comptroller

Comptroller catches government thieves in Claiborne, Fayette, Jefferson, Sumner counties

The ever-vigilant state comptroller’s office reports finding thievery afoot at Powell Valley Elementary School in Claiborne County, the city recorder’s office in the Sumner County city of Gallatin, a parks office and a school system Fayette County and at the New Market Volunteer Fire Department in Jefferson County in recent auditing of local government entities.

There are also “several questions” about activities at the town of Oakland in Fayette County generally along with the indictment of an official who worked both for the town and as athletic director of Fayette County schools.

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Comptroller finds more missing money in DHS nutrition programs

News release from state comptroller’s office

Comptroller Justin P. Wilson has released investigations detailing serious issues within two organizations working under the Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program respectively.

The Comptroller’s Office worked in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General in its investigation of All About Giving, Inc. All About Giving, a nonprofit organization formerly located in Nashville and Knoxville, assisted daycare homes by submitting meal reimbursement requests to DHS for meals provided to children.

Investigators questioned several large cash withdrawals and expenditures made by All About Giving. Questionable expenditures included money spent on Xbox, Google Live, Big Fish Games, Shoe Carnival, Perfume Paradise, and in-state and out-of-state hotel charges. Investigators analyzed $230,569.33 of expenditures and found documentation to support only $19.60 for postage stamp purchases.

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Comptroller puts TN school funding calculator online

News release from state Comptroller’s office

Tennessee’s K-12 public schools depend on the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) formula to distribute nearly $4.4 billion in state funding. For years the BEP has been calculated by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) without any way to verify the results. Now, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has created a method to independently calculate and verify the BEP.

The Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability has reconstructed the entire BEP calculation from scratch using input data for student enrollment, unit costs, and other factors.

The Comptroller is also bringing transparency to the BEP formula by making its BEP Calculator publicly available to all Tennesseans. Details and dollar amounts for every school district in Tennessee can now be downloaded from the Comptroller’s website. Users can even create their own scenarios using different inputs – teacher salaries, insurance premiums, etc. – to see how changes impact BEP allocations.

The Comptroller has also created an interactive map where you can easily view of snapshot of essential BEP facts and figures for each of Tennessee’s 141 school districts.

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Title IX complaints increase at UT, Board of Regents

A state Comptroller’s report says the number of Title IX complaints reported at the University of Tennessee and the state Board of Regents has increased in the past year and more than doubled in the last year, reports The Tennessean.

At UT, there were 129 complaints reported system-wide in fiscal year 2016, compared to 54 in 2015 and just one in 2013. The board reported 200 complaints in fiscal year 2016, up from 174 in the previous year and 76 in 2013.  (Note: The report is HERE.)

Officials from both the Board of Regents and the university said the rise in complaints is indicative of an increase in reporting and changes in reporting requirements, as opposed to an increase in actual Title IX violations, which may include gender discrimination, sexual harassment or domestic violence between students.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Jenny Richter, Title IX coordinator for the University of Tennessee Knoxville and associate vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equity and Diversity. “We know these types of complaints are under-reported and I think the efforts made by (the Center for Health Education and Wellness) to educate our students, efforts by our faculty, by people at high administrative efforts, the training efforts we’ve made are bound to bring some focus to it.”

…The rise also coincides with a federal lawsuit against the university alleging a “hostile sexual environment” and accusing the school of mismanaging sexual assault cases. The case was settled in July for $2.48 million.

Richter said she was not surprised to see a difference in the number of complaints reported between institutions of higher education and other state entities, where no more than one complaint was reported in 2016, if at all.

As terms of the lawsuit settlement, the university was required to adopt a list of “Title IX enhancements” including adding summaries of prevention programs and training to data reports and sexual misconduct between students, ending the practice of distributing written lists of lawyers to student athletes and enhancing and and enforcing mandatory sexual assault training for UT employees. 

The university also announced plans for an independent commission to review policies and programs related to sexual misconduct and the hire of six new staff members to work on sexual assault prevention and awareness.

Many of those changes fell into place after July, while the report shows the number of complaints for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Comptroller drafts model open records policy

News release from state comptroller’s office:

For the first time in state history, Tennessee government entities now have a model policy to help define how public records requests are handled.

The Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) established a model public records policy to assist all Tennessee government entities. The model policy was created after Representative Bill Dunn and Senator Richard Briggs led the passage of Public Chapter 722 during the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

Public Chapter 722 requires every governmental entity subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act to establish a written public records policy by July 1, 2017. The policy must be adopted by the appropriate governing authority, and the OORC model policy will serve as a helpful resource.

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Comptroller finds ‘multiple’ violations of law by Rutherford County sheriff

News release from state Comptroller’s office:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has completed its review of numerous problems within the Rutherford County’s Sheriff’s Office. Many of the issues involve Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and Chief Deputy of Administration Joe Russell, who are currently facing a 14-count federal indictment.

Investigators determined that Sheriff Arnold and Chief Deputy Russell violated multiple state and local laws, policies and procedures by concealing their relationship with JailCigs. JailCigs is a Marietta, Georgia-based company that sells e-cigarettes to inmates, including inmates within the Rutherford County Jail.

Sheriff Arnold failed to disclose his conflict of interest with JailCigs even though he and his wife received a combined $66,790 from the company from December 2013 through April 2015. Chief Deputy Russell received $52,234.41 from JailCigs over that same period. Arnold and Russell also violated county purchasing policies by circumventing the process and failing to solicit bids.

When Comptroller investigators interviewed Sheriff Arnold regarding his conflict of interest, he stated, “The Sheriff is exempt from all policies and procedures.” He could not provide documentation to support his statement.

