Thursday, January 31, 2008

Metro might make homeowners pay for stormwater control

By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • January 31, 2008 Read Comments(2)Recommend Print this page E-mail this article Share this article: Facebook Digg Reddit Newsvine What’s this? Metro property owners should pay a monthly user fee to help the city catch up on 2,000 stormwater projects and cut down on flooding across town, a city consultant recommends in a report due out Friday. For most single-family homes, the fee would be $4.98 a month, based on the size of surfaces like rooftops and driveways that don’t absorb rain. Water bills might be divided into separate water, sewer and stormwater lines. But before they sign off, some frustrated officials want to make sure the money really would ensure that Metro starts clearing out clogged ditches, tackling erosion and repairing broken walls around town. “If I’m going to vote for a water fee increase, they need to show me evidence that they’re going to address the issues in my district,” Councilman Greg Adkins, who represents the Crieve Hall area, said Thursday. “People keep calling and calling and calling. I want to make sure my constituents are served.” Like a 2001 study said, the new report says Metro needs a dedicated funding source to pay for a stormwater program that isn’t coming close to meeting pent-up demand. The program’s annual budget is about $12 million, but it needs $25.8 million for both operations and capital projects, consultant Andy Reese of AMEC Earth and Energy concludes. At that rate, it would take eight years to catch up on the backlog of complaints and other projects. Those needs would cost $85 million to fix today, but the list will grow and maintenance will be required, said Councilwoman Emily Evans, who represents Belle Meade and West Meade. Metro Water Services also would add some employees to its 91-person Stormwater Division staff, Evans said. The fee change would correct inequities in the stormwater program, she said. Some property owners produce little stormwater but are required to pay water and sewer rates. Others — like parking lot owners — produce a lot of runoff water but pay nothing because they don’t use water or sewers. But Evans said the study is only a starting point for discussion by council members, Mayor Karl Dean’s administration, Metro residents and other groups, potentially leading to a new fee starting with the next budget year on July 1. “We’re not married to anything,” Evans said. Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling called the recommendation “an idea that has some merit.” “But it’s going to need a lot of study,” he said. Frustrations mount Garrett Dawson, a musician and songwriter who lives in Crieve Hall, said he’s tired of seeing the “war zone” in his back yard, where stormwater backing up in a utility and drainage easement has wiped out the soil under the roots of his trees. If the water ever came over a bank below his lot, “it would be a straight shot into my garage,” Dawson said. After years of struggling to get Metro to fix the problem, Dawson said he’d be willing to pay a monthly stormwater fee. “It’s cheaper than a new carpet,” he said. “It’s cheaper than new furniture. It’s cheaper than the lawsuits the city’s going to get hit with eventually. In the long run, it’s a bargain.” Adkins said he’s told Metro Water Services, which took over the stormwater program from Public Works in 2002, about Dawson’s problem several times. But the department rates requests at A, B and C priority levels and lags on the B or C requests, he said. Dawson said his problem received a C rating. “Nothing ever happens, unless it’s catastrophic,” second-term councilman Adkins said, adding that the consultant’s report didn’t address enough of the lower-priority concerns. “This has given me more headaches than any other issue in my area.” Evans said the federal Environmental Protection Agency, concerned about water quality, is pressing Metro for improvements. For the past 15 years, state law has allowed cities to collect stormwater user fees to help themselves improve water quality, and Franklin, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga and Memphis have done so, she said. “If we don’t do it this way, the EPA may fine us,” Evans added. “That money’s going to Washington, D.C. We might as well flush it down the toilet.” At the same time, Metro hasn’t raised water rates since 1996, and sewer rates were reduced in 1999 and haven’t been touched since, Evans said. Metro isn’t allowed to use property tax revenues to pay for water and sewer services, which have to support themselves financially. Dawson said he’s felt the impact of that shortfall in funding as he’s asked for help with his easement. “They keep telling me there’s no money,” he said. But Metro did do one thing for Dawson. He said the city reduced its most recent assessment of his property’s value after he showed assessors photographs of the flooding in his yard. “I can’t sell my house,” he said. “The value has decreased because of the city.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

School board asks mayor to help find Garcia's replacement

Some on the school board wary of idea for selecting new schools director By JAIME SARRIO • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 30, 2008 Read Comments(2)Recommend Print this page E-mail this article Share this article: Facebook Digg Reddit Newsvine What’s this? Metro school board members voted 7-2 on Tuesday to request the mayor's help to find a temporary and permanent replacement for former Director of Schools Pedro Garcia. It isn't clear what the mayor's involvement would be, though most board members made it clear that they did not want him to have all the power in selecting a new director. The motion comes less than a week after the mayor met privately with individual board members and as more people in Nashville are calling for drastic changes to fix problems in the school system. "It's not a new thing for the mayor to be involved in the process," said Ed Kindall, who represents north Nashville and voted in favor of the motion. "But this does not in any way relinquish the authority or legal duty of this board." Not all board members were comfortable with a formal vote to include the mayor. David Fox, who last week said he wants the mayor to disband the board and appoint new school representatives, voted against the motion because it was "open-ended." "I think it would be a bad idea to do anything to expose the board to a loss of control and further blurring what are blurred lines of funding authority and accountability," said Fox, who represents the Hillsboro area. Karen Johnson, who represents Antioch, introduced a motion that called for the involvement of voters in addition to the mayor, but it was voted down in favor of the original motion, made by board member George Thompson. Tennessee law says the school board has sole authority to appoint the director. The board is to meet with the mayor today to discuss education issues. Get draft of budget At Tuesday's meeting, the board got the first draft of the 2008-09 budget. Metro schools will need $19.2 million more than this year's budget just to keep things as they are now, according to the $616.8 million proposal for the next fiscal year. An additional $13 million will be needed to help the school pass testing standards under No Child Left Behind. The $19.2 million would be 3.2 percent more than the current budget. It includes money for pay raises, to open a new high school and avoid cutting any programs. It does not include salary increases for support staff. The additional $13 million would finance several new positions, including more teachers for English language learners and more literacy and math coaches. But because the district doesn't know how much money it will get from the federal, state or Metro governments, it's hard to say what the final budget will look like by the time it is approved this summer, said Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson, who is serving as interim schools director. "We have not received any revenue projections at this point from the Metro finance or from the state Department of Education," Henson told the board of education. Much of the district's funding will be dedicated to helping Metro Nashville schools meet No Child Left Behind standards, something that hasn't happened in four years. Funding will also be determined by the results of a state audit of the district, which began this week. The school board must turn over its final budget to the mayor's office by March. A public hearing will be held Feb. 12, and the board is tentatively schedule to vote on the budget Feb. 26.

Computer security expert hired as laptop case broadens

By JANELL ROSS • Staff Writer (Tennessean)• January 30, 2008 On the same day that Metro police made a third arrest in the theft of Davidson County Election Commission laptops, Mayor Karl Dean announced a new hire: a computer security specialist. "While it's unfortunate that it took an incident at the Election Commission office to bring necessary attention to this issue, we now have the opportunity to improve the way sensitive information is handled by Metro, and possibly prevent an even worse situation like this from occurring in the future," Dean said in a news release. Betty Steele, a certified information systems security professional, will recommend systems and data protection changes based on a data security audit completed earlier this month by Information Technology Services, according to the mayor's statement. Dean has also asked Steele to examine the need for an IT security and standards board. Suspect surrenders Also Tuesday, Brent Russell Rucker, 28, surrendered at police headquarters in response to a warrant for his arrest issued late Monday. Rucker, of Portland, was charged with theft. Police say he bought the stolen computer equipment on Christmas Eve. He is believed to have then sold the laptops to a Good lettsville man. That man is considered a witness, police said. Late Monday, Randal Logan Cheek, 27, was arrested on charges that he knew the stolen laptops were fenced at his business. A router and the laptop hard drives were found at the business Jan. 17, according to Metro police. Cheek was released after making a $5,000 bond. Police say Robert Osbourne, 45, admitted stealing the items from the election commission offices. He was charged Jan. 17 in connection with that crime. An $80,000 bail was set for Osbourne, who is homeless. On Jan. 24, Osbourne was transferred to the Tennessee Department of Correction for a parole violation. Osbourne was scheduled to appear in court this morning but that hearing was postponed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Third arrest made in Election Commission computer theft

Metro police have made a third arrest in connection with the Christmas Eve theft of two Davidson County Election Commission laptop computers. Brent Russell Rucker, 28, surrendered himself at police headquarters Tuesday. Metro police swore out a warrant for Rucker's arrest late Monday. Rucker, a Portland, Tenn. resident, has been charged with theft. Rucker's bond was set at $2,000. Davidson County Detention Center staff said Tuesday that Rucker's bond was paid shortly before 3 p.m. Rucker will soon be released. On Monday Randal Logan Cheek, 27, was arrested on charges that he knew the stolen laptops were fenced at his business. A router and one of the hard drives were located at the business on Jan. 17 during a police search, according to Metro police. Cheeck was released from custody earlier today after making a $5,000 bond. It was Rucker who allegedly purchased the stolen computer equipment on Christmas Eve, according to police.Rucker is believed to have then sold the laptops to a Goodlesttsville man. Police recovered the laptops from the Goodlettsville man. That man is considered a witness, police said. Robert Osbourne, 45, has admitted committing the actual burgulary and was charged on Jan. 17 in connection with that crime. An $80,000 bond was set for Osbourne, who is homeless. On Jan. 24, Osbourne was transferred to Tennessee Department of Corrections for a parole violation. He will remain in state custody until his trial. Osbourne was scheduled to appear in court this morning but that hearing was postponed.

Second suspect arrested in city laptop theft; warrant issued on third

By KATE HOWARD • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 29, 2008 Two people associated with The Muse coffeehouse will be charged in connection with the Christmas Eve theft of two laptops from the Davidson County Election Commission. Randal Logan Cheek, 27, was arrested Monday night on theft charges because he knew the stolen laptops were fenced at his business, Metro police said. A router and one of the hard drives were located at the business on Jan. 17 during a police search, according to Metro police. An arrest warrant for an employee of the coffeehouse was also issued. Russell Rucker, 28, of Charlotte is wanted for buying the stolen equipment and later selling them to a Goodlettsville man, according to police. The man who later purchased the laptops is considered a witness, police said. Robert Osbourne, 45, was charged on Jan. 17 in the actual theft of the laptops. He was scheduled to appear in court this morning but that hearing was postponed to a later date. A forensic examination of the computers showed that the contents of the laptops -- voter information for 337,000 registered Metro voters -- were not accessed.

Attorneys ask to dismiss laptops suit

Davidson County By MICHAEL CASS (Tennessean) A class-action lawsuit over the theft of computers containing Nashville voters' Social Security numbers should be dismissed now that the two laptops have been recovered and "the personal information does not appear to have been compromised," attorneys for the plaintiffs said Monday. Attorneys John Ray Clemmons and Gary Blackburn filed suit against Metro government, security com-pany Wackenhut Corp. and subcontractor Specialized Se-curity Consultants Inc. on Jan. 4, less than two weeks after the computers were stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission's offices. Police found the machines at a house in Goodlettsville Jan. 17, and tests showed the Social Security numbers had not been viewed or copied. Blackburn and Clemmons said they filed for "voluntary dismissal without prejudice" of the suit in Davidson County Circuit Court.

Several districts look into school police forces

Metro backs off its interest, but Knox, Memphis are still pursuing the idea Associated Press • January 29, 2008 Several Tennessee school districts are interested in creating their own police forces, but first they must decide whether the officers would be school officials or law enforcement personnel. A study from the state Education Department says the answer could affect things like when students can be searched and whether discipline records might be available to the public. Memphis city schools first expressed interest in a school police force in 2006. The district's security office has presented a proposal to the school board for eliminating Memphis police officers in schools in favor of an 87-person school police force. The change would cost $3 million above the security office's current $7.1 million annual budget. According to a survey, Knox and Davidson county schools are interested in the idea of a school police force as well. A Metro schools associate superintendent said last fall that the system was considering the idea, but school officials later said the system was not pursuing it. Hamilton cool to idea Knox County uses a combination of its own security officers and local law enforcement officers. Knox County schools security chief Steve Griffin says money would be an issue if the district decided to hire all its own officers. "I like to be optimistic and think someday this may come about in some way, shape or form," he said. "I'm always interested in doing anything that I feel would help the school system." Hamilton County school officials are not interested in the idea. "I know the superintendent has said he doesn't ever want to have to choose between a teacher and an officer" in a tight budget year, spokeswoman Danielle Clark said. "The teacher's going to win. How can they not? We're in the business of kids."

Victims notified of jail releases

Nashville-area counties will use alert system to let public monitor offenders By KATE HOWARD • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 29, 2008 Long before the cell door opens for a jailed offender in Davidson County, his victims know he is being released. An automated system to notify those touched by crime has been in place for more than a decade in Nashville and Shelby County. Smaller county jailers have long done it the old-fashioned way, relying on a booking officer to make the call as a prisoner exits the building and hoping someone picks up the phone. But Dickson, Robertson, Sumner and Wilson county sheriff's departments are among the agencies where an automated system will start up in the next 12 months, funded through a state coalition that advocates against violence. The federal Statewide Automated Victim Information Notification grant will pay to hook up at least 45 counties to the system this year. "We've had people who have gotten out of jail, and not two hours later, we arrest one back at his ex-wife's house threatening her. We've had them beat people up," said Dickson County Sheriff Tom Wall. "Luckily here, we haven't had anything tragic happen, but I guess we've probably just been lucky." Wall said they've done the best they could, but the phone numbers they get from the courts are often outdated or nobody answers the phone. The automated system, called Victim Information and Notification Everyday, calls continually until a person is reached, and registered users can call live operators or check the information and notification Web site to check if a person is still jailed. 5,500 in Metro program Family members, victims or concerned residents will be able to register up to five phone numbers to ensure they are told if the prisoner is scheduled for release, moves to a different facility or escapes from custody. Registration for the service is free. The system is operating in at least 42 states in some capacity, and a statewide system is in place in about half of those states. "We think this is really important for all victims of crime, for their safety," said Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. "To know when that offender gets out of jail gives victims of crime a sense of security." The goal, Walsh said, is to eventually have a statewide system for every county. The cost will run about $600,000 for the whole state, and Walsh said they hope within three years, the General Assembly will take over the cost of operation. About 5,500 people in Metro registered to get phone, mail or e-mail notification last year, according to Appriss Inc., which operates the program. The Davidson County Sheriff's Department pays about $50,000 annually for the operation of its system. "That's definitely a savings in the long run than having a paid person sitting there," said Karla Crocker, spokeswoman for the Davidson County Sheriff's Office. "I also think there's a peace of mind when people can register themselves and keep track of someone that has in some way made them a victim."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Task Force Addresses Problem Areas Of Metro Schools"

The new Metro School Zoning Task Force took a close look Saturday at the problem areas of Metro schools. The Task Force took the next step at how to better rezone the 75,000 student metro school district Saturday morning. The 12 person group made up of parents, lawmakers, and business leaders are working to find a balance on issues ranging from racial equality to utilizing schools to their full capacity. Mark North, Chair of the community Task Force said, "Student assignment is a complicated matter and it is our goal to come up with a comprehensive plan that provides excellent educational opportunities for every resident of Davidson... ... County. North says the four hour meeting was a success and that the group is now ready to move forward with the school rezoning plans. The Task Force meets again February 8th. The panel is supposed to make its recommendations to the school board by April. Any changes the board approves would go into effect for the 2009-2010 school year. Copyright 2008 by WKRN Nashville Tennessee. All Rights Reserved.

