Tag Archives: boards

TRICOR blasted; Yager wants ouster of CEO, directors

Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager says the the state agency that oversees prison labor, Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction or TRICOR, needs a new board of directors and a replacement for its CEO, Patricia Weiland.

So reports The Tennessean. Further:

“I don’t have any confidence in her ability to clean up this problem that has been created under her watch,” Yager said Thursday when asked whether Weiland should resign.

The comments followed a tongue lashing from Yager and other lawmakers during a Thursday morning legislative hearing. Lawmakers remain upset over the findings of an audit from the Tennessee comptroller. The audit outlined substantial financial mismanagement and mistakes that led to TRICOR operating at a $4 million loss and deciding to end its prison food program.

In addition to criticizing Weiland and TRICOR over financial mismanagement, Yager also blasted the longtime CEO for spending $5,000 of TRICOR funds on Nashville-based public relations firm McNeely Pigott & Fox to help prepare her to testify in 2015.

“I think to pay a public relations person to coach you up for a hearing is a waste of taxpayers’ money … and frankly when I received this email I was absolutely shocked,” Yager said.

“I think that as an official, you’re an appointed official and not elected, you’re expected to make your own case without hiring a publicist to help coach you through it.”

Weiland initially declined to comment on the hearing, trying to avoid questions as a spokeswoman attempted to waylay reporters in the corridors at the statehouse. She eventually said she plans to fix the issues at TRICOR, arguing there aren’t a slew of lawmakers questioning her leadership capacity.

“I only heard one senator say that. I’m a 36-year public servant; my record is open to the public. I’ve been a very passionate public servant for the state of Tennessee,” Weiland said.

“We’re moving forward. There’s a 20-year history. This is a blip on the radar. Taxpayer money was not sacrificed, it was not lost. It was used to provide food to the Department of Correction.”

…But Jason Mumpower, chief of staff to Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson, argued that money is taxpayer money because most of TRICOR’s clients are state agencies.

“TRICOR’s deficiencies were eye-opening and they need to be addressed,” Mumpower told lawmakers, adding the agency created an environment where fraud was “ripe to occur.”

TRICOR operated what it called the “Tennessee Cook Chill” program for several years, sending millions of meals to Tennessee prisons. Weiland told The Tennessean in December that TRICOR will end the arrangement with the department by June.

State Funding Board goes low with revenue projections

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The State Funding Board has issued its official revenue projections for the current and next budget years that fall below the estimates presented by experts earlier this month.

The panel made up by the finance commissioner and the state’s three constitutional officers on Monday predicted that this year’s surplus will be up to $353 million, while next year’s revenues could grow by up to $348 million.

The experts had estimated a range of $340 million to $422 million for the surplus; and next year’s growth was pegged at $376 million to $525 million.

Members of the funding panel said they wanted to be conservative in the estimates used to shape the state’s annual spending plan. They also want to treat a combined $350 million in corporate taxes as one-time revenue.

Note: The board’s figures chart is HERE.

School boards denounce elimination of education funding recommendations

A revolt that began in Bradley County against stripping long-held priorities from Tennessee’s education funding formula flamed statewide Sunday, according to the Times-Free Press.

At the Tennessee School Boards Association 2015 leadership conference, delegates voted almost unanimously for a resolution urging the state to fund all recommendations made in years past by the BEP Review Committee.

The committee, whose job is to make recommendations on school funding, astonished the education community in its annual report issued Nov. 1. The report dropped eight years of previous recommendations and the specific dollar amounts to implement them.

Those included priorities such as reducing class sizes in middle and high school, boosting education support services such as nurses, counselors and technology coordinators, and boosting money for classroom supplies and materials.

Those same needs and services were cited when school boards in Hamilton County and six nearby counties filed suit in March, claiming the state isn’t putting enough money into education for schools to meet mandated responsibilities. Shelby County also filed a separate suit.

Dr. Jonathan Welch, a Hamilton County school board member, has questioned whether the omissions were related to the lawsuit.

So do many other school boards in Tennessee, said Chris Turner, chairman of the Bradley County Board of Education.

