TN won’t address gov’t waste this year, but it should, one rep says

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — A few Tennessee lawmakers say this year’s General Assembly won’t address local waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars at the local level, although one legislator sees something it could do.

“The only thing we can do at the state level is increase the penalties for theft,” said Rep. Kent Williams, I-Elizabethton.

Mark Norris

Comptroller Justin Wilson released an audit last week, for instance, that reported two people who work for the town of New Market took at least $40,000 of public money for their own personal use.

“A lot of times, though, on the local level there’s a lot of appointed positions by boards. I think that’s something that could be changed. We could have more elections for more positions. It’s like the water authority board here. We had no control over these boards whatsoever at the state or local level. The board is the board. That’s basically it.

As previously reported, Williams represents Carter County, where Wilson released an audit last year uncovering the theft of $44,000 in cash utility collections at the Watauga River Regional Water Authority.
“A lot of times people get on these boards as a result of political favors,” Williams said, adding that it’s a major problem at a lot of the state’s water authority boards.
State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, meanwhile, told Tennessee Watchdog that legislators generally address these problems at Wilson’s request. Norris’ district includes Arlington.
“Oftentimes this boils down to a person’s individual, moral decisions. If there are no adequate measures to catch them timely, then it usually comes from the bottom up on the local level,” Norris said.

“The human condition causes this to happen evenly, the same amount in the private sector as in the public sector, but perhaps in the public sector there are more crossing guards to catch it and air it publicly. It’s hard to say what happens in the private sector that you never hear about.”

Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, represents a district that also includes Arlington, where, Wilson reported this month, the school’s former financial secretary used $142,000 of school money for personal use. Lollar said the procedures already in place work fine to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse.
In his audit, Wilson, as he so often does in other reports, cited that the secretary’s sole access to that money, without any accountability to anyone else, is a major reason these problems happen.

“Everything that’s been recommended that we can do to make local governments more transparent we’ve pretty much implemented,” said State Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah.

Vance Dennis

Dennis’ district includes Wayne County, where Wilson posed serious questions this month about how local officials spent state and local grant money.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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