Dean wants role in replacing Garcia

But mayor has no desire to toss out school board By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 27, 2008 Mayor Karl Dean wants a say in deciding who will lead Nashville schools both short-term and for the long haul, but he's not looking to throw out the Metro school board, he said in an interview. Dean also said the school district should open more charter schools as it tries to provide good options for every student and family across the city. The district is in "corrective action" status with the state after failing to meet federal education standards for the past four years. Former Schools Director Pedro Garcia resigned Jan. 19, and Dean said the school board needs to appoint an aggressive interim director until it can hire a permanent CEO. The mayor, whose own children attend private schools, also has appointed a task force to find ways to reduce the dropout rate. He has held four town hall meetings on education since taking office in September. He even taught government and history classes one day at Maplewood High. Dean talked to The Tennessean in his office Friday. Excerpts of the interview are below. What do you think needs to be fixed first in Metro schools? Well, I think the fundamental goal for schools is that we should be in a position where we're offering choices so that all kids can go to schools where they can succeed. That's where we start. Obviously there's an opportunity now to select a new director of schools, which is a very important decision. I regard it as just that: an opportunity, a chance to make a positive difference in the future. I want to be very involved with that. Do you want more say in the schools than the mayor has officially had under the (Metro) charter over the years? I don't know if I'd say "more say." Basically, all around this country, particularly in urban school districts, there has been a trend for more mayoral involvement with public education. Fundamentally, that was one of the reasons I ran for mayor. I do believe that for this city to continue to be the great city it is, and to be the city in the future that we want it to be, we've got to succeed in the area of public education. The mayor has a role there. No. 1, the mayor's fundamental obligation is the welfare of this city. And I am convinced, be it for public safety reasons, be it for economic development reasons, for reasons just about who we are and what our values are, having a good public school system is critical to Nashville. Thus far, the Board of Education and the administration have been very receptive to my involvement. Every time I've wanted to do something, every time I've wanted to meet, they have been more than gracious. They have, in fact, been encouraging my involvement. We have a legal structure that's created by the charter, created by state law. I'm happy to work within that structure. But part of that is allowing a more interactive relationship between the mayor and the schools, and we're getting there. I want to be involved to the utmost in the process of hiring a new director of schools and during this transition period. It's a key appointment in this city, a key hire that we need to do right, and the mayor, I think, has a role in it. I've heard that you met with board members individually this week to — I met with every board member (Thursday), individually. Did you ask them for an opportunity to let you name the interim director? No, I asked for the opportunity and extended my offer to help them do that. I think one of the things that happens is, people view this issue as one or the other, but it's really together. There's no way we do what we need to do in education if it's just the mayor or if it's just the Board of Education or if it's just the (Metro) Council. What I think is so exciting about Nashville right now is that everybody wants to be involved. There may be disagreements about educational philosophies, about what the right answer is to any particular given issue, and you work your way through those. But everybody knows that schools are the issue for this community. I thought it was important, given the fact that there is a change in leadership occurring at the head of the administration, it was important for me to talk to (board members) about the status of the schools, but also to say I want to work with them to select an interim director and a permanent director. Do you have anyone in mind for either of those positions? No. For the interim position, Chris Henson (Metro schools' chief financial officer and, for the moment, interim director) is an excellent person, very good at what he does. But we also need to move forward during this time period. The search for a permanent director, I'm not sure how that evolves, but that could take anywhere from three months to a year. We are at a time when the state is obviously looking carefully at our schools, and we just have the need to keep moving forward, and we can't let the status quo stay where it is for a year. You need to bring somebody in who, No. 1, is somebody who cares about public education; No. 2, is a strong administrator, somebody who has a passion about this city and the future of this city and somebody who understands this city. Do you feel like the chief financial officer's job is a big enough job as it is, and that Chris Henson doesn't need to be trying to do two major jobs at one time? Chris has got an enormous job. We're going into the budget time. The schools are working right now with the (Metro Nashville Education Association, the teachers union) on incentive pay issues; they've got to negotiate an agreement on that. You've got all the issues related to working with the state. There's just a lot of things going on. But at the same time, we've got to keep moving forward. That's why I think there's a need to have a transition director, somebody there in the interim. What do you think of (Board of Education member) David Fox and (Metro Councilman) Sean McGuire calling for you to have the power to appoint a new school board? Have you been pushing for that? Have you talked to either of them about that? No. I was probably as surprised as anyone. You know, that is not what I'm doing. I think our board has performed much better than they've been given credit for. I like each and every one of them. They bring a great diversity of outlooks and views to the issues, which is probably, I mean, I would assume that's why we have an elected board. And I think the board is extremely conscientious. That being said, I certainly think this is part of what's going on right now. David Fox and Sean McGuire are talking about schools because, like me, they want to see improvement. Like me, they think it's the fundamental issue facing this community. They're adding to the public discussion. That's not the route I'm taking. I want to work with this school board. I've been working with this board. And I think they're on the same page as me in terms of wanting to work together. There have been several major cities where mayors have, in one way or another, taken over the schools. There's books about it. And it would take some changes beyond the city. And what David's talking about would require state legislation at the minimum — and possibly a charter amendment. And I'm looking forward to moving forward on these issues next week. We've got to keep going. Are you worried about more schools landing on the state's watch list after this school year ends? That may not be the right term. Corrective action? Yeah, I'm worried about it, but this is where increased mayoral involvement is just a natural thing. Under No Child Left Behind and under some of the initiatives and reforms Gov. (Phil) Bredesen is undertaking, we are in a period where there is increased accountability. Those standards, they're not going to get easier. Because of that increased accountability for the schools, it is natural for the mayor to play a bigger role. But clearly we want to get our schools in a position where they're not on those lists. What are the major points of difference in different constituencies' approaches that you need to try to bridge? You said everybody wants to get to the same place, but it's a matter of how we get there. Nashville is such a great city. We've got so much going on. Education is the area we've got to get right. And so my job is to keep it focused on that. This isn't a time to be timid. This is a time for us to seize the day and to make our schools better. In terms of the next permanent director, what kind of leader does the district need? What needs to be different from what we've had in the past? The challenges we face right now are different than when Dr. Garcia was hired. That was 6 ½ years ago. The corrective action issue is different. We need to make sure we define what we're looking for and go about it together. I am certainly open to looking at nontraditional directors. The average tenure of an urban director now is about 2 ½ years. That tells me, No. 1, it's an incredibly tough job, and No. 2, maybe just looking in the same pool all the time is not necessarily what we ought to be doing. But that's a subject that I think involves other people's input than just my own. But we obviously want somebody who's a leader, who's a good administrator, somebody who has a vision of educational excellence, who can bring people together. But you could see looking into the business community or somewhere other than people who have always come up through the school system ranks? I think you've just got to be open. And looking outside the traditional applicants might be a useful thing to do. You talked in the campaign about encouraging the school board to be open to charter school proposals. Is that something you've focused on during these first few months? I've met with folks about charter schools. I still have that position. That's part of the mix, that we've got to be open to new ideas, we've got to be open and supportive of anyone who's trying to make more educational opportunities for kids. I've detected somewhat of a public perception that the attitude is changing, but we are behind other cities in what we offer in terms of charter schools, and we've got to do better there. And I think there's a lot of folks out there with pent-up energy and desire to come in with creative proposals, and we ought to be encouraging that. You talked also in the campaign about retaining and recruiting high-quality teachers, providing incentives. Have you made any headway on that? Have you talked specifically to the board or the administration? One of the things I've learned about is the need to offer more career development opportunities for teachers, particularly in math and science; to offer mentors. I've met with MNEA, and they've expressed interest in that. (On) the incentive pay issue, the state is asking us, is telling us that we should be making incentive payments to teachers who work with the most at-risk students. And I fully support that. The board is negotiating right now with MNEA about how that gets done, but that needs to get done. Is there anything else you'd like to add? Anything else people should expect in the next few months? There is change occurring, but it's not a crisis. This is just a time of great opportunity. And so I really do look forward to the next few months because it is an opportunity for us to make some changes, to set a direction that will move us to having the school system our kids deserve.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mayor should replace school board, member says

By JAIME SARRIO • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 22, 2008 Ousting Director of Schools Pedro Garcia isn’t the only change that should be made in Metro schools, says District 8 school board member David Fox. The Board of Education should be wiped out and new members appointed by the mayor. That can’t happen immediately because board members are elected by Davidson County voters, but Fox wants state law changed to let the mayor pick a school board as soon as next year. The freshman board member made the announcement Tuesday morning as the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce was unveiling its annual recommendations for the district. He wants to change state law to follow the lead of cities such as Washington and New York and allow the mayor to cherry pick Metro’s board. Fox said he’s not trying to stir up trouble with the board and plans to stay on until changes are made. He just thinks elected officials may not qualified to run an organization like Metro schools, which has some 10,000 employees, and a $600 million budget. “We must have people who have experience successfully leading or governing big organizations through challenging times,” he said in a statement. “You can assemble a board populated with those rare skills and experiences only though a careful appointment process.” Some board members disagreed. Gracie Porter, who represents parts of East Nashville, said allowing the mayor to appoint the board would take the power away from the people. “In my opinion, it has no bearing on how a child performs in the classroom,” she said. “That’s left up to teachers and principals at the schools, not to us as elected officials.” Fox said he hadn’t discussed with Mayor Karl Dean whether he would want to take on the responsibility of selecting a school board. Dean wouldn’t say whether he is open to the idea. “I share Mr. Fox’s eagerness to see real changes made in our schools and I certainly appreciate his recognizing my commitment to improving our school system,” he said. “Having entered into a new error of accountability under No Child Left Behind, I recognize the future success of our schools will be reflected by the need for more involvement between local government and the school district.” Fox said he would like the new board to coincide with the appointment of a new schools director. He said that even though he has business experience as a consultant, he would not expect to be appointed to the new board. Fox is a former Tennessean business reporter and a founder of Akin Elementary parent Virginia Pupo-Walker thinks the appointed board is a bad idea. “I think voters have a vested interest in who represents them,” she said. “I don’t think it would serve the public as well if they’re not beholden to them. They would beholden to the mayor and his agenda.”

