Category Archives: State employees

Two ‘ban the box’ bills progressing

A day after the state Senate approved a bill to remove questions about prior felony convictions on job applications for some state agencies, the House gave final legislative approval Thursday to a bill prohibiting local governments from requiring employers to remove such questions.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

Both bills revolve around the “Ban the Box” movement, which aims to prevent employers from having check-off boxes on job applications that require applicants to say whether they have ever been convicted of a crime. Advocates of “Ban the Box” legislation say that information on the application often prevents people with any criminal histories from getting past the application stage even if they have lived exemplary lives after fulfilling their sentences, committed only minor crimes or were charged but never convicted.

Senate Bill 2103 would add a provision to state law saying that a local government shall not prohibit an employer from “requesting any information on an application for employment or during the process of hiring a new employee.” The bill specifies that local governments also cannot require local businesses to stop asking such questions as a condition of doing business with the local government, or doing business in general.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said the measure is written to prevent city and county governments from telling employers what they can ask.

“Local governments’ role is to run sidewalks, not run businesses,” he said.

The bill won a 68-20 vote. It won Senate approval 27-3 last month and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam.

…On Wednesday, the Senate approved 25-7 a bill to eliminate the felony checkbox on applications for jobs at most state agencies, except education jobs. But managers could still ask about felony convictions later in the hiring process. The bill is set for review in the House State Government Committee March 8.

Note: A press release on the state job checkbox bill is below.
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House approves ‘loser pays’ bill on lawsuits

The House has approved legislation that supporters contend will curtail frivolous lawsuits against state employees, though critics say it will deter the filing of sexual harassment complaints, reports Nashville Post Politics.

House Bill 1679, approved 69-16, would require a loser-pays rule if a plaintiff sues a state employee as an individual and loses.

“This protects state employees in their personal capacity from having to go bankrupt trying to protect themselves personally just because they work for us. I’d rather protect those folks from frivolous lawsuits,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. William Lamberth, chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee and a former assistant district attorney in Sumner County.

Debate on the House floor raged largely between various lawyers in the lower chamber, largely on party lines. Both sides argued they were looking out for the best interests of state employees, generally with Republicans looking to protect the pocketbooks of those who could be wrongly sued and Democrats to protect employees or other victims seeking justice from being scared away from taking legal action.

Note: Previous post HERE.

Purkey leaving as head of TEMA

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Director David Purkey will return to the singular position of governor’s Homeland Security advisor and assistant commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DSHS) after serving in dual roles at TEMA and DSHS for the past two years.

“David has capably served Tennesseans in these two capacities for the past two years, guiding TEMA’s response to devastating storms and their lasting effects as well as Homeland Security’s collaborative effort with local and federal law enforcement in the wake of the Chattanooga attack last July,” Haslam said. “Both roles are intense 24 hour-a-day efforts. His focus on cooperation has been critical in these two areas. I look forward to him bringing his extensive experience and focus to Homeland Security.”

Purkey will continue in the both roles until the next director of TEMA is named. A nationwide search is currently underway.
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Haslam on merit pay system: ‘We’ll get better’

Gov. Bill Haslam is downplaying criticism of his new merit-based plan for setting state employee salaries contained in a recent state comptroller’s audit.

From The Tennessean:

On Monday he told reporters it’s important to focus on the overarching goal of awarding the best state employees, while acknowledging it will take time to accurately calculate which employees are actually the best.

“We will continue to get better, in terms of how we rate, evaluate people. As I’ve said all along, the most unfair thing of all is to treat everybody the same, and fortunately we’re moving away from that,” Haslam said after an event at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
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Auditors question merit pay plan for state employees

There is major disagreement between state auditors and top Human Resources Department officials about Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to eliminate across-the-board pay raises for 40,000-plus executive-branch employees and replace them with a merit-pay system, reports Andy Sher.

A new performance audit by Comptroller Justin Wilson’s office questions whether enough managers and supervisors were adequately trained to ensure the new standards, employee performance plans and evaluations work objectively and fairly as promised.

Auditors also warned that “a number of weaknesses in the performance management model could affect the objectiveness and fairness of the process.”

Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter and department officials rejected many of the findings. A former Hamilton County government personnel chief, Hunter said auditors’ concerns about training are misplaced.

“We feel very confident that our learning initiatives are competent and effective,” Hunter told a joint House and Senate Government Operations Subcommittee during a Dec. 16 hearing on the audit.

Hunter later added, “I think our biggest challenge here was the timing of the audit was in the middle of our efforts to make the process better.”

…Pay for performance is a key provision in Haslam’s 2012 landmark Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management (TEAM) Act.

