June 6, 2023


The first drive-in movie theater in America opened 95 years ago in Pennsauken Township, N.J.

In today's report: Knox County Commission last night approved a $1.05 billion budget for 2023-24, which includes historic raises for sheriff's officers. We look at how a compromise came together between County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and Sheriff Tom Spangler (pictured), averting possible litigation by the sheriff.

Most of the county budget passed with little discussion at Monday's specially called County Commission meeting. But Commissioner Rhonda Lee raised concerns about one agenda item — $7.4 million for the county's annual allocation to local nonprofit agencies.

"There are some of our nonprofits that are using some of their funds for things that my constituents don't believe in to indoctrinate our children," said Lee, who represents the North Knox County 7th District, which covers Halls and Powell.

Lee was not specific about her allegations, although the reference to "indoctrinating children" has become a catch-all phrase among conservatives for anything discussing racial justice or LGBTQ issues — the culture war flash points of the moment.

Commissioner Carson Dailey also chimed in and made clear that his concerns were primarily about $425,000 budgeted for the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville. The umbrella organization disperses the money in smaller grants to local arts groups.

"There's some things happening that I don't like either," Dailey said, although like Lee he didn't say what those things were.

County Chief Financial Officer Chris Caldwell explained that the county enters into contracts with nonprofits to provide community services that the county doesn't perform itself. It is entering the second year of a three-year contract with the Arts and Culture Alliance. The contract could be revisited when it is up for renewal.

But Deputy County Law Director Mike Moyers cautioned commissioners that they couldn't fund or defund groups based on the organizations' political or cultural perspectives.

"The government is required to engage in viewpoint-neutral contracting," Moyers said. "You cannot discriminate based on the viewpoint of an entity."

Dailey said the county might not be able to pull funding from one agency, but he noted that nothing required it to fund local arts organizations at all. He suggested that "if it got worse," he would support pulling all of the funding.

Commissioners ultimately approved the budgeted amounts, but the discussion may return in future years.

Knoxville-based startup Holocene has licensed a chemical process developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Holocene plans to use the process to eventually build direct air capture facilities, according to an ORNL news release. In direct air capture, a large fan pulls air through a chamber where chemical compounds mixed with water filter and capture carbon dioxide. The CO2, which is absorbed by the chemicals and turns into a crystalline salt, can then be separated and stored underground.

“Direct air capture allows us to collect legacy emissions, said Radu Custelcean, a scientist in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division and inventor of the process. “Our technology is one of the few approaches that can do that. It offers a new, energy-efficient approach to remove CO2 directly from air.”

According to ORNL, Custelcean and his team discovered the process by chance while conducting crystallization experiments. 

Anca Timofte, founder and CEO of Holocene, pointed out that there are several chemical approaches to direct air capture, and each has its advantages and drawbacks.

“ORNL’s chemistry combines the best features of existing approaches to (direct air capture) to create a water-based, low-temperature process,” she said in a statement.

Holocene participates in Innovation Crossroads, a Department of Energy entrepreneurship program at ORNL. The company is also part of the Spark Incubator Program at the University of Tennessee Research Park’s Spark Innovation Center.

Holocene and ORNL will now plan to conduct bench-scale testing with the aim of developing the process so it can be deployed at a commercial scale.

“ORNL is tackling climate change by developing numerous technologies that reduce or eliminate emissions,” said Susan Hubbard, ORNL deputy for science and technology. “But with billions of tons of carbon dioxide already in the air, we must capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to slow and reverse the effects of climate change.”


Former Knox County Executive Dwight Kessel died over the weekend, according to a report from WBIR-TV, which confirmed the news with his daughter. He was 96 years old.

Kessel, a Republican, served in several different public offices going back to the 1960s, including on Knoxville City Council and as county clerk. He was county executive from 1980 to 1994, before the name of the position was changed to county mayor. The latter part of that tenure famously included friction over issues including annexation with former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe.

He made a rare public appearance last year at County Mayor Glenn Jacobs' budget address. He is seated in the photo above, surrounded by other former occupants of the office: from left, U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, Tommy Schumpert, Jacobs and Mike Ragsdale.

Visitation will be held from 4-6 p.m. Friday at Rose Mann Mortuary.

Nothing good happens after midnight” is a bit of advice given to the young in an often futile attempt to keep them out of trouble.

Lots of good things happen after midnight, of course. Emergency room personnel save a fair number of lives in the early morning hours, for example.

Police officers, firefighters and ambulance personnel repond to emergencies. All-night dinners and convenience stores serve people leaving second and third shifts, late-night travelers and, yes, those who have stayed late at nightspots (which themselves employ people and offer late-night entertainment). Hotel employees take care of visitors to the city, while security guards protect business assets.

Jess Reia, an assistant professor of data research at the University of Virginia who has worked with cities on nightlife policy asserts that the nighttime urban experience constitutes its own “complex ecosystem.”

In an article on Governing.com, a government policy website, Reia writes about ways officials are running their cities after dark.

In 2017, New York established an Office of Nightlife that serves as a point of contact for businesses that support “the city that never sleeps.” 

“This office is tasked with the routine regulation of after-hours businesses and issuing licenses, as well as confronting abstract challenges like the ways in which gentrification leads to rising rent prices, which threaten cultural and community spaces that operate at night,” Reia writes.

Other cities have followed suit. Washington, D.C., now has an Office of Nightlife and Culture, Boston has created the position of “night czar” and Atlanta has formed a Nightlife Division. The offices also work with other agencies to enforce noise ordinances and improve the quality of nightlife in their cities.

In academia, an interdisciplinary field called “night studies” has emerged to study nocturnal urban life.

As a data scientist, Reia maintains that smart technology can be marshaled to improve how cities operate at night. For example, data tracking movement throughout a city can help determine where late-night public transit might be effective.

But she also cautions that data can be misused, referencing facial recognition software and other surveillance tools that could lead to discriminatory policing.

Knoxville probably won’t name a night czar anytime soon. The cities that have established offices focused on after-hours governance tend to be larger metropolitan areas with more robust nocturnal activity and around-the-clock transit. The Kincannon administration hasn’t discussed the possibility.

“This has never been anything that’s popped up,” said city Communications Director Kristen Farley.

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon will join Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie and documentarian William Winnett at 4:30 p.m. today to unveil a new honorary street sign at Lakeside Avenue next to Chilhowee Park to honor the late former heavyweight boxing champion "Big John" Tate.

Tate trained nearby at the “Ace” Miller Golden Gloves Arena. The Arkansas native won an Olympic bronze medal in 1976, amassed a 34-3 professional record and defeated Gerrie Coetzee in Pretoria, South Africa, during apartheid for the WBA heavyweight championship in 1979. 

Winnett, an Austin-East High School graduate, chronicled Tate’s career in his documentary Knoxville’s Forgotten Champion: The Story of Big John Tate.


“He couldn’t read, he couldn’t write, but he could punch, and that punch led him to Knoxville, to the Golden Gloves Gym at Chilhowee Park,” Winnett said last Tuesday when City Council approved the honorary street sign.

He described Tate’s life, which ended at the age of 43 in 1993, as a mix of triumph and tragedy. “He struggled with addiction; he struggled with homelessness,” he said. “His story is a very human story.”

The honorary sign will rename that section of the road near the gym where Tate trained as “Big John Tate Corner.”

“Big John’s story inspired me to do my best, and I know with this street renaming, his name can inspire others to do their best as well,” Winnett said.

There will be a special showing of Winnett’s documentary about Tate at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Gotham's Night Czar at work.