Category Archives: local government

Comptroller: Jail inmate got full-time county job

News release from state comptroller’s office
An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has found numerous problems with the way inmate labor was handled within the Marshall County Solid Waste and Sheriff’s Departments. Marshall County allowed jail inmates to work at the county’s solid waste facility in Lewisburg.

Investigators determined the solid waste director hired an incarcerated felon as a full-time county employee at $12.46 per hour. He received the same employee benefits as other county employees including health insurance, retirement, and sick leave. The inmate was paid a total of $12,444.43 by the county.

Comptroller investigators also found that inmates working at the solid waste facility were not properly supervised. This led to workers scavenging and hiding alcohol, drugs, tobacco products, cell phones, weapons, pornography, and other contraband items within the facility. Continue reading

Three make plea deals in sheriff corruption case

Three people involved in the pending trial on corruption charges against Gibson County’s former sheriff Thursday accepted plea agreements, reports the Jackson Sun.

Former Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Arnold, former Chief Deputy Jeff Maitland, and 10 other former Sheriff’s Office employees were indicted following an investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in late November 2015.

Joel Hughey, Eddie Bradford and Renea Terrell, who were among those indicted, pleaded Thursday to lesser charges. Hughey and Terrell pleaded guilty, and Bradford entered an Alford plea, known as a “best interest” plea.

The three defendants who made plea agreements may be called to testify against others in the case. Arnold, Maitland and the other remaining defendants decided they will go to trial.

Hughey and Bradford were fired from their positions as correctional officers after they were indicted on charges of theft of $1,000 or more and official misconduct. According to a state investigative audit report, Hughey and Bradford were among several employees accused of receiving overtime pay for work they didn’t do.

… Terrell, the contract nurse (working with the sheriff’s department), pleaded guilty to one count of theft and three counts of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud and will serve three years on probation. She must pay $1,339.92 in restitution. Her case is subject to judicial diversion, which means she could have her criminal record expunged if she satisfies the terms of her probation.

Terrell was originally indicted on one count of conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud, 39 counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud, 39 counts of official misconduct and two counts of theft

…Arnold is charged with more than 100 counts of official misconduct, theft and obtaining prescription drugs by fraud.

According to the audit report and indictments, Arnold’s official misconduct charges stem from accusations that he took money from a drug fund; forged a receipt; submitted excessive payment requests for himself, Maitland and another employee; authorized excessive compensation for multiple employees; falsified pay records; inflated invoices; and obtained controlled substances by fraud.

School money stolen for drinking, gambling

A former Knox County Schools supervisor accused of using his district-issued credit card to place online gambling bets pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony theft of more than $10,000, according to the News Sentinel.

Roger Underwood, 61, has agreed to a three-year sentence, but the details will be determined by Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Sept. 29.

The state plans to object to judicial diversion, said Sean McDermott, a Knox County assistant district attorney general.

Underwood has agreed to repay the $11,989 he stole by that hearing, McDermott said.

The former accounts payable supervisor, who had an annual salary of $96,074, was fired in October after admitting to using his school credit card for personal purchases. Investigators found he placed bets ranging from $99 to $299 on the card, losing as much as $1,800 in one day gambling online.

A report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury also questioned $731 in charges during a retirement reception at a Mississippi casino, where Underwood also ordered martinis, peach schnapps and a $200 tray of hors d’oeuvres and gave a $115 tip.

He also received reimbursements for school-related trips he never took, officials said.

“Because Underwood was responsible for reviewing school credit card charges, including his own, officials were unaware of these inappropriate charges,” the comptroller’s report states.

Black Caucus backs marijuana decriminalization

News release from TN Black Caucus of State Legislators
NASHVILLE- The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) is announcing its support for efforts in the state’s two largest cities to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Metro Council in Nashville has passed on first reading a new ordinance that would lessen the penalty for possession of a half-ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. Last week, the Memphis City Council passed a similar ordinance out of its Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and it is scheduled to be considered by the full Council in September.

TBCSL Chair Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) said the efforts of these cities go hand-in-hand with Caucus efforts to target criminal justice reform across the state. Continue reading

Nashville political activist Betty Nixon dies, age 80

Betty Chiles Nixon, a trailblazing woman in Nashville politics, a mentor for progressives and a relentless advocate for neighborhoods amid the city’s steady growth, died on Sunday. She was 80 and had suffered from cancer for some time..

Further from The Tennessean:

Nixon served on Metro Council from 1975 to 1987, representing District 18, which includes neighborhoods near Vanderbilt and Belmont universities, and helping spearhead a pro-neighborhoods movement.

Nixon later became the first woman to run for mayor of Nashville in 1987, finishing third behind winner Bill Boner. She ran for mayor again in 1991, losing to the better financed Phil Bredesen in a landslide.

Nixon remained a voice for her home neighborhood well after her public service. As recently as this past May, Nixon spoke at the Metro Council to oppose a proposed apartment complex that she said was out of character with the area.

“Betty Nixon was an amazing woman, leader, and friend who taught our city a lot of lessons about public service, the importance of neighborhoods and the power of women,” Mayor Megan Barry said in a statement.

…Professionally, Nixon worked as assistant vice chancellor for community, neighborhood and government relations at Vanderbilt University before retiring in 2007. She served as chairman of the board of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center, a speech and hearing center, and was also a board member for the Nashville Electric Service.

