Tag Archives: employee

House Republicans kill bill to establish a TN minimum wage

Republicans on a House subcommittee Wednesday killed a Democrat-sponsored bill that would have established a Tennessee state minimum wage of $8.25 per hour for employees of companies that do not provide them with health care insurance.

House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville, sponsor of the bill, said 41 other states have a state minimum wage – 21 of them setting it at a level higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Turner’s bill (HB1694) would set a state minimum wage of $7.25, matching the federal rate and with a provision declaring that will increase in alignment with any future increase in the federal minimum wage. For companies that do not provide medical insurance, the state minimum would be $1 higher.

“This is the right thing to do and it’s time we did it in Tennessee,” he told the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee. “We’ve done very little in this state to help people on the lower end of the wage scale.”

None of the Republicans on the panel offered comments on the bill during the brief hearing, other than subcommittee Chairman Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, complimenting Turner on a “good presentation.”

But all three Republicans present voted no on the bill. A fourth was absent. The panel’s two Democrats voted yes. The defeat effectively kills the measure for the year.

The fiscal note prepared by legislative staff said there are 247 part-time state employees who do no get health care insurance and would thus be covered by the bill, costing the state about $701,500 annually.

Note: The Democratic party commentary on the rejection is below.
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Audit: Rockwood Man Bought $32,726 in Guns, Cameras and Clothes With City Credit Card

News release from comptroller’s office:
Investigators from the Comptroller’s office have discovered that a former Rockwood city coordinator used a city credit card and a city store charge card to purchase at least $32,725 in property and services for his personal benefit over a period of about three years.
These personal purchases included nearly $12,000 in guns, ammunition and firearm accessories, more than $7,000 in clothing, nearly $6,000 for camera equipment, more than $4,000 in online college tuition and nearly $4,000 for other miscellaneous personal items.
An investigative audit released today details how the former coordinator, Tom Pierce, used the city credit card to purchase at least 11 guns, including a tactical shot gun, a .308 rifle, a .44 caliber revolver, and two 9 mm pistols. These guns were registered to Pierce personally, not on behalf of the city. He also used the city credit card to purchase holsters, rifle scopes, tactical sights and ammunition.
Additionally, Pierce used the city credit card to also purchase clothing for his personal benefit at a total cost of $7,263. The clothing purchased includes polo shirts, cargo shorts, underwear, socks, women’s jeans, suit separates and running shoes. Additionally, the report details how Pierce used the city credit card to purchase premium cameras and photography equipment costing at least $5,697, including two Olympus cameras priced at more than $1,200 each. Although the city owned various inexpensive digital cameras used by employees, both the current mayor and the former mayor told the Comptroller’s investigators that they had no knowledge Pierce had purchased premium camera equipment at the city’s expense.
According to the Comptroller’s report, Pierce used the city credit card to charge business management courses totaling $4,190 from an online college and also used the city credit card to purchase other personal items with a total value of $3,675, which included protein powder, testosterone booster, digital music, books and movies.
Investigators determined that all of these charges were paid for with city funds. Both the current mayor and the former mayor told investigators that they had no knowledge Pierce had purchased the personal items at the city’s expense, either. They also indicated that they would not have given permission for the city to pay for such expenses.
“It is unacceptable for people in positions of public trust to abuse that trust at the expense of local taxpayers,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I commend our investigators for helping to bring these issues to light. I also want to thank the district attorney and his staff for the work they have done on this case.”
This month, the Roane County Grand Jury returned a seven-count indictment against Pierce for theft, fraudulent use of a credit card and official misconduct.
To view the Comptroller’s report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/
To view photos of some of the personal items purchased with city funds, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/NR/20130227RockwoodReleasePictures.pdf

