Family and friends of about 20,000 inmates in the Tennessee prison system now must pay a commission to a private for-profit Florida company when they want to send money to the inmates’ trust accounts, and the state will get a cut, too.
Further from The Tennessean: Under a contract awarded late last year and recently expanded, JPay of Miami charges fees of up to 4.5 percent to forward money to Tennessee inmates. The state under the contract also gets its share of the payments, a 50 cent fee for every transaction.
Advocates say the arrangement amounts to a kickback for the state and places an unfair burden on relatives of inmates, who often have limited resources.
“It’s a tax on citizens with the least ability to pay,” said Alex Friedmann of Prison Legal News, who said that he has received several complaints from relatives of inmates.
He said that many of the complaints involved lengthy delays in getting the money in the inmates’ accounts.
Corrections officials, however, say that the new system is an improvement, and that thus far the state’s income from the contract has been only $15,000.
“The vast majority of families and friends who have contacted us are pleased with the service and the convenience it offers,” corrections spokeswoman Dorinda Carter wrote in an email response to questions.
…The state never formally advertised for bids on the contract, though officials say they did review a proposal from another company, which, like JPay, had been recommended by a national association of state purchasing agents.
JPay also offers an email service for inmates, with the state getting a 4 percent commission.
,,,The contract replaces a system under which deposits in prisoners’ accounts were mailed directly to the 15 correctional facilities.
…n addition to the requirement to use JPay for inmates’ deposits, the state recently expanded JPay’s role to include payments of probation fees imposed on released inmates.
In addition to the money forwarding services, JPay’s contract also provides for video visits, songs or albums on an MP3 and a JP4 player.
For those services, the state’s commission jumps to as much as $10 per purchase.
A Democratic legislative leader said Tuesday he will ask legislative committees to review a five-year $330 million contract with the Chicago-based multinational consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle , reports the Commercial Appeal.
Gov. Bill Haslam disclosed an investment in the company while running for governor in 2010, but not the amount of that investment. He now has most of his investments — except for Pilot Flying J — in a blind trust. Jones Lang LaSalle is the firm that last year recommended the state move out of its 43-year-old Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building in Downtown Memphis and five other state-owned buildings in Nashville and Chattanooga because it said they are “functionally obsolete.” JLL is helping the state find 100,000 square feet of leased office space Downtown where employees of 12 agencies and departments currently working in the Hill Building would move.
The state’s involvement with JLL has come under increasing scrutiny since its initial $1 million contract has grown to $4.5 million to $7.6 million and it won a new contact that pays Jones Lang LaSalle about $38 million over five years for management and labor for managing state buildings. It has a maximum liability to the state of $330 million, which includes costs that JLL will pay on a pass-through basis from the state, such as electrical, ventilating, janitorial, security and landscaping vendors with no markup in costs, the Department of General Servicers said.
JLL is essentially assuming responsibility for an ambitious Haslam administration plan to consolidate as much state office space as possible called “Project T3” for “Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow,” which state officials believe will save taxpayers over $135 million during the next 10 years.
— Note: See also the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Excerpt: (Gubernatorial spokesman) David Smith said Tuesday the governor himself is unaware whether he still has any investment and wouldn’t be swayed even if he did.
“That’s the whole point of a blind trust,” Smith said, adding, “This is a project that is slated to save the state millions of dollars and it’s good government.”
As a high-profile FBI investigation of Gov. Bill Haslam’s lucrative family business grinds on, a loophole in Tennessee law is increasing the secrecy that has long surrounded his personal wealth, reports the Commercial Appeal. The scope and detail of Haslam’s assets are largely missing from his most recent Statement of Disclosure of Interests, an annual accounting of investments and income that elected officials are required to make public.
That’s because, much as former Gov. Phil Bredesen before him, Haslam created a blind trust that shields most of his vast financial portfolio from pubic disclosure. Haslam is acting in accordance with a state law that allows legislators, the governor and members of his cabinet to keep assets off disclosure forms when those assets are part of a blind trust.
