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Press Releases

State Appellate Judge Sitting on Grand Jury in Carroll County

PRESS RELEASE from Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Jan. 6, 2016:

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams found himself on the other side of the bench this week, when he served as a member of the Carroll County grand jury.

Judge Williams received a notice from the sheriff’s office in December, requesting his service as a juror and asking him to fill out survey with questions concerning residency, criminal convictions, and other eligibility requirements. Judge Williams completed the survey and reported to the courthouse as directed on January 4.

Judge Williams said there was never a question in his mind that he would serve if called upon. He had a trip already planned for this week, but made other arrangements so he could be sure to be there.

Although Judge Williams has been around courtrooms since he was five (his father was an attorney), this was his first time serving on a jury. Twelve members of the grand jury were selected at random from the large jury pool that showed up on January 4.

“This experience made me proud of our American jurisprudence system. It reinforced that everything I had hoped was happening in our jury system was actually taking place.” Judge Williams said.

Judge Williams did make it known to his fellow grand jurors that he was a sitting appellate judge, and some people on the grand jury were already aware of his position. He wanted to make sure the information was known in case there were any conflicts. Judge Williams also said he was careful to not interject too much into the proceedings, and let the actions of the jury take its natural course.

“The people I served with are thoughtful, hardworking, and took their responsibility seriously,” Judge Williams said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the fellow county residents I served with.”

While the specific activities of the grand jury are confidential, the jury returned 30 indictments and three no true bills. Although there are no further pending cases for the grand jury at this time, the panel is on call to serve until April.

Judge Donald Parish, who was presiding over the court that day appreciated Judge Williams’ service, just as he does every other juror or potential juror who answers the call. Judge Parish noted that about 200 people were summoned for jury duty that day and about 120 showed up.

“An important takeaway from this is that jury duty is a responsibility that everyone bears,” Judge Parish said.

Judge Williams has been a member of the Court of Criminal Appeals since his appointment in 1998. He received his law degree from Cumberland University and is a graduate of University of Tennessee at Martin.

Carroll County is in West Tennessee, northeast of Jackson and is one of five counties in the 24th Judicial District. The county population was about 28,000 in the 2010 census.

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Press Releases

‘Serious Problems’ in DHS Need Correcting: Tracy

Press release from Senator Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, Jan. 5, 2016:

Tracy Files Legislation to Control Fraud and Mismanagement within the Department of Human Services

NASHVILLE — State Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) has filed legislation aimed at correcting serious problems within the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS). The legislation will make substantial changes to the way this vital state agency performs its duties in serving Tennesseans.

“The Department of Human Services provides services to some of the most vulnerable citizens of our state,” said Senator Tracy. “I am very disappointed by the facts uncovered in Comptroller audits and investigations which have identified pervasive and recurring issues within this agency. It’s time for a new approach.”

Comptroller audits and investigations have identified financial mismanagement and fraud within some of the federal food programs managed by DHS. Many of the problems are the result of DHS’ ineffective monitoring of third-party agencies that receive taxpayer money to feed children and adults.

Senate Bill 1472 will require DHS to file monthly reports to certain Legislative Committees, the Comptroller’s Office and the Speakers of both chambers on a variety of issues, including its monitoring activities and internal audit functions.

An independent hotline will also be set up within DHS to allow employees to report internal misconduct. DHS will be prohibited from terminating any employee without providing a written explanation to the Tennessee General Assembly.

Additionally, the bill will transfer all DHS accounting operations to the Department and Finance and Administration, and place DHS in the sunset cycle to terminate on July 1, 2017.

“These measures are being undertaken to both protect the taxpayer and ensure that money designated for those in need is spent for those purposes,” added Tracy. “The Tennessee General Assembly takes this responsibility seriously, and it’s time for DHS to do the same.”

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Press Releases

TNGOP Circulating Online Petition Opposing Obama’s New Gun Order

Press release from the Republican Party of Tennessee, January 5, 2016:

TNGOP: Dems Should Campaign on the Gun Ban They Want to Impose on Us

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – January 5, 2015 – From the East Room of the White House, President Barack Obama announced a sweeping set of executive orders meant to restrict Americans’ access to firearms.

Following the President’s speech, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes remarked, “Today’s announcement by the President once again lectured responsible, law-abiding Americans. It echoed his snide comments from 2008 where he talked down to concerned citizens who ‘cling to guns or religion’ as if that’s a moral wrong.”

“Ultimately, these actions are a political play by the President that could undermine our constitutional rights. Governing solely by executive order ignores the fact the Executive Branch is supposed to enforce the law, not create it. Furthermore, it subverts the authority of Congress—the law-making branch of our federal government. These actions, supported by Democrats, show a disdain for the framework set up by our Founders. That’s inexcusable.

“Instead of hiding behind the President’s pen, Democrats should just campaign on the gun ban policy they want to impose on Americans. I would welcome the opportunity to debate the Democratic Party’s gun restrictions. Let’s have an honest conversation and see if Tennesseans really want their 2nd Amendment rights gutted by Democrats.”