On Being Fired for Guns in a Car

A House panel on Wednesday quickly advanced a bill that would block employers, businesses, colleges and churches’ ability to bar handgun-carry permit holders from storing firearms in vehicles parked on their property, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
But the bill’s sponsor acknowledges that nothing in the measure would prevent employers from legally firing permit-holding workers who keep guns in their vehicles while on the job.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said the Senate-passed bill doesn’t protect permit holders from Tennessee’s existing “at will” employment law.
That law allows employers to fire, suspend or discipline workers for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all.
“We are not going to dictate policy-setting at a business,” Faison said in response to a question posed to him during the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Faison said “if a business decides to fire someone or to reprimand someone, that is their rule. … You can fire, this is an at-will state and they’ll still be able to do whatever they want with a person who has a gun in their car.”
Speaking to reporters later, Faison said, “I would discourage [businesses firing workers] and I hope that businesses won’t go that way. I would say if there was an uprising in the state and you started seeing people being fired left and right I wouldn’t be surprised if the Legislature revisited it.”
But he said, “I don’t know of any company who’s just eager to go fire their employees. They already know who has guns” and don’t do it now.

State Veterans Affairs Worker Found With Conflict of Interest

News release from state comptroller’s office:
A former Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs (TDVA) benefits representative was doing paid consulting work for a Memphis area assisted living facility and performing many of the same tasks she was being paid to perform as a TDVA employee, a review by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has found. The investigation revealed that the former employee, Julia Brown, had a private consulting agreement with the facility in which she referred veterans to the facility and helped them get financial assistance to move there.
“There was an obvious conflict of interest between Ms. Brown’s duties as a state employee and the work she was doing on the side as a consultant,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “It is not proper for someone involved in managing state-administered benefits to steer the recipients of those benefits toward a particular private facility that was compensating her for doing so.”
Between January 2009 and November 2010, Brown requested and received more than 40 hours of overtime pay valued at more than $700 from TVDA for consulting work performed at the assisted living facility after regular work hours. Brown also requested and received more than $200 in reimbursements from TVDA for mileage driven while performing work as a private consultant. Additionally, she used her TDVA e-mail, department fax machine and office computer to create invoices while conducting business as part of her outside consulting agreement.
To view the full report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/
If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public funds in Tennessee, you may contact the Comptroller’s hotline toll-free at 1-800-232-5454 or file a report online at: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp

Yager Says THDA Will Get Special Scrutiny

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said today he has put the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) on notice regarding his committee’s intentions to carefully review their spending practices. THDA came under fire after lavish spending on employee-related activities was uncovered in an investigative report by WTVF-TV in Nashville. The State and Local Government Committee reviews THDA’s budget and is responsible for recommending changes to the full Senate in the agency’s spending plan.
“It is essential that not only you but also the entire agency recognize that THDA is a state agency,” said Chairman Yager in a letter to Perrey. “This demands the agency have the fiscal discipline that is expected of every state agency. In fact, the nature of the agency’s work is such that it should be held to an even higher standard.”
“The Senate Committee I chair on State and Local Government will be reviewing the progress you make in implementing needed reforms in the coming months,” the letter continued.
THDA was created by the General Assembly in 1973 to provide housing assistance to Tennesseans in need by offering a variety of housing-related programs, especially for those with low incomes. Until October, the agency was led by Executive Director Ted Fellman.
Perrey was questioned by Yager on Monday regarding the expenditures at a meeting of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee, which also has legislative oversight responsibilities for state spending.
“We’ve lost sight of the good you do because of these outrageous activities that were funded through your budget,” Yager told Perrey at that hearing.
He also asked Perrey about whether he expressed concerns as a former THDA Board member before being selected as the new Executive Director. Perrey said he was not aware of some of the more lavish expenditures but pledged that they would not be repeated.
“Director Perrey has given us his word that the Agency will not repeat these excessive expenditures and we are going to hold him to that,” added Yager. “We will be holding THDA fully accountable for the dollars they spend.”

New THDA Chief Pledges Less ‘Employee Appreciation’

State lawmakers are taking the Tennessee Housing Development Agency to task for tens of thousands of dollars spent on arcade outings and stretch limos, reports WPLN.
THDA’s new director appeared before the Fiscal Review Committee Monday. Agency chief Ralph Perrey says now that he’s at the helm – quote – “what you will not see is us spending money to treat ourselves.”
THDA now estimates $75,000 was spent over the last two years on rewards. But before becoming executive director this month, Perrey was on the THDA board. So lawmakers ask why he didn’t act then.
“I was aware that we were doing some employee appreciation events. That didn’t raise a red flag to me when I heard it. It should have.”


