Five former state employees have been accused of abusing patients at Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute and the TBI is investigating, according to WSMV-TV. “If those vulnerable patients are being mistreated by state employees, harmed or injured, we need action,” said State Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville.
…The five former employees (not named in the report) are accused of abusing two patients, one of them confirmed by the I-Team to be Matthew McDougal of Brentwood.
The termination records read that in two separate instances, once in April, and another in May, employees inflicted bodily injuries on McDougal and the other patient.
The reported abuse occurred in the forensic services program, where some of the most at-risk patients are located.
“If a patient is abused in that situation, there’s a failure of the system,” said Jeff Fladen, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
A spokeswoman for the TBI confirms on May 23, some 22 days after the last reported abuse, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health, which oversees the institute, asked the TBI to investigate.
The five employees were then fired the next month.
Bids under seal with state officials could move the first workers out of the Cordell Hull Building and into private office space by March of next year, reports The Tennessean. Six firms, including Lifeway Christian Resources and Bellsouth Telecommunications LLC, have submitted offers to lease out space for 301 workers in the Department of Children’s Services. The state plans to settle on a deal no later than Aug. 19.
The offers were made last week under a bidding process that also names Jones Lang LaSalle as the state’s broker, giving the Chicago real estate firm a 4 percent commission if a deal is closed.
The Department of General Services has refused to release information about the offers — apart from the bidders’ names — until a winner is chosen and a recommendation sent to the State Building Commission. Officials maintain that the state’s open records law allows them to accept real estate bids under seal.
About 1,000 state workers currently work in Cordell Hull, a nine-story office block next to the state Capitol. Citing a review done by Jones Lang LaSalle, state officials say water persistently seeps into the nearly 60-year-old building. They say it would cost the state more than $24 million to keep Cordell Hull in service.
Lawmakers approved a state budget in April that included funding to shut down Cordell Hull, an annex called the Central Services Building, the Tennessee Regulatory Authority’s headquarters and three other state buildings in Chattanooga and Memphis.
See also the Chattanooga TFP, which reports on six sealed bids for housing displaced Chattanooga state employees.
Gov. Bill Haslam is readying plans to lay off about 200 state workers by week’s end after a state judge on Monday lifted her temporary injunction on the planned firings, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. Ruling from the bench, Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said state officials did not break any laws in their handling of the firings because they had no legal duty to help employees find new jobs within state government.
The judge also found no irreparable harm was done when the state froze hiring for weeks in the midst of a 60-day layoff period in May and June when officials took down their NeoGov online listings for available jobs.
Haslam’s legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, later said the administration is “generally pleased” with McClendon’s ruling lifting of the temporary restraining order she signed June 10 after the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of 15 employees filed suit.
The Human Resources Department said the filled positions in eight departments will be “effective and off the books by the end of the week.”
The state had intended to lay off some 70 state Labor and Workforce Development employees and others June 18 and 19.
Friday is the last work day for dozens of General Services workers in Chattanooga, Nashville and other parts of the state. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of all state-owned buildings.
Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate services firm taking over the oversight of state buildings on July 1, hired only 31 of 126 employees, according to one state filing. Another 10 employees found other positions within state government. Some are retiring.
Despite a controversy over his outsourcing of state building operations, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he intends to continue privatizing state government operations where he believes it is practical, reports the Chattanooga TFP. “I think our job is to deliver the very best service at the lowest price, and I’ve said that from the very beginning,” Haslam said last week, adding, “I think particularly this case with the real estate space is a great example of that.”
Haslam was referring to a contract with Chicago-based real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle to manage state office space.
…State employees and their representatives, meanwhile, argue that in at least some outsourcing ventures, the promised savings don’t materialize.
“As far as I know, state employees were doing a good job managing the buildings,” said Robert O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association.
What employees “think we’re seeing here is an execution of a certain political philosophy” of privatization wherever possible of even “appropriate” public functions, O’Connell said.
Haslam said outsourcing state functions where it makes sense is one of several strategies his administration is using to keep government costs down.
“Right now we’re in a good revenue period, and the revenue’s always exceeding [estimates],” he said. “That doesn’t always last. When it doesn’t, we’re going to have to provide for that. This is a direct result of the top-to-bottom [reviews of state functions]” Haslam ordered after taking office.
