Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips has fired Fiscal Services Administrator Ron Jones effective Wednesday, reports The Tennessean. Jones had been in charge of the department’s operating budget of more than $250 million, while overseeing facilities, procurement and telecommunications, according to a biography on the state government website.
Former commissioner Karla Davis chose Jones for the role in July 2011.
Davis, and two other top officials she hired, resigned in mid-March, just days before publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Hiring in Davis’s administration has led to two lawsuits charging that leaders discriminated against white employees by forcing them out and hiring black replacements. Davis and three hand-picked officials who have since resigned are black.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Several plaintiffs have filed suit against the renaming of Confederate-themed city parks in Memphis, asserting only the mayor can change park names.
According to The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/18AUpUg ), nine individuals and a group calling itself Citizens to Save Our Parks filed the petition Wednesday against the city and members of the Memphis City Council.
On Feb. 5, the council approved a resolution renaming Forrest Park, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park.
They were given generic names, awaiting a committee recommendation. That panel has recommended Civil War Park, Promenade Park and Harbor Park. The council has not acted on the recommendation.
The lawsuit asks Chancery Court to void the renaming of the parks.
City Attorney Herman Morris said Wednesday he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
The Tennessean continues its reporting on the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development with a trio of Sunday stories, led by Chas Sisk’s review of the recruiting of now-departed commissioner Karla Davis and questions about her credentials. How Davis, a little-known nonprofit administrator, could be named to lead a major state agency says much about how Gov. Bill Haslam has structured his administration. His twin emphases — bringing in fresh blood and building a diverse cabinet — have helped him shake up state government.
But in a couple of cases, the governor has put people in charge who critics say lacked the experience or skills to run state departments. Davis, who resigned in March, citing family reasons, left shortly before the release of a scathing audit of her department. In addition, the department is facing at least three wrongful-termination lawsuits, including two that allege racial discrimination.
Race and gender appear to have been factors in Davis’ hiring. But she also convinced the governor himself that she was the right person for the job, shining in interviews and enduring a lengthy vetting process.
“Karla was bright,” Haslam said, “and she had been working with enough folks in situations like the people our Labor and Workforce Development Department serves that I thought she could add some value.”
…Tom Ingram, the head of Haslam’s transition team, said the governor was looking to assemble a diverse group for his administration but added Davis had to clear several rounds of interviews, including one with Haslam directly.
“She was highly recommended or she wouldn’t have been in it,” Ingram said. “Did she meet our diversity criteria? Absolutely. Was that the reason that she was appointed? Not unless we thought she was qualified.”
…While not disputing the criticisms of Davis and O’Day, Haslam defended how he had assembled his cabinet.
“We have 23 commissioners, and of those, 18 or 19 are from outside state government,” he said. “We’ve had some commissioners that were incredibly successful.”
But the governor added that the task of naming senior leaders was harder than many might think. He said there is little time for an incoming governor to find the right people for every position, contrasting it to the deliberate way in which people are chosen by private businesses.
“You basically have 30 really critical positions to fill and you have a very tight window to do that,” he said. “If I’m hiring somebody for a business, I know what that existing department that I’m hiring them to run is like. … You don’t have that advantage when you’re coming into state government.”
One sidebar focuses on lawsuits claiming race discrimination during Davis’ tenure: Filed by two former employees, one suit in local court and another in federal court allege that leaders in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development forced out employees based on race — that white staffers were replaced by blacks.
The complaints, which cite the labor department and former Commissioner Karla Davis, stem from the two years Davis ran the agency. Davis, along with Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and former Assistant Administrator Turner Nashe, resigned in March, days before a stinging audit exposed the department’s mismanagement of millions of dollars.
The other sidebar begins: If you’re unemployed in Tennessee, you are less likely than most jobless in other states to get a benefit check. And if you do get one, it will be for less money, according to federal data.
In the past year, Tennessee’s average weekly unemployment check paid $235 — sixth-lowest in the nation — and just 17 percent of the state’s unemployed actually got benefits, ranking fourth.
Two veteran state employees have been promoted to top posts within the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, where they’ll be tasked with correcting problems uncovered in a recent audit, reports the Tennessean. The department named Dustin Swayne as deputy commissioner — the agency’s second-in-command — and Linda Davis as administrator of the Division of Employment Security, which oversees unemployment claims.
