Statement from Tennessee State Employees Association:
Yesterday, the Senate State and Local Government voted 6-3 along party lines to pass an amended version of the TEAM Act on to the Senate Finance committee. The Tennessee State Employees Association is very disappointed that the committee allowed partisan politics to play a role in their votes on this important issue for state employees. The administration, for the first time publically, demonstrated their unwillingness to negotiate on the core issues of hiring and layoffs that are the most damaging to state employees and Tennessee citizens, consistently and methodically opposing every TSEA compromise offered via amendment.
Also unacceptable was the committee’s rush to pass a bill that had not been fully discussed. Toward the end of the meeting, immediately before the committee voted to pass the bill, Senator Lowe Finney said, “We have not had a full and fair conversation with regards to other issues not listed in the amendments …maybe I will be comfortable voting for the bill after we get some other questions answered, but until such time occurs I will not be supporting it.”
TSEA does not believe that the system is broken; rather we believe there is a problem with the implementation of specific parts of that system that can be corrected. TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said, “Problems have developed with the administration of the current civil service system, but the solution is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Note each of these problems and fix them”.
All amendments to the bill will be heard on the House side at next week’s House State and Local committee.
TSEA is a nonprofit association existing to provide a strong unified voice with which it advocates the work-related interests of members. The attainment of association objectives will ensure a better life for our members and will attract and retain an effective, efficient state workforce to provide services for all Tennesseans. TSEA was established in 1974. For further information, visit the Web site at www.tseaonline.org.
News release from House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE (February 21) – Governor Bill Haslam’s plan to change the personnel policies of Tennessee state employees would eliminate preference given to military veterans and spouses of deceased and disabled veterans.
Haslam’s “TEAM Act,” sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R- Chattanooga) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Colllierville) eliminates the Civil Service Commission. Under present law, applicants to state jobs are scored based on a variety of measures and preference is given to veterans and spouses of veterans who are applying for jobs in Tennessee.
“We have always given our veterans and their spouses’ preference in finding jobs in Tennessee,” House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner said. “These men and women have fought for our freedoms overseas, and we need to do everything that we can to take care of them when they return home.”
During Tuesday’s State and Local Government Committee meeting, Turner was joined by Republican members who also spoke out against eliminating the preference given to veterans. Haslam’s proposal would guarantee veterans receive an interview, but no preference would be given to them in the hiring process. House Government Operations Chairman Jim Cobb (R- Spring City) said during the committee that to him, giving veterans an interview, but no preference in hiring, is “almost an insult to a veteran.”
Haslam’s new proposal does nothing to help spouses of deceased and disabled veterans find a job. Presently, spouses are also given preference in finding employment in Tennessee.
“Now, more than ever, we need to be helping our military and their spouses find jobs. They have put their lives on the line for all of us in Tennessee. The governor’s proposal to eliminate preference given to our military and their spouses does not treat our veterans with the respect they deserve,” Turner said.
The state’s last-minute offer to reinstate a $774,000 grant for a program at Chattanooga’s TEAM Centers has come too late to prevent the service’s planned Aug. 12 closure, the clinic’s director says.
More from Andy Sher: Too many employees already have accepted jobs elsewhere, interim Executive Director Peter Charman said Friday evening. But he said he and the board will work to reassemble a new staff to run the program that provides diagnostic and other services for developmentally and intellectually disabled children and adults.
“We will begin a recruiting effort immediately to look for new clinical staff,” Charman said, reading from a statement prepared by the board of directors. “Also, I’m talking to other agencies and clinical practices in the community to look for ways to deliver these important services to our patients.”
Tennessee’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities on July 13 decided against continuing the grant following a “top to bottom review” of spending and programs. Gov. Bill Haslam has ordered all agencies to conduct such reviews to streamline services and save money.
The grant funded what one parent has called a “once-in-a-lifetime” clinical program for children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, other developmental delays and intellectual disabilities.
Disabled residents from across the state were referred to TEAM for speech, occupational and physical therapy, along with medical evaluations and treatment from experts.
But the newly created Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Department’s chief, Commissioner Jim Henry, had questioned the grant. He insisted his department was not supposed to be in the business of providing services for most children, although some advocates disagree.
The state originally had offered a final $193,000 grant to TEAM to keep the program running for three months so other sources of operational funds could be found or developed.
But once the department was told by TEAM officials that they would spend the grant on severance packages and other “shutdown costs,” the state withdrew the grant offer.
A top state official is offering to extend a $774,000 grant for Chattanooga-based TEAM Centers Inc. through June 30, 2012, reports the Chattanooga TFP. That would give the provider has more time to pursue alternative funding for diagnostic and treatment services it provides to people with intellectual disabilities. “I’m probably going to give them another year,” state Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Jim Henry told the Times Free Press on Thursday. “The Legislature can do what it wants to, but we’re probably going to extend this grant.”
Local state lawmakers from Hamilton County have been asking questions about the defunding. Earlier this week, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, confirmed he was trying to work out an agreement but declined to discuss details.
TEAM Centers’ interim executive director, Peter Charman, said Thursday that after Henry’s interview with the Times Free Press, the commissioner called him and “told me the grant would be extended through the current fiscal year.”
Charman said the nonprofit group’s board later discussed the offer by telephone and will weigh over the next few days whether it can accept the offer.
The program is slated to end a week from today, and parents whose children are being helped are upset and angry about the situation.
….State officials planned to eliminate continued funding for the grant after discovering it as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s “top to bottom review” of state government operations.
Henry said TEAM Centers officials were told they were reducing funding to three months to give the agency time to apply to provide at least some of the services through traditional Medicaid fee-for-services in the home-and-community based waiver program as well as through community fundraising.
“That’s why we gave them the three months,” said Debbie Payne, Henry’s assistant commissioner of community and facility services.
But TEAM officials opted instead to pay off current salary commitments and shutter that portion of their operations.
“It wasn’t feasible to try to do any of those things that quickly, and we’re not sure it would have economically been helpful at all,” Charman said Thursday.
Henry expressed frustration over recent Times Free Press articles and a Times editorial that criticized his handling of the matter.
He said the grant was unusual in nature and perhaps began as a pilot project in 1998 when services for intellectually and developmentally challenged children were handled by the then-Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.