Note: Emailed statement from TNDP Chairwoman Mary Mancini: “We are saddened by the loss of the amazing Betty Nixon. She was not only a role model for women, but for a generation of activists and candidates she befriended and helped with an encouraging word, a bit of sage advice, and an energy that was as boundless as it was invigorating. Her legacy will live on in the work she did for her community, for Nashville and for the state of Tennessee. Our thoughts and prayers are with family and friends and all who loved her.”

Jury awards $560K back pay to police officers

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A jury in Hamilton County has ruled that the city of Chattanooga failed to give police officers promised raises and to maintain fair conditions of employment.

The Chattanooga Times Free-Press reports that on Thursday the jury awarded 25 officers more than $560,000 in back pay for the time that they worked without receiving the raises.

The case stemmed from a pay policy that allowed recently hired officers to earn higher salaries than their supervisors.

The officers said that the city had sent a document to police in 2010 that laid out changes to police salaries. They said the document promised future pay raises that they never got.

The jury also rejected the officers’ claim that the city discriminated against them because of their age

De-annexation debate cools in summer study

The hot topic of de-annexation was the subject of discourse by “cooler heads” during a legislative study committee hearing Monday than in the legislative session earlier this year, reports the Tennessean.

Several speakers, including Doug McGowen, chief operation officer for the city of Memphis, said while they have pushed back against the de-annexation legislation before, they aren’t necessarily diametrically opposed to it.

“We are, however, all in on the notion that we should work together to ensure that everyone who has a stake in the de-annexation game has a voice in the process,” he said. McGowen asked lawmakers to use a “locally-controlled, data driven” process that includes all stakeholders.

…Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who chaired the special committee and said the panel had completed its task.

Following the meeting, Ketron said he felt the discussion was helpful, adding, “I think we kinda fleshed out a lot of questions today.”

But Watson disagreed. “I don’t think I heard anything I haven’t heard in the previous roughly 11 hours of testimony while we were in session,” Watson said. “Most of this is ground that’s already been plowed before.”

When asked if he plans to file another de-annexation bill during the upcoming legislation session, Watson said he would take information provided in Monday’s hearing and from the Memphis task force and work on another bill.

“We’re trying to work towards a win-win situation where it’s difficult to create win-wins,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to represent citizens who were put under city government with no voice in whether that occurred or not.”

Sullivan County pays $50K to settle prison newspaper lawsuit

Sullivan County has agreed to pay Prison Legal News $50,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department was censoring and refusing to deliver publications and newsletters to inmates, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Prison Legal News is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit organization whose mission is public education, prisoner education, advocacy and outreach in support of prisoners’ rights.

PLN filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in October 2013 naming the county, the sheriff’s department and Sheriff Wayne Anderson as the defendants.

PLN claims the department has been censoring and refusing to deliver its material to inmates held at the jail, including hundreds of copies of its monthly journal and dozens of copies of informational brochure packs.

The Sullivan County Jail used to have a postcards-only mail policy with all other mail, except legal mail, to be returned to sender. No packages were allowed unless approved by the jail’s facility administrator.

…Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street said the matter did not go to mediation. Since the mail policy had been changed and to keep from pulling the sheriff’s department into a trial, Street said the $50,000 settlement was a good way to put the matter to rest.

“We’re pleased that this case has resolved, and that prisoners at the Sullivan County jail can receive letters from their children and other family members instead of having their correspondence restricted to postcards,” said Alex Friedmann, managing editor of PLN. “Many people in jail are awaiting trial, have not been convicted and are presumed innocent, and retain most of their rights — including their rights under the First Amendment.”

Proposed Nashville ordinance reduces pot penalties

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An ordinance (proposed) in Nashville seeks to reduce the penalty for people caught possessing or exchanging small amounts of marijuana.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2aBZ0QF ) reports that under the new ordinance, people who possess or exchange a half-ounce of marijuana or less would face a civil penalty of $50. A court could also choose to suspend the civil penalty and order 10 hours of community service. Current state law calls for a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year behind bars and a $2,500 fine.

Metro Councilman Dave Rosenberg said the current law is time-consuming for police since they have to arrest people over a marijuana misdemeanor. He also called the current state law unproductive and “needlessly expensive.” Continue reading

Comptroller reports on missing government money

News release from state comptroller’s office
Theft and misuse of public money continue to be a concern as outlined in two reports released today by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office.

The 2015 Report of Cash Shortages updates the status of money stolen and missing from Tennessee’s 95 county governments as of June 30, 2015. The report documents money stolen during the 2015 fiscal year, as well as previous fiscal years.

The state’s 95 counties began the last fiscal year with $1,032,456 in cash shortages that had not been recovered. During the fiscal year, $1,069,621 worth of new shortages were detected. Counties were able to recover $1,269,967 through restitution payments, insurance claims or other means. That left a net unrecovered shortage of $832,110 at the end of the fiscal year.

The Comptroller’s office also released its second report detailing cash shortages and other thefts for Tennessee municipalities, internal school funds, utility districts, housing authorities, nonprofits, and other governmental entities. These shortages were reported in fiscal year 2014 and earlier.

Fiscal year 2014 began with a cash shortage of $1,563,137. During the year, $2,546,576 in new shortages were detected. A total of $671,796 was recovered during the fiscal year, leaving an unrecovered shortage of $3,437,917 at fiscal year end. Continue reading