by Victor Ashe
Knoxville’s liberal Democratic Mayor Madeline Rogero starts her final year in office in two weeks and it seems like anything she does now days creates problems as she reveals a streak of vindictive attacks on those she dislikes to the amazement of friends, Democrats and the general public.
Rogero, who had recommended $75,000 for Legacy Parks in her most recent city budget proposal which city council easily approved has now decided she will sit on the check and insist on better behavior and a new attitude by the longtime executive director, Carol Evans. Legacy Parks is a non profit group which includes many significant citizens on its board and as donors.
Evans is widely admired as a nonpolitical person and has strong backing from her Board. The Legacy Parks annual luncheon attracts a who’s who cast of civic leaders. It is unheard of in Knoxville for a Mayor to slow walk or withhold a grant which council unanimously voted. Park and greenway backers are mystified if not angered.
No one has a clue how this will end. Rogero is not talking despite it being public money.
Rogero has also waged in the same time frame a high profile battle to terminate a career city civil service employee of 38 years, Steve King.
She eliminated his position and then argued he did not have retreat rights to a prior position thereby making him unemployed. She did that on August 31. King then hired an attorney and filed a grievance. He won it November 25 to the astonishment of Rogero and her palace guard. He went back to work December 3 and will collect his missing pay and benefits for the past three months.
King, 63, is a veteran city employee with strong annual evaluations. He is only two years away from retirement. He is highly respected. He serves on the city pension by election from other city employees who respect his ability. Apparently on the pension board, he has openly differed with Rogero (in a professional and respectful way) at public board meetings. That has irked the Mayor.
The city Employees League had contributed $2000 to the legal fund to pay for the grievance. When Rogero learned about it, she then phoned the League president (which she seldom does) asking if it was true that the League was financially backing King. She was careful not to threaten or complain.
But that was not necessary as just calling and asking the question put all city employees on notice she was watching and taking names. It was a not so subtle attempt to intimidate. She certainly was not calling to suggest an increase in the $2000 gift. Word of the call has spread quickly thru the ranks of city employees.
The issue of retreat rights is critical to a civil service system protecting each city employee from a Mayor who wants to tamper with the system. She has unified the vast majority of city workers against her which is out of step with most Democratic Mayors who treasure good relations with labor.
Rogero actually started her career (she is 66 now) as an organizer and backer of Cesar Chavez in California.
Now days she is trying to rid the system of those who are not in lockstep with her. The good news is that she lost at the recent civil service hearing. The three major candidates running to replace her are assuring city employees that they would be partners with labor and not adversaries. None of her successors are publicly backing her and two of them are fellow Democrats.
But Rogero has now filed an appeal into the county Chancery courts. The city has spent over $20,000 already in attorney fees to two outside attorneys. The current city law director, Charles Swanson who is also a Democrat, has made himself almost invisible in this process.
Word is he knows a weak legal case when he sees it and he does not want to anger city employees. Swanson even told King, according to King, that the issue was not personal with him and he was only doing what he had been told to do. Swanson is married to federal District Judge Pamela Reeves who is seen as favorable to working men and women. Due to that relationship, Reeves does not hear cases involving the city of Knoxville.
Paying lawyers will increase. Financial waste is alive and well in Mayor Rogero’s city government. It is almost a given that this lawsuit will not be heard in the 12 months and two weeks left in Rogero’s tenure as Mayor. Whoever the next Mayor may be, it is unlikely he/she will want ownership of this.
In fact, Rogero has accelerated spending with significant projects such as a new Police and Fire Headquarters with an unrealistic low budget and $1 million for a single public art sculpture downtown while neighborhoods are shortchanged on sidewalks. The next Knoxville Mayor will inherit a ballooning budget while the prior county Mayor Tim Burchett (now Congressman-elect) and current Mayor Glenn Jacobs are keeping controls on spiraling spending for Knox County.
Had Hillary Clinton been elected President in 2016, Rogero likely would be working for that Administration. There is no obvious current landing spot for her after her term as Mayor ends December 21, 2019.
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Ambassador Victor Ashe is a former Tennessee State Senator, served as Mayor of Knoxville and later as U.S. Ambassador to Poland.