Republican Sen. Bo Watson says his bill establishing a framework to handle pole attachment issues between the public power distributors that own them and investor-owned cable companies is an attempt to resolve a years-long fight, reports Andy Sher. But the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents cable operators such as Comcast, charges the bill will result in a “new, outrageously high fee on broadband providers across the state.”
The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, is scheduled to come before a Senate committee today.
Watson said the bill is an attempt to resolve issues between the cable industry and municipal electric services, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, and rural electric cooperatives.
“If you keep in mind that the co-ops’ and municipal electric services’ No. 1 mission in life is to keep electric rates as low as possible, well, anything that shifts the costs of that pole onto the ratepayers is potentially raising the rate of electricity, which is counter to the mission that [they] have,” Watson said.
Under current law, no one can attach lines or otherwise use the poles without the consent of utilities.
The bill establishes a cost-sharing framework for pole attachment fee negotiations between utilities and attaching parties. It also creates a dispute resolution mechanism for unsuccessful negotiations between parties.
Cable operators charge it would nearly double the rates they currently pay and are pressing their own bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova.
EPB spokesman John Pless said in an email statement that the municipal electric service “does not want our electric customers to subsidize the cable industry. Comcast pays us an average of $1.02 per utility pole per month. The cost to own and maintain each one of our utility poles is about $100 to $120 per year.
Since July 2011, Chuck Fleischmann’s campaign has earmarked $51,523 in donor funds to pay Chip Saltsman’s legal fees in a lawsuit 600 miles away from Washington, D.C., according to Chris Carrolll. Campaign finance records show the latest payment, $15,000, came on Nov. 14. Fleischmann’s office announced Saltsman’s resignation as chief of staff a month later.
After spending $1.3 million on the 2012 election cycle, the Fleischmann campaign reported $50,990 on hand and $226,538 in debts, according to the latest filings.
Last week, Fleischmann and his Nashville-based attorney declined to respond to inquiries about whether the Republican congressman’s campaign will continue paying Saltsman’s bills this year. Saltsman and his attorney did not return a detailed phone message seeking comment Thursday.
The legal fees stem from a 2-year-old Davidson County Circuit Court lawsuit filed by a rival political operative. Former Robin Smith aide Mark Winslow is suing Fleischmann and Saltsman over advertising claims the duo made in the 2010 election. Winslow seeks $750,000 in damages.
Fleischmann edged Smith and became the Republican nominee after a bitter 3rd District primary season. The lawsuit alleges defamation, inducement to breach a contract and invasion of privacy.
After Fleischmann’s campaign consulted with the Federal Election Commission in 2011, the agency determined that using donations to defend Saltsman was allowable because the lawsuit involves “allegations directly relating to campaign activities engaged in by Mr. Saltsman.”
…Meanwhile, attorneys continue to litigate the lawsuit, which is entering its third year after being filed in January 2011. Gary Blackburn, Winslow’s attorney, filed a motion to add the Tennessee Republican Party as a defendant last week.
A trial could be months away, Blackburn said.
News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
CHATTANOOGA – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that he and a bipartisan group of senators will introduce legislation, called the American Waterworks Act, to modernize America’s ports, locks, and dams, including Chickamauga Lock.
Alexander, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has been working with a bipartisan group of senators to address major shortfalls in U.S. port and waterway infrastructure, in preparation for the 2014 completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will provide the U.S. with more trade opportunities.
Alexander said that the legislation would do two things to help ensure construction of Chickamauga Lock, which is a high priority for the Army Corps of Engineers: First, it would free up funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to be used on priorities such as Chickamauga Lock by ending the requirement that trust fund revenues go to pay for Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River, a project that has been soaking up almost 90 percent of fund revenues. Second, Alexander said, it would nearly double the amount of money in the trust fund by doing exactly what the lock’s commercial users have requested–increasing the user fees they pay.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Comptroller Justin Wilson’s move to automatically waive the first $25 in fees for public records requests is drawing praise from open government advocates.
