Ignoring a plea from the Republican chairman of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and criticism from Democratic legislators, a Senate committee Thursday approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans for a transformation of the agency.
“Maybe it’ll work. Maybe not,” said TRA Chairman Kenneth Hill of the Haslam plan. “Why go there and inflict damage to the utilities of Tennessee and to the people of Tennessee … then have to come back and fix it?”
Hill, appointed to the TRA by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, said the utility-regulating agency is working extremely well, cutting back on costs on its own, operating at a lower cost than any similar regulatory agency in the Southeast and earning top scores in national ratings in such areas as enforcing gas pipeline safety.
In contrast, he contended that the governor and Herbert Slatery, the gubernatorial legal counsel who has served as point man in pushing the bill through the Legislature, has never explained why an agency “doing a good job” needs to be changed.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to overhaul the Tennessee Regulatory Authority scraped though a Senate committee last week with a “neutral” recommendation and could be headed for more trouble this week, reports Andy Sher. Two area lawmakers pointedly told Haslam’s legal counsel, Herbert Slatery, that officials need to come up with better answers to criticisms of elements such as turning the agency’s full-time director slots into part-time positions.
“I think, going forward, you will find it much more difficult and you will need to answer the questions,” Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, warned Slatery in the Government Operations Committee hearing. Bell is committee chairman.
At one point, Slatery couldn’t recall the names of people in the regulated utilities who were asked for advice about the proposed changes.
….Haslam’s original bill called for creation of a full-time executive director, appointed by the governor.
Critics, including TRA Chairman Kenneth Hill, charged that effectively would put the governor in charge of the independent agency and its part-time board.
Haslam retreated; new language provides for an executive director jointly appointed by the governor and the House and Senate speakers for a three-year term.
On Friday, Haslam told reporters he “strongly” believes the TRA needs a full-time executive director with a professional background. Currently, directors rotate the chairmanship and management responsibilities annually.
“You can’t show me another management structure like that [which] is effective,” Haslam said.
“At the end of the day, what the TRA bill is about is providing utilities at the lowest price possible for those people who use those regulated agencies,” Haslam said.
The amended bill also would save more than $347,000 a year, the administration says.
The four full-time directors now are paid $152,400 plus benefits. Part-time directors would be paid $36,000 a year, plus benefits. Qualifications would include at least a bachelor’s degree and at least three years’ experience in a regulated utility industry or in “executive-level management,” plus expertise in an area such as economics, law, finance, accounting or engineering.
Appearing in Sunday’s News Sentinel is a package of half-dozen stories on what might be considered Gov. Bill Haslam’s cabinet inner circle, the men and women who gather around a table in the state Capitol on most days to counsel the governor on what’s happening and what should be done.
The centerpiece is on Deputy Gov. Claude Thomas Ramsey, 68, won his first state government position almost 40 years ago as a third-generation strawberry farmer running against an incumbent state representative who “didn’t have the best reputation in the world.”
An excerpt from an interview with the deputy governor: “He’s not one to get out and kick, snort and throw rocks,” Ramsey said of the governor.
Is Ramsey such a person?
“Not in public.”
The deputy governor said that in today’s Republican party politics “I’m probably more to the moderate side … (though) I absolutely consider myself a conservative.”
Shorter items, in alphabetical order, are on:
-Mark Cate, the ‘utility man’ who ‘makes the trains run on time’ and carries the title of special assistant to the governor.
-The ‘young but bright’ Will Cromer, director of policy and research.
-Director of Legislation Leslie Hafner, who is the newest member of Haslam’s inner circle but by no means new to state government. (A Hafner quip: “Thank you technology, you’re ruined my life.”)
-Communications Director Alexia Poe, a mother of two who is now serving as spokeswoman for her fifth politician.
–Herb Slatery, who is legal counsel to the governor and a friend to Bill Haslam since childhood.