County Commissioner Richard Briggs said his nomination of Craig Leuthold for Knox County trustee was not a conflict of interest, reports the News Sentinel, though Leuthold’s father is Briggs’ treasurer for a Tennessee state Senate bid. “If it is a conflict, it’s a conflict by second degree,” Briggs said. “I don’t have anything to gain by Craig being in the office or not being in the office.”
Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong said there was no conflict in Briggs’ action under county policy.
“He’s got a guy who has volunteered to run his campaign who happens to be Frank Leuthold,” Armstrong said.
Briggs said he voted rather than “disenfranchise” his 5th District constituents by recusing himself from voting for an interim trustee on Monday.
Briggs, Leuthold and other Knox County elected officials explained to the News Sentinel this week their connections and decision-making used to fill the trustee seat that John J. Duncan III resigned from July 2. Duncan pleaded guilty that day to a felony charge for giving $18,000 in unearned bonuses to himself and staff.
While local political gadflies have mused over the connections between Leuthold and the people who selected him, Briggs defended Leuthold as a commissioner who made it through “Black Wednesday” unscathed.
Leuthold worked in the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office until his Monday appointment as the county’s tax collector and was a two-term commissioner who held office when the state Supreme Court enforced term limits in 2007.
Tom Ingram, veteran consultant to both Gov. Bill Haslam and Pilot Flying J, faces a potential civil penalty for failing for three years to register as required by law as a lobbyist for a company that wants to mine coal on state-owned land near Crossville.
Ingram said Wednesday the failure to register was “inadvertent on Marcelle’s part,” a reference to Marcelle Durham, president of The Ingram Group, the public relations and lobbying firm that Ingram founded and operates.
Durham has written a letter to the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance acknowleding the “inadvertent oversight” and declaring she will submit belated lobbyist registrations for three years of lobbying for Hillsborough Resources Inc., which is negotiating with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to mine for coal on Catoosa Wildlife Management Area. (For copy of the letter, click on this link: Durham_Letter.pdf
In an interview, Ingram said is is careful to balance his lobbying work with his role as a consultant to Gov. Bill Haslam and to Pilot Flying J and does not see any conflicts of interest. (Note: WTVF story on Ingram lobbying HERE.)
His latest role, as Ingram described it, is “managing communications on the investigation” by the FBI into allegations that Pilot Flying J cheated some trucking companies in billings for diesel fuel. Ingram said he is actually retained in that role by Neal and Harwell, the law firm hired by Pilot Flying J.
Two companies are battling for a $200 million-plus contract to provide health care to Tennessee’s prison inmates, reports The Tennessean, and one of them employs the state correction commissioner’s wife. One came in almost $16 million cheaper and has a long but controversial history of providing those services. The second, more expensive company has struggled to explain how it has enough experience to do the job. It also happens to employ the wife of the head of the Tennessee Department of Correction.
The second company, called Centurion, won.
Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield’s wife, Latrese, works for the company as an inmate re-entry coordinator in Georgia. But that fact was never disclosed in Centurion’s bid, nor was it mentioned at a protest hearing by the losing bidder last week, whose executives were confused about losing out on a job they had already been doing for more than two years.
Only two companies submitted bids, Centurion and Corizon. Corizon’s bid came in at about $226 million while Centurion came in at about $241 million.
The Department of Correction maintains that there is no conflict and that Derrick Schofield recused himself from having any say in the awarding of the contract.
“We’re confident that the process was appropriate and fair and resulted in the selection of the best-qualified bidder,” said TDOC spokeswoman Dorinda Carter. “Ms. Schofield is not in a position of making decisions regarding the contract and she’s not an executive-level employee.”
Derrick Schofield has disclosed his wife’s employment on ethics disclosures for the past three years. He declined to respond for this story through the agency spokeswoman.
…The losing bidder, Brentwood-based Corizon, had held the $219 million contract since 2010, handling health care services for the state’s prison inmates. The company handles mental health care for Tennessee inmates as well.
But Corizon in recent years has been dogged by accusations of poor inmate health care, particularly after a Kentucky inmate died while under the company’s care….In Tennessee, Corizon also was docked millions in penalties over the past few years for at times not meeting all the standards of the contract.
Even still, the state’s Fiscal Review Committee in November voted to extend its contract an additional six months.
By that time, the state had already put out a request for proposals a new contract that would run through 2015.
Corizon is protesting the contract award, arguing that Centurion doesn’t have the five years of experience the state required in its request for proposals.
Centurion, a company that was formed just last year, is made up of two other companies, Virginia-based MHM Services Inc. and St. Louis-based Centene Corp. While MHM has handled inmate health care services for years, the closest it comes to handling an entire prison system of Tennessee’s size was handling health care services for Florida’s prison system. But it held that contract for only three years.
Despite that possible problem, TDOC evaluators gave Centurion perfect marks when evaluating how it meets the contract’s experience requirements.
Latrese Schofield has been employed by MHM since 2005.
