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Beacon Center Launches Website for Taxpayers to Track Education Tax Dollars

Press release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee; February 19, 2015: 

NASHVILLE – Today, the Beacon Center of Tennessee released a website that gives taxpayers across the state an opportunity to see how their tax dollars are spent on education. MySchoolSpending.org is a customizable tool that allows Tennesseans to look into how their specific school district spends money. By typing in their ZIP Code, or choosing a local school district with a drop down menu, taxpayers can determine whether their investment is being spent wisely.

Some of the statistics taxpayers can see for each school district include total spending per child, percentage of money spent in the classroom, and the growth in administrative costs. For instance, taxpayers spend $9.3 billion each year on education statewide. Of that amount, just 53 percent makes it into the classroom.

Beacon CEO Justin Owen noted, “This is a great tool for parents and taxpayers alike to see how their tax dollars are actually spent when it comes to education. Overall, we have found that many school districts are spending excessive amounts of money on administrative costs instead of on each child’s actual education. We believe that by exposing how school districts spend money, people will be more open to parental choice options that could result in a more efficient use of taxpayer money along with better results for our children.”

You can visit MySchoolSpending.org and see how your district spends taxpayer money by clicking here.

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Press Releases

State Comptroller Releases UCDD Probe

Press release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; October 15, 2012: 

The Upper Cumberland Development District’s (UCDD) former executive director Wendy Askins called an independent living facility for seniors “one of the sweetest projects in the history of [her] career.” However, only a small handful of seniors lived in the facility after it was completed. And their accommodations were significantly less luxurious than those Askins and her daughter enjoyed after they moved into the publicly-funded facility’s main living quarters.

A report released today by the State Comptroller’s Division of Investigations identified numerous UCDD transactions that did not appear to serve a public or governmental purpose. The report concluded that the volume and type of inappropriate transactions identified indicates that the UCDD board of directors failed to uphold its duty to follow sound business and accounting practices, to ensure that all disbursements were appropriate, and to act in the best interests of the district and its goals.

Development districts are created to promote economic growth and development and to serve those in need within each district’s boundaries. The vast majority of funding for the Upper Cumberland Development District and its programs comes from taxpayer dollars from state and federal government.

The Living the Dream Project was designed and planned by Askins while she served as executive director of the UCDD. The Comptroller’s investigators questioned numerous transactions Askins ordered which did not appear to be in the development district’s best interests. The investigators pursued a trail of improper spending on a project that appeared to primarily benefit Askins and certain members of her family.

Askins personally selected tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades for the main area of the home which she and her daughter occupied by themselves. Askins paid more than $6,000 for steam showers for both her and her daughter’s bathrooms, more than $1,500 for a double-sided fireplace in the home’s main living area, nearly $1,000 for a fireplace in her own master bedroom, and more than $7,000 for decorative fountains. Askins also spent more than $25,000 on a curved staircase for the home which led to her daughter’s upstairs living area.

By last February, the project had a price tag of nearly $1.4 million, the Comptroller’s report revealed.

Among the many unnecessary purchases for the Living the Dream home, Askins and various family members received more than $24,000 in direct personal benefits from transactions she orchestrated with the development district. Askins used nearly $10,000 in district funds to purchase used furniture, televisions and exercise equipment from herself for use in her Living the Dream home and more than $14,000 to purchase other used furniture and items from her immediate family. She also submitted a false reimbursement request and received nearly $3,000 from UCDD for catering expenses related to a political campaign event not associated with the development district. Additionally, Askins reimbursed herself $1,229 for other personal expenses such as fuel for her personal out-of-state travel and her personal credit card fees.

In 2011, Askins spent $2,000 in UCDD funds to purchase a 3-D capable computer and $99 for 3-D glasses, and incurred over $600 in costs for ring-back tones, premium texts and music downloads on her district cell phone, according to investigators.

The Comptroller’s report further details that at its 2010 annual meeting, the UCDD treated board members and approximately 80 other guests to food and entertainment at a local winery. This meeting alone cost the agency more than $6,200 and appear to further no public or governmental purposes.

Investigators attribute the magnitude of such waste and abuse to the fact that Askins and her deputy director had unfettered discretion to spend public funds on a far-too-wide range of items and that board members were not providing adequate oversight to protect the public’s interests.

“Even though the board may not be directly to blame for such rampant misuses of public funds, it was inherent in their fiduciary responsibilities to supervise Wendy Askins, the Living the Dream project, and to ensure that all development district funds were spent entirely for the benefit of those who are served by the district,” said L. Rene Brison, Assistant Director of Investigations for the Comptroller’s office.

“These types of abuses of the public trust are likely to outrage many citizens who live within the Upper Cumberland Development District boundaries – and rightfully so,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Every public dollar that’s spent for the personal benefit of a government official is one less dollar that can be spent to benefit the people who need government services. I hope and trust that the Upper Cumberland Development District will put safeguards in place to guard against this type of waste and abuse in the future.”

To view the full report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/ia/20121015UCCDaudit.pdf

To view photos of the contrasting accommodations of the UCDD’s executive director and the senior citizens who lived in the Living the Dream facility, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/NR/20121015TheLivingTheDreamProject.pdf

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TFA: State Using Tax Dollars to Suppress Rights?

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; May 25, 2012:

Are Taxpayer Dollars being used by government officials to suppress and infringe 2nd Amendment and other civil rights?

It is a serious question and can be a crime under some circumstances.

