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.
A conservative Washington-based lobby group, whose policy director once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is jumping with both feet into one of the hottest political games going in the Tennessee General Assembly.
More from Andy Sher’s report: The group is trying to influence state lawmakers when it comes to how state Supreme Court justices and other appellate judges are selected.
State Ethics Commission records show the Judicial Crisis Network and its chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino, have hired four lobbyists to push a proposed state constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
The group recently retained Estie Harris, Anne Carr and Meagan Frazier of the Smith, Carr & Harris lobbying group, as well as Doug Fisher, of Chattanooga, who recently affiliated with the lobby firm.
Kelsey’s proposal would let voters do away with the state’s current merit-selection plan in 2014 and replace it with governor nominating appellate judges, who then are confirmed or rejected by the Senate.
…Legislative aides say the Judicial Crisis Network has been trying to put pressure on lawmakers to support the Kelsey plan through phone banking of Tennesseans and switching would-be supporters of it directly to lawmakers’ offices.
While a special Supreme Court upheld the merit-selection and retention vote plan, conservatives argue it is unconstitutional. The Tennessee Bar Association supports the current plan, saying direct elections could lead to appellate judges from the far right or far left, depending on what money flows in to the various campaigns.
A group of Middle Tennessee conservatives is suing a California businessman for $19 million, claiming he tricked them into investing into a sham business idea for a television network devoted to the tea party movement, according to the Tennessean. The plaintiffs — Howard Luartes, Reinhold Holtkamp, William Hemrick and Melvin W. Martin of Williamson County; James Hearn of Davidson County; and James Huffnagle of Dickson County — claim in a federal lawsuit that they gave Anthony Loiacono a combined $287,500 after he gave a presentation to them at the Old Natchez Country Club in Franklin.
Loiacono said his business idea, Tea Party HD, was projected to make $19 million within three years, according to the lawsuit.
“The alleged purpose of Tea Party HD was to be the ‘world’s first HD provider of news about the Tea Party,'” the lawsuit states. “In reality it was an investment scheme to defraud politically conservative-minded citizens who support the Tea Party mission.”
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Environmentalists have sued coal mining interests in federal court in Knoxville seeking to enforce pollution limits.
The Sierra Club, the Tennessee Clean Water Network and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) claim National Coal LLC is violating legal limits on its selenium, iron and manganese discharges into local waterways.
Environmentalists said in a news release that three suits were filed this week citing provisions of the Clean Water Act.
The Sierra Club said the suits are the latest in a series of actions brought by environmentalists in an effort to protect Appalachian streams.
A telephone call to National Coal by The Associated Press was unanswered Tuesday. Another number listed for the company was disconnected.
Note: A news release is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville hotel has canceled a conference by the Sharia Awareness Action Network, saying it was concerned the speakers include “extremists” with a history of contentious events.
The “Preserving Freedom Conference” had been scheduled for Nov. 11 at the Hutton Hotel near downtown. The hotel in a statement Monday said it has to be “mindful of the safety, security and peace of mind of its guests.”
The hotel cited reports by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center about speakers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer of the group Stop Islamization of America, adding that they have “a history of controversy and contention surrounding their appearances.”
A post on Geller’s website said the hotel had “caved to Islamic supremacist demands” and urged supporters to call the hotel’s management to complain.
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Community Health Network, Inc., a nonprofit with a stated mission of providing medical technology to rural communities, lost or misspent at least $1,266,395 over a three-year period, including more than $700,000 from state grant funds.
The missing funds include more than $90,000 in unauthorized salary and benefits paid to Keith Williams, the organization’s former chief executive officer, and Paul Monroe, the organization’s former assistant director.
Auditors also discovered that Williams and Monroe falsified grant invoices and grant reports and misused proceeds from a state grant to purchase unauthorized software at a cost of $597,458.
Community Health Network has managed a network of computer and video equipment that allowed doctors and nurses in remote health care facilities to transmit scans, images and test results to medical specialists in major medical centers hundreds of miles away. In 2009, Community Health Network had 17 member hospitals, clinics and other health care organizations that provided assistance to more than 100 clinics.
The Comptroller’s Division of Municipal Audit conducted an investigative audit of Community Health Network’s operations covering the 2007-2009 calendar years, with technical assistance from the Comptroller’s Division of State Audit’s Information Systems Audit Section.
Community Health Network overbilled the state for another software purchase at a cost of $131,163. And Community Health Network was unable to account for $446,712 worth of grant funds provided by the Tennessee Health Foundation.
In addition to those wasted or misspent funds, Community Health Network spent $1.47 million on a computer system that was never utilized and failed to properly process at least $749,000 worth of grant applications requested by health care providers.
While working for Community Health Network, Williams also received compensation from a vendor that provided software to the organization. After his resignation from Community Health Network, Williams went to work for the vendor as a paid consultant.
The review also uncovered other accounting and internal control issues, including failure to keep accurate records and failure to budget for recurring expenses such as software maintenance and telecommunication line fees.
“It is very unfortunate that public money intended to assist in providing health care to people in remote rural areas was wasted and abused in this fashion,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “The findings of our review are being forwarded to the State Attorney General’s office and the District Attorney General’s office.”
Note: Community Health Network is based in Savannah, Tenn., but had contracts across the state, according to the comptroller’s report.
The full report may be found HERE. An excerpt: CHN operated as a pathway for grants from the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration (TDFA) to health care groups (such as East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Physicians and Associates, Meharry Medical Group, and Cherokee Health Systems). CHN also accepted grants from federal, state, and nongovernmental sources, including the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation (THF).
This investigative audit was initiated after TDFA’s Office of Internal Audit contract review concluded that CHN failed to provide adequate documentation that it had fulfilled or satisfied the terms of the contract and as a result, owed the state reimbursement of $628,948.
The Tennessee Center for Policy Research gets a prominent mention in a Mother Jones piece on State Policy Network, “a little-known umbrella group” that has established the “right-wing network behind the war on unions’ in all 50 states. Occasionally, SPN think tanks boast of their clout. Such was the case when the Tennessee Center for Policy Research bragged on its website recently that it “leads the charge against teachers’ union” and “laid the groundwork” for the bills now in the Tennessee legislature to restrict, and possibly eradicate, bargaining for public school teachers. More often, though, the fingerprints of SPN’s members are less apparent.
…Tracie Sharp, SPN’s president, told Mother Jones in an email that member think tanks “set their own policy agendas” and “have always been fiercely independent.” But those on the other side of the fight see the think tanks as part of a broader effort. “This is not a grassroots movement to eliminate collective bargaining,” says Al Mance, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. “This is a national movement, and it’s funded by all the conservative moneyed interests.”