Press Releases

Haslam Announces SBA Disaster Declaration for Late-April Floods

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced today the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has granted his disaster declaration request for Stewart and its surrounding counties after severe storms and flash flooding occurred April 26, 2013.

The declaration includes Benton, Henry, Houston and Montgomery Counties, and an SBA disaster declaration makes homeowners and businesses affected by the disaster eligible for low-interest loans.

Those affected have until July 9, 2013, to apply for relief from the physical damage and until Feb. 10, 2014, to apply for relief from economic injury.

“This is good news, and these loans will help individuals whose homes and businesses were damaged more quickly recover,” Haslam said.

The interest rates for homeowners without credit elsewhere will be 1.875 percent. Loans for homeowners with credit elsewhere will be 3.750 percent. Interest rates for businesses will be four percent for those without credit elsewhere and six percent for businesses that have credit elsewhere.

Additionally, the SBA will open temporary offices to help homeowners and businesses with the disaster loan process. More information on SBA disaster loans is at:….

The damage survey in Stewart County identified 40 homes with major damage and 19 homes with minor damage. There were eight businesses identified with major damage and two businesses with minor damage. Damage assessment teams also identified three other structures in Stewart County with major damage.

From April 26, to April 28, 2013, a severe weather front brought heavy precipitation into middle Tennessee and parts of west and east Tennessee. The National Weather Service (NWS) reported heavy rainfall totals of up to six inches that resulted in localized flash flooding.

NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Competitive Bidding Process Skirted by Benton Commission

Benton County circumvented the competitive bidding process when it entered into a $3.7 million, five-year contract for ambulance service with the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, state auditors found in a review of the county’s finances.

The county commission first rejected a lower bid before negotiating the deal with the hospital district, which included services beyond the scope of the original solicitation, auditors found. But the documentation from those 2009 discussions was so spotty it was unclear why.

“Purchases should be made from the vendor with the lowest price that meets bid specifications unless adequate documentation is on file supporting the decision to reject the lowest bid,” state comptroller’s office auditors wrote. County officials did not respond formally in the report, but “officials provided various reasons why the bids were rejected,” the audit says.

Auditors also criticized the parks and fair board, which entered into a lease agreement without county commission approval. The audit of fiscal year 2010 finances also found that the county was unable to produce financial statements in line with generally accepted accounting procedures and that spending exceeded appropriations by as much as $9,000 in a handful of budget categories.

TNReport has been keeping up with audits from the state comptroller’s office, including these recently posted reports:

County Not Tracking Road Material Use: Audit (Jan. 21)

Financial Disclosure Info Lacking on State Board of Education Members (Jan. 26)

Red Ink Runneth in Crossville (Jan. 28)

Moore County Officials Spent More Than They Had (Jan. 31)

Readers can peruse the original audit reports, linked from TNReport blog items and posted at the state comptroller’s website.

News Transparency and Elections

Voter-Roll Reform Heads to Governor

A measure that changes why a county election administrator can clean out voter rolls — purportedly aimed at minimizing the chances of a so-called political “witch hunt” — passed both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature overwhelmingly last week.

If signed by the governor, voters cannot be purged from the local voter rolls for minor mistakes on their registration forms after an office accepts the document and adds them to the rolls. A voter can only be removed if he or she knowingly provides false information on the form or uses a false signature.

Supporters of the legislation feared some people — particularly Democratic voters — were being removed from the rolls over innocent mistakes when filling out the form. Those individuals would then be unable to vote.

“The purpose of this legislation is to make sure citizens can rely on the local offices where they register to vote, (that) once they have completed a voter registration form and submit it…that they know they are registered to vote,” said Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat and sponsor of the bill.

The measure emerged because Democrats feared Republican election administrators were using minor errors voters made on registration forms to target Democrat voters for removal from election rolls.

After the GOP gained control of the Legislature, about three dozen counties replaced their county election administrators with Republican appointees, as allowed by state law. Democrats suddenly on the outside looking in became frightened their partisan constituents would be unfairly ousted from the voter rolls by overzealous new election administrators.

Odom pointed specifically to Benton County, where almost 20 percent of the county’s voters received letters earlier this year saying their voter registration was invalid and they would have to re-register.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials are now looking into the claims and deciding whether to launch a full investigation, as requested by Odom, who is also the leading Democrat in the state House of Representatives.

Benton County Election Administrator Mark Ward denied Odom’s claims before the committee, saying his county’s rolls were not alphabetized when he took office, as required by state law, and the person he hired to alphabetize the rolls noticed a number of “discrepancies.” Ward said he purged the rolls at the guidance of Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a former Republican House leader who took office last year.

House Bill 3456, as initially drafted, would’ve only allowed a county election administrator to purge voters on the second year after a U.S. Census.

As passed, it now requires a Democrat and Republican member of each county election commission to periodically review voter registration forms to see if registrants are properly filling out the documents — a suggestion added by Rep. Bill Dunn, a Knoxville Republican and former House Republican leader himself. Dunn said the requirement would “add another level of accountability” in county election offices.

The measure passed 93-1 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate.