Category Archives: State employees

TCRS missing investment return goals

The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, which provides pensions for more than 370,000 people around the state, has now posted anemic returns and missed investment targets for two years in a row, reports The Tennessean, and this could impact its ability to meet obligations to state workers, teachers and retirees.

In 2015, the fund generated returns of 3.3 percent, falling short of its 7.5 percent target. In the most recent fiscal year, ending June 2016, the pension earned 2.8 percent.

Despite the two years of lackluster results, Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard says the state’s pension remains healthy and that the stronger returns in previous years help cushion the recent blows. In 2014 and in 2011, for example, the TCRS more than doubled expectations, reaping nearly 17 and nearly 20 percent returns.

“The liability horizon we invest for is a very long-term horizon,” Lillard said. “Unless you are an extremely badly funded pension, you have an ability to ride out any downturns that may occur.”

Across the nation, public pension funds have struggled as interest rates stay at record lows, people live longer and lower contributions from past years haunt current returns. Moody’s Investors Service estimates unfunded public pension liabilities totaled $1.3 trillion in 2014.

In fact, Lillard calls the pension’s strength “a point of pride for Tennesseans” and his confidence in the state’s pension is not unfounded. The state has a AAA bond rating from Standard & Poor’s, Fitch Ratings and Moody’s and TCRS is ranked as one of the top four funded pensions in the nation by the Pew Charitable Trusts. As of last year, Tennessee was 99 percent funded, according to Lillard’s office, compared to the national median of 59 percent funded, reported by Moody’s.

Even so, Tennessee’s investment returns over the past 10 years is 6 percent, failing to meet the 7.5 percent target.

“We are the best house in a bad neighborhood,” said Stephen Frohsin, a principal at Woodmont Investment Counsel in Nashville.

TSEA hires former Harwell aide as new lobbyist

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Employees Association has hired Paul Overholser as Government Affairs Director.

“I had the opportunity to work with Paul for 10 years when he worked as legislative assistant to Speaker Beth Harwell,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Paul’s experience working with legislators on policy dealing with State Employees, combined with the respect he has on the Hill, will help TSEA better serve our members into the future.”

Overholser worked for Tennessee General Assembly as Speaker Beth Harwell’s Legislative Assistant from 2006-2010. More recently, Paul served as Policy and Research Analyst for the House State Government and Local Government Committees from 2010-2014.

“As a former state employee, I understand firsthand what it means to be a civil servant and the challenges that all of us face,” Paul Overholser said. “I am very excited to work for TSEA. I really appreciate the loyalty, enthusiasm, and pride I’ve witnessed just from my first week and I look forward to using my contacts and experience to help all state employees.”

Paul Overholser holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Austin Peay State University.

TSEA urges end to TN prison privatization

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – In light of the concerns outlined last week by the Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice about the deficiencies of private prisons, and due to the recent increase in private prison facilities in Tennessee, TSEA is calling for an immediate stop to any further state contracts with private prisons and a reduction or end to the use of all private prisons in Tennessee.

“Last week’s Department of Justice decision to reduce, and ultimately end, its use of private prisons should have Tennessee considering taking similar action,” TSEA President Bryan Merritt said. “Commissioner Tony Parker and all the employees at the Tennessee Department of Correction do a great job on a daily basis, and there is simply no good reason to continue paying a private prison company that provides an inferior product, lower levels of safety and security, and debatable cost savings for the public.” Continue reading

Rep. Andy Holt’s legislative staffer fired

Michael Lofti, state Rep. Andy Holt’s legislative assistant, was fired Thursday morning amid questions about work he’s done through his personal political company for several state lawmakers, reports The Tennessean. .

(Connie) Ridley, who is the director of Legislative Administration, confirmed that she met with Lotfi on Thursday and informed him that he would not be retained for the upcoming 110th General Assembly. When asked for an explanation about the decision, Ridley said she is not allowed to discuss personnel actions.

…Lotfi said Thursday that Ridley told him some legislators and staff members working at the Capitol were “uncomfortable” with him being in the statehouse and working on legislative campaigns.

Since 2014, Lotfi’s company — BrandFire Consulting — has been hired by several state lawmakers, including Holt, R-Dresden; Reps. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin; Sheila Butt, R-Columbia; and Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro; in addition to Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville.

BrandFire has received nearly $200,000 in payments for providing everything from advertising and consulting to web development related to political campaigns, according to state records. Lotfi says he didn’t pocket all of that money, instead using it to pay employees and for ads for some of his clients.

Lotfi, who made $2,858 a month as Holt’s assistant, said when he met with Ridley she handed him a sheet of paper outlining the history of BrandFire’s business. He said she told him he was “making too much money.”

Trying to further explain what he believe led to his firing, Lotfi said there also were rumors circulating around the Capitol that he was involved in Rocky Top Politics, an anonymous conservative blog.

“I had done my best to dispel those (rumors),” he said, denying any involvement with the blog.

“He’s not Rocky Top Politics, I know, for sure,” Holt said.

Lotfi said when he was first hired in January 2015, it was clear that he was not allowed to have BrandFire work with any candidates challenging GOP incumbent lawmakers. Lotfi also said he understood that he couldn’t do any work related to his political consulting company during the hours he worked as Holt’s assistant.

Holt said the firing was “100 percent” politically motivated. “Everybody up there is attracted like a moth to a flame to politics. Nobody that’s working in those offices got there by happenstance,” Holt said, explaining that he and Lotfi delayed any campaign-related discussions until after their daily legislative work was done at the end of the day.

