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Comptroller Audit Finds Drugs, Money Missing from 2 Wilson Co. Task Forces

Press release from Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson; July 11, 2012: 

A lack of proper safeguards led to missing money and drugs seized by two anti-crime task forces run by law enforcement officers in Wilson County, an investigation involving the Comptroller’s Division of Local Government Audit has revealed.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asked the Comptroller’s office to assist in an investigation related to cash, vehicles and other assets seized by the Joint Violent Crimes Task Force (JVCTF) and the Safe Streets Task Force. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Department and the Lebanon Police Department had an agreement in place for their participation in the JVCTF that referenced the FBI’s participation, but the FBI did not sign the agreement. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI operated the Safe Streets task force.

The investigation found that some case files were incomplete or missing, including one involving bags of cocaine that were seized but could not be found.

The investigation also found that more than $25,000 in seized cash could not be accounted for – and almost $9,000 in seized cash was improperly deposited into the police department’s bank account instead of a joint account shared with the sheriff department.

Investigators also determined that vehicles seized by the JVCTF and awarded to Wilson County were not accounted for and disposed of properly.

The Wilson County deputy assigned to head Wilson County’s participation in the JVCTF and Safe Streets Task Force pled guilty to obstruction of official proceeding and was sentenced on April 27 to 18 years in prison.

“This is another case in which better use of accounting checks and balances – what auditors refer to as ‘internal controls’ – could have prevented problems,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Good accounting and recordkeeping procedures are very important, particularly in cases like this in which money and seized assets are involved. I commend our auditors, as well as the investigators from the TBI and FBI, for their diligent work on this case.”

The audit, which was released today, can be viewed online at: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/la/SpecialReports.asp

TDOT: Expect Construction Work In Williamson, Wilson Counties

Press Release from Tennessee Department of Transportation; March 15, 2012:

Please make special note of the closures below:

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Widening of I-65 from SR 248 (Goose Creek) to SR 96

• Thursday March 15, 8PM-5AM, There will be alternating lane closures on I-65 southbound in order to pave the roadway.

• Friday March 16, 8PM through Saturday March 17, 12 Noon, There will be alternating lane closures on I-65 southbound in order to pave the roadway and shift traffic.  One lane will remain open.

WILSON COUNTY, Resurfacing I-40 from East of SR 840 to East of US 70

• Friday March 16 through Sunday March 18, 8PM-6AM, There will be alternating lane closures on I-40 eastbound and westbound at MM 238.0 for bridge work.

WILSON COUNTY,I-40 Widening from Central Pike to East of SR-109

• Sunday March 18 through Thursday March 22, 8PM-5AM, There will be alternating lane closures of the outside travel lane of I-40, both EB and WB (closures in one direction at a time only) from Central Pike to one mile east of SR 109 to drill test borings at various locations along the shoulder.  At least one lane will remain open at all times.

For real-time updates on all TDOT projects in Tennessee, please visit our website at www.tennessee.gov/tdot and click on the SmartWay logo. For the latest traffic or weather conditions, please call 511 or visit www.TN511.com. TDOT is also now on Twitter.  For up to date traffic tweets for the Nashville area follow Nashville511 ( http://twitter.com/nashville511 ) on Twitter.  For statewide traffic tweets just follow TN511 ( http://twitter.com/TN511 ).  Smart phone users can use the new TDOT SmartWay Mobile website at http://m.tdot.tn.gov/SmartWay/ to access TDOT’s SmartWay cameras, messages displayed on overhead Dynamic Message Signs, and information on construction related lane closures and incidents on interstates and state routes. Motorists are reminded to use all motorist information tools responsibly.  Drivers should refrain from texting, tweeting or using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle.  TDOT advises drivers to “Know before you go!” by checking traffic conditions before leaving for their destination.

Amazon Announces Tennessee ‘Fulfillment Center’ 3.0

Upping the stakes and adding drama to the Amazon.com tax-collection dilemma in Tennessee, the company announced plans Thursday for a 500,000-square-foot distribution center in Lebanon.

The company said the facility will create hundreds of full-time jobs and that it plans to open the site this fall.

There was no immediate announcement on whether Amazon would have the same arrangement with the state on sales tax collections with the addition of the Lebanon site as the company currently enjoys with sites in Hamilton and Bradley counties.

Amazon does not have to collect taxes on sales in the state, which has been an ongoing issue in the Legislature. Some prominent GOP lawmakers favor requiring the company to collect the tax. Several states face a similar quandary in dealing with the online sales giant.

