Kelsey law license suspended following guilty plea

Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, attends a Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville on April 16, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) has had his law license suspended after pleading guilty to two federal felonies stemming from campaign finance crimes during his 2016 congressional bid.

Here’s the announcement from the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility:

On December 8, 2022, the Tennessee Supreme Court suspended Brian Kirk Kelsey from the practice of law until further orders of the Court pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 22.3. Mr. Kelsey pled Guilty to two (2) felonies involving conspiracy to defraud the United States and aiding and abetting the acceptance of excessive contributions.

Pursuant to the Order of the Supreme Court, the matter has been referred to the Board to institute formal proceedings to determine the extent of the final discipline to be imposed upon Mr. Kelsey as a result of his plea of guilty to conduct constituting a serious crime as defined by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 2.

Mr. Kelsey must comply with the requirements of Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Section 28, regarding the obligations and responsibilities of suspended attorneys.

Early Christmas? Lee administration announces pay raises for most executive branch workers

Gov. Bill Lee, center, attends a budget hearing in Nashville on Nov. 9, 2022. He is joined by Finance Commissioner Jim Bryson, right, and COO Brandon Gibson. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Nearly three-fourths of executive branch employees in Tennessee can look forward to pay raises when they receive their next paychecks on Dec. 15.

Human Resources Commissioner Juan Williams and Finance Commissioner outlined the pay hikes in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday:

Dear Honorable Members of the Tennessee General Assembly,

It is with tremendous excitement that we announce the implementation of a new salary structure for Executive Branch employees.

The changes result from a statewide compensation study conducted to evaluate the State of Tennessee’s competitiveness to attract and retain best-in-class talent. Over the past six weeks, agency HROs, CFOs, and compensation leaders across the Executive Branch have been preparing to implement this historic investment in our state’s workforce. We would like to thank each of you for providing the funds necessary to keep Tennessee State Government more competitive with current market conditions.

Today, employees will receive an email communication that aligns with one of the four salary adjustment outcomes listed below:

1. Employees being brought to the minimum+ 1% of their salary grade: “It has been determined that your current salary will be increased to align with the new salary structure. You will be brought to 1% above the minimum of your new salary grade. You will be able to view your new salary in Edison starting today, which will be reflected in your paycheck on December 15, 2022.”

2. Employees receiving an adjustment due to compression: “It has been determined that your current salary will be increased to align with the new salary structure. More specifically, your salary adjustment ensures an appropriate placement within the new range to account for compression and to maintain pay equity among employees based on proficiency levels and reporting relationships. You will be able to view your new salary in Edison starting today, which will be reflected in your paycheck on December 15, 2022.”

3. Employees currently paid a market competitive salary and not receiving an adjustment: “After a careful review of your current position and salary, we are pleased to inform you that you are currently paid at or above the competitive market rate for your role. Therefore, your next opportunity for a pay increase will coincide with your annual performance evaluation.”

4. Executive Branch employees currently paid based on a different salary structure and not receiving an adjustment: “Based on your current role or circumstance, there will be no impact on your compensation from the implementation of the new Executive Branch salary structure. As a reminder, compensation adjustments to your role are determined by a separate process. Therefore, this change does not impact your immediate compensation or opportunity for increases in the future.”

Due to the allocation of funds from the State Legislature, 73% of employees who fall under the new salary structure will receive a pay increase. This is a tremendous investment and positive step forward in attracting and retaining best-in-class talent to the State.

On behalf of the Executive Branch employees of the State of Tennessee, we want to thank you for all your support. We are excited about the State’s investment in its people and showing them that the State of Tennessee is a great place to work.

/signed/

Juan Williams, Commissioner of Human Resources, and Jim Bryson, Commissioner of Finance and Administrations

Visitations, memorial service for Honey Alexander to be held this weekend

(Image credit: Alexander family)

Visitations and a memorial service for former first lady Honey Alexander are scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Nashville.

Alexander, who was married to former governor and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander for 53 years, died in October at age 77.

A visitation will be held on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Honey Alexander Center at 2400 Clifton Avenue. Another visitation will take place on Saturday starting at 1 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral at 900 Broadway, followed by a memorial service at 3 p.m.

Read the family obituary here.

Sexton’s chief of staff leaving for private sector

Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to colleagues on the House floor in Nashville on Oct. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s chief of staff, Sammie Arnold, is informing colleagues and lawmakers he is leaving for the private sector.

Sexton (R-Crossville) hired Arnold, then an assistant commissioner at the Department of Economic and Community Development, in September 2021. The chief of staff position had been open since Scott Gilmer left in January 2020. Holt Whitt had served as interim chief until he was questioned by FBI agents in connection with a raid on the homes of three lawmakers’ homes and offices in January 2021. Whitt was placed on leave while the investigation was underway. He was hired as a senior adviser in the state Department of Human Resources the following July after obtaining a letter from prosecutors saying he was considered a witness in the Phoenix Solutions case that led to the guilty plea and resignation of Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) and indictment of former Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin).

Arnold is a Dyersburg native who previously worked as a legislative liaison in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and on the Republican’s 2010 campaign. Arnold is married to Gov. Bill Lee’s former communications director Laine Arnold.

New TNJ edition alert: Kelsey prison time math, House leadership votes, Funding Board goes low

Then-Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) hold a press conference on Feb. 2, 2015. (Image Credit: Erik Schelzig)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out early this week because of the holiday weekend. Here is what’s in it:

— Feds: Contrition key to Kelsey avoiding extra prison time following guilty plea, former lawmaker admits deeds were ‘no accident.’

