News

Governor-elect Lee Names Agriculture Commissioner

Governor-elect Bill Lee on Monday named his pick for agriculture commissioner, selecting current state veterinarian and Middle Tennessee dairy farmer Charlie Hatcher, the Tennessean reports. The announcement was made at the annual Tennessee Farm Bureau convention in Franklin, where Lee said, “Charlie brings tremendous perspective about our state’s rural resources and agricultural way of life … What happens in rural Tennessee matters to all Tennesseans, and Charlie has the experience to carry out the administration’s key priorities in agriculture and rural economic development.”  As state veterinarian, Lee enforced animal health standards for livestock products and worked with federal officials to accredit Tennessee's practicing veterinarians.

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TVA Seeks Public Input on Future of Coal Ash at Allen Fossil Plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is currently accepting public input regarding options for the closure of its coal ash storage areas at the former Allen Fossil Plant near Memphis to assist in developing an environmental impact statement, according to a press release on its website. TVA estimates that almost 3 million cubic yards of coal ash and other coal combustion residuals remain in the ash impoundments at the site, which was closed in March. 
 
Comments may be submitted online, or sent by email or mail to Ashley Farless, NEPA Compliance Specialist, Tennessee Valley Authority, 1101 Market Street, BR4A-C, Chattanooga, TN 37402. To be considered, comments must be received no later than Jan. 4, 2019. All comments will become part of the project's administrative record, including the names and addresses of those who participate.
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Former Rutherford Judicial Building Could House Police, City Court

The former Rutherford County Judicial Building could soon be home to a Murfreesboro City Court and a police precinct, The Daily News Journal reports. Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland said that the current City Hall is out of space, and the old county judicial building could help alleviate the problem. County officials are also exploring new uses for the building, which is located on the city square and was replaced by the new Judicial Center earlier this year.
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Germantown Mayoral Candidate Files Complaint Over Election Results

John Barzizza, a Germantown alderman who ran for mayor, has a filed a complaint asking for a recount of the results of the Nov. 6 election, The Commercial Appeal reports. The complaint was filed against the Shelby County Election Commission and administrator Linda Phillips, claiming that the election commission failed to distribute, allow, verify and tally absentee and provisional ballots properly. Barzizza challenged Mayor Mike Palazzolo for Germantown's highest seat and lost by 120 votes, according to the results certified by the election commission on Nov. 26. 
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Local Government Forum 2019

The TBA Local Government Section will host its annual forum on Thursday, March 28 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. This seminal seminar has become the must-see, must-do event for municipal leaders across the state, offering guidance and insight on timely topics affecting Tennessee’s communities. This year’s forum will feature presentations on ABC laws, government employment laws, legal ethics in a government setting and more. Attendees and section members will be invited to a social event following the program (more details to come). Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from and engage with community leaders and attorneys of a similar focus. Here are the key details:
 
When: Thursday, March 28, 2019 – Registration begins at 8 a.m., CST
Where: Tennessee Bar Center, 221 Fourth Ave. N., Nashville
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Rutherford County Industrial Development Board Member Faces Federal Fraud Charges

Rutherford County Industrial Development Board (IDB) member and former chairman of the Rutherford County Republican Party Nate Schott has resigned from the board after being indicted on federal fraud charges, The Daily News Journal reports. Schott is accused of using his dental practice to defraud TennCare, DentaQuest, Delta Dental and Cigna by having employees submit false and fraudulent claims. An IDB steering committee will begin reviewing applicants for the vacancy in January; interested parties can apply at the mayor's office on the first floor of the County Courthouse in Murfreesboro.

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Former Accountant Accused of Stealing Nearly $1 Million from Energy Provider

A former accountant for the Meigs County-based Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) has been charged with stealing nearly $1 million from the organization, The Times Free Press reports. Jason Kittle was indicted by a Meigs County grand jury on a charge of theft over $25,000 after an investigation by the State Comptroller's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which were probing suspicious transactions reported by the cooperative. According to the comptroller's office, Kittle stole $735,318 by making 242 transfers from a VEC account to his personal bank account, with another $229,293 stolen by making 204 payments to his personal credit card account. Kittle is claimed to have hidden the embezzlement by recording the fraudulent transactions in VEC's accounting system as online payment fees, returns, or similar transactions, according to auditors. VEC services 115,000 customers in Tennessee, including the communities of Benton, Cleveland, Georgetown, Decatur, Spring City, Crossville, Monterey, Jamestown and Byrdstown.

