NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Human Services has terminated its former budget coordinator after an audit found he failed to file reports to the federal government.
According to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/15R6QuU), the audit stated Adeniyi Bakare had problems filing documents online for millions of dollars’ worth of federally funded programs. Auditors said Bakare didn’t contact federal agencies to see why the errors occurred.
The newspaper said Bakare, whose employment ended July 5, couldn’t be contacted for comment. Officials said the failure to file reports was a major factor in his dismissal.
“We take the audit very seriously because it speaks to how we operate,” said Basil Dosunmu, DHS deputy commissioner of finance and administration. “We know we have a role in fiscal stewardship.”
Grants have not been revoked, but auditors noted that failing to account for them could result in forfeiting funds.
The owner of the downtown L&C Tower filed a claim with the state earlier this week in response to the state’s plans to sever its lease and move out of offices it has occupied in the tower since 2004, reports The Tennessean. 401 Church St., which owns the building, names the Department of General Services, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Finance and Administration as defendants in its complaint with the state Division of Claims Administration. The complaint seeks $4.15 million in potential lost rent and between $250,000 and $2 million in additional damages.
Because of the state’s new plan to condense and modernize its office space, General Services told the tower’s owners they were severing the lease agreement. But the L&C owners argue that the state needed to receive approval from the owner’s lender, CIBC, before it severed the lease agreement. No such approval was ever sought, according to the complaint.
In 2005, the state received a break on its rent in exchange for eliminating the lease provision that allowed the state to break the lease for essentially no reason. Under the most recent version of the lease, which went into effect in 2004, the state can sever the agreement provided it gives one of eight agreed-upon reasons.
Newly released records from the Department of Children’s Services contain substantial redactions of information that prevent the public from learning in some cases how children died, according to the Tennessean. One DCS file describes a 17-month-old girl found not breathing and blue after her afternoon nap. Her family had a “vast history” of DCS interventions that stretched back eight years. But lengthy redactions conceal doctors’ conclusions about whether the toddler had suffered abuse or neglect before her death.
Those omissions from her file make it impossible to learn why an otherwise healthy child simply died. DCS notes say the agency closed the case without finding child abuse or neglect and before the agency had viewed the autopsy.
The girl’s records are among 44 newly released DCS case files of children who had been the subject of a child abuse or neglect report at some point before they died or suffered critical injuries in the latter half of 2011 and early 2012. The files were released under court order after The Tennessean led a coalition of media groups in filing a lawsuit to gain access to the records.
Many of the records contain rows of blacked-out sentences that conceal the cause and circumstance of a child’s death, the nature of injuries or illnesses, and the concerns of medical professionals. Many of the redactions appear random.
News release from state Department of Human Services:
NASHVILLE, TN (June 17, 2013) – New Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) applicants will need to apply on October 1 instead of July 1. Administration of the federal program designed to assist households of low income pay utility bills will be transferred from the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) effective October 1, 2013.
Given LIHEAP’s transition to THDA, funds offered through the program will now be awarded to coincide with the federal fiscal year beginning October 1.
“Transitioning LIHEAP was identified during our Customer Focused Government process, formally known as the Top to Bottom Review, as a potential opportunity to increase efficiency and effectiveness in service to the people of Tennessee, said Department of Human Services’ Commissioner Raquel Hatter. “DHS is excited about this transition to improve customer service through better service alignment. We look forward to continued collaboration with community partners and THDA.”
The Department of Children’s Services said this week that it will charge an estimated $34,952 to produce public records of children who died or nearly died during the past 11 months after having some contact with the child welfare agency, reports The Tennessean. It is the latest five-figure price tag DCS has attached to releasing records and comes as part of an ongoing legal battle between the agency and a coalition of the state’s news organizations. Led by The Tennessean, the coalition filed suit against DCS in December. The newspaper and DCS return to court today.
The new charges emerged Wednesday after the newspaper requested that DCS produce more recent files. The Tennessean requested DCS provide records for children who died or nearly died between July 2012 and May 2013.
Calling it a new request “not subject to the Court’s order,” DCS chief attorney Doug Dimond noted in a letter that it would turn over those records only after The Tennessean agreed to pay the nearly $34,952 estimate for records of child deaths and near deaths in an 11-month span — an estimate similar an earlier DCS effort to charge $32,225 for records that covered a much larger, 3½-year time period.
