People are ratcheting up the pressure on Providence Community Corrections and Rutherford County amid a federal legal battle over the probation services run by the private company here.
Rutherford Reader Publisher Pete Doughtie filed a complaint recently with the Rutherford County Ethics Committee in an effort to force the county to answer questions about its contract and determine whether any conflicts of interest are coming into play.
The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is also looking into PCC’s activity in Rutherford County, opening up a formal complaint based on a federal lawsuit filed in Nashville.
“We are still waiting on PCC’s response to our inquiry. We are looking into the allegations for any violations of the Private Probation Services Council’s laws and rules,” said Kevin Walters, spokesman for the Department of Commerce and Insurance.
State Rep. Mike Sparks said he spoke with the state department about the lawsuit and concerns he has about the probation system here.
“They were very concerned about these allegations,” says Sparks, a Smyrna Republican who believes PCC could be charging exorbitant fees to probationers and then violating them if they fail to pay.
One of the key complaints in a federal lawsuit brought against PCC and the county is that people, especially poor people, are being jailed if they can’t afford the fees, in addition to court costs and fines, and being kept in the system for several years, often finding themselves still owing hundreds of dollars even after they paid off all their legal encumbrances.
Doughtie says he grew interested in PCC’s business here when he attended a federal court hearing in Nashville and found out, for instance, probationers are being charged $160 to do community service, such as picking up trash, as part of their probation requirements.
“The money rolls in,” Doughtie says. “It’s almost like they’re signing to get a loan.”
Doughtie’s complaint references the federal lawsuit brought by Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law firm, which points toward “constitutional violations and possible corruption” in the probation system. The county handed probation services over to private supervision more than a decade ago because the Circuit Court Clerk’s office was struggling to collect fines and fees.
PCC reported it closed 7,191 cases and collected $4.1 million in fines in 2013 for Rutherford County and from 2009 through 2013 it closed 32,200 cases and collected $17.1 million for the county. PCC State Director Sean Hollis also reported the office collected $3.1 million for Smyrna Municipal Court and $850,232 for Cannon County General Sessions and Circuit courts during that five-year period.
However, Rutherford County reported revenue of only $1.2 million in fines and fees for last budget year and put about that same amount into the current budget. PCC more or less cuts the county a check and then it is divided up between all the parties designated to receive the money.
Doughtie questions whether the county has audited PCC’s performance and financial records, whether state laws have changed in regard to such contracts and whether any county government or judicial system employees own stock in PCC, a public-traded company, or affiliated companies. He also asks whether the county attorney should handle this case since conflicts of interest could arise because Chancellor Howard Wilson and his business partner, Chuck Ward, own the West Main Street building where PCC is housed. They put it up for sale in 2014 after Wilson won election to avoid conflicts of interest.
Rutherford County officials have declined to answer questions, other than in court, since the lawsuit was filed. It’s also hard to tell whether the Ethics Committee will be able to dig in very much on this matter, since it’s in litigation.
Still, Doughtie’s questions are legitimate. And considering a great deal of taxpayers’ money could be on the line, somebody is obligated to answer them.
The Never-Ending Debate
Depending on whom you’re listening to, Muslims are evil incarnate or they’re peace-loving individuals who are unfairly linked to the terrorists inflicting damage in Syria and Europe.
The truth is: They’re probably both.
To this point, we’ve seen no evidence the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is bent on destroying Rutherford County, although some people say the congregation is just waiting to build strength before it wreaks havoc.
On the other hand, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is clearly intent on doing harm in the Middle East, destroying lives and some of the world’s great antiquities, bombing Paris and planning other European targets, in addition to strategizing hits on the United States.
President Barack Obama said recently there’s no credible evidence ISIS is planning an attack on America. He shouldn’t speak too soon, because if they’re breathing they’re probably lurking.
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a Republican who served under Obama before leaving because of disagreements about the handling of ISIS, believes military tactics alone won’t stop this Islamic organization. Political alliances must be forged, he said recently on CNN, and America might have to wind up partnering with Russia and even Iran to deal ISIS a death blow. Forging alliances could help economically as well to quell the discontent that births this type of insanity.
Oddly enough, Russia and America are both fighting ISIS now, but while Russia is backing the president of Syria, America is trying to boot him out. Somehow or another, world powers are going to have to forge some sort of agreement putting all emphasis on destroying ISIS and laying old disagreements aside.
Then again, this is what happens when democratic republics such as the United States try to shape the world in their own image. I’ve got news: We ain’t God. We can’t control every dictator in the Middle East and force democracy on people who wouldn’t know George Washington from Vladimir Lenin.
It didn’t work with Iraq or Afghanistan, and it won’t work in Syria. As Hagel says, it’s time to put political heads together—and military—with Europe, Russia, Britain and anyone else who wants to join in. We need to get rid of these people who want everyone to be as miserable as they are.
Forrest Hall Flap Won’t Fade
No matter what decision is made on the name of MTSU’s Forrest Hall, this issue won’t die.
Named for Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1958, the university’s ROTC training building has drawn fire from students since the late 1960s. During most protests over the matter in the last 50 years, students have called for Forrest’s name to be removed.
Yes, he was a great commander for Southern troops more than 150 years ago, coming to the aid of local residents. But he was a slave trader before the Civil War and is believed to have been the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the war.
So here we are today, most of us with a completely different perspective on race and freedom than the South held in the 1800s. Thus, students, including black and white, believe Forrest’s name should go.
Those who want to hold on to history—or maybe learn from it—say Forrest’s name should stay. Sen. Bill Ketron is one of those, and he serves on the task force and will hold a strong voice once the panel gathers information, holds public forums and starts its discussion.
At least one group of students believes MTSU President Sidney McPhee should go ahead and remove Forrest’s name instead of waiting for the task force to make a recommendation in April. Any decision McPhee makes must go to the Board of Regents and possibly other groups for a final call.
The students say either MTSU stands for racism or stands against it, and they’re planning to escalate protests.
But if McPhee calls for a name change, pro-history or pro-Southern people will be irritated with what they believe is political correctness.
One of the options McPhee gave the task force is to keep Forrest’s name on the hall and add historical perspective. My prediction is that’s what the task force and McPhee will do.
But Forrest’s name will remain, and many students and MTSU graduates will continue to feel alienated. Then again, so will many others if the name is changed.
When a TV report surfaced recently about former General Sessions Judge David Loughry using his old key to enter the Judicial Building and judges’ chambers for a Saturday restroom emergency you’d have thought it was the only thing going on in Murfreesboro. In fact, few people were talking about anything else.
But while Loughry shouldn’t have had the key a year after he lost the election—much less gone into the building—few people around here can say they’ve never had an intestinal emergency after eating at some of the restaurants on the Public Square. If I had a nickel for every time my stomach nearly jumped out of my body after a downtown meal, I could retire today.
Amid a county inquiry into the matter, the former judge apologized and handed in his keys. The case was closed as far as the district attorney and sheriff’s office were concerned. Apparently, nobody smelled any criminal intent.
While the county is checking its security protocol in the wake of a gastronomical conflagration, more than likely this was an attempt to make Loughry look silly. Sure, it was probably a little embarrassing—since most people saw TV news video of Loughry’s entrance and exit. But Loughry has pretty thick skin, and he probably hasn’t lost much sleep over it.
After all, nobody is immune to downtown food.