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Ohio Now Accepts Bitcoin as Tax Payment

Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel said this week that businesses operating in the state will be able to pay for 23 different types of taxes using bitcoin, Huffington Post reports. Businesses will need to register for the program through a website that utilizes a third-party processor, BitPay. The digital currency is converted into dollars and deposited in the state’s account. Bitcoin is the only cryptocurrency currently accepted, but Mandel is looking to add others in the future. This Forbes article analyzes the tax implications for business that choose to use this type of payment, including triggering tax gains and losses.

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House Speaker Nominee Casada Wants to Reinstate Key Oversight Committees

Tennessee Speaker of the House nominee Glen Casada on Wednesday said he wants to revamp the committee system by bringing back House oversight committees regarding "prisons, children and family, and TennCare,” The Tennessean reports. There were 11 joint oversight committees eliminated in 2011 to save on staffing costs, including those overseeing the aforementioned areas. A bill was introduced in 2016 to create a 17-member correction oversight committee, however, the legislation failed to get out of committees in both chambers. Casada said the re-created committees will only be in the House, therefore will not need Senate approval. He is expected to assume speakership in January.

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Audit Reveals Shortcomings with Tennessee Elevator Permits and Inspections

The recently released performance audit report of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development revealed errors made by the Elevator Unit, The Tennessean reports. The unit is responsible for awarding permits and conducting twice-yearly required inspections on the state’s public elevators, escalators, aerial trams and moving walkways, excluding those in Memphis. This results in an estimated 22,000 yearly inspections. Inspectors are able to issue warnings, citations, and even shut down elevators when code violations are found. However, the audit revealed that operating permits were often awarded to owners of elevators with code violations without notice from the owner that the defects had been repaired. Additionally, proof of repairs from the owners were not required and the department failed to conduct follow-up inspections. Auditors found that over half of a random sample of 50 inspections were conducted late by an average of 74 days. Officials from the department say they have made changes to correct these shortcomings, including the implementation of a new permit tracking system and additional staff training.

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Nashville Mayor Halts Public Works Contracts Over Audit Findings

Nashville Mayor David Briley today halted five upcoming public works contracts for capital projects amid questions raised in a recent audit about the department’s close relationship with an engineering contractor, The Tennessean reports. The audit detailed photos showing Brentwood-based Collier Engineering entertaining city officials inside a company suite during sporting events in which the employees did not appear to pay for tickets, violating Metro’s code of ethics on accepting gifts. Briley’s administration further announced plans to hire the city’s first-ever chief compliance officer to review ethics in the city’s procurement process.
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December CLE in 6 Cities

TBA offers CLE in six locations during December. See offerings in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Nashville, Johnson City and Jackson. Find last-minute by the hour through Dec. 31 or take any of the TBA's online CLE packages.
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Brown Named as Recipient of McCutchen Award

Twenty-eighth Judicial District Attorney General Garry G. Brown last week was honored as the recipient of this year’s McCutchen Award, The Jackson Sun reports. Established in 2000 in memory of Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference Director Pat McCutchen, the award is given to a prosecutor who has made a significant effort in the advancement of justice to Tennesseans. Brown is a graduate of the University of Memphis Law School; served as an Assistant District Attorney in the 28th District from 1989 to 1996 and was elected General Sessions Judge in 1998. He became District Attorney in 2000, with subsequent elections in 2002, 2006 and 2014.

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Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility Seeks Disciplinary Counsel – Litigation, Appeals

The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility is seeking a motivated attorney for the position of Disciplinary Counsel – Litigation Section, Appeals. The duties and responsibilities include: investigate and conduct discovery related to complaints of attorney misconduct; prepare pleadings and appear in disciplinary hearings before hearing panels; represent the Board in appellate proceedings before special judges in trial courts and before the Tennessee Supreme Court; prepare and present continuing legal education; and other duties as assigned.
 
Excellent written and oral communication required. Applicants must be licensed in Tennessee and have a minimum of seven (7) years experience in the practice of law. Must have significant experience in appellate advocacy. Practice before the Tennessee Supreme Court is preferred. You can find out more about the position including how to apply by using this link.
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Lawsuit Involving US Nitrogen Pipelines Settled for Undisclosed Amount

A longstanding legal battle between landowners and builders of a double pipeline connecting the Greene County US Nitrogen plant to the Nolichucky River ended this month with a confidential settlement, The Citizen Tribune reports. The landowners initially filed a petition asking Davidson County Chancery Court to stop the installation, with some residents claiming the company trespassed on their property during construction. The pipelines, which are used to transfer water from the river to the plant for use in manufacturing liquid ammonium nitrate then to discharge effluent water back into the river, also came under fire from The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation earlier this year for negatively impacting water quality in the area.

