Vodka as foreign policy

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Bob Gilbertson, owner of Bob’s Package Store on Winston Road in West Hills, has removed Russian vodka from his store in protest of the Russian occupation of Crimea. Gilbertson was interviewed on Fox News from the University of Tennessee’s Communications Building last week.

Gilbertson said he was tired of Russia being a bully in its region and undermining freedom. Wonder if any other package stores will join Gilbertson in his support of freedom?

■  UT President Joe DiPietro has named a high-level committee to look at the Williams House on Lyons View Pike in West Knoxville and make recommendations as to its future.

This is the historic home designed by famed Knoxville-born architect John Fanz Staub acquired years ago by UT and allowed to deteriorate.

It has become a major embarrassment to the university. Staub was also the architect for Hopecote on Melrose Avenue on the UT campus, also owned by UT.

DiPietro did this quietly without public announcement. Your writer learned of it through his own sources. The university confirmed it and provided the membership list.

The committee is chaired by Butch Peccolo, the UT system’s chief financial officer. Members are UT staff members Chris Cimino, Katie Colocotronis, Woody Henderson, Katie High, Robbi Stivers and Tonja Johnson; UT Trustee Raja Jubran and Pete Claussen.

Jubran is an active builder as owner of Denark Construction and has supported historic preservation. He is a friend to Gov. Bill Haslam, who chairs the UT Board of Trustees.

Claussen, who is a short railroad owner of Gulf and Ohio, personally renovated and saved the James Park House on Cumberland Avenue across from St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral. Both know and support historic preservation.

The group toured the Williams House on March 18.

Meetings are not open to the public, and a completion date has not been set, according to spokesperson Gina Stafford. However, this house and adjacent carriage house, which DiPietro inherited when he became president, has become a problem that everyone motoring on affluent Lyons View Pike sees daily.

This writer is cautiously optimistic that something positive will come from the creation of the committee, despite it having closed, unannounced meetings. There appears to be a desire to resolve this continuing negative issue that was not the case with the prior three UT presidents.

■  With the heavy push by state and local Democratic leaders to urge citizens to enroll in Obama­care before the March 31 deadline rolls around, enrollment still has not reached the hoped-for numbers due to intense negative coverage on the rollout, which the president hopes to repair.

People undecided on whether to sign up need to study it carefully and make a decision based on facts, not on the partisan debate from both sides. Getting the facts, which are in fact true, may not be easy.

It is interesting to note that Mayor Rogero has held several high-profile media events to urge people to sign up.

What is interesting is not that she would do this, as I have no doubt Rogero sincerely believes this is a good program. However, the city of Knoxville does not operate a public health program.

Certainly, the mayor should feel free to speak out on issues that she backs, even if outside the immediate jurisdiction of her office.

However, public health falls under the county mayor, Tim Burchett, who was not invited to any of these events. Dr. Martha Buchanan, who heads the Knox County Health Department, also was not invited.

Since Obamacare is disliked by many Republicans, Burchett may be glad to have not received an invitation. However, this is a case where city and county leaders went separate ways on a significant issue.

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