Tag Archives: government

Government Closest to the Business Lobby Governs Best?

All good conservatives believe that the government closest to the people governs best, observes Frank Cagle in his weekly column…. except when they don’t.
The business lobby is prevailing on the state Legislature to forbid a city raising the minimum wage above $7.25 an hour ($2.13 for people working for tips).
There is also a bill that forbids a city requiring contractors or people doing business in the city to pay a prevailing wage rate or to require that contractors provide health benefits.
…This comes after legislation last session forbidding cities to require their contractors not discriminate against gay people.
Business lobbyists tell legislators they have to have consistency throughout the state and it would be a real problem if regulations and requirements were different in different jurisdictions. We have to have the same laws in Maynardville and Memphis and Mountain City. That’s the argument they use in Washington to “standardize” laws throughout the states.
Legislators often glibly parrot the talking points and seem to have little regard for the impact of their decisions on the average citizen. If business wants consistency, how about requiring that every town and city in the state require a prevailing wage rate over the minimum?
No? So it isn’t about consistency. It’s about using the law to keep local government from asking for better wages from their contractors.
If it makes you mad for your City Council to ask that contractors pay a decent wage, provide health insurance, or not discriminate against employees then you have the option to run for City Council or support someone else. But it’s a local matter and no one in Nashville ought to be telling local governments what they can and can’t do.
Some local school districts are resisting efforts to set up charter schools. The state is already pulling the purse strings. Will a complete state takeover of charter schools be next? Even if you think charter schools are a good idea, shouldn’t you let the local school board decide? If you don’t like the decision, run for the school board or support someone else.

New Effort Underway to Allow Local Governments More Closed-door Meeting

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A renewed push is under way to get Tennessee lawmakers to allow local official to hold more closed-door meetings.
Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, who also spearheaded a similar attempt last year, has written to local government colleagues around the state urging them to encourage state lawmakers to pass a bill to allow private meetings among officials as long as a quorum isn’t present.
Current law forbids members of a local legislative body from meeting privately to deliberate on public business. It does not ban officials from speaking to each other during chance encounters or from having other conversations.
But Barnwell notes in the letter that the law does not apply to the General Assembly.
“The goal of this legislation is to make the Open Meetings Laws as consistent as possible for all elected officials whether state and local,” he said.
Kent Flanagan, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, called the effort “misguided.”

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Bill Requiring More Disclosure From Public Officials Gets Cool Reception

Saying more openness is needed on the part of Tennessee policy makers, Rep. Susan Lynn has introduced legislation that would require the disclosure of all real property they own other than their primary home, according to TNReport.
The Mt. Juliet Republican’s HB 1063 would require all elected and certain appointed public officials, such as those on local and regional planning commissions or state boards, to disclose any real property owned by them, their spouses or any minor children living at home.
“Back in 2006, when we did the ethics reform, we wanted this to be part of the disclosure and simply couldn’t get it done at that time,” said Lynn, who served in the House for eight years before running for state Sen. Mae Beavers’ seat and losing in 2010.
“Leaving the legislature for two years, like I did, you start thinking about the things you wish you’d done or could have done, and this was one of those things.”
…Lynn’s bill would require the disclosure of the address of the property and the month and year of its acquisition, but not everyone in the General Assembly is in favor of it.
Many have told her that the information is a matter of public record, and that should be sufficient. Her argument is that since it is public record, “What’s wrong with putting it all in one neat, consolidated place to make that disclosure?
“I’m not feeling a warm breeze right now from the [Local Government] committee,” said Lynn, who postponed a vote on the bill until March 12. “I really feel like I’m standing out there alone. I know it’s the right thing to do, and I hope they will be amenable.”
She said she would entertain an amendment excepting state legislators from the new disclosure requirement, if it’s the only way to make it a requirement for local government officials.

Wine-in-Grocery-Stores Bill Clears Senate Committee, 5-4

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores scored its first legislative victory on Tuesday after years of frustration.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 5-4 to advance the bill that would allow cities and counties to hold referendums next year to decide whether to expand wine sales beyond the state’s nearly 600 licensed liquor stores.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro and the bill’s main sponsor, stressed that the wine votes would only be allowed in communities that have previously passed referendums to allow sales of liquor by the drink and retail package stores.
“Both of which wouldn’t be in your city or county if it did not get there by referendum,” he said. “All we’re doing with this bill is asking the same opportunity: Let your people vote.”
The measure would have to be approved by the Senate Finance Committee before heading for a full floor vote. The House began hearings on the measure on Tuesday, but a first vote had not yet been scheduled.

