boards and commissions

Widow of former legislator fights parole of drunken driver who caused his death

The widow of a former state legislator and restaurant owner is leading a petition drive asking the state Board of Paroles to reject the release of the drunken driver convicted of vehicular homicide in her husband’s death, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Debbie Locke is the widow of Mike Locke, former state representative and founder of the popular local eatery the Hot Dog Hut. Locke was killed on June 23, 2014, when an intoxicated driver struck him on Fort Henry Drive, sending him into a ravine 20 feet below.

The driver, James Hamm, has been incarcerated since his arrest. He was convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication, felony reckless endangerment, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of a collision involving a fatality and failure to exercise due care. He was later sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Now, less than 15 months after being sentenced, Hamm will be up for parole on Aug. 10.

“If he gets out, he will do it again, and this will put somebody else at risk,” Locke said. “Honestly, I’m appalled. I’m appalled that we the citizens of Kingsport or the state of Tennessee have to do this.”

To try to prevent Hamm’s parole release, Locke has started a petition that she plans to send to the parole board in Nashville… So far, Locke estimates that she has gotten between 850 and 900 signatures. Her goal is to get as many as possible by the middle of next week, at which point she will gather all the petitions and send them to Nashville.

…On the evening Mike Locke was killed, he was putting out campaign signs for Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, who was running for state representative at the time. Hulsey later won the election and holds the office Locke himself previously held.

Hulsey said he has signed the petition and plans to join Locke and her family at Hamm’s parole hearing.

Harwell appoints PAC treasurer to TN State Museum governing board

House Speaker Beth Harwell has reappointed Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel to the governing board of the Tennessee State Museum, but is giving her own seat on the panel to Tina Hodges, CEO of Nashville-based Advance Financial.

Harwell had previously appointed herself to a four-year term on the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission that officially expired June 30, but she continued to serve through the panel’s July 3 meeting, as allowed under relevant rules allowing an appointee to stay aboard until a successor is appointed, said Kara Owen, spokeswoman to the speaker in response to email inquiries.

Subsequently, Owen said, Harwell appointed Hodges, who already serves – by appointment of Gov. Bill Haslam – on the board of directors for Volunteer Tennessee, a group that has the declared mission of promoting “volunteerism and community service” by Tennesseans. She is currently listed as vice chairman.

Hodges also serves as treasurer of Advance PAC, a political action committee operated by Advance Financial. A check of the Registry of Campaign Finance website for 2015 and 2016 shows Advance PAC giving Harwell’s reelection campaign for her state House seat $10,000 and it also donated $8,000 to the leadership PAC operated by Harwell.

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After troubles at three community colleges, TBR chief plans better evaluations of campus presidents

The head of the state Board of Regents says she plans to change how the leaders of community colleges are evaluated, reports WPLN. This follows the recent resignation of two community college presidents under fire and harsh faculty criticism of a third. Tennessee has 13 community colleges.

In February, the faculty senate at Northeast State Community College passed a no-confidence vote in their president, who retired a few months later. Then, the president at Motlow State resigned after faculty accused him of creating a culture of distrust and fear. The president of Nashville State met similar accusations in a report obtained by the Tennessean.

The woman who oversees all 13 of Tennessee’s community college presidents is Flora Tydings, who was a college president herself until leaving for the position of TBR chancellor. She says any leader who’s not performing well brings down the whole system.

“Everybody needs to be held accountable for the job that they’re doing. My goal is to make sure that that’s happening,” she told WPLN. “I intend to be a little bit more involved with presidential evaluations and making sure that we’re staying on top of that.”

Historically, college presidents in Tennessee are evaluated every year. The most recent permanent chancellor of TBR, John Morgan, says he would review them mostly on their college’s academic performance, based on outcomes prioritized by the state, and on their fundraising.

This method doesn’t necessarily factor in things like interpersonal problems that stayed on the campus level, Morgan says. He suggests one way to address this: gathering input on the president from the community.

“I didn’t do that,” he says. “Could have. Probably should have, looking back on it.”

Tydings doesn’t have specifics yet on what her new review process will look like, although she has assigned an assistant to draft a proposal in the coming months. Her office says one possibility is to maintain annual reviews but add a more thorough evaluation every few years.

Bell, Faison question validity of new state museum code of conduct

Chairmen of General Assembly’s Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee are questioning the legality of the new operating policies adopted by the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission last week (including a controversial new ‘code of conduct,’ reports the Nashville Post.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the chairs of the committee, sent a letter to DHSMC chair Tom Smith and museum executive director Ashley Howell on Tuesday stating that the changes in the operating policies — including the controversial new code of conduct that prevents board members from disparaging the museum — should have been adopted in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, as it is spelled out in state law.

… “In light of the statutory authority, and in accordance with the past practices of the Joint Government Operations Rule Review Committee, we strongly believe that the attached operating policies clearly meet the definition of a rule, and that those policies must be promulgates in accordance with the UAPA.”

(Note: Museum officials contend the new policy is an operating procedure and thus not a “rule,” which is subject to requirements of the UAPA, including advance notice, a public hearing, etc.)

In an interview, Bell said that he thinks the language of the enacting clause creating the DHSMC requires anything relating to the governance of the agency should fall under the UAPA.

