By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday reiterated his support for the state’s education commissioner, who has come under fire for changes to how teachers are paid.
At least two Facebook pages have been created calling for Kevin Huffman’s ouster as well as an online petition that has garnered hundreds of signatures.
The state Board of Education approved the changes last month after supporters and opponents argued for nearly two hours over the matter. The measure changes the minimum teacher salary schedule, reduces steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminates incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training.
Haslam told reporters on Monday that the changes are needed to further education reform in the state, and that if he were to hire an education commissioner again today, it would be Huffman.
“If you look at the states that are making the most progress in education, Tennessee is at the top of that list,” said the Republican governor. “Kevin gets a lot of credit for that.”
Opponents of a new Tennessee teacher pay plan are taking their fight to social media and asking for the ouster of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, reports The Tennessean. Two Facebook pages created just after the State Board of Education approved pay plan changes last week call for Huffman’s firing, and a Change.org petition calling for the same action has more than 800 signatures. The petition appeared to be growing Friday afternoon.
No one stepped up to claim authorship of the Facebook pages after The Tennessean posted interview requests, but one page administrator sent an anonymous message saying he or she did not want to be known.
…The author of the petition is West Tennessee parent Jennifer Proseus, who said she belongs to a group of mothers, fathers and grandparents from across the state who call themselves “Momma Bears.” The petition is addressed to Gov. Bill Haslam and states that he might not get the votes of its signers for a next term.
Haslam, the Republican who appointed Huffman, defended him in a statement, though. It reads, “Kevin has brought an innovative approach to improving education in Tennessee, and we’re seeing results. When you tackle significant change, it isn’t usually easy, but our state has lagged behind in education for far too long. We have to do better than the status quo for our children and our state.”
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.
Nearly three months after a Unicoi County grand jury indicted Sheriff Kent Harris on 10 felony charges, the county is maintaining a “wait-and-see” approach on what to do about the sheriff, reports the Johnson City Press. County officials are still waiting on action from the state attorney general’s office before making any moves of their own regarding Harris’ position, according to County Mayor Greg Lynch.
“It’s not anything that’s dead in the water,” Lynch said. “It’s on hold right now.”
In late October, the County Commission heard from County Attorney Doug Shults who, at that time, told the commission that he had received information from District Attorney General Tony Clark that the state attorney general’s office was looking into civil actions relative to Harris’ removal from office.
On Oct. 14, a grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, theft over $1,000, criminal simulation and attempted aggravated assault.
Ouster proceedings can be initiated by the state attorney general’s office, the district attorney general’s office or the county. Should the County Commission seek the ouster, the costs associated with the proceedings would fall to the county.
Powell-Clinch Utility District commissioners should be tossed out of office for failing to oversee operations, funding pricey employee junkets, claiming needless travel expenses and underwriting costly office parties, according to a state ouster petition.
More from a Bob Fowler story:
The document also states that the three commissioners should be ousted because they’ve condoned ongoing retaliation against the whistleblower who told the state about district woes. The 18-page ouster petition was filed this week by the state’s Utility Management Review Board.
The regulatory agency’s decision seeking ouster – a previously rare move – now advances to a hearing before a state administrative law judge.
“We intend to defend ourselves vigorously,” Powell-Clinch Commissioner Jerry Shattuck said Friday. “We don’t think we’ve failed in our fiduciary duty to ratepayers.”
The board is also considering a hearing to oust Sevier County Utility District commissioners, also because of a state investigative audit outlining misuse of ratepayer money.
From Richard Locker of the Commercial Appeal (slightly edited and rewritten):
The chairwoman of the state Senate Education Committee refused to comment Wednesday on reports that she had demanded the resignation of one Regents board member in exchange for dropping an effort to have three board members removed from office.
Regent Agenia Clark, the president of the Nashville area Girl Scouts and the only black woman on the Board of Regents, resigned on Wednesday, less than a year into her second six year term on the board.
Hours later, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, shelved the bill she filed last month to remove Clark and two other longtime regents – retired Jackson businessman Jonas Kisber and Nashville lawyer Robert P. Thomas.
By Richard Locker of the Commercial Appeal
The state Senate began the process today of removing three members of the Tennessee Board of Regents who did not attend a two-day Senate committee hearing last summer which examined the board’s selection of a new chancellor.
Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, filed Senate Resolution 29 this week that would remove Regents Jonas Kisber of Jackson and Agenia Clark and Robert P. Thomas of Nashville. The Senate approved the resolution on the first of three required readings today, although first and second readings of bills occur routinely and only the third vote is decisive.
If it occurs, it will be the first time since the Board of Regents was created by the legislature in 1972 that a member has been removed by the legislature. Members of the regents who are not state officials serve without pay and are appointed by the governor for six-year terms.
The resolution is the latest flare-up in a political battle that erupted last August when the Board of Regents selected former state Comptroller John Morgan as chancellor of the state university and community college system that the board oversees. The system includes the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis and all state higher education institutions outside of the University of Tennessee system.