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Knox County, Tennessee

Knox County is a county in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Its 2007 population was estimated at 423,874 by the United States Census Bureau. Its county seat is Knoxville, as it has been since the creation of the county. The county is at the geographical center of the Great Valley of East Tennessee. Near the heart of the county is the origin of the Tennessee River at the union of the Holston and French Broad Rivers.

The county is included in the Knoxville Metropolitan Area.

History

Knox County was created on June 11, 1792 by Governor William Blount from parts of Greene and Hawkins counties, and has the distinction of being one of only eight counties created during territorial administration. It is one of nine United States counties named for Revolutionary War general and first United States Secretary of War Henry Knox. Parts of Knox County later became Blount (1795), Anderson (1801), Roane (1801), and Union (1850) counties.

In 1786 James White built a fort five miles below the junction of the French Broad and Holston Rivers on the southernmost edge of frontier settlement in present-day East Tennessee. William Blount, governor of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, selected the site of James White's Fort as the territorial capital in 1791. He gave it the name Knoxville in honor of his direct superior as territorial governor, Revolutionary War hero General Henry Knox (1750-1806), who served as the first U.S. Secretary of War from 1785 to 1794.

Governor Blount designated Knoxville as the capital of the Territory South of the River Ohio from 1791 to 1796. Knoxville also served as the capital of the State of Tennessee from 1796 to 1812, with the exception of one day in 1807, when the legislature met in Kingston to fulfill a treaty obligation with the Cherokee, and briefly again in 1817-18. Frontier leader General John Sevier, a resident of Knox County, served as governor of Tennessee from 1796 to 1801 and 1803 to 1809, most of Knoxville's years as the state capital. Since no state capitol building was constructed until 1845, when work began on the capitol building in Nashville, the general assembly met in taverns and public buildings. Blount Mansion (1792), the home of Territorial Governor Blount, is the most historically significant dwelling surviving in Knox County from the pre-statehood era. It is the only National Historic Landmark in the county.

The Civil War

Knox County's strategic location along important railroad lines made it an area coveted by both Union and Confederate forces throughout the Civil War. Since the mountainous terrain of East Tennessee was mostly unsuitable for plantation crops such as cotton, slavery was not as prevalent as it was in Middle and West Tennessee - an 1860 census of Knox County showed a population of 20,020 white citizens and just 2,370 enslaved African Americans. The lack of slavery combined with the vestiges of a once strong abolitionist movement in the region were two of the reasons that Knox County, along with much of East Tennessee, was a bastion of pro-Union sentiment.

Prior to secession, Unionists from Knox County collaborated with other East Tennessee Unionists in an attempt to secede from Tennessee itself and remain part of the Union. O.P. Temple of Knox County was named to a 3-person commission that was to appear before the General Assembly in Nashville and request the secession of East Tennessee and pro-Union Middle Tennessee counties from the state. The attempt failed. Knox County joined the Confederacy along with the rest of Tennessee after the second referendum for secession in 1861.

Knox County remained under Confederate control until September 3, 1863, when General Ambrose Burnside and the Union army marched into Knoxville unopposed. Union Colonel William Harris, son of New York Senator Ira Harris, sent his father this message in regards to Knox County's capture:

'Glory be to God, the Yankees have come! The flag's come back to Tennessee!' Such were the welcomes all along the road, as we entered Knoxville, it was past all description. The people seemed frantic with joy. I never knew what the Love of Liberty was before. The old flag has been hidden in mattresses and under carpets. It now floats to the breeze at every staff in East Tennessee. Ladies wear it -- carry it -- wave it! Little children clap their hands and kiss it.

With the success of Burnside's troops during the Knoxville Campaign, and especially during the decisive Battle of Fort Sanders, Knox County remained under Union control for the duration of the Civil War.

Government

The government of Knox County, Tennessee operates under a home rule format. The county administrator, formerly known as the County Executive, is called the County Mayor. There is also an elected county commission. The county officials' districts do not correspond with those of the city of Knoxville, which has its own mayor and city council. Residents of the county living within Knoxville city limits vote in both city and county elections, are represented by city and county mayors, and pay city and county taxes. While the administration appears to be duplicated, services tend to be separated. Knox County runs the local school and library systems. Knoxville maintains police department independent of the county sheriff. The property assessor's office, tax offices, and the Metropolitan Planning Commission are combined between the city and county governments.

County Government Controversies

P-Card Controversy

In June 2007, an audit of Knox County's purchasing card program revealed a number of questionable charges to county government credit cards at taxpayer expense, including a cruise, lobster dinners, and other personal expenses that led to the resignation of two executive assistants and the county's finance director. The controversy prompted Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale to revoke about 160 of the so-called P-Cards, leaving 12 for the county's executive branch and about 170 more spread throughout the government's other branches. It also spurred a number of audits looking into P-Card usage, including a citizen's audit of the program. On May 20, 2008, the Knox County Commission voted 13-4-2 to have Mayor Ragsdale and other administrative personnel repay any misappropriated funds. The mayor was also formally censured by the body, marking the first time in county history that this action had ever been taken.

Black Wednesday and the Sunshine Law Trial

In 1994, Knox County voters passed term limits on Knox County officeholders, including County Commission, Sheriff, Register of Deeds, the County Clerk, and the County Trustee’s office. For thirteen years, these officeholders did not abide by term limits. On January 12, 2007, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that term-limited officeholders would not be able to serve again once their terms expired.

On January 31, 2007, the County Commission voted to appoint 12 replacements for these officeholders. Appointees included relatives and associates of outgoing commissioners.

