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Prisoner Education Guide

New Tennessee Parole Board Members have Apparent Bias Against Granting Parole

Tennessee Board of Parole Chairman Charles Traughber, who had served almost four decades on the Board and had a reputation for ruling it with an iron hand, retired in June 2013. To fill Traughber's vacant position, Governor Bill Haslam selected Board member Richard Montgomery, 66, to serve as chairman. Montgomery had been appointed to the Board in January; previously, he had served as a state representative for 14 years.

According to Project Vote Smart, several of the principles that Montgomery supported when he served as a legislator included "end parole for repeat violent felons," "strengthen penalties and sentences for drug-related crimes" and "strengthen penalties and sentences for sex offenders."

Although such positions appear to be inapposite and even biased for the chairman of the Board of Parole, Montgomery still appears to be more qualified than another recent Board appointee.

Effective July 16, 2013, Governor Haslam appointed former Bradley County Sheriff Timothy A. Gobble to fill the position of Board member Charles Taylor, who resigned earlier this year.

"Tim has demonstrated his commitment and responsibility throughout an extensive career in public service, and we are fortunate to have him on the Board of Parole," Haslam said. "For our parole board, we're trying to get people across the state who represent various backgrounds, and we thought his background and experience could be helpful."

Apparently "commitment" and "responsibility" are subjective terms, while Gobble's "background and experience" requires some explanation.

Prior to his appointment to the Board, Gobble served as city manager for East Ridge, Tennessee from April 2011 to February 2013, and deputy chief of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in 2010-2011. He had previously been employed as director of the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency and as a city councilmember, and was a U.S. Secret Service agent for fifteen years.

While this certainly paints an impressive résumé, his previous stints in public service positions were not without controversy.

Gobble had resigned as city manager of East Ridge in February 2013 – shortly before the city council was to consider removing him – following controversy about his "aggressive" use of the city's Facebook page, including the deletion of negative comments posted by city residents, according to the Times Free-Press.

"I would be hesitant to delete anyone's comment unless it was personally demeaning or had vulgar words," said Richard Beeland, spokesman for the Chattanooga mayor's office. "You're treading on some free speech rights I think you need to be very careful with."

Additionally, Gobble had hired Chris Clabough, a 19-year-old friend from church, for a $35,000-a-year position as the city's communications director – despite Clabough's lack of a college degree and other qualifications required for the job. Gobble was further accused of misusing city funds, including using his city credit card to pay for trips to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream.

And in one incident that revealed a disturbing lack of sound judgment, Gobble suspended court clerk Joanne Thomas, whom he accused of failing to tell his daughter about scheduling changes in a court case in which his daughter was involved. It was subsequently learned that Thomas had notified his daughter by leaving a voice message, but Gobble reportedly said "That's not good enough." In November 2012, a judge held Gobble had "overstepped his bounds" when he suspended Thomas.

Prior to his city manager position, upon being elected sheriff of Bradley County, Gobble filed an unsuccessful suit against the county over funding for the sheriff's office; he then quit to run – unsuccessfully – for a Congressional seat. While serving as sheriff he was sued by his former finance director, Cheryl Rich, who claimed he had violated her First Amendment rights by firing her after she spoke out against "fraud, waste and abuse in the sheriff's department" – including an allegation that Gobble had improperly hired his wife, Christie, for a job in the sheriff's office.

Gobble filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the federal district court on March 24, 2009. The court held that "Rich had established the elements of her First Amendment retaliation claim," and found "[t]here is some evidence that [Gobble's] retaliatory actions were in response, at least in part, to her questioning of his decisions, including his decision to employ his wife." Gobble subsequently settled the suit. See: Rich v. Gobble, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tenn.), Case No. 1:08-cv-00035.

As for his position with the Secret Service, Gobble was reportedly fired from that agency, though he claimed he had quit. He also served on the Cleveland City Council but was removed for violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits certain elected officials from engaging in partisan political activities while in public office.

Gobble had further served as director of the Bradley County Emergency Management Agency, though he resigned after more allegations of Hatch Act violations. "Hiring Tim Gobble was the worst mistake I ever made," County Mayor D. Gary Davis said at the time.

Now Gobble has been appointed to the Board of Parole, where he must assess whether prisoners are ready to re-enter society. Given his questionable track record in public service positions and past history of poor decision-making, it's debatable whether Gobble is qualified to evaluate anybody's character, much less whether they should be released from prison.

Also, considering comments he made in December 2009 concerning plans by the Tennessee Department of Correction to release non-violent prisoners due to anticipated budget cuts, it doesn't appear that Gobble is interested in letting anyone out.

"I don't think people need to be fooled by these violent and nonviolent categories," he was quoted as saying. "All criminals are potentially violent. And just because somebody hasn't raped, murdered or assaulted somebody doesn't mean we need to be careless and let them out of prison before they serve their full sentences under the law."

Which is a remarkable statement for someone who now serves as a member of the Board of Parole, and indicative that he is not the right person for that position.

Sources: www.news.tn.gov, www.blogs.metropulse.com, Tennessean, www.tfponline.com, www.chattanoogan.com, www.hometowncleveland.com, www.votesmart.org

 

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