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.

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.”

Continue reading

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.
 

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

TRA to become TPUC (back to the future in names?)

The House has given final approval to a bill changing the name of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to the Tennessee Public Utilities Commission. The measure (SB747) also declares that board member of the agency will be known as ‘commissioners’ rather than “directors.”

It was introduced at the request of officials of the agency, according to the sponsors, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville. On the House floor, Marsh told colleagues that Tennessee is “one of the few, if not the only” state in the nation where the agency vested with utility-regulating authority has board member known as directors.

As a matter of Tennessee history, the name change might be seen as a return to another era. The agency was initially established as the Tennessee Railroad Commission in 1897 with three elected “commissioners” to regulate fees charged by railroads. It’s duties were expanded to include broader oversight in 1919 and the name was changed to the “Railroad and Public Utilities Commission.”

Continue reading

Lawsuit challenges requirement of license for horse massage

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee

NASHVILLE – Today, the Beacon Center Legal Foundation announced that it has filed a lawsuit against the state Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. The Vet Board recently defined “animal massage” as a form of veterinary medicine, meaning that merely rubbing horses now requires a veterinarian license. The Beacon Center believes this law is unconstitutional and has filed suit on behalf of Martha Stowe and Laurie Wheeler of Franklin, as both of their careers and livelihoods depend on horse massage therapy. Continuing to practice horse massage therapy subjected them to fines and even potential jail time.

After giving the Vet Board warning that the horse massage rule is unconstitutional, the Board asked for an extra two weeks to reconsider the rule before the Beacon Center filed a lawsuit. Despite being given that time, the Board has decided to disregard the advice of the Beacon Center, leading to this lawsuit. 

Haslam offers thanks for legislature’s approval of new trustees

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today thanked the General Assembly for its swift confirmation of six local university governing boards, giving the higher education institutions increased autonomy to support student success as the state continues its Drive to 55 initiative.

The General Assembly approved all 48 of Haslam’s appointments to the governing boards of Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis. The boards are the result of the governor’s FOCUS Act, enacted last year.

Continue reading

Ann McGauran named TN state architect

The Tennessee State Building Commission has voted to appoint Ann McGauran, now with the Department of General Services, as Tennessee state architect. She succeeds Peter Heimbach in the position involving oversight of state building projects and real estate transactions.

McGauran is the first woman to hold the position, created in 1955.

The press release is HERE.