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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
Gerald Witt wittg@knoxnews.com 865-342-6357

Knoxville and Knox County governments are united in one area: youth football.

It's an uncommon marriage between two municipalities with separate parks, public works and finance departments, but in a few areas both duplicate work.

Joe Walsh, Knoxville's parks and recreation director, said unified parks and recreation departments often are a starting point for combined government. Every year or so, somebody suggests combining city and county parks programs. The marriage would help with logistics, mowing and maintenance, he said.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett has said he supports combining departments under a united government. Neither city nor county officials have made major efforts to combine departments so far.

"Conceptually, it obviously is worth pursuing, and we all agree on that," said Bill Lyons, Knoxville's chief policy officer and deputy to Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Lyons said he's talked in general terms with Burchett's chief of staff, Dean Rice, on uniting municipal services, and the two mayors also have spoken on the matter.

"We really haven't gotten any further than that," Lyons said.

Meanwhile, the two governments have united on the gridiron for years.

Knox County Parks and Recreation Director Doug Bataille said the joint youth football program works well.

"We did this several years ago," he said, "back when the city redid Caswell Park and they had football fields down there."

Most of the local youth football players were in county programs before the unification more than 13 years ago. Some city youth football clubs were shutting down because there weren't enough members.

Under one roof, the pool of teams to play grew larger, and the resources expanded as well. Now there are at least 130 youth teams across the county, Walsh said.

The youth football program costs $45,000 apiece from the city and the county, according to Walsh. The taxpayer contribution helps keep it affordable for families, he added.

Games and practices are held on both city and county fields. Insurance and officials come through Knoxville. Knox County also helps pay for officials.

"Each player has to put in $17 to play," said Larry Cox, 72, a former city councilman. Cox has coached youth football for more than 25 years, many of those near Fulton High School.

"I think it's worked out great," Cox said of the joint arrangement. "All the mayors have gotten along. All the administrative people have gotten along."

Other links exist between the city and the county, but they are not common. In 2006 Knox County Health Department officials and Knoxville Parks and Recreation created Nutrition Education Activity Training, an effort to fight childhood obesity with healthy after-school snacks.

Whether such city-county unity will extend to further departments is uncertain.

"Until you get right down to it," Walsh said, "the devil's in the details."
 

July 31, 2014

 

 
 

 

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