The TNGOP is circulating an online petition at www.GunsAreNext.com for Tennesseans to sign who believe the President is overreaching with today’s executive orders.

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Press Releases

Andy Holt’s ‘Open Letter’ to Obama: ‘Take Your Gun Control And Shove It’

Press Release from Tennessee State Rep. Andy Holt, Dresden, Jan. 5, 2016:

Take Your Gun Control And Shove It

President Barack Obama,

This week you have announced your plan to enforce unilateral, unconstitutional executive orders on gun control. Well, here in Tennessee, we aren’t buying it. You should note that when Congress refuses to act, it’s because the will of the people compel them to do so. That does not then give you the green light to usurp the legislative jurisdiction of Congress. Regardless, our Founding Fathers foresaw such an instance where the federal government may try to enforce laws that were unpopular with the people, whether those laws be constitutional or not, and they provided a blueprint of how to deal with such an issue.

In Federalist Paper #46, Father of the United States Constitution James Madison provided this blueprint for such a situation should it arise.

“Should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union, the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassment created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, very serious impediments; and were the sentiments of several adjoining States happen to be in Union, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”

Allow me to translate: Regardless of the federal government’s supremacy over the issue, and whether the actions taken be constitutional or not is irrelevant. The states have powerful means to oppose such actions at hand through legislative devices. In Tennessee, we put this blueprint into law just last Session by passing HB1341, which bars the State from providing material support to enforce federal gun control measures that contradict our state Constitution.

Your recently proposed executive orders rely heavily on the states to enforce. However, the states do not have to enforce them. In fact, even the Supreme Court has agreed with this position for more than 180 years. In Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), New York v. United States (1992), Printz v. United States (1997), and most recently NFIB v. Sibelius -Obamacare (2012), the Court held that the federal government cannot compel the state to enforce federal rules or laws regardless of whether or not the rule or law is constitutional.

Essentially, if the feds want to enforce the law, then they can come here and do it themselves. You and your friends on the Left often yell and scream while calling those who support this type of resistance to federal power “neo-confederates” and so on. However, your friends seem more than willing to practice resistance to federal power when it comes to Colorado’s marijuana operation, or California’s sanctuary cities, and you are more than willing to look the other way while it happens. Therefore, the State of Tennessee is more than willing to tell you Mr. President, if you want to enforce your unconstitutional executive orders… come on down to Rocky Top and do it yourself.

#MolonLabe

Rep. Andy Holt, District 76

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Press Releases

TNDP Chairwoman Questions Speaker Harwell’s Priorities on Rep. Durham Matter

Press release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee, January 5, 2016:

Nashville, Tenn. (January 5, 2016) — On Tuesday, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini questioned Speaker Harwell’s priorities and asked once again that Republican leadership hold Rep. Jeremy Durham accountable for his behavior.

“Yesterday, Speaker Harwell (R-Nashville) backtracked on her statement that the Republican Caucus would vote on whether Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) would keep his leadership position with the Republican House caucus. This disappointing development is not surprising given that Tennessee Republicans continuously elevate fundraising and party politics over what’s best for the people of Tennessee.

It’s been weeks and Rep. Durham’s constituents still don’t know for what inappropriate behavior he received a reprimand from the human resources department at the legislature. Whatever it is that he has done, the people of his district deserve to know and those who work at the state legislature must know. Why are they still hiding information from the public that can possibly jeopardize the safety of the legislature as a workplace?”

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Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Bulk of Record-Setting Year from Comptroller’s Fraud Hotline Involved Just Two Cases

Of the more than $1.1 million in government-funded waste, fraud and abuse reported through the Tennessee Comptroller’s anonymous tipster hotline last fiscal year, more than 85 percent of that “record achievement” came from just two cases.

One in Benton County and the other in Marion County, they involved more than $960,000 in alleged fleecing of public funds.

The smaller of the two involved nearly a quarter of a million stolen taxpayer dollars from the South Pittsburg Housing Authority and the South Pittsburg Elderly Housing Authority.

According to a “special investigation” report published by the Comptroller’s office last July, “various employees misappropriated at least $228,980” between 2009 and 2014. The report noted that while the two Marion County housing authority programs were “separate legal entities,” they shared the same office space and staff.

“The amount of theft in this case is alarming,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said in a press release at the time. “While it’s easy to blame the criminal behavior of two individuals, housing authority officials must also take the necessary steps to shore up a number of issues which allowed these thefts to occur.”

In the other case, about $733,000 in “unauthorized administrative disbursements” was uncovered subsequent to investigators probing a Benton County nonprofit that was raking in government money through the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

The Comptroller’s office issued a report in March alleging that managers and employees of ABC Nutrition Program in Camden — a food-for-needy-children program run from a home basement by a woman and her two adult daughters — improperly collected compensation and bonuses to the tune of more than $606,000.

