PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (AP) — The Sevier County Election Commission has voted to ask the district attorney’s office to investigate people who improperly cast ballots in a problematic liquor-by-the-drink referendum.
Commissioners made the decision Thursday after earlier attributing voting mistakes to poll worker confusion. The referendum came on the same day as the general election, which produced the largest turnout ever in the county. Nearly 300 people who did not live in Pigeon Forge were allowed to vote on the liquor issue.
A judge tossed the election results, and the commission has scheduled a revote for March 14.
The Mountain Press (http://bit.ly/WmQMKN ) reported Election Commission member Darrell Whitchurch made the motion to send the names to prosecutor Jimmy Dunn. He said if anyone is attempting fraud from either side, they should be prosecuted.
SEVIERVILLE — Dale Carr and Richard Montgomery drew distinctions between each other on some previous votes, but also showed common ground in their debate Tuesday night, reports the Mountain Press. Carr, a Sevierville alderman, and Montgomery, the incumbent, are the Republican candidates for the 12th District seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. They faced off in a debate sponsored by The Mountain Press and the Sevier County Republican Party. No Democrats qualified to run.
The two showed more distance over some of their previous actions than over issues they could face in Nashville if elected.
Montgomery was questioned on his support of a bill to allow a third liquor referendum for Pigeon Forge, which would come ahead of the normal two-year moratorium since the last vote. Pigeon Forge voters have twice rejected the measure, but Pigeon Forge City Commission voted 4-1 to ask legislators to put it on the November ballot.
The incumbent said he first rejected a bill that would have allowed liquor sales in all tourism development zones in the state. At the time, Pigeon Forge was the only city with a TDZ that didn’t already allow liquor sales.
After that, however, he said he supported the plan to let the city have another vote earlier than the allotted two years. His reason: Turnout is typically higher for a presidential election.
“It’ll be up to the people to make the decisions and not Nashville, and that’s what I’m for.”
Carr said he wouldn’t have taken that step, even with the vote from Pigeon Forge City Commission, because it contravened the voters’ rejection of the measure twice.
“The City Commission … took it upon itself to go against, I think, the will of the people,” he said. “They were pandering to one particular entity.”
Carr had to account for his own vote on a liquor issue, however. Early in his career as an alderman, he supported a request for a private act that would have allowed for the sale of liquor by the drink inside the city’s TDZ. Private acts like the one in question typically name an area without naming the city, making them hard to track. They often move far along the legislative process without the notice of local residents, and that was the case with the one in question.
Carr said the request was already sent to the Legislature when Mayor Bryan Atchley polled aldermen individually to see if they supported it. Local legislators had asked for the phone poll after the private act became public knowledge. He said he told the mayor he didn’t oppose it moving ahead because it was already in the Legislature when he heard of it.
The private act was eventually pulled, but city voters later approved the sale of liquor by the drink in a referendum.
The school district websites for Memphis, Jackson-Madison County and Sevier County flunked a nonprofit group’s review on financial transparency, says TNReport. A lack of online budget and contracting information or reports on academic progress contributed to those school district’s ‘F’ grades from Sunshine Review, a group that promotes government transparency. For its report card scores, the group checked websites for information like current and former budgets, phone numbers and email addresses for board members, and audits.
A former Sevier County Court Clerk who admitted he stole nearly $100,000 from the county avoided jail time Wednesday by pleading guilty to theft and official misconduct charges, reports the News Sentinel. Joe Thomas Keener, who resigned in August 2010 after manning the elected post for more than 18 years, received a suspended 10-year prison sentence that he’ll serve on supervised probation, 4th Judicial Circuit District Attorney General James B. Dunn said following a hearing in Sevier County Circuit Court.
Prosecturors contend Keener, 50, stole $94,645.50 in cash from the clerk’s office between July 1 and Aug. 16, 2010.
In accordance with an agreement reached between prosecutors and defense attorney Wade Davies, Keener pleaded guilty to charges of official misconduct and theft of more than $60,000, received the suspended prison sentence and is required to repay $14,109 in restitution for an audit conducted by Sevier County. He must also complete 500 hours of community service work.
Dunn said Keener has already repaid all of the money he stole from the county.
From the Mountain Press, reporting on a photo ID education session where election officials, but no voters, showed up in heavily Republican Sevier County: It was clear during this week’s voter education session that there is a lot of emotion about a new law requiring a photo ID be shown at the polls, but it’s not necessarily from those who might not get their say in coming elections because of it.
Rather, it’s from the officials and poll workers who will have to enforce the regulation. They seem to agree the rule will present some serious challenges come voting day.
