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 state Comptrollers, some of it reported by other media. Look for these to run every month.
Yet another California artist gets taxpayer money for TN public art
A Los Angeles artist will design one of Memphis’ most expensive public art projects at taxpayer expense, according to Memphis TV station WREG.
The “I Am a Man” art project will cost $700,000, the station reported, adding it’s one of the city’s most expensive public art projects.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported last year, city officials paid another California artist $300,000 to create a 103-foot-tall sculpture near the Memphis International Airport.
As Tennessee Watchdog also reported, Nashville officials paid $300,000 last year for an exhibit commemorating the Civil Rights movement, but the artist lived some 2,000 miles away in Oakland, California.
Three years ago, Nashville taxpayers paid $750,000 so an abstract artist from California could construct large multi-colored sticks and place them partially upright near the Music City Center downtown.
Meanwhile, “Tool Fire,” built in 2013, consists of several shovels, rakes and pickaxes glued together and placed on display along the Shelby Bottoms Greenway.
For that project, the city paid an Alabama artist $30,000.
Nashville taxpayers also paid two Seattle artists $350,000 to create a sculpture at Nashville’s West Riverfront Park symbolizing the Cumberland River.
Another art project, “Ghost Ballet,” cost Nashville taxpayers $340,600. New York City artist Alice Aycock was responsible for that project.
Brighton officials overspent $17,000
Brighton officials spent more than $17,000 in various funds, according to an audit Tennessee Comptrollers released in June.
“Total expenditures exceeded the amount appropriated in the approved budgets of the General Fund, State Street Aid Fund, and Drug Funds by approximately $2,000, $15,000, and $100, respectively,” according to the audit.
Memphis may give out more PILOT money
Yet another business wants PILOT (Payment-In-Lieu-of-Tax) money from the Memphis and Shelby County governments, according to the Memphis Daily News.
The developers of the Tennessee Brewery Project want a 20-year tax abatement for the second phase of their mixed-use development in downtown Memphis, the website went on.
Specifically, they want to build a four-story building estimated to cost about $12.3 million.
As reported, previous recipients of PILOT money in Memphis include Sedgwick Claims Management Services and International Distributors.
McEwen officials spent street money on a new car
McEwen officials spent $14,500 meant for street improvements on a new vehicle, according to Tennessee Comptrollers.
Town officials are using the vehicle for unspecified general purposes, the audit went on to say.
In response, town officials said the State Street Aid Fund will reimburse the General Fund.
“I was advised not to purchase any more vehicles out of the State Street Aid Fund because we do not have a Street Department,” an unnamed town manager told Comptrollers.
Medicaid overcharged enormous sum of money in Tennessee
The Mayfield Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna charged Medicaid nearly $208,000 of non-allowable Medicaid expenses, according to Tennessee Comptrollers.
“The adjustment to allowable costs consisted of marketing salaries, marketing expenses, expenses charged to the wrong facility, physical therapy, unsupported expenses, expenses that were expensed twice, and late fees,” according to the audit.
In a separate audit, Comptrollers called out the Lewis County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hohenwald for charging more than $9,000 of non-allowable Medicaid expenses — including marketing.
Sullivan County residents prep for higher property taxes
Sullivan County residents may have to start paying higher property taxes, according to the Bristol-based WCYB.
The reason — a settlement between the county and its sheriff’s office after Sheriff Wayne Anderson sued the county, saying his department didn’t get enough money, the TV station reported.
“The settlement gives all Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office employees a five percent pay raise and it adds 18 positions to the office,” the station reported.
“It also gives Sheriff Anderson a $150,00 bonus pool to use at his discretion and requires the county to cover Anderson’s legal fees. In return, Anderson agreed not to challenge next year’s funding plan.”
Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable told the station that finding funding for the 2017-2018 fiscal year is now a challenge.
East TN tennis coach may have stolen more than $100,000 from school
East Tennessee State University may have reimbursed a former tennis coach more than $105,000 in questionable expenses, according to Johnson City TV station WJHL.
That coach, Yaser Zaatini, may have fabricated, forged, or altered documents, according to an investigation done by school auditors.
Zaatini, the audit went on, may have broken four state laws, including theft of property, forgery, and official misconduct.
Tennessee Comptrollers are doing their own audit on this matter, the station reported.
UT lobbyist makes six-figure salary
The University of Tennessee spends $161,063 a year on a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The paper went on to say that the school spends $560,000 per year on lobbyists in Nashville.
That lobbyist, Kurt Schlieter, works out of his house.
“Other public state universities in Tennessee do not have a Washington lobbyist,” the paper reported.
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