Allen sets low bar for ‘tough on crime’

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Lots of folks are wondering how former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe got such a light sentence after pleading guilty to theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars from county taxpayers.

While he got 10 years, he serves only one year, which will be reduced to seven months assuming good behavior. He was assessed a $200,000 fine, but no schedule was announced for paying it over the next 10 years. What happens if he fails to pay in a timely manner or at all?

Frankly, I do not have a credible explanation for why District Attorney General Charme Allen, in her first major policy decision, proudly proclaimed her pride in the Lowe settlement at a news conference.

Lowe did not just steal. He also hired ghost employees including Delbert Morgan, who was convicted by a jury but will serve only one month for his crime. Misdemeanors get tougher penalties than this.

Lowe showed no remorse when the media found him, and he described it all as “unfortunate.”

Not once did he apologize to the people who elected him. What Lowe regrets is that he got caught. Entering the City County Building with a smile on his face makes a mockery of his regret.

Allen, the new DA, is unknown to most Knox County citizens as she was unopposed and waltzed into the office via an unopposed election last August. Her official website says she is “tough on crime and strong on prevention.”

If the best she can secure for an admitted thief is seven months, then that is a new definition for “tough on crime” and sends a signal, along with the Morgan one-month sentence, that the penalty for public corruption in Knox County is pretty low.

She owes the public an explanation as to why this matter did not go to trial. This plea bargain was a bargain only for the guilty in this case.

Lowe was smart to have Greg Isaacs as his attorney. Isaacs got the trial postponed several times over three years just as he has done with Troy Whiteside, whose trial has been delayed almost six years now. Was the DA fearful she would be outgunned by Isaacs in the courtroom? Surely not. She states publicly it was the “most significant public corruption case in Knox County history.”

What does this say for other public corruption cases if seven months in the local jail is the result? Does she honestly think the time that her news release says went into investigating this case has been justified with this sort of wrist slapping?

With only six months in office, General Allen has been a major disappointment on this case.

■  Mark Brown: Friday night, March 20, was a bittersweet moment at the Beck Cultural Center as many friends and admirers of Knoxville’s former vice mayor, Mark Brown, and his wife, Chenile, gathered to wish them well as he moves to Nashville to be closer to his new wife and to go to work for TennCare. Brown has been an important figure in the community for years and made positive contributions going back to serving on the Bern­stein Commission, which recommended the police civilian review board be established.

He was chosen twice by the GOP-dominated County Commission to be a magistrate while he is Democrat. His ability was more important than partisanship. He will be missed.

■  House Speaker Beth Harwell acted quickly and wisely to halt the ill-advised practice of holding unannounced legislative meetings prior to the official meetings to discuss legislation. The practice never should have happened, and Harwell stepped up quickly to end it. This shows leadership that will help her in a potential 2018 race for governor.

  MPC: Three finalists for MPC director are being interviewed through April 1. They are Alan Travis from Atlanta, who once worked for MPC; Steve Park from Skokie, Ill.; and Gerald Green from the Asheville area.

Green and Travis went to the University of Tennessee. Park met with mayors Rogero and Burchett. MPC pays their travel costs, but the choice is made by the two mayors. The process is being conducted in secret at the direction of Rogero aide Bill Lyons. A decision is expected in mid-April. There has been little transparency in this matter.

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