Local

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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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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Attorney Testifies to Extortion in Trial of Hamilton County Commissioner

A witness in the trial of Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd told a jury on Wednesday that he received a call from an attorney who said that Boyd had damaging information about East Ridge Mayor Brent Lambert which would be released if Lambert did not "pull his papers" when running against Boyd, The Chattanoogan reports. Attorney Allen McCallie said the call was from Mike Mallen — his former law partner — regarding a special meeting called by Lambert to ask the East Ridge City Council to approve a deal with Exit One developers. District Attorney Neal Pinkston told the jury the call and follow-up conversations that Lambert secretly recorded went beyond free speech, amounting to extortion, the paper reported.

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Memphis Reevaluates Its Pre-trial Bonding Process

The city of Memphis is evaluating changes to its bail bond system, The Commercial Appeal reports. The Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) received a MacArthur Foundation grant last year to help reduce jail overcrowding, especially related to pre-trial detention. SCSO will use a portion of the grant to update the Pre-Trial Services process, used for everyone brought in by law enforcement. The new system will focus on specific risk factors based on the individual's arrest record and likelihood that they will come to court, replacing current questions that focus on factors that may preference affluent suspects. The new screening process is expected to reduce the number of people jailed by 25 percent or more.

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Former Knoxville Utilities Board Confesses to Embezzling from Law Firm

A former chair of the Knoxville Utilities Board pleaded guilty last Friday to pocketing more than $100,000 from his former law firm, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. John Thomas "Tom" Jones was a senior partner at Jones, Meadows & Wall when he embezzled the money between 2010 and 2015. Jones’ sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 31.

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Hamilton County Commissioners to Vote on New Wastewater Plant

Hamilton County commissioners will vote Wednesday on a proposal to buy land for a new wastewater treatment plant, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The county intends to pay $3 million for the 150-acre site, with the plant expected to cost another $45 million. Funding for the project will come from $125 million in bonds the county sold after a property tax increase last year.

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Several Chattanooga Neighborhoods Added to EPA List of Most Toxic Places

Several Chattanooga neighborhoods are considered among the U.S.'s most toxic places, The Times Free Press reports. The Environmental Protection Agency recently added the Southside Chattanooga Lead Site to its Superfund National Priorities List, making it a top priority for cleanup. The area — which was home to industrial operations that used toxic material as fill and topsoil — tested nearly four times higher than the EPA's benchmark for unsafe lead levels.

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Tullahoma Tax Dispute Headed to Supreme Court

An ongoing lawsuit between the City of Tullahoma and the Coffee County Board of Education (CCBOE) is headed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Tullahoma News reports. The suit stems from the county’s interpretation of two different state statutes regarding collection and distribution of liquor-by-the-drink taxes. The city won the case in the Coffee County Chancery Court but lost when CCBOE appealed the decision. The case is scheduled to be heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Oct. 4.

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Environmental Groups Sue TVA Over Grid Access Charge

Five environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in an attempt to block a new grid access charge scheduled to begin next month, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The plaintiffs maintain that the planned TVA rate changes and cutbacks in renewable and energy efficiency programs will discourage consumers from investing in solar, wind and energy efficiency projects and harm the environment as a result. The new grid access charge is set to take effect Oct. 1 and will require municipalities and power cooperatives to pay a mandatory electricity fee regardless of their energy usage. You can view the complaint here.

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Loudon County Election Commission Affirms City Employee's Exclusion from Ballot

The Loudon County Election Commission on Monday affirmed a decision by the Lenoir City Council contesting candidate Earlena Maples’ qualification for the November ballot due to her 37-year tenure at Lenoir City Utilities Board (LCUB), the Lenior City News-Herald reports. During the meeting, Maples filed a motion contesting council members Mike Henline, Douglas “Buddy” Hines, Jennifer Wampler and Jim Shields from being on the ballot which the election commission will address on a later date. Maples may still opt to take the matter to chancery court.

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