By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An independent monitor for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency’s progress in 2012 was disappointing.
The Technical Assistance Committee reports to a federal judge on DCS’ performance as part of a 2001 settlement over the agency’s treatment of foster children.
Among other things, the 2012 report found that workers took too long to make contact with child victims. In the highest priority cases, where children were considered potentially to be in imminent danger, caseworkers made contact within the required 24 hours between about 30 and 70 percent of the time.
The report also found that young people who were aging out of foster care were not being prepared to transition to adulthood.
According to a review of independent living plans:
Since July 2011, at least seven people who had died were issued unemployment checks by the state of Tennessee, to the tune of about $12,000 in unemployment payments, reports the Tennessean in giving some details of problems in the system. But it’s not just the deceased that a state audit found were being paid benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. It also found that 24 state employees were getting paid unemployment benefits — while still working for the state of Tennessee.
Those findings were among several alarming entries in a scathing audit detailing the overpayment of about $73 million in jobless benefits and other systemic problems with the state’s unemployment system.
For instance, administrative delays in the state Labor Department meant many employers were unable to challenge unemployment claims by former employees and wound up getting charged too much in unemployment premiums paid to the state.
Three of the department’s top officials, including former Commissioner Karla Davis, resigned shortly before the audit was released.
…The department, for its part, has begun trying to recoup the money and has forwarded some of the cases on to federal authorities for possible prosecution for fraud. Officials there say they also have tightened their procedures to try to prevent these problems from happening again.
“In the short time the new interim commissioner, Burns Phillips, has been here, there has a tangible shift in the work environment, not only in addressing the audit findings, but also creating an atmosphere where employees can affect change,” said Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the department. “Employers, our clients and the general public will see positive results in the coming months.”
Gov. Bill Haslam tells the Chattanooga TFP that the University of Tennessee’s football team can’t continue down the road followed during the past season or two.
“They can’t be average, and you hate to say it that way, but financially it just doesn’t work,” Haslam said Thursday afternoon. “They have to fill that stadium up. They get the benefit of being a part of the SEC and all the TV money that comes with that, but at the end of the day, if they can’t fill that stadium up and sell concessions, then not just the football program but all the other sports that benefit from a strong football program suffer.”
The Volunteers, who not long ago racked up 10-win seasons and New Year’s Day bowl invitations with great regularity, are just 28-34 the past five years and 12-28 in league play. Tennessee has its fourth head coach since 2008, and a report this week in the SportsBusiness Journal detailed the athletic department’s financial woes.
Tennessee is carrying more than $200 million of debt, according to the article, which is not unlike recent debt figures at Alabama and LSU. Yet Tennessee’s reserves are just $1.95 million, whereas most every other SEC institution has reserves between $50 million and $100 million.
The SportsBusiness Journal reported that Tennessee’s athletic department spends $21 million annually on debt payments, $13.5 million of which comes from the university’s stressed $99.5 million athletic budget and the rest from donations. Athletic director Dave Hart was quoted as saying, “We’ve got to get football healthy.”
“If you want to be bottom line about it, it shows why UT-Knoxville has to be good in football,” Haslam said. “You have a whole program that’s set up with a 100,000-seat Neyland Stadium, and it’s a program that supports all the other sports other than basketball and provides scholarships back to the university.”
This past football season, the Vols lost their first seven conference games for the first time in program history, which included a third consecutive 31-point setback against longtime rival Alabama. Attendance dropped sharply after the loss to the Crimson Tide, and the Vols wound up averaging 89,965 fans per home game.
It was the lowest season average for Tennessee since 1979, when Neyland had a capacity of 80,250.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Poll watchers in Memphis and Nashville reported many voting problems on Tuesday, but few had to do with Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law.
Instead, volunteers and city officials said people were turned away because of address problems while others gave up in the face of long lines and overwhelmed poll workers.
In Nashville, a coalition organized by government watchdog group Tennessee Citizen Action had about 125 volunteer poll watchers working Tuesday.
Asked what problems they were seeing, Director Mary Mancini said, “What aren’t they seeing?”
She ticked off the issues.
“There’s one polling place with 5 voting machines and only one machine operator. They’re running out of change-of-address forms and people are being sent away. They’re running out of provisional ballots. … People are not being offered provisional ballots; they’re just being turned away,” Mancini said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Add former Gov. Winfield Dunn to the list of prominent Tennessee Republicans maintaining a careful distance from embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais following revelations the congressman once urged a woman he had an affair with to seek an abortion.
Dunn has been an active campaigner for Republican candidates and causes since leaving office in 1975. But he told reporters after attending the launch of the bipartisan Campaign to Fix the Debt-Tennessee on Wednesday that he had not been asked to campaign on DesJarlais’ behalf.
“He’s got a campaign well under way, but of course he has some matters to deal with that obviously are going to cause him quite a challenge,” Dunn said. “But he’ll make his way.”
News release from state comptroller’s office:
Shelby County’s administrator of elections failed to properly plan for redistricting, which led to errors in the August elections, a report by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has revealed.
Federal, state and local legislative district boundaries must be updated every 10 years to account for population shifts reflected in new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. However, for several months, the Shelby County Commission was stalemated on approval of a plan for redistricting at the local level.
In January, the county’s administrator of elections initiated a process for redrawing the county district lines based upon a plan that had been discussed by the commission, but not approved. The county’s elections staff continued work on that process until mid-May, still with no commission-approved plan in place.
Davidson County voting machines that defaulted to Republican ballots during the Aug. 2 primary elections had been programmed like those used in a closed-primary system, which Tennessee doesn’t have, reports The Tennessean. Election Commissioner Steve Abernathy, who has defended the county’s use of the machines, known as “electronic poll books,” confirmed that vendor ES&S programmed them like the ones used in Maryland, where voters generally must be registered members of a party to vote in its primary.
In Tennessee, the system is open, meaning voters don’t register as party members, and they can cast ballots in either primary. But the machines in 60 of Davidson County’s 160 precincts didn’t always work that way last month.
Some voters, including Sheriff Daron Hall, an elected Democrat, have said the electronic poll books gave them Republican ballots if poll workers didn’t ask them which primary they wanted to vote in.
The problem has drawn howls of outrage from Democrats, including Metro Council members and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper. Abernathy, one of three Republicans on the five-member Election Commission, said the machines weren’t supposed to work that way.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican leaders say they expect some problems may arise from recent changes in electoral procedures when early voting starts Friday in Tennessee, but they hope to have the wrinkles ironed out by the general election in November.
Over the last few years, GOP lawmakers have pushed measures they say are needed to prevent voter fraud and “protect the integrity of the ballot box.” Ignoring objections from Democrats and voter advocates, they have purged voter rolls and enacted a photo identification requirement for voters.
Republicans also redrew the state’s electoral map in the once-a-decade redistricting process. As a result, some voters may not know where to cast their ballots.
“I do think there could be some confusion,” said former state Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith. “It is going to be something new.”
Early voting ends July 28. The state primary and county general elections are Aug. 2.