Pubdate: Thu, 15 Apr 2004
Source: Tullahoma News (TN)
Copyright: The Tullahoma News 2004
Author: Wayne Thomas
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Officials Say County Should have Member on Committee

Last week, Governor Phil Bredesen named 19 people to a Methamphetamine Task
Force. But some Franklin Countians and area lawmakers feel that the governor
overlooked people who have been actually dealing with the meth problem,
mainly area law enforcement officers.

Last week, Governor Phil Bredesen named 19 people to a Methamphetamine Task
Force. But some Franklin Countians and area lawmakers feel that the governor
overlooked people who have been actually dealing with the meth problem,
mainly area law enforcement officers. "Danny Mantooth, Mike Bell and I found
our first meth lab in 1995," Franklin County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Fuller
stated, after learning that no one from the Franklin County area was
included on the list. "Only the sheriff of Sequatchie County was named to
the committee," Fuller said. "Grundy County Sheriff Robert Meeks was flown
to North Carolina last year to receive a national award from the DEA
(federal Drug Enforcement Agency) for his work in helping get the Southeast
Tennessee Methamphetamines Task Force set up. He should have been considered
for that committee." "I think the governor should have considered someone
from this area," Winchester Public Safety Director Dennis Young stated. "I
called Senator (Jerry) Cooper's office and they said that the way they
understood it, the committee appointments are complete.

And the senator and (state Rep.) Judd Matheny (of Tullahoma) were two of the
main people trying to get legislation approved by the legislature this year
and they weren't even consulted about possible members to that committee."
Like Fuller, Young stated that he felt at least Mantooth and possibly Bell
should have been named to the committee. "These guys have been out there
dealing with these labs," Young stated. "I wonder how many of the
politicians on the committee have seen officers in the hospital from
breathing that stuff (chemicals from a meth lab) or see a child burned by
some of the chemicals used in the labs," Fuller said. Although State Sen.
Jerry Cooper and State Rep. Judd Matheny were strong supporters of various
pieces of legislation to try and battle methamphetamines, they say they were
not consulted on possible appointments to the task force. A spokesperson for
Sen. Cooper stated that the "senator was very disappointed that no one from
his district was named to the committee." The spokesperson noted that the
"senator is well aware of the serious problem Franklin County has with
methamphetamines." State Rep. George Fraley wrote a letter to the governor
requesting that Franklin County Sheriff's Investigator Mike Bell be named to
the committee. Fraley pointed to the fact that Bell was involved in the
first meth lab in the state in 1995. "He is well trained and knowledgeable
of what is involved in the meth problem," Fraley wrote. Fraley informed the
governor that he felt Bell would be a valuable asset to the task force.
"With Franklin County being the number one in methamphetamines production,
you would think that someone would be on the committee," Matheny stated.
"Warren, Coffee and especially Franklin County are eaten up with the meth
problem," the representative stated. "So we should have someone on the
committee." Methany noted that he had watched the drug grow "like wildfire"
while he was working as a state narcotics officer. "The number of children
in custody of the state is expected to double next year so we need to do
something about the problem now," Methany said. Matheny noted that the
methamphetamines bill that he introduced this year in the legislature and
tried to get passed was based on conversations and studies he had with
police chief association, the sheriff's association, the Tennessee Housing
Authority, Tennessee District Attorney Conference, General Sessions Judge's
Conference, the Tennessee Public Defenders Association, as well as over 600
surveys sent to law enforcement agencies across the state. He added that the
TBI drafted the legislation section of his bill. "I felt this was a good
first start to battle the problem.

And for the governor just to endorse a decision by two urban legislators to
just discount 15 months of research across the state is wrong," he said. "I
support the task force, but to do nothing for the next 15 months and to
allow the problem to grow is wrong." He said the state's problem would be
much worse in 15 months than it is now. Lydia Lenker, spokesperson for the
governor, stated Tuesday that "all of the appointments to the committee had
not been made" and that she felt certain that someone from Franklin County
will be named to the committee. "We are still working to complete the
appointment process on the Task Force and should have that done in a timely
fashion," Lenker stated. She did know when others would be named to the task
force but expects it soon. The task force will present findings and
recommendations on a broad strategy to the Governor by Sept. 1. According to
a statement issued from the Governor's office, the panel will consist of 20
representatives from a range of fields, "including law enforcement, health
care, education and human services, as well as 12 ex-officio members who
will provide general advice and counsel to the core group." The first
meeting is scheduled for April 27 in Nashville. Other meetings would be held
in communities across Middle and East Tennessee - the heart of meth
territory in Tennessee. Ken Givens, commissioner of the Department of
Agriculture, will serve as the task force chairman. According to the
Governor's office, Givens, a former state representative from Hawkins
County, "has a firm understanding of the predominantly rural social and
health issues associated with meth abuse." Givens also is a longtime
advocate for children's health. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) estimates that Tennessee now accounts for 75% of meth lab seizures in
the Southeast. Meth abuse also is disproportionately affecting children.

Between January 2002 and July 2003, more than 700 children were placed in
state custody as a result of meth allegations.
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