White Monday’s Puppet Master?

By Sally Absher

First, there was Black Wednesday. Then there was Red Wednesday. And now, White Monday?

If you’re new to Knoxville, “Black Wednesday” refers to the backdoor dealings that reportedly took place one Wednesday back in January 2007, when commissioners appointed relatives and political “cronies” to fill commission seats vacated when the state Supreme Court ruled that term limits applied in Knox County.

“Red Wednesday” refers to the “emergency” that BOE chair Lynne Fugate declared on Aug. 6 in order to vote to approve the 2020 Strategic Plan, denying BOE member Mike McMillan’s request for personal privilege to delay the vote until the new Board was seated.

After comparing last Monday’s nomination and appointment of businessman and former coach, teacher, and principal, John Fugate II, to fill Indya Kincannon’s 2nd District BOE seat until the November general election, as “Black Wednesday,” it now seems Commissioner Amy Broyles prefers the term “White Monday.”

Broyles posted to her second district Facebook friends, “I think we’ll call it White Monday – the day that a bunch of middle-aged white men appointed another middle-aged white man to represent a district (a man who had no expressed support within that district), instead of the young black man that was obviously the first choice of the district, or any of the well-qualified women who had varying levels of support within the district.”

Who is promoting their personal political agenda now?  By this argument, Broyles should have had the only vote, but that’s not democracy.

At Monday’s Commission meeting, all seven of the applicants were nominated (See Mike Steely’s article), including Diana Ray, who had withdrawn her application earlier in the day. The final roll call vote yielded 7 votes for Mr. John Fugate and 4 votes for Mr. Rick Staples.

Chairman Anders added Mr. Fugate into the resolution, which was moved and seconded. And then it began.

Commissioner McKenzie lashed out at his colleagues, saying, “We did a lot of talk today, good talk…about how we’ve grown as a commission. I don’t think this is a good vote, in terms of in that spirit. I think this is a political vote, and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Broyles then took the floor. “I’m just going to add to that by saying, and I had not wanted to point this out, but I think that I’ve been forced to…The one person who I did not receive any phone calls or emails in support of, from any resident of the second district, was Mr. Fugate.”

She said, “He had no support, within the second district, from any resident of the second district. And Mr. Staples had overwhelming support. Sam’s right. This is a political vote, and I’m tremendously disappointed.”

She went on to say “What I have seen here, both with the appointment of our judicial magistrate as well as the appointment of our second district board of education member, is Black Wednesday all over again.”

Not stopping there, she added, “I am ashamed of this commission…this is a tremendous disappointment, and frankly, it’s a slap in the face to every resident of the second district…This should not be about anyone’s personal political agenda; this should not be about the good old boys network…I am tremendously disappointed.”

Commissioner Norman, a former teacher, responded. He took issues with Broyles, who “castigated us at the workshop for ‘the fix,’ I have no idea what ‘the fix’ is, and I do not have the slightest idea what she’s talking about, some kind of network.”

“I simply made my decision based on the information I had through two interview sessions and through speaking to people in the district and speaking to people outside the district who are attuned to this issue. I made the best decision I could and frankly I resent any kind of indication that there is some kind of ‘fix.’ That is absolutely wrong, and rude,” Norman concluded.

Commissioner Wright said, “Amy, I can’t call you to tell you who I’m going to vote for, and I have several people standing in the audience who are mad because I wouldn’t tell them who I was going to vote for because I didn’t know until today.”   He added, “People in the second district did call me.”

Commissioner Smith said “I just want to point out too that the dynamics of the second district have greatly changed (due to redistricting). It now goes over to the other side of 640. You’ve got several people running for that office from the north side of 640.”

He added that “I know Mr. Fugate… he supported my opponent twice, gave money to my opponent, twice. But I still felt that given the job, he would do a good job, and do it from the outside, from a business standpoint, and he has an education background.”

When asked how the dynamics of the second district have changed, Smith told the Focus that the second district picked up Fountain City and some of the more conservative, strongly Republican areas of North Knoxville, which were formerly in his seventh district. He has many ties to this part of North Knoxville, and doubts that Broyles reached out to them.

He added that he had received “a total of 3 emails in support of Mr. Staples, certainly not a mandate out of 48,000 people in the district.”

Commissioner Hammond said Mr. Fugate’s credentials, including a Master’s of Education, with a major in administration and supervision, certification for superintendent of schools, experience as principal and coach, along with his community involvement with Calvary Baptist Church, Bible Study Fellowship, Beck Cultural Center, Fountain City Business and Professional Association, Farm Bureau, Knox Area Rescue Ministries, and Knox County Schools, convinced him of who to vote for.

Hammond said, “That’s why I voted the way I voted. And any notion that I voted on anything that would be even closely associated with Black Wednesday, come on!”

Commissioner Brown said “I didn’t come here today prepared to vote the way I did, but I respect each of your districts, and the knowledge you have of your districts, and based on Ms. Broyles address before she made the nomination, that’s when I changed my vote. I don’t see anything even beginning to resemble, in any way, Black Wednesday.”

McKenzie seemed to realize he had gone too far, and started back-peddling, saying “I did not want to go so far as to compare this to Black Wednesday… I don’t think it’s anywhere near that, but I do think we are entering a very dangerous season and trend. To be blunt and blatant, there are forces at play trying to be the ‘puppet master’ within Knox County. I think we all know who want to be the puppet masters, and I think the puppet masters were at play in this process.”

Broyles picked up on this theme, saying, “I didn’t see any sunshined meetings and I’m not suggesting that there was any collusion behind closed doors, but I think what Sam said was exactly correct, and that’s what we did see on Black Wednesday was people who wanted to be puppet masters pulling strings.”

“As to my reference to Black Wednesday, that was another day in which the wishes of a particular district were not taken into account, because there were people behind the scenes pulling strings. So I’m certainly not accusing anyone of breaking the sunshine law, or anything like that, but this is not good process,” she said.

Maybe the Commission knows who the puppet masters are, but the rest of us can only guess. Mr. Fugate was rumored to be the Chamber pick. Is McKenzie saying Mike Edwards is the puppet master? Or maybe someone at the Chamber-connected News Sentinel?

It is common for the media to monitor support during the political process, be it an appointment or an election. Even Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was said to be “monitoring support among commissioners” but did not attempt to influence their vote, saying, “I like keeping score, and I don’t like surprises.”

Why was this appointment so important to some people? Could it be that the supporters of Dr. McIntyre are worried their house of cards is about to crumble? The average time a Broad Academy Superintendent stays with a school system is 4-5 years. This is McIntyre’s seventh.

Nine of the eleven Commissioners saw that Mr. Fugate was well qualified and voted to approve the resolution appointing him based on his credentials, not on anyone’s political agenda. Congratulations Mr. Fugate.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login