Tag Archives: email

More TN Democratic email fallout: Widow gets apology, Cohen wants firings

Longtime Knox County Democratic activist Sylvia Woods says Scott Comer, finance chief of staff for the Democratic National Committee, called her Tuesday to apologize for a “smart-aleck” comment he made about Woods’ dead husband in an email prior to a reception for outgoing DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz here in June.

Further from Georgiana Vines:

Woods said Comer, a 28-year-old Knoxvillian, contacted her after she let Ronald Allen, the DNC’s Southern regional director, know people were reaching out to her in a concerning way about the email, provided by WikiLeaks over the weekend.

Woods and her husband, Harold, long served on Knox County and state Democratic Party committees. Sylvia Woods is on the county board of governors representing a Democratic women’s club and on the state executive committee. She is attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as a member of the Platform Committee as a Hillary Clinton supporter and has obtained a floor pass to sit with the Tennessee delegation, she said.

Woods was reached by the News Sentinel as she boarded a bus to travel with the delegation from its hotel site in Valley Forge, Pa., to Philadelphia. She said Comer told her he would meet her at the convention site “and hug your neck just like Tennesseans do.”

The emails regarding the Knoxville reception were written after Sylvia Woods contacted Allen on learning of the event… Allen offered Woods two tickets. Woods told him she would be unable to attend and would appreciate a ticket for (Knox County Democratic Chairman Cameron) Brooks. Woods then mentioned she was using the iPad that had belonged to her husband, who died in 2014,.

… (In an email) Allen wrote to Comer, saying, “All good now and look at my well-crafted response lol! Can the Knox county chair come in her stead?”

“Of course!” Comer answered. “Glad she’s placated and using her dead husbands (sic) iPad.”

Brooks called Comer’s comments “embarrassing and mean.”

Woods agreed.

When Comer called Woods to apologize, “I gave him the motherly lesson,” she said. “Pay attention. You can hurt someone’s feelings. What he said was so unnecessary.” Continue reading

Haslam uses private email for public business?

Gov. Bill Haslam has set up a private email system for himself and key staffers, reports WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams, likening the situation to that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server. It’s linked to the governor’s personal website, billhaslam.com.

In principle, experts agree that having a private email to make sure that state email is not used for political purposes is a good thing. The question is: what happens when that private email is used for public business?

“This is what got Hillary Clinton in trouble, and so I think the public sees this as an issue,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

Fisher questioned whether public business is being conducted out of the public eye.

“By using a private email account, while those emails may still be subject to the Public Records Act, they are essentially under the radar and nobody knows about them,” she added.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates filed a public records request to obtain a snapshot of emails caught up in the state’s computer system sent to or from the governor’s private server. We found state budget officials — from state accounts — briefing the governor himself at a billhaslam.com email address.

The governor’s executive assistant, Janet McGaha, also uses billhaslam.com, corresponding in a couple of cases with then chief-of-staff Mark Cate — again at billhaslam.com.

We showed the emails to Nashville Tea Party activist Ben Cunningham.

“Obviously, they are using this private server to discuss public business,” Cunningham said. “Those are public records.”

In one example, Cate used that account to email an education activist about Common Core, copying Haslam’s education commissioner — also apparently using private email. In another case, a lobbyist emailed Cate at billhaslam.com about a letter he wanted the governor to sign.

…The governor’s office says any use of that account for official government business was “inadvertent and a rare occurrence.” And like Hillary Clinton, officials say the fact that such emails were eventually forwarded to the state email system shows they weren’t trying to hide anything.

The governor’s communications director, Dave Smith, added: “Any insinuation that the governor or this office deliberately used non-state emails for official state business is wrong and misleading.”