“It’s all to do with the speakers’ race. I work for Mark Green. Harwell wants to run for governor,” Lotfi said, adding that Holt frequently butts heads with Republican leaders, be it House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, or Gov. Bill Haslam.

Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen referred questions to Ridley.

TDOT worker killed in Crockett County

News release from Department of Transportation
CROCKETT COUNTY, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Transportation is mourning the loss of a worker fatally injured (Wednesday).

James “Pee Wee” Hopkins, an Operations Technician, was flagging traffic around a maintenance crew when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle. No other TDOT workers were injured. The crash is under investigation. Continue reading

Senate passes ‘loser pays’ bill on lawsuits

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate passed a bill that would force people who sue state employees or elected officials to pay legal fees if they fail in a lawsuit.

Supporters say the bill (HB1679) would prevent frivolous lawsuits from being filed and save taxpayers money. Opponents argue that it would discourage people from bringing legitimate claims against officials, especially sexual harassment claims.

The Tennessee Bar Association opposed the legislation, arguing that it would have a chilling effect when it comes to citizens suing government officials.

Mike Bell, R-Riceville, argued on the Senate floor that all it would do is protect state employees from frivolous lawsuits.
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Legislators hear bashing of Haslam outsourcing plan

State and University of Tennessee employees told a Senate committee Tuesday that if Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to outsource the operation and maintenance of all state property and buildings sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Further from Richard Locker:

The Senate State & Local Government Committee heard presentations from the Tennessee State Employees Association and from Tom Anderson, a buyer in UT’s Facilities Services office — the first time that workers have testified formally in a legislative committee since the massive outsourcing initiative was publicly revealed last August.

Two weeks ago, the governor’s outsourcing team presented to the same panel its “business justification” for outsourcing: that a private contractor could save up to $35.8 million when fully implemented, without cutting staff or benefits, primarily through volume purchasing, better-trained staff and more work performed in-house directly by contractor’s employees.

But TSEA spokesman Chris Dauphin told the committee that “essentially means” that when the state buys good and services, “we are being overcharged by $35.8 million.” He said outsourcing everything is an overreaction to a small problem that can be corrected.

“Let’s simply leverage our $30 billion plus enterprise (state government’s annual budget) to negotiate better pricing on goods and services, cross-train our current employees and let state employees continuing the great work they are doing.”

Dauphin also said private contractors often charge extra for services not specified in a contract. He read Texas media reports to the committee of “cost shifting” by the private vendor at Texas A&M University, which the governor’s outsourcing team says is a model for facilities management outsourcing.

Randy Stamps, a former state legislator and legislative staffer who now heads TSEA, cited the Legislature’s experience with Jones Lang LaSalle’s state contract to manage the Legislative Plaza, including having to file work orders to Chicago to obtain simple maintenance tasks.

…The committee chairman, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said it’s too early to say whether the committee will make a recommendation on the governor’s outsourcing initiative.

Theft from state museum brings 20-year sentence

A Nashville judge has sentenced a former Tennessee State Museum employee who stole more than $60,000 to 20 years in prison, according to the Tennessean.

Kathy Alexander, 61, must serve nine of those years before she can be considered for release. She pleaded guilty Tuesday to a charge of theft of more than $60,000, and three other charges were dismissed.

The case came to light in August 2014. The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury issued a report about the theft from the museum and called for more oversight of the purchasing role for the museum.

The report noted that the state’s contract with Adecco USA, a staffing agency that hired Alexander three years before she began working at the museum, did not require temporary or contract employees to undergo background checks.

Assistant District Attorney Jim Milam, who prosecuted the case, said Alexander at the time had 10 prior fraud convictions in Georgia. She also had been sentenced in 2003 to 12 years in a Tennessee prison for stealing more than $84,000 from Habitat for Humanity in Nashville, Milam said.

“Because of Kathy Alexander’s prior criminal history, the appropriate sentence for her is going to the penitentiary,” he said.

‘Ban the box’ goes to governor

The state House on Monday approved a bill to eliminate a question about a job applicant’s criminal history on forms filled out when seeking employment with state government, reports The Tennessean. It now goes to the governor for his signature.

Advocates of the bill (Sb2440) sponsored by Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, argue it provides those convicted of a crime an equal opportunity.

“This is designed to give those who made a mistake a second chance,” Gilmore said on the House floor.

The policy change, which is commonly referred to as the “ban the box” effort, is one that Metro adopted last year.

Gilmore briefly fielded questions from Reps. Charles Sargent and Glen Casada, both Franklin Republicans, about the particulars of the bill. Gilmore reiterated there are several exemptions to the bill, including a provision that would allow the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education to ask applicants about their criminal history.

The Senate approved the measure on March 2 with a 25-7 vote.

Before the chamber’s vote, Gov. Bill Haslam said he supported the bill and would likely sign the legislation.

Outsourcing outline includes job protection, draws protesters

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on Tuesday unveiled its “business justification” for a proposal to outsource building maintenance at state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile, campus workers protested against the plan in the legislative office complex and outside the state Capitol with chants of “Tennessee is not for sale.”

The United Campus Workers have criticized what they call Haslam’s “outsourcing frenzy” for targeting benefits-paying jobs at public colleges and universities.

But Haslam’s outsourcing advisers and consultants say the plan could save $28 million on campuses each year, while protecting the jobs of all currently employed campus maintenance workers who are deemed to be “qualified and productive.”

“There will be no layoffs, nobody will lose their job because of this,” Haslam told reporters. “That’s somehow gotten lost in all of the discussion.”
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