Category Archives: government programs

TN renews permit of faulty Ferris wheel operator

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Worn out rivet fasteners on a Ferris wheel are being blamed for an overturned gondola at an eastern Tennessee fair that earlier this week sent three girls plummeting more than 30 feet to the ground.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced late Friday that it has renewed permits for the ride’s owner, Family Attractions Amusement, to resume operations at other fairs around the state. But the Ferris wheel is excluded from the permit.

Inspectors hired by the company and the Greene County Fair found that rivets had worn out on the bottom of the tub carrying the girls, allowing a trim piece to come loose and get lodged in the frame of the wheel and tipping the gondola over.

“Ride NOT safe to operate at time of inspection,” Frank Guenthner, an inspector hired by ride owner Family Attractions Amusement, wrote in his report.

The Ferris wheel, which inspectors say was correctly assembled at the site, is being sent back to the manufacturer for repair.

Tennessee does not conduct its own inspections of fair or amusement park rides, instead relying on third-party inspectors. The company was allowed to operate in the state based on an inspection made in Indiana in June. Continue reading

On a Ferris wheel flip and TN safety inspections

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Investigators have not yet determined how a Ferris wheel seat flipped over at a Tennessee county fair, sending three children plummeting 30 to 45 feet to the ground. But the accident that left a 6-year-old girl with a traumatic brain injury sharpened the focus Tuesday on how carnival ride operators are regulated.

After a 2014 audit found shortcomings in Tennessee’s regulatory program for rides at fairs and amusement parks, state officials decided to get out of the inspection business altogether. Now, the state relies on private inspectors hired by operators and other states’ regulators to determine whether roller coasters, zip lines and Ferris wheels are safe.

Authorities said the three youngsters fell from the ride at the Greene County Fair in eastern Tennessee on Monday night.

In a follow-up to the audit last year, the agency said Tennessee law does not require the state to hire its own inspectors. Funding for the Amusement Device Unit was requested for the budget year ending in June but was denied. Continue reading

UT diversity tops Beacon TN ‘pork’ for 2016

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
In the organization’s 11th annual Tennessee Pork Report, the Beacon Center reveals that state and local government officials squandered $480 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money this past year.

For the second consecutive year, the Beacon Center allowed the people of Tennessee to pick the infamous “Pork of the Year” award. After hundreds of votes, the “winner” of the award was the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. This taxpayer-funded office “encouraged” students and faculty to use gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” and “zir” in lieu of “he” and “she” and tried to ensure that holiday parties on the campus were not “Christmas parties in disguise.”

The report highlights this mismanagement of taxpayer funds and includes the following examples:

•Nearly $56 million taxpayer dollars to fund the canceled-then-revived-on-cable television series Nashville
•$1.5 million paid to out of state artists to litter music city with tacky art
•$900,000 in Washington-style earmarks for Hamilton County commissioners to squander on their pet political projects

After more than a decade of exposing government waste, the Beacon Center remains committed to holding government officials accountable and keeping taxpayers informed. We hope the Pork Report will create a more responsible and transparent government that prioritizes taxpayers.

You can read the full Tennessee Pork Report by clicking here.

Nashville men indicted for allegedly stealing state grant money

News release from state comptroller’s office:
Two Nashville area men defrauded the state of $62,075 in grant funds while claiming they provided addiction recovery services to deceased and incarcerated individuals. This is revealed in a special investigation completed by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Clinton Lewis and Andre Trice have each been indicted on four counts of theft by the Davidson County Grand Jury.

Mr. Lewis and Mr. Trice stole the money while doing business as Mount Hopewell Community Development Corporation (Mount Hopewell). Mount Hopewell received funds through the Tennessee Addiction Recovery Program, which is administered by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services.

Mr. Lewis, who served as president, and Mr. Trice, who served as executive director, filed fraudulent requests for payment for addiction recovery services that were never provided. In addition to several “clients” who were either deceased or incarcerated, other individuals had not received addiction recovery services for years or had never received these services.

The state grant funds were deposited into a bank account controlled by Mr. Lewis. He issued checks totaling $60,445 from this account directly to himself and Mr. Trice for personal use.

To view the special investigation online, click http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/IA/mounthopewellcdc.pdf.