The reviews have resulted in any number of cost-cutting measures and elimination of some state services.
Haslam argues the reviews don’t always lead to trimmed or eliminated programs, job cuts or privatization.
“There’s other things we’re taking back” from private vendors, Haslam said.
“I was talking to a highway contractor the other day who’s kind of mad about some things we used to let private contractors do that we’re bringing back in house” at the Department of Transportation.
Dozens of state employees who faced being fired this week by Gov. Bill Haslam will hold on to their jobs until at least next week after a Nashville judge on Monday granted a one-week extension of her temporary restraining order, reports Andy Sher. Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon said she was not ready to render a decision in the challenge brought by the Tennessee State Employees Association but expects to rule on the case this coming Monday.
The move came after 90 minutes of spirited arguments and a flurry of court filings by attorneys for the state employees group and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office over whether the Haslam administration did or didn’t violate state law in the layoff process.
State employees’ attorney Larry Woods argued administration officials didn’t follow state law in plans to lay off more than 200 workers because they froze hiring for other positions during the 60-day notice period and on May 9 shut down the state’s NeoGov website, which lists available state job openings.
That was 20 days into the layoff notice for dozens of employees and about a week into it for more than 100 others. It will be back online Wednesday.
That’s too late for some workers whose jobs end today or Wednesday, according to the state employees’ group.
Woods said the 2012 Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act requires job counseling and opportunities to find other jobs within state government during the entire 60-day period.
But Leslie Bridges, senior counsel in the state attorney general’s office, countered the issue “really boils down” to whether the state even has to have job openings and said “the answer is no.”
The NeoGov website, Bridges said, had to be taken down and hiring frozen while new salary schedules were implemented in the state’s Edison payroll system for 37,000 employees.
A Nashville judge issued a restraining order Monday against Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lay off more than 200 state workers this month, acting on a lawsuit filed by state employees.
From Andy Sher’s report: The suit charges top state officials violated provisions in law surrounding a 60-day notice for affected employees.
Circuit Court Judge Amanda McClendon granted employees’ request for a restraining order and has scheduled a hearing for this coming Monday in the case, said attorney Larry Woods, who is representing the Tennessee State Employees Association and a group of individual state workers, including several from Hamilton County.
TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the suit was filed with “great reluctance” after last-minute meetings with state officials, including Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter, failed to produce results.
Contacted Monday night, Haslam Communications Director Alexia Poe said by email “it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on potential/pending litigation.”
While the state provided the notices throughout April, officials did not comply with a section that says soon-to-be-fired employees be given “career counseling, job testing, and placement efforts,” the suit says.
That’s because the state’s Department of Human Resources on May 9 took down the agency’s Neogov online service that employees must use to find job openings and apply for them, according to state employees.
Hiring is now frozen and the site doesn’t come back up until June 19 — a day after 72 state Labor and Workforce Development workers are slated to lose their jobs following notices provided April 19.
Another 126 employees in the Department of General Services were given notice on April 25 that they were losing their jobs on June 28. The state is outsourcing management and maintenance of state office buildings to Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate services firm.
Woods said the suit seeks to enjoin the Haslam administration from dismissing or terminating any state employees in the current reduction-in-force actions “unless they receive 60 days of career counseling, job testing and placement” services.
The suit says Haslam, Hunter, who is a former Hamilton County personnel director, and other state officials are running afoul of protections lawmakers inserted in Haslam’s own 2012 civil service overhaul.
The state employees’ group initially opposed the legislation, saying it would wreck protections and open the way to political patronage. But TSEA’s O’Connell said the group accepted the bill after lawmakers inserted protections including the 60-day notice and the chance to move elsewhere within state government.
— Note: News release from TSEA is below.
From the Commercial Appeal:
In what was the final hearing for the fiscal year 2014 budget, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration told City Council members on Thursday that immediately fixing all the city’s financial challenges, without a tax-rate increase, could involve layoffs of as many as 3,250 city employees.
Or, going to the other extreme, raising the tax rate by $1.72 to avoid layoffs but pay for things like full restoration of payments into the city pension fund.