Last week the Bradley board, also part of the suit, passed a resolution denouncing the exclusion of the recommendations and calling on the TSBA to adopt its own resolution “calling upon State officials to fund the true cost of educating Tennessee students, specifically to include the cost components recognized and recommended by the BEP Review Committee in past years.”

That’s what happened Sunday night, when 217 of the 219 delegates voted for the resolution seeking full funding of past priorities.

“The funding formula accurately reflects what school systems across the state actually do,” Turner said by telephone. “We think those things are necessary; that’s why we do them now.

“We think it’s very important to ask the committee what new data, what new information would have guided them,” to drop those recommendations, he said.

“The data doesn’t suggest it or support it, what we do in schools doesn’t suggest it or support it. This is such a huge shift in direction from what that group has done in the past. There must have been an outside influence, and I believe the school boards of the state of Tennessee deserve an answer.”

…Dr. Sara Heyburn, executive director of the Tennessee Board of Education whose staff runs the BEP Review Committee, also told the Times Free Press last week the committee’s move had nothing to do with the lawsuits.

“The BEP report reflects the BEP Review Committee’s 2015 priorities as well as a collective, ongoing commitment to Tennessee’s teachers and students,” Heyburn said via email.

She noted that the report and recommendations were adopted with no dissenting votes at public meetings, and said there was a “concerted effort to make the 2015 documents more succinct and focused for the state’s policy makers.”

But two committee members have told the Times Free Press that move was never discussed during this year’s abbreviated meetings and they were unaware it had happened. Four meeting attendees say the same thing.

Economists forecast substantial TN tax revenue growth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Experts are predicting a large budget surplus in Tennessee in the current year, and more revenue growth in the next.

In presentations made to the State Funding Board on Friday, Robert Currey of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee had the most optimistic surplus projection of $422 million for the budget year ending June 30.

Bill Fox of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee put that number at $370 million, while state Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts projected a $340 million surplus.

Roberts projected $525 million in new revenue for the budget year starting July 1. That compares with Currey’s estimate of $428 million and Fox’s $376 million.

The State Funding Board is made up of the state comptroller, treasurer, secretary of state and a representative of the governor’s office. The panel is scheduled to announce its own projections Thursday.

Comptroller Justin Wilson said he was encouraged by the projections, but added that he’s “not as optimistic as some of the presenters were.

“Our goal is to try to hit the number,” he said. “It’s just as bad to overestimate as it is to underestimate it.”

Secretary of State Tre Hargett said he wants to take a cautious approach.

“We’d rather be pleasantly surprised this time next year or during the legislative session than having the shock value of having overestimated revenues,” he said.

Lawmakers have voiced several ideas about how to spend the expected surplus and new revenue, including proposals to use it for road projects or phasing out the state’s tax on income from stocks and bonds.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has warned that increasing costs in education and health care will eat up most of that money.

Audit finds delays in disciplining doctors

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners is taking too long to investigate misconduct charges brought against doctors, subjecting patients to “potentially harmful medical practices,” according to an audit by the state comptroller’s office. In reviewing a sample of 21 cases, auditors found 10 were not completed within the time frame set by state rules.

From a Tennessean article on the audit:

The audit also found the board, which consists of nine physicians and three health care consumers appointed by the governor, has not taken steps to comply with a 1979 state law requiring it to collect information from state courts that would alert it to a physician who has been convicted of a crime.

“Citizens expect state medical boards to protect them against unethical practitioners, though occasionally physicians have committed serious crimes that went undetected for years,” the audit noted.

The Tennessee Department of Health will examine each of the cases highlighted in the audit, according to Michelle Long, assistant commissioner for health and licensure regulation.

“The BME (Board of Medical Examiners) and the Office of Investigations take very seriously their responsibility to protect the health and welfare of Tennesseans, and are committed to working more effectively to track and monitor complaints against medical doctors while those complaints are under investigation,” she said.

On TN State Museum, artwork and critics

Since former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe accused the Tennessee State Museum of geographic bias in contemporary art purchases, the museum has bought works by four East Tennessee artists — although still spending more money in Middle Tennessee, a review of records provided by the museum indicates.