…”When it comes election time, I think they’re going to find they’ve stirred up a hornet nest,” Thurman said. “People are not going to be happy when they’re told they have to go back home and get their ID or they can’t vote.”
Deputy Administrator of Elections Ed Kuncitis assured no one would be turned away, with those who don’t bring identification given the chance to fill out a provisional ballot. They must then provide the proof to election officials within two business days or their vote won’t count.
That didn’t eliminate the concerns, though.
“You all are going to get the black eye over this and it has nothing to do with you,” Thurman told the Election Commission staff before pointing out what he sees as another flaw in the law. “You don’t have a clue who the person is when they vote absentee. There’s no way to make those folks provide ID. So there’s still a backdoor if somebody is really set on casting a bad ballot.”
In an effort to help avoid some of the potential problems, Election Commission member Mike Fitzgibbons suggested the staff undertake an education campaign including additional sessions and putting Goins’ video on local-access television channels. While saying that could help, fellow board member John Huff maintained the real issue is that the public doesn’t seem to care about the change, using the attendance at the meeting as illustration.
“You don’t have anybody here,” Huff said, motioning around the room with his arm. “People are not concerned.” Partisan Jousting in Jackson
More predictable partisan fueding reported by the Jackson Sun from a West Tennessee gathering: Democratic leaders said the photo ID requirement especially targets the elderly, students and blacks.
“I just think this is a real impediment to encouraging people to vote,” said Mike McWherter, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Local NAACP President Harrell Carter said the requirement takes the political process back to the 1960s. “It’s nothing more than a poll tax on African Americans,” he said.
“I think that with all due respect, Democrats in Tennessee are desperate for an issue because their president is failing, and their Congress is failing,” Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney said.
He said the voter ID law will strengthen the electoral process at little inconvenience.
“We just don’t think that it is too much to ask when 90 percent of voters in Tennessee have a driver’s license,” Devaney said.
While Sevier County officials say they feel like they’re making progress convincing state education officials to make some changes in school funding, Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman remained noncommittal Monday, reports the Mountain Press.. Huffman, who was in the area to be part of the Tennessee Superintendent Study Council Conference, said he has had “helpful” sessions with people representing Sevier County, but dodged offering an opinion on the subject.
Whether he was just being coy or actually has not yet made up his mind on the matter, his refusal to weigh-in may be a disappointment to local folks hoping for a few extra school dollars. After pushing for more than four years for a change to the school funding model used by the state, local officials were optimistic that this could be the one when something actually changes.
They have Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, chairing the House Education Committee and believed they found a willing ally in Huffman.
“I’m waiting to hear back from the commissioner as to what we’re going to do,” Montgomery said of Huffman recently. “Hopefully we can continue moving this football down the field and toward the goal line.”
Montgomery indicated local officials were able to find some agreement with Huffman on at least one area of the funding program in question and remained optimistic a full solution could be reached.
…The guarded responses are not wholly unexpected. For one thing, it’s unlikely someone in a position like the commissioner’s would publicly jump on board in support of a funding change requested by one county before an official decision has been made. That’s particularly true when Gov. Bill Haslam, who could not attend the superintendents’ meeting because he was negotiating on state bond issues Monday, hasn’t offered his own opinion on the matter.Note: The current formula for providing state aid to local education systems provides more money to systems with less ability to pay on their own. Sevier County gets to keep an extra portion of the state sales taxes collected – much if it from Smoky Mountains tourists – and has one of the lowest property tax rates in the state. Thus, it works out that Sevier gets less state funding per pupil than other systems – which does not sit well with local folks
News release from TBI:
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today arrested the former Sevier County Utility District Vice President after he was indicted Monday by the Sevier County Grand Jury for circumventing the competitive bid process and personally profiting from a deal involving the trade-in of with a utility district motor vehicle while he held his county position in December 2009.
Jeffrey McCarter, 49, of 1005 Top Side Drive, Sevierville, Tenn. is charged with one count of official misconduct. An audit conducted by the Municipal Audit, Comptroller’s Office revealed that McCarter arranged a deal to trade-in a utility district Silverado truck to McNelly-Whaley Ford, for $10,000 less than it was worth to the utility district. He then personally purchased the vehicle and traded the truck in at Volunteer Chevrolet for fair market price. The investigation originated from the audit which spanned from 2007-2009 and the 4th Judicial District Attorney General’s office requested TBI open an investigation on March 23, 2011.
McCarter was booked into the Sevier County Jail this morning on $10,000 bond.