The difference in the degree of disclosure is stark for Haslam, whose family business, Knoxville-based Pilot Flying J, is ranked by Forbes as the nation’s sixth largest privately owned company with $29.2 billion in annual sales:
As a candidate in 2010, Haslam listed 250 separate investments worth $10,000 or more.
In his latest disclosure, filed April 5, he listed only 11 such investments.
…Tennessee’s blind trust exemption to financial disclosure requirements appears much less restrictive than ones governing federal executive branch employees and public officials in Florida.
Federal law requires a member of the executive branch with a blind trust to estimate the worth of that trust by listing a range of its value.
Even more stringent, a bill signed last week by Florida Gov. Rick Scott requires public officials there to list the full value of a blind trust. In addition, Florida law requires public officials who form a blind trust to give a public accounting of individual assets placed in the trust.
Tennessee has no such requirements, said Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.
Consequently, Haslam’s latest disclosure simply lists “Haslam Blind Trust,” as one of a handful of investments and sources of income along with Campbell’s name and address as trustee.
…In addition to the blind trust, Haslam’s April 5 disclosure lists 11 investments, including Pilot and three real estate ventures, Hasbitt II, Hasbitt III and LVL Properties. The report lists a new investment in an entity called Lost Valley Ranch Corporation. Details were unavailable.
He lists nine sources of income, including his gubernatorial salary, which he returned, Pilot, and PTC, Inc., a Pilot venture. State law requires office holders to list sources of income of $200 or more and investments worth at least $10,000 but doesn’t require a specific figure.
In contrast, Haslam’s 2010 disclosure of sources of income and investments covered 12 pages,.
…Bredesen…said he doesn’t recall the blind trust exemption being added to his bill (in 2006), but said he long considered financial disclosure requirements for the executive branch to be “extremely light.” That’s why he issued an executive order requiring the governor and top aides to disclose how much income they earn. Under that order, Haslam, who made a fortune in health care, disclosed he earned $7.8 million in 2007, for example.
However, Haslam rescinded Bredesen’s executive order when he took office in January 2011 and the rule no longer applies.
CLINTON, Tenn. (AP) — A move to place the motto “In God We Trust” on the Anderson County Courthouse has won final approval.
The Oak Ridger reported 14 of the 16 Anderson County Commission members voted Monday to place the national motto over the doors of the courthouse in Clinton. Two commissioners abstained.
Approval came at a third meeting at which the issue was discussed.
Commissioner Jerry Creasy tried to amend the motion to include well-known slogans be placed above three courthouse entrances and “In God We Trust” be placed about the fourth one, but it died for lack of a second.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported a local businessman and a group of ministers had advanced the idea.
Commissioners initially voted 12-4 in February to put up the slogan
Anderson County officials Wednesday were continuing to ponder the consequences of an emotional 12-4 vote Tuesday night to put the country’s motto, ‘In God We Trust,” on the exterior of the courthouse, according to the News Sentinel.
The executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, criticized the move.
“People of all faiths, as well as non-believers, should feel welcome in their government buildings,” ACLU official Hedy Weinberg said in a statement.
“The County Commission should focus on doing real work that represents the interests of all residents, not sowing the seeds of religious divisiveness in the community by challenging the fundamental founding principle that government must remain neutral when it comes to matters of faith,” Weinberg wrote.
Commissioners, after hearing impassioned arguments from a standing-room-only audience, voted to proceed with the proposal but asked the law director and the panel’s operations committee to look into possible legal roadblocks and liability issues.
Robin Biloski, committee chair, was one of four Oak Ridge commissioners that voted against the measure. She said the committee is scheduled to meet March 11. “This was such a quick vote,” she said of Tuesday’s decision. “Will we have people to come (to the operations committee) to voice their opinion on the direction we’re going?”
Biloski said the full commission “didn’t follow the rules,” which normally require such proposals to go before committee before advancing to the full 16-member panel. “We’re jumping into something not knowing the ramifications, the liability,” she said.