state employees

Three state correction officer suicides reported in one month

Three officers with the Tennessee Department of Correction have died by suicide in just this past month, according to an internal memo sent to employees and reported by the Nashville Scene.

 

The department is not releasing the names of the individuals “out of respect and deference to the families,” according to TDOC spokesperson Alison Randgaard.

“We are devastated by the loss of our colleagues which is reflected in Commissioner [Tony] Parker’s letter to staff,” Randgaard wrote in an email.

…In the memo sent Wednesday from Parker, he urges employees to take an account of their personal stress level. The department has struggled in recent years to fully staff its prisons, causing safety issues. It faced an exodus of correctional officers two years ago after drastically changing scheduling.

TN Supremes: Judges can fire employees at will

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the position of trial judge secretarial assistant is subject to the employment-at-will doctrine that generally applies in Tennessee.  The Court’s holding means that either the trial judge or the person employed in the secretarial assistant position may terminate the employment relationship at any time during the trial judge’s tenure.  If the employment relationship is not terminated earlier, then the employment relationship ends automatically when the trial judge’s tenure ends.

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Fall Creek Falls Park privitization to proceed with revised oversight

The State Building Commission will now have firmer control over building-related aspects of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans for outsourcing Fall Creek Falls State Park’s operations under amended rules for bidders approved on Thursday, reports the Times-Free Press.

But Treasurer David Lillard, a commission member, made it clear during the commission’s executive subcommittee meeting that the panel’s oversight jurisdiction does not extend to the request for proposals’ other major area: The outsourcing of hospitality functions at the popular Upper Cumberland Plateau park in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties.

Statutorily, those are “not within the Building Commission’s purview,” Lillard said, noting the excluded list includes current workers’ continued employment, pay and benefits in operational areas ranging from the park inn, restaurant and convention center to the golf course and gift shop.

But the SBC will retain strict oversight within provisions of the request for proposals over the park’s chosen vendor, who will be called upon to spend $22 million in taxpayer money to tear down the existing inn and rebuild it.

Members unanimously approved the tighter oversight in efforts to resolve a revolt by professional Tennessee-based architects and engineers.

…Critics see the revised request for proposals as the template for renewed administration efforts. Haslam’s proposed budget calls for new capital expenditures at several other parks.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, an outsourcing critic, said the amended request for proposals provides “more legislative oversight” over the park’s demolition and construction.

Note: The TDEC press release is below.

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AG opinion sought on legality of Fall Creek Falls privatization

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, whose district includes the 26,000-acre Fall Creek Falls State Park, has requested a legal opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery on whether proper procedures were followed in plans to privatize park operations, reports the Times-Free Press.

The Tennessee State Employees Association also is raising questions about Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s push to turn hospitality services over to a private operator at Fall Creek Falls, long considered the “crown jewel” of Tennessee’s park system.

Employees association Executive Director Randy Stamps, an attorney, told the Times Free Press he questions whether Haslam has the legal authority to go forward with the move.

“We believe they’re in such a big hurry to rush through this RFP [request for proposals] that maybe they overlooked some pertinent sections of state law,” said Stamps, a former Republican state representative.

Bowling said in an interview that employees asked her to seek the legal opinion.

“I’m glad to do that,” Bowling said. Park workers in her district have protested over fear for their jobs, and Van Buren County Mayor Greg Wilson worries about lost revenue for up to two years while a new lodge is built that a for-profit company would run.

“Confusion is always the enemy of good public policy,” Bowling said, “and so if we know in fact that’s following the code, that’s one set of information. If we know that it wasn’t, that opens up a different avenue. But we have to know. That’s foundational.”

Two Democratic lawmakers are convinced Haslam wants to privatize other state parks with similar amenities. Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, held a town hall meeting Friday in Spencer, the town closest to the park.

And Stamps said the statute dealing with state parks and contracting “appears to prohibit the outsourcing of state services without it being part of the master plan for parks.”

“At this time, we’re unaware that this is part of their master plan that’s been approved appropriately,” Stamps said.

“It could be that they overlooked the law,” he added. “It could be that they dealt with it in some way. But right now it appears they’re in violation of the statute.”

Eric Ward, spokeman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said officials are on sound legal ground.

“TDEC hasn’t seen Sen. Bowling’s request, but we’re confident our proposed effort to ensure the long-term viability of Fall Creek Falls is well within our legal authority and we’re happy to answer any questions from the attorney general or members of the General Assembly related to this matter,” Ward said.

