Tag Archives: Knox County

School money stolen for drinking, gambling

A former Knox County Schools supervisor accused of using his district-issued credit card to place online gambling bets pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony theft of more than $10,000, according to the News Sentinel.

Roger Underwood, 61, has agreed to a three-year sentence, but the details will be determined by Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Sept. 29.

The state plans to object to judicial diversion, said Sean McDermott, a Knox County assistant district attorney general.

Underwood has agreed to repay the $11,989 he stole by that hearing, McDermott said.

The former accounts payable supervisor, who had an annual salary of $96,074, was fired in October after admitting to using his school credit card for personal purchases. Investigators found he placed bets ranging from $99 to $299 on the card, losing as much as $1,800 in one day gambling online.

A report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury also questioned $731 in charges during a retirement reception at a Mississippi casino, where Underwood also ordered martinis, peach schnapps and a $200 tray of hors d’oeuvres and gave a $115 tip.

He also received reimbursements for school-related trips he never took, officials said.

“Because Underwood was responsible for reviewing school credit card charges, including his own, officials were unaware of these inappropriate charges,” the comptroller’s report states.

DNC chair cancels Knox rally (but will show for Knox fundraiser)

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, will be in Knoxville for a private fundraiser Thursday but will not attend a rally of Knox County Democrats as originally planned, reports Georgiana Vines.

The fundraiser will be at the home of Leanne and Rusty Comer, 7151 Sir Arthur Way, in the Deane Hill area beginning at 6:30 p.m. Their son, Scott, is employed at the DNC.

Knox County Democrats planned to have a rally at their headquarters at 311 Morgan St., which Wasserman Schultz was to attend before the fundraiser, but Cameron Brooks, party chairman, said he was notified Wednesday she would not be at the public event.

“When the head of the Democratic Party comes to our community it is my belief that they should be accessible to everyone, not just those with the means to give money. I am extremely disappointed that her appearance at our rally was canceled,” Brooks said.

…Wasserman Schultz is getting flak nationally, particularly from the supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, for her handling of some campaign issues. There is talk of possibly replacing her before the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. Politico reported Sanders recently endorsed her opponent in the Democratic primary in Florida, Tim Canova.

Note: The referenced Politico story is HERE. A recent story from The Hill on Democrats pushing for Schultz to quit is HERE.

Knox mayor: Haslam broke promise on mental health funding

Excerpt from a Betty Bean column on Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s dispute with Gov. Bill Haslam, who the former state senator says had indicated the state would help with funding for a behavioral health urgent care unit (formerly known as the safety center).

Knox County put $1 million aside for the facility several years ago, plus another $200,000 in this year’s budget. Mayor Madeline Rogero has set aside $200,000. That won’t be enough, but Burchett vowed to find the money and dismissed the explanation he was given for the administration’s decision.

“I was misled about that, and I’m very put out about it. I was told, ‘Mental health is a local issue.’ Well, dadgummit, then, why do we have a Department of Mental Health in the state of Tennessee?”

He said the largest mental health hospitals in the state are the Shelby County, Davidson County and Knox County jails, and didn’t dodge the question of whether denial of state funds amounts to a broken promise by Gov. Bill Haslam:

“Yes. I’m of the opinion it was – but regardless of the state’s partnership, we’re going to go ahead with it…”

Burchett said about half of mentally ill inmates are veterans and accused the governor of breaking his promise that funding would follow the patients after he shut down Lakeshore Institute in 2012.

“We closed down Lakeshore and everybody loves Lakeshore Park – but where are those people going? You drive under any major bridge in Knoxville, you’ll see the human cost.”

A couple of days after his talk show appearances, Burchett still hadn’t cooled off, and said he was offended that Haslam was pleading budget constraints while spending $8 million subsidizing the TV show “Nashville.”

“They pulled the rug out from under us. I don’t like it when they start explaining that they didn’t get as much money as they expected, but I see all these little projects getting funded. I spent 16 years in the Legislature, was on the Senate Finance Committee and chaired the Budget Subcommittee. I know the system and I don’t like hearing that crap. I know that taking care of the mentally ill’s not sexy like that miserable TV show – which has been cancelled, thank goodness – but when they talk about return on investment, I say, ‘What about investing in somebody not going to jail when what they need is treatment?’”

Candidate lied about having a UT degree?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — University of Tennessee officials say a candidate for Knox County property assessor knew his transcript did not exist.