The proposed rules, which would also give the comptroller the discretion to waive all costs related to public record searches and copies, were unanimously recommended for adoption by the Joint Government Operations Committees on Wednesday.
“The fee waiver provisions are progressive for Tennessee and should be a model for other state and local agencies,” said Frank Gibson, the founding director of the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government.
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
U.S. District Court Judge S. Thomas Anderson, who dismissed in June a “birther” lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s place on the ballot in Tennessee, sanctioned Friday the plaintiffs’ attorney, Van Irion, for bringing a frivolous lawsuit.
In the suit, the Liberty Legal Foundation, a right-wing group led by Irion, a failed tea party congressional candidate, alleged that Barack Obama was ineligible to be president because he was not a “natural-born citizen.”
The judge wrote in his sanction of the Liberty Legal Foundation that the group had no legal standing to bring the suit, calling the claims “frivolous and without any arguable basis in law.”
“As such, counsel for Plaintiff has multiplied the proceedings in this case unreasonably and vexatiously and should therefore be required to satisfy personally the attorneys’ fees reasonably incurred by Defendants because of such conduct,” Judge Anderson wrote.
Gerard Stranch, an attorney for the Tennessee Democratic Party, a defendant in the suit, said defendants have 21 days to file an application for attorney’s fees and costs to be expended due to having the case dismissed.
“We are happy with the result and hope this brings an end to the ongoing litigation over President Obama’s qualifications,” Stranch said.
The Democratic Party, the DNC, DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Tennessee Democratic Party and TNDP Chairman Chip Forrester were named in defendants in the suit filed by the Liberty Legal Foundation, John Dummett, Leonard Volodarsky and Creg Maroney.
— Note: Text of the judge’s order is available by clicking this link: Sanctions_Order_in_LLF.pdf
Starting July 1, clerks throughout Tennessee gained the power to begin suspending driver’s licenses if court fees and fines go unpaid for a year. But The Tennessean reports that not a single license has been suspended, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Even Tommy Bradley, chief administrative officer for the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office and the man who wrote the law, is holding off until Aug. 1 to give debtors one last chance to pay at least something.
Other clerks are questioning whether to suspend licenses at all, out of logistical or moral reservations.
“I just want to wait and see,” said Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal. “I’m afraid this law is going to be hurting the people who would really like to put out the effort to pay and they simply can’t.”
Bradley acknowledges there is “widespread” opposition to the law, which he wrote to help collect hundreds of millions in uncollected court costs.
…Neal said that aside from moral qualms at saddling poor offenders with even more burdens, she’s not sure she has the money or staff to send out notices and then process debtors for suspensions.
“We’ve got all the work that we can say grace over now,” Neal said. “To me, it’s going to be more record-keeping and a little bit more difficult to keep up with.”
Neal said she’s more likely to just continue sending unpaid debts to a collection agency. It’s cheaper and easier on her overworked staff.
The University of Tennessee board of trustees tentatively approved plan Wednesday that would charge future full-time students for an additional three hours each semester at the Knoxville campus, reports the News Sentinel.
The new charges will begin with freshmen next year. Following an hourlong discussion, the plan to charge full-time students for 15 credit hours unanimously passed out of committee and will go before the full board of trustees, including Gov. Bill Haslam, today.
“There’s got to be a financial incentive, and there’s got to be courses available, and there’s got to be the expectation to graduate in four years,” Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said during the committee meeting, held on the agriculture campus. “We cannot become a top-25 public research university if we do not graduate classes. Quite frankly, we’ve got to have a game-changer, and we think this is a game-changer.”
Current students, who will not be affected by the proposal, pay by the credit hour until they hit 12 hours, the threshold for full-time status. The proposed new model would mean future students who take 12 or more credit hours would be required to pay for 15 credit hours.
Cheek touted the new model as a means of raising revenue, making tuition increases more predictable, encouraging students to graduate in four years, lowering student debt and allowing the university to serve more students without upping enrollment.
News release from Comptroller’s Office:
The Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Office of the County Clerk repeatedly collected improper fees from citizens, made an improper payment from funds maintained by the office, and engaged in poor payroll recordkeeping, an investigation by the state Comptroller’s office has revealed.
