Memphis region dominates headlines for waste, fraud and abuse in May

Memphis region dominates headlines for waste, fraud and abuse in May

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.

Memphis taxpayers pay for ‘Chill, don’t kill’

FOX 13 of Memphis reported in May that Mayor Jim Strickland is paying a public relations firm $300,000 of taxpayer money to help fight crime in the city.That firm, Trust Marketing and Communications, is to produce a series of anti-violence ads for television and radio during a six-month contract.

“Under the terms, the contract can be extended, or renewed twice, which means taxpayers could ultimately pay $900,000 to Trust Marketing,” FOX 13 reported.

“Since the contract is a professional services agreement, it does not require approval from the Memphis City Council.”

The station went on to say that city officials have used this company before on similar ads with tag lines such as “chill, don’t kill,” and “gun crime is jail time.”

City officials will decide in August whether to renew the contract, FOX 13 reported.

Tennessee loses out on business ranking list due to taxes

Tennessee has lost its ranking as one of the top five states to do business, according to Chief Executive Magazine.

“Tennessee scored particularly high for its taxation and regulation environment, one of several issues the magazine surveys top executives about to compile its rankings,” the Nashville Business Journal reported.

“Several fellow Southeastern states beat Tennessee on the list, including Texas (which topped the list for the 13th-straight year), Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana and Nevada.”

Coffee County facility may cost taxpayers half a million dollars

 The Manchester Times reports that the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center may lose $500,000 this fiscal year.

County officials projected 17 years ago that the facility would lose only $25,000, the website reported.

“In addition to equally sharing the operating losses, Coffee County taxpayers, including those who live within the city limits of Tullahoma, and taxpayers who live in Manchester still pay for the original bond on the building’s construction,” the Manchester Times said.

The building cost $3.5 million to construct, the paper went on to say.

“Since the center opened, Manchester and Coffee County taxpayers have had to pay between $140,000 and $180,000 annually in operating costs. The losses amount to approximately $2.4 million for Manchester and county taxpayers.”

Calhoun police chief busted on extortion charges 

News Channel 9 of Chattanooga reports that Calhoun’s former police chief and an officer allegedly extorted two arrestees by seizing personal property until the arrestees contributed money to the police department’s drug fund.

The McMinn County Grand Jury indicted both Julie Tanksley, the former police chief, and former officer Charles Godsey this month, the station reported.

“Tanksley is the current police chief in Graysville in Rhea County,” the station added.

Port of Cates still getting taxpayer money, despite no jobs   

 The State Gazette reports that the Port of Cates Landing will get an additional $840,000, courtesy of the new Tennessee state budget.

As Tennessee Watchdog has already reported, the port, 90 miles north of Memphis, was supposed to create at least 2,000 jobs after getting $15 million in federal stimulus money in 2010.

To get the stimulus package, area officials said companies such as Con-Agra and Nucor Steel wanted to do business at the port.

As Tennessee Watchdog exclusively reported in 2010, Con-Agra officials later denied that.

As reported, the port has created zero jobs.

NO BUSINESS: Despite lots of promises — and lots of federal stimulus money — the Port of Cates has so far failed to bring jobs to the region (photo courtesy of Facebook).

County mayors, county commissioners, a congressman and even academics at Middle Tennessee State University predicted in 2010 that the new port along the Mississippi River would deliver economic salvation.

Local, state and federal money paid for the first $35 million, and stimulus money paid for the rest. The port opened four years ago in Lake County.

This new money will be used for a rail spur and a 200-ton crane, the Star Gazette reported.

Haywood County still looking for tenants for TVA megasite

Tennessee taxpayers have spent more than $140 million on a megasite the past eight years that has yet to attract any tenants, the Jackson Sun reports.

“Many in the region have placed their hope in the Megasite one day securing the tenant that could potentially transform West Tennessee,” the paper reported.

“The Megasite, which is located 30 miles outside of Memphis and 12 miles outside of Brownsville, has had Hankook Tire Company and Sentury Tire Americas look at the site in recent years but both companies picked Clarksville and LaGrange, Georgia, respectively.”

Significant work remains on the project, the Jackson Sun added.

Hawkins County raise taxes after threat from Comptroller

Hawkins County commissioners voted this month to increase the county’s wheel tax by $40, which is their response to their own inability to balance the county budget, Johnson City TV station WJHL reported.

The Tennessee Comptrollers Office this month ordered county commissioners to balance the county budget.

The county has a $2 million deficit, according to the station.

“Less than half of the 21 commissioners were present Monday morning when Chief of Staff, Jason Mumpower told commissioners that Hawkins County is in the worst financial shape of any county in the state,” the station reported.

If they don’t balance the budget, the station quoted Mumpower as saying, Comptrollers would step in and do it for them, as Tennessee law permits, the station went on.

“If a decision is not made by July 1, Mumpower says commissioners’ salaries and insurance would be the first cuts,” the station said.

If Comptrollers had to step in, state officials would also eliminate all discretionary expenditures in the county.

Collierville gives tax abatement to new business

Collierville officials are giving a 10-year tax abatement to Mueller Industries so the company can move its corporate headquarters there, the Memphis Daily News reports.

The company has 120 employees who make an average of $89,000 per year, the website reported.

Mueller was also considering moving to Germantown, Fayette County, and Olive Branch, the website added.

Memphis EDGE gives away more incentives

Memphis’ Economic Development Growth Engine Board this month gave tax incentives to a gas fermentation facility and a corn mill, and to expand an existing health facility, the Memphis Daily News reports.

As reported last year, EDGE is an unelected board of 11 people in Memphis and Shelby County.

Mayors from both the city and the county appoint the 11 board members. Memphis officials have already given away plenty in incentive packages. Last year, as reported, they used EDGE to snag away a company that was right across the state line in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Memphis TV station WREG reported this month that EDGE members want to give tax breaks to new developers to build apartment complexes in the city.

Memphis Airport project goes over budget

A new project at the Memphis International Airport has gone thousands of dollars over the originally approved budget, according to the Memphis Business Journal.

DEPARTURE: A flight on its way out of the Memphis International Airport (photo courtesy of the Memphis International Airport’s Facebook page).

“In June 2014, the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority asked its board to approve an overall budget of $6.8 million to design and plan multiple consolidated de-icing pads,” the MBJ reported this month.

“As the airport started to work with FedEx Corp. and its passenger airline partners, it identified additional amenities to meet their needs, including the latest amendment, which will put the contract $5,240 over the originally approved budget.”

The original budget for the project is $6 million.

Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority Director of Development James A. Hay II told the MBJ that total costs could exceed the budget even further.

Englewood gets bad audit

A town of Englewood employee who resigned accepted 400 hours of unused vacation time, according to an audit Tennessee Comptrollers released this month.

“The employee did not complete a time card or time sheet, so it was uncertain how much unused vacation he had when he resigned,” Comptrollers wrote.

Comptrollers also called out town officials for allowing one unnamed company to dump waste at the town’s sewer plant without a written agreement.

Also, town employees got blasted for not recording vehicle odometer readings when fueling vehicles, calling into question “the propriety of fuel purchases.”

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