Category Archives: local government

Judge revokes bond, sends Rutherford sheriff to jail

A federal magistrate Wednesday revoked bond for Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold Wednesday and ordered him to jail because of new domestic assault charges brought while he is awaiting trial on corruption charges, reports the Daily News Journal.

“I find sufficient probable cause that Robert Arnold committed (domestic assault against his wife),” U.S. Magistrate Judge Alistair Newbern ruled Wednesday morning.

She also ordered that Arnold be escorted out of her courtroom by a U.S. Marshall, who placed handcuffs on the sheriff’s wrists held behind his back.

Newbern revoked Arnold’s $250,000 bond in the JailCigs case and ruled probable cause exists that the Rutherford County sheriff was involved in a domestic assault against his wife as well as witness tampering.

However, she left opened the possibility of him being released if he resigns from office and agrees to stay away from his wife and Rutherford County deputies.

Second-in-command Chief Deputy Randy Garrett will take charge of the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office while Arnold is in jail, County Mayor Ernest Burgess said.

The sheriff will continue to receive his annual salary of $127,078 while behind bars, Burgess said.

“That’s the way I read the state statute,” the mayor said during a Wednesday morning phone interview before Arnold’s federal court hearing in Nashville. “He’s still the sheriff until he is convicted of a felony. When that occurs, he is removed as sheriff.”

State law does provide that an acting sheriff can be in charge whenever the sheriff is incapacitated, such as having to be detained while awaiting trial, the mayor said.

In Arnold’s case, he and his uncle John Vanderveer, and Joe Russell, the Sheriff’s Office accounting chief, face a 13-count federal indictment accusing them of illegally profiting from inmates through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business.

McCormick for mayor?

State Rep. Gerald McCormick says he had no thought of running against incumbent Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke when he decided against another term as House Majority leader, but lots of people have raised the possibility since — and he’s not ruling it out.

Further from Andy Sher:
“That was definitely not on my mind,” McCormick said Tuesday of the idea of running for mayor. “It’s been surprising the number of people who’ve called me.”

Berke, a Democrat and former state senator, recently announced he is running for a second four-year mayoral term in the city’s March 7 election. City Councilman Larry Grohn last month announced he is challenging Berke for the non-partian position.

…The lawmaker, who noted he personally likes Berke, said “I’ve had people I respect very much” raise the issue in the days since about running for mayor. “I do not have any plans to run for mayor and if I had to give a quick answer the answer would be no.”

But, McCormick said, “I don’t want to close out the door completely.”

Berke, 48, has been embroiled in controversy after a domestic incident involving adviser Lacie Stone and her husband, Bobby. Bobby Stone has alleged his wife was having an affair with Berke. The mayor has denied the claim.

McCormick is a principal in the commercial real estate firm of Stone Fort Properties. He recently became a director with the investment banking firm of Decosimo Corporate Finance. In addition to overseeing Chattanooga-based Stone Fort, McCormick is assisting Decosimo in sourcing and executing sell-side advisory engagements and debt and equity raises.

TDEC fines Bluff City $25K for discharging sewage into lake

Bluff City has been fined $25,760 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for discharging 15,000 gallons of sewage into Boone Lake, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

The city will pay at least $3,864 of that fine, and it must be paid by Oct. 24. But Bluff City can avoid a large majority of the fine by following certain orders handed down by the state, according to a TDEC order issued on Sept. 23.

Those include fully implementing a corrective action plan before Jan. 16, 2017; submitting a capacity, management, operation and maintenance plan that must be approved by the state for a period of two years; submitting a written sewer overflow response plan to the state; and submit annual summary reports of all overflows and corrective action taken for three years starting in 2018.

…The fine stems from incidents that took place between Feb. 18, 2015, and Aug. 21, 2016. A total of 18 overflows occurred during that time period, and 10 of those occurred because of a faulty pump at the town’s Igloo pump station. At one point, 15,000 gallons of sewage reached Boone Lake.

The sewage overflow violated Tennessee Annotated Code 69-3-108(b) and 69-3-114(a), which basically say it is unlawful for sewage to be discharged into waters and the city caused a condition of pollution.

The faulty pump stations are in the process of being replaced with an expected completion date still 15 months away. The faulty pumps have given Bluff City headaches for the past year and spurred the filing of two separate lawsuits by families who say they have experienced hardships because of the raw sewage overflows.

A grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and higher water prices are combining to pay for the replacement of the pumps.

Berke, staff used encrypted messages to communicate

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and City Attorney Wade Hinton on Monday said they’ve both used encrypted smartphone message applications to communicate government business, reports the Times-Free Press.

The app they used, Whatsapp, is an encrypted messaging platform that only allows message senders and recipients to store messages and phone calls. Unlike an email sent using the city’s email server, Whatsapp does not store messages sent by its users.

Concerns over text communications by Berke and his senior staff arose after a domestic incident involving adviser Lacie Stone and her husband, Bobby. Bobby Stone has alleged his wife was having an affair with Berke, who has denied the claim.

