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 longtime state employee who has been diagnosed with cancer has filed suit charging that top officials in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration illegally terminated him in violation of some of the same civil service laws and rules the governor is seeking to abolish, according to the Tennessean. William B. Wood, 54, of Nashville has charged that he was terminated without cause or notice just six months before he would have become eligible for retirement health insurance. His suit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, states that Wood currently is unable to get coverage or treatment for his cancer.
The suit charges that Wood’s job, as an attorney and workers’ compensation specialist, was improperly classified as “executive service” and that he was improperly denied the right to challenge his dismissal. The suit comes as Haslam is seeking legislative approval for sweeping changes in the state’s civil service statutes, contending the 70-year-old system provides too much protection for hundreds of poorly performing public employees.
Up in Sullivan County, Robert Houk sees some political intrigue involved in the firing of the veteran county election commissioner after she “called out” three election commissioners for a possible violation of the state’s “sunshine law.” Two Republican commissioners and one Democrat jointed in voting to fire Connie Sinks. One Democrat and one Republican voted against the dismissal.
And some area state legislators are mentioned. The politics of the vote and the possible repercussions are indeed intriguing.
For instance, many are wondering what (if anything) was promised to Graham for his vote. Will his decision to join the two Republicans cost Graham his position on the board? I’ve heard scuttlebutt that there is a movement by some county Democrats to have him removed from the Election Commission.
Walter Buford, the new chairman of the Washington County Democratic Party, told me last week he would not even speculate on the Election Commission matter until he has all the facts.
“I’d rather not make any comments until I am aware of all the intricacies,” he said.
And what about the future of Willis and Ruetz on the board? There’s been a struggle inside the Washington County Republican Party in recent years between far-right forces aligned with state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and GOPers who are not. The reappointments of Willis, Ruetz and even Chinouth could be affected by which side prevails in this battle.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said he had no inkling that Sinks was about to be fired and was surprised to learn of her dismissal. “I heard about it afterward when I got a call from Sue Chinouth,” Crowe said.
The senator said he and his legislative colleagues from Washington County (Hill and state Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough) had not planned to make any changes to their appointments to the Election Commission next year. Still, Crowe said he feels he has a duty to “find out what’s really going on” with the Election Commission.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper fired for driving past a fatal wreck lost his first bid to save his job Tuesday, reports Matt Lakin. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons turned down Trooper Charles Van Morgan’s appeal, calling Morgan’s behavior “a poor representation” of the agency.
“We have a responsibility to serve the state of Tennessee with professionalism, honesty and integrity, and we will not tolerate the actions of those who fail to do so,” Gibbons said.
Morgan had worked for nine years for the state Department of Safety and drew an annual salary of $49,344. He lost his job after internal investigators determined he slowed down but didn’t stop when he drove by the Nov. 26 wreck on Andersonville Pike in North Knox County that killed Gordon Kyle Anito, 20.
Morgan had been chasing Anito after clocking him driving nearly 80 mph in a 40 mph zone on Emory Road just before 3:30 a.m. Tests for drugs and alcohol on Anito aren’t complete.
Video from Morgan’s cruiser showed he slowed to nearly 20 mph as he passed Anito’s 2005 Subaru Impreza, which had run off the road and hit a tree head-on. He told dispatchers he’d lost the car, drove another half-mile down the road and sat parked for nearly five minutes before he returned to a car in flames.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A leadership shakeup at the state Department of Environment and Conservation doesn’t indicate the agency is downgrading pollution enforcement efforts, Commissioner Robert Martineau said Monday.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville in a meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee questioned Martineau about the recent staff shakeup that included the firing of the department’s top solid waste management and water pollution control officials. The director of state parks also announced his retirement.
“With the recent firings and forced retirements, I hope we’re not changing direction here and becoming friendly to the polluters of this state,” Turner said.
Martineau did not specifically address the staffing changes, but said Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration will continue to enforce federal and state pollution control standards.
“I will assure the committee that our decisions are not in any way to backtrack on environmental protection,” he said. “I think the governor’s committed to maintaining strong environmental protection, and doing so in a way that also fosters economic development.”