Since 2008, former state senator, and current candidate for chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, Roy Herron has led the Ned McWherter Center for Rural Development.
The center, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to Tennessee students, was created with a $900,000 state grant in 2008. The grant was part of that year’s state budget during Herron's term as senator and while he was the president of the organization.
But since that time, the center’s output has been minimal, according to tax records examined by The City Paper. Between 2008 and 2010, the center awarded no scholarships. The nonprofit began 2011 with $1,045,052 in assets but awarded only $35,750 in scholarships to students that year, the most recent available for public examination.
Herron announced in 2012 that he would not seek re-election, noting that he would devote his efforts to the McWherter center. In that same legislative session — after his retirement notice — he attempted to insert three different amendments into a budget bill, which would have sent another $2 million to the center. The amendments died in committee in April.
The center still bears the name of the late former governor, who died in April 2011, despite a nearly year-old request from the McWherter family that his name be removed from the organization.
Along with Herron, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh and former Democratic Rep. Mark Maddox are listed as officers for the organization. Michael McWherter, son of the former governor, made the request in a letter to all three dated Feb. 20, 2012.
“When the program was first conceived, my father was living and in good health, and able to participate in creating the vision and guiding the mission of this program,” he wrote. “Due to his death, that role he played becomes impossible. Therefore, I respectfully request that my father’s name be removed from the program or center.”
Herron did not respond to calls and voicemails from The City Paper seeking comment.
Last week, in an email to members of the state Democratic Party’s executive committee, Herron shared a list of 42 members, a majority of the committee, whom he says have committed to vote for him for party chair. Current party treasurer Dave Garrison is also running for the post. The party’s 72 executive committee members will vote on Jan. 26.