News briefs: Waste, fraud and abuse in Tennessee during March 2017

News briefs: Waste, fraud and abuse in Tennessee during March 2017

Bureau Chief’s Note: Tennessee Watchdog is introducing 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.

TN Dept. of Human Services may have wasted $12 million

A new audit trashes the Tennessee Department of Human Services for failing to handle money wisely, says Memphis TV affiliate WMC Action News 5.

The feds sent $14.4 billion to Tennessee, the station reported. Auditors said they found problems with the department’s state summer food program for children, adult education and rehabilitation services.

“Auditors said there were ‘pervasive repeated control and compliance deficiencies and substantial questioned costs’ to the tune of over $12 million,” the station reported.

Nashville libraries want more taxpayer money

Nashville Public Library officials want eight new library branches, and they also want to relocate or reconstruct seven outdated libraries through 2040, the Tennessean reports.

“It would mark the most robust period of library expansion in Nashville since Phil Bredesen was mayor in the 1990s — but millions in Metro capital dollars would need approval over the next two decades for it to happen,” the paper reported.

NASHVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY: Employees are jet-setting around the country to attend seminars preaching left-wing politics (photo courtesy of the Nashville Public Library's Facebook page).

NASHVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY: Employees are jet-setting around the country to attend seminars preaching left-wing politics (photo courtesy of the Nashville Public Library’s Facebook page).

As Tennessee Watchdog reported, Nashville taxpayers shelled out nearly $9,000 in 2016 so library employees could hopscotch around the United States learning about social justice and other left-wing causes.

Chattanooga CVB too lavish with money, state senator says

The Chattanooga Times Free Press published a story this month suggesting the Chattanooga Convention & Visitor’s Bureau spends more money than it should.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told the paper he attended an annual gala luncheon for the bureau, which he described as “very lavish.”

“They spent a ton of money. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know how this benefits tourism,’” Gardenhire said.

The paper said the bureau got an estimated $7.8 million in county hotel-motel tax revenue for the current fiscal year.

County Commissioner Tim Boyd also questioned the bureau’s travel expenses, including roughly $400,000 to remodel rented office space and getting 100 percent of the county’s hotel-motel tax revenue, the paper said.

“CVB is spending $25,000 a month on travel expenses on a regular basis,” Boyd said.

“If the county decided to keep $2 million a year from the tax and give the rest to the CVB, that would be enough to fund $20 million in bonds. That ‘would go a long way toward construction of a new elementary school,’” he added.

Memphis gives away taxpayer money to another company

The Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County approved a $10.4 million tax abatement for Sedgwick Claims Management Services late last month, the Memphis Daily News says.

“The Memphis-based company, which provides technology-enabled risk and benefits solutions, was awarded a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) incentive to expand and consolidate its global corporate headquarters into one location at Southwind,” the paper said.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

CORPORATE WELFARE: Memphis has given out a generous amount of money in corporate welfare, records show. (photo courtesy of Flickr.com and https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

“The tax incentive package will allow the company to invest $33.5 million in capital, retain 865 jobs and create 130 jobs, according to Sedgwick’s PILOT application. The average weighted base salary for the employees will be $68,872, excluding benefits.”

As Tennessee Watchdog reported in November, officials with that agency gave away $1.2 million to lure in International Distributors, USA, even though it was already a few miles away, in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

Cheatham County audit is a mess, state says

State Comptrollers reviewed the finances of the Cheatham County government, and they weren’t subtle in reporting their findings. Auditors said county officials spent $70,675 more than they should have for the General Purpose School Fund and $6,492 more for the Extended School Program Fund.

Auditors said the school system spent more on salaries than they should have using money from those two funds and from the School Federal Projects Fund and the Extended School Program — by amounts ranging from $30 to $91,462.

As for the county sheriff, auditors said its narcotics unit had a cash shortage of $1,145. This is money used for undercover narcotics operations and drug buys.

The audit also said the narcotics unit had lost items seized from drug arrests. The narcotics unit failed to keep an inventory of items seized during those arrests, the audit said.

Members of this narcotics unit, auditors went on, couldn’t even keep up with other required paperwork, including forfeiture forms, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab reports, and towing tickets for vehicles placed in storage.

Memphis Congressman resorts to hyperbole — again

Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Memphis said in a newsletter this month that President Donald Trump’s budget for fiscal 2018 “will thrust America into social and cultural deterioration, a new Dark Ages.”

“President Trump’s FY2018 budget cuts vital programs for many Americans and will send America back to the 1950s, a time which might be revered by President Trump but was not so rosy for women, minorities and low-income Americans,” Cohen said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius promoted Obamacare at a 2013 press conference in Memphis (photo by Chris Butler)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, and then U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius promoted Obamacare at a 2013 press conference in Memphis (photo by Chris Butler)

Cohen said Trump’s budget eliminates all federal funding for the Minority Business Development Agency, the Legal Services Corporation, the Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, and the National Endowment of the Humanities, among others.

Cohen is no stranger to inflammatory rhetoric.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported, Cohen has, among other things:

• Compared tea partyers to arsonists.

• Compared Republicans to hostage takers during the 2013 government shutdown, leading supporters to his official Facebook page to place conservatives in league with the 1963 Birmingham church bombers.

• Griped that the U.S. Senate can’t pass more gun-control legislation because too many Republicans value guns as much as they do Bibles.

• Compared Republicans to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels for opposing Obamacare.

• Stated that the Ebola virus would mutate into a Biblical-style plague that would devastate Tennessee— unless state Republicans in the state’s General Assembly complied fully with Obamacare and expanded Medicaid.

• Seemingly lost his temper at a news conference in Memphis when Tennessee Watchdog asked former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius what she would say to people whose health insurance costs doubled or tripled due to Obamacare.

Clarksville mayor says county officials not doing right by taxpayers

Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan says Montgomery County officials conducted a secret study of a new sports arena in her city without discussing with her, according to Clarksvilleonline.com

“The City owns and controls the streets, and infrastructure such as gas, water, sewer and electric power systems. Yet the county has moved ahead with these plans without ever discussing these ideas with City Hall. That’s simply unwise and not in the best interest of taxpayers,” McMillan told the website.

McMillan said county officials are doing this at the same time they’re “struggling to find money to pay for much-needed school construction.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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