Report lists Tennessee politicians who owe the state money - WKRN News 2

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Report lists Tennessee politicians who owe the state money

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You trust them with your tax dollars, but some of Tennessee’s office holders owe the state thousands of dollars in unpaid fines. We're all held to deadlines, but when it comes to filing paperwork, some public officials just fall behind. 

When someone runs for public office, you are obligated to fill out various forms on the local and state levels. Those forms are received by the Tennessee Ethics Commission. If they are not submitted on time the public official starts to accrue a fine.

News Channel 11 requested the list from the state and crunched the numbers and found all together, the state is owed more than $200,000. Some, even owe $10,000 – the maximum fine possible.

A few of our region’s office holders are on the list. And we asked them if they planned to pay up. Our News Channel 11 investigation may have already prompted action - with some fines being paid off.

Hawkins County Administrator of Elections Donna Sharp knows the clock is always ticking. With elections coming up, Sharp is always at work -- sorting the paperwork for the dozens candidate in Hawkins County.

“Administrators stay on pins and needles because of deadlines," said Sharp. “When candidates find out the first day they can pick up a petition, that's the when we start seeing an increase in our traffic."

That same sense of urgency isn't as apparent for some of the men and women whose paperwork she files. There's a list that holds the names of Tennessee’s office holders, candidates and lobbyists who neglected to file their paperwork to the state on time or -- not at all.

This form is a statement of disclosure of interests - a document that tells the state what a candidate's financial interests are. All in all, the state is owed money by these individuals in unpaid fines.

$1,175 of that comes from office holders in our region. $1,000 is owed by Charles Johnson -- the former vice mayor of Bulls Gap, TN. $125 is owed by Melvin Carrier, a sitting alderman in Bluff City. The smallest amount, $50, is owed by Hawkins County Commissioner Stacy Vaughan.

"There would be absolutely no reason for a candidate or official to avoid it," said Vaughan. He says he’s filed his statement of interest former every year. “It's really simple. The state has it setup pretty easy. You can go online. You've got a user name and password. You log in."

In 2012 , the state says Vaughan missed his filing date by a few days -- and accrued the small fine. That’s money he’s owed for two years now. His name may have been on the list, but he had no idea until heard from us.

"This is a $50 fine that I wasn't aware of until it was brought to my attention," remarked Vaughan. "I was shocked by it. I had filed this every year."

So where was the communication breakdown?

“We send them a certified notice telling them they have 5 days from receipt of that notice to file. If they file within that 5 day time. If they wait then we have to take it to the commission and the commission decides, one whether to assess a penalty, and how much," said Becky Bradley, an Ethics Specialist with the TN Bureau of Ethics.

"I don't feel the state communicated with me well at all because if I had known in 2012 that there had been a fine assessed or could have been a fine assessed I would have taken care of the fine at that point," replied Vaughan.

After we told Vaughan he owed the state money he didn't waste any time. In fact, he even picked up his phone and called the ethics commission in front of us.

"I feel like I'm obligated to pay the fine," said Vaughan.

We contacted the ethics commission about Vaughan’s fine. They said they have received his check and his fine is paid off.

News Channel 11 asked Charles Johnson and Melvin Carrier to do an on camera interview about the money they owed to the state. Johnson declined, but told us he contacted the state to begin paying back the $1,000 he owes. Alderman Melvin Carrier has not returned any of our calls requesting comment. The Tennessee Ethics Commission says his case has been forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office.

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