Emails indicate Ingram doing some political work on Haslam payroll

WTVF-TV continues a review of Haslam administration emails with a report on indications that Tom Ingram was consulting on political campaign matters while paid personally by the governor. If so, that could mean disclosure of the payments is required under state law as the equivalent of campaign self-financing… but the governor has refused to disclose the amount of his personal payments to Ingram.
From Ben Hall’s report:
State e-mails, obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, raise new questions about whether Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam broke campaign finance laws by paying lobbyist Tom Ingram out of his own pocket.
The emails reveal Ingram participated in campaign-related planning events while he was on the governor’s private payroll.
…The governor insisted that there’s nothing wrong with having lobbyist and consultant Tom Ingram on his private payroll. He said he hired Ingram to help with statewide “organizational” issues.
“It’s not fair to have the state pay Tom — and he wasn’t doing political work where it should be campaign,” Haslam said last month.
But the new emails reveal Ingram continued to do campaign work, planning for the governor’s next election, while he was on the governor’s private payroll.
In October of 2012, the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate, e-mailed Ingram about a “2014 planning retreat.” Cate asked Ingram, as well as Haslam’s campaign finance director and key office staff, to set aside eight hours over two days for the retreat.
Later, Ingram suggested having the retreat at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel because he preferred “to get away from government space.”
Haslam’s office confirmed the retreat was campaign related about his reelection…. But even though Ingram was receiving regular monthly retainer payments, the governor’s office now says Ingram was not paid for the time he attended the campaign retreat.
Haslam’s office did not provide details of the campaign retreat, but said it only lasted a couple of hours.
…Other emails reveal that in a September 2012 discussion with the subject line “planning session,” Ingram told Mark Cate we “also needs [sic] to discuss super PAC.” Haslam’s office said Cate did not know what the “Super PAC” reference meant. (Note: Haslam has given money to Karl Rove’s ‘Super PAC,’ HERE)
…A spokesman for the governor said that Haslam started paying Ingram out of his campaign account on July 1. He said that was the plan all along as Haslam’s reelection grew closer and it had nothing to do with outside pressure.
However, the governor has no plans to amend past disclosures to reveal what he has paid Ingram.

State, Florida Company Reap Profits from Prisoners’ Families

Family and friends of about 20,000 inmates in the Tennessee prison system now must pay a commission to a private for-profit Florida company when they want to send money to the inmates’ trust accounts, and the state will get a cut, too.
Further from The Tennessean:
Under a contract awarded late last year and recently expanded, JPay of Miami charges fees of up to 4.5 percent to forward money to Tennessee inmates. The state under the contract also gets its share of the payments, a 50 cent fee for every transaction.
Advocates say the arrangement amounts to a kickback for the state and places an unfair burden on relatives of inmates, who often have limited resources.
“It’s a tax on citizens with the least ability to pay,” said Alex Friedmann of Prison Legal News, who said that he has received several complaints from relatives of inmates.
He said that many of the complaints involved lengthy delays in getting the money in the inmates’ accounts.
Corrections officials, however, say that the new system is an improvement, and that thus far the state’s income from the contract has been only $15,000.
“The vast majority of families and friends who have contacted us are pleased with the service and the convenience it offers,” corrections spokeswoman Dorinda Carter wrote in an email response to questions.
…The state never formally advertised for bids on the contract, though officials say they did review a proposal from another company, which, like JPay, had been recommended by a national association of state purchasing agents.
JPay also offers an email service for inmates, with the state getting a 4 percent commission.
,,,The contract replaces a system under which deposits in prisoners’ accounts were mailed directly to the 15 correctional facilities.
…n addition to the requirement to use JPay for inmates’ deposits, the state recently expanded JPay’s role to include payments of probation fees imposed on released inmates.
In addition to the money forwarding services, JPay’s contract also provides for video visits, songs or albums on an MP3 and a JP4 player.
For those services, the state’s commission jumps to as much as $10 per purchase.