Another $127,000 or so was obtained by ABC Nutrition to pay for “unauthorized construction and improvement disbursements” for the woman’s home, as well as “additional unauthorized administrative disbursements.”

The state Department of Human Services OK’d all the suspect spending, the Tennessean noted in a lengthy story on the case back in July.

Participants in the operations in both South Pittsburg and Camden are facing criminal charges.

“Since its inception (in 1983), the hotline has received over 21,000 notifications, including 951 notifications between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015,” according to an information sheet provided to TNReport by the state Comptroller’s office. “The hotline received 779 telephone calls and 172 submissions through the online reporting website. Of the 951 total notifications, 486 concerned substantive allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse.”

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Press Releases

Record Level of Gov’t Waste, Fraud, Abuse Identified Through Hotline Tips: Comptroller

Press release from the Office of the Tennessee Comptroller, Dec. 29, 2015:

Comptroller’s Hotline Helps Protect Taxpayers

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline is marking a record achievement in its effort to help uncover the misuse of government funds and property.

Confidential tips to the hotline helped to identify a record $1,112,500 in confirmed thefts, shortages and questioned costs for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. These tips were reported through telephone calls and online submissions to the hotline.

This year’s notifications concerned a wide range of entities including municipalities, counties, state agencies, federal agencies, and non-profit recipients of government funds. Substantive notifications are reviewed and investigated by Comptroller staff or referred to the appropriate agency or program for further action.

Since October 1983, the Comptroller of the Treasury has provided a toll-free hotline for any citizen to report government fraud, waste and abuse. Additionally, all state agencies, as well as agencies receiving community grant funds, are required to call attention to the hotline by posting a sign in a prominent place.

“The hotline plays an important role in holding government accountable to its citizens,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “While I’m pleased to see the hotline is serving its purpose, the ultimate goal is to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse in government.”

If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the Comptroller’s toll-free hotline at (800) 232-5454, or file a report online at: www.comptroller.tn.gov/hotline. Follow us on twitter @TNCOT

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Uncategorized

Merry Christmas, Tennessee!

Jordan Ashburn, 24, and Seth Ketner, 27, both of Cookeville, get into the Yuletide spirit by crashing through the river flow on the day of the Night Before Christmas.

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Press Releases

Black Lawmakers Vow to Fight UT Diversity Program Cuts

Press Release from the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, December 23, 2015:

NASHVILLE- The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is condemning an “attack” on diversity programs in higher education by Republican lawmakers. Some conservative lawmakers have vowed to review funding for college diversity programming across the state after two recent controversies at the University of Tennessee. The Knoxville University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion recently posted on the campus website suggestions about gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday celebrations that have been criticized by conservatives. In the wake of those posts, later removed, some Republican lawmakers have called for the General Assembly to de-fund the office and to review other diversity programs across the state. Chairwoman Brenda Gilmore of Nashville says the Black Caucus “strongly opposes these actions and any actions to reduce diversity efforts in Tennessee”. Gilmore says the offices are needed to combat decades of discrimination in the state’s colleges and universities and said the caucus is concerned about the “hidden messages that Republican lawmakers are trying to send. The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is going on to the record as standing against these actions and will fight any efforts to reduce state funding to these programs.”

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Press Releases

Voters in Beacon Center Survey Leave ‘Lump of Coal’ for UT Diversity Office

Press release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, Dec. 21, 2015:

UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion “Wins” 2015 Lump of Coal in a Landslide

Today, the Beacon Center awarded the 2015 Lump of Coal to The University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion for wasting taxpayer money on a program that emphasizes political correctness run amok. With an astounding 52.1% of the vote, The Office of Diversity and Inclusion ran away with the Lump of Coal award. Rutherford County School Board Chair Wayne Blair was the runner up with 19.2%, while the Hospital Lobby and Memphis EDGE came in 3rd and 4th with 18% and 11.7% respectively.

The Lump of Coal is an annual “award” given by the Beacon Center to the government or private entity that has most abused taxpayer money. Hundreds of votes were cast by Tennesseans all across the state.

Beacon CEO Justin Owen stated, “While there were many deserving candidates for this year’s Lump of Coal, I think the voters got it right in choosing the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The office encourages a level of political correctness that goes way too far for everyday Tennesseans, while being funded at the expense of the taxpayers. When encouraging students not to celebrate the holidays by throwing a ‘Christmas party in disguise,’ Tennesseans of all political stripes see how out of touch this department really is.”

The full post is below.

The University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion

The Office first made national news in August when it “encouraged” (get used to this word) other students to use “gender neutral” pronouns like “ze” or” xe” lest one commit the grave offense of using “he” to refer to a man. Now the Office is “encouraging” (there’s the word again) students to take a few simple steps when celebrating the holidays so as to, and this is an exact quote, “[e]nsure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” When UT uses your money for something that manifestly does not further higher learning, it lacks a legitimate basis for taking it in the first place. That makes it theft. It is unconstitutional and immoral.
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The Beacon Center of Tennessee empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, and independent organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.