“I have issues with the substance of the policies as well, and I know other legislators have been commenting about that,” Bell said. “But I’m very concerned with the process here, which I do not think was followed correctly.”

The new code of conduct seems designed to silence board member Victor Ashe, a former legislator and Knoxville mayor who has been a recent critic of several missteps of the board. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally criticized it last week, expressing “serious concerns.” However, DHSMC members and legislators House Speaker Beth Harwell, now a gubernatorial candidate, Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) and Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) all voted in support of the policy changes.

“[Commissioners] are free to talk to anyone they want to talk to and say anything they want to say. That’s still the case,” said Harwell after the meeting.

McNally appoints ‘watchdog’ Victor Ashe to new term on state museum board

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who has clashed repeatedly with other members of the board governing the Tennessee State Museum in the past, was appointed Friday to a new four-year term on the panel by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

Further from the News Sentinel:

McNally, who shares appointments to the board formally known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission with House Speaker Beth Harwell, also reappointed Nancy Baker De Friece, a Bristol realtor. The old terms of both expired Friday; their new terms began Saturday.

“He’s had a great public service record – as a legislator, as a mayor, as an ambassador – and he’s also been a strong advocate of the public’s right to know,” said McNally when asked about the Ashe appointment.  “Certainly, as a watchdog, he has few people who are his equal…. And we definitely need someone from Knox County on the board.”

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Haslam appoints Knoxville lawyer to TN Claims Commission

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has named William A. Young of Knoxville to the Tennessee Claims Commission, replacing William O. Shults of Newport whose terms expires June 30.

The appointment is for the Eastern Division and is subject to confirmation by resolution of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.  The three commissioners hold eight-year terms.

(Note: Shults was the last appointee of former Gov. Phil Bredesen on the commission and had served since 2006, first filling a vacancy and then to a full term in 2009. The salary is about $160,000 annually.)

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Commission Trump wants to abolish announces $15.7M in grants to help coal miners losing jobs

The Appalachian Regional Commission, which would be abolished under President Trump’s proposed federal budget for the coming year, announced almost $16 million in grants intended to help communities losing jobs in the coal industry in seven states, including Tennessee.
The only Tennessee grant is $500,000 for Knoxville-based LaunchTN for its Entrepreneurial Education and Workforce Development project. The Tennessee startup support initiative will target the coal-impacted counties of Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Cumberland, Fentress, Grundy, Marion, Morgan, Scott and Sequatchie. A list of the projects is HERE. The ARC press release is below.
 

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Former Democratic Rep. Shepard named UT trustee; one of 186 newly-listed Haslam appointees

Maybe the most notable name on Gov. Bill Haslam’s latest listing of new appointments to state boards and commissions – well, at least from a political junkie perspective – is former Democratic Rep. David Shepard of Dickson.

Shepard, who did not seek reelection to the House in 2016 after 16 years in office, was named by Haslam to a seat on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees.

The listing also includes Haslam’s April appointment of Kenton pharmacist Richard Skiles to the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. A previous post on the Skiles appointment at the time (HERE) noted that a then-pending bill in the Legislature would let House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Randy McNally each make an appointment to the ABC board as well.

That bill passed the Senate unanimously earlier this year, but later died in the House State Government Committee with no member making the necessary seconding motion. The result was pretty much the same as occurred in the 2016 session, where a similar bill passed the Senate and was killed in the House State Government Subcommittee. (This time, it at least got out of the sub.) Thus, the ABC remains a three-member board with the governor making all appointments.

Here’s the governor’s news release and listing of all 186 appointment to 68 boards and commissions.

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Tennessee Human Rights Commission official charged with sexual exploitation

An official with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission was been arrested and charged with three counts of sexual exploitation of a child Tuesday, reports The Tennessean.

Christopher Matthew Stephenson is accused of possessing 226 items of material that includes minors engaging in sexual activity or simulated sexual activity.

One of the three felony charges has an aggravated enhancement related to the promotion, sale, distribution, transportation, purchase or exchange of such material. 

Stephenson serves as the Title VI Compliance Director on the Human Rights Commission and has worked for the organization for the last seven years. 

The commission exists to safeguard individuals from discrimination and to ensure the state’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Revised Haslam budget pays TVA $11.8M to keep Ocoee River rafting afloat

The state will provide $11.8 million to TVA to keep the Ocoee River rafting industry afloat for the next 20 years under the newly-revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget for the coming fiscal year, reports the Times-Free Press.

The state money will reimburse TVA for the cost of power lost when the Polk County river flows freely during the spring, summer and early fall, allowing whitewater rafting operations. Otherwise, TVA diverts the river flow into a plume for electric power generation.

“It’s a huge win for Southeast Tennessee,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who along with Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, have been working with the whitewater industry and their representatives, Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and others to come to an agreement.

Bell and Howell have legislation (HB74) moving in the General Assembly to create a new type of water authority, the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund, to support recreational water releases on the Ocoee.

The new entity would be overseen by an 11-member board and all fees currently paid by whitewater rafting customers to TVA would go into the fund.

Note: TVA now receives funds to repay for loss of power generation through a fee tacked onto each ticket sold by rafting operations, but an agreement on the matter expires in 2018. Under the new deal, TVA gets its money up front, the new development fund gets the fees (expected to be about $4 per ticket) and repays the state over a period of years.