Saying more openness is needed on the part of Tennessee policy makers, Rep. Susan Lynn has introduced legislation that would require the disclosure of all real property they own other than their primary home, according to TNReport. The Mt. Juliet Republican’s HB 1063 would require all elected and certain appointed public officials, such as those on local and regional planning commissions or state boards, to disclose any real property owned by them, their spouses or any minor children living at home.
“Back in 2006, when we did the ethics reform, we wanted this to be part of the disclosure and simply couldn’t get it done at that time,” said Lynn, who served in the House for eight years before running for state Sen. Mae Beavers’ seat and losing in 2010.
“Leaving the legislature for two years, like I did, you start thinking about the things you wish you’d done or could have done, and this was one of those things.”
…Lynn’s bill would require the disclosure of the address of the property and the month and year of its acquisition, but not everyone in the General Assembly is in favor of it.
Many have told her that the information is a matter of public record, and that should be sufficient. Her argument is that since it is public record, “What’s wrong with putting it all in one neat, consolidated place to make that disclosure?
“I’m not feeling a warm breeze right now from the [Local Government] committee,” said Lynn, who postponed a vote on the bill until March 12. “I really feel like I’m standing out there alone. I know it’s the right thing to do, and I hope they will be amenable.”
She said she would entertain an amendment excepting state legislators from the new disclosure requirement, if it’s the only way to make it a requirement for local government officials.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Auditors from the Comptroller’s office found that the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission; the Department of Economic and Community Development; and the Department of Revenue have failed to ensure that public incentives for filmmaking businesses were properly administered. Auditors could find little to no evidence the incentives have led to new film producing facilities or permanent film jobs in Tennessee.
In 2006, the General Assembly passed laws giving the film commission authority to provide certain financial incentives to attract movie production companies to the state. However, auditors questioned whether the incentives provided have been properly determined and whether certain incentives intended for filmmaking facilities located in Tennessee have been improperly awarded to out-of-state businesses.
The Comptroller’s report, which was released today, can be found online at: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/sa/AuditReportCategories.asp
The auditors found that incentive payments were based on expenditures that did not always meet the program’s guidelines or have adequate supporting documentation.
The audit also revealed a former executive director had a potential conflict of interest that was not properly disclosed. The former director’s spouse worked for a legal firm that was involved with at least three film projects which received incentives.
Auditors will give a presentation on their findings today at a meeting of the General Assembly’s joint subcommittee on commerce, labor, transportation and agriculture. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room 12 at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville.
A bill that could exempt planning commission members in six East Tennessee counties from disclosing their financial interests has been introduced by Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kent Calfee.
Calfee, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Kingston, said HB15 was introduced at the request of Roane County Mayor Ron Woody.
The measure also would apply in Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea and Scott Counties which are included along with Roane in Yager’s state Senate district. Yager said the other counties were added because of a “communications error.” The senator said he has written officials in the other counties and will amend the bill to delete those counties where an objection is raised.
Planning commission members were not required to file the disclosures until last year, when the Legislature enacted a bill adding them.
The disclosure statements in question require public officials to list their financial holdings and sources of income, but not the amount of income. Planning commission members were not on the list of those required to file the statements until the General Assembly added them in legislation approved last year with little debate and by almost unanimous margins.
The first disclosure reports since the new law took effect are due on Jan. 31, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Woody said in an interview that the new law is “kind of intrusive” and a deterrent to finding people to serve on the commissions, which typically pay very little or nothing for their services. They are in a different situation than elected officials such as himself, he said.
“It may have been adopted for good reasons and this is an unintended consequence. Or it may have been adopted for bad reasons… (with the intent of) killing our planning commissions. I don’t know. But I’m a firm believer in the need for planning commissions,” Woody said.
The bill approved last year was sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who was not available for comment. A spokeswoman, however, said it was the senator’s own idea. In a committee meeting last year, Tracy said the bill was “just common sense” and that those overseeing development should have to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Woody said the Roane County Planning Commission has “ethical members,” including some who retired in the area after a business career “up north” and who may have substantial stock and real estate holdings.
By making their holdings public, he said, “you get to the point where people don’t want to serve.”
Yager said he basically agrees with Woody.
“In these rural counties, they (planning commissioners) are essentially volunteers – in Roane County, I think they get $50 a month – and it’s hard to attract people anyway,” Yager said.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
A former Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs (TDVA) benefits representative was doing paid consulting work for a Memphis area assisted living facility and performing many of the same tasks she was being paid to perform as a TDVA employee, a review by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has found. The investigation revealed that the former employee, Julia Brown, had a private consulting agreement with the facility in which she referred veterans to the facility and helped them get financial assistance to move there.
“There was an obvious conflict of interest between Ms. Brown’s duties as a state employee and the work she was doing on the side as a consultant,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “It is not proper for someone involved in managing state-administered benefits to steer the recipients of those benefits toward a particular private facility that was compensating her for doing so.”