The trade-off, begun with the administration of former Gov. Phil Bredesen, has been the number of jobs Amazon brings to the state at a time Tennessee is desperate for employment.

Gov. Bill Haslam has publicly backed the arrangements of the previous administration with Amazon, and he has said he believes Congress ultimately will have to settle the tax issue for states. Haslam told reporters Thursday his administration is interested in “jobs, period” and that Amazon had been working on the Lebanon site “for some time.” Amazon released a formal announcement about the site Thursday afternoon.

When asked Thursday afternoon for comment about Amazon, Yvette Martinez, a spokeswoman for the governor, replied by e-mail, “Hundreds of jobs for Middle Tennessee is great news.”

Rep. Linda Elam, R-Mt. Juliet, said the deal was a “wonderful” coup for Lebanon, but she said she did not know specifics about the sales tax arrangement.

“I would imagine it’s all under the same framework they agreed to previously,” Elam said. “I wasn’t involved in those talks.

“There are two ways to look at that. Are they all covered under the same deal, or do they have to be treated as they would have absent that agreement with the prior governor? On the other hand, you look at it and say because of that agreement with the prior governor they’re bringing thousands of jobs to three locations in Tennessee.”

Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, chairman of the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, the House sponsor of the legislation calling for Amazon to collect from customers, said Thursday he had been unaware that the announcement about Lebanon was coming.

“I’m glad to see companies want to locate here in Tennessee,” Sargent said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people in Tennessee, anywhere in the state.”

When asked if he still planned to pursue efforts to force the company to collect the sales tax, Sargent reiterated his previous position.

“I’m going to get with the governor, Speaker (Beth) Harwell, Leader (Gerald) McCormick and see how they want to proceed on the bill, if they want to proceed, and where we’re going to head on that,” Sargent said.

“I don’t know what the incentive was to bring them to Wilson County, nor do I know what contract was signed on getting them there.”

Sargent said he knew Amazon was looking at one or two more locations in Tennessee, which has been broadly discussed for several weeks, but that he had not spoken with the governor or with legislators representing the Lebanon area on the issue.

State Attorney General Robert Cooper has issued an opinion that distribution centers like those in Amazon’s plans create nexus, meaning they represent enough physical presence in the state to warrant legislation forcing a company to collect the tax. Cooper’s opinion said the legislation by Sargent and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, would be constitutionally defensible.

McNally, reached Thursday night, said it’s hard to comment on the specifics of the deal on the Lebanon site when Tennesseans still don’t know exactly what the original agreement was.

“Unfortunately, I nor the people of Tennessee know what the ‘deal’ is,” McNally said. “I guess it would depend on how it was written.

“It could be written that it just applies to the facilities in Bradley and Hamilton county, or it could be written generally that they would not consider the distribution center nexus, and that brings up some issues.”

McNally voiced concern about the erosion of the sales tax base and the issue of secrecy on the original deal.

“I think everybody’s glad to see the jobs come to Tennessee, but I think we need to certainly answer the questions about what the deal is and the fairness of the deal,” McNally said. “And are we treating one business one way and treating businesses that are in a similar situation differently?”

Paul Misener, vice president for Amazon Global Public Policy, who appeared before Tennessee legislators this year, referred to Haslam and legislators in an official press release from Amazon on Thursday.

“We’re grateful to Governor Haslam, Senator Beavers, Representative Elam, Mayor Craighhead, Mayor Hutto and other officials who have demonstrated their commitment to Amazon jobs and investment,” Misener said.

Those other officials are Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead and Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto.

An attempt to reach Beavers on the announcement Thursday was unsuccessful, but during the legislative session this year, Beavers expressed concern about the tax policy on Amazon.

“I think we’ve got to be very cautious on giving all of these tax breaks to companies because ultimately the taxpayers in Tennessee end up paying for it,” Beavers said in May. “I’m not sure how many jobs we’re talking about, and that would have an impact on some things I think. We just keep giving company after company tax breaks. How long can we afford to do that?”

Craighead, the Lebanon mayor, expressed his gratitude to state officials for their role in landing the Amazon site and gave special credit to the Joint Economic Community Development Board of Wilson County and its executive director, G.C. Hixson, for work on the plan.

“They don’t get a lot of the credit, but they do 95 percent of the work,” Craighead said of the board.

Craighead said he was unaware of any of the terms discussed on sales tax collections.

