Tag Archives: public

Haslam: Public Interest His Only Concern in Outsourcing

Gov. Bill Haslam fielded several questions about state government outsourcing contracts Monday, insisting that a few mistakes might have occurred but that the public’s interest was his only motivation.
From WTVF’s report:
Surrounded by reporters, the governor was emphatic about his administration decision to outsource large chunks of state government — the most recent being a $330 million contract to manage all state buildings.
“This is a contract that’s going to save the state a hundred million dollars over the next years,” Haslam said.
That contract went to Jones Lang Lasalle — a company that candidate Bill Haslam listed among his investments.
“Is there any sense in which you stand to gain personally from that contract?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
“Absolutely zero,” the governor answered.
…The governor did acknowledge that a meeting with JLL officials at the Governor’s Residence in April 2012 was about more than just the $1 million consulting contract they had at the time to study the condition of the state’s buildings.
After that meeting, the administration began pushing a string of amendments to extend the JLL contract — without any bidding.
“Were you involved in those conversations about those extensions?” NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked.
“No,” the governor said.
“We had the dinner because at this point in time we were thinking about them obviously managing a big chunk of the state’s business, and I wanted to have a face-to-face conversation just like I was if I going out to hire an individual to do something. To me, there’s nothing extraordinary about that at all.”
But when the facilities management contract was put up for bids, two of the three members of the selection committee came from the governor’s own staff.
“Did you interview any of their competitors?” we asked.
“I didn’t,” the governor admitted, “because I wasn’t part of the selection process.”
Still, Haslam insisted that he believes taxpayers will be the winners.
“Look, anytime you make a big change in state government, does everything in the process go about properly? No. This is new territory we’re in. There’s literally no other states who have done what we’ve done.”


See also the Commercial Appeal, HERE

Court of Appeals Reverses Judge’s Ruling on Murfreesboro Mosque

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.

Judge Orders DCS to Turn Over Child Death Records to Media

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Children’s Services was ordered Wednesday to give the media records from the case files of 50 children who died or nearly died after the agency became involved with them.
Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy also ordered the state to bear the cost of redacting identifying information from the records. The media organizations will pay the cost of making copies.
In September, The Tennessean requested the records of all the children involved with DCS who had died or nearly died between 2009 and mid-2012. The state produced only bare-bones summaries and later acknowledged it did not know how many children had died during that period.
In December a group of media organizations, led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press, sued for access to the records. McCoy in January ordered the state to redact and turn over records from four cases and to produce an estimate of the cost to redact records in the remaining 200-or-so cases.
The state first said it would cost more than $55,000 to produce the remaining records, but later reduced that to a little over $34,000.
At the Wednesday hearing, the media groups asked McCoy to expand which records the department has to turn over and to order DCS to waive the fee.
McCoy did grant a partial expansion of the records request and ordered that the media groups must pay only a 50-cent-per-page copying cost. She told DCS to produce records from the 50 most recent files for her review by May 3.

State Agencies Eye Natural Gas Fracking on Public Land

A review of UT records leading up to the state’s fracking decision last month shows the question of fracking public land in Tennessee is not new, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
As far as back as 2002, when UT first shopped the idea of seeking oil and gas drilling bids on its property to the executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission, there was interest among other state agencies with custody of big bodies of land in East Tennessee where the underground Chattanooga shale deposits may hide today’s new gold — natural gas.
One day after the university’s first pitch before the subcommittee on Oct. 22, 2002, UT’s Alvin Payne, assistant vice president of UT office of capital projects, wrote a memo to report the results of the meeting to Jack Britt, vice president of UT Institute of Agriculture:
“There was extensive interest in this area by multiple state agencies such as the Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Department of Correction, etc. All of the agencies were supportive of our initiative and would like to potentially do something similar to that which we propose.”
The memos and dozens of other documents and emails were obtained by the Southern Environmental Law Center using Freedom of Information Act requests. SCLC shared them with the newspaper.
….Meg Lockhart, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said neither she nor Jonathon Burr in TDEC’s mining section have heard of anyone suggesting the state drill on its own property for state gain.
But TDEC has worked with UT and drillers on UT’s draft “research plan” and took it to the governor’s office.
In a March 18, 2012, email exchange between Bryan Kaegi, who represents Consol Energy, and Larry Arrington, chancellor of UT’s Institute of Agriculture, Arrington states: “Our strategy (and they agreed) was to have TDEC help push for approvals. …”
In another email exchange between the two on Aug. 20, 2012, Kaegi tells Arrington: “I have spoken with Administration and TDEC and both have said ball is in UT hands.”
Less that two months later, UT officials met with Jonathan Burr and Paul Schmierbach of TDEC. In UT debriefing notes, Schmierbach offered the following comments:
“Be prepared for the worst from the environmental community — but their actions will not sway the Governor’s office resolve/support.”