University spokeswoman Karen Simsen tells The Knoxville News-Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1PIazRP) that despite the fact that Andrew Graybeal on Monday at a Halls Republican Club meeting held up what he said was a confirmation letter that he had ordered his transcript, Graybeal had already been notified online four days prior that the request transcript did not exist.

Graybeal’s attorney, Keith Stewart, says his client never received an email notifying him that the university couldn’t complete his transcript order.

Graybeal has said he transferred to the University of Tennessee and then graduated in 1993 with a bachelor’s of applied sciences in electronics engineering technology degree.

University officials say they have no record that Graybeal ever was enrolled at the school.

Knox school chief quits, cites ‘dysfunctional’ politics

Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said Monday that he is stepping down from his post, saying politics around education — and himself — have begun to overshadow the work.

Further from the News-Sentinel:

Effective July 8, McIntyre will leave the position he has held since July 2008, in exchange for a severance payment equal to one year’s salary, he said during a news conference at the Andrew Johnson Building.

“We stand today at sort of a strange place where educationally we are more successful than ever, yet politically there seems to be more negativity and noise,” he said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is serve the children and families of our community as superintendent of the Knox County Schools … however, the current political environment has become increasingly dysfunctional, at times overtly antagonistic and seemingly untenable.

“In recent months the conversation has all too often become about me or the school board or other elected officials rather than around the effective education of our children.”

McIntyre said he weighed the recent controversy around the renewing of his contract and a shift of support after this year’s school board election in making his decision over the holidays.

In November, the school board approved a renewal of McIntyre’s contract that included extending his employment through December 2019 and giving him a 2 percent raise, bringing his base salary to $227,256 per year. The new contract, which has not been executed and signed by all parties, was approved by the board in a 5-4 vote.

Lawsuit filed against Knox mayor’s ex-wife, millionaire boyfriend

Jo Nicole Velasco Strickland on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in Knox County Circuit Court against estranged husband and Bandit Lites owner Michael Strickland and his live-in girlfriend, former Knox County first lady Allison Beaver Burchett, reports the News Sentinel.

In the lawsuit, Nicole Strickland details a monthslong cyberattack in 2014 in which her identity was stolen, her electricity cut off, unauthorized purchases made from her bank accounts, photos from her mastectomy posted on her Facebook account with derogatory comments, her cellphone hacked, a tracking device placed on her car, and fake email and credit card accounts created in her name.

“The aforementioned conduct of the defendants constitutes a civil conspiracy to accomplish, by concerted action, an unlawful purpose or lawful purpose by unlawful means,” the lawsuit stated. “As a direct and proximate cause of the intentional acts of defendants, the plaintiff has been caused to suffer loss and/or damage.”

The lawsuit seeks $500,000 in punitive damages. A specific amount sought in compensatory damages is not listed. Attorneys Dennis Francis, Donna H. Smith and Jo Ann Lehberger filed the lawsuit. Attempts to reach attorneys for Michael Strickland and Allison Beaver Burchett were not immediately successful.

Michael Strickland is founder and owner of Bandit Lites, a global industry leader in lighting for concerts and other entertainment events including the Country Music Awards. Allison Beaver Burchett is the ex-wife of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. The couple divorced in October 2012.

Judge dismisses Republican vs. Republican lawsuit

A judge has tossed out a libel lawsuit filed by former Knox County Republican Party Chairwoman Ruthie Kuhlman against fellow Republican and political blogger Brian Hornback, reports the News Sentinel.

Kuhlman claimed Hornback, also a former Knox County GOP chair, posted on his “Shock and Awe” blog false statements in 2013 and did so out of malice.

But Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ruled Kuhlman failed on both counts. Blackwood wrote in his ruling Hornback presented witnesses who confirmed Kuhlman made the statements Hornback attributed to her.

Kuhlman offered up as proof of malice her belief Hornback dislikes her because he belongs to a Republican breakfast club that doesn’t like her either, Blackwood wrote in the ruling.

“(Kuhlman) cannot rest upon supposition, but must state with clarity factual issues that establish actual malice,” Blackwood wrote.

Kuhlman filed the lawsuit in October 2013. The case involved two separate blog entries in August 2013 that attributed six bullying statements to the chairwoman.

The blog posts, neither of which referred to Kuhlman by name, accused her of verbally attacking a young Republican leader and pressuring him to resign.