See also a report on the hearing from Phil Williams, who first pointed out the spending on employee appreciation.

Former State Employee Pleads Guilty to Taking Bribes for Driver Licenses

A Tennessee state employee charged with giving licenses to unqualified applicants pleaded guilty today to federal bribery counts in federal district court in Nashville, reports The Tennessean.
The defendant, Larry Murphy, 54, who worked for the Department of Safety, had been accused of issuing state drivers licenses in exchange for more than $5,000 in bribes over five months ending in April.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp told Murphy, of Antioch, that he faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
In April, federal prosecutors filed a complaint against Murphy after an investigation found that he was connected to a person suspected of selling identification documents to undocumented immigrants.
According to the complaint, when an undercover FBI agent sought from Murphy a commercial driving license without a Social Security number, Murphy made one up.
Murphy also fabricated the agent’s medical certification by altering information from another applicant, according to the complaint.
The undercover agent paid Murphy $3,500 through a third party.

Haslam: Criticized Muslim Will Be ‘a Great Employee’

Governor Bill Haslam has offered support for a state official whose religion has come under fire by some anti-Muslim groups, according to WTVF TV.
Samar Ali is a Tennessee-born Muslim who graduated from Vanderbilt law school and recently accepted a position as international director on the state’s Economic and Community Development department. That appointment came under fire by the The Center for Security Policy and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, groups who also opposed the mosque in Murfreesboro.
When asked about his stance on the issue, Haslam said that freedom of religion is guaranteed in our country, and that he looked forward to working with Ms. Ali.
“Samar is a highly qualified person, who has taken a role with our Economic Development Department . She comes with a great track record and a lot of experience and we think she’ll be a great employee for the state of Tennessee,” said Haslam.

Another Government Employee Caught Stealing

News release from TBI:
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation today arrested a former employee of the Morgan County Soil Conservation District for theft after she was indicted by the Morgan County Grand Jury on Monday, May 21, 2012.
Sharlene Justice, 49, was charged with one count of theft over $10,000 for taking funds from the Morgan County Soil Conservation District while working as the district’s secretary. TBI opened the investigation at the request of the 10th Judicial District Attorney General in December of 2011 after an audit revealed discrepancies regarding payments, checks and bank statements related to Justice’s employment. The state comptroller’s office of Division of County Audit conducted an audit and discovered more than $44,000 missing as part of the investigation.
Justice was booked into the Morgan County Jail on $6,000 bond.

Some TVA Workers Unhappy With Posting of Their Salaries (median: $74,466?)

A lot of TVA employees are unhappy that the Chattanooga Times Free Press made all their salaries available on the newspaper’s website, according to a Sunday followup report.
The flood from TVA has lessened but not dried up completely. I’m not referring to the controlled flooding at TVA’s numerous dams; rather, this is about the tsunami of responses I have received in the two weeks since the Times Free Press put the salaries of TVA’s 12,515 employees on our website.
Some threatened me and wished me bad luck, unhappiness and, well, let’s just say great personal misfortune. One irate woman ended her email this way: “Wishing you the worst.” A few left me anonymous, expletive-laced voice mails.
The newspaper’s use of the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the public information is “sleazy and unethical,” according to one TVA employee. Another said publishing the salaries is “disruptive to productivity and efficiency because of the inevitable emotional effects, including jealousy and resentment.
” A top TVA official, in a letter to employees, said TVA turned the information over to the newspaper because it “is important that we try to maintain the level of transparency … that the public expects from us.”
…Another reader commented: “TVA employees whose median income is $74,465 surely have the means to search for and read Title 5 of the U.S. Code, or their own site’s good summary at www.tva.gov/foia/. We’re coming up on 50 years of this law essential for us to be a democracy.”

Note: the salary listings are HERE, part of a public information listing that also includes mug shots of criminal suspects.