Some of the appointments and events that occurred during the January 31 commission meeting include:

  • Outgoing commissioner Diane Jordan nominated her son, Josh to replace her, and voted for him. Two days after the appointment, it was revealed that Josh Jordan had admitted to drug dealing in 1992.
  • Commissioner Mark Cawood's wife, Sharon, replaced him in District 6.
  • Commissioner Billy Tindell was appointed to the position of County Clerk. He was replaced in District 2 by Chuck Bolus. Bolus was nominated for the seat by Commission Chairman Scott Moore's and served as treasurer for Moore's Commission campaign in 2006.
  • Commissioner Craig Leuthold's father, Frank, was appointed to the vacant seat in District 5.
  • Outgoing Sheriff Tim Hutchison nominated his chief deputy, J. J. Jones, to replace him. Jones then hired Hutchison back as his chief deputy.
  • Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale allegedly had his aides try to convince commissioners to change their votes, raising accusations of the mayor's attempts to circumvent Tennessee's Open Meetings Law.
  • Appointed Commissioner Richard Cate was sworn in as a Fourth District Commissioner to break a tie for the other Fourth District seat. Cate was later found to have been accused of sexual harassment allegedly occurring in 2000 and 2001 by Sherry Michael, a former employee of Windsor Gardens Assisted Living. Cate was a minority owner of Windsor Gardens at the time. In a lawsuit filed in Federal Court in 2002, Michael alleged that she and Cate participated in an extramarital affair beginning in the spring of 2000 and ended by Michael in July 2001. Michael was fired shortly thereafter by Windsor Gardens. Michael later sued, alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and violations of Tennessee's human rights laws. In 2004, the jury found in favor of Michael.
  • Second District nominee Jonathan Wimmer alleged that Sixth District Commissioner Greg Lambert asked him to vote for Fourth District nominee Lee Tramel in exchange for a seat. Wimmer refused.

The appointment process was challenged in court by the Knoxville News-Sentinel and a group of citizens represented by local attorney Herbert S. Moncier as a violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, or "Sunshine Law". In early October 2007, the jury hearing the case found that the Open Meetings Act was violated during the appointment process.

Citizens' Response to Controversies

The Knox County government controversies of 2007 were credited with spurring renewed voter interest in governmental operations, including a marked increase in voter registration and the formation of at least two citizen-driven initiatives aimed at amending the county's Charter.

Knox County-One Question is chaired by Dr. Joe Johnson of the University of Tennessee and wishes to introduce several changes to the Knox County Charter. These changes include:

  • Giving the county Mayor the ability to appoint the current elected offices of Trustee, Clerk, Register of Deeds, Property Assessor, and Law Director
  • Reducing the size of County Commission from 19 members to 11 (one for each district plus two county-wide seats)
  • Establishing an independent Office of Inspector General to replace the current Office of Internal Audit

The group is also proposing changes to the current ethics policy of the Knox County government, many of which are being discussed by the Commission as of November 2007.

The Knox County Recall Amendment Drive was formed in October 2007 to bring forth a recall provision to the Knox County Charter via referendum in August 2008. As of November 2007, the Recall Amendment Drive's proposed amendment is on the Commission's agenda as an ordinance, supported by Second District Commissioner Mark Harmon and Sixth District Commissioner Greg Lambert. On November 6, 2007, the group obtained the support of county Mayor Mike Ragsdale, who signed their petition to the Commission urging that the amendment be placed by the Commission on the ballot in 2008.

The group was headed by local resident Brian Paone and includes a number of community activists, such as local business leader Lisa Starbuck, president of the Knoxville-Knox County League of Women Voters Nan Scott, and Gary Sellers, who led a successful petition drive in 2004 to call a referendum on the county's wheel tax.

On December 17, 2007, the commission approved an ordinance to place the recall amendment on the August 2008 ballot.

Geography

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 526 square miles (1,362 km²), of which, 508 square miles (1,317 km²) of it is land and 17 square miles (45 km²) of it (3.29%) is water.

Major highways

Interstate highways

U.S. Highways

State Routes

Adjacent counties

Demographics

As of the census of 2000, there were 382,032 people, 157,872 households, and 100,722 families residing in the county. The population density was 751 people per square mile (290/km²). There were 171,439 housing units at an average density of 337 per square mile (130/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 88.10% White, 8.63% Black or African American, 0.26% Native American, 1.29% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.50% from other races, and 1.18% from two or more races. 1.26% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 157,872 households out of which 28.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.80% were married couples living together, 10.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.20% were non-families. 29.60% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.34 and the average family size was 2.92.

In the county, the population was spread out with 22.30% under the age of 18, 11.60% from 18 to 24, 30.40% from 25 to 44, 23.10% from 45 to 64, and 12.70% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 93.50 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $37,454, and the median income for a family was $49,182. Males had a median income of $35,755 versus $25,140 for females. The per capita income for the county was $21,875. About 8.40% of families and 12.60% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.50% of those under age 18 and 9.70% of those age 65 or over.

Cities, communities, and places

Cities and towns

Unincorporated communities

See also

References

  • History of Tennessee From the Earliest Time to the Present: Together With an Historical and a Biographical Sketch of From Twenty-five to Thirty Counties of East Tennessee. (The Goodspeed Publishing Co., Chicago & Nashville), 1887.
  • Rothrock, Mary U., editor. The French Broad-Holston Country: A History of Knox County, Tennessee. (Knox County Historical Committee; East Tennessee Historical Society, 1946).

External links

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