She was also accused of saying, “If we are to ever achieve elected superintendent status … we have to vote out (state) Rep. Harry Brooks and (state) Sen. Becky Duncan Massey.”

Kuhlman’s attorney, Herbert S. Moncier, twice demanded “a correction, retraction and apology” within 10 days.

Hornback refused.

Kuhlman continued to deny she made the statements attributed to her in the blog during a hearing on the libel lawsuit, but Blackwood noted other Republicans at the meetings cited in the blog posts backed up Hornback’s account.

Rep. Eddie Smith to chair Knox legislative delegation

Freshman Republican Rep. Eddie Smith has been elected chairman of Knox County’s delegation in the General Assembly, reports Georgiana Vines as part of a collection of notes on legislator doings.

Ryan Haynes had served as chairman of the Knox County delegation until he resigned in April to become state Republican chairman.

The main responsibility of the chairman is to coordinate meetings that affect all members of the delegation, like one the group had with hospital executives on Friday. State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey coordinated an informal ballot on the position, several legislators said.

“Some of those who have been there awhile have more responsibilities,” Smith said.

House candidates clash on Insure TN, Common Core

In their first and only debate Thursday night, the Republican candidates in a House District 14 special election disagreed over Insure Tennessee and Common Core, but sounded similar themes on other matters – including skepticism about raising state gas taxes.

From the News Sentinel:

Karen Carson supports Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand federal health care to the state’s uninsured, while Jason Zachary does not. Carson backs components of Common Core standards for educating public school students, Zachary does not.

Otherwise, as both acknowledged in Thursday’s debate at Farragut Town Hall, the two tend to agree on protecting gun rights, and being anti-abortion.

“Many issues, we are in agreement on,” Carson said.

Both are wary of increasing the state’s gasoline tax.

…Zachary, who works in a telecommunications brokerage business, linked Insure Tennessee… the Affordable Care Act implemented by President Barack Obama’s administration. He admitted that health care for the uninsured is a problem, but didn’t outline any plan to assist the uninsured.

“We don’t want to make a bad situation worse by grossly expanding government,” Zachary said.

Carson, a pediatric nurse, drew on her medical experience in supporting Insure Tennessee. She said that the plan would cover up to 240,000 uninsured Tennesseans who opt in to the program.

“Gov. Haslam has worked to come up with a Tennessee plan, not an Obama plan,” she said. “I believe that this is a reasonable solution. … Our hospitals cannot continue to assume the costs of the uninsured.”

Carson, a member of the Knox County school board, also said that Common Core regulations have helped show where Tennessee students stand in their education level compared to the rest of the country. She added, however, that any policy does need to be reviewed after it is implemented.

Zachary primarily suggested that in matters of federal government and the state, the state and local school systems she be left to determine their own fate.

Then he suggested the state adopt a plan from Americans for Prosperity — a conservative political advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

Carson, in rebuttal, keyed in on the helpfulness from a national group.

“A national organization may have some good ideas, but that’s a national solution,” she said. “Tennessee needs a Tennessee solution.”

No Democrat running for House seat vacated by Ryan Haynes

Knox County Democrats can’t find a candidate willing to run in a special election this year for the heavily Republican 14th District state House seat vacated by Ryan Haynes, but they’re already looking ahead at taking back the 13th District seat won by Republican Eddie Smith last year, reports Georgiana Vines.

Former state Rep. Gloria Johnson, whom Smith defeated in a tight race in November, is expected to run again, Democratic chairman Cameron Brooks said Saturday.

“We’re going to do everything we can in getting that (13th District seat) back. I think Gloria will run. It doesn’t preclude anyone else from running. We will have a candidate or candidates,” Brooks said.

Johnson, who has just started working for Organizing for Action, a nonprofit advocacy group for President Barack Obama’s initiatives, said she could not discuss her plans.

“My job doesn’t allow me to talk to the media,” she said Saturday.

…Another prospective candidate for the 13th District is Knoxville title attorney Jessee Bundy, Brooks said.

…Three Republicans have taken out qualifying petitions to succeed Haynes, according to the Knox County Election Commission. They are school board member Karen Carson, who has returned her petition and qualified; former congressional candidate Jason Zachary; and Brad Atchley, a nephew of former state Sen. Ben Atchley.

The petition deadline is noon Thursday…. While no Democrats have taken out a petition, Clay Crownover, a public relations and government relations strategist, considered running. He said last week in an email he decided against it because of work and family obligations.

“I fully intend to do something down the road,” he said.