Disc found in stolen laptops

By CHARLES BOOTH • (Tennessean) January 22, 2008 Police found no evidence that sensitive voter information was accessed or copied from two stolen Election Commission laptop computers, Police Chief Ronal Serpas said Monday, but that doesn’t mean some 337,000 registered Davidson County voters can stop worrying completely. During the examination of the computers, police discovered a compact disc in one of the laptops, and that disc contained information including voters’ Social Security numbers. Serpas said no fingerprints were found on the disc, but police can’t be sure that no one took it from the computer and copied it. Election Commission staff told police that the disc probably had been in that computer since November 2006. Robert Osbourne, a homeless man, turned himself in last week and told police that he stole the computers from the Davidson County Election Commission on Christmas Eve. Detectives had connected the theft to Osbourne, an ex-con, because he cut his hand in the break-in. Police then recovered the laptops from a Goodlettsville home and their hard-drive memories, which had been removed, from a downtown coffee bar where detectives say Osbourne fenced the machines. An analysis performed by the department’s Computer Crimes detectives concluded that the computers hadn’t even been turned on since they were stolen. Serpas said the experts can’t rule out the possibility that someone used high-tech equipment to copy or scan information in the computers, but he said that is highly unlikely. “If someone had very sophisticated equipment and software, they may have imaged the software,” he said. That equipment is hard to find. “It’s nothing you could go down to Best Buy or CompUSA and purchase,” Computer Crimes Detective Chad Gish said. “We do expect more arrests are forthcoming,” Serpas said. Metro government is offering a free year of credit monitoring to voters still concerned about the thefts.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Latest Update--- Garcia passed up for San Diego job

By JAIME SARRIO • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 19, 2008 Terry Grier, a former Williamson County school director and current school chief in Guilford County, North Carolina, was selected today to head the San Diego Unified School District. Metro Schools chief Pedro Garcia was in the running for the job. After almost a month of deliberation, Grier was named the new superintendent at a press conference in California this afternoon. The decision comes just hours before Garcia is expected to officially step down as director of schools in Nashville.

Historical marker will keep Una's place 'on the map'

By SUZANNE NORMAND BLACKWOOD • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • January 16, 2008 When Metro Councilwoman Vivian Wilhoite saw how passionate Una resident Jan Cain was about researching the small community's history, she wanted to do something to help honor that history. So she approached Cain about erecting a historical marker in Una. "Ms. Cain stepped up to the challenge," Wilhoite said, adding that work began with the Metro Historical Commission on deciding the language of the marker shortly thereafter. Wilhoite is using her discretionary funds from the Metro Council to purchase and install the marker, which will cost about $2,000. The plan is to put the marker either on the grounds of Una Elementary School or at the corner of Smith Springs Road and Murfreesboro Pike. Cain said the plan is to have the marker's dedication the Friday before June 22. It was on this day in 1882 that the U.S. Postal Service officially gave Una its name, although the community is much older than that. Cain said the Metro Historical Commission has been interested in Una for a long time. "Una, Tenn., is still on the map, and we want it to stay there," she said. She said the community is "very excited and grateful to Vivian" for this opportunity. "It makes me proud," she said. Wilhoite said the marker, which will be similar to others seen throughout town, is a good way to recognize Una as "one of the oldest communities in Davidson County." "I think this is an awesome endeavor in preserving our history and making it a part of our future," she sa

Garcia wants out of contract

Board will vote today on his severance request By JAIME SARRIO • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • January 19, 2008 Metro Schools Director Pedro Garcia on Friday made his first official move to be released from his contract, just one day before the board was set to begin his annual evaluation process. The embattled school director is under contract until 2010 but submitted a written request for the board to consider giving him a severance package. If the board votes to grant his request today at a 4:30 p.m. special meeting, the director's service in Nashville could be finished at 6½ years. Friday, board members attended a closed-session meeting with Metro lawyers to discuss Garcia's request. Board Chairwoman Marsha Warden wouldn't comment on whether Garcia's resignation offer was timed to avoid a potentially critical evaluation. "I want to honor the work that's been done in this district," she said, and commenting on his offer "would be presumptive." Garcia has been under fire since he backed away from a rezoning plan that would have affected racial balance at several schools. Also, many board members are unhappy about the district's failure to meet benchmarks of the federal No Child Left Behind law for four years in a row. 120 days' notice required Garcia was a finalist to become the next superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, where he began his teaching career. The California district will announce its new chief at 3 p.m. today. It isn't known if Garcia remains a candidate for the San Diego job. Rumors about his fate began circulating Friday morning after he sent a letter to principals highlighting the district's progress and quoting several famous authors and self-help gurus. "I serve at the pleasure of the board," he wrote. "When the board decides they want a new director, all they have to do is take a vote and make that happen." Garcia's contract states that he must give 120 days' notice unless the board agrees to a shorter period of time. The board also has the power to fire him for a number of reasons, in which case he gets no compensation and has to forfeit all his sick leave. If Garcia is fired with no official cause, the board must give Garcia 120 days' notice and agree to pay him 12 months' salary, according to his contract. Erick Huth, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, said he was in Garcia's office Friday morning when he heard about the potential departure. Huth suspected something was going on because the director was on the phone and kept bringing people in and out of the room. Relations between Garcia and the teachers union have been tense during the past six years, and Huth hopes the board will consider that when selecting a new director. "I think this is a good opportunity for the board to attract a new director who cares about the morale of teachers and who responds to the discipline problems they face," he said. David Lundy, 15, a Hume-Fogg High School student, said Garcia will be remembered most for passing the district's "standard school attire" policy. "I haven't kept up with Garcia's work," he said. "But since he's came in, we've gotten SSA, and most students won't say whether that's a good or a bad thing."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stolen laptops, data disks found

Suspect leads police to Election Commission hard drives containing voters' identifications By KATE HOWARD, NICOLE YOUNG and JERRY MANLEY Staff Writers(Tennessean) January 18, 2008 Metro police recovered two stolen laptops at a house in Goodlettsville on Thursday night just hours after recovering the computers' hard drives — containing names and Social Security numbers of 337,000 Davidson County voters — at a coffee bar on Fourth Avenue South. The computers and their disks were found based on information provided by a homeless man who turned himself in Thursday morning and told police he had stolen the machines from the county Election Commission offices on Christmas Eve. The theft worried voters, who feared their identities could be stolen if criminals accessed the information on the laptops. Data being checked Police analysts were examining the disks to determine if the information had been viewed, copied or tampered with, according to police spokesman Don Aaron. That's "not something we can tell in an hour or two. It takes days, but it will be answered in time," Aaron said. Police and Election Commission officials determined that the voter information was on one of the hard drives recovered, Aaron said. Other confiscated hard drives were being examined. The computer parts were recovered from The Muse, formerly known as the Kung Fu Coffeebar, on Fourth Avenue South. Police said the suspect, Robert Osbourne, fenced the computers and other stolen items at what Aaron described as a "rave-type coffee bar." The drives were later removed from the laptop shells. Aaron said no more information will be released about the house where the laptops were found until detectives have time to investigate further. Metro detectives Rick Mavity and Ricky Winfrey were credited with questioning Osbourne and developing information that led to the recovery of the data. The second laptop was not working properly, election commission officials said, but police believe one of the hard drives is from that computer. Dean praises police Mayor Karl Dean called the investigation "great work." Dean said Metro government will still offer a free year of credit monitoring to voters. Additional arrests in the case are expected, Aaron said. Osbourne, 45, is in jail with bail set at $80,000. After Osbourne was questioned, Mavity said the homeless man broke into the election commission by chance and planned to make some money off the stolen laptops.

Metro says it can afford a $595 million convention hall

By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (Tennessean) January 18, 2008 A new downtown convention center would make Nashville competitive for 70 percent of the convention market starting in 2012 under a plan released Thursday and endorsed by Mayor Karl Dean. It wouldn't come cheaply, with the price tag up almost one-third since a 2006 proposal, but the $595 million cost would be funded by taxes and fees paid mostly by convention-goers and other tourists, covering the city's annual debt on it, Metro Nashville officials said. Dean said the proposed facility, with 375,000 square feet of exhibit space, would help the city broaden its tax base by generating millions in sales tax revenues that aren't coming in now. The existing Nashville Convention Center has less than a third that much exhibit space and is considered too small and outdated to attract most major meetings and shows. "A new convention center is an expensive undertaking, but it's an investment as a city that we need to make in ourselves," Dean told Metro Council members before they were briefed on the plan. "It's the right time for this project in Nashville." The plan, written by the Metro Development and Housing Agency at Dean's request, updates a city task force's 2006 proposal for a $455 million facility. MDHA Executive Director Phil Ryan said the cost of steel and other construction materials has gone up considerably since the release of that report, which former Mayor Bill Purcell never embraced. Convention center proponents said they were grateful to have Dean's enthusiastic backing after being frustrated by Purcell's reluctance to move forward. "Having the mayor's support of any public project is very important to its success," said Marty Dickens, chairman of the Music City Center Coalition. The existing convention center downtown is no longer big enough to hold the biggest gatherings like The Passion Conferences, which once brought 18,000 Christian college students to town but left last year for Atlanta. The new report's budget includes $50 million for land acquisition and $20 million to relocate a Nashville Electric Service substation from the proposed 15.6-acre site south of the Sommet Center. Ryan said that location, which the earlier task force recommended, is the best place to bring convention participants close to Nashville's downtown entertainment district. The MDHA plan also includes $40 million for the possible funding of two 1,000-car parking garages. While that cost could push the city's overall expense to $635 million, Ryan said he hoped private developers would pay some of it. Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said revenue sources dedicated to the project, such as fees on rental cars, should generate $39 million a year, enough money to pay back as much as $650 million in debt, plus interest at current rates, over 20 to 30 years. Taxes and fees already in place — after approval from the state legislature — are on pace to generate $27 million a year, well ahead of the $25 million initially projected, Riebeling said. Other revenue streams would kick in after the convention hall opened. "That gives me the comfort I have now that the project is feasible," Riebeling said. Ryan said a 1,000-room "headquarters" hotel attached to the convention hall would cost another $250 million to $350 million, paid primarily by developers. The city would provide some financial assistance, as it often does on downtown hotels, by letting some of the hotel's property taxes defray the developer's construction costs, he said. A "pre-development" process of design and site studies should take 18 to 24 months and would start next month if the council approves it, Ryan said. Construction would take two-and-a-half to three years. Council members seemed receptive to the plan as a standing-room-only crowd dominated by convention center boosters looked on. "I'm entirely in favor of this," said Councilman Sean McGuire of Green Hills. Councilman Jim Gotto of Hermitage said he wanted to make sure the convention center would be built with future expansion in mind so the city wouldn't "get halfway down the road and say, 'We really should have built this bigger.' " Ryan said the planning process in the coming months would take that into account. Ryan said the plan unveiled Thursday balances the need for a much better facility with the cost of such a major project. "This was an attempt to stay competitive but not necessarily be the end-all of convention centers in our market."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Police search for suspect in election laptop thefts