Ashe, a member of the museum’s board of directors, says the purchases of works by living artists from outside Middle Tennessee over the past two years are a step in the right direction, but “to balance the past discrimination, they’d have to buy almost everything from East and West Tennessee for years to come.”

Ashe said he intends to raise the notion of replacing the museum’s longtime executive director, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, at a meeting of the museum board — formally known as the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission — set for Oct. 5 in Memphis.

The commission’s chairman, Republican state Rep. Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads, says he is open to the idea of discussing creation of a search committee to consider a successor to Riggins-Ezzell, 75, who has led the museum since 1981 and who has expressed an intention to “stay as long as I can” — at least until a planned new $160 million museum is completed and opened. That is scheduled for December 2018.
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With $160M new TN museum coming, boards deal with controversies

The Tennessee State Museum is dealing with controversies ranging from a former employee’s alleged theft of $62,000 to the removal of two foundation board members who questioned several of the museum’s acquisitions procedures, reports Richard Locker.

The museum has two boards — one an oversight board that will receive $120 million under Gov. Bill Haslam’s current state budget and the other a foundation board will be involved in trying to raise $40 million in private money to go with the taxpayer funds toward construction of a new museum.

When the oversight board holds its quarterly meeting Monday, members will get their first briefing on plans for the new structure and, presumably, about the fundraising drive. Details of the campaign have not been publicly unveiled, but former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a member of the board since its creation in 2010, says the drive should be transparent, with contributions made public.

Ashe, who has also raised questions about the museum’s operations during his tenure, asked that a presentation on the new museum be added to Monday’s agenda after an earlier draft made no mention of it. An update by the governor’s chief of staff, Mark Cate, was added.

…The private fundraising drive will launch without two veteran members of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation board who were not renominated for new terms last month: private-investment banker Charles Cook and lawyer Henry Walker, both of Nashville. Cook was also a member of the oversight board, but he was ineligible for reappointment when his term ended June 30.

In 2013, at Cook’s request, Walker reviewed a series of $1,000-or-more purchases of art and artifacts by museum staff and concluded, according to his written report, that up to 11 purchases over a 10-month period appeared to violate one or more of the museum’s acquisition policies, including lack of prior approval by a three-person committee and lack of “justification letters,” both of which are required for a purchase of $1,000 or more.

Cook also wrote a December 2013 memo to the museum’s executive director, Lois Riggins-Ezzell, questioning whether the staff’s purchase of a painting by a Nashville artist who served on the governor’s New Museum Task Force might have violated the museum’s code of ethics and the acquisition policy.

…Asked whether she expressed an opinion about Cook and Walker, Ezzell said, “I can’t recall everything that was said, but if I was asked, I think they were critical — consistently critical.

“I had a board that believed in this museum, believed in its vision 100 percent. I had no dissenters on that board. I had no one that didn’t believe in what we were doing, and as some new people were added from time to time, there was some dissension … and that is not productive. If you’ve got 90 percent that believes in the management and the vision — I’d say 95, 98 — and you have 2 percent that doesn’t believe that strongly, is it better to get rid of the 90 or 98 percent that does believe and has been there 10, 15, 20 and 25 years or the 1 percent that’s been there a year or two years, that has come in with a new vision that may not have been the vision embraced in the past?”

The 15-member oversight board, called the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission in honor of the retired state senator and longtime museum champion, is also waiting to hear whether Davidson County prosecutors will file charges against and seek restitution from a former museum administrative services assistant who state auditors last year concluded took nearly $62,000 in taxpayer money: $49,477 through phony invoice payments for artifacts to a fictitious company and $12,416 for a rental car billed to the museum for 15 months.

Note: Andy Sher did a similar story in the Times-Free Press. Non-duplicative excerpt below.
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Ramsey names English-only advocate to TN Human Rights Commission

A former Metro councilman known for spearheading Nashville’s failed English-only referendum has been appointed to the board of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, reports the Tennessean.

Eric Crafton, long ridiculed by Democrats for his unsuccessful push in 2009 to make English the official language of Metro government, will begin his service on the nine-member volunteer board Friday after getting the nod from Ramsey last month.

