Gov. Bill Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, said Tuesday they show no favoritism toward Tom Ingram’s lobbying clients, though Cate’s emails indicate considerable friendly contact with Ingram and an associate.
Several of the emails obtained by WTVF-TV involved HR Comp Employee Leasing, a Knox County firm that had problems with the state Department of Insurance and retained The Ingram Group’s lobbying and consultant services. The firm, owned and operated by Andrea Ball of Powell, at one point was found to be operating without a state license and agreed to pay $10,000 in a consent order.
In one email, Ingram describes the company’s situation as “a very troubling case.” In another, Marcille Durham, president of the Ingram Group, says Andrea Ball would like to meet with him about departmental action “driving her out of business” and Cate replies that he is “optimistic we can find a resolution.”
Both Cate and Ball said in interviews Tuesday that they had never met.
Cate said “I don’t really see any point” in the TV report on his email since he was merely doing his job of dealing with people who have issues with one part of state government or another.
Gov. Bill Haslam has insisted that Tom Ingram, a lobbyist who gives him private advice for an undisclosed fee, does not lobby him on behalf of other clients. But WTVF reports that Haslam administration emails show Ingram clients had “enormous access” to the governor’s top advisers.
The story’s prime example is Chris and Andrea Ball, who had been cited in 2012 for operating a staff leasing company without a license, the station says. They showed up at a bill-signing ceremony shortly afterwards and a Tennessean headline on a story reprting this asked, “Who Invited This Couple?” At the time, Haslam aides told reporters it was a mystery who invited the couple to attend the signing of a bill that regulated staff leasing companies.
But emails obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates show Haslam’s administration was well aware of the couple. The Balls had hired Ingram.
His firm sent regular updates about the Balls to the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate.
…In March 2012, Marcille Durham of the Ingram Group sent an email to Cate, “Andrea Ball would very much like to visit with you, however briefly, regarding the Department of Insurance action that is driving her out of business.”
Cate responded that he talked with the Department of Insurance Commissioner and is “optimistic we can find a resolution.”
In April 2012, Ingram emailed Mark Cate about the Ball’s company, “Is there anytime today or tomorrow I can talk again about HR Comp Employee Leasing LLC. This is a very troubling case.”
A month after that, the Balls appeared at the bill signing.
Then in July 2012, Durham complained to Cate about a specific “fraud investigator” with the state. She was concerned about the “level of surveillance” on the Balls company.
Cate asked to be “kept in the loop.”
The emails show a level of access likely to make other lobbyists envious.
Ingram and his firm communicated regularly with Cate, even when he was on vacation in the Bahamas and on holiday weekends.
Andrea Zelinski has a rambling review of Gov. Bill Haslam’s gubernatorial performance, starting with the proposition that he’ has the “Teflon-like qualities” of Bill Clinton and proceeding through quoted commentary from folks including a Democratic operative (it’s not Teflon, it’s an “oil slick”), Zach Wamp, Tom Ingram and Haslam himself.
Excerpts: Haslam’s colleagues say he researches almost every decision he has to make and seeks out opinions from people in those fields before coming to a conclusion. But other times, those strategies open him up to criticism for being indecisive, lacking backbone or for testing the political waters before making a call.
“I’m sure a lot of people go, ‘Just make up your mind, buddy.’ Or, ‘You’re trying to wait to see where the wind blows,’ etc.,” Haslam told The City Paper.
“I don’t take this job lightly, in the sense I realize it does come with a lot of weight. Sometimes I have the very final say, but oftentimes I can carry a very influential point, and I want to make certain that I’ve thought through that well before we decide where we’re going to push,” he said.
Haslam often takes so much time to decide issues that the controversy has died down and a different issue is front and center, said Ben Cunningham, a spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt and an activist with the Nashville Tea Party. While members of his faction are happy with the governor cutting taxes like those on groceries, inheritances and investments, Cunningham said he would like to see the governor be more decisive on issues like opposing Medicaid expansion.
“It’s pretty difficult to really tie him down, because he doesn’t anchor himself down,” Cunningham said. “He does not really inspire great feelings one way or the other, because he doesn’t express great feelings one way or the other.”
…”I would caution anybody who tries to mix issues of the allegations against Pilot right now and the governor. That is a colossal stretch for anyone to try,” said Tom Ingram, a private political consultant for the governor, and also for Jimmy Haslam as he navigates the company through the FBI investigation.
“It energizes people who are looking for something to talk about,” he said. “I think the relevant point a challenger should look at is the governor’s popularity, is the governor’s record, and this governor’s ability, and issues as they specifically relate to this governor. That’s a pretty formidable set of assets going into a campaign.”
…While the question of whether there is more than a tangential tie between the governor and the alleged wrongdoing at Pilot is still unanswered, the investigation is restarting debate about the governor’s refusal to reveal details about how much he has invested in his family’s company.
