Monthly Archives: October 2016

Ashe asks comptroller review of museum leader’s pay raise

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum, has asked state Comptroller Justin Wilson to “review and investigate” circumstances surrounding a $23,000 boost in annual pay given in April to Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the museum’s longtime executive director.

Ashe has also questioned the propriety of a $40,000 job approved for Riggins-Ezzell that will take effect after her retirement on Dec. 31. The new position as a fundraiser was approved last week by the Tennessee state Museum Foundation (previous post HERE.).

And he says the $95,500 contract recently awarded to Carter Balwin Inc., an Atlanta-based executive search company, to seek a successor to Riggins-Ezzell seems excessive, given  that the University of Tennessee is paying $75,000 for the search for a successor to retiring UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

Excerpt from the News-Sentinel:

Riggins-Ezell began 2016 with an annual salary set at $90,216 that has been increased to $113,940 currently, according to Ashley Fuqua, public information officer for the state Department of Human Resources. Almost all that increase came in April, following a discussion of salaries at a meeting of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, as the museum oversight board is officially known.

Both Thomas Smith, current chairman of the commission, and state Rep. Steve McDaniel, who was chairman in April, say they were unaware of the Riggins-Ezell pay raise until Ashe reported the increase and raised questions about how it was approved in a series of emails to commission members and media last week.

Fuqua, however, said the department has a form – signed by McDaniel – authorizing the April salary increase. McDaniel, who earlier said he did not remember the pay raise or any action approving it, said when told of the form that he must have been mistaken.

“I still don’t recall it, but if they say I did, I guess I did,” he said in a telephone interview. McDaniel said he does recall filling out an evaluation of Riggins-Ezzell and “giving her the highest marks I possibly could.”

Ashe said he thinks the full commission should have voted on a salary increase of 25 percent and questioned whether the chairman – “if he did actually sign the form” – could act on his own. Smith said he understands that the commission chairman is entitled to approve pay raises without a commission vote, though he is still seeking more information on the situation.

… Besides getting a pay raise herself, Riggins-Ezzell also approved salary increases for two museum staffers who work closely with her – Mary Jane Crockett-Green, director of administration, and Sharon Dennis, her executive assistant. Crockett-Green got a pay raise of about 25 percent – on the same level as Riggins-Ezzell – that puts her current salary at $6,449 per month or $77,348 annually. Dennis received a pay raise of $7,716 per year – though a portion of that was a regular step increase not tied to the executive director’s approval – that makes her current annual salary $46,521.

Note: Text of Ashe’s email request to the comptroller is below.

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Legislature refuses to reveal sexual harassment numbers

At least 460 sexual harassment complaints were filed by state government workers from 2010 through 2016, reports The Tennessean. But that figure excludes complaints filed by employees of the state legislature, which refused to provide any information on the complaints as did 44 other departments and agencies.

That poses a problem for legislative leaders who say the actions of (former state Rep. Jeremy) Durham, the lawmaker recently expelled in light of myriad sexual misconduct allegations, are not demonstrative of the state Capitol culture.

“The speaker certainly hopes all state employees feel comfortable reporting any harassment that may occur in the workplace. The General Assembly does not implement Executive and Judicial Branch policies,” said Kara Owen, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Beth Harwell.

Harwell, R-Nashville, retiring Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and many others called Durham a bad apple in an otherwise safe environment.

But because the legislature won’t release the number of complaints it has received, and how those complaints were resolved, there is no way any lawmaker or citizen can understand whether the legislature has a sexual harassment problem.

The Tennessean’s analysis found more than 460 sexual harassment complaints have been filed since 2010. While that encompasses a fraction of the roughly 40,000 people working for state government, it still represents more than one complaint filed every week for more than six years.

Hargett says no to changing voter purge rules

Secretary of State Tre Hargett is rejecting calls by the Tennessee League of Women Voters and a New York law firm to change how the state purges inactive voters from voter registration lists in light of a U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in an Ohio case, reports the Times-Free Press.

In his letter Friday, Hargett, a Republican, said his office “has reviewed [the] letter alleging that Tennessee is in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. We believe that Tennessee’s laws for removing voters are substantially different than the laws and directives at issue in Ohio.”