The mayor also brought to council a set of less dire proposals he’ll present at Tuesday’s budget committee meeting before the full council meeting.
They included cuts to employee benefits, like the elimination of the 4.6 percent pay restoration council gave back to employees at a series of impasse meetings, for a savings of $12 million. Another calls for the elimination of a college incentive program for Memphis Police Department officers to save $6.2 million.
Full story HERE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Prosecutors in Knoxville say former Knox County Trustee Mike Lowe paid employees who never performed work.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/14wTIJO ) reported documents recently filed in Knox County Criminal Court allege Lowe and two former aides conducted a “continuous larcenous scheme” in which ghost employees were on the payroll.
Lowe, Delbert Morgan and Ray Mubarak face multiple theft charges.
A bill of particulars filed by the district attorney’s office alleges Morgan bilked taxpayers out of nearly $197,000 by not showing up for work over four years.
The newspaper said Gregory P. Isaacs, Lowe’s lawyer, and Tom Dillard, Mubarak’s lawyer, declined comment Tuesday. Jeff Daniel, Morgan’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
In April 2012, when indictments were returned, Isaacs said Lowe strongly denied the allegations.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has disciplined three high-ranking employees over child death record-keeping.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/10Ucayd ) cited internal memos in reporting the demotion of team coordinator Lisa Lund, who appealed the penalty and was reinstated with a two-day unpaid suspension. The documents also noted the two-day suspension of Director of Child Safety Marjahna Hart, who is Lund’s supervisor. Also disciplined was Carla Aaron the executive director of child safety, who oversees both Hart and Lund. Aaron received a written warning.
The Tennessean and other news organizations, including The Associated Press, sued the department to obtain records of children who died after agency contact with them.
The three employees are on the Child Fatality Review Team, which fell behind and failed to follow department policies, leading to court-ordered reforms.
Disciplinary records cited by The Tennessean show Lund was responsible for the fatality’s team’s meeting minutes, but some had errors or were incomplete and not fully reflective of the team’s discussions. Lund tried to bring the records up to date months after media and the children’s advocacy group Children’s Rights requested them.
Aaron later found Lund left out “significant portions” of the team’s minutes before they were made public. Passages left out of the first batch of documents contain key details about how DCS caseworkers made decisions about child abuse investigations.
Lund was collecting child fatality information, putting details into a digital spreadsheet as early as January 2011. However, a timeline written by Aaron shows the accuracy of the document was questioned as early as May 2012.
A memo from Department of Children’s Services Interim Commissioner Jim Henry to Lund noted the early miscounts led to “significant negative publicity in statewide media outlets (print, television and radio), as well as additional scrutiny by . the federal court.”
In arguing her appeal, Lund wrote to Henry that the department’s reliance on a spreadsheet was “flawed.”
“The spreadsheet has not been an accurate and effective means for capturing data,” she wrote.
Henry rescinded Lund’s demotion.
Lund and Aaron declined comment for the newspaper’s report.
DSC has created a new process for tracking child fatalities, to be in place by August. It requires the department to keep thorough meeting minutes and publish an annual report of fatality review findings.
Hemlock Semiconductor of Clarksville laid off all of its nearly 300 employees months ago. But the company is still receiving regular payments from the state of Tennessee, including checks totaling nearly $720,000 just this month, reports WPLN. The Department of Finance is making good on $95 million of promised incentives, having paid $92 million so far, according to a state spokesperson.
“This is something that the current administration sort of inherited,” says Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes. “I think we do have to be very careful and very thoughtful going forward on things like this.”
Former Governor Phil Bredesen – a Democrat – made the deal to bring the solar industry player to Tennessee in 2008. Since then, competition from China has dragged down the price for polysilicon, which is the key component in solar panels manufactured by Hemlock.
Now in the minority, Democrats like Lowe Finney pushed a bill this year that would give the state a way to get back some money if companies don’t deliver on their part of the deal.
“Different legislators have talked about oversight for a number of years,” Sen. Finney (D-Jackson) said. “But it’s a matter of timing.”
The law was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam late last week. It passed unanimously, but that may be because it could be viewed as watered-down. The proposal still doesn’t mandate clawback provisions in future economic incentive deals.