Immigrant rights activists have criticized the selection, but Ramsey contends the former Bellevue-area councilman is ideal for the role.

“A devoted public servant and veteran, Eric Crafton is exactly the kind of individual our state needs on the Human Rights Commission,” Ramsey said in a prepared statement. “I am confident that Eric’s unique qualifications and viewpoint will be of great assistance as the Human Rights Commission carries out its important mission to safeguard all of our citizens from discrimination.”

The human rights commission, which has an office of 29 state employees, is tasked with enforcing state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination. That includes investigating complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on race, disability, gender, age and other factors.

…In a statement, Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said Crafton is best known for his “unsuccessful efforts to establish government policies that discriminate against individuals based on the language they speak

“Appointing him to the commission that safeguards human rights is like the fox guarding the henhouse,” she said. “It also sends a confusing message to foreign-born communities across the state about Tennessee’s real commitment to protecting human rights.”

Crafton, who lost recent elections for Metro school board and Davidson County Juvenile Court clerk, served on the council from 1995-1999, and again from 2003-2011.

On Supermajority sunsetting state boards, commissions and such

Seventeen state government entities were abolished during the 108th General Assembly, and the chairman of a committee overseeing the “sunset” process says that is part of a Republican supermajority trend that will continue in the 109th General Assembly that begins Jan. 13.

The terminations were in addition to legislative approval of proposals submitted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration for merging or restructuring some entities.

As a prelude to the new session, joint subcommittees of the House and Senate government operations committees met last week to begin reviewing boards, commissions and other governmental agencies that are subject to termination, renewal or modification during 2015.

State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who chairs the Senate committee, questioned the need for at least two of the entities, including the Consumer Advocate Division of the state attorney general’s office, which has been in existence since 1994 — created after what was described as a scandal — without ever being subject to a legislative review before.

Bell says he would like to bring still more entities under mandated scrutiny of the government operations committees — one example being the drug task forces operated by law enforcement organizations around the state, which he described as “a strange creature” that evolved as part of the District Attorneys General Conference without any legislative oversight.

“I’m always looking for another board or commission to get rid of,” Bell said.
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Government Op Committee report: 17 state agencies terminated, eight merged, two restructured

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s state government is becoming smaller and more efficient according to a report from Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) released at a meeting of the group today in Nashville. During the 108th General Assembly, which extended from January 2013 to November 2014, the committee terminated 17 agencies, while merging eight and restructuring two.

“As Tennessee’s budget continues to be strained, it is more important than ever that we streamline state government and make it more efficient and effective,” said Chairman Bell. “It’s essential to weed through the layers of government and find where efficiencies can be realized, without compromising the services that the people of Tennessee need. This committee is vital to that process.”

The Senate Government Operations Committee is responsible for creating, reauthorizing, reorganizing or sunsetting about 275 departments, commissions, boards, agencies or councils of state government. The Committee also reviews regulations promulgated by all agencies of state government.

Bell said the Government Operations Committee has conducted over 150 sunset hearings over the two-year period. They also maintained timely rule reviews for over 350 rules which come before the committee for oversight.

“We have a tremendous group of lawmakers on this committee,” added Bell. “Their work and attention to detail has been a great asset to help ensure our government operates more efficiently and effectively. I am very hopeful that these efforts will continue in the 109th General Assembly.”

Note: Here’s a list of the state government entities terminated during the 108th Tennessee General Assembly’s session, covering 2013 and 2014:

Advisory Council on Child Nutrition and Wellness
Civil Service Commission
Conservation Commission
Criminal Justice Coordinating Council
Drycleaner Environmental Response Board
Employee Misclassification Advisory Task Force
Tennessee Alliance for Fitness and Health
Institute for Labor-Management Studies
Judicial Information System Advisory Committee
Judicial Nominating Commission
Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
Judicial Selection Commission
Pest Control Compact
Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health
Surplus Lines Insurance Multi-state Compliance Compact
Tennessee Court Information System Steering Committee
Tobacco Farmers Certifying Board

Note II: A followup post, HERE.