A stinging audit of the state’s labor department has triggered the replacement of supervisors, new written policies and upgrades to phone and computer systems, according to The Tennessean.
In a 16-page corrective action plan made public Monday, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development details efforts to fix problems documented by auditors. Those problems included the failure to monitor fraud and overpayment of $73 million in jobless benefits — including to dead people — and delays in sending checks to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans. The department also didn’t follow guidelines when awarding some contracts, the audit found.
The action plan outlines how the department is responding to all 12 findings in the audit and said improper payments and a backlog of claims have been dramatically reduced.
“This represents not only addressing these specific issues, but also how the department is changing how it does business,” said Jeff Hentschel, labor department spokesman. “This definitely represents staff changes, technology changes, policies and procedural changes, and it covers a lot of territory.”
Hentschel said many fixes were already underway when the audit landed in late March and that recently appointed Commissioner Burns Phillips has “created a lot of momentum when it comes to stepping back, evaluating our procedures and staff, and making these corrective actions.”
Just before publication of the audit, former Commissioner Karla Davis and two top staffers resigned. Other high-level staff changes have followed. And the department is still embroiled in two lawsuits by former employees claiming that leadership discriminated against white employees.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville judge said the Department of Children’s Services has gotten back on track with providing records to the news media of children who died or nearly died.
In a hearing last month, Chancellor Carol McCoy suggested that someone at DCS needed to go to jail for making extensive redactions to the records. In contrast, on Monday, McCoy said the department had failed to black out some identifying information in some of the records.
DCS is releasing the documents in batches after a group of media organizations led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press sued for access to the records of children who died or nearly died between 2009 to mid-2012.
Close to 100 records remain undisclosed. The next hearing was set for Aug. 21.
News release from state Department of Veterans Affairs:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder somberly announced former Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner William H. (Dusty) Roden, Jr. passed away on July 20, 2013 at the Hospice Chattanooga Care Center. Commissioner Roden was 90 years old.
Roden served in the United States Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot from 1942 to1945 and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Air Force Reserves in 1972.
Commissioner Roden was appointed by Governor Lamar Alexander in 1979 and remained TDVA Commissioner until 1987. In 1979, Roden founded the United Tennessee Veterans Association (UTVA) which was created to bring the state’s Veteran Service Organizations together to be briefed by leaders from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure accomplishments, concerns and developments impacting veterans would be shared with UTVA representatives. Commissioner Grinder recognized Roden for this milestone contribution during a UTVA meeting on December 4, 2012.
News release from state Department of Veterans Affairs:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder announced an innovative new online pre-registration form which will allow veterans and their families to be pre-approved for burial in the state veterans cemeteries.
Traditionally, funeral directors contact the nearest state veterans cemetery when they receive a request to bury the remains of a veteran or dependent who previously expressed interest in burial at one of the four locations. In many cases, family members are unable to locate the veteran’s discharge papers which must be used to determine eligibility. The process to request and receive the appropriate discharge papers as well as determine eligibility can take several days or weeks.
“Our goal is to do all we can to assist and support veterans and their families,” Haslam said. “This online resource is a proactive and efficient way to offer them assistance before they face a crisis situation when delays can add to the trauma of loss.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Human Services has terminated its former budget coordinator after an audit found he failed to file reports to the federal government.
According to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/15R6QuU), the audit stated Adeniyi Bakare had problems filing documents online for millions of dollars’ worth of federally funded programs. Auditors said Bakare didn’t contact federal agencies to see why the errors occurred.
The newspaper said Bakare, whose employment ended July 5, couldn’t be contacted for comment. Officials said the failure to file reports was a major factor in his dismissal.
“We take the audit very seriously because it speaks to how we operate,” said Basil Dosunmu, DHS deputy commissioner of finance and administration. “We know we have a role in fiscal stewardship.”
Grants have not been revoked, but auditors noted that failing to account for them could result in forfeiting funds.
News release from Department of Safety:
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security today announced that the average wait time at state driver services centers has decreased so far this year compared to 2012.
