An attorney general’s opinion says the state has authority to set up a vehicle emissions testing program in Shelby County and charge motorists a fee to pay for it, reports the Commercial Appeal. But the opinion says the state probably could not impose a countywide fee to pay for vehicle testing only in the City of Memphis, as it suggests was being considered by state officials.
Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper’s advisory opinion comes after Memphis ended its vehicle inspection program Friday.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is “looking at all options” for a new inspection program in the Memphis area to keep the state in compliance with federal air pollution laws, TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said after the opinion’s public release Tuesday.
“But we are hopeful that the local air program will meet its obligation to have a vehicle inspection program as previously committed to both the state and to EPA that they would do.”
Memphis was the only one of Tennessee’s major urban areas with vehicle emissions testing where the inspections were limited only to residents of the central city. The testing programs are countywide in Davidson, Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties.
Knox County Trustee John Duncan III pleaded guilty today in Criminal Court to a felony charge of official misconduct and resigned from office, reports the News Sentinel. He entered the plea by information, which means he agreed to skip a grand jury review.
He received a one-year probation and may apply for diversion.
He must cooperate with “this” and “any other probes,” according to his plea agreement taken by Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz.
His father, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan, said after the hearing, “We can rely on our faith to get on with our future.”
He declined further comment.
Prosecutor Bill Bright said that Duncan had then-attorney Chad Tindell file a salary lawsuit on Sept. 30, 2010, approving bonuses of $3,000 each for himself and five others, and a $2,000 bonus for a sixth staffer for completing a training program that none of them had, in fact, completed.
Duncan, as part of the plea, is specifically agreeing to participate in the probes of the other employees who received bonuses who have not yet been charged.
Bright alleged that Duncan lied to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation by saying that no one ever told him that it was improper to collect bonuses before completion of the training program.
However, three employees told the TBI that they had, in fact, warned Duncan against trying to collect bonuses without having completed the training.
In February, Tindell received judicial diversion on a misdemeanor charge connected to his participation in the bonus program that let some employees in the Trustee’s Office receive extra money for educational studies they never completed. Tindell worked more than two years as the tax attorney for the Trustee’s Office before leaving early this year. He can seek to wipe his record clean if he abides by the terms of his probation.
A prominent business owner and political fundraiser has not paid property taxes on his corporate headquarters in at least eight years, reports WTVF-TV. Garry McNabb is the CEO and owner of Cash Express LLC, which has locations across the South. He has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to democratic and republican candidates. The corporate office of Cash Express LLC. is in Cookeville.
But Putnam County property records have listed the office building as being owned by the state of Tennessee — which is exempt from all property taxes.
No one has paid property taxes on the building since McNabb and three others bought it in 2004.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked McNabb “Why haven’t you paid property taxes on that property?”
McNabb responded, “Because the state has never sent me a bill.”
The property deed shows McNabb and others bought the building, which used to be an unemployment office, from the state of Tennessee.
But neither McNabb nor his partners registered the deed, so the building kept appearing on the tax rolls as state property.
State Rep. Ryan Haynes told the Knox County Commission that the possibility of a bill imposing term limits on school board members getting through the Legislature are poor, reports the News Sentinel. Haynes, R-Knoxville, told the commission that a Tennessee law allowing term limits for school board members would be subject to general application across the state (not just limited to Knox County).
“And that, in my opinion, presents a challenge in getting a piece of legislation passed,” Haynes said during a commission work session. Commission uses work sessions to discuss future action items. The body’s next legislative meeting is June 24.
A 15-bill limit that caps what legislators can introduce is another block on term limits, he said.
“We want to use it on something that is productive,” he said.
Commission Vice Chairman R. Larry Smith was not pleased to hear Haynes’ message.
“Personally, I think those are lame excuses,” he said. “I think it can be done.”
Haynes replied he wasn’t offering his own opinion.
“This is what my lawyers drew up,” he said.
