Mike Morrow delves into the matter of whether Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey violated the law — as alleged by Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester (prior post HERE) — in the financing and operation of his anti-red tape website. Excerpt from his TNReport report:
Ramsey produced a letter Thursday from Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, dated that day, saying Rawlins is not aware that any statute enforced by the Tennessee Ethics Commission was violated when Ramsey’s PAC created the site.
But the state Democratic Party says that’s not the problem.
“What Governor Ramsey asked is not the correct question,” said Brandon Puttbrese, communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party. “He got the answer he was looking for. The serious question here is if using his official office to promote his PAC website is a violation of the Little Hatch Act.”
The Little Hatch Act refers to a law regarding the involvement of government employees for political purposes. The law prohibits public officers and employees from participating in any political activity while on duty (pdf). Tennessee’s Little Hatch Act mirrors the federal Hatch Act.
Rawlins, when contacted by TNReport Friday afternoon, said Ramsey’s question was not submitted in writing.
The ethics commission executive director said the question from Ramsey arose because the lieutenant governor apparently “wanted to make sure there was no ethics violation by RAAMPAC paying for the website.”
“I viewed the website and did not see any ethics violation, and that’s why I wrote the letter,” Rawlins said. “But there wasn’t any written request for a letter from me.”
Rawlins said his office does not handle alleged Little Hatch Act violations. Rawlins said he wasn’t sure who would look into Little Hatch Act allegations. He said he was not asked by Ramsey if it was appropriate or a potential violation of law to have his publicly funded staff doing work on the website.
“That was not a question I was asked, and I would not have answered that one because we do not have authority over that,” Rawlins said.
It appears that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has turned red tape into an acronym, according to a report on his first stop in a tour to promote the idea of cutting it. Red tape, the Leaf-Chronicle story says, stands for Ridiculous Employee Decisions that Affect People Everyday.
Further, it appears the big topic of discussion was not a state regulatiion or rule, which Ramsey has indicated is the focal point of his cutting promotion, or a federal regulations, which were the major topic at a recent House study committee meeting to hear complaints from businessmen.
Instead, the red tape topic was a proposed Clarksville city ordinance opposed by Councilman Nick Steward, who hosted the Ramsey roundtable.
The proposed change would require anyone selling items secondhand — including antique — thrift and online stores, to verify the previous owner and keep a record of to whom the item was sold.
“The attempt is to mitigate a lot of the shoplifting that’s happening in some of the stores and then goods being sold in flea markets and (by) antique dealers and junk dealers,” Steward said. “It puts a lot of restrictions on our small businesses that aren’t a solution to the problem.”
Ramsey said the ordinance change is a good example of “red tape on steroids.”
He added, “Get a photo (identification) while you’re there, who they are, and let them at least say: Where did you get this? Write it down and you’re done. You shouldn’t have to be the policing agency.”
Steward said he also wanted to host the event to give small businessowners the chance to bring forward issues they are having with their business and how the state can help.
“The only way that issues even get addressed are them being brought to the decision makers’ attention,” Steward said. “I think we took a step in that direction today.”
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester says Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is violating state ethics laws by using his office to promote a website funded by PAC contributions, reports WJHL-TV.
From the TV transcript:
In March, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey launched a new website. TNRedTape.com tries to solve problems created by state government.
RAMSEY: “Silly rules and redundant regulations stifle innovative entrepreneurs from starting new businesses.”
The site lets “red tape whistle blowers” contact Ramsey for help, and a blog touts “red tape success stories.” It also openly criticizes some departments of state government.
RAMSEY: “Now that we’ve got a new governor in that I can work very, very well with in Bill Haslam, I thinks it syncs up that we want to identify and solve these problems.”
The site is funded by Ramsey’s political action committee RAAMPAC. That troubles Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester.
FORRESTER: “To use the official office to promote a PAC-paid website is clearly against the law in Tennessee. And furthermore, we’re very curious as to whether Lt. Gov. Ramsey is collecting his per diem as he travels the state.”
Ramsey says he’s not collecting per diem for the Red Tape Road Trips and calls Forrester’s legal claim “100-percent wrong.”
RAMSEY: “Chip Forrester is not a Ron Ramsey fan. The reason that PACs exist is to promote issues, to promote ideas, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this. I did not want to use taxpayer money to do this.”
GEORGE JACKSON, reporter:
Political action committees like RAAMPAC register with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. Executive Director Drew Rawlins told me there’s nothing in state statutes that limits a PAC to campaign contributions. I asked him about Forrester’s claim — that Ramsey is using his office to promote a PAC-paid website, thereby breaking the law. Rawlins told me, “I have to look into it.”
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey today announced a series of discussions with business owners called Red Tape Road Trips. From now until Christmas, the Lieutenant Governor will be meeting with Tennessee’s business owners and entrepreneurs to hear concerns and offer help in dealing with state government and remove any and all “red tape” in the way of those putting capital at risk to create jobs.
“If history has proven anything to us it is that government cannot create jobs. It can, however, hasten the shedding of existing jobs and prevent new jobs from being created,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “My primary goal in public service is to make Tennessee the easiest state in which to own and operate a business. These road trips are an opportunity to hear from the job creators themselves to get a clear and concrete picture of the ways government makes life harder for them. I am looking forward to hearing their stories and ideas on what we can do to get out of their way. The ultimate goal here is to make entrepreneurs interactions with state government as painless as possible.”