The changes come within weeks of abrupt high-level resignations and the publication of auditors’ sharp criticisms of the department, which failed to monitor fraud and delayed sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans.
Three leaders resigned in mid-March: former Commissioner Karla Davis, former Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and Turner Nashe, former assistant administrator of employment security. The audit came out March 28.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The commissioner and deputy commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development have resigned.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced the resignation of commissioner Karla Davis for family reasons in a news release on Monday. Haslam’s spokesman David Smith said the deputy commissioner, Alisa Malone, also resigned, although he did not provide a reason.
Haslam named Burns Phillips as acting commissioner. Phillips serves as a managing director in the Department of Finance and Administration.
Haslam said Davis has served as commissioner since the beginning of the Haslam administration. Prior to that she served as director of Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE, overseeing programs for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Haslam said he was grateful to Davis for her service.
— Note: The Haslam news release on Davis’ resignation is below.
By simply relocating his office space at the Tennessee State Capitol, state Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, learned a whole new side to local history regarding Civil War spy DeWitt Smith Jobe, reports the Daily News Journal. “I asked (Speaker Beth Hartwell) for a new office overlooking the Capitol and the Sam Davis Monument because Sam Davis kind of represents Smyrna,” Sparks said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do a little research on the Coleman Scouts and I came across (an article) about DeWitt Smith Jobe.”
Sparks, along with several local Civil War aficionados, convened Saturday at Giles Baptist Church on Rocky Fork Road for a program honoring the heroic life of Jobe, who was a member of the infamous Confederate spies known as the Coleman Scouts. About 50 people attended the presentation. Guest speakers included James Patterson, adjutant of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Greg Tucker, Rutherford County historian, and John Moore, a descendant of Jobe.
“Here I was, born and raised in Smyrna and I didn’t really know what all (Jobe) went through,” Sparks said, adding that he also discovered John Bridges’ book, “Three Cousins from Mechanicsville,” chronicling the heroic life of Jobe and his two relatives.
Jobe worked alongside fellow Coleman Scout Sam Davis, who is well-known for having hanged after refusing to betray his source. Sparks compared the scouts’ tenacity to that of the modern-day “A-Team.”
….”He was as much a hero as Sam Davis. He just didn’t have the publicity Sam Davis had,” Bridges said.
Jobe met a much more gruesome fate. Right before being captured by Union troops in August 1864, Jobe destroyed information he was carrying — he swallowed it — and refused to divulge the message. He was brutalized for days. Eventually, his tongue was severed and he died after being dragged by a galloping horse.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Opponents of a proposal to allow communities to hold referendums on whether to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores argued Monday that the votes could do more harm than good.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee heard from opponents and supporters during a nearly two-hour meeting. The measure would leave it to voters in cities and counties to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond liquor stores.
A full committee vote on Tuesday will decide whether the measure advances or fails for yet another year. While allowing wine sales in supermarkets and convenience stores enjoys strong public support, it is strongly opposed by the liquor industry, package stores and religious groups.
Randy Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, told the panel that he fears putting the wine measure before voters would have consequences similar to a recent campaign over allowing liquor-by-the drink sales in Pigeon Forge.
“Right now Pigeon Forge is polarized, families torn apartment, friendships ruined, because in our small communities they are battling over this liquor-by-the drink issue,” he said. “And the same thing is going to happen.”
Davis said lawmakers should stop short of putting more liquor issues on the ballot on the basis of convenience.
“We don’t know where this idea of convenience is going to lead us, we don’t know what the next step is,” he said. “Others before you have not put it at the feet of the voters to have wine in liquor stores and I beg of you not to take it there.”
Republican Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, who declined to give her position on the bill after the meeting, told Davis that several issues will affect her decision.
“As a teetotaling Baptist myself, I can assure that my vote will not be based on convenience, it’s going to be based on Tennesseans and what I’m hearing from my constituents my district,” she said.
News release from Eric Stewart campaign:
Winchester, Tenn. – Former Congressmen Bart Gordon and Lincoln Davis announced their endorsement today of State Senator Eric Stewart in his race to become the next U.S. Congressman to represent Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District.
