Fiscal Review names Rep. White as chair, confirms new XD questioned by Democrats

The Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee has elected Rep. Mark White as chairman and confirmed outgoing Chairman Bill Ketron’s nomination of Jeff Spalding — whose current position as leader of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has prompted questions from Democrats – as the panel’s new executive director.

White, R-Memphis, succeeds Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, as chairman in accord with recent tradition of rotating the chairmanship between House and Senate members of the joint House-Senate fiscal watchdog committee. Ketron becomes vice chairman – the position White held for the past two years.

On motion of Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, the committee also voted to make the rotating chairmanship part of the committee rules – and White raised the possibility of legislation being introduced to do the same thing.

In Thursday’s meeting of the panel, Sargent noted that the late Rep. Shelby Rhinehart, D-Spencer, served 22 years as chairman of the joint committee and said that formalizing the rotation of chairmanship between House and Senate members would avoid a recurrence of such a thing. Legislative attorneys noted that Sargent’s motion – basically to make rotation a rule of the committee – could be changed by a vote of the committee in a subsequent session. Still, Sargent’s motion was unanimously approved.

Ketron told the panel that he had invited Spalding to apply for the position of executive director during a dinner while attending a November gathering of Tennessee legislators in Phoenix, Ariz., hosted by the Friedman Foundation to promote its school choice programs.

After a group of Fiscal Review Committee members, including Ketron, recommended Spalding for the job, House Democrats declared “serious concerns” about the appointment in a news release. (Previous post HERE.)

Ketron on Thursday said Gov. Bill Haslam had told him Spalding’s resume was “one of the best he’s ever seen.” It includes stints working for with the Indiana legislature and in state government there and as chief financial officer for the City of Indianapolis prior to his work for the Friedman Foundation.

Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, seconded Ketron’s motion for confirmation of Spalding as executive director. In discussion, Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, said Ketron took the lead in proposing Spalding “as he should have” being chairman of the committee and that, after attending a session where five finalists were interviewed, he agreed that Spalding was “obviously the best.”

In Thursday’s meeting, Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, offered the only comment that could be construed as even mildly critical of the selection procedures. Shaw said he had not been a part of the process of picking Spalding and asked whether the appointment was a function of the chairman or the full committee.

Ketron and White said the full committee has a voice and thus the confirmation vote. Ketron also said all members of the committee had been sent an invitation to attend the interview with the five finalists, though most did not attend.