Partnering with Lt. Governor Ramsey on the road trips is the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). NFIB is the leading small business association representing small and independent businesses.
“This road tour is a great initiative, and NFIB is proud to be part of it,” said NFIB State Director Jim Brown. “Through direct experiences with regulators, small business owners experience the challenges of our current regulatory environment and see the opportunities to fix them. Our members greatly appreciate Lt. Governor Ramsey taking the time to listen to business owners, who simply want a fair shake from their government.”
The Lt. Governor’s first Red Tape Road Trip will be to Clarksville on Oct. 13 where he will attend a roundtable discussion on regulation sponsored by local antique and consignment shops. Following that, Ramsey will visit the Memphis Area Action Council for a luncheon sponsored by NFIB at Regions Bank. Further trips to Knoxville, Nashville, Tri-Cities and Chattanooga are currently being scheduled.
In March 2011, Lt. Governor Ramsey launched TNRedtape.com, a site designed to connect with business owners and potential business owners to ease their interactions with state government. “Red Tape Road Trips” are an extension of TNRedtape.com and Lt. Governor’s long-term commitment to eliminate red tape in state government..
RED TAPE ROAD TRIPS
Thursday, October 13
Better Homes & Garden Real Estate
108 Center Pointe Drive, Clarksville, TN 37040
Wednesday, October 19
11:30 AM CST
Q & A
6200 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38119
Knoxville traffic citations fell 73 percent from June to July as a result of a new state law regulating red-light camera use, reports Don Jacobs.
Beginning July 1, when the law took effect, the Knoxville Police Department stopped issuing $50 violations for improper right turns recorded by cameras at 15 city intersections.
KPD Capt. Gordon Catlett, who oversees the photo enforcement program, said violations decreased from 4,826 in June to 1,308 in July.
Catlett said KPD officers continue issuing violations for drivers captured on camera running straight through a red light or improperly turning left.
Only right turns on red are exempted from the cameras’ $50 gaze.
“The real story is going to be in about four months when people realize they don’t have to stop before making a right turn and we see an increase in rear-end collisions,” Catlett said.
In Farragut, Traffic Enforcement Manager Ben Harkins deemed the new statute “a bad law.” Farragut also ceased July 1 issuing $50 right-turn-on-red violations based on camera evidence.
The city of Red Bank has suspended operation of a red light traffic camera because of a new state law and an opinion from state Attorney General Bob Cooper, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “We want to do whatever the attorney general says — whatever way was fine with us,” said Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey, who had asked Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, to seek the legal opinion.
Dorsey said Monday he plans to discuss the matter later today when the Red Bank City Commission meets. The city temporarily suspended issuing citations to drivers failing to stop on right turns at red lights beginning July 1 when the new law took effect.
He said that was because of uncertainty about its impact. Red Bank’s new budget already takes into account the resulting loss of revenue — an estimated $185,000. That comes out to roughly half of what had originally been projected to be $375,000 in traffic camera revenues, Dorsey said.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has apparently joined Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey in asking Tennessee businessmen which regulations they would like to eliminate. Back in March, Ramsey launched a website to solicit complaints about regulations and now the administration is conducting a survey, too, reports Cookeville Times.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development is conducting an anonymous, four-question survey that will be used for informational purposes only. In order for the state to better assess their regulatory systems, Tennesseeans are encouraged to take a few minutes to respond to this survey by Wednesday, July 20.
According to survey instructions, “The purpose of this survey is to gain perspective on federal and state regulations that are burdensome to Tennessee businesses. Please note that “burdensome,” in the context of this survey, is defined as an unreasonable rule or regulation which limits, restricts, or hinders the normal course of business.”
Business leaders and citizens are asked to be as detailed as possible in answering and asked to include: (i) references to a specific rule or regulation (including rule or regulation number); (ii) the federal or state department charged with overseeing compliance for each rule or regulation referenced; and (iii) the approximate cost and/or man hours required to comply with each rule or regulation referenced.
The House and Senate Saturday both approved and sent to the governor legislation that will overhaul the state’s law on traffic cameras.
The bill, SB1684, cleared the Senate unanimously and passed the House 83-3. It now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam for his consideration. The governor has voiced no position on the measure, but legislators say he is expected to sign it.
The bill won’t impact traffic cameras already in operation, but will apply to them when contracts for their operation are renewed, according to sponsors Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville.
“It doesn’t do all the things that a lot people wanted, but it does do a lot of things that everybody can agree on,” said Dean.
Multiple bills dealing with traffic cameras were proposed this year, ranging from measures that would flatly ban them to proposals that all revenue collected be turned over to education.
Key provisions of the bill that passed, the result of hours of debate in the House and Senate Transportation committees, include:
-A requirement that a traffic study be conducted before a camera is put in place and that the study show it is needed on a public safety basis.
-Prohibiting tickets for turning right on red unless the intersection is clearly posted with a sign stating right turns on red are banned.
-It limits tickets fines to a flat $50 maximum if paid on time with no added handling fees or court costs.
-No speed enforcement cameras can be put up within a mile of a decrease in the speed limit of 10 mph or more.