In Tennessee government, including the General Assembly, it is not uncommon to see evidence of situations where taxpayer dollars and even “charitable” contributions to government affiliated nonprofits are being used by lobbyists and in some instances government officials to advocate against the civil rights of citizens. For example, associations like the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police are comprised of voting members who are full time government officials. Presumably, those officials have their membership “dues” paid by their departments which clearly are funded with taxpayer dollars. When such an organization then uses taxpayer dollars to lobby against 2nd Amendment legislation or when those public officials go to the legislature in uniform to lobby while being paid by taxpayers (as opposed to taking vacation or personal time) are they engaging in a pattern of conduct that might be classified as “official oppression”? This potential raises serious questions about when, where and under what circumstances is it appropriate for public officials – who are not elected as policy makers like legislators – to spend time “on the clock” to lobby on policy issues that are based on fundamental constitutional rights of citizens?

A related issue was recently addressed by Jeff Knox in an article.

Cities around the country have created staff positions for professional lobbyists whose primary function is to drum up support for anti-gun legislation, ordinances and regulations. Part of these lobbyists salaries are being paid by grants from do-gooder foundations like the Joyce Foundation, but the balance of salaries, benefits and support costs are being borne by you, the taxpayer.

An associate of mine in Florida named Sean Caranna was doing some research for his grassroots rights organization, Florida Carry, Inc., when he came across something on the agenda of the Orlando City Council that he immediately recognized as a serious problem.

The item was for the renewal of a contract for a city employee. That’s mundane enough, but the job title of this particular employee was “Mayors Against Illegal Guns regional coordinator,” and the job description is to “play an integral role in the coordination and planning of gun crime prevention and illegal gun-related initiatives, events and media opportunities in the city and in the region” (the full council agenda and detailed information can be found on the City of Orlando website).

In the case of Orlando, the grant is $60,000 from something called the “United Against Illegal Guns Support Fund,” which appears to be a front group set up by billionaire mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg – the creator of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The Joyce Foundation provides the primary funding for Bloomberg’s “support fund” to the tune of $650,000 in 2011 and at least $1,000,000 more in the previous 3 years.

While the grant to Orlando pays the bulk of the regional coordinator’s salary, the city is allocating $24,000 of citizen’s money to fund the position and providing other city resources and facilities for her use. The person tapped for the job is a woman who has worked as a regional coordinator for the Brady Campaign Against Guns, and as a professional lobbyist for MAIG and several other groups.

In essence, the city is paying $24,000 to have an anti-rights organization’s lobbyist working in their offices and pretending to be a city employee.

After discovering this scam in Orlando, Caranna began digging deeper and found similar sweetheart deals in several other cities around the country, including Seattle, Milwaukee, Columbus and Minneapolis. Based solely on the funding numbers from the Joyce Foundation, there should be at least 10 of these regional coordinators around the country – working against rights and being compensated in part by taxpayers.

Finding them all has proven to be a bit of a challenge, as no one from MAIG, Joyce or the Support Fund seems interested in advertising the coordinators’ existence. Caranna found, and my own research confirms, that some cities try to keep their participation in the scheme on the down low by using initials or euphemistic titles and job descriptions, but now that we know about the scam, I don’t think it will take long to expose most all of the pseudo-city employees. With more than a million and a half dollars granted to the project over the past 4 years by the Joyce Foundation alone, there has to be a money trail to follow. We also know all 600 mayors involved in MAIG and will be scouring the books of each of them looking for traces of this scheme.

I’m asking all of the members of The Firearms Coalition and all of my readers to help us locate these taxpayer funded anti-rights lobbyists. You can find a list of all of the participating mayors on the MAIG website and then launch your own investigation into any of them you choose.

While we’re at it, let’s look into this whole concept of private grants funding, and influencing, public policy. On its surface, the idea of a charitable group helping a municipality do some public service seems reasonable; a family group might support municipal preschool and after school programs, for instance. But if that group has a political agenda, or demands inclusion of a controversial curriculum, the “gift” becomes questionable.

From one side these grants look like a way for the charitable group to make their dollars go further while helping a city reach its goals, but it is also a way for a pressure group to get public funding for their agenda.

Imagine the uproar if a city created a staff position for the promotion of firearm safety training with funding from the NRA Foundation. Even if the program focused solely on safety and never crossed into the rights issue or promotion of firearms ownership, the media and hoplophobes would go ballistic.

The very innocuous and apolitical Eddie Eagle Gun Safe program, with coloring books and video cartoons teaching kids that if they come across a gun they should “Stop – Don’t Touch – Leave the Area – and Tell an Adult,” comes under fire because it is given to schools and police departments free by the NRA Foundation.

Public-private partnerships can be good things, but local politicians need to be extremely cautious about giving the keys to the city to any outside group whose altruism might be driven by a political or social agenda. The old adage of never looking a gift horse in the mouth does not apply in civic matters – just ask the Trojans. It is very tempting to a politician to be able to offer constituents some valuable service at a fraction of its normal cost, so it’s up to the citizens to be attentive and keep their politicians on the straight and narrow.

For those who might not know, Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a political group formed by New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. It has an agenda almost identical to that of the Brady Campaign and other anti-gun groups, but it goes to great lengths to make its proposals seem reasonable and moderate when, in fact, they are intended to make firearms ownership more difficult and dangerous. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars from his own very deep pockets and the pockets of New York taxpayers to advance his agenda and is receiving additional millions from the Joyce Foundation – the same Joyce Foundation that gave Barack Obama a paid directorship as a stepping-stone into politics.

This scandal will be unfolding for weeks, and probably years, to come. The more information we can dig up on the MAIG employees infiltrating municipal government, the better chance we will have of putting a stop to this theft of taxpayer money. Check your local government for any private-public partnership grant programs – particularly programs funded by MAIG – and let me know what you find. Together we can pull the mask off of this beast and return control of municipal government to the people who live there.