Pastor charged with taking state grant for nonexistent program

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has accused the pastor and associate pastor at Nashville’s Mt. Hopewell Baptist Church, Clinton Lewis and Andre Trice, of collecting state grant money for an addiction treatment program that did not exist, reports The Tennessean.

The two men have been under investigation by TBI special agents for the last year.

According to the TBI, Lewis and Trice fraudulently received more than $60,000 in grant money from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services for an addiction recovery program they operated as part of the Mt. Hopewell Community Development Corp. The investigation revealed the clients on the list submitted to the state did not actually receive any program services from at least 2011 to 2015.

In some cases, those clients turned out to be deceased or incarcerated, and those listed as counselors in the program didn’t know the program was still operating, according to TBI.

“Although Pastor Lewis is stunned by the Grand Jury’s decision to indict him on these charges, he is comforted in the fact that he will have an opportunity to clear his name of any and all illegal conduct,” Lewis’ attorney, Jamaal Boykin, said. According to Boykin, Lewis still has the strong and full support of his congregation.

TN, VA govs talk opioid addiction with agriculture secretary

By Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press
ABINGDON, Va. — Kicking off a national tour on opioid addiction, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack brought together the governors of Tennessee and Virginia on Thursday to talk about stemming Appalachia’s drug abuse epidemic.

The town hall reinforced President Barack Obama’s call for Congress to pump $1.1 billion more into substance abuse treatment. It also was an opportunity to show that governors of opposite parties want to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, despite Republican efforts to stop them.

Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam see solutions in a mix of treatment, prescription monitoring, drug courts, education and new economic opportunities.

West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths, with 35.5 per 100,000 people. Kentucky has the fourth-highest toll and Tennessee the eleventh, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s everybody’s problem,” McAuliffe said. “Of course, we need money.” Continue reading

State treasurer offers savings program for the disabled

A new Tennessee program is now available to help people with qualified disabilities and their families or legal representatives save, invest and earn money tax-free to fund allowable expenses such as housing and health needs.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

State Treasurer David Lillard said Tennessee is among the first states to offer an Achieving A Better Life Experience program.

The ABLE Tennessee program, administered through the Tennessee Department of Treasury, is designed to help people with intellectual and physical disabilities save with no impact on federal means-tested benefits so long as the 401k-style investment accounts are less than $100,000.

It is expected to help people and families with problems in areas ranging from Down syndrome to military veterans left physically devastated by war-related injuries.

To qualify, officials said, the disability must have been present before someone’s 26th birthday.

Moreover, individuals must be eligible for either federal Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits based on blindness or disability. Or, they can join by having a qualified physician provide a disability diagnosis.

The accounts can be opened by family members or other legal representatives and accept investment money not just from them but other relatives, including grandparents, and friends, officials say.

“Families are so ready to open these accounts,” Lillard said last week at a news conference rolling out the program, made allowable under recent changes to federal tax law. “The Tennessee Treasury team has put together a very high-quality savings program.”

Lamar and Joe Carr both oppose Cumberland wind farm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is urging his fellow Tennesseans to oppose what he calls an “unsightly” wind farm near the Cumberland Mountain State Park.

The longtime supporter of nuclear power argued on the Senate floor this week that the 23 wind turbines Apex Clean Energy wants to install are “massive” and would spoil the “natural beauty of our state.”

“We should not allow anyone to destroy the environment in the name of saving it,” said Alexander, arguing that wind energy is being fueled by “billions in wasteful taxpayer subsidies” to out-of-state companies.

Apex counters that the $130 million project will emit no pollution and create no hazardous waste as it provides a safe energy alternative near wildlife and natural areas.

Spokesman Kevin Chandler said officials at the Charlottesville, Virginia-based company were disappointed Alexander hadn’t gotten into touch to discuss his concerns.

“But we have greatly appreciated the local welcome we’ve received in Cumberland County and look forward to making this project a reality,” Chandler said.

The wind farm near Crossville, about 100 miles east of Nashville, is projected to power 20,000 homes. It is located on a privately-owned 1,800 acre site behind a limestone quarry, though the turbines would be visible from Interstate 40.