Franklin County has moved ahead of the Legislature by adoption of local ordinances to require a prescription for cold medications containing pseudoephedrine, reports the Chattanooga TFP. The General Assembly has debated the idea, but has not enacted it (though Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey recently said he expects a “huge push” in next year’s session, HERE) Cowan, Decherd and Estill Springs are the remaining municipalities in the county set to pass new rules on pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines as law enforcement takes a new step in the battle against methamphetamine.
Pseudoephedrine is the primary ingredient in meth production.
“The only way it’s going to be successful is if the entire region does this,” Winchester police Chief Dennis Young said. The new, countywide rules will be a first among Tennessee counties.
Young said officials from Franklin County are meeting with neighboring counties, Grundy County being the next stop over the next few days.
…”Tennessee this year is reclaiming No. 1 in the nation in the production of meth,” Young said. Missouri was the top-ranking state, but more than 70 cities in Southern Missouri implemented regulations similar to those being pursued in Franklin County.
“This dramatically reduced their meth labs,” Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller said.
“Our Legislature is having a problem getting a law passed, so we’re taking baby steps to do what we need to do here.”
Current Tennessee law restricts the sale of pseudoephedrine-based cold medicines by placing them behind the counter. Buyers must present a valid ID and sign a log for products containing the precursor.
“We’re not making it a controlled substance,” Fuller said. “The state of Tennessee has already said that it can be sold with a prescription, and, if you sell it without a prescription, the statutes say that there are guidelines on how it can be sold.”
Local rules fit those guidelines, he said.
News release from state Comptroller’s Office:
In the 2012 Report of Cash Shortages, auditors found that $563,372.50 of funds stolen from county governments, some dating back several years, had not been recovered. Details about the missing money can be found in the report, which was released today.
The news in the report wasn’t all bad: For the reporting period, auditors reported new thefts of $106,495.27 – down from $213,635.66 the year before. And – thanks to the recovery of $279,817.21 last year – the statewide balance of uncollected funds dropped from $736,694.44 cited in last year’s report to $563,372.50 in this year’s report.
Information about cash shortages is collected from the annual financial reports and special reports for the state’s 89 counties audited by the Comptroller’s Division of Local Government Audit and the six counties audited by private accounting firms.
In addition to a county-by-county breakdown of cash shortages, the report also provides explanations of how the shortages were detected, how the money was stolen, corrective steps taken by counties and legal actions taken against those responsible for the thefts.
“While it is good to see that the number of new thefts was down last year and a substantial amount of money was recovered, there’s absolutely no reason to be complacent about these statistics,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “It’s important for our local government officials to constantly remain on guard against the potential theft of taxpayer money. That means they need to have good checks and balances – what our auditors refer to as ‘internal controls’ – in their procedures for how money is collected, recorded, deposited and spent. If adequate safeguards aren’t in place, the amount of stolen money identified in future cash shortage reports is likely to rise.”
To view the report online, go to: http://comptroller.tn.gov/repository/CA/2012/2012%20Cash%20Shortage%20Report.pdf
Shelby County Commissioner Steve Mulroy said Thursday that he thought he might help a half dozen people by donating a kidney to any stranger who could use it on April 30, reports the Commercial Appeal. But the chain of kidney recipients that Mulroy’s donation in Memphis triggered stretched much further and much faster than anyone could have hoped.
The chain reaction ended on Wednesday with 28 people across the country receiving kidneys from 28 donors in the five week’s since Mulroy volunteered his kidney at the Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, operated in partnership with the University of Tennessee.
Known as “Chain 221” at the New York-based National Kidney Registry, Mulroy’s was the second-largest chain, only shorter than a 30-recipient string made between August and December 2011, according to the national registry.
“I’m just so gratified that I’ve been able to help so many people in such a dramatic way,” said Mulroy, 49, a University of Memphis law professor.”I had originally hoped that I might help a half of a dozen people, but to know that the chain has grown to 28 — 10 of whom were chronic, desperate people who would not otherwise have received kidneys, I’m must overjoyed.”
