A review of a Pellissippi State Community College building purchase has concluded that there were some missteps and misinformation along the way, but it was reasonable for the state to pay $10 million, twice its previous purchase price, for a long-vacant office building in need of extensive repairs.
Further from The Tennessean: In a nine-page report recently forwarded to John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, the director of audits in the state comptroller’s office concluded that “the price of the property was negotiated and the acquisition price appeared reasonable.”
The report, however, found several irregularities, including two back-to-back six-month leases for that same Knox County building, which were not properly approved. The leases preceded the purchase and were signed by then-Pellissippi State Community College president Allen Edwards, the prime mover behind the purchase.
The report also found that there was a $2 million discrepancy in the reported purchase and repair estimates sent from the state Board of Regents to the state building commission before a key vote. The figure was later corrected.
In a Jan. 24 presentation, college officials pegged the estimated purchase price at $8 million, with an additional $2 million needed for repairs. In fact, the state already had offered $10 million for the property and $2 million more was needed for immediate repairs. “Although the $8 million offering price was presented as an estimate, it was known or should have been known that the offer price was $10 million at the time of the presentation,” the report states.
Minutes show that state Comptroller Justin Wilson, whose office prepared the audit report, was present at that Jan. 24 meeting, in which the purchase was approved without opposition. Wilson is a member of the state building commission and its executive subcommittee.
State building officials also were told at that meeting, according to the report, that the proposed expansion of Pellissippi State was included in a college master plan.
In fact it was Wilson, according to the minutes, who asked if the property “is in the master plan, and was told ‘yes.’ ”
“The (2007) master plan did not include a proposed new campus for eastern Knox County,” the audit report states.
As The Tennessean reported late last year, the building was purchased for $10 million on March 9, 2012, from a group of politically connected investors who bought it in 2007 for $5 million.
The investment group was headed by Samuel J. Furrow, a Knoxville auctioneer and developer. At the time of the purchase, Furrow’s wife had a $1 million mortgage on a Nantucket Island vacation home from James A. Haslam II, Gov. Bill Haslam’s father.
Tennessee has the highest rate of gun purchase denials in the nation, according to a February report by the U.S. Department of Justice that is the focus of a Tennessean story. In 2010, Tennessee rejected about 4.3 percent of gun buyers’ purchases based on state criminal background checks, according to the report — more than twice the national average of about 1.5 percent.
A majority of those who appeal their cases win, allowing them to eventually get a gun. Just like Armentrout did.
It’s a system that annoys both buyers and sellers and could become an even bigger headache if new federal efforts to require background checks for all gun sales are successful.
“I can’t even imagine how they’re even going to keep up with the processing,” Armentrout said. “They can barely keep up now.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which conducts a $10 background check on all gun purchases from gun stores, acknowledges it has a high denial rate.
Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for the agency, said that its criminal background system, called the TBI Instant Check System, or TICS, is great for recording arrests but doesn’t always get updated as to the outcome of those cases.
“Missing dispositions has been an issue with criminal records; however, it has vastly improved over the last 10 years,” Helm said. “When an appeal is filed on a denied transaction, TICS staff diligently tracks down each record from clerks’ offices across the state to locate any missing information, which also updates the criminal history system.”
LOS ANGELES (AP) — With its purchase of left-leaning Current TV, the Pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera has fulfilled a long-held quest to reach tens of millions of U.S. homes. But its new audience immediately got a little smaller.
The nation’s second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable Inc., dropped Current after the deal was confirmed Wednesday, a sign that the channel will have an uphill climb to expand its reach.
“Our agreement with Current has been terminated and we will no longer be carrying the service. We are removing the service as quickly as possible,” the company said in a statement.
Still, the acquisition of Current, the news network that cofounded by former Vice President Al Gore, boosts Al-Jazeera’s reach in the U.S. beyond a few large U.S. metropolitan areas including New York and Washington nearly ninefold to about 40 million homes.
Gore confirmed the sale Wednesday, saying in a statement that Al-Jazeera shares Current TV’s mission “to give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling.”
Al-Jazeera, owned by the government of Qatar, plans to gradually transform Current into a network called Al-Jazeera America by adding five to 10 new U.S. bureaus beyond the five it has now and hiring more journalists. More than half of the content will be U.S. news and the network will have its headquarters in New York, spokesman Stan Collender said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Law enforcement officials say the owner of a company hired to purchase land for state road projects must repay more than $500,000 to the Tennessee Department of Transportation after admitting to embezzlement.
Internal Revenue Service Special Agent Jim Runkle said in an affidavit that 53-year-old Michael Wayne Young, president of Brentwood-based Capitol Consultants Inc., told investigators he was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by taking state money from 2004 to 2011 originally intended for buying property for roads.
Young has been a TDOT right of way division consultant/contractor for 19 years. Investigators determined that money given to Young within the past year was used to buy land that it was not intended for.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Phillips told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/RQWG7n ) that any criminal prosecution of Young is pending.
CHICAGO (AP) — The sale of the Cleveland Browns to Jimmy Haslam III was unanimously approved by NFL owners Tuesday, and team President Mike Holmgren will be leaving at the end of the season.
Haslam hired former Eagles executive Joe Banner as CEO of the Browns to replace Holmgren. But Holmgren will remain with the team through December to “help in the transition,” Haslam said.
No other personnel moves will be made before the end of the season, said Haslam, who expects the sale to be finalized on Oct. 25. Banner will become CEO on that date.
Haslam bought the team from Randy Lerner for $1 billion. Haslam, who built his fortune with Pilot Flying J truck stops, has been a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and is in the process of divesting that stock.
Haslam and Lerner agreed to the sale in August just as training camp was opening. Haslam has said his mission is to bring winning football back to Cleveland; the Browns have made the playoffs once since returning to the NFL in 1999.