Ban on ‘All Comers’ Policy at State Universities Goes to Gov

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to bar public universities and colleges from implementing nondiscrimination policies for student groups is headed to the governor for his consideration.
The measure unanimously passed the Senate 30-0 on Wednesday. It was approved in the House 75-21 earlier this month.
The legislation does not include private institutions like Vanderbilt University — a provision that caused Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to veto last year’s version. The governor’s office says it’s OK with the current legislation.
Sponsors say the measure is aimed at preventing colleges from creating policies requiring student groups to open membership to all students and allow all members to seek leadership posts.
Christian groups have protested a similar policy at Vanderbilt, saying it forces them to allow nonbelievers and gay students to join. Officials say about 15 student groups have refused to comply with the policy, while 480 have accepted it.

House Gives Final OK for Home Schoolers in Public School Athletics

The House gave final approval Monday night to legislation that will require all public schools to allow home school students to participate in their athletic events.
The House approved the measure 69-24 under sponsorship of Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville. It earlier had passed the Senate unanimously with Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, as sponsor and now goes to the governor for his expected signature.
Under current law, the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association has developed a policy for home-schooled children trying out for public school teams, but it is left for each school system to decide whether the allow them to participate. Campfield says that roughly half do so. The bill (SB240) requires all systems to open their athletic doors to home-schooled children.
The TSSAA, which is the governing body for school athletics, has opposed the bill. Home-school organizations have pushed the idea for several years.
“This is just making it an even playing ground for everyone who is involved in sports,” said Kane.
In debate, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he was concerned with setting a precedent of giving “the benefits of public schools” to those who are not enrolled in those schools. He questioned whether virtual school students would be next and, if the Legislature enacts a voucher system, whether students with a state voucher attending a private school will be going to public schools for athletics.
Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, said the bill will erode local school board authority in favor of rules developed by TSSAA as body that “nobody elected.”
Kane said the parents of a home-school student “do pay taxes to the state and they do take a burden off the local school system” by not enrolling in it.
Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, argued in support of the measure. He said that youngsters from all sorts of backgrounds typically play together at younger ages on nonschool teams, “then suddenly when we get into high school we start segregating them” and “excluding children” because they are home-schooled.
“I think we’re here (as legislators) to help kids get benefits,” Dunn said. “If they can benefit, why would we deny them.”

Bill Requires Newspapers to Publish Legal Notices Online (as well as in print)

The Senate has approved, 31-1, legislation that will require newspapers to post public notices on their websites as well as in their print editions with no extra charge starting in April, 2014.
The bill (SB461) faces a House floor vote next week after clearing committees without a dissenting vote. It is sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, and supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
In Senate floor debate, Yager noted there has been debate in the past about having public notices posted online on government websites rather than in newspapers with valid arguments on both sides. He said the legislation “tries to take the best of both and combine them into a bill that will preserve independence by allowing someone other than the government to disseminate notices.”
Besides requiring the notices be posted on newspaper websites, the measure also requires each newspaper provide a link to a website where such notices from newspapers statewide will be available. The Tennessee Press Association anticipates operating such a website.
The sole vote against the bill came from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who said he views the measure as “excluding everyone else who is not a Tennessee newspaper” from publishing public notices.