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Democrats Ask Committee Investigation of DCS

News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner has sent a letter to Governor Haslam, Speaker Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ramsey requesting they convene a joint government operations committee meeting to investigate the Department of Children’s Services refusal to release records relating to the abuse and death of children under their care and reports that they have returned children to homes where there is evidence of abuse.
“The mission of the Department of Children’s Services is too important for them to operate in secrecy,” said Chairman Turner. “It is well past time that we have a full accounting of problems within the agency, so we can determine how best to move forward and fix them.”
Multiple Tennessee media outlets have recently been denied an open records request that sought to shed some light into the tragic deaths of children under the agency’s supervision. This follows news that the agency failed to disclose these deaths as required by law. The desire for more information stems from reports that the Department of Children’s Services has failed to protect children from abuse by allowing victims of child abuse to remain in the custody of their abusers.
“If Governor Haslam is unwilling to take the appropriate steps to protect the lives of children, then we must force him,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, who has been a leading advocate in the effort to protect children in DCS custody. “Over the past two years the leadership of DCS has moved our state backward in respect to disclosure of records and in protecting children from child abuse. I hope that my Republican colleagues will join me in pushing for more transparency and accountability that will move DCS forward.

Republican Caucus Meetings: Open in the Senate, Closed in the House?

While leaders of the House Republican Caucus contend the group can continue holding meetings behind closed doors, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris said Wednesday that he believes the Senate Republican Caucus is obliged to meet in public.
Norris said he would be willing to support an amendment to Senate rules that would “clarify” that GOP caucus meetings are open, though he believes they already are. His comments came during debate before the Senate Rules Committee on a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, to make the Senate subject to the state’s “open meetings law,” which now exempts the Legislature while applying to city and county government meetings.
Norris said the Senate in May of 2011 voted unanimously to incorporate a 2006 statute that says meetings of a quorum of the House and Senate must be open to the public except when considering impeachments of matters of state and national security. And to close meeting in such cases, there must be a two-thirds vote of the House or Senate, the statute says.
A quorum of the Senate is 22 members. This year there are 26 Republicans in the Senate Republican Caucus – up six from last session. That, said Norris, means the Senate Republican Caucus must follow the rules and have open meetings.
House rules, on the other hand, do not incorporate a reference to the 2006 statute and, therefore, the old statute does not apply. The law itself, enacted as part of a special session on ethics in 2006, says that it can not impact future legislative session but declares future sessions are “strongly encouraged” to bind themselves by incorporating the statue.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said in an interview that he the issue of opening caucus meetings has been discussed and there was an general agreement that, this year, the meetings would be open is legislative matters were discussed but close when “personal matters” are discussed. He conceded that what is covered by personal matters can be “deep and wide.”
In the last legislative session, House Republican Caucus meetings were routinely and regularly closed to the media and public.
Last session, the House Republican Caucus had 64 members, two shy of a quorum of the full House. This year, the Caucus has 70 members, well over a quorum.
Casada said he had not considered the suggestion made by Norris that, since the Republican caucuses now constitute a quorum of the full Legislature, they should have open meetings. He said the issue would be discussed in future House Republican Caucus meetings, including the possibility of incorporating the 2006 statute into House rules.
Norris suggested that Kyle’s push for a floor debate on adopting the open meetings law “would be a show” and that open meetings are already assured in the Senate. Kyle said he believes the current setup is not working and openness and transparency would be enhanced with legislators following the same law that applies to cities and counties.
Kyle put of a vote of the Rules Committee on his proposal.
The panel did approve six minor changes to Senate rules. One of them would change the titiles of committee officers from chairman, vice chairman and secretary to chairman, first vice chairman and second vice chairman. The panel was told that Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey believes the term “secretary” is “antiquated.”

