused when private manufacturers had trouble producing the vaccine. Flu virus strains are continuously monitored around the world and every March, the World Health Organization and U.S. Center for Disease Control pick the three most prevalent strains from the Southern Hemisphere to base a vaccine on. The viruses are grown in egg yolks and then killed to make the vaccine. "It's not a simple procedure and six months is really a short time for all that," Hall says.

This year, the manufacturers could not grow one of the flu strains. In addition, some of the companies' vaccines did not meet FDA specifications, further limiting supplies.

Panic over the imminent flu season is indicated by a number of things, including talk of a pandemic flu outbreak this year. There are a number of flu viruses that circulate the world, but every 10 to 40 years a new strain emerges with the potential to cause serious damage—as the Spanish flu did in 1918, killing more than 20 million people, many of them young and healthy. "We are overdue for a pandemic," Hall says.

All of this has fueled fears that the flu season will be especially bad. "All of sudden, everybody wants flu shots even if they've never gotten them before," she adds. However, the current batches of flu vaccine wouldn't likely be much use against a pandemic, since it only covers known viruses. Since pandemics last two to three years, a vaccine could be developed to deal with second and third waves, Hall says.

Most people are confused about what the flu is. It is not one of the many cold viruses or sinus infections that most people get over the winter. "Most people who have the flu want to die. They have a fever, severe headache and their whole body aches," Hall says. It can debilitate people for two weeks. Victims may have a clear runny nose and dry cough, but they don't have a clogged up sinus, heavy chest congestion or any kind of gastrointestinal problems, she says.

Although most healthy people can survive the flu well enough, it can be especially troublesome for the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

The flu season doesn't get into full swing in East Tennessee until late December or early January, Hall says, so the delay shouldn't cause too many problems. However, the vaccine should ideally be given two weeks before people are exposed to it to give the body time to develop antibodies. That deadline is fast approaching.

Joe Tarr

Knox as a Balkan

Gore-Bush divisions run outward from the center

The notion that Knox County always votes Republican is a half-truth. Last week's presidential vote makes the city look like a Balkanesque confederacy of warring principalities.

Though Knox County as a whole went for Bush, according to the unofficial tally released this week, most of the wards in city-limits Knoxville actually went for Gore. Several wards in East Knoxville and Mechanicsville-Lonsdale chose Gore by over 90 percent, proportions unmatched by Bush anywhere in the county. Some wards in North Knoxville, like Fourth and Gill, picked Gore by more than two to one.

Fort Sanders, the county's most densely populated ward, is always the wild card; Gore took a majority there in spite of the fact that the Fort also polled the county's highest vote for Ralph Nader, a whopping 8.35 percent. However, voters are much more conservative just across Cumberland Avenue at Stokely Athletic Center, where they voted Republican by a higher margin than the 54-44 percent Sequoyah Hills did and offered Nader just 2.74 percent.

Less predictable was that some West Knoxville precincts also went decisively for Gore. At both Bearden Elementary and West High, for example, Gore beat Bush nearly two to one.

However, once you get into suburban areas past Bearden Hill, you're in Bush country. Democrats become even scarcer when you cross the city limits. Cedar Bluff, Concord, and Farragut went about two to one for Bush. It seems as if the farther you live from downtown Knoxville, the more likely you are to vote Republican. Here, that may be a stronger trend than gender or income or church affiliation.

With only a few exceptions, that phenomenon held in all directions, even South. While near South Knoxville went for Gore, Bush won decisively even at South Doyle, where Bush angered many parents by skipping a planned meeting with locked-in students.

—Jack Neely

November 16, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 46
© 2000 Metro Pulse