“I don’t think that Gov. Haslam has anything to do with, personally, the Pilot Oil problems,” said Wamp, who said he has no plans to run for the governor’s office again. “But at the same time, I think people want to know what their executive leaders are involved in financially.”
Haslam’s decision to withhold his income tax returns during his campaign, despite fervent calls from his opponents to show exactly how much he earns from Pilot, didn’t hurt his ability to take the governor’s seat. But Wamp said transparency is still an issue the public needs to think about. The Democratic Party is also beginning to call for the governor to reveal his Pilot-related income.
“In politics, you can overcome a lot of liabilities if you do a good job and if you’re straight with the people,” said Wamp. “I think we’d all like to see more transparency, but I think Gov. Haslam is a very honorable man who is serving our state well.”
Andrea Zelinski has a thoughtful article on the Republican Legislature’s focus Nashville. An excerpt: Some say the conflict is political, the product of Republican majorities trying to dismantle one of the state’s last institutions of Democratic power. Others say it’s the result of a shift in values reflected in a legislature that is more conservative than the city it does business in. Some go further, saying the city has developed so much power and influence that a clearer focus is needed to ensure the success of the state as a whole.
The one thing everybody agrees on? Don’t expect the attention on Nashville to let up.
…”I think they view it as the last bastion they have to beat down,” said Rep. Mike Turner, an Old Hickory Democrat and the party’s caucus chairman, who characterized the situation as “open season on Nashville.
“Basically all the things they don’t like with America, they see it in Nashville,” he said. “And I think all the things that’s good about America is represented in Nashville. I think they have some issues with it.”
…(W)hen lawmakers sent a bill to the governor that would undo the city’s rules ensuring prevailing wage standards for contractors doing city business…Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s prepared to sign, although added it’s a tricky issue.
“That’s a very fine line for me,” said Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor who adds that he’s sensitive to preserving local authority. The difference here, he said, is lawmakers have made the case to him that Metro’s current practice has effects beyond Davidson County.
That bill came at the hands of Rep. Glen Casada, a high-ranking House Republican leader from Franklin. The point of the bill was to standardize laws across the state, he said, and Metro Nashville mandating a standard wage in Davidson County could force unaffordable costs on companies doing business across the Tennessee.
“They are expanding their reach in areas they don’t belong,” said Casada about Metro’s government. “So a lot of legislators say, ‘city of Nashville, you can’t tell business that they have to pay a certain wage to do business with you in your town. We want all laws to be the same all across the state.’
“We look at it from a macro sense, the whole state, all 95 counties. The city of Nashville and the city of Memphis are looking at it from their perspective only. But their actions have ripple effects across the state, and so I think you’re seeing a butting of wills on direction.”
It amounts to a turf war, he said, and it seems to be more intense this year.
“The cities are just becoming very influential nationwide,” he said, “and so, Nashville is doing what they think is best. The problem is what they think is best, it flexes and comes up upon what state business is.”
“They’re expanding. They’re reaching areas they don’t belong,” he added.
A fundraiser will be held today for state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and Rep. Harry Brooks at the Powell home of a couple who have been in the news for operating a company without a Tennessee license, reports Georgiana Vines. Massey’s brother, U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, will be the honored guest, according to the invitation.
The problems of Chris and Andrea Ball and their firm, HR Comp LLC, came to light last month after they appeared in a photo with Gov. Bill Haslam when he signed into law a new statute governing the operation of staff leasing companies.
Tom Ingram, a government affairs specialist/lobbyist who lives in Knoxville, said Friday the Balls’ competitors had been busy notifying the media of their problems.
“I’ve worked with them over a year. They have a new license. In the end, Andrea worked hard with (an) association to tighten up regulations in the industry that has been subject to abuse. They’re building a good business,” Ingram said.
Ingram said Andrea Ball worked with the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations on the legislation passed this year.
In a consent order signed April 9, the Balls’ attorney acknowledged their business had acted as an employee leasing agency without a license and the Balls had given false responses when asked about it, according to The Tennessean in Nashville.
The newspaper also reported a $10,000 fine was issued. In the consent order, the Department of Commerce and Insurance determined Andrea Ball was not of “good moral character because the Jan. 12, 2010, response she sent about HR Comp’s unlicensed activity was not true.”
The new license, which is probationary, is for HR Comp Employee Leasing. Andrea Ball said Friday she is the owner and her husband is not part of the business. She also said a $3.5 million federal tax lien is being paid off monthly.
“I’ve spent 1½ years trying to address an old situation,” she said.
Ball said former Knoxville mayoral candidate Mark Padgett has been hired to help with sales.
— Note: Previous post HERE.
When a smiling Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a new statute governing the operation of staff leasing companies, he was surrounded by a group that included two people whose company recently was cited and fined for operating without a license, reports The Tennessean. One of them had been described in a state document as “not of good moral character” — which may be why no one seems to want to own up to inviting them.
In a consent order signed April 9, the attorney representing Chris and Andrea Ball of Powell, Tenn., acknowledged that their firm, HR Comp LLC, had acted as an employee leasing agency without the license required by state law and that the Balls had given false responses when asked about it.