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Comptroller Questions Easter Egg Bonuses, Other Utility District Doings

News release from state comptroller’s office:
Around Easter, some employees at the Lincoln County Board of Public Utilities received Easter eggs with notes inside, informing them that they would be receiving special bonuses. Bonuses were also routinely doled out around other holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July – or, for some of the more favored employees – almost weekly.
The problem? The utility’s former superintendent didn’t have board approval to distribute nearly $300,000 in ratepayer money for bonuses from 2008 through 2011. And that was just one of many issues investigators from the Comptroller’s office found during a recent review of the utility’s practices.
Employees sometimes received bonuses for doing routine parts of their jobs, such as reporting water theft or scouting possible water intake sites along the river. Some employees received overtime pay even when they didn’t work extra hours. Employees also received bonuses through random drawings and marble handouts. One employee received a bonus for “adultery watch,” which apparently involved monitoring another employee during work hours.
Findings of the investigation, which were released today, document that the former superintendent also gave more than $13,000 in water adjustments – essentially, discounts on water bills and new water taps – to utility board members, employees and some customers. Nearly $4,000 of those adjustments were granted to volunteer firefighters who attended annual dinners held to foster good will between the utility and local fire departments. The rest of the adjustments were given at the former superintendent’s discretion.
The investigation also revealed that board members were overpaid more than $12,000 for attending board meetings, work sessions and “road trips.” And the former superintendent and former office manager made more than $10,000 worth of questionable credit card charges to the district, including more than $5,000 for meals for employees who were not traveling or conducting official business.
“Ratepayer money is public money, just as taxpayer money is,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “It is inexcusable for public officials to distribute or spend public money for unauthorized bonuses, water bill discounts or travel and purchases that do not serve work-related purposes. I hope the Lincoln County Board of Public Utilities will take appropriate steps to ensure that these types of abuses don’t occur in the future.”
To view the Comptroller’s report online, go to: http://comptroller.tn.gov/la/SpecialReports.asp
To view scanned images and photographs related to the investigation, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/repository/CA/2012/lcbpupictures.pdf

TN Near the Bottom in Ranking of States on People Donating to Campaigns

The Campaign Finance Institute , which advocates some public financing of political campaigns, has done a state-by-state review of political contributions to races for governor and state legislature seats, ranking states in order of the percentage of population that made donations.
The review used the years 2006 and 2010, which CFI says were years in which most states had both gubernatorial elections and legislative campaigns. There were 33 such states in 2006 and 35 in 2010. (In Tennessee, where we have legislative elections every two years, 2006 was incumbent Gov. Phil Bredesen’s reelection year 2010 was the open-seat election won by Gov. Bill Haslam.)
The review shows Tennessee ranked 30th of the 33 states in 2006, with 0.67 percent of the state’s voting age population making donations to political campaigns. In 2010, Tennessee ranked 23rd out of the 35 surveyed states, with 0.89 percent of voting age population making donations.
The highest percentages were in Vermont and Rhode Island, which alternated as No. 1 in the two years surveyed. Both states have systems where public funding matches small donations from individuals. In 2010, Vermont was tops at 5.86 percent of adults donating to campaigns.
The lowest percentages were in states with higher populations – Florida, New York and California. In 2010, Florida had the lowest percentage, 0.22 percent.
Bills calling for some sort of public finances system have occasionally been introduced in Tennessee, though not in the last couple of legislative sessions. Those introduced previously all died in committee without a vote.
The CFI study, including the state-by-state table, can be seen by clicking on this link: 20121220_StateDonorParticipation-2006-V-2010.pdf

DesJarlais Divorce Transcript Being Made Public — But Not Before Election Day

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — A transcript from Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ divorce case is being released although lawyers said the public may not see it before Election Day.
Attorney Gerard Stranch, who represents the Tennessee Democratic Party, and DesJarlais’ attorney, Harvey Cameron, said Monday they reached an agreement to release the transcript after both sides argued the case before Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Bolton.
Stranch said a short time later that Bolton sided with the DesJarlais camp in withholding the completed part of the transcript until all 600 to 700 pages of the transcript are completed. He said that likely wouldn’t happen before Tuesday.
The impact of an Election Day release isn’t clear. More than 120,000 ballots have already been cast in the 4th District during Tennessee’s 14-day early voting period.

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