Summerville Apologizes for Black Caucus Email

State Rep. Barbara Cooper, who was chairman of the Legislature’s Black Caucus last year when Sen. Jim Summerville sent her a controversial email, says the senator has belatedly apologized for the remark.
In August, 2012, Dickson Republican Summerville declared in an email to Cooper, “I don’t give a rat’s ass what the Black Caucus thinks.”
The missive was sent after the Black Caucus issued a news release critical of a hearing Summerville led that looked into allegations of grade tampering at Tennessee State University.
Cooper provided a copy of a new Summerville email dated Jan. 12 and addressed to “Hon. Barbara Cooper and friends in the Black Caucus.”
The text:
“Dear Rep. Cooper and friends, one of my personal hopes in the new year is to try to lead a more Christ-like life. I realize that may require making amends to people I’ve hurt in the past.
“I want to tell you, then, how much I regret losing my temper last summer over your reaction to the TSU report. You said what you did with intellectual integrity and honesty of purpose. My reaction was unbecoming to me.
“Please know that I look forward to working with each of you in the 108th General Assembly for the welfare of all the people of our great state.
“Most sincerely, Jim Summerville.”
Cooper said that, in reply, she told the senator: “You’re apology is accepted and appreciated and you are forgiven.”

Campfield Suggests Therapy to Critics; Uproar Ensues

State Sen. Stacey Campfield has suggested via email that at least three people who criticized his legislative proposals consider therapy and medication, reports Chas Sisk, and there is a national uproar in the blogosphere as a result.
“You seem to have some serious, deep anger issues,” read the identically-worded messages. “Have you ever thought about therapy? I hear they are doing some wonderful things with medications these days.”
Campfield signed the messages, “Yours in service.”
The response, which may have been sent to many more people who wrote the senator, unleashed a torrent of criticism online Friday.
Several national websites, including TMZ and Hollywood Gossip, published the reply. (Note: TMZ has audio of an interview with Campfield on the matter, HERE) A thread on Reddit, a popular social media site, had drawn more than 60 comments by Friday afternoon.
“I was utterly shocked,” said Telisha Arguelles Cobb, the Berry Hill woman whose letter appeared on Reddit.
Cobb, who used to live in the Knoxville area Campfield now represents, wrote the lawmaker to express her displeasure with his Classroom Protection Act, which would discourage classroom discussions of homosexuality, and his proposal to tie welfare benefits to children’s performance in school.
In her note, which also was published on Reddit, Cobb said Campfield was “an embarrassment to our great state” and added, “You need to search your heart, your values and your Christianity to find a better way to represent us as a whole.”
Campfield wrote back to Cobb and at least two others shortly before 12:45 p.m. Thursday using his legislative iPad. He said he did not know how many people he sent the same reply to, and he declined to discuss how identical wording came to appear in multiple messages.
But he said gay rights activists were trying to intimidate him by sending him rude emails and publicizing his reply.
“I’m not their little piñata,” Campfield told The Tennessean on Friday. “I’m not going to put up with personal attacks.

Thousands Contact Haslam on TN Health Care Exchange (6 support civil war)

Excerpt from an Andrea Zelinski story on Gov. Bill Haslam mulling whether a Tennessee Health Care Exchange is to be or not to be:
Thousands of Tennesseans are weighing in on the issue. Gov. Bill Haslam’s staff said they have received some 4,000 emails and 2,000 phone calls about insurance exchanges.
While the staff didn’t break down the email messages to pros and cons, almost all of the phone calls were urging the governor to say “no Obamacare in Tennessee” — a decision that is out of the state’s hands — or ditch the exchange and let the federal government handle it.
Of the rest, about 75 said they were in favor of a state exchange. Another 32 spoke out against the state running it, but changed their stance after the choices were explained, according to the governor’s constituent services staff.
Almost 30 called wanting the state to secede, and eight urged nullification of Obamacare. Six called for a civil war.
….Haslam has until Dec. 14 to decide who will run the exchange. For months he has repeatedly said the state can run the program better than the federal government could, but he has shied away from committing to that route. He blamed the holdup on a lack of information from Washington, D.C., on details of how exactly the state-run exchanges and federal exchanges would work.
For example, the state would have at least some power to choose which health insurance carriers could sell on the exchange, but it’s unclear which details will be up to state officials to determine and which will be prescribed by the feds.
The same goes if the state opts to let the federal government run the exchange for Tennessee. State officials say they have no clue whether that means the state would be totally hands-off or would still have a role to play. In addition, the state could decide to partner with the federal government to run the program.
The feds handed the state $9.1 million in grants to help it do the homework to figure out whether to pursue an insurance exchange. So far, state officials say they’ve spent less than $1.5 million of it, mostly on salaries and benefits for staff researching insurance exchanges, although they say they still don’t have enough details to put forth solid recommendations.

