COMMENTARY: Comptroller REACHes Out And Convicts King

KEVIN HALPERN, Courier Co-Editor

There is an unusual aspect to a Special Report released by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's office about the Cannon County REACH After-School Program.

Which is, why was the Special Report released now?

In the report, issued on Feb. 29, the former executive director of REACH, Angela King, is accused of misusing funds she allegedly took from the program.

However, a press release put out to the media and public by the Comptroller's Office along with the report goes beyond simply accusing King. It is entitled:

"Former After-School Program Director in Cannon County Took Public Funds for Personal Use"

In other words, she stole taxpayer's money and spent it on herself or others not associated with REACH. She's quilty, according to the Comptroller's report and press release.

The press release is unusual because it is rare for a government agency to state flatly that a person has committed a criminal activity before that person has been charged, prosecuted and convicted.

Normally a government agency such as the Comptroller's Office only does so after some type of legal action has been taken by a law enforcement agency or a grand jury, in the form of a warrant or an indictment. Even then a person is only alleged to have committed, or is suspected of having committed, a crime.

In addition to containing no information that King has been charged or arrested for allegedly committing a crime or crimes, the press release and report do not actually mention her by name. She is referred to repeatedly as "executive director" but never named. However, in that she served as executive director for around a decade, there is no doubt King is the person not specifically identified.

A review of many press releases and special reports found on the Comptroller's website of similar activities which have occurred in other Tennessee counties show they almost always include the name of the alleged offender and that he or she has already been charged, indicted and/or arrested, unless they admit inappropriate activities to auditors.

There is no information in the press release or report that King has admitted to any wrongdoings.

Whether intended or not, a government agency - the Comptroller's Office - has convicted, in the form of a public statement, a citizen of a crime, without that person having the opportunity to challenge the evidence, put forth a defense, and having their fate determined by a jury or judge.

Doing so will certainly make it more difficult for King to get a fair trial in the local judicial district, which includes Cannon and Rutherford counties, since the release was widely published in both locations.

It appears this could be a case of premature overREACHing by the Comptroller, and it makes one wonder why, and why now? King was removed as executive director in November of 2010. The last alleged financial transgression noted in the Special Report occurred the previous month.

It's taken over 15 months to get to this point. What difference would a few more months of waiting for the DA to review the findings and present a case to a grand jury have made?