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.
A unanimous ruling by the state Court of Appeals has provided a serious setback to efforts to remove three Powell-Clinch Utility commissioners from office, reports the News Sentinel. Judges opined that the commissioners can’t be removed from office for allegedly running a loose fiscal ship before a state law was amended in 2009 making that an ouster offense. That amendment made failure to fulfill fiduciary duties — even without “knowing or willful conduct” — a valid reason to toss commissioners out of office.
The Court of Appeals called the effort to oust on the basis of that amendment “an impermissible retrospective application of law.” The case was sent back to a Davidson County chancellor for further proceedings.
The ouster effort by the state’s Utility Management Review Board began two years ago and was sparked by a state comptroller’s investigative audit.
The state Court of Appeals has ruled that Rutherford County provided proper public notice before approving mosque construction plans in 2010, reports the Daily News Journal. The appeals court reversed local Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s decision a year ago that the county failed to provide adequate public notice before the Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission approved construction plans for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro mosque on Veals Road off Bradyville Pike.
Corlew had ruled that the county’s May 2, 2010, public notice in The Murfreesboro Post about the meeting time, date and location without an agenda, didn’t reach enough people before planning commissioners approved the mosque plans May 24, 2010.
The planning commissioners in June 2012 voted to appeal Corlew’s decision. The matter might not end with the appeals court, though. The Tennessee Supreme Court will be asked to reverse the ruling, plaintiffs’ Murfreesboro attorney Joe Brandon said Thursday.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Several plaintiffs have filed suit against the renaming of Confederate-themed city parks in Memphis, asserting only the mayor can change park names.
According to The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/18AUpUg ), nine individuals and a group calling itself Citizens to Save Our Parks filed the petition Wednesday against the city and members of the Memphis City Council.
On Feb. 5, the council approved a resolution renaming Forrest Park, Confederate Park and Jefferson Davis Park.
They were given generic names, awaiting a committee recommendation. That panel has recommended Civil War Park, Promenade Park and Harbor Park. The council has not acted on the recommendation.
The lawsuit asks Chancery Court to void the renaming of the parks.
City Attorney Herman Morris said Wednesday he had not yet seen the lawsuit.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the Metro Nashville Board of Education brought by a charter school that was ordered to be closed because of poor student performance.
The Metro School Board voted in November to shut down Smithson Craighead Middle School because the charter school ranked among the worst academic performers in the state and was losing enrollment.
Afterward, the school and parents filed a class action lawsuit against the board of education arguing that the board violated their due process and equal protection rights.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting the parents’ claim that they would be forced to send their children to inferior schools and denying that the charter’s rights were violated.
LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (AP) — A former Democratic candidate for the state House has filed notice that he will appeal the dismissal of his libel lawsuit against state Sen. Stacey Campfield.
Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, blogged before the 2008 election that he had heard candidate Roger Byrge had multiple drug arrests, and that the mug shots were “gold.” It was later determined the arrest record belonged to Byrge’s son.
Circuit Judge John McAfee, a Republican, last month found that Campfield had gotten it wrong on his blog, but he agreed with defense attorneys that the lawmaker did not know the information provided by House Republican leadership was false when he posted it.
The elder Byrge lost his House bid by fewer than 400 votes and later filed the $750,000 lawsuit in Campbell County.
By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes seriously the concerns of environmentalists that two East Tennessee mines are a threat to endangered fish, a spokesman says.
The Sierra Club and several other groups claim in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that Fish and Wildlife did not use the most up-to-date science when it agreed to allow surface mining at Zeb Mountain and Davis Creek. They say two endangered fish are threatened by the mining work because the runoff water from the sites is high in dissolved salts, making nearby streams too salty for the blackside dace and Cumberland darter to survive.
“We take very seriously our duty to protect endangered species, and we will look at all aspects of this lawsuit to ensure the best protection for the species involved,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tom MacKenzie said in a phone interview from his Atlanta office. He said the service’s legal advisers will prepare an appropriate response to the suit.
A coalition of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit claiming federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unlawfully approved surface mining on Tennessee mountains, according to The Tennessean. The Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and others sued the agencies in U.S. District Court in Nashville for not considering how pollution from the mining would impact endangered fish — in particular, the blackside dace and Cumberland darter.
“Extinction of endangered species is too high a price to pay for surface mining,” said the Sierra Club’s Mary Anne Hitt. “Mining pollution from these sites clearly poses a risk to the dace and darter; these permits should have never been allowed to go forward.”
The fish use the creeks downstream of Zeb Mountain and David Creek, both outside of Knoxville (Note: They’re in in Campbell County.). The fish have been dwindling in numbers for years.
Extinction of the fish, the lawsuit says, could harm the area’s entire ecosystem. Citing violations of the Endangered Species Act, the groups contend federal officials have leaned on outdated safety research when approving mining permits.
By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge overseeing changes at the state Department of Children’s Services expressed cautious optimism Monday that the agency’s new leadership can resolve some of its problems.
The tone of the hearing marked a decided change from a January hearing where U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell expressed frustration that the agency seemed to be moving backward and concern for the safety of the children in its care.
That hearing took place during a public outcry over the agency’s inability to say how many of the children it had tried to help had died or nearly died over the past two years.
DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned a few days later and was replaced by Interim Commissioner Jim Henry, who was in the courtroom Monday.
Campbell said that Henry “seems to have developed a new tone at the agency, and that’s a good step.”
The agency was in federal court to report on its progress toward meeting the goals of a 2001 settlement with the child advocacy group Children’s Rights.
News release from Tennessee Attorney General’s office:
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — National Health Investors, Inc., (NYSE:NHI), National HealthCare Corporation (NYSE MKT: NHC, NHC.PRA), the court-appointed Receiver for two Tennessee nonprofits, SeniorTrust of Florida, Inc., (“SeniorTrust”) and ElderTrust of Florida, Inc., (“ElderTrust), and the Tennessee Attorney General announced today that they have agreed to resolve a long-standing dispute that has been the subject of litigation. The resolution of the litigation, together with the Receiver’s sale of 14 nursing homes and liquidation of the nonprofits’ assets, will ultimately result in approximately $40M for charitable purposes in Tennessee.
The Tennessee Attorney General had previously asked the Davidson County Chancery Court to place both of these nonprofits in receivership. The Receiver subsequently filed suit against National Health Investors, Inc. (“NHI”) and National HealthCare Corporation (“NHC”).
NHI helped to establish SeniorTrust and ElderTrust, two Tennessee 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations, in 2000. Between 2001 and 2004, NHI sold a group of skilled nursing facilities in Missouri and Kansas to SeniorTrust and a group of skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to ElderTrust. The Receiver’s primary dispute with NHI concerned the financial terms on which NHI had sold and financed the purchase of the facilities to the nonprofits.
In 2007, NHC acquired the lease of a long-term care facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, known as Standifer Place from SeniorTrust. The Receiver’s primary dispute with NHC concerned the financial terms on which NHC acquired the lease.
The Receiver for SeniorTrust and ElderTrust claimed that the financial terms of the various transactions with NHI and NHC were unfair to the nonprofits, a claim NHI and NHC disputed.