published Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Lawmakers balk at plan to shut Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County

  • photo
    Pre-season football practice at Taft Youth Center.
    Staff File Photo

NASHVILLE -- A proposal to close Taft Youth Center in Bledsoe County is drawing bipartisan objections from area state lawmakers.

State Department of Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day made the proposal to shut down the facility Tuesday during her budget presentation to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is conducting the hearings in public.

"It's our most expensive place," O'Day said, also noting the facility's age and location make it difficult to operate.

According to 2011-12 budget documents from the Department of Children's Services, closing Taft would save about $12.3 million.

Juveniles at Taft, near Pikeville, would be sent to the state's four other youth centers, O'Day said.

But in a letter to the governor, two senators and three representatives called the closure of Taft "drastic" and said closing the facility is not in the interest of the state, Bledsoe County or offenders.

Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said Tuesday that he and other lawmakers in the region want to look for ways to avoid a closure.

Joining Sexton in the letter to Haslam are Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City; Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere; and Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey.

"My colleagues and I are in disagreement with the commissioner on the proposed closing and believe other cost-saving measures and cuts could be implemented before taking such drastic action," Sexton said in a news release.

"Even with the more aggressive offender population, Taft has the highest success rate of any other facility for offenders who were still in the community setting 12 months post-release without a delinquent offense," he said.

The legislators said they hope the governor will visit Taft before any decision is made to close it.

Taft Youth Center spokeswoman Carol Narramore said she believes officials in Nashville are proposing the closure because of requested funding for a dining room renovation that was simply a "wish list" item.

Taft's most recent budget requested money for renovations of the dining room, Narramore said, but that item was no "must have." She said the dining room somehow gained a price tag of $32 million in the presentation, while the last price tag Taft officials put on the project "was only $2 million."

Either way, it's a renovation Taft can live without, she said.

"We have a new school and we would like to have a new dining room. But it's not something that we would have to do," she said.

Narramore said the closure of Taft would end many of the facility's most beneficial programs. Taft's recidivism rate is the lowest in the state and it has the "highest GED or diploma rate than any other institution," she said.

"Taft has run well for 94 years," Narramore said. "But if they close us, they'll also be losing 202 jobs," she said.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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RealDeal said...

COMMUNICATION IS A GOLDEN THREAD, but it is one thread that has been left out of the weave of DCS administration and their understanding of Taft Youth Center! Cameron Sexton asked for an itemized list for the 37 million that O'Day said Taft was in need of, and the most they could come up with was 24 million! And that was to tear down buildings due to their age. As Sexton said, if we are tearing down buildings because of age, we had better start with the capitol since it was built in the 1800's. In all my life, I have never seen such a screwed up administration! Haslam and his buds have hunkerd down, circled the wagons, and been far to silent for way to long. The LACK of communication is unreal, and one would think that they forgot about the people of this state! Oh, Haslam goes to the high dollar meetings in Nashville and Knoxville, you know, 'his kind', but the working class, forget about us. I think they all need to sign up for the social work stipend program, go back to school and take some economics classes and basic math. As Mark Twain said "if you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said", but if you lie, it just keeps getting deeper and deeper. They have lied. O'Day looks like a blooming idiot as does her underlings. The truth will come out and it won't be long. Just last week, several of our Juvenile Judges toured Taft. As a result, DCS public information officer came out in the paper saying that students who were to graduate with their GED couldn't have their graduation because parents weren't notified. NO, they weren't notified because we were told DO NOT have the graduation because Sexton had been invited to speak at the ceremony. This is something that we have been doing for years and there has never been an issue, until now. So, I think it's safe to say that Haslam, O'Day, Dawson, Suddreth and company are all highly pissed because this 'dumb bunch of rednecks' didn't roll over and take this laying down. That's right, we didn't roll over and we are not going too. You see, that is something that they have never been able to understand about the employees at Taft....we are a team. They will never be able to cause the inner strife that they so desire.

This thing is far from over, and there are a lot of us that will fight until the death. I am one of those people. Haslam, O'Day and Dawson aren't the only ones that are pissed off. And, anyone who lives in this area should be too. This move is going to further depress an already depressed job market. I think everyone knows the costs of unemployment. The taxpayers should never give up the fight! Afterall, it is a taxpayer issue and it is a service to the youthful offenders of the State of Tennessee!

January 29, 2012 at 7:11 p.m.
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