Freshman Rep. Elam Touts Accomplishments of TN’s ‘Historic Conservative Majority’

Press Release from the House GOP Caucus, June 8, 2011:

Mount Juliet Legislator Calls First Session the Most Successful in Tennessee History

(NASHVILLE, June 8, 2011) – After years of near one Party control in Tennessee politics, Republicans won control of the Governor’s mansion, Senate, and House for the first time in the history of the State. Representative Linda Elam (R—Mount Juliet) played a key role in the opening session of the 107th General Assembly and Tennesseans immediately benefitted from the conservative leadership.

“It is an honor to be a part of such a historic conservative Majority,” remarked Rep. Elam. “Tennesseans understand we pushed through a conservative, pro-growth agenda that reflects their values. They can take heart that, finally, their Representatives in Nashville are listening to them.”

The first Session was marked by conservative milestones many Tennesseans have worked hard to see come to fruition. Among those items:

  • Tort Reform: This was a key centerpiece for the Governor’s jobs agenda and the General Assembly fashioned a new law that provides certainty in the business environment. With this confidence, more companies are better able to quantify the cost of doing business and can allocate more resources to provide jobs for Tennesseans.
  • Charter Schools: The Republican Majority lifted the cap on charter schools in Tennessee, ensuring that all children across the State will have access to a high quality education. Republican legislators, like Representative Elam, understand the key to long-term job growth in Tennessee is in the training of a strong workforce.
  • Collaborative Conferencing: In a major reform unlike any seen across the country, conservative legislators pushed through a new model for education that allows all teachers to have a voice when it comes to setting education policy and removed the barriers set up by the union so our hard-working teachers can be rewarded at a higher rate.
  • Ban on Income Tax: The process was started for a constitutional amendment in Tennessee that would forever prohibit an income tax from being levied on Tennesseans. The process for an amendment is long, but this Republican Majority is united in ensuring this common sense, pro-jobs measure becomes law.
  • Government Reform: In a move to increase transparency and efficiency for taxpayers, the House eliminated a number of duplicative committees that caused confusion for many citizens trying to follow legislation through the General Assembly. With this reform, bills will travel on a streamlined path that provides Tennesseans a format to voice their concerns on legislation. Additionally, the move saved Tennesseans nearly $1 million.
  • The State Budget: Republicans passed a fiscally conservative budget that reflects the principles of Tennesseans and meets the needs of our State. Overall, the Republican Majority reduced spending by $1.2 billion and rolled back a number of areas of duplicative government programs.

While much focus was given to these high-profile pieces of legislation, there are a number of other new laws that were ushered through to make government more responsive to Tennesseans and limit the influence of government regulation. Rep. Elam helped guide a number of these bills to final passage, a noteworthy achievement for a first-year legislator. Among the legislation she co-sponsored:

  • Voter Photo ID: This bill ensures integrity at the ballot box, something Tennesseans have long asked for. Essentially, voters are asked to present a valid photo ID to obtain a ballot. Parallel legislation passed to ensure citizens who may not have an ID can obtain one for free. These laws will protect Tennessee from having to deal with ballot box abuse and voter fraud.
  • Welfare Reform: This new law will prevent abuse of the Families First benefits program. It places common sense requirements on those utilizing taxpayer-funded benefits such as a prohibition against drug use or enrollment in a drug treatment program.
  • Voting Reform: This new law authorizes the coordinator of elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the department of safety database, relevant federal and state agencies, and county records to ensure non-United States citizens are not registered to vote in this State.
  • Veterans’ Families: This legislation extends property tax relief to the surviving spouse of a soldier whose death results from being deployed, away from any home base of training and in support of combat operations. This was one way to honor the sacrifice our soldiers make in the line of duty.
  • Wilson County: Representative Elam guided a bill designating the bridge at State Route 109 and U.S. Highway 70 in Wilson County as the “Spc. Michael Lane Stansbery, Jr.” bridge to honor one of Wilson County’s fallen soldiers.

In reflecting on the reforms passed by the House of Representatives in her first term, Rep. Elam stated, “I tailored my personal record—the votes I took, the legislation I carried—to the wishes of my constituents. I heard them loud and clear last fall when they told me they wanted a government that is limited and respects our constitutional rights.” She continued, “Over the summer, I look forward to traveling around the 57th District and listening to the people once again. I am eager to get their feedback, bring it back to the Capitol next year, and work hard to make the Volunteer State an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”

For a complete listing of Representative Elam’s legislative record, click here.