Gov. Bill Haslam has decided that state government will not take over the Memphis/Shelby County vehicle inspection program or provide any money to help run it, according to the Commercial Appeal. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton notified City Council members of the governor’s decision in a memo. That message, Wharton wrote in the memo, came from Mark Cate, Haslam’s gubernatorial chief of staff, in a conference call that also included Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
Memphis has voted to stop funding vehicle emissions and inspections programs in a push to force countywide if not region-wide testing to meet air quality standards mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Ever since emissions testing began some 30 years ago, only Memphis motorists have been required to undergo the process — even though the entire county is now classified by the EPA as violating federal standards for ozone pollution.
…The city has been spending some $2.7 million a year on testing, and that funding ends on July 1. Wharton said he and Luttrell will work on a solution, and it appears they may have an 18-month window to do show a “good-faith effort” toward compliance.
…In Wharton’s memo, he spells out the loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to the city, the county and to suburban municipalities as well.
Council member Lee Harris said Thursday the decision is part of a political “soap opera” in which the governor was caught in the crosscurrents between Memphis, which has historically required auto inspections, and state legislators representing parts of Shelby County outside of Memphis, which have not required auto inspections.
“The reason the governor reached that decision is clearly political,” said Harris, who led the efforts to drop auto inspections in the city on grounds that city residents are having to carry the entire burden of meeting EPA pollution standards even though the suburbs contribute to the same pollution.
“Instead of the governor showing some leadership, he said, ‘Look, I’m just going to punt the ball.’ It’s really a soap opera now. It’s hard to believe that somebody elected to office would just cave. It’s really discouraging,” Harris said
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors in Knoxville say former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe paid employees who never performed work.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/14wTIJO ) reported documents recently filed in Knox County Criminal Court allege Lowe and two former aides conducted a “continuous larcenous scheme” in which ghost employees were on the payroll.
Lowe, Delbert Morgan and Ray Mubarak face multiple theft charges.
A bill of particulars filed by the district attorney’s office alleges Morgan bilked taxpayers out of nearly $197,000 by not showing up for work over four years.
The newspaper said Gregory P. Isaacs, Lowe’s lawyer, and Tom Dillard, Mubarak’s lawyer, declined comment Tuesday. Jeff Daniel, Morgan’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
In April 2012, when indictments were returned, Isaacs said Lowe strongly denied the allegations.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
An employee of the Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society altered receipts to conceal the theft of $51,130 from the organization’s adoption fees and other funds, an audit by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigation has revealed.
Receipts in the humane society’s computer system were backdated – up to 11 years before the installation of the computer system – so they would not be included in daily collection reports. That meant money from adoption fees and other sources didn’t appear in the organization’s records. Investigators concluded that money was stolen by the employee, who was later fired.
Investigative auditors reviewed records from July 1, 2009 through October 31, 2011 after Hamblen County officials discovered the altered receipts from collections were not deposited into the humane society’s bank accounts. The stolen funds should have been used to operate the animal shelter, enforce animal control ordinances and conduct animal cruelty investigations.
The employee involved had been responsible for gathering collections, matching collections with receipts and delivering those collections to the bookkeeper for deposit. During questioning by investigators, the employee admitted to backdating one receipt to “borrow” $120. The employee refused to speak with investigators after being fired.
Investigators also found weaknesses in the humane society’s accounting and record-keeping procedures, which made the theft easier to conceal.
“It is very important that there is an appropriate amount of oversight when public funds are being accepted, recorded and spent or deposited,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Putting too many responsibilities in the hands of one individual without that kind of oversight can create situations that are ripe for fraud or abuse. It is very unfortunate in this case that money that could have been used to help stray and abused animals in Hamblen County isn’t available for that purpose because of this.”
The Comptroller’s Division of Investigation has forwarded copies of its report and supporting information to the Office of the District Attorney, Third Judicial District.
To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/