Newspaper Goes to Court for Emails from Political Figures

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Knoxville News Sentinel is asking a judge to decide whether the county must hand over emails it requested under the state’s open records law.
The records relate to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign finance disclosure problems that he has blamed on his ex-wife.
The Knox County Law Department earlier this month refused to release some of the emails, claiming that they were personal and not subject to the open records law.
In a petition filed Thursday in Knox County Chancery Court, New Sentinel Managing Editor Tom Chester asks a judge to review 13 of the emails to determine whether the county can legally withhold them.
The News Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/S0nu1N) two of the emails are from state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey to the mayor’s chief of staff. Three are from former county Finance Director Burton Webb’s county email account to his personal email account.
One is from county Communications Manager Michael Grider to himself. One is from developer John Turley to the mayor. There also is one sent from a private account to Commissioner Jeff Ownby that appears to be about Commissioner Amy Broyles.

Continue reading

Burchett’s ‘Personal’ Email in Government Account Kept Confidential

The Knox County Law Department has blocked the release of six emails written earlier this year that appear to involve Mayor Tim Burchett’s problematic campaign account, according to the News Sentinel.
The county’s Information Technology Department produced records of the emails, written in January, March and April, in response to a request by the News Sentinel. But the Law Department determined the emails themselves should not be released because they are “personal” and not subject to the state’s Public Records Act.
If the emails do, in fact, deal with Burchett’s election account, they could be relevant to a meeting of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance next week during which the mayor has been told to explain false entries in his campaign finance disclosure statement and undisclosed contributions to and withdrawals from the Elect Burchett campaign account.
The mayor has blamed his former wife, Allison, who wrote several checks from the campaign account to herself during their marriage and deposited those amounts in the couple’s household checking account.
She has said she acted at his direction. He has repeatedly said he knew nothing of the discrepancies until they were brought to his attention by the News Sentinel in June.
Before a July 22 news story, for instance, he issued a written statement saying, in part: “As a result of these matters having been brought to my attention for the first time, I have initiated a complete review ….”
County computer records show, however, that Allison Burchett sent three emails the morning of Jan. 30 to the mayor, his chief of staff, Dean Rice, and Communications Manager Michael Grider. The subject of the first, sent at 9:30 a.m. was “Financial disclosures.” The subject of the second, sent 35 minutes later, was “FW: elect.” It had an untitled pdf file attached to it. The subject of the third, sent a few minutes after that, was “RE: Financial disclosures.”

TDEC Official Labels Citizen Fracking Comments ‘Stupid’ in Emails

Michael Burton, a supervisor in the state Department of Environment and Conservation, tells WTVF-TV that he regrets responding to citizen emails on the department’s new “fracking” rules with remarks described as rude, dismissive and condesending.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Burton, “Did you write stupid on some of these comments?”
“I did,” he admitted.
Why did he do that?
“It was a time of frustration and I vented my frustrations on paper,” he answered.
Burton said that his notes were never meant to be public and he apologizes.
“Do you think people opposed to fracking are stupid?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
“No, not at all,” Burton responded.
One of the comments he underlined and called stupid claims hydraulic fracturing has left “homes and farms abandoned, livestock gone” in other states.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “What’s wrong with that comment?”
“There’s no recorded incident of that happening anywhere in the United States because of fracking,” Burton responded.
But, in Louisiana, 17 cows died after coming in direct contact with hydraulic fracturing fluid
.