local government

Billboards used to push Memphis funding for schools

A week after Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland largely dismissed a new coalition’s call for $10 million in city spending on schools, the group is taking its message to billboards, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee.

Fund Students First — comprised of elected officials, education advocates and public school leaders — posted two billboards Friday in high-trafficked streets in downtown and midtown Memphis. The campaign is being underwritten by Stand for Children, a national education advocacy group with offices in Memphis and Nashville.

One billboard says:

standforchildren

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Shelby Commissioner Justin Ford charged with domestic violence

Shelby County Commissioner Justin Ford was released from jail Monday afternoon following his arrest earlier in the day after his girlfriend accused him of punching and choking her during an argument, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The 32-year-old faces charges of aggravated assault/domestic violence and false imprisonment.

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Sheriff pleads guilty to sex with women inmates, beating man

Fentress County Sheriff Chucky Cravens has pleaded guilty to bribing female inmates for sex and beating a male prisoner, reports the Cookeville Herald-Citizen.

Cravens, 47, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday after an investigation that began barely more than a week before. The official charges were three counts of honest services fraud and one count of deprivation of rights under color of law. The charges stem back from July to as recently as March 1.

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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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TBI: Police officer pawned department pistols

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

NASHVILLE – Special Agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have obtained an indictment for a former police officer who is now facing charges of Theft and Official Misconduct.

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‘Petland bill’ passes Senate, fails in House

A bill setting state standards for pet store operations while restricting their regulation by local governments was approved by the Senate but then failed on the House floor Monday evening after extensive debate.

The final House vote was 45 yes, 47 no with two present and not voting. Fifty votes are required for passage. The measure known as “the Petland bill” (SB519) had passed the Senate 19-11.

Much of the debate in both chambers came over amendments to exempt various counties and cities from being covered the bill sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville.

All such efforts failed in the Senate, but the House approved three of 13 such efforts – applying to Blount County, Sumner County and the City of Hendersonville. All the amendment votes were close – ties in two cases.

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TDEC fines Memphis $512K for sewage spill

A year after ruptures in the Memphis wastewater system began spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage into local streams and lakes, Tennessee environmental regulators issued an order Thursday assessing at least $512,857 in penalties and damages against the city, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The order signed by Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau cited the ruptures of a 96-inch interceptor, a 60-inch pipe and a 42-inch line that occurred between March 31 and April 18, 2016, after heavy rain washed out the stream banks in which the pipes were buried.

State officials estimate that more than 350 million gallons of untreated wastewater poured into Cypress Creek and McKellar Lake in Southwest Memphis, killing at least 72,000 fish. The rupture of the 42-inch pipe along the Loosahatchie River, along the city’s northern edge, spewed at least 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage before crews finished a bypass line that ended the leak.

The order calls for Memphis to pay $359,855.98 into a state natural resource damages fund and ante up a civil penalty of at least $49,920 and more if it fails to comply with environmental-restoration work prescribed by the department. In addition, city must some $61,929 in damages to TDEC and $41,153 to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which investigated the fish kill.

…The order isn’t final until 30 days after its issuance, and the city can file an appeal that would be heard by an administrative law judge.

West TN alderman indicted for voter fraud

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

MEMPHIS – An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the indictment of a Moscow City Alderman on charges of violating election laws. 

At the request of 25th District Attorney General Mike Dunavant, on November 1, 2016, TBI Special Agents began investigating Virgil Jones on complaints of election law fraud. Jones is an Alderman for the city of Moscow, in Fayette County. During the course of the investigation, Agents developed information that while Jones does own property in Moscow, his actual residence is in Whiteville, in Hardeman County, and he listed the fraudulent address on elections records for the purpose of running for the Alderman position. Additionally, a review of election records indicates that while Jones has lived in Whiteville, he has been a registered voter in Moscow and has voted there for numerous elections.

On Monday, the Fayette County Grand Jury returned indictments charging  Virgil Jones (DOB 8/11/1964) with one count of False Entry on Official Registration or Election Document, one count of Perjury and False Statement on Official Election Documents, and five counts of Voter Fraud. Jones turned himself in to TBI Special Agents on Tuesday and was booked into the Fayette County Jail. His bond was set at $10,000.

Legislature overrides local marijuana decriminalization

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a bill to override Nashville and Memphis city ordinances that authorized a civil penalty of $50 for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Senate vote was 26-5. The House gave approval 65-28 last week. Sponsors were Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown. The bill (HB173) now goes to the governor for his expected signature.

“The last thing we need to do is create a patchwork of laws in this state regarding criminal conduct,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, in supporting the bill in a Senate floor speech.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, noted the Nashville and Memphis ordinances both gave police officers discretion on when to issue a citation instead of making an arrest under state law while the bill’s language prohibits “any policy guideline or practice” by local governments on marijuana laws that is contrary to state law.

In doing so, Yarbro said, the bill with that language is effectively prohibiting officers from use of their discretion, something that is common practice statewide every day.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said the bill puts the legislature on “a slippery slope” of taking control away from local elected officials when they should be given more flexibility, not less.

Johnson countered that “the slippery slope is when we start allowing local governments to decide which laws they want to enforce and which ones they do not want to enforce.”

Bill would fix foulup blocking sewer authority loans

Two legislators are looking for an emergency patch after a law they passed last year to dissolve Hamilton County’s sewer authority in 2011 cost the agency access to loans, reports the Times-Free Press.

State officials balked at approving some $13 million in new revolving loans for the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority because it wasn’t clear what successor entity or local government would repay them if the WWTA went away.

“Someone in the attorney general’s office put a stop on those” loans, said Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. “We got notice the state revolving funds were not coming.”

Carter and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, say they thought the loan issue had been resolved last year … Watson’s bill (SB951) to address the concerns and permit new loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Program is scheduled for Senate floor action this afternoon. But Watson said he may delay a final vote… “just to make sure everybody understands you can’t walk away from these state funds.”

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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