By KATE HOWARD • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • January 16, 2008 When Metro officers arrested a homeless man for trespassing in early January and cited him again a few days later on a drug paraphernalia charge, they didn’t know they were talking to the man they now believe jeopardized the security of 337,000 Metro voters. But DNA evidence found at the Davidson County Election Commission led police to Robert Osbourne, 45, a parolee with a history of property theft, that they had cited and released just 10 days ago. Tuesday, police issued a warrant for Osbourne’s arrest and said they are still looking for him. The theft of two laptops full of registered voters’ social security numbers could cost the city and the taxpayers $800,000 to cover credit monitoring for the affected residents. But police said they expect Osbourne was looking for a quick buck, not intending to steal any identities. “From the very beginning, (we) believed this was a random act,” Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said Wednesday. “It was a quick getaway, a quick hit. We are very hopeful the computers will be found.” The break-in over the Christmas holidays enraged many voters who feared the thieves could use personal information on the laptops to steal their identities. The laptops have not been recovered. The DNA match wasn’t confirmed until this week, when a blood sample found near the crime scene matched Osbourne, whose DNA sample was stored in a database because of his prior conviction. A window was smashed during the break-in and police suspected the person that broke the glass must have gotten cut. Cliff Tredway, spokesman for the rescue mission, said workers there don’t know Osbourne and are not familiar with him. Tredway said he can’t talk specifically about who stays there because of confidentiality concerns, but the shelter does look at identification during nightly check-in and keeps the information in case the authorities are looking for somebody. Metro officials think the break-in occurred on Christmas Eve. However, a security guard who later was fired, wrote in a Dec. 23 report that he noticed a roll-up window in what he identified as the "Codes Department" was cracked open and Christmas decorations were strewn on the floor. He said it was "unusual," but wrote that he glanced in the window as he was passing and that "everything seemed in place." The guard later admitted to listening to Christmas music and ordering food instead of making his rounds. But he said he did not believe the break-in took place on his shift. There were concerns that one of the laptops had a password taped to it, but Election Administrator Ray Barrett said this week that the password had been changed before the computer was stolen. Serpas said this is one of three serious crimes the department has investigated in the last month that involved a parolee. Police say he was sentenced to nine years in 2004 for a theft of property conviction in Marshall County. He also had burglary and cocaine convictions in Marshall County in the 1980s and 1990s, records show. Osbourne was released on parole and registered with the Metropolitan Police Department as an ex-convict on Oct. 30, 2007. Anyone with information on Osbourne is asked to call Metro police at 862-8600 or Crime Stoppers at 742-7463 (74-CRIME).

IT's Blooper...But No Sensitive Info on Laptop This Time

Another Laptop was stolen. This is the statement from Sandy Cole, IT Director: Subject: Sandy's statement to press This is what she sent to press that asked about it: A laptop belonging to IT'S employee, John Griffey, was stolen out of his locked car at his home in Franklin, TN. The theft was immediately reported to Franklin Police and Metro authorities when the break-in was discovered. The serial number of the laptop was also reported to Dell Computers. IT'S technicians are required to be available for emergencies on a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week basis. Laptops are provided to those employees to facilitate rapid resolution of issues and are to be taken home with them at night and on weekends. No Public sensitive information was stored on this laptop, nor is any public sensitive information necessary or used by this employee. Mr. Griffey uses encryption as a normal business practice. Metro deeply regrets that an employee and Metro property were victims of an apparent random burglary with unfortunate but coincidental timing several weeks following the Election Commission break-in. Inventory control processes are in place for those departments for whom ITS has desktop responsibility and status reports are provided to those departments during the budget cycle to assure accuracy and accountability are maintained. Security policies in place within the department are confidential based upon the following Tennessee Code Section: Title 10. Public Libraries, Archives and Records Chapter 7 Public Records Part 5 Miscellaneous Provisions § 10-7-504. Confidentiality of certain records

Password on laptop had been changed

By SHEILA WISSNER • Staff Writer Tennessean • January 16, 2008 A password taped to a laptop stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission had been changed and could not be used to access voters' Social Security numbers in the computer, a commission official said Tuesday. Election Administrator Ray Barrett gave the commission that bit of good news during a meeting called to get an update on the Christmas holiday break-in at the Metro Office Building on Second Avenue where the theft occurred. Barrett said that contrary to reports, a laptop left under a desk was inside a bag, not visible to a thief, and had an old password taped on top. The two laptops that were stolen were to be used during early voting to verify voter identities if the main computer system went down. One of the laptops was broken, Barrett said. Barbara Deneke, one of the 337,000 voters whose Social Security numbers were on the laptops, said after the meeting she had hoped to hear more about testing done on the computers. "I was concerned about whether or not there was any ballot testing software on the laptops and whether or not there was the possibility that anybody could compromise the actual election machines," said Deneke, a member of the League of Women Voters. Mayor Karl Dean has called for a government-wide security audit. The state comptroller's office decided Friday to conduct an examination of data security policies and procedures at the Election Commission and Metro's information systems department as they related to the Election Commission, said Richard Norment, assistant to the comptroller for county audit. Metro officials think the break-in occurred on Christmas Eve. Theft reveals problems However, Brendan Murphy, a security guard who later was fired, wrote in a Dec. 23 report that he noticed a roll-up window in what he identified as the "Codes Department" was cracked open and Christmas decorations were strewn on the floor. He said it was "unusual'' but wrote that he glanced in the window and that "everything seemed in place." The guard later admitted to listening to music and ordering food instead of making his rounds. But he said he did not believe the break-in took place on his shift. A second guard making rounds about 6 p.m. Christmas Day also noticed the decorations and roll-up window ajar but called Murphy rather than Metro security after reading his report. She said Murphy told her he assumed an employee had forgotten a key and climbed over the counter to get in the office. The second guard finally called Metro security after noticing the hallway getting progressively cooler. Her report said the break-in appeared to have taken place "Saturday night or early Sunday morning" when there were "no guards scheduled." Metro later reviewed card key swipes at the building that showed security guards had not entered the building on Saturdays for months last year even though Wackenhut billed the city for providing security. Wackenhut subcontracted those services to Specialized Security Consultants of Mt. Juliet.