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Comptroller: TN taxpayers losing money on $200 million TNInvestco program

News release from state comptroller’s office

A performance audit from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has revealed the State of Tennessee has only recovered $5.3 million of its initial $200 million investment in the TNInvestco program.

The TNInvestco program, which started in 2009 and 2010, is described as a public-private venture capital program intended to help start-up companies create jobs and for the state to eventually receive a return on its investment. As of December 31, 2015, the State of Tennessee has only received 2.6% of the initial investment.

The TNInvestco program will continue until 2021, and the state should recoup more of its investment; however, the department will likely not receive a return nearing $200 million. Although state law does not require any level of recovery, auditors recommend the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) regularly report the amounts returned to the program to the public and the Tennessee General Assembly.

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Audit says waiting time at driver license stations longer than reported

A new comptroller’s audit raises doubts about the accuracy of how the Haslam administration measures wait times for driver’s license applicants at Department of Safety and Homeland Security-run license stations, reports the Times-Free Press.

The problem?

“[W]ait times are measured from the time a client receives a ticket at the driver license station, not when the client first enters the line at the state, to the time the examiner enters the client’s transaction into the computer upon the transactions,” auditors from Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office said.

…Regarding the driver wait time issue, auditors visited several stations to see how it all worked for themselves.

“Although we did not see lines outside the buildings during the middle of the day, some clients stated that they did wait a considerable amount of time before they got their tickets,” the 49-page audit says.

Some auditors were told of waits as long as two hours. The department is supposed to get transactions processed in under 30 minutes.

…Auditors noted the first step in the Driver Services Division’s Q-Matic computer system process, which is used to track wait times, calls for issuing tickets to each application either upon entering the (station) or, if the line is longer, setting the ticket issuer up outside the station.

“Driver license station staff are clearly not doing this,” auditors said and then went on to raise the key issue. “Without taking into consideration when clients first attempt to get services at the stations (i.e., when they first enter a line), the division cannot accurately measure all customer service delays at these stations.”

Note: The full audit report is HERE.

Ashe asks comptroller review of museum leader’s pay raise

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum, has asked state Comptroller Justin Wilson to “review and investigate” circumstances surrounding a $23,000 boost in annual pay given in April to Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the museum’s longtime executive director.

Ashe has also questioned the propriety of a $40,000 job approved for Riggins-Ezzell that will take effect after her retirement on Dec. 31. The new position as a fundraiser was approved last week by the Tennessee state Museum Foundation (previous post HERE.).

And he says the $95,500 contract recently awarded to Carter Balwin Inc., an Atlanta-based executive search company, to seek a successor to Riggins-Ezzell seems excessive, given  that the University of Tennessee is paying $75,000 for the search for a successor to retiring UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

Excerpt from the News-Sentinel:

Riggins-Ezell began 2016 with an annual salary set at $90,216 that has been increased to $113,940 currently, according to Ashley Fuqua, public information officer for the state Department of Human Resources. Almost all that increase came in April, following a discussion of salaries at a meeting of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, as the museum oversight board is officially known.

Both Thomas Smith, current chairman of the commission, and state Rep. Steve McDaniel, who was chairman in April, say they were unaware of the Riggins-Ezell pay raise until Ashe reported the increase and raised questions about how it was approved in a series of emails to commission members and media last week.

Fuqua, however, said the department has a form – signed by McDaniel – authorizing the April salary increase. McDaniel, who earlier said he did not remember the pay raise or any action approving it, said when told of the form that he must have been mistaken.

“I still don’t recall it, but if they say I did, I guess I did,” he said in a telephone interview. McDaniel said he does recall filling out an evaluation of Riggins-Ezzell and “giving her the highest marks I possibly could.”

Ashe said he thinks the full commission should have voted on a salary increase of 25 percent and questioned whether the chairman – “if he did actually sign the form” – could act on his own. Smith said he understands that the commission chairman is entitled to approve pay raises without a commission vote, though he is still seeking more information on the situation.

… Besides getting a pay raise herself, Riggins-Ezzell also approved salary increases for two museum staffers who work closely with her – Mary Jane Crockett-Green, director of administration, and Sharon Dennis, her executive assistant. Crockett-Green got a pay raise of about 25 percent – on the same level as Riggins-Ezzell – that puts her current salary at $6,449 per month or $77,348 annually. Dennis received a pay raise of $7,716 per year – though a portion of that was a regular step increase not tied to the executive director’s approval – that makes her current annual salary $46,521.

Note: Text of Ashe’s email request to the comptroller is below.

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TN comptroller, treasurer, secretary of state seeking new terms

The state’s three constitutional officers – Comptroller Justin Wilson, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Treasurer David Lillard – are all planning to seek new terms in office when the Tennessee General Assembly votes to fill the positions in January, reports the News Sentinel.

Hargett and Lillard have been widely expected to go for new terms, though there has been some speculation that Wilson, 71, was considering retirement. But in an interview last week, the former cabinet member in Gov. Don Sundquist’s administration said he had decided to seek another two-year term, though it might be his last.

All three of the men, elected to office in 2009 when Republicans first gained a majority of seats in the state Legislature, are unlikely to face opposition. Under the state constitution, the comptroller and treasurer serve two-year terms; the secretary of state serves a four-year term.

Wilson, a longtime donor to Republican political causes, won his first term after some attention to donations of $36,500 he made to Republican legislators and PACs a year before Republican legislators elected him to the office. Wilson has stopped making direct donations to candidates, but has continued as a significant donor to Republican-oriented PACs.

On the other hand, Wilson says he has ceased making political contributions to either candidates or PACS involved in elections for federal office, having decided that as a state official the contests or Congress and the presidency are “none of my business.”

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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