Citizens for Better Government

Blount County Tennessee

Bogus Degrees, No Apology, No Moral Compass

The recent article in the The Daily Times about the Circuit Court Clerk, Tom Hatcher, purchasing a bogus Bachelors degree with $3910 of County money highlights the absence of a clear moral compass in the county administration. It also shows the result of inadequate policies to govern the behavior of our county officials.

Hatcher purchased the "degree" from an outfit called Columbus University in Picayune, Mississippi. He issued a county purchase order on 12/29/04 to pay his $3910 "tuition." Apparently he was able to zip through his course requirements, while holding his full-time county job, because he claimed on his county website (until yesterday) that he was awarded his "Bachelors Degree" from Columbus in 2005. All of this may have been feasible, since the Daily Times showed that the mailing address of Columbus University was actually the location of  'The Renewed Attitudes Massage and Body Sculpting Studio'.

This waste of taxpayer money is nothing new for Hatcher, who also seems to like nice cars, furniture, and refrigerators, as long as the citizens of the county are paying the bills.

If you claim a bogus degree and are found out, you can expect to be fired in most organizations. Not in Blount County. According to Mayor Cunningham: "The county has no control over how the elected officials spend the money appropriated to their budgets". The Mayor did not mention that he has a great deal of power as the head of the Budget Committee. He also should have substantial sway over the actions of the office holders through the use of the Mayor's office as a "bully pulpit". In addition, a Tennessee statute gives the county judges the power to remove Hatcher for "misbehavior in office". Yet, no one in the county administration, or judiciary, has done anything to censure Hatcher.

Of course, now that he has been caught red-handed, Hatcher has decided to reimburse the county for the $3910 the citizens paid for his bogus degree. Did he accompany the check with a public apology? No. Instead he further insulted the intelligence of Blount county citizens by claiming he: "did not realize the problems existed with Columbus University". As the kids say: "well duhhh". Maybe he should have gotten a clue from the willingness of the University to grant a degree with little work by him. Or, maybe he should have run a few Google searches before he decided to spend the citizens money. Such a search would have revealed that as far back as 1999 articles identified Columbus as a diploma mill; or that CBS 20/20 identified Columbus University as a source of  "fake degrees" in May of 2004 (7 months before Hatcher bought his degree); or that the State of Texas listed Columbus University as a "source of fraudulent or substandard degrees". It seems that truth and remorse come hard to Mr. Hatcher.

The Mayor was given the information about the Circuit Court Clerk's waste of funds on a bogus diploma more than a week before the story broke in the paper. So far, the Mayor has done nothing to publicly chastise Hatcher. Apparently, if you misuse funds in Blount County and get caught, all you have to do is repay the money, and all is well with the Mayor. We continue to believe the Mayor is a better man than that, and hope he will show it.

Hatcher was able to get away with his actions, because Blount County does not have any tuition reimbursement policy. Citizens for Better Government has repeatedly pointed to the need for standards and policies in the county, only to be told by the mayor that we are: "dead wrong". We know one thing -  without policies and standards - anything goes! Hatcher's actions prove it.