News briefs: Waste, fraud and abuse in Tennessee for April 2017

News briefs: Waste, fraud and abuse in Tennessee for April 2017

Bureau Chief’s Note: This is a monthly feature detailing waste, fraud, abuse and other examples of government excess in Tennessee, some of it reported by us, some of it reported by other media. Look for these to run the last week of every month.

Fentress County Sheriff busted for alleged sex with inmates

Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens pleaded guilty this April to federal corruption and civil rights charges and resigned his position, several news outlets reported.

“Cravens used his position as Sheriff to solicit sex from, and have sex with, three female inmates at the Fentress County Jail in return for giving them benefits at the jail,” according to Knoxville TV affiliate WBIR.

“These extra benefits included the sheriff driving the inmates to visit relatives, the inmates being allowed outside the jail to smoke cigarettes, and the sheriff giving money to relatives of the inmates to deposit into their jail commissary accounts,” the documents noted.

BUSTED: Former Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens (pictured) resigned his position this month (photo courtesy of the Fentress County Sheriff's Facebook page).

BUSTED: Former Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens (pictured) resigned his position this month (photo courtesy of the Fentress County Sheriff’s Facebook page).

As Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2011, county officials raised property taxes 50 percent to pay for this new jail.

Residents complained about the tax increase at county commission meetings, but then County Executive Frank Smith dissed the complainers.

“They squawk and they holler every time we have a (county) commission meeting. One man in particular, David Beaty, does the most squawking and hollering. It’s time for him to tuck his butt in and go back to the house.”

Beaty, a native of Fentress County, had at least two unpleasant exchanges with Smith over the property tax issue.

During one commission meeting, Smith called Beaty a “dumbass” as he approached the podium to speak during the public comment portion. At the next meeting, Smith ordered a sheriff’s deputy to force Beaty out of the room when Beaty spoke beyond his five-minute limit.

Taxpayers foot the bill for Internet in Tullahoma — yet again

The feds just gave Tullahoma more than $41,000 to create a free Wi-Fi zone downtown, reported the Tullahomanews.com in April.

“With the funds, the city will install at least three outdoor Wi-Fi access points downtown to serve that area with broadband access. The funds will also pay for the first year of broadband service,” the website reported.

The Tullahoma Utilities Board (photo courtesy of TUB's official Facebook page)

The Tullahoma Utilities Board (photo courtesy of TUB’s official Facebook page)

“Though the city is required to open the broadband service contract for bids, it is expected that access will be provided by LightTUBe, the fiber optic division of the Tullahoma Utilities Authority (TUA).”

As Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2016, LightTUBE is the city’s municipal broadband network, which, as of the most recent audit, was more than $1.6 million in debt, per state Comptrollers.

In 2014, Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee told Tennessee Watchdog that city officials have done a poor job attracting customers to its Gigabit service.

LightTUBe’s basic service, meanwhile, had 3,100 customers, according to city officials, about one-third of the market against its main competitor, Charter.

Tullahoma has about 18,000 residents, according to U.S. Census figures.

Knoxville may lay down the law on Airbnb’s

People in Knoxville who run Airbnb’s may have to obtain permits, pay hotel taxes, and provide a point-of-contact within a day’s time if they are out of town, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports in April.

“The ordinance would also limit rentals in residential zones to strictly owner-occupied homes,” the paper reported.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

“Non-owner occupied rentals will be allowed only in other mixed-use zones like those in downtown, the South Waterfront and along Cumberland Avenue.”

Short-term rental permits would cost $70 on owner-occupied homes and $120 for non-owner occupied properties, the paper said.

“Anyone operating a rental without a permit faces fees of $50 per day, according to the proposal,” the paper reported.

“The permits also require all rentals to be equipped with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and a fire extinguisher.”

Tennessee General Assembly members double-dip, newspaper says

In 2016 members of Tennessee’s General Assembly took thousands of dollars of campaign donations and spent that money on food and expenses that taxpayers may have already paid for, the Tennessean reported.

“Dozens of lawmakers — including House and Senate leadership — received nearly $32,000 in daily legislative payments, or per diems, on days when they used campaign money to buy similar items,” the paper reported.

“Lawmakers receive these per diems and mileage reimbursements in addition to their annual salaries.”

Former State Rep. David Shepard told the paper it was “double-dipping.”

Yet another Tennessee county called out for mishandling seized evidence

Tennessee Comptrollers say members of the Hardeman County Sheriff’s Department didn’t maintain an inventory of all the cash they seized, as they were supposed to.

“The failure to adequately inventory seized cash increases the risk of loss. This deficiency is the result of a lack of management oversight,” Comptrollers said in an audit released in April.

Deputies said they disagreed with the findings.

Photo courtesy of Flickr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Photo courtesy of Flickr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

As Tennessee Watchdog reported in January, Gibson’s former police chief seized vehicles without a warrant and only returned them in exchange for a donation to the town’s drug fund.

Auditors have reported similar findings among law enforcement officials in Humphries County, Wartburg, Morristown and Graysville.

The Institute for Justice last year released a study calling Tennessee’s civil forfeiture laws “appalling.”

Audit: State agencies misspending federal money

An audit of certain federal programs administered by Tennessee agencies found $44 million in questioned costs.

State agencies with repeat findings include Human Services (28 findings), Labor and Workforce Development (eight findings), Education (three findings), and Transportation (one finding).

The top 10 Tennessee agencies that receive federal assistance are:

• Health Care Finance and Administration

• Human Services

• Education

• Transportation

• University of Tennessee

• Labor and Workforce Development

• Health

• Tennessee Housing Development Agency

• University of Memphis

• Middle Tennessee State University

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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