“This project will help bring about cleaner, healthier air, reduce pollution, and create economic growth and jobs in Cumberland County,” Chandler said.

Note: Alexander’s full news release is HERE. And below is a news release from Joe Carr, Alexander’s chief opponent in the 2014 Republican primary, while campaigning in Cumberland County for the 6th Congressional District seat. Continue reading

State subsidies not enough to save ‘Nashville’ from ABC ax

The ABC television drama “Nashville” will not be renewed for a fifth season despite allocation of another $8 million in incentive money including in the state budget for the coming year.

From The Tennessean:

The show’s production reshuffled its creative team and negotiated in principal a lucrative government incentive package in making its sales pitch for renewal to ABC. But inconsistent ratings plagued the program, a fictionalized drama on the local music industry and city politics.

Still, “Nashville” made its mark on the local economy.

Tourism leaders say “Nashville” lured visitors from around the globe. The Bluebird Café, which was a regular setting for the show, enjoyed sell-outs and long, winding lines of fans hoping to gain a seat.

“We are incredibly disappointed to hear the news that ABC has not renewed the show ‘Nashville’ for another season,” Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said in a written statement. “The show has been an enormously successful promotional tool for our city, which is why the state of Tennessee and Metro Nashville were prepared to support production for a fifth season to be filmed here.

“This is a loss for ABC and for the millions of fans across the world who have grown to love this show. We have enjoyed hosting the cast and crew of the show over the last four years and look forward to future opportunities for film and television production here in Nashville.”

…In four years of production, “Nashville” brought in $45.65 million in incentives, mostly from the state. The state and Metro justified the incentives because they viewed “Nashville” as an hour-long commercial for visiting the city.

In that way, the show influenced the incentive strategy for film work, with a new focus on productions that might help boost tourism.

“The state has supported the show, and we believe it was an excellent marketing vehicle for Tennessee,” said Bob Raines, executive director for the Tennessee Entertainment Commission. “The show had a great run, and it will live on through syndication and streaming services for people all over the world to enjoy. The show also leaves a terrific musical legacy that fans can continue to enjoy and associate with Tennessee and the city.”

ECD promoting GOP on Facebook?

More than half of the money a state agency has spent on Facebook ads targets supporters of Tennessee’s top Republican politicians, with none spent on Democrats, according to WSMV-TV. The report prompted a press release protests from state Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and TNDP Chair Mary Mancini.

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is to attract businesses to the Volunteer State, as well as to let the community know what’s going on. One of several marketing strategies involves paying for ads on Facebook.

What pops up in a user’s newsfeed may seem random, but Facebook can target users based on interests. And if you “like” certain officeholders, there’s a good chance you’ll see updates from the TDECD Facebook page.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is a nonpartisan state agency, except they’ve paid more than $18,000 to target people who “like” Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Bob Corker or Sen. Lamar Alexander. Not a dime was spent on targeting fans of Democrats.

That fact troubles Bruce Oppenheimer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

“I think the real question is more so, who’s not getting the information who deserves to get the information?” Oppenheimer said.
… So why would an agency that’s interested in developing businesses and creating jobs not cast a wide net to garner fans of all political parties? The I-Team sat down with TDECD Commissioner Randy Boyd.

“Should politics be involved in a department that’s supposed to be apolitical?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“Politics is a pretty broad word,” Boyd said. “We have to work with the legislature and the legislature is always creating new legislation affecting things we do, and they are political. So in that sense, the politics of new laws and legislation do affect what our development and any department does.”
… Many of the ads pushed for more Facebook likes. Others were more specific, such as a post around Valentine’s Day 2014 that targeted users who like “Bill Haslam or chocolate.” But of all the metrics the department used, none mentioned Democrats.

“I think the blatancy of this may be a little different. Probably the thought is, no one is really going to find out about this sort of targeting,” Oppenheimer said. The professor said the strategy also resembles microtargeting, a tactic used during political campaigns to reach voters.

“It looks like something a campaign or somebody who’s thinking of running for office [would do],” Oppenheimer said. “It’s an attempt to get your message out and manage what you’re doing and who you are.”

Political watchers say there’s talk in Republican spheres about Commissioner Boyd running for governor.

Note: The Harris commentary is below. Continue reading