Some Find Mulitple Ways to Serve for a Taxpayer-Funded Salary

The News Sentinel reports on people who hold multiple positions in local government with Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens as the first example.
In addition to his duties as mayor of the county’s largest city at a salary of $5,400 per year, Aikens serves as chairman of the Lenoir City Utilities Board, a post that pays $5,400 per year plus benefits. …He also works full time for the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office. As chief deputy, he is second in command at a salary of $57,472 per year.
…When it comes to serving in office and working a taxpayer-funded job, there are only a few explicit limits under state law.
The County Technical Assistance Service, part of The University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service, was created by statute in 1973 to offer governing guidance to the state’s 95 counties.
According to CTAS Ethics guidelines, “countywide officeholders, such as the county mayor, sheriff, trustee, register, county clerk, or assessor of property, are statutorily prohibited from being nominated for or elected to membership in the county legislative body.”
The Tennessee attorney general has opined it is a direct conflict of interest for a county commissioner who is a county employee to vote on the budget that contains his salary.
Roane County Executive Ron Woody, a former consultant with CTAS, said he knows of no one in Tennessee who holds office under circumstances that violate Tennessee laws.
…Nashville Tea Party Leader Ben Cunningham said he believes it’s only a matter of time before leaders consolidating power in multiple offices begin to push the limits of their authority.
“Power corrupts. More than sex or drugs or anything else that you can think of,” he said.
Cunningham said he doesn’t believe the state’s laws are specific enough regarding potential conflicts of interest. The standard conflict of interest disclosure read by many elected officials before voting is not adequate, he said.
“They are saying, ‘It’s a conflict of interest. I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to do it anyways,'” he said.
The only cure for the situation, Cunningham said, is to get more citizens involved in the process, not just by voting but also by running for office themselves.
Linda Noe is an attorney and political activist in Hamblen County. Noe said she has been working to bring conflicts of interest to light.
“If we had term limits and a state law that only allows one job per person, that would help clean things up a lot,” she said.

TN County Government Spending Exceeds Revenue

Many Tennessee counties have been spending more money than they take in as revenue, according to a new report from the state comptroller’s office.
An excerpt from the report (full text HERE):
Total revenues for all Tennessee county governments totaled approximately $11.65 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. In contrast, total expenditures for the same period were approximately $12.14 billion. Therefore, counties spent approximately $490 million more than they received in general and operating revenues.
County governments have seen sluggish growth in revenues over the last five years, as expenditures have exceeded revenues in each year over this time period. The slow growth includes years in which counties received federal money from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This trend indicates that either debt was increasing during the
same time period, or fund balances were decreasing, or both.
Total county-related debt in Tennessee increased almost $1.41 billion from 2007 to 2011. This indicates that many county governments are deferring debt prinicipal payments and other obligations to future years. Audits conducted or reveiwed for the fi scal year ended June 30, 2011, disclosed fund defi cits totaling $110.29 million in governmental funds in 14 counties. Audits also refl ected net asset defi cits totaling $83.24 million in enterprise and internal service funds in 14 counties.
Tennessee counties have avoided the bankruptcy crisis seen elsewhere around the nation as a result of the economic
downturn. Although bankruptcies have been avoided to date, concerns remain. Along with the substantial increase in long-term debt, liabilities continue to grow for other post-employment benefi ts, such as health insurance premiums, awarded to government employees after those employees leave public service. In addition, new accounting standards will require the recognition of signifi cant long-term pension costs. These costs, which previously have not been recorded on the fi nancial statements when they were incurred, will dramatically impact large and small governments alike.

Liquor Wins 25 or 32 Local Votes (Wine in grocery stores next?)

Local citizens across the Volunteer State overwhelmingly voted to flip their towns from dry to wet this past election, with more than two dozen communities saying ‘yes’ to liquor stores or the sale of liquor in restaurants, according to a TNReport count.
Of 32 local referendums held last week to allow either package stores or liquor by the drink — or both — 25 passed.
In some counties, the ‘yes’ votes were overwhelming. In Robertson County, for example, four cities approved alcohol sales: Coopertown, Cross Plains, Greenbrier and Orlinda. And in Hawkins County, Church Hill, Mt. Carmel and Rogersville approved liquor by the drink.
From Pigeon Forge to McKenzie, liquor sales won over the voters…. The support sets the table for a push in the 2013 legislative session to allow grocery stores to sell wine, according to the former assistant director and general counsel of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission who now serves as a lobbyist for state grocery stores.
“We’re going to make a much stronger effort this year to pass it in the House and thehe House and the lieutenant governor are openly in favor of this. This is going to be a different kind of year.” Senate,” said Dan Haskell. “Both the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor are openly in favor of this. This is going to be a different kind of year.”


Note: A list of local votes on liquor issues is HERE.

Corker: ‘I Fear the Federal Government is Going to Destroy TVA’

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Wednesday TVA could be destroyed if it remains under the federal government control and suggested that the region’s governors could be better overseers of the agency providing electricity to 9 million people in seven states.
“On most days in Washington, I fear the federal government is going to destroy TVA,” Corker told reporters following a speech to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.
The senator has previously expressed concern about the lack of corporate executive experience on the TVA board of directors, saying its “entire governance structure” needs to be reviewed. On Wednesday, he elaborated on some possible ways of restructuring while stressing “I’m not proposing anything” at this point.

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