boards and commissions

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.

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.”

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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.

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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.

New executive director picked for TN State Museum

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission has selected Ashley Brown Howell, the deputy director at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, to succeed Lois Riggins-Ezell as its executive director, reports Cari Wade Gervin for the Nashville Post.

It seemed like the first motion to hire Howell failed on a voice vote. But before the Commission could take a roll call vote to confirm the failure, chair Tom Smith called for a five-minute recess. When the body returned, Smith asked that the motion to hire Howell be withdrawn, even though one cannot withdraw a motion one has voted on. However, the members went along with the violation of parliamentary procedure, and then recessed for 40 minutes. Once the meeting resumed, the DHSMC voted unanimously (with two members abstaining) to hire Howell.

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Legislators blame Alcoholic Beverage Commission troubles on board members

Audits finding problems at the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission, some dating back to 2007, have led to legislators urging that members of the ABC board be replaced, reports the Times-Free Press.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, both expressed their belief commissioners should be ousted, and ousted soon, because of failures noted in audits in 2007, 2009 and last month.

“When you look at an audit and the first finding starts with the line ‘as noted in the 2007 financial and compliance audit,’ there’s a problem,” Bell said. ” Who [these failures] fall back on are the commissioners. That is where the buck stops. They’re the ones, in my opinion, who have not been giving proper attention and oversight to the executive director.”

“That is where the buck stops. They’re the ones, in my opinion, who have not been giving proper attention and oversight to the executive director.”

…Last month’s audit found continued failure in key areas stretching back more than a decade. The commission failed to put proper policies in place to oversee licenses, did not properly keep track or handle confiscated evidence and did not have proper conflict-of-interest policies in place, among other failures noted in the audit. (Note: The full audit report is HERE.)

The (Joint Government Operations) subcommittee voted to recommend the commission continue for at least four more years but asked auditors to follow up within a year to examine what improvements have been made.

However, if Bell has his way, the commission will have new leadership. He encouraged lawmakers and commission directors to write a letter asking Gov. Bill Haslam to replace the current commissioners.

“There will be a letter under my signature going to the governor,” Ragan assured Bell.

The commission consists of Chairwoman Mary McDaniel, John Jones and Bryan Kaegi. They did not attend the hearing Wednesday morning.

McDaniel and Kaegi were appointed to the commission on the same day in 2011 while Jones replaced his father on the commission in 1992. They each have overseen the commission during a stretch when audits found key failures throughout it.

“These were not just crossing T’s and dotting I’s,” Bell said. “These have to do with integrity of the system.”

Legality of state museum leader’s pay raise procedure questioned

State Rep. Steve McDaniel, as chairman of the board overseeing the Tennessee State Museum, apparently approved a 25 percent pay raise for Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell earlier this year and told no other board members about the move, reports Cari Wade Gervin. Some other members of the board – though all apparently agree she was underpaid — are now questioning whether the procedure was legal.

When asked why he didn’t bring up the raises during the relevant discussion of the April DHSMC meeting, much less the rest of the year’s meetings, McDaniel didn’t have a good answer.

“I didn’t think about it, to be honest. We probably should have had it on the agenda, but it just didn’t occur to me,” McDaniel said. “If I had thought to bring it up, I would have brought it up.”

When asked if he thought he had done anything wrong by approving the raises without letting anyone else on the commission know, much less discussing it with them, McDaniel seemed unconcerned.

“Did I do anything wrong? Apparently not,” McDaniel said. “I don’t know that I had to tell them, because I was acting in my role as chair.”

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On GOP grumbles over Haslam naming TN ‘George Soros’ to TSU board

Some Republicans are unhappy with Gov. Bill Haslam’s appointment of Bill Freeman – “the George Soros of state Democrats” – to the Tennessee State University Board of Trustees, according to Victor Ashe.

Freeman has, indeed, been a generous donor to Democratic causes, notably including this year a $100,000 contribution to the House Democratic Caucus (which, of course, is dedicated to defeating Republican legislators). And there’s much speculation that he’ll run for the Democratic nomination as governor in 2018 – either that or the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Bob Corker.

He was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Nashville in 2015, when he spent $3.6 million. He is the single largest donor to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Tennessee. Former Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester is now employed by him. The Clintons (both Bill and Hillary) have been hosted three times at the Freeman home in Nashville.

He is truly the George Soros of state Democrats.

…In the eyes of Republican lawmakers, there is dismay that Haslam would name the most prominent and liberal Democratic fundraiser in the state to a nonpartisan position. They will ask how much time will Freeman spend helping TSU if he is also running for governor? Will he push the Hillary Clinton higher education agenda while on the board?

On the other hand, he genuinely is a champion of TSU, which needs all the help it can secure. He would be an active TSU advocate.

It is not clear how the confirmation hearings by the House and Senate will occur and what questions, if any, will be posed to nominees. Will they be asked about their education philosophy, any financial conflicts they might have, disclosure of income as required at the federal level?

The law establishing these new boards says that any nominee is approved unless the House and Senate by resolution disapprove. As a practical matter that would be tough to do and the governor could veto such a resolution.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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