Hargett added: “Additionally, your letter was not received until after early voting had begun across the state, and changing the rules at this stage of the process would present a major disruption to elections in Tennessee.”

With Tennessee also falling under the 6th Circuit’s jurisdiction, League of Women Voters President Marian Ott and Stuart Naifeh, a senior counsel with the New York-based law firm Demos involved in the Ohio litigation, wrote letters to Hargett saying he should drop what they called Tennessee’s similar method of purging voters from registration lists.

Asked about Hargett’s decision, Ott said Friday afternoon, “[The] League of Women Voters of Tennessee is obviously disappointed in Secretary Hargett’s response. His response offers no information about why the facts in Tennessee are substantially different than in the Ohio case because they are not different — Tennessee has a purging process based on nonvoting.”

More on Miller-legislator financial ties

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — At least seven current and former Republican lawmakers in Tennessee had financial ties to a prominent GOP donor who recently settled a federal fraud case involving the military health care program.

Andy Miller Jr. has been a prominent backer of Republican candidates who support his platform of fighting the influence of Islam in Tennessee.

State ethics disclosures show that Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma reported income from two Miller-linked companies, including one listed in the form as Omed Rx that shares the same address with QMedRx, the subject of the federal probe into alleged violations of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.

Miller and his brother agreed to settle the federal case for $7.8 million last month without admitting guilt.

…The federal settlement caused state Sen. Mark Green — a Clarksville Republican eyeing a bid for governor in 2018 — to say that he is re-evaluating his investment in another Miller company, Diatech Oncology of Franklin. Other Republican investors in that company have included Lt. Gov. Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and the husband of Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet.

(The Tennessean has previously reported that former state Reps. Joe Carr of Lascassas and Jeremy Durham of Franklin had Lascassas and Jeremy Durham of Franklin had investments in Miller companies and that Reps. Jeremy Faison and Andy Holt rented a home from him.)

Full story HERE

On House District 96, McManus (R) vs. Thompson (D)

A “test case” for the possibility of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy having a negative impact on down-ballot contests for state legislative seats may be the race in House District 96, according to Jackson Baker. There, incumbent Rep. Steve McManus faces underdog Democrat Dwayne Thompson.

The district, a suburban one incorporating parts of Cordova and Germantown, is considered safely Republican by most observers.

Thompson, a self-described “human resources professional,” disputes that, citing what he says are significant turnouts for Democrats in past statewide and presidential races in the district, as well as  a mix of upscale, middle-class, and working-class populations that he thinks is ready for change.

Among other things, Thompson hopes for a backlash against legislative Republicans for their opposition to Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal for Medicaid expansion. At a recent forum sponsored by the Tennessee Nurses Association, Thompson accused opponent McManus, an investment counselor and chairman of the House Insurance and Banking Committee, of having “bottled up” consideration of Insure Tennessee in the special legislative session of 2015.

… McManus has more financial resources at his command, by far — $155,7543.59 in campaign cash as of the third-quarter filing, compared to a mere $5,088.20 for Thompson. But Thompson, whose ads — stressing that he is both a veteran and a cancer survivor — have begun to appear here and there, especially online, with a frequency unusual for a Democrat running in the Memphis suburbs.

And, in fact, Thompson’s campaign expenditures for the third quarter of 2016 come close to matching McManus’, with outlays of $9,524.83, compared to $11,871.61 for the incumbent. He is also working hard at outreach to independent voters, like members of the nonpartisan Asian-Americans for Tennessee, who showed up en masse last week at a meet-and-greet for Thompson sponsored by state Representative Raumesh Akbari (D-District 91) at her family’s hair research facilities in East Memphis.

TN taxpayers may pay for plugs on abandoned oil wells

There are about 4,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Tennessee and the state’s taxpayers likely will have to pay the cost of cleaning up many, according to WTVF-TV.

The wells should be plugged to protect groundwater, says Mike Burton of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TDEC has been doing so, spending almost $500,000 this year from a fund financed by bond money oil and gas companies put up before getting a drilling permit. But that fund is almost depleted since some companies put many wells on one bond, then went bankrupt or disappears.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Are you going to run out of money to do this?”

Mike Burton said, “Probably. For the older wells I’d say that would be true.”

… Berry Resources abandoned 25 wells in Tennessee. It went out of business after Kentucky fined the company for “defrauding investors.”