TEAM rewrote decades-old civil service laws to promote Haslam’s vision of a better-trained, better-managed and high-performing workforce. The act rewards those who do well under a five-tier evaluation system, and makes it easier to fire poor performers.

Hunter and her top deputies describe a “massive culture change” now taking effect after more than three years of hard work. The audit lays out the sometimes painful details of significant challenges faced by the Human Resources officials who spearheaded training for managers and supervisors across 33 executive departments and agencies.

Among them was having only 14 facilitators in the department’s Strategic Learning Solutions Division tasked with training 8,500 executive branch managers and supervisors by July 31, 2015, as “raters” for the new process, auditors said in one finding.

Note: The full audit report is HERE.

Most prison workers unhappy with overtime policy

Excerpt from a Tennessean report on a survey of state prison workers conducted by the Tennessee State Employees Association:

“The results of this survey show that the Department of Correction has much work to do with regard to employee overtime pay and work schedules,” TSEA President Bryan Merritt in a statement. “And, while the results for work schedule preference are mixed, we believe there would have been overwhelming support for a return to a 40-hour work week if that option was included in the survey.”

More than 80 percent of officers surveyed said they were negatively affected by the state’s decision not to pay overtime until they had worked more than 171 hours in a month, as opposed to the 160 hours compiled through a traditional 40-hour work week. More than 70 percent don’t like the ability to “flex” their overtime, a method of rearranging an employee’s work schedule in order to avoid working overtime instead of actually being paid for working overtime.

Officers were generally split on whether they would like to work slightly shorter shifts six days in a row, or a longer shift with rotating days off: 55 percent preferred 8.5- or 9-hour shifts where they’d work six days and then have three off, while 45 percent preferred the 12-hour shifts with rotating days off.

Officers were not allowed to chose the traditional eight-hour shift, 40-hour workweek that had been in place at the department until 2014.

Note: A TSEA review of the survey is HERE.

Schofield: No intention of resigning

The state Correction Commissioner sat down for a long interview with the Tennessee State Employees Association, which is conducting a survey of the department’s employees, reports The Tennessean.

“I’ll say this, I have no intention of resigning. I think our agency is in good shape,” Derrick Schofield told the Tennessee State Employee Association during an extensive interview in November.

“We continue to operate sound facilities. We have documentation to prove it. We continue to maintain our accreditation and that speaks volumes about what we are doing and the folks that are out there doing it. That is what I say to that.”

…The commissioner goes into detail about the scheduling and incident reporting changes in his interview with the TSEA. As he’s done before, Schofield told the state employee agency that the department is considering looking at whether it needs to revisit reporting of previous violent incidents and upgrade their definition of “assault.” If that happens, data on prison violence is sure to change.

The department is also exploring changing the number and lengths of shifts at prisons, on a per-facility basis. That potential change is supposed to rely on the findings of an employee survey. The survey went out to correctional officers last week — delivery was delayed for at least two weeks in order to give the department time to get every officer an email address.

Although Schofield told Haslam the survey would be completed by Tuesday, the survey will actually remain open through Sunday. At that point, the TSEA will provide the department with the final results.

After asking officers where they work and how long they’ve worked for the department, the survey includes six questions about scheduling. The questions ask whether officers believe changes such as rotating days off and not being paid overtime until they’ve worked 171 hours in a month had a positive or negative impact on their lives.

Dept. of Correction wants to give prison guards a 5 percent raise

State Correction Department officials are asking Gov. Bill Haslam for $8.3 million in new funding to give prison guards and probation officers a 5 percent raise in hopes of slowing widespread departures, reports the Times-Free Press.

Commissioner Derrick Schofield told Haslam at a budget hearing Thursday “if we were funded for this, this would push us up to about No. 3 with the surrounding states.”

The department has been hemorrhaging correctional officers across the state, especially at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tenn., and Bledsoe County Regional Correctional Complex in Pikeville.

Guards have complained about low pay and plummeting morale stemming from changes in work schedules and the reclassification of certain inmate-on-guard assaults. Correctional officers complain the change made their work more dangerous.

… The commissioner said 300 correctional officers have been hired, but Taylor said there are still 260 vacancies. Vacancies at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex have been reduced by 26 percent, she said.

Randy Stamps, with the Tennessee State Employees Association, which has been critical of Schofield’s policies, said he was “astounded that he believes that turnover is going very well, ‘good’ — I think was the word that he used. We still have a huge turnover problem.”

Schofield also is asking for $26.1 million more in recurring funding and $39.2 million in one-time funds, including $20 million to build a new headquarters and a new service and training academy.

