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.