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Supreme Court Rules on the Application of Federal Age Discrimination Law

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 does apply to state and local governments of any size, the ABA Journal reports. The case is Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido.  It involved the layoff of the district’s two oldest full-time firefighters. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 8-0 opinion which was the first of the term. She said that only private employers with less than 20 employees are exempt from the law. Ginsburg has written the first opinion of the term for three years in a row.

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Comptroller Report: Tennessee Cities, Counties Missing $3.7 Million

A new report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury shows that the state’s counties and municipalities have approximately $3.7 million in cash shortages, Knoxnews reports. Some of the shortages are due to misuse of public funds and fraud, such as an Oneida Special School District employee purchasing more than $60,000 worth of items for personal use or a former Knox County Schools mechanic who used school purchasing cards to buy nearly $187,000 in auto parts for his car repair business.
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Incentives For Amazon from Local and State Governments

The Tennessean takes at look at the incentives package provided to Amazon for their announced expansion to Nashville. Amazon is in store for $102 million in combined government incentives from the state of Tennessee and Nashville in exchange for the 5,000 high-paying jobs the company's new operations site in Nashville. The package is lucrative, but is considerably less than was awarded to Volkwagen, Nissan and Hemlock Semiconductor for other past economic development announcements in Tennessee.

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Tennessee Taxpayers on the Hook for Amazon’s Operations Center of Excellence

Tennessee taxpayers will fork over $102 million in cash and tax breaks to secure Amazon’s Operations Center of Excellence in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. Gov. Bill Haslam said that the incentives for the Amazon investment would be repaid in just over a year and that the returns will be immeasurable for years to come. State officials have agreed to only pay if the company hires at least 5,000 employees.

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Tennessee Comptroller Reports $3.7 Million Shortfall in Funds

Tennessee’s counties and municipalities have approximately $3.7 million in cash shortages, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. While fraud cannot be proven in all cases, several recent incidents have contributed to the shortcomings, including state school employees fraudulently purchasing iPads, phone cases and even $187,000 in luxury auto parts for a Knox County Schools mechanic’s personal car repair business. The comptroller's office has set up a hotline to anonymously report misuse of state funds.

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Judge Rules Nashville Expo Center Construction Can Continue

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle recently denied a request for a temporary injunction that sought to halt the construction of new expo center buildings at the fairgrounds as part of the city's new Major League Soccer stadium project, the Tennessean reports. The group Save Our Fairgrounds in September sued Metro over the city's MLS stadium plans, arguing that closing Walsh Road and its surrounding parking lot for the expo center facility would "irreparably harm" the Nashville Flea Market at its current facility.

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Mark Your Calendars!

Tennessean: No People of Color in Tennessee's Top Congressional Staff Positions

Tennessee congressional staffs are among the lowest in the the country in their diversity, The Tennessean reports. According to a study released last week by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, those who serve as full committee staff directors, personal office chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors of Tennessee's U.S. House and U.S. Senate members, were all white. About 25 percent of Tennesseans identify as being persons of color.

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CLE Criminal Law Forum 2018

Stay on top of the trends and developments in this ever-changing area of the law. Join your colleagues Dec. 7 at the Tennessee Bar Center for the Criminal Law Forum. Address essential, timely topics such as how criminal law and immigration law intersect, DNA analysis, mindfulness and well-being by a former judge designed to enrich your practice and expertise in criminal law.

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Daughters of the Confederacy Heats Up Battle Over Franklin Confederate Statue

In a newly filed court argument over a monument in Franklin's public square, the Franklin Daughters of the Confederacy chapter allege that it wasn't possible for the city to own the entire public square, The Tennessean reports. In documents filed in Williamson County Chancery Court, the group argues they own the land that makes up the monument site around their Confederate statue. Ownership came into question after a group of pastors and historians wanted to place new markers on the square depicting African-American history. The Daughters of the Confederacy legal team responded by saying they would sue the city if anything was placed on their land. Hours after, Franklin decided to file a judgement suit to determine who owned the land.
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