Estimates: At Least $500,000 Spent on Honorary Resolutions - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NC5 Investigates: You Paid For It!

Estimates: At Least $500,000 Spent on Honorary Resolutions

Actor/comedian Eddie Griffin Actor/comedian Eddie Griffin
Rep. Joe Towns Rep. Joe Towns
BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall BYU Coach Bronco Mendenhall
Rep. Gerald McCormick Rep. Gerald McCormick
Kelsey and Sen. Bill Ketron Kelsey and Sen. Bill Ketron

By Phil Williams
Chief Investigative Reporter

State employees have been told to expect layoffs, TennCare's being cut, and some severely disabled folks may soon lose their care.

But that hasn't stopped lawmakers from spending your money to honor people whom you may have never heard of.

Each year, lawmakers introduce about 1,700 resolutions. One year, that was more than 22 other states combined.

And, of course, you paid for it!

Among those they've honored, Eddie Griffin is an actor and comedian from Missouri.

To applaud Griffin, Memphis Democrat Rep. Joe Towns had legislative staff craft a resolution praising him for "bringing laughter to people all over this country."

"He's not from Tennessee?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.

"No, I don't know that," Towns answered. "I don't think so. That came from some people in my community. He was doing a comedy show in Memphis, Tennessee."

And lawmakers passed the resolution just in time for Towns to present it at Griffin's show in Memphis.

"Did you get free tickets?" I asked.

"Did I get free tickets? I don't know," the lawmaker responded.

Did he carry the resolution to the show?

"I did."

So did that get him into the show?

"I guess you could say that."

Then, there's Brigham Young football coach Bronco Mendenhall.

"Why should Tennessee taxpayers pay to honor the coach of BYU?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked the sponsor of another resolution.

"Because he visited our community," said Rep. Gerald McCormick.

The Chattanooga Republican had staff prepare a House resolution to "applaud [Mendenhall] for his vaunted level of success."

And how did taxpayers benefit from that?

"Well, we just...," McCormick said, before starting to laugh. "Again, we send out a lot of these."

I noted, "You laughed."

Still laughing, McCormick said, "Yeah, I did laugh. I think it's a long running tradition."

Then, there was the graduation of a very special high-school senior.

"I thought it was a very important milestone in her life," said Sen. Bill Ketron.

It was the Murfreesboro Republican's own daughter, Kelsey.

The Senate resolution praised her "exemplary 3.2 grade point average," saying she was "clearly deserving of the respect, admiration and commendation of this legislative body."

Did he sponsor resolutions for other members of her class who might have had better grades?

"I believe I, well, I don't know, Phil, whether I did or not," Ketron replied. "But I have sponsored many resolutions down here."

And not only have lawmakers spent time debating whether to honor people like Michael Jackson, our NewsChannel 5 investigation discovered they also spent your money.

They've paid to prepare them, legal staff to write them, clerks to file those resolutions, lawmakers to vote and approve them, in some cases clerks to transmit them from one chamber to the other, lawmakers to approve them again, and finally more clerks to publish them.

"It is not where we should be spending taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Donna Rowland, a Murfreesboro Republican.

By Rowland's calculation, $800 dollars of your money go into each resolution. More conservative estimates put it at about $300.

Added up, that's at least half a million dollars a year.

"That is not what my constituents want me spending their money on," Rowland added. "They had rather me place it on the departments that need it."

That's especially true since lawmakers can print their own proclamations and certificates without having to tie up any legislative resources.

Rowland showed us a sample of a congratulations to a John and Jean Smith on their 50th wedding anniversary.

"These are certificates and proclamations that members would give out when we are out of session because we are not here to run things through the legal process," she explained.

But Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey -- who sponsored a resolution to commend the Tennessee Firearms Association, a group whose vote he's courting in his race for governor -- doesn't see a problem.

"I've got a feeling if we cut those out there wouldn't be anybody losing their job in state government," the Blountville Republican said.

So why should taxpayer money be spent on that?

"Because we're honoring citizens out there, and that's part of our job."

But whether it's for a comedian, a football coach or a state lawmaker's daughter, critics question whether this is the job for which you elected them.

In fact, there are so many resolutions that they are usually voted on in a block with no debate -- which means a lot of lawmakers don't even read what they're voting on.

Rowland admits that she herself has sponsored resolutions in the past. 

She has now asked her colleagues to join her in ending the practice -- but she says no one has taken her up on her request.


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