Monday, June 16, 2014

Looking into the recent claims made by Knox County clerk candidates

If you're going to spit out a bunch of BS, the smartest move isn't to then challenge a reporter to fact check it.

Anyhoo, Knox County Clerk candidate Mike Padgett issued 10News a challenge: Investigate the claims he and his opponent, incumbent Clerk Foster Arnett Jr, made during a recent edition of Inside Tennessee.

“We need to go to the finance department and find out those figures with the investigative reporter and find out how many millions of dollars Foster has turned over, and how many millions of dollars our administration turned over,” Padgett, who served as the clerk from 1986 to 2007, said during the June 1 program.

Well, we over here at WBIR did just that.

Padgett, though, might not be too happy about what we found.

Here’s a look:

1) STATEMENT: Padgett said that “we turned over millions of dollars . . . every year in fees to the county government.” Arnett said that his administration “turned over $6 million in the six years that I’ve been in office.”

BACKGROUND: The county clerk’s office collects various fees. The money first goes to paying the staff and covering a reserve tank that will keep the office running for three months. The rest is turned over to the county’s general fund. WBIR reviewed recent financial statements and the past 11 comprehensive annual financial reports that an external auditor puts together for the county each year.

FINDING: Arnett’s claims were accurate, according to financial records. Padgett’s were not. From fiscal years 2009 to 2012, Arnett turned over a combined $5 million. His office has already turned in $1 million for the current fiscal year, which wraps up at the end of this month. From fiscal years 2002 to 2008, Padgett’s administration turned over a combined $3 million. His office didn’t turn over any money during fiscal years 2002-04.

2) STATEMENT: Padgett said his office printed “every (car) title in the state of Tennessee” and that the state “would send it to us. Nashville would send it to us,” referring to contract work that would allow the county to print the titles. He said Arnett “lost” the contracts. Padgett said if he was elected he would “go to Nashville and I will receive contracts from the state of Tennessee to make that a recurrence.” Arnett disagreed, and said that “things have changed since my opponent has been in office” and that the state has “changed the way the titles are done in all 95 counties.”

BACKGROUND: The county did not print titles for “every” county in the state. At one time, it printed titles for at least 10 East Tennessee counties, according to records. However, about the time Arnett took office, the state gave counties the go-ahead to print their own titles, something most counties wanted to do anyway because every title printed equals an extra $3 in fees for the county that prints it. State officials say Padgett could not just go to Nashville and sign contracts to get this work. Further, they said, at this point no county prints titles for any other county. They all print their own.

FINDING: Padgett could not carry out his proposal.

3) STATEMENT: Padgett took issue with the county using Business Information Systems, or BIS, as its third-party provider to help the office submit information to the Tennessee Department of Revenue. He said “Foster is using that service. There are other providers around Tennessee. The state has no direct influence on what the county does. They would love to have help in the state of Tennessee for counties that don’t have providers.”

FINDING: If Padgett won, he would more than likely be stuck with BIS. According to the Department of Revenue, that company provides services to 92 of the state’s 95 counties. Shelby County uses its own in-house IT shop, and Stewart County “processes only limited manual transaction.” Sevier County uses eGovernment Solutions as a third party provider. However, that company is run by Padgett’s son, Mark, which would more than likely create a conflict of interest if he brought the business onboard.

Padgett, a Democrat, and Arnett, a Republican who is in his first full term, will face off in August’s general election. The winner will take over on Sept. 2.

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