McNally makes more Senate staff appointments

News release from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s office:

NASHVILLE – Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) today announced additional staff appointments to the Office of the Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate. These appointments follow last week’s announcement of longtime McNally aide Rick Nicholson as Senate Chief of Staff.

Debbie Martin, Executive Assistant to the Lt. Governor

Lt. Governor McNally’s Executive Secretary for nine years, Martin will be involved in all aspects of Lt. Gov. McNally’s office and will serve as his chief scheduler. A 30-year veteran state employee, Martin lives in Hendersonville with her husband, Tracy. The Martins have one adult daughter and two grandchildren.

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Legislature’s secret sexual harassment video reviewed by reporter

Cari Wade Gervin has a Nashville Scene review of the video that is required watching for state legislators and their staff but officially forbidden for viewing by the general public and media. Seems she simply found a staffer willing to let her watch as the video was playing. It’s reported as running 22 minutes, 56 seconds — somewhat longer than the 15 -minute length initially reported. (Previous post-HERE.)

Excerpt:

Entitled “It’s Up to You: Stopping Sexual Harassment for Employees,” the video outlines numerous scenarios that could be considered sexual harassment or that contribute to a hostile workplace. There is no interactive quality to the video — no questions to fill out, no quiz at the end, nothing at all to ensure the person watching the video actually paid any attention whatsoever. And although the staffer we watched it with did pay attention, being a scrupulous sort of person, we have heard that many other staffers are just playing the video in the background on mute and then printing out the certificate of completion at the end. It’s also been rumored that staff are “watching” their bosses’ versions of the video for them. (There’s a separate, different video of about the same length for anyone in a management position, which obviously includes legislators.)

Here are the scenarios deemed harassing in the poorly-acted sketches:

A female supervisor propositioning a male employee in order for him to be selected to attend a conference

A man telling a woman “nice rack”

A male employee sending a female employee a sexy Photoshopped picture of her

A male repeatedly and unwantedly asking a female coworker out

Two women ogling a younger male employee

A male hotel guest employee commenting on a maid’s derriere when she bent over to pick dirty towels off the floor

A woman getting passed over for a promotion in favor of a younger, prettier woman

A woman being passed over for a promotion because she’s pregnant

A male employee saying a female employee has no business doing their job because she’s a woman

A male massaging a female employee’s hand without her permission

Two male employees harassing a gay male employee for being effeminate

A male employee asking a gay male employee whether his pink shirt makes him look gay

A woman being transferred to another job in retaliation for complaining about being sexually harassed.

McNally names Rick Nicholson as Senate chief of staff, succeeding Lance Frizzell

News release from Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s office

Lt. Governor McNally (R-Oak Ridge) today announced the appointment of Senate Chief of Staff Rick Nicholson.

“I have worked with Rick closely in his various roles with the legislature. Over his career, he has consistently impressed me with his knowledge and expertise. He is a trusted and professional policy advisor. His temperament, policy expertise and executive experience make him perfectly suited to serve the Senate as Chief of Staff. I am confident he will do an excellent job.”

A 26-year veteran of the General Assembly, Rick Nicholson started with the legislature working in the Chief Clerk’s office. He was appointed Assistant Chief Clerk of the Senate under Chief Clerk Clyde McCullough in 1998. In 2001, Nicholson went to work for then Chairman McNally as a committee research analyst. In 2012, Nicholson was appointed Senate Budget Director by Lt. Governor Ramsey.

McNally also praised departing Chief of Staff Lance Frizzell whose appointment expired in January. Frizzell is leaving the General Assembly to pursue other opportunities.

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Privatization conference draws protesters at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation met Thursday with five companies interested in operating the park’s hospitality services while “a couple of dozen” protesters braved the cold outside to show their displeasure with the proposed privatization, reports the Times-Free Press.

The companies are scheduled to notify the state by Monday if they intend to respond to a request for proposals that was posted in December outlining the state’s willingness to spend up to $22.1 million for a new inn that would be owned by the state but run by a private company. The contract with a private company would last until December 2029.

The request states TDEC’s desire for the redeveloped lodge to be operational and open to the public by January 2020. It also calls for the new facility to be “a full-service hotel with a sophisticated, yet relaxed, contemporary design with modern upscale rustic décor.”

Requirements of the request for proposals call for the new inn to have 75-95 rooms that, according to projections in the request, could be rented for $151 per night.

Rooms in the current 145-room facility, built in 1971, rent for $76 per night, but it has deteriorated due to a lack of state funds for maintenance.

Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the environment and conservation department, said in a statement released Thursday afternoon that, “The right partner will help us more effectively steward taxpayer dollars while ensuring the long-term viability of Fall Creek Falls’ hospitality operations.”

Opposition is centered on the impending loss of state jobs for inn employees, who would be displaced for two years during construction of the new facility, although the request for proposals stipulates they be guaranteed interviews with the new company. Hill has also said the state will seek placements in other state jobs for those affected.

Opponents also fear that the move to privatize hospitality services at Fall Creek Falls could be the first in a series of actions to privatize more state park facilities. They contended Thursday that the projected price of the hotel mentioned in the RFP would put a financial strain on families seeking to stay at the inn.

The request proposes that the state receive a minimum of 4.5 percent of annual gross revenue from the park’s hospitality services, which also include 20 cabins, 10 villas and an 18-hole golf course.

“It’s not a good deal for Tennessee,” Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Randy Stamps said, his breath visible as he held a protest sign. “This park was never intended to be a profit center. It’s intended to preserve land and provide an affordable place for Tennesseans to come and enjoy the outdoors.”

TDOT worker, struck by car on Christmas Eve, dies of injuries (third TDOT fatality of 2016)

 

News release from Tennessee Department of Transportation

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Transportation HELP Operator James Rogers has died of complications resulting from injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle while assisting a stranded motorist on December 24.

Rogers was changing a flat tire for a family stranded on I-40 at mile marker 221 in Davidson County. A member of the family was assisting with the tire change, but Rogers advised him to go inside the car for safety purposes. Rogers was struck a few minutes later by a vehicle crossing onto the shoulder.

Rogers, 30, passed away on December 28. Rogers had a five-year-old son.

TDOT HELP Operators have routes on Tennessee’s most heavily traveled highways in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville. The program began in 1999 for the purpose of reducing traffic congestion, improving safety, and assisting motorists in distress. The Region 3 HELP Operators in Middle Tennessee have responded to approximately 40,000 incidents in 2016.

Rogers is the third TDOT employee to be killed in the line of duty in 2016 and the 112th since the agency began keeping records in 1948

Note:  WTVF-TV reported earlier that a fundraising website had been set up to help Rogers’ family. This post updates and replaces an earlier post.

Outsourcing plan developed in secrecy with potential contractors

For almost a year and a half, a small group of highly paid state executives have been regularly meeting in secret, determining the future of more than 3,000 state employees whose jobs could be outsourced, according to the Nashville Post.

From late August through November of this year, the (10-member “steering committee) was joined by representatives of the company or companies — name and number unknown — that will bid on the contract to hire outside workers for physically laborious state jobs.

Officials issued a request for proposals on Dec. 1, with a timeline that will have the state accepting a bid in late March — and only companies that have been involved in the process so far are allowed to apply.

The unprecedented secrecy of the process has already led to questions about the results of an outside accounting review by KraftCPAs, a Nashville firm with strong ties to Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. Now, documents obtained by the Post via an open records request, along with the RFP itself, show that the state’s claims to protect all current employees’ jobs and provide the same level of benefits are misleading at best — although critics of the plan use much harsher language.

“The Governor is already breaking his own promises about outsourcing, and the proof is right there in the RFP,” said Thomas Walker, a spokesperson for United Campus Workers.

(While the governor has said no employees will lose their jobs or have compensation reduced, the article notes that employees are not covered by the promise if they work less than 30 hours a week, have been employed less than six months or fail a background check not now required. Also, the job can be moved to a new location up to 50 miles away. And when vacancies occur, the contractor need not fill them and, if so, can hire new employees at lower pay.)

…Despite making many qualifying statements about how nothing is set in stone until a contract is signed, it’s apparent that the steering committee itself is considering the outsourcing move a virtually done deal.

…Keep in mind that “vested” or “collaborative value development” procurement is basically designed to result in a done deal. Under the process… the contractor is involved in creating the RFP to which it will respond in the hopes of getting a contract. It is a process that has been used by some large companies but is virtually untested in the public sector.

Respondents to the RFI were given the opportunity to reply to a RFQ, or request for qualifications, that was issued April 11. Only the companies deemed qualified were allowed to participate in the vested creation of the RFP, which occurred during meetings every Thursday and Friday from Aug. 25 to Nov. 21, per PowerPoint slides from April and August steering committee meetings. And only those companies will be allowed to respond to the RFP itself.

How many companies are there? Is there even more than one company involved? Only the people involved in the process know, and they’ve all signed non-disclosure agreements.