Between January 2009 and November 2010, Brown requested and received more than 40 hours of overtime pay valued at more than $700 from TVDA for consulting work performed at the assisted living facility after regular work hours. Brown also requested and received more than $200 in reimbursements from TVDA for mileage driven while performing work as a private consultant. Additionally, she used her TDVA e-mail, department fax machine and office computer to create invoices while conducting business as part of her outside consulting agreement.
To view the full report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/
If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds in Tennessee, you may contact the Comptroller’s hotline toll-free at 1-800-232-5454 or file a report online at: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp
Tennessee regulators have taken a West Tennessee plastics manufacturer to court over violations of the state’s clean water act, reports The Tennessean.. But an environmental group is raising questions about the action because Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau once represented the company.
The Tennessee Clean Water Network, a Knoxville-based environmental group, said it notified regulators of the pollution problems at Teknor Apex in Brownsville. The group was set to file its own lawsuit in federal court when the state acted.
“Commissioner Martineau has a clear conflict of interest in this case, and we can only hope the filing of this lawsuit is not just a brazen attempt to insulate a former client from effective enforcement,” Renée Victoria Hoyos, the water network’s executive director, said in a statement.
Fines in state court are $10,000 a day per violation, while under federal law they are $37,500 per day.
Hoyos said TDEC could have avoided the conflict by allowing the water network to move forward with its lawsuit.
“We are already doing the enforcement action,” Hoyos said in an interview. “They don’t need to go after this guy.”
Martineau is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. Before Gov. Bill Haslam appointed him to the post in January 2011, Martineau was an attorney with the law firm Waller. He represented Teknor Apex while at the firm
TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Martineau had no part in deciding to file the lawsuit. When Martineau became commissioner, he filed a list of all potential conflicts with TDEC’s general counsel, she said. Teknor Apex is on the list.
Martineau did receive a letter sent directly to him from the water network about the problems at the company, Lockhart said. But she said the letter was then directed to the department’s attorneys.
“It is simply irresponsible for (Tennessee Clean Water Network) to make allegations of impropriety that have absolutely no basis in fact,” Lockhart said by email.
James Weaver, an attorney at Waller who represents Teknor Apex, said the firm goes to extreme measures to avoid conflicts with clients Martineau once represented.
The new head of a Tennessee agency that inspects and certifies jails will have authority over the jail run by her husband, Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe, reports Brian Haas. Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Beth Ashe to be executive director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, an agency devoted to training, maintaining standards and inspecting jails in Tennessee. The appointment already has drawn fire for being a potential conflict of interest because her agency holds the key to keeping Wilson County’s jail approved to house state inmates.
“Her agency is responsible for inspecting and certifying her husband’s jail,” said attorney Jerry Gonzalez, who has represented inmates in lawsuits — including suits against Wilson County’s jail.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an ethical philosopher to recognize that that is an inherent conflict of interest.” John Lachs, who actually is a professor of ethical philosophy at Vanderbilt University, agreed, saying Beth Ashe probably shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place..
“The obvious first thing to do is to not even create this perception of a conflict of interest,” he said. “You just avoid it.”
But the governor’s office, the institute’s chairman and Ashe herself defended the appointment, saying that any final decisions on jail matters are decided by the agency’s board, not her.
“I don’t see the connection,” Beth Ashe said. “I answer to the board of control, so they give me my direction.”
Chas Sisk has a profile story on “one of the most high-profile lawmakers in Tennessee’s new Republican state government,” namely House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville. She sponsored, among other things, the bill abolishing teacher collective bargaining and the bill mandating a photo ID for voting.
Much of the article is devoted to her private life job and how it ties into her public life. (O)n Tuesday of last week, she was back to tackling her full-time job, leading Community Outreach Making Partnerships at Sumner Schools, or Compass, an organization that connects businesses with local schools.
The two jobs illustrate Maggart’s growing profile in public education circles, both in Middle Tennessee and statewide. The posts have placed Maggart at the intersection of politics, business and education in one of Middle Tennessee’s biggest counties.
Besides pushing through the teachers union bill, Maggart was elected this year as chairwoman of the House Republican Caucus. She also took a seat on the House Education Committee, putting her in a position to continue shaping the debate over schools.
Maggart’s rising political profile also can give Compass a boost, board members say. Since taking over leadership of the organization last November, Maggart has already forged new partnerships with AT&T, Comcast and SCORE, an education policy group founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.
“As a caucus chair and as a representative from a large county, she can open doors that very few other people could for the salary we’re in a position to pay her,” said Mike Fussell, a Compass board member and longtime supporter. “She’s also very passionate about making a difference.”
Compass is not involved in politics, modeling itself after the PENCIL Foundation, the Nashville organization that helps schools find funding, volunteers and other support from the community. But not everyone is happy about Maggart’s dual roles.
…(The local TEA affiliate sees the job as a conflict). But Maggart says her job is about managing relationships, not shaping policy.
“This is somewhat of a public relations job,” she said. “There are a lot of things that I do as state representative that just dovetails into this job with Compass.”