Holmgren was hired by Lerner in 2010. The Super Bowl-winning coach with Green Bay and former coach and general manager in Seattle has not been able to get the Browns into contention in the AFC North and Cleveland was the last team to win a game this season, improving to 1-5 with last Sunday’s victory over Cincinnati.
The fate of coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert, both Holmgren hires, won’t be determined until after the season, Haslam added.
Banner left the Eagles in June. He was with them since 1994 and was team president when he resigned.
The late Al Lerner, Randy’s father, purchased the franchise from the NFL in 1998 for $530 million after the original Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens. The elder Lerner died in 2002.
The Browns made the playoffs in 2002 and lost to Pittsburgh in the first round. They’ve had only two winning records in 13 seasons.
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service has completed its purchase of a large undeveloped tract of land in the Appalachians.
The tract, known as Rocky Fork, is nearly 10,000 acres and lies in Unicoi and Greene counties in East Tennessee. The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/WvsG15) reported $5 million in funding from the USDA helped it finalized the purchase of 1,200 acres — the last section that was privately owned.
Preserving as much of Rocky Fork as possible became a priority of the U.S. Forest Service when it acquired the first parcel of it in 2008 as the land went up for sale.
In all, the Forest Service has spent $40 million to keep 7,667 acres open for public use. The Conservation Fund owns about 2,000 acres of the tract.
“This final Forest Service acquisition is huge, not only in the number of acres, but in potential economic impacts,” District Ranger Terry Bowerman said in a statement about the purchase. “It will also help conserve and protect many outstanding natural and scenic resources. This is truly a dream come true for many people.”
Former congressman Harold Ford Jr. has agreed to become a member of Robert Pera’s Memphis Grizzlies ownership group, reports the Commercial Appeal. Less than two weeks after Pera added some star power in the person of homegrown pop star and actor Justin Timberlake, he’s come to an agreement with the former five-term congressman from Memphis.
“I’m honored to be a part of Robert’s ownership group,” said Ford, who did not specify what percentage of the team he will own. “He’s a genuine guy and a great guy.”
Ford said he met Pera through mutual friends more than a year ago, before Pera began his pursuit of the Grizzlies. When Pera reached an agreement with Michael Heisley to buy the franchise, Ford said he had the same concerns as everyone else.
“I still have a home in Memphis; I didn’t want to see the team leave,” he said. “I watched the speculation and read the articles. But from the beginning, Robert assured me that moving the team was not his desire. He’s serious about making the team a success on and off the court. He’s even more serious about making sure there’s local involvement.”
Financial and legislative pieces are coming together for the state of Tennessee and The Nature Conservancy to buy and develop Johnson County’s Doe Mountain into a multi-use tourist attraction for all-terrain vehicles, biking, horseback riding and hiking. Continuing a report by Hank Hayes::
“It’s looking good. … We should know something within a month or so where we are on this. … I’m trying to keep it low key … (but) I think everything will be fine,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the venture.
Last December, Ramsey said the Doe Mountain venture could have a similar economic impact as Southwest Virginia’s 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, which is open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. He envisioned spin-off businesses like campgrounds, restaurants and bike shops.
The 8,600-acre Doe Mountain property was a planned residential development that fell through, according to Ramsey.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has set aside $8.5 million in the state’s current budget, plus $300,000 in a supplemental appropriation to pay for the property, according to administration spokesman Dave Smith.
Smith noted the Doe Mountain acquisition is on the State Building Commission Executive Subcommittee’s agenda on Monday.
The Nature Conservancy State Director Gina Hancock said the plan is for The Nature Conservancy to buy the property and “hold it until the state buys it from us.”
The Tennessee Senate, meanwhile, has passed amended legislation creating a Doe Mountain Recreation Authority to manage the property.
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield is seeking state legislation that would help the city’s Sports Authority or possibly River City Co. purchase AT&T Field to ease the sale of the Chattanooga Lookouts to private buyers and keep the Class AA team playing downtown, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “We don’t really want to be a player unless it’s necessary to save the team for Chattanooga,” Littlefield said in one of several interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday about the legislation.
Current Lookouts owner Frank Burke has been trying to sell the Class AA team since late December 2010 as he and family members settle the estate of their late father, another owner of the team.
Most cities in Tennessee and across the nation build stadiums to attract or retain professional sports teams, Littlefield noted.
But when Burke relocated his team from Engel Stadium to its current downtown site, he and other owners spent $10.2 million to build the new 6,362-seat ball field, which opened in 2000 — a move officials say was highly unusual in this day and age.
The land beneath the stadium is owned by River City Co., a nonprofit that promotes downtown development through the creation of public spaces. With team owners footing the stadium’s cost, River City leases the field — prime city real estate with a commanding view of the city and Tennessee River — for $1 a year.
Littlefield said that what he has “gleamed” from discussions with various parties is that “most teams don’t own the facilities that they operate in. They operate out of a lease or a rental agreement or something of that nature.”
The change in state law would allow the city to divert the state portion of sales taxes from tickets and baseball concessions to assist in paying off bonds used to purchase the facility.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says Tennessee’s state government is considering buying an 8,600-acre tract in Johnson County with hopes of developing a “multi-use park for tourism purposes, according to Hank Hayes. The property, located on Doe Mountain, was a planned residential community that fell through after the developer passed away, Ramsey said.
“They are in bankruptcy now, and we are working with The Nature Conservancy and others to help purchase the property and develop it for ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), mountain biking and hiking,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the venture. “We have to see what we can do to take advantage of Mountain City’s (the county seat of Johnson County) natural beauty, and I think this is something that can happen. … I do believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
….Ramsey said the property has been appraised at $17 million but could go for about $8.5 million.