An investigation by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance found that HR Comp LLC had a staff leasing arrangement with Barden Enterprises, parent company of a Knoxville sports bar, for about 10 months ending in November 2010.
“Southside Sports Bar had three to five employees during that period,” said D. Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the agency.
So the department imposed a $10,000 fine and issued another Ball company — but one with a strikingly similar name, HR Comp Employee Leasing — a probationary one-year license.
…”The department determined that Andrea Ball was not of good moral character because the Jan. 12, 2010, response she sent about HR Comp’s unlicensed activity was not true,” the consent order states.
The probationary license was issued after Andrea Ball admitted submitting the false statement and paid the $10,000 civil penalty.
According to Haslam’s aides, the bill on the licensing of staff leasing agencies was one of 25 signed in a series on May 29.
As for who invited the Balls, Haslam aides and state legislators on hand for the ceremony said they had no idea.
— Note: The state legislators in the picture are Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. Johnson told the Tennessean he came to the ceremonial signing event for another bill, but then joined the staffing bill group for the picture.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he has “no problem” naming a sidewalk at the bottom of Capitol Hill after his predecessor’s wife despite red-lighting the move as costly last month, reports TNReport. “It’ll happen. It’ll happen,” Haslam laughed when asked by reporters about the proposal Tuesday. “We’ll get that paid for, with state money.”
The Republican governor’s staff raised objections to the cost of naming the perimeter track of Bicentennial Capitol Mall — down the hill from the Capitol Building — after former first lady Andrea Conte, wife of Phil Bredesen. Former Democratic Speaker Jimmy Naifeh had brought forward the proposal.
…”Let me just say, that was one of those cases where we put a fiscal flag on anything that cost money,” Haslam told reporters after speaking to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. “Anything that cost us, we just said, ‘Hold it, that wasn’t in the initial budget so that will take some consideration.’ And that’s one of those.”
“Obviously, we have no problem honoring Andrea for the things she’s done, and it’s not a significant amount of money,” he said.
(Note: Naifeh says six former Bredesen staffers had told him they would put up $750 each to cover the estimated $6,000 cost to the state for signs bearing Conte’s name along the pathway. The speaker emeritus says he and Haslam talked after the “flag letter” was issued and Haslam said he didn’t know about it, but was sure the cost could be covered in routine Department of Environment and Conservation regular operations budget.)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The administration of Gov. Bill Haslam has flagged a bill that would name a perimeter trail around the Bicentennial Mall in Nashville in honor of a former governor’s wife.
Haslam is a Republican and his predecessor Phil Bredesen is a Democrat, but bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Naifeh said he thinks the issue isn’t politics, but money.
It would cost an estimated $6,000 for signs to designate the trail to honor Andrea Conte — Bredesen’s wife.
Naifeh — a Covington Democrat — told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he can raise the money if the state can handle the signs (http://bit.ly/AbEL9L).
Naifeh noted his request has precedent. A decade ago, lawmakers named the Martha Sundquist State Forest in Cocke County to honor the wife of Republican Gov. Don Sundquist. Note: Naifeh says, further, that he talked briefly with the governor about the flag and Haslam had not known about the letter expressing opposition — which was apparently instituted by staff. “We’re going to work it out,” he said.
The University of Tennessee Foundation has hired five new fundraising employees and expects to hire seven more by the end of October, reports Megan Boehnke. The move is part of a five-year push to increase donations by increasing the number of people asking for them. At the same time, the foundation is wrapping up its seven-year fundraising campaign and is expecting to reach $1.3 billion in gifts by the Dec. 31 close date.
“When we started this campaign, we didn’t know we were going to have the recession, and the common wisdom when we were moving into this recession was (for) so many schools in adjacent states that had a billion-dollar campaign, they completely pulled out of it because they thought, ‘There’s no way we can accomplish this,'” said Andrea Loughry, chair of the UT Foundation board, following a meeting Thursday in the Haslam Business Building.
“So to accomplish that in this economy is a huge pat on a back for our professional staff but also a huge compliment to the alumni and friends of the University of Tennessee and the fact that they keep on giving in spite of the economy we’ve been in.”
As the foundation — the system’s fundraising arm — wraps up its first $1 billion campaign, it also is reorganizing. The Legislature in the spring approved a new “interdependent” structure for the foundation that allows it to manage its own payroll and ultimately hire 60 new employees over five years in hopes of doubling annual giving by 2020.
Of the five new employees, the university hired three fundraising officers who will work in regional cities with large alumni bases: Nashville, Charlotte, N.C., and Houston, said Scott Rabenold, acting vice president for development and alumni affairs.
“The No. 1 reason people don’t give is because they aren’t asked,” Rabenold said. “We have very passionate alumni and very successful alumni, so the biggest obstacle to our successful fundraising is getting out and talking to them. The more boots we can put on the ground, the greater impact we can have for students and faculty.”