On Monday, Berke asserted the usage of Whatsapp or similar technology does not run counter to his administration’s commitment to transparency.

“I have used Whatsapp in the past,” Berke said. “I do not currently use Whatsapp to communicate with them [his staff]. We communicated with it and sent messages that have government business on them and comply with our [open record] responsibilities, just like our text messages.”

Berke did not explain why members of the city staff used encrypted messaging as opposed to regular text messaging or offer an explanation as to why he quit using Whatsapp.

Rutherford sheriff, already facing corruption trial, accused of domestic assault

Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, already facing trial on corruption charges, has now been accused of a domestic violence assaylt on his wife, reports the Daily News Journal.

“The defendant has been accused of domestic assault against his wife, Megan Arnold,” states a pretrial release petition from Kimberly J. Haney, a pre-trial services officer to U.S. Magistrate Judge Alistair E. Newbern.

Rutherford County’s District Attorney General Jennings Jones asked the TBI to investigate the alleged domestic assault after rumors surfaced that sheriff’s deputies had been called to the Arnolds’ Osborne Lane home but did not file a report.

Megan Arnold told the TBI that her husband became violent with her after the couple returned home from a Labor Day party at a friend’s house where he had been drinking, according to the court records. When the sheriff returned home, his wife told the TBI agent, he continued to drink and took an Ambien sleeping pill.

Later, when she opened the bedroom where the sheriff was, “the defendant pushed Mrs. Arnold to the floor and punched her in her right arm near her shoulder,” court records state.

“Mrs. Arnold kicked the defendant, and a struggle ensued,” the court filing continues. “During the struggle, the defendant grabbed a belt and wrapped it around Mrs. Arnold in an attempt to drag her out of the room without leaving marks on her body. Mrs. Arnold slipped out of the belt, and the defendant pinned her on the bed with his body. Mrs. Arnold related the defendant said if he were to place all of his body weight on her that she would stop breathing.

“Eventually, the defendant got up and Mrs. Arnold went to another part of the house,” court records state. “In a recorded conversation between Mrs. Arnold and a third party, Mrs. Arnold stated that she wanted to make a statement to the police, but she is scared of the defendant.”

However, when asked to sign a statement concerning the alleged assault in a Sept. 20 meeting with the TBI, Megan Arnold refused, although she admitted the account was accurate, court records reveal.

…The sheriff his uncle John Vanderveer and Joe Russell, a sheriff’s office accounting chief, face a 14-count federal indictment accusing them of profiting from inmates through the sale of JailCigs, an electronic cigarettes business. The three await a jury trial scheduled to start Feb. 7 before Middle Tennessee U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp in Nashville.

Hamblen County Democratic chair charged with theft

The Hamblen County Democratic Party chairman has been charged with stealing files from the county’s Circuit Court office, reports the Morristown Citizen-Tribune.

Timothy Wayne Woodard, 27, Ponder Drive, Talbott, was indicted Monday by a Hamblen County grand jury for nine counts apiece of illegally removing documents and theft under $500, both misdemeanor offenses.

Woodard, who has graduated law school and recently took the bar exam, is chair of the Hamblen County Democratic Party and a member of the Hamblen County Election Commission, according to Jeff Gardner, administrator of elections.

While prosecutors only presented evidence in nine cases, authorities recovered 57 original files that Woodard allegedly stole, according to Teddy Collingsworth, a criminal investigator with the district attorney’s office.

District Attorney General Dan Armstrong declined to publicly comment on a possible motive in the alleged thefts… Woodard, like anybody else, could have copied the redacted files, which would not have included Social Security numbers and other private identifiers, according to the district attorney.

Armstrong said the criminal inquiry began in early July after Teresa West, Hamblen County Circuit Court clerk, contacted his office.

Woodard worked for the circuit court clerk’s office under a previous administration, but none of the files he allegedly stole were taken while he was working for county government, according to Collingsworth.

Fifty-five of the stolen files allegedly were recovered at a law office in Jefferson County where Woodard was working, according to Armstrong, The other two reportedly were found in the defendant’s brief case.

Nashville council approves pot ordinance 35-3

Nashville on Tuesday became the first city in Tennessee to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and Memphis likely will become the second in two weeks. according to the Commercial Appeal.

The Nashville Metropolitan Council voted 35-3 on final reading Tuesday night to allow police officers to either issue a civil citation punishable by a $50 fine or community service, or charge someone under the state’s criminal law, for possession of a half-ounce or less or marijuana. Under state law, violators are charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.

Earlier in the day, members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators arrived in Memphis to campaign around the city and at City Council for a similar ordinance that received the second of three readings Tuesday before a final vote as early as Oct. 4. The ordinance is sponsored by council member Berlin Boyd.

Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said the caucus she presides over as chairwoman feels the criminal justice system across the state “has gotten out of whack.” The caucus isn’t advocating for legalizing marijuana, she emphasized, but is instead offering a second chance for low-income violators to avoid a cycle of a criminal justice system they perceive as discriminatory to African-Americans.

