June 16, 2023


The Ford Motor Co. was incorporated 120 years ago today.

In today's report: Perhaps no change instituted by Chief Paul Noel in his first year on the job represents his intent to transform the Knoxville Police Department’s culture as much as the overhaul of the Internal Affairs Unit. He did away with the name of the unit, folded it into the newly formed Office of Professional Standards, took away its responsibility for vetting new job applicants and replaced virtually the entire staff. The changes haven’t been universally accepted — a former internal affairs investigator resigned and sent an email criticizing the department's leadership to other officers — but Noel (pictured) said the vast majority of employees welcome the changes he's initiated. We talk to the chief about the internal affairs rebuild.

The Knox County Education Association, which represents Knox County Schools teachers, has joined with the Tennessee Education Association and two other local teachers' associations in suing the state over a law that will make it more difficult for them to collect dues from members.

Because Tennessee is a right-to-work state, no teachers can be compelled to join unions or pay union dues. But under previous state law, those who did join could have their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks by the local school system and remitted to the local association.

But in a bill promoted by Gov. Bill Lee's administration, the state Legislature this year made that arrangement illegal. Starting July 1, districts will no longer be allowed to collect and remit those dues, and teachers will have to make the payments themselves.

To help secure passage of the provision, Lee's administration joined it to a separate measure to raise teacher starting salaries across the state to a minimum of $50,000 over the next four years. In committee hearings, even some Republican legislators questioned combining the two issues.

But the bill passed, and the lawsuit filed Monday alleges that it is unconstitutional on multiple counts. The Tennessee state constitution forbids bills that combine unrelated items: "No bill shall become law which embraces more than one subject, that subject to be expressed in the title." Another section bars any laws "impairing the obligation of contracts," as does a similar clause in the U.S. Constitution.

The suit argues that the restriction violates memorandums of understanding between local teachers' associations and school systems, as well as agreements between members and their local unions.

It also alleges significant damages in added expenses to the associations and their members in making alternative arrangements for dues collection. TEA said that it has invested in software to make it easier for teachers to pay their dues directly, but it costs money and labor to operate.

At the same time, it says the change will not save local districts any money or effort because the payment systems are set up for automatic deduction and remittance. The suit notes that fiscal notes on the legislation estimated no positive impact or savings for local districts.

“Sliding a payroll dues deduction ban in a bill to raise the minimum pay was a cynical attack on Tennessee teachers. The ban was mean-spirited, and the way it passed was unconstitutional,” Tennessee Education Association President Tanya Coats said in a statement. (Coats is also a former president of KCEA.) She added, “We filed this suit to protect the rights of our members and highlight the missteps made by the administration when they pushed this attack on teachers.”

The suit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, is careful to separate out the dues issue from the salary increases in the bill, saying it is challenging only the former. It argues that under the state's severability statute, the raises would stand even if the dues restriction was struck down.


Pellissippi State Community College and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have entered into a partnership that promises to provide a career pathway for students and a trained workforce for an isotope program at ORNL.

Officials signed a memorandum of understanding last month to establish a Chemical Radiation Technology pathway within Pellissippi State’s multidisciplinary associate of applied science in general technology degree program, according to a news release.

Three new classes, two of them taught by ORNL scientists, will be added to the college’s offerings. The students who complete the program would be eligible for work at ORNL and other national laboratories without first completing a bachelor’s degree. They will visit ORNL during the course of their studies and could qualify for internships.

Pellissippi State president Anthony Wise Jr. called the program “a great example of the work that we want to do” by partnering with organizations that have significant impact in the region. He said around 80 percent of Pellissippi State students stay in the greater Knoxville area after graduation.

“We’ve got a curriculum for students to follow,” Wise said in a statement. “We’ve got opportunities for students to get to the lab, to see what work is like at the lab, to understand what it’s like to be a professional at the lab, and to dream about what it would be like to be a person who worked there.”

The program’s curriculum includes elements of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and applied chemistry, among other disciplines.

Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at the college, and Clarice Phelps, a nuclear chemist in the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate at ORNL, are spearheading the effort. Phelps was part of a team involved in discovering a new element on the periodic table: Element 117, named Tennessine.

Jeff Smith, interim director of ORNL, said the lab needs employees to increase and improve production of isotopes for medicine, industry, national security and scientific research. For example, ORNL now produces multiple radioisotopes for cancer treatment clinical trials, and it’s the only place in the world where some rare isotopes are produced.

“We have capabilities and assets that are unlike anyplace else in the United States,” Smith said, “and we have activity underway already that’s starting to build momentum.”

Pellissippi State students will be able to sign up for the classes beginning with the Fall 2023 semester.


In a bit of a plug for the producer of our Compass Points podcast, we’ll let you know that Seth Barber and Neal Murphy are opening eVape Tavern at 1207 N. Central St., the site of the former Time Warp Tea Room in Happy Holler.

The pirate-themed establishment, complete with a 60-foot bar that suggests a sloop in search of plunder, will have local craft beers on tap, as well as a selection of rums and brandies for custom house cocktails, and assorted other spirits. The main room has a small stage and a 45-seat private dining room for small events, dinners, meetings, entertainers and more. 

eVape Tavern sets sail with a grand opening on June 23. 

Murphy and Barber, partners in Seal Holdings, also own and operate the original eVape Lounge at 603 Emory Road and eVape West at 126 S. Northshore Drive. “Lord Seth” Barber is the creative force behind Barberian Productions and the host of his own podcast, Almost in Agreement.

You can read more in the News Sentinel's writeup on the establishment.

Weekend leisure links.

Read: "The 100 Most Lost Songs of the 1980s" Sean Ross (Radio Insight)

Watch: 211-shot badminton rally

Listen: Fountain Baby Amaarae

Look: Ugly Medieval Cats

Laugh: "Cormac McCarthy, the Art of Fiction" Bunny Truman (The Paris Review)

Pirates have a hard time adjusting to office culture.