He outlined 3.5 percent in cuts or other savings to recurring spending totaling $5.12 million.

Each year, Haslam asks heads of the 26 departments or agencies in budget talks to come up with prospective cuts. Some he adopts, and some he does not.

Schofield offered up 46 vacant positions from the Turney Center Industrial Complex and West Tennessee State Penitentiary, which he said could save up to $622,600. He said the positions were slated for minimum security annexes that never materialized.

Starting in January, the department will begin laying out about $40 million a year for a contract to house state prisoners at a 2,552-bed prison in Trousdale County. The county-owned facility will be operated by Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America.

State ending Jones Lang LaSalle’s exclusive contract

The state of Tennessee will not extend a controversial contract with a private real estate firm and instead will throw the deal to negotiate government office space open to bidders, reports WPLN.

The Department of General Services has posted a request for information asking commercial real estate brokers to offer their plans to manage the state’s office leases. The move comes after state officials decided not to extend their contract with Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle past February.

“Well, we’ve learned some things from the time when this contract was originally let,” said state spokesman David Roberson. “And so I think we’re better informed now than we were at that time.”

The state’s relationship with Jones Lang LaSalle began four years ago, when the firm wrote a study that suggested the state sell several of its buildings and instead lease office space from private landlords. Months later, the firm was given the exclusive right to represent state agencies when they negotiated with those landlords.

Critics said the arrangement smacked of backroom dealing. State officials have defended the deal.

…Jones Lang LaSalle is free to bid on the new contract. But it’s unlikely it would become the state’s sole agent. Tennessee officials are considering spreading the right to represent state government among several firms, each with expertise in a different region of the state.

The state may also bring more of its lease management in-house. Roberson says the Department of General Services has hired four people in the last year with experience negotiating office leases.

UPDATE/Note: See also the Times-Free Press. Excerpt below.

JLL continues to hold a separate, competitively bid contract to run and maintain a number of state office buildings. That won’t be affected by the leasing change, Roberson said.

Haslam, meanwhile, is actively exploring outsourcing building management and maintenance for all state-owned structures, including higher education, prisons, hospitals and more. While administration documents point to a July 1 start date, state officials insist that no decision has been made.

Among the buildings JLL recommended closing were the Chattanooga State Office Building and James R. Mapp Building, both located on McCallie Avenue. They were too expensive to repair, maintain or both, the company said.

While JLL recommended leasing some buildings elsewhere in the state, in Chattanooga’s case, however, the company said it would be cheaper in the long-run to build a new building to replace the two it recommended closing.

The Haslam administration ignored that suggestion, with officials saying they didn’t want to be bothered with constructing a new building.

JLL earns commissions of up to 4 percent on each lease, which administration officials emphasize is paid by the building owner — not the state. However, officials concede building owners are free to up their price to compensate for the charge.

According to General Services, JLL has made $3.35 million in commissions on 19 buildings across Tennessee since May 2013 to mid-May 2015.

TDOC’s figures show assaults on prison officers down this year

The number of assaults on prison officers so far this fiscal year is down compared with the same period last year, according to data provided to The Tennessean by the state Department of Correction.

Although there have been 31 fewer assaults this fiscal year — starting July 1 — compared with last fiscal year, assaults in September and October of this year are up, compared with the same months last year.

“Our officers actively monitor our prisons for any trends so they can be proactive in preventing violence. This monitoring augments the dedicated work our correctional officers do to keep our facilities safe by adhering to policy and utilizing effective population management techniques,” department spokeswoman Neysa Taylor said.

The Tennessean reported on Sunday that there had been 32 assaults against officers over the course of 28 days. Gov. Bill Haslam and department Commissioner Derrick Schofield have argued assaults overall for the year are down, but the department didn’t provide specific data to show that trend until Tuesday.

…(C)correctional officers, inmates and their families continue to tell lawmakers and the media that the prisons are more violent than ever.

They argue officers are instructed at times to classify violent acts that would have been considered assaults in the past as “staff/inmate provocations,” a lesser offense Department officials argue correctional officers are now more accurately recording violent acts.

Between Sept. 12 and Nov. 11 this year, there were 106 staff/inmate provocations, according to department records.

During a recent audit, the American Correctional Association recommended the department scrap its definitions for assaults and staff/inmate provocations, saying the definitions leave a “gap.” The department is in the process of examining those definitions to see what, if any, changes need to be made.

Assaults in Tennessee prisons

Assaults on staff since July 1: 116

Assaults on staff during the same period last year: 147

Assaults in September: 31

Assaults in September 2014: 25

Assaults in October: 32

Assaults in October 2014: 23