Harwell: Rep. Spivey ‘irresponsible’ in complaint about McCord

Here’s a statement House Speaker Beth Harwell emailed to media today in response to a complaint filed against House Clerk Joe McCord by Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg:

“It is no secret that Representative Spivey is a long-time defender of Jeremy Durham’s and is upset about his expulsion at the special session–which Rep. Spivey failed to attend. Rep. Spivey did not want the Attorney General’s report on Durham released to the public and would not sign off on the report. Just as Durham lashed out last week at those who expelled him, his supporters–including Rep. Spivey–are doing the same this week.

“It is irresponsible for Rep. Spivey to involve himself in something without verifying the facts and in harassing our employees by releasing an inaccurate compilation of events. It is disrespectful for him to attempt to play political football with our state employees and their jobs, all because he personally disagreed with Jeremy Durham’s expulsion.

“I take all allegations of harassment seriously. Personnel issues are always handled by Legislative Administration in a professional manner, and they seek to reach a satisfactory conclusion for all parties. Our legislative staff does an outstanding job for every one of our members, and I sincerely appreciate the work they do.”

Note: Previous post HERE.

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.

Museum board boss: No more emailing

The chair of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, Tom Smith, has informed all fellow members that they should no longer email each other, about anything, at any time, reports Nashville Post Politics.

“It has come to my attention that one or more Commission members have been communicating with other Commission members by e-mail,” Smith wrote (in an email) last week. “Per my conversations with the Attorney General’s office these e-mail communications could be viewed as discussions and/or deliberations in violation of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act and otherwise foster a perception of a lack of transparency by this public body.

“Accordingly, in order to ensure that we are in full compliance with Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act, as Chairman, I am directing that that there be no further email communications between and among members of this Commission in their capacity as members of this Commission,” Smith added (emphasis his).
Continue reading

Parole board rejects exoneration of McKinney

The state Board of Parole has voted against recommending exoneration of a Wilson County man who served 31 years in prison on a rape and burglary conviction before DNA evidence cleared him of the crime, reports The Tennessean.

The board, which voted 7-0 not to recommend the formal exoneration to the governor, still questioned his innocence.

Lawrence McKinney, 60, was released in 2009 after his 1978 conviction in Memphis was overturned. His record was expunged after his release, but attempts to get an executive exoneration have been mired in red tape, according to his supporters.

McKinney remained upbeat as his legal team plans to request an exoneration directly from Gov. Bill Haslam. The governor ultimately decides exoneration cases and is not bound by the board’s recommendation.

“I got two good lawyers that God put by my side, then I got a pastor and I got a church who going to stand behind me, and I’m going to do the best that I do to show who Jesus Christ is and I got a beautiful wife …” McKinney said.

Having criminal records expunged is a judicial process, but exoneration is an additional declaration of innocence awarded by the governor. If granted, the exoneration enables a person to file for compensation with the Tennessee Board of Claims.

“We’re going to go to the governor, we’re going to ask the governor to exonerate this man; he is not bound by this decision and I think public support for Mr. McKinney is overwhelming,” said David Raybin, one of McKinney’s attorneys.

McKinney’s hearing lasted nearly four hours and had the feel of a trial. He testified on his own behalf and said he was offered a deal of five years when he was arrested for the rape to testify against a co-defendant. But he turned it down “because I didn’t know anything about the crime.”

McKinney was sentenced to 100 years for the rape and 10 to 15 years for the burglary. Continue reading

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.

Bodies of solders slain in Mexican War returned to U.S.

The remains of 11 American soldiers killed in the Mexican-American War, likely including at least some Tennesseans, are finally returning today to American soil, according to news releases from U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg.

From DesJarlais:
Washington, D.C. – Last year, Representative Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-04), introduced a resolution urging the Government of Mexico and the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs to expedite the release of identified remains of 11 American Soldiers who fought in the battle of Monterey in 1846.

170 years ago, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor led a 6,000 man military force composed largely of Tennessee Volunteers and Texas Rangers to capture the town of Monterrey. During this battle the United States suffered 120 casualties, 368 were wounded and 43 were reported missing.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology, the uncovered remains of the 11 U.S. soldiers were found at a construction site near the Texan border. The remains were identified as American soldiers who died in combat after an examination of the buttons sewn into their uniforms as well as two U.S. half-dollar coins excavated in the area. Continue reading

House clerk accused of abusive behavior

A Republican lawmaker is calling for an investigation into allegations that House Clerk Joe McCord made abusive comments to a woman staffer and raised his middle finger at her 2-year-old granddaughter when she visited House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office.

Further from The Tennessean:

In a letter emailed to The Tennessean late Tuesday night, Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, called for an immediate investigation into what a staffer described as mental and emotional abuses perpetrated by House Clerk Joe McCord against a Legislative Plaza employee over “an extended period of time.”

When reached Wednesday morning, McCord said he wanted to talk to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, before speaking with The Tennessean. Ridley and Harwell are also accused of wrongdoing in the report.

The allegation from a fellow Republican comes as Harwell and House leadership continues to stave off criticism for their handling of the allegations of harassment by now-expelled lawmaker Jeremy Durham.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said he hadn’t reviewed Spivey’s report as of early Wednesday morning. After The Tennessean described the allegations in the report, Casada said they surprised him.

“I’ve known Joe McCord for 16 years, and I’ve never seen that behavior exhibited in a malicious way, in a way that was meant to be demeaning. That’s just not the Joe McCord I know,” Casada said.

” A lot of people will kid in a way that, it’s just a manner of joking. It’s not actually the emotion of anger, it’s just the way of kidding.” Continue reading

No charges in Memphis police shooting black man

By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A white Memphis police officer won’t face federal civil rights charges in the shooting death of a 19-year-old black man, the federal government announced Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton told reporters that a federal review found insufficient evidence to file charges in the 2015 shooting of Darrius Stewart by Officer Connor Schilling.

Stanton added that the review by the Justice Department found that Schilling did not willfully or with a “bad purpose” deprive Stewart of his rights.

The Justice Department announced in December that it was reviewing the shooting, which had sparked peaceful protests in Memphis. Stewart’s shooting occurred in the months after the deaths of black men at the hands of police in Missouri, New York and elsewhere aggravated racial tensions in the country. Continue reading

Haslam hosts private fundraiser for Rubio at executive residence

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam hosted a private fundraiser for Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign for reelection at the state’s executive residence Monday, reports The Tennessean.

The event, which Rubio attended, was co-hosted by Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. Corker was present for the fundraiser, but Alexander had to return to Washington D.C. from East Tennessee on Monday and was not in attendance, said an aide for the senator.

Haslam and Alexander endorsed Rubio’s Republican presidential primary bid days ahead of Tennessee’s March primary, just as Donald Trump had started to solidify himself as the GOP frontrunner. Their help fell short, however, as Rubio won only one of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Trump won the state in a landslide.

Rubio, after losing his presidential bid, opted to run for reelection and is now looking to stave off Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, a two-term Florida congressman.

The Rubio fundraiser marks the second campaign fundraiser that Haslam has held in recent months at the governor’s mansion, which is located in Nashville’s Oak Hill neighborhood.

Haslam in July hosted a fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, ahead of her primary election against challenger Joe Carr.

Tennessee state Democrats criticized the governor for holding that event, arguing that the taxpayer-funded governor’s home is not a place where campaign events should be held.