Gordon and Davis said they support Stewart for his proven ability to work with both Republicans and Democrats in balancing Tennessee’s state budget and because of his focus on working families in Tennessee.
Congressman Bart Gordon, who served 26 years as a U.S. Congressman for Tennessee, says that Stewart’s focus on jobs, bipartisanship, and education is what the newly drawn 4th Congressional District needs in a Congressman.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A vocal faculty member at Tennessee State University who has opposed university leadership was taken away from a meeting in handcuffs on Monday and removed as the chair of the faculty senate.
Jane Davis, an English professor, was arrested by campus police on a charge of disorderly conduct, TSU spokesman Rick Delahaya told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/PAq0ex ).
Davis has been an outspoken critic of policies and decisions made by TSU interim President Portia Shields, who came to the university in early 2011 to make reforms for the school to gain a necessary full accreditation. Her contract expires at the end of the year.
Last week a suggestion was made to oust Davis and the Faculty Senate’s executive council and the university surveyed faculty members on the idea. In the online poll, 60 percent of those who responded said they wanted Davis removed and 59 percent said they wanted the executive council to go with her.
Davis said she wanted to speak in her defense about the survey and calls for her removal.
“Dr. Shields attempted to discuss the results of the Faculty Senate survey,” said Delahaya. “Dr. Davis then became extremely disruptive and would not allow the meeting to proceed.”
Davis said that she wanted to speak with Shields, who was at the meeting.
“This was my one chance to speak in front of her, but speech in front of her that she doesn’t agree with is disorderly conduct,” she said.
Following the arrest, the Faculty Senate voted to remove her as the chair. Davis said that the vote to remove her was illegitimate because the meeting had been called by university administration rather than the faculty senate.
“Nothing that happened there counts,” said Davis, who still considers herself the leader of the legislative body.
Davis said that the Faculty Senate was intimidated by Shields when they decided to vote her out.
“They see someone being put away in handcuffs. How will they not go along with it?” she said.
Delahaya said Shields did not suggest or endorse the removal of Shields and wanted the school’s entire faculty to be represented.
“She did want the faculty to have some type of voice,” he said.
Davis said she is being retaliated against by Shields for complaining that university administrators changed grades for some students. The university said it was correcting a mistake in grading.
“This is crystal-clear intimidation and retaliation,” Davis said.
The Tennessee Democratic Party “beat every bush” on Music Row and in other entertainment industry centers as it tried in vain to come up with a Volunteer State celebrity to run for U.S. Senate against well-funded incumbent Bob Corker this year, The Tennessean reports. But the party passed on an opportunity to tell voters about a candidate with views that ran counter to Democratic doctrine, leaving it vulnerable to embarrassment in a wide-open primary election.
….Gary Gene Davis, who finished a distant second to Clayton in the primary, said Democratic Party officials already knew what Clayton stood for after he ran for Senate in 2008 and pulled in 32,309 votes to finish fourth. Bob Tuke won that primary with 59,050 votes, beating Davis by about 20,000 votes before losing to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander in the general election.
Davis said party activists in Shelby County told him that Chip Forrester, the state party’s chairman, had openly endorsed actress and environmental activist Park Overall, describing her to them as “our candidate.” He said Forrester should have worked harder to tell voters about Clayton’s beliefs, which, according to his campaign website, include the need to “defend Tennesseans from the North American Union, National ID cards, illegal trade deals like NAFTA, radical homosexual lobbying groups who want to get in the Boy Scouts and terrorists who are hiding in the Army.”
…Spokesman Brandon Puttbrese said the party was “agnostic” in the primary, although Overall was given a speaking slot at the annual Jackson Day dinner and was the only one of the seven candidates who took the party up on its offer to help with news releases, talking points and social media.
He said it would have made little sense to talk about Clayton, “pretty much a fringe candidate to anybody.”
“You don’t push around someone’s name that you don’t want to get elected,” he said. “We could never have anticipated it would have ended this way.”
Although he declined to identify any targets, Puttbrese said officials tried to recruit any Tennessee resident they could find with enough name recognition to give Corker a battle.
“Tons of calls were made to legitimate politicians and other high-profile Tennesseans,” Puttbrese said Monday. “We beat every bush and left no stone unturned with people who had already made a name for themselves.