In April, Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy ordered DCS to produce records at a cost of no more than 50 cents per copy, setting aside DCS’ efforts to charge $32,225 for records.
Previously DCS had set the price tag at $55,584 for the same records.
WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams and Tennessee Tax Revolt’s Ben Cunningham teamed up for a followup critique of the state car rental contract with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. (Previous post HERE)
Excerpts: As our investigation first revealed, the Haslam administration outsourced state government’s motor pool to Enterprise and its WeCar car-sharing program. It did that without giving any other company a chance to compete for the job.
But while the state contract with Enterprise specifically calls for “hourly car-sharing services,” there are no hourly rates.
So when the Department of Education checked out a mid-size car and used it for just 51 minutes, Enterprise sent them a bill for $34 — the full daily rate.
When the Board of Probation and Parole reserved a minivan for exactly one hour, even though no one ever showed up to get it, the agency still got hit with a $48 charge.
…And even though state employees get locked out of a WeCar at the end of a trip, Enterprise still sends them a bill for the full reservation if they end a trip early — unless they take the time to go online and change the reservation.
Which is how the Department of Correction, after using a car for just two days, got a bill for four days. That’s because the original reservation was for three days — and 30 minutes.
“When something occurs like this, they should go back to the vendor and say, ‘Hey, this is a huge contract. You give us the benefit of the doubt. You give us the best rate,'” Cunningham said.
And while the state’s contract with Enterprise offers a cheaper weekly rate, it usually doesn’t show up on bills it sends to state agencies.
So when the Department of Education rented a minivan, it got the daily rate times seven. The weekly rate would be almost $50 cheaper.
…But Enterprise insisted that it doesn’t get one cent more than it should.
That’s because, when the Department of General Services negotiated the deal, it promised Enterprise a guaranteed amount each month. And after Enterprise bills all those state agencies, General Services always has to write a check to make up the difference.
…As NewsChannel 5 Investigates previously reported, in the last 12 months, General Services had to pay $289,000 to make up the difference.
In fact, Enterprise said that it generates the bills based on rules specifically set up by the state and that General Services approves every bill before it goes to the other departments — including those questionable charges uncovered in our investigation.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Debra Payne as the new commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) as Jim Henry becomes the permanent commissioner at the Department of Children’s Services (DCS).
Payne currently serves as deputy commissioner of DIDD and Henry as the interim commissioner of DCS.
“These two departments handle some of the state’s most difficult work concerning our most vulnerable citizens,” Haslam said. “I want to thank Debbie for taking on this new role in such a young department. Her experience and hard work will continue to serve the state of Tennessee very well.”
As deputy commissioner of program operations at DIDD, Payne has overseen two development centers, a statewide community-based service delivery system supported by more than 2,000 employees, 475 community providers and three regional offices.
“I want to thank Gov. Haslam for the opportunity to continue to serve Tennesseans with disabilities,” Payne said. “I look forward to working with this department and all of our providers in continuing to offer quality care.”
Payne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice from Middle Tennessee State University. She has served in numerous capacities throughout her career and is credited with assembling a nationally recognized Protection from Harm system as the statewide director of Protection from Harm for DIDD.
Payne lives in Mt. Juliet with her husband, Mike, and she has three children, two step-children and one granddaughter.
Henry was the first commissioner of DIDD, which was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before becoming a state department on January 15, 2011. He has headed up both DIDD and DCS since February when he became interim commissioner of DCS.
“I am honored to serve in this capacity with Gov. Haslam,” Henry said. “We have taken important steps at DCS, and we will continue to strengthen our processes and policies as well as continue to improve the department as a whole.”
The appointments are effective June 1.
— Note: Interestingly, House Democrats have issued praise of the governor’s appointment of Henry. It’s below.
In a Phil Williams report, WTVF-TV is raising questions about the Haslam administration’s contract with Enterprise Rent-a-Car as a state motor pool. “This is not good business,” said Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who sits on the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, after seeing the documents that we uncovered.
…(D)uring his first two years in office, Haslam’s administration has been quietly taking jobs from state employees and turning them over to big business. It’s an effort that’s been spearheaded by Haslam’s General Services Commissioner, Brentwood developer Steve Cates.
…In the case of the motor pool, Haslam’s Department of General Services decided in late 2011 to outsource the program to Enterprise and the car-sharing program that it calls WeCar.