State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said criminal records for African-Americans associated with small amounts of marijuana thwart the future of a minority middle class.

“In the city of Memphis one of the things we lack is an African-American middle class,” Harris said, later adding: “This is a cycle that we’ve got try to get out of if we’re going to create an African-American middle class.”

AP story on Nashville, Memphis marijuana ordinances

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Political leaders in Tennessee’s two largest cities are taking steps toward marijuana decriminalization with ordinances that would allow police to reduce the penalty for people who possess small amounts of it.

Nashville’s Metropolitan Council is set to take a final vote on its ordinance on Tuesday, while the Memphis City Council is scheduled to make its decision Oct. 4.

Both cities have similar proposals on the table: Police who encounter people in possession of a half-ounce or less of marijuana have the discretion of giving them a civil citation for a $50 fine or community service.

Such a penalty is in stark contrast to Tennessee law, which calls for people caught with a half-ounce of marijuana or less to face a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Continue reading

On youngest TN political officeholder, age 18

Eighteen-year-old Bailey Hufstetler became the youngest person in Tennessee to hold political office when sworn in recently as a Spring City commissioner, according to the Times-Free Press.

The Bryan College freshman defeated incumbent Jody Baur in August, just months after graduating from Rhea County High School in May.

“I just really wanted to make a difference,” Hufstetler said this week. He is the only person in his family involved in politics.

As city commissioner, his duties will include meeting monthly to hear citizen complaints and voting on issues involving city budgets and infrastructure for the town of nearly 2,000 people.

…Hufstetler said some adults asked him what he would do if elected, but after they learned of his history in the community, many people seemed more at ease.

He volunteers at the Spring City Chamber of Commerce, Spring City Care and Rehab, and the Tennessee Valley Theater. He started a nonprofit organization for child abuse prevention called Heroes and Angels. And Hufstetler volunteers with the Rhea County Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

“I feel like everybody in the community matters, and I just want to be able to impact the community in a positive way,” he said. “My heart has always been into pursuing the community and to better the community.”

Mayor calls letter to TDEC ‘an embarassment’

The Bradley County Commission Tuesday backed off plans to send the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation a letter urging the TDEC commissioner to fire three of his lawyers, cut salaries of other employees and spend the money instead on speeding up septic tank inspections.

So reports The Chattanoogan, adding that the decision came after County Mayor D. Gary Davis called the letter to Commissioner Robert Martineau “an embarrassment to Bradley County.”

The county mayor said, “We have to deal with the state on everything we do. It affects a lot of things we do. I sincerely ask you do not send this letter.”

Bradley Commission Decides Not To Send Letter To TDEC That County Mayor Called “Embarrassing To Bradley County”

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Bradley County Commissioners on Tuesday night decided not to send a letter to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Commissioner Bob Martineau, asking him to cut top staff positions and shift the funds to aid local septic permit offices after County Mayor D. Gary Davis called the letter “an embarrassment to Bradley County.”

The county mayor said, “We have to deal with the state on everything we do. It affects a lot of things we do. I sincerely ask you do not send this letter.”

The letter said, “We, the Bradley County Commission, respectfully suggest that you consider eliminating three staff attorney positions, general counsel, director of legal services and deputy commissioner 1. We, the Bradley County Commission, also respectfully suggest that you reduce the compensation of the commissioner, commissioner 1 and deputy commissioner by $30,000 annually.”

Commissioner Charlotte Peak said, “I don’t like it when they tell us what to do so I don’t feel like we should tell them what to do.”

Commissioner Terry Caywood said if state officials got such a letter “they could get vindictive. They have the means to punish you when you touch an area they don’t want to be touched.”

Commissioner Thomas Crye said some of the TDEC attorneys mentioned are spread across the state, including one in Chattanooga. He said the state budget is already set. He said, “I am not in the business of micro-managing Governor Haslam’s budget.”

Vice Chairman Jeff Yarber, who drafted the letter, said the state continually under-funded the office that issues septic permits for Bradley and Polk counties. He said the letter was “a statement to a top-heavy government.”

He said the employees trying to keep up with the calls for septic permits “are not paid even a fourth of what they (top TDEC commissioners and lawyers) are paid.”

Mark Hall, who supported sending the letter, said, “I find it hard to believe that 14 county commissioners fear retribution.”

He said, “We’ve got a loose cannon down here with a poor attitude.” He said if Bradley County did not speak up, “We will continue to be the sacrificial lamb.”

Realtor Jim Davis spoke in support of the septic permit manager, Hank Thompson, saying he had always gotten excellent service from him. (Note: Some commissioners contend Thompson hasn’t approved permits fast enough; TDEC has defended him.)

…The original motion went down 11-3… The commission proceeded to put an ad hoc committee headed by Commissioner Caywood in place to study taking over the septic permit operation from the state.