A Tennessee man who sold state-of-the-art technology that could have kept the state’s churches and schools more secure lost a substantial sum of money because state officials wouldn’t grant him the right to do business.
This, according to members of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based free market think tank.
You may not know it, but since 1993 the state has had an Alarm Systems Contractors’ Board. Members meet regularly to license, register, and regulate alarm systems contractors. They also judge whether they’re competent at their jobs, according to the board’s website.
The board has five members, and the governor appoints each of them.
“Four of those members are alarm system installers themselves,” said Braden Boucek, Beacon’s director of litigation.
Going by what Beacon says, the board, by a 3-2 vote, just reversed an earlier decision to classify Adam Jackson’s product as an alarm system — and that requires a license.
“They told him his facial recognition software met the definition of an alarm system that would require licensure,” Boucek said.
Jackson produces software that instantly scans the face of someone using existing security cameras and compares the image against known offender databases.
Board members, Beacon said, wrongfully determined this is an alarm system. State law requires Jackson spend five years trying to obtain a government license before he can sell his product.
“It’s impossible to say what he would have made, but he knows for a fact that one of the contracts he was on the cusp of signing was for tens of thousands of dollars a month at one school,” Boucek said.
Beacon took on the case because, as Boucek said, this is not just about Jackson.
“The system itself is broken,” Boucek said.
“Tennesseans should receive answers from these boards in a timely manner, and these decisions should never be conflicting or confusing. It is absolutely unacceptable that Adam had to wait more than a year to find out what was obvious – that his software is not an alarm system.”
The State Responds
Kevin Walters, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, whose jurisdiction the board falls under, tells a different story.
“The board did not reverse itself,” Walters said in an emailed statement to The Tennessee Star.
“Mr. Jackson appeared before the board on June 22, 2017 after asking to be placed on the agenda. He gave a general description of his product and a few hypothetical scenarios about the product. At that time, Mr. Jackson did not receive a formal decision, only opinions of some board members.”
Jackson, Walters went on to say, did not file a Petition for a Declaratory Order until last December. Board members agreed to take up the matter in April.
“Due to the voluminous discovery requests made by the Beacon Center attorney that necessitated the involvement of an administrative law judge, the matter was continued,” Walters said.
“If a Petition for Declaratory order had been filed in the summer of 2017 this matter would have been resolved in 2017. Further, the Board did not make a formal determination until the Declaratory Order hearing held in August 2018 and never told Mr. Jackson not to work.”
When asked about the conflicting stories, Boucek said the transcript of the hearings proves board members told Jackson his technology does not meet the definition of an alarm system that requires licensure.
“This proceeding goes on, and they frequently tell him he needs to get a license,” Boucek said.
“At no point do they ever indicate that he might not need a license or that if he did his business differently they’d change their mind.”
All this, Boucek said, demonstrates the state’s need for reform.
“Any person who hears these words from an agency and their attorney would believe that if they sold their product without a license then the board would take enforcement actions,” Boucek said.
“The mindset of a bureaucracy so out of touch with ordinary Tennesseans that it actually blames Adam for its own display of overreach (that) is on full display.”
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