The major push for that contract began about that same time that Cates hired former Enterprise executive Kathleen Hansen to head the department’s motor vehicle management division.
In fact, NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered, the Haslam administration made a conscious decision not to put the state’s business up for bids, citing the “difficulty” of going through that process.
“The rental of cars has not been solicited by the Purchasing Division in the past; therefore it does not have experience in developing the specifications,” a justification memo said.
That notion “does not hold one drop of water for me,” Pody said.
…General Services officials justified the Enterprise deal in a memo, saying it would “piggy-back” on the “University of Tennessee’s WeCar” program — which had been put up for bids.
But, in a statement to NewsChannel 5 Investigates, said: “The University of Tennessee does not have a WeCar program.”
UT’s statement “causes me a great deal of concern,” Pody said.
Instead, our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered, UT’s contract with Enterprise was just for a rental discount program for university employees and alumni who were traveling.
UT never outsourced its own motor pool.
And only one other company even bothered to submit a bid for the university’s business.
…”As a business man, if one of my managers came in and had done this with my money, I probably would have fired them,” Pody added.
…NewsChannel 5 Investigates went online looking for discount codes, then trying to reserve a car.
We found a mid-size car for $26 a day; the state’s price: $31. Our weekly rate: $148. The state’s: $184.
Compared to other states, Oklahoma has a deal with Enterprise to get the same car for less than $160 a week.
And even though WeCar boasts that it offers great rates for quick trips, Tennessee’s contract has no such deal.
The same car in other states is less than $10 for an hour. Tennessee pays the full daily rate — $31 — three times as much.
“There is something bad wrong,” Pody said. “If I can rent it cheaper as an individual or as one car, compared to the state renting a hundred a day, there has to be something wrong somewhere.”
When state employees need a car, they can go to an Enterprise location — or they can come to a state WeCar lot, like one located in the shadow of the state Capitol.
But our investigation discovered, under the Haslam administration’s deal with Enterprise, the company gets paid for just leaving cars there, waiting to be rented.
During the last 12 months for which bills are available, state employees actually used almost $450,000 worth of WeCar services. But Tennessee paid Enterprise $739,000.
…(General Services officials) argued that one of the big advantages of this contract is that the state can get a rebate of as much as 8 percent — money that comes back to taxpayers. The question, critics told us, is whether the savings have been even more if the contract had been put up for bids.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be breaking federal law by raising money and working with private groups to help roll out the federal health care law “outside of the government,” according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. “Secretary Sebelius’ fundraising for and coordinating with private entities helping to implement the new health care law may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress,” Alexander said.
The ranking Republican on the Senate committee that oversees health care policy, Alexander likened Sebelius’ actions to the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal. That erupted when it was discovered that a Reagan administration official, Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, sold arms to Iran and sent some of the money through private groups to arm Nicaraguan rebels after Congress refused to appropriate funds for that purpose.
“Only the Congress has the authority to appropriate money,” Alexander told reporters in Nashville. “And when the secretary seeks to do things outside of the government, which Congress refuses to do, the Constitution doesn’t permit [it] and the federal law makes it illegal.”
Alexander cited a Washington Post article from last week. The Post reported Sebelius was asking health industry executives, community organizations and church groups to assist groups like Enroll America, a nonprofit coalition working to ensure Americans get enrolled for coverage under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Asked for comment, HHS spokesman Jason Young said in an email to the Times Free Press on Saturday that the practice is legal. He emphasized that “the Secretary has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.”
“Part of our mission is to help uninsured Americans take advantage of new affordable, high quality insurance options that are coming, thanks to the health law,” he said.
For the last several months, Young said, Sebelius “has been working with a full range of stakeholders who share in the mission of getting Americans the help they need and deserve. We have always worked with outside groups, and the efforts now ramping up are just one more part of that work.” Note: Alexander’s press release is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Children’s Services will appeal a Nashville judge’s ruling ordering the agency to release records at 50-cents per page.
A group of media organizations including The Tennessean and The Associated Press is suing the agency for the records of children DCS was supposed to be helping who later died or nearly died.
DCS originally said it would cost the media more than $55,000 for about 200 records.
Last month, Chancellor Carol McCoy ordered the expedited release of 50 records. She said the agency cannot charge for redacting personal information from the records.
The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/11POgPw) DCS on Friday said it will appeal. The agency wants to charge almost $9,000 for 42 records. DCS says it is unable to provide records for the other eight children.