Haslam won’t say who got his presidential vote — but he’s concerned with GOP future

Gov. Bill Haslam won’t say who got his vote in the presidential election but does say he has concerns about the long-term future of the Republican Party, according to the Times-Free Press.

The governor voted early in Knoxville Thursday and, after returning to Nashville later in the day, refused to tell reporters how he cast his ballot in the presidential election – except that it wasn’t Hillary Clinton. Haslam had previously declared he would not vote for Republican nominee Donald Trump and intended to vote for another Republican via write-in ballot, bringing criticism from some fellow Republicans, including some county organizations that have passed resolutions condemning him.

Asked about (the resolutions),… Haslam, who has been campaigning for Republican state legislative candidates this week, said, “I understand, and believe me, I’m not at all excited about Hillary Trump — Hillary Clinton — as president, and I did not vote for her. I’ll say that really clearly.”

After voting, Haslam cited his concerns with the GOP’s direction.

” I’ve said before, I have some real concerns about the long-term future of the Republican Party when we’re losing the way we are with women and minorities and millennials. That’s a concern to me,” the governor added. “Long term, I have all the faith in the world that our party will continue to represent the things it’s represented.”

… Asked about the governor’s remarks, Brent Leatherwood, executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party, said: “You know what wins over voters of all stripes in the long-term? Policies that promote opportunity. That’s exactly what the governor is out there touting across the state today.”

Note: Haslam had a similar comment in Memphis on the GOP’s future. As reported by WNAT: “We have to have a party that appeals to the broader sense, to women, to minorities, to young people, areas we have not traditionally done well… And I’m afraid we’re going to struggle at that this year as well.”

AG: TN gets $965K in settlement with Hyndai and Kia

News release from the Attorney General’s Office

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, along with the Division of Consumer Affairs, today announced Tennessee will receive more than $965,000 as part of a $41.2 million multi-state settlement with Hyundai and Kia. The agreement resolves claims that the automakers misrepresented mileage and fuel economy ratings for some of their model year 2011, 2012 and 2013 vehicles.

 

The settlement, reached between attorneys general in 33 states and the District of Columbia and the Hyundai Motor Company, Hyundai Motor America, Kia Motors Corporation, and Kia Motors America, concludes a multi-state investigation into the companies’ fuel economy estimates during a period of especially high gasoline prices.

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Justin Timberlake had “no idea” TN law bans voting selfies

Excerpt from a Rolling Stone report on Justin Timberlake’s appearance Wednesday night on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:

While chatting with the host, Fallon asked the pop star what he’d been up to lately, to which Timberlake replied a bit bashfully, “I recently voted. Super quiet, under the radar.” Earlier this week, Timberlake cast an early ballot in Tennessee and posted of a photo of himself at the booth to Instagram with a caption encouraging people to vote – only to find out later that Tennessee passed a law in 2015 prohibiting photos inside polling locations (the Shelby County district attorney was not interested in investigating the matter).

On Fallon, Timberlake reiterated his plea that people get out and vote, and then joked: “But don’t take a picture of yourself. I had no idea! I was like, ‘This is gonna be great! And inspire people to get out and vote!'”

Note: Previous post HERE.

Haslam, Boyd plan journey to Germany

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd will travel to Germany from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 in an effort to build and strengthen ties with the country’s business leaders as well as increase foreign direct investment opportunities (FDI) in Tennessee.

In addition to meeting with German executives who already operate businesses in Tennessee, Haslam and Boyd will pitch the state’s advantages to a number of German companies interested in setting up operations in the Southeastern U.S.
Tennessee ranked No. 1 nationally for job creation resulting from foreign direct investment in 2015, according to IBM-PLI’s 2016 Global Location Trends report.. Tennessee ranked No. 1 and No. 4 in IBM’s Global Local Trends report in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

…There are 103 German-owned companies in Tennessee that have invested nearly $5.3 billion throughout the state and employ almost 14,000 Tennesseans. Germany is the second-largest source of FDI in Tennessee, behind only Japan. FDI from German companies accounts for more than 15 percent of the total $33.4 billion that foreign-owned businesses have invested in Tennessee.

Note: This is a shortened version of the news release. The full release is HERE.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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