The average wait time from January 1 – June 30 at centers statewide, excluding reinstatement centers, fell from 34 minutes in 2012 to 31.5 minutes in 2013. There was a slight increase, however, from the first quarter of 2013 in which the average wait time was 30.5 minutes compared to the second quarter when the wait time averaged 32 minutes.
The decrease in wait time for the first six months happened while the number of statewide transactions at driver services centers increased. Driver license examiners served 621,405 customers from January 1 – June 30, 2012. In the first six months of 2013, the number of customers grew to 626,211.
“We are monitoring these figures very closely. Reducing the wait time at our driver service centers is a priority so when we experience an increase we act immediately to identify the reasons,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.
News release from state Department of Agriculture:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture today announced a revised Order by the State Veterinarian specifying conditions under which wild-appearing hogs are to be transported in the state.
The revised order, which went into effect June 10, is in support of legislation passed last year by the Tennessee General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam making it illegal to transport and release wild-appearing hogs without documentation from the department.
“Wild hogs have the propensity to reproduce in great numbers, carry diseases, destroy crops and cause serious ecological damage,” state veterinarian Charles Hatcher, DVM, said. “The new order strengthens efforts to prevent the illegal transportation and releasing of wild hogs by requiring individual animal identification and documentation for all wild-appearing hogs being moved.”
Wild hogs are typically two to three feet tall and up to five feet long with larger heads and heavier shoulders compared to domesticated breeds. Wild hogs also have smaller, pointed and heavily furred ears, longer snouts, tusks and straight tails.
The previous order exempted individual animal identification in specific cases. The revised order requires all wild-appearing swine being moved within Tennessee to have state or federally approved individual animal identification and:
The owner of the downtown L&C Tower filed a claim with the state earlier this week in response to the state’s plans to sever its lease and move out of offices it has occupied in the tower since 2004, reports The Tennessean. 401 Church St., which owns the building, names the Department of General Services, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Department of Finance and Administration as defendants in its complaint with the state Division of Claims Administration. The complaint seeks $4.15 million in potential lost rent and between $250,000 and $2 million in additional damages.
Because of the state’s new plan to condense and modernize its office space, General Services told the tower’s owners they were severing the lease agreement. But the L&C owners argue that the state needed to receive approval from the owner’s lender, CIBC, before it severed the lease agreement. No such approval was ever sought, according to the complaint.
In 2005, the state received a break on its rent in exchange for eliminating the lease provision that allowed the state to break the lease for essentially no reason. Under the most recent version of the lease, which went into effect in 2004, the state can sever the agreement provided it gives one of eight agreed-upon reasons.
A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy director warned a group of Maury County residents that unfounded complaints about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” reports The Tennessean. “We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees.
“But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”
“Can you say that again, please?” an audience member can be heard asking on the audio. Smith went on in the recording to repeat the claim almost verbatim.
The audio was recorded May 29 by Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, a Smyrna-based civic action group that had been working with Maury County residents to tackle water quality complaints in Mount Pleasant.
Residents there have complained to the state for months, saying some children had become ill drinking the water. The meeting was organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, and attended by residents, TDEC and local officials.
UPDATE: TDEC says the comment was “inappropriate.”
— Note: News release from enviornmental groups is below.
Newly released records from the Department of Children’s Services contain substantial redactions of information that prevent the public from learning in some cases how children died, according to the Tennessean. One DCS file describes a 17-month-old girl found not breathing and blue after her afternoon nap. Her family had a “vast history” of DCS interventions that stretched back eight years. But lengthy redactions conceal doctors’ conclusions about whether the toddler had suffered abuse or neglect before her death.
Those omissions from her file make it impossible to learn why an otherwise healthy child simply died. DCS notes say the agency closed the case without finding child abuse or neglect and before the agency had viewed the autopsy.
The girl’s records are among 44 newly released DCS case files of children who had been the subject of a child abuse or neglect report at some point before they died or suffered critical injuries in the latter half of 2011 and early 2012. The files were released under court order after The Tennessean led a coalition of media groups in filing a lawsuit to gain access to the records.
Many of the records contain rows of blacked-out sentences that conceal the cause and circumstance of a child’s death, the nature of injuries or illnesses, and the concerns of medical professionals. Many of the redactions appear random.