The investigation was conducted by the Comptroller’s Division of County Audit with assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Auditors found that between Sept. 1, 2006 and June 26 of last year, the office performed nearly 3,000 marriage ceremonies for which a $40 fee was usually charged to the marrying couples. Numerous interviews with office employees and couples indicate the fees charged were not optional, which appears to conflict with state law.
The fees were placed in envelopes and personally delivered to Davidson County Clerk John Arriola. Auditors estimate that almost $120,000 was collected during the time period under review.
The investigation found numerous personnel and payroll issues, including:
Arriola hired his campaign treasurer, Leighton Bush, as his office outreach coordinator, but could not document the hours Bush actually worked for the office or outreach projects he completed.
Arriola contracted with David Currey in a non-competitive process and paid his firm more than $40,000 for consulting work at the same time Currey was renting property from Arriola
Payroll records revealed 63 employees in the office were compensated for overtime hours they did not actually work.
Employees solicited campaign contributions from staff during regular business hours and on at least one occasion some employees were asked to leave work early to attend a political fundraiser held on Arriola’s behalf.
The investigation also found that the clerk’s office failed to turn over computer fees to the county general fund as required by state law. More than $65,000 as of June 30, 2011, was on hand in the clerk’s fee and commission account.
All of the findings and recommendations have been forwarded to the Davidson County District Attorney General.
To view the investigative report online, go to: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/CA/2011/Davidson%20county%20clerk%20special%20report.pdf
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state audit of the Davidson County clerk’s office has found Clerk John Arriola required employees to collect a $40 fee to perform civil marriages.
The report issued Wednesday seems to rebut Arriola’s claims to WTVF-TV that the money was a gratuity for his services (http://bit.ly/zfTOm2). The station’s investigation led to a request by District Attorney Torry Johnson for the audit, conducted by the office of the state comptroller.
Auditors concluded employees did not advise people seeking to be married that the $40 was optional.
A telephone message left Wednesday seeking comment from Arriola was not immediately returned.
In the clerk’s office response to auditors, it was stated that no one who did not pay the fee was denied a ceremony. Note: Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson issued a news release on the audit. This quote from the release “Because this is still an on-going investigation, we can’t speak to any specifics at this stage,” Johnson says. “Our office is reviewing the information gathered by both the TBI and the State Comptroller’s office to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant action by our office.”
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s main campaign committee used campaign donations to pay legal expenses for Chip Saltsman, the congressman’s chief of staff, the Chattanooga TFP reports after a review of finance records. On July 1, the campaign spent $7,565.38 on Waddey & Patterson P.C., the Nashville firm defending Saltsman. He is accused in a lawsuit of defaming and slandering an aide to Robin Smith, Fleischmann’s chief 3rd District GOP primary opponent last year.
Neither Fleischmann nor the congressman’s principal campaign committee is named as a defendant in the Davidson County Circuit Court lawsuit. But Fleischmann’s office did consult with the federal agency that oversees election law, which determined that using donations to defend Saltsman was allowable.
Of seven donors interviewed Friday, including attorney Stuart Brown and accountant Tom Decosimo, most had no issue with the campaign’s actions. One woman who did not want to be named said she couldn’t figure out why her donation was diverted to “Saltsman’s legal problems in Nashville.”
“The monies that go toward Chuck and his staff — it’s a judgment call,” said Brown, who donated $250 to Fleischmann. “To me, it’s all politically motivated. If it frees up Chip, I’m fine with it.”
…The Smith aide, Mark Winslow, served as the Tennessee Republican Party’s chief of staff while Smith was chairman. He became Smith’s media director during last year’s primary. Saltsman ran Fleischmann’s campaign and now heads the congressman’s Washington, D.C., staff.
Winslow’s lawsuit refers to Saltsman’s alleged actions as a campaign consultant to Fleischmann. It states that Saltsman “improperly obtained” Winslow’s confidential employment records with the state GOP, slandering him in the process.
Saltsman has denied the allegations, asking “that Winslow recover nothing in this action,” court documents show.