Council prohibits 'aggressive' panhandling

Courts have voided similar laws elsewhere By JENNIFER BROOKS • Staff Writer Tennessean • January 16, 2008 The Metro Council outlawed "aggressive" panhandling in Nashville on Tuesday night after calling for a citywide task force to look for a solution to the problem of homelessness that's better than simply rounding up anyone caught begging for money in the wrong place or at the wrong time downtown. "What we will be doing is criminalizing people who are poor," said Jerry Maynard, councilman at large. "For some of them, this is their last means by which they can feed their family, or achieve any type subsistence by which they can live." The law, which takes effect immediately, bans all panhandling after dark or near automated teller machines, sidewalk cafes, business entrances, bus stops or schools. It also makes it a crime to approach someone "aggressively" to ask for money, which the bill defines as everything from making threatening statements to touching people, blocking their path or refusing to take "no" for an answer. Councilman Erik Cole proposed a task force that would bring together advocates for the homeless, representatives of downtown businesses, downtown residents and the tourism industry. "My concern is that this is one piece of a puzzle," Cole said. "We really need to get all the players around the table in the next couple of months." Maynard suggested including the police and court system, predicting they could be "bombarded" by arrests once the law goes into effect. Similar bills have passed in other large American cities, although opponents point out that several of the anti-panhandling ordinances have been struck down by courts as violations of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. In those cases, the courts said asking for money is a form of expression protected by the U.S. Constitution. Man claims 'loophole' Charles Andrews, a homeless man who said he travels from city to city, agrees that there is a problem with panhandling if it involves touching people or using foul language near small children. Sitting by a downtown cafe near Sommet Center in freezing temperatures, he gestured to a sign he was holding that said "smile you're beautiful." "I kind of have a loophole. I'm not asking for anything. They don't have to give me anything, not even a smile." He said he had been in other cities that had laws aimed at the homeless. In Santa Cruz, N.M., "I hated it there" because the police use a loitering law to harass the homeless, he said. Under the new Metro law, Andrews could have been cited for panhandling after dark and near a sidewalk cafe. New law reflects trend In 2006, the National Coalition for the Homeless released a survey of 224 American cities and found a growing trend toward criminalizing behaviors usually associated with the homeless. • 45 percent had passed laws to ban aggressive panhandling. • 43 percent prohibited begging in particular public places. • 21 percent had citywide bans on panhandling. The coalition estimated that the number of aggressive panhandling ordinances had increased 18 percent since its previous survey in 2002. Among the cities with bans similar to the proposed Nashville ordinance is Atlanta, which in 2005 banned panhandling anywhere in its so-called "tourist triangle" as well as within 15 feet of an automated teller machine, bus stop, pay phone, public toilet or train station.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Judge Kurtz will retire from Nashville seat

By Sheila Burke (Tennessean) Davidson County Circuit Court Judge Walter Kurtz is retiring from the bench in Nashville, the state administrative office of the courts announced today. Kurtz, whose been a judge for 25 years, has been selected to be one of five senior judges across the state. Senior judges are former trial and appellate court judges who are assigned to hear cases in any state court. “I wish to express my appreciation to the people of Davidson County who have elected me four times as judge and one term prior to my judgeship as public defender,” Kurtz wrote to the governor. “I am thankful to them for the trust they have placed in me since 1978.” Kurtz, 64, will retire effective March 21. The administrative office of the courts will be taking applications from lawyers who are interested in being appointed to his seat.

Aggressive panhandling bill up for council vote Tuesday

By MICHAEL CASS and JENNIFER BROOKS Staff Writers(Tennessean) The Metro Council is set to make a final vote Tuesday night to outlaw “aggressive” panhandling in Nashville. The sweeping legislation would put limits on anyone asking for a handout in the streets, alleys and public places of the city, with the exception of street musicians. For supporters, the legislation is a reasonable response to a growing number of uncomfortable, and occasionally intimidating, encounters between downtown residents and visitors and pushy panhandlers. But opponents say the law would intimidate an already vulnerable population of homeless people, without addressing the reasons they are out begging for money on the street in the first place. The bill has gone through two readings before the council and is likely to win approval Tuesday night. It would ban all panhandling after dark, or near automated teller machines, sidewalk caf├ęs, business entrances, bus stops or schools. It would also make it a crime to approach someone “aggressively” to ask for money, which the bill defines as everything from making threatening statements to touching them, blocking their path or refusing to take “no” for an answer. Ben Bahil, who lives and works downtown, said he supports the bill because it would crack down on “con artists,” many of whom he believes aren’t homeless. “They’re the ones who want more than 25 cents,” said Bahil, a member of the Urban Residents Association. “There’s a certain amount of that that you need to expect, living in an urban area. But Nashville is way out of proportion with what you would expect.” But Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard said he plans to vote against the panhandling bill because existing laws already prohibit threatening behavior and assault. He also said it would be “ludicrous” to fine people who are begging for money or to put them in already overcrowded jails. “The solution is to look at a comprehensive plan to deal with homelessness,” Maynard said. “When people are frustrated, they pass legislation that doesn’t do anything long-term but gives some short-term relief.” Maynard, an attorney and minister who represents the entire county on the council, also said he couldn’t support the legislation as a Christian. But the bill’s leading sponsor, Councilman Walter Hunt, insists that cracking down on unacceptable behavior does not mean the city lacks compassion, pointing to the $2.3 million the city has pledged to build 200 new housing units for the homeless this year. “We’re only concerned with the people who are out there harassing people, threatening people, panhandling people after dark,” he said. “A lot of the people doing that aren’t even homeless people. They’re professional beggars.” Other cities have passed similar aggressive panhandling bills, only to see them struck down by the courts. Matt Leber, spokesman for Nashville’s Homeless Power Project, predicted a similar fate for this law. “We have a problem with spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people for misdemeanors,” he said. “We should be channeling that money into outreach and housing and treatment programs.”

The Davidson County Election Commission-Special Meeting

The Davidson County Election Commission will hold a “Special Called” meeting on Tuesday, January 15, 2008 at 3:00 p.m. Metro Office Building: 800 2nd Ave. S. 2nd floor- Davidson Room

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Metro voters to get free identity theft protection Letter with instructions coming next week By MICHAEL CASS Staff Writer(Tennessean) Metro voters will receive a year of free identity theft coverage provided by the city after two computers containing 337,000 Social Security numbers were stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission, Mayor Karl Dean announced today. “My goal is to not only protect the voters whose Social Security numbers have been put at risk, but also to protect the integrity of the election process. We’re going into an extremely important election season and I want all citizens to feel 100 percent confident that they can and should participate in this process without worrying about their personal information being compromised,” Dean said. Metro "is contracting with Debix Identity Protection Network to provide affected citizens a full year of identity theft coverage from the date of registration and the option to renew for a second year of coverage for $9.50, a steep reduction from the consumer price of $99 per year," according to a news release from the mayor's office. Voters will receive a letter with instructions on how to enroll with Debix no later than next week, the mayor's office said. An enrollment form and an activation code will be included. Voters can use the activation code to mail in their enrollment form or register for the service online at Debix expects 25 to 35 percent of affected voters to take advantage of the service, according to the release. Under the contract agreement with Metro, Debix will receive $9.75 per account activation for the first 20,000 enrollees and $9.25 for all others. If 100,000 voters sign up, the program will cost the city more than $900,000.

Wackenhut CEO steps down amid controversy

By DAN CATERINICCHIA Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) -- The CEO of Wackenhut Corp., which recently lost its job protecting 10 nuclear power plants after guards at one plant were caught napping, has left the company. Wackenhut also has a contract to provide security services at Nashville Metro Government buildings. The company has come under local scrutiny recently after two laptop computers were stolen that contained the names and Social Security numbers of 337,000 registered Davidson County voters. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based security provider, a subsidiary of British based security giant G4S PLC, thanked Gary A. Sanders for his service, but did not say why he left in a press release to be issued Thursday. Grahame Gibson, a board member and G4S's chief operating officer, now has responsibility for the company's North American operations. After guards at one plant were found to be sleeping on the job last year, Chicago-based utility Exelon Corp. last month said that by July it will replace Wackenhut with an in-house security force at its 10 nuclear power plants. Wackenhut officials have said the apparent lapses in attentiveness at the Peach Bottom plant in Pennsylvania were "an anomaly." Exelon said it took action even though a review of security at its other plants found "no significant deficiencies." Since a videotape arose that showed a guard at the Peach Bottom plant nodding off, the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked commercial nuclear power plant operators to provide new information about their security practices. The agency in October confirmed guards had been sleeping on the job at the plant. Wackenhut also provides security, fire and other services to Department of Defense locations in Iraq. Shares of G4S fell about 1.4 percent to $425.32 on the London Stock Exchange in afternoon trading.

Board boss scolds Garcia for missing meeting

Garcia strikes back: 'You are not accurate'

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Metro Council asks for opinion on firing Garcia

By HEIDI HALL Staff Writer (Tennessean) A Metro Council agenda for Jan. 15, released this afternoon, includes a resolution asking the state education commissioner to remove Schools Director Pedro Garcia. Sponsored by Councilman Eric Crafton, it's non-binding and lists Metro schools' academic challenges. The council made a symbolic resolution regarding the school district earlier this year. It asked the board to align teacher raises with top administrative raises. Metro Council determines funding for the school system, but the system has its own independently elected body to make decisions. The state board of education has been more involved with Metro's decisions this school year because the district consistently failed to meet standards under No Child Left Behind. Here's the text of the resolution. RESOLUTION NO. RS2008-137 A resolution requesting the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education to make a recommendation as to whether it is appropriate that the Metropolitan Nashville Director of Schools be removed by the Tennessee Board of Education. WHEREAS, during the tenure of the current Director of Schools, the Metropolitan Council has shown tremendous support for Metro Schools by fully funding, if not exceeding, the Mayor’s recommended budget; and WHEREAS, although the Council has no direct oversight as to the operation of the school system, the Council has a responsibility to ensure that the funds appropriated for public schools are used in the most prudent manner possible and that student achievement is progressing at an acceptable level; and WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Public School (MNPS) system was recently moved into the “corrective action” phase of the federal No Child Left Behind law by the Tennessee Department of Education; and WHEREAS, as a result of dismal academic performance, state officials acted to remove the principal at Maplewood High School; and WHEREAS, the 2007 TCAP results show that MNPS fourth graders scored below the minimum growth standard in math and reading, and sixth and eighth graders were below the growth standard in social studies by at least two standard errors; and WHEREAS, the state high school Gateway test results indicate that Metro public schools’ progress is significantly below the average system in Tennessee in Algebra I, Biology I, and English II; and WHEREAS, Metro public schools ranked at the bottom of the list of Tennessee school systems on the Math Foundations end of course exam, and have the highest dropout rates and lowest graduation rates in the state; and WHEREAS, the average ACT score for Metro public schools’ students is a 19.08, which is below the minimum requirement for the HOPE scholarship and precludes our students from admission into 99 percent of the colleges in this country; and WHEREAS, Davidson County property taxpayers fund the Metropolitan Schools at the second highest level of 135 school districts for the local portion of the per pupil expenditure; and WHEREAS, Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-1-602 authorizes the Tennessee Commissioner of Education to recommend to the state Board of Education that the local schools director be replaced if a school system does not make progress to meet the minimum standards after being on probation for two consecutive years; and WHEREAS, it is fitting and proper that the Tennessee Board of Education take the action necessary to determine whether it is appropriate that the MNPS Director of Schools position be vacated by the state Board of Education. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY: Section 1. That the Metropolitan County Council hereby goes on record as requesting the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education to make a recommendation as to whether it is appropriate that the Metropolitan Nashville Director of Schools be removed by the Tennessee Board of Education. Section 2. The Metropolitan Clerk is directed to send a copy of this Resolution to Lana Seivers, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education. Section 3. That this Resolution shall take effect from and after its adoption, the welfare of The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it. Sponsored by: Eric Crafton

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Audit: Metro was billed for absent guards

Building with laptops exposed for days By MICHAEL CASS and SHEILA WISSNER Staff Writers A private security firm didn't cover a vulnerable Nashville government building on Saturdays for months — but did send the city a bill for its services, according to a government audit. Laptop computers containing Metro voters' Social Security numbers were stolen from the facility before Christmas, potentially exposing 337,000 people to identity theft. Although it's not clear whether the break-in occurred on a Saturday, city officials said the alleged failings of Wackenhut Corp. and a subcontractor are still outrageous if they're accurate. "We need to hold these companies responsible, and if what's being alleged is true, they should be dismissed," Michael Craddock, chairman of the Metro Council's Public Safety Committee, said Tuesday. Marc Shapiro, a Wackenhut spokesman based in Florida, declined to comment. Wackenhut, which has a five-year contract to provide security at many Metro buildings, billed the city for $149.76 each Saturday from October through December for work at the Metro Office Building, said Janel Lacy, Mayor Karl Dean's spokeswoman. That amount represents 12 hours at $12.48 an hour for one guard provided by Specialized Security Consultants, a subcontractor. But Metro General Services, which manages the building, said it couldn't find any records that security guards swiped their keycards through card readers on those days, when the building was supposed to be covered for 12 hours. Metro officials are trying to determine whether Wackenhut dishonestly billed the city for services it didn't perform or if individual employees failed to do their assigned tasks. An independent auditing firm will look at records from every Metro building Wackenhut guards under its contract, which started on May 1. City attorneys will "take appropriate action" against Wackenhut if it violated its contract, Dean said in a news release. Specialized Security Consultants, which is based in Mt. Juliet, won't be able to work for Metro until an investigation is completed, Metro Law Director Sue Cain wrote in a letter to Wackenhut dated Tuesday. An executive with Specialized Security Consultants could not be reached for comment. More questions raised Nashville attorney David Raybin, who specializes in identity theft cases, said the keycard audit gives Metro more ammunition in pursuing Wackenhut for money to reimburse the city. But the audit also raises questions about why Metro officials weren't comparing the keycard data with billing records all along, Raybin said. If they had done so, the city would have realized much sooner that the building was unprotected. "It's like reconciling your checkbook at the end of every month,'' he said. Billing for services that weren't rendered would constitute fraud if Wackenhut or Specialized Security officials intentionally billed Metro for services they knew weren't performed. A pattern of similar actions could help Metro build a case for punitive damages, Raybin said. Wackenhut is under investigation in Florida over accusations the company overbilled the Miami-Dade County government. Last month, the FBI and city government officials raided its corporate offices in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. A preliminary audit showed Wackenhut had improperly billed the Miami-Dade government for up to $12.1 million, news media reported. Fired guard has theory Specialized Security Consultants stopped providing security at the Metro Office Building on Saturday nights in July or August, said Brendan Murphy, a former security guard for the firm. He was fired for failing to perform his duties on Christmas Eve night, when police believe the laptop computers were stolen. The company was trying to save money, said Murphy, who feels he's not to blame. "They were hoping they could get by with it, I guess," he said. The subcontractor's decision meant the building wasn't covered for 36 straight hours each weekend from 6 a.m. Saturday, when an overnight shift ended, to 6 p.m. Sunday, Murphy said. He said he believes the laptops were stolen during that time on the weekend before Christmas. In an interview several hours before the audit results were released Tuesday, Dean said voters "have a right to be angry, they have a right to be disappointed" about the burglary. "I am, too," he said.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mayor Speaks About Election Building Break-In

Dean Says Building Security Must Improve, Not Specific On Changes Reported by Sara Dorsey(WMSV news channel 4) POSTED: 4:39 pm CST January 7, 2008 UPDATED: 9:35 pm CST January 7, 2008 NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville's mayor is talking publicly for the first time about a break-in at election headquarters that may have compromised voters' personal information. Video: Mayor On Commission Break-In: 'Voters Deserve Better' Two weeks ago, someone broke into a county office and stole two laptops containing hundreds of thousands of names, addresses and Social Security numbers. Mayor Karl Dean quickly said during Monday's interview with Channel 4 that he is disappointed on several levels that this information was on laptops and available to a thief. But two weeks after the robbery, the mayor still had very few specifics about what changes will be made, who will be held accountable, and what Metro is able to do to help voters. Dean said as the mayor of the city, he is sorry, and that he is now focusing on how to keep it from happening again. He said one of the first items to improve is building security. "Obviously we have a responsibility to protect the assets of Metropolitan government, and we need to be sure that those we contract with to do that or those we hire to do that perform their jobs," said Dean. All other city agencies are ordered to report back to him by Friday on how they store and protect sensitive data on computers. "Do you feel like the county's computers are secure?" asked reporter Sara Dorsey. "Obviously we had a problem last week, or two weeks ago, at the election commission, so I'm not going to say I know the answer to that question in its entirety," said Dean. Throughout the interview, Dean suggested countywide changes in security and information storage are possible. "The taxpayers, the voters deserve better and they're going to get better," said Dean. "Do you expect that there will be people held responsible for this?" asked Dorsey. "We will hold people accountable for doing their jobs. I'm not going to pre-judge things. I'm not going to be overdramatic on TV today. What I'm trying to do is make sure we get our reports and look at it in a careful, thoughtful way," said Dean. During a Monday interview, he could not say exactly what the government will do for voters, whether Metro intends to pick up the tab for fraud protection services or clean up any mess left behind if the thief does use voters’ Social Security numbers. One city councilman is calling for an independent audit of two city departments to avoid the perception of any impropriety as the investigation into the laptop thefts continues. "I have no reason that it wouldn't be totally on the up-and-up, but it gives the perception possibly to some people they may be trying to cover up something,” said Councilman Jim Gotto. Gotto is calling for independent internal audit of Metro's Information Technology office and General Services that covers building security. This is different than the review ordered by the mayor because in that case the departments do their own reviews. The independent auditor does not answer to either the mayor or the City Council.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Councilman requests audit after laptop thefts

By MICHAEL CASS Staff Writer (for The Tennessean) Metro Councilman Jim Gotto today asked Metro's internal auditor to "conduct a full-scale audit" of two city agencies related to the theft of laptop computers containing sensitive voter information. Gotto, who represents Hermitage, asked Internal Auditor Mark Swann to review the operations of Metro's General Services and Information Technology Services departments. He also asked the state's elections chief to audit the Davidson County Election Commission, whose offices were burglarized before Christmas. The thief or thieves got away with two computers containing 337,000 voters' Social Security numbers. Police investigators have not been able to find the machines yet. “It is unfortunate that policies and procedures of the previous administration created a scenario that allowed this to happen”, Gotto said in a news release. “That Mayor (Karl) Dean now has to deal with the aftermath of a grave situation for which he bears no responsibility in its creation is regrettable.” General Services manages security for the Metro Office Building, where the election commission has its offices. Dean has directed each city department to audit its own data security by the end of this week. Gotto said he didn't doubt that those reviews would be objective. "However, the conducting of an audit by the Metro Independent Internal Auditor will make certain that there is no appearance or perception of impropriety," he said. The Metro auditor position was created by a charter amendment voters approved in 2006. The audit division is independent of the mayor's administration and the council. The top auditor is appointed by the council and reports to a six-person audit committee.

Fired security guard says he's not to blame for data theft

By MICHAEL CASS Staff Writer (for The Tennessean) The security guard who was fired after computers with voters’ Social Security numbers were stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission says he wasn’t on duty at the time. In fact, Brendan Murphy said in a telephone interview, no one was on duty at the time. Murphy called The Tennessean after reading a story in Friday’s paper about an unnamed guard who was blamed by Metro officials for listening to Christmas music, ordering takeout food and failing to make his hourly rounds as two laptop computers were stolen. He said he was getting “a bad rap,” even though his identity wasn’t known publicly at the time. “I would swear on a stack of Bibles, that window was broken out Saturday (Dec. 22),” Murphy said. Metro police believe the computers were stolen from the Metro Office Building on Monday, Dec. 24, at about 9:45 p.m., when a computer router in the election commission office was unplugged, according to an electronic record. Murphy was working then, and he acknowledges that he slacked off that night. "We'd just never had a break-in before," he said. But Murphy, 40, said he noticed that Christmas decorations and a roll-up window at the election commission were out of place when he started work at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23. He said neither he nor anyone else worked the previous night due to budget cuts by Specialized Security Consultants, a Mt. Juliet firm that was expected to provide security for 12 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. William Jones, vice president of Specialized Security Consultants, declined to comment this morning. The firm is a subcontractor of Wackenhut, which has a security contract with Metro government. Wackenhut’s Nashville general manager, Andrew Bedlack, referred a reporter to Specialized Security Consultants. Murphy said he didn’t notice the election commission’s smashed exterior window the night he discovered the Christmas decorations and the roll-up window, and he admitted that he failed to report those irregularities to his bosses. He said he assumed an election commission worker had come in on the weekend, forgotten his or her key and raised the window to get in the office. Murphy said he believes a thief came back into the office through the smashed window on Dec. 24 and unplugged the computer router. He said he wouldn’t have heard anyone coming through a window that was already broken. Another guard discovered the burglary on Dec. 26. The computers are still missing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lawsuit Seeks Damages From Voter Registration Left

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Changes Sought In Election Commission Security

Posted: Jan 4, 2008 05:57 PM CST News Channel 5 NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Three citizens filed a class-action lawsuit against Metro, the security company and a subcontractor. The suit blames Metro for a not securing voter files. The citizens want Metro to pay for every voter's credit check. This comes after a burglary at the Davidson County Election Commission where laptops containing voters' information were taken. The election commission is beefing up security, according to elections administrator Ray Barrett. Barrett spoke to Metro's public safety committee Thursday. The meeting exposed major security flaws in the county's elections office. Officials said they are reviewing everything from building design to how information is stored on computers. Barrett said the office will never again be left vulnerable to theft. When asked if a user name or password was taped to the outside of the computer, Barrett said, "Some did have that, yes." Barrett was one of two administrators who answered questions about security procedures in the elections office. On Friday, Barrett showed NewsChannel 5 the 79 remaining laptop computers without passwords taped on the devices. The computers were securely stored in a warehouse near Nashville International Airport. The warehouse has several layers of steel doors and locked gates. These are layers of security not in place at the Howard building. On Christmas Eve, a thief or thieves smashed a window and stole two laptops employees were repairing in the office. The election commission office uses passwords to access the computers, but the computers don't have encryption. The office's digital video recorder was unplugged so it didn't record the burglary. Barrett said Thursday's meeting will result in some immediate changes on the computers. "We're not going to have Social Security numbers on any laptops," he said. "That's going to be the main thing." Barrett said Metro General Services, which manages government buildings, will look at security changes in the office itself. Voters such as Jill Thompson are happy to hear about the changes, but not happy about the long-term effects of the Christmas Eve computer theft. "You could have a lot of people with credit issues that could take years and years to resolve," she said. The Davidson County Election Commission said most of the letters informing all 337,000 voters of the computer thefts have been mailed. The cost to taxpayers is $109,000. Metro police have nine police officers working on the case. The security guard Metro Services feels didn't do enough to protect the office was fired earlier this week. The man, who didn't want his full name disclosed to the public, said he is scapegoat. He worked the Sunday before Christmas from 6 p.m. until early Monday morning. He thinks the break-in already happened before he arrived. "They needed a patsy and I guess I fit the bill," he said. He said he understands why his company had to save face, but believes they are making him out to be a lazy employee. He said that is not true. Anyone with information on the stolen Dell laptop computers can collect up to $1,000 in reward money by calling Crime Stoppers at 74-CRIME.

Some Say Metro Should Pay For Credit Risk Fix

Laptop Containing Personal Information Stolen From Election Commission Reported By Dennis Ferrier POSTED: 4:44 pm CST January 4, 2008 UPDATED: 6:26 pm CST January 4, 2008 NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The recent security breach at the Metro Election Commission has some residents questioning if Metro should pay for the fix. According to officials with the Election Commission, a laptop with the Social Security numbers of all of Davidson County’s registered voters was taken, along with other items, during the break-in. The question on many minds is shouldn't Nashville's government have to pay to help fix the problem? Metro has put a police report on the Internet so residents can put a credit freeze on their accounts if they want to. A police report is required by credit bureaus to enforce the freeze. They've also put the number of credit agencies up for those who would like to put a fraud alert on their accounts. Placing an alert on credit reports is free. There is a charge to place and remove a freeze to credit. But many affected residents said they don't think that's enough. Nashville registered voter and computer expert Mike Carroll wrote that the move “is like locking the barn door after all the horses are loose. Not all Nashvillians have a computer or access to a computer.” Carroll wants Metro to put a fraud alert in place for all 337,000 voters whose information was on the laptop. Some voters may not want a fraud alert, but the idea of doing this for people who want it done has got some support. “I want a hot line where anybody can just pick up the telephone and call a number and we’ll have somebody to step them through the process or even connect them, direct connect them to the credit agency, to file the report. That's not rocket science. That’s pretty easy to do in today's society,” said Councilman Mike Craddock. Craddock is the chairman of the Metro Public Safety Committee. He said he wants Mayor Karl Dean’s office to open a hot line to work with people and that if a hot line implies Metro made a mistake, then the city needs to live with it. “First and foremost, we ought to help people. I don’t care about the liability aspect of it. We have a legal department that can take care of that. I want to help these people through this,” Craddock said. That move has to come from Dean’s office, and while he is still on vacation, the next step is coming with hesitation. “That is definitely something that we’re looking into as well. Again, we’re looking at several options what we can do to try to help the voters,” said Dean’s Chief of Staff Rita Roberts-Turner. At a Thursday night meeting, Metro's computer division said it doesn't do much at the Election Commission, even though private sector computer experts have said that information technology workers should be all over election records. Information technology workers have charged the Election Commission $300,000 for services. Three Davidson County voters have filed a class-action lawsuit against Metro government, the security company Wackenhut and a sub-contractor. The Metro Council also sent a letter to Wackenhut asking it to pay for the cost of the letters sent to voters. Postage on those letters cost more than $122,000.

Fired Guard Says He's Break-In Fall Guy

Guard Fired In Wake Of Election Commission Break-in Reported By Nancy Amons POSTED: 6:28 pm CST January 4, 2008 UPDATED: 7:07 pm CST January 4, 2008 NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A security guard fired after a break-in at the Metro Election Commission said he is a fall guy. Brandon Murphy said he was watching the building the night someone stole laptop computers with the Social Security numbers of every registered voter in Davidson County. “So, I guess you get complacent after a while, this routine, lights just roll on like they always do,” he said. Murphy said there’s not a lot he can say about the break-in. He said he came to work at about 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and did not notice that a window had been broken or two laptops stolen. “It’s unfortunate. I’m sorry the whole thing happened. I should have taken the time to look up at that window, but it just didn’t seem urgent enough,” he said. Murphy said he didn’t know exactly when the thieves came in but assumed it was before his shift. He said when he came in, he saw that Christmas ornaments had been disturbed. He was fired on Jan. 2. He said he also cannot explain that, while Election Commission officials said the laptops were taken about 9:45 p.m., he didn’t hear anything. He said he worked the day before Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve. When asked if he knew why a digital video recorder had been unplugged, which prevented any security camera recordings, he said he didn’t know that the cameras the commission used were working. He said the company he worked for cut back on security hours at the school to save money on overtime. Murphy worked for a subcontractor for Wackenhut, who has Metro’s security contract. Three Davidson county voters have filed a class-action lawsuit against Metro government, the security company Wackenhut and a sub-contractor. The Metro Council also sent a letter to Wackenhut asking it to pay for the cost of the letters sent to voters. Postage on those letters cost more than $122,000.