— State House Republicans stick mostly to status quo, Dems select new caucus chair.

— Funding board goes with extra low revenue projections. Again.

— Gov. Bill Lee’s administration makes its pick on “choice” lanes, hike in EV fees.

Also: Bob Corker says he doesn’t miss it, Beth Harwell chases Belle Meade burglar, Bill Lee hires a Kentucky state senator to run Health Department, Jeremy Durham gets a trial date.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Lee roads proposal: toll lanes, public-private partnerships, raising fees on electric vehicles

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration is unveiling some of the proposals it plans to introduce as part of a major overhaul of Tennessee’s highway system.

According to a newly launched website called Build With Us, the Transportation Department sees several “solutions” to addressing a growing funding shortfall to address worsening congestion on state roads. They include:

— Public-Private Partnerships: Having private companies build and maintain new roads in urban areas will allow the state to spend more on rural initiatives like adding a lanes to interstates.

— “Choice” lanes: Creating toll lanes along existing routes to give drivers the option of paying to bypass slower traffic.

— Electric vehicle fees: Finding ways to charge all types of vehicles equally. Electric vehicles currently pay a $100 annual fee to drive on Tennessee roads while official estimate gas-powered vehicles pay an average of about $300 in combined state and federal fuel taxes.

— Delivery updates: Speeding up the way road projects are move from the planning and bidding phases to construction.

— Staff pay: Eliminating unfilled positions at the Transportation Department and spending the $34 million on raising salaries for remaining workers to market rates.

Here’s the timetable for filling the upcoming SCOTENN vacancy

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With state Supreme Court Justice Sharon Lee announcing her plans to retire at the end of August, officials have released a timetable for selecting her successor.

Applicants must be licensed attorneys of at least 35 years of age who live in the eastern grand division of the state. The Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments will accept applications through Dec. 12. The panel plans to interview candidates on Jan. 4 at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

The council usually narrows the list down to three finalists at the end of its public hearings. The slate will will then undergo background checks and vetting by the governor’s office before Bill Lee either makes his choice or asks for another list. The governor’s nominee must be confirmed by the General Assembly before being sworn into the state’s court of last resort.

House Dems make change in No. 2 leadership position

House Democrats have voted to replace Rep. Vincent Dixie as caucus chair after an election cycle in which the minority’s numbers shrank. The caucus instead elected Rep. John Ray Clemmons for the No. 2 leadership post. Both are Nashville Democrats.

House Democrats lost one Memphis seat to redistricting and other when longtime Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston decided to run for re-election as an independent. He lost to Republican Ed Butler.

Democrat Ronnie Glynn earlier this month narrowly held on to a Clarksville seat vacated by Jason Hodges and a Caleb Hemmer won an open race for a newly drawn district in southern Davidson County.

Here’s the release from House Democrats:

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus today elected its leadership positions for the upcoming 113th General Assembly of the Tennessee House of Representatives.  Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis remains House Minority Leader and Rep. John Ray Clemmons is the newly-elected Caucus Chair.  Rep. Clemmons said that he’s “honored by the trust shown in him by the Caucus membership” and said he’s “ready to get to work on the challenges that lie ahead.”   Other positions elected today were as follows:

— Assistant Minority Leader: Rep. Harold Love of Nashville

— House Floor Leader: Rep. Bill Beck of Nashville

— Minority Whip: Rep. Jason Powell of Nashville

— Caucus Vice-Chair: Rep. Bob Freeman of Nashville

— Caucus Treasurer: Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville

— Caucus Secretary: Rep. Ronnie Glynn of Clarksville

— Leader Pro Tempore: Rep. Larry Miller of Memphis

In addition to the above, Rep. Dwayne Thompson of Memphis and Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar were elected to fill the 2 House Democratic positions on the Joint Fiscal Review Committee. 

New TNJ edition alert: McNally interview, Kelsey guilty plea, PAC spending roudup

Senate GOP leaders hold weekly press gaggle on Jan. 18, 2018. Senate Speaker Randy McNally is second from left. (Photo credit: Schelzig, Tennessee Journal.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out early this week because of the holiday weekend. Here is what’s in it:

— TNJ Interview: Senate Speaker McNally talks legacy and charts course for future

— From the courts: Kelsey pleads guilty to 2 counts, state Supreme Court throws out mandatory life sentences for juveniles.

— Campaign finance update: PAC giving rose 5% compared with last election cycle.

Also: Eddie Mannis says he was “shut up” by House speaker, Jason Mumpower wonders why he has to wait at restaurants when so many people are moving to Tennessee, Andy Ogles gets fined by state for late mayoral disclosure, and a missing Joe Towns prophesy.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

House GOP re-elects top leadership team

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) and Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) attend a floor session in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Republicans have voted to retain their top leadership team of Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville, Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland, Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby, and Majority Whip Johnny Garrett of Goodlettsville. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville was renominated for speaker pr tem. All were unopposed.

Further down the ticket, Mark Cochran of Englewood was elected assistant majority leader. He succeeds Ron Gant of Rossville, who was seriously injured in a head-on crash of two SUVs last month. Cochran had announced his challenge before the wreck and some members had expected Gant to bow out of the race so he could focus on his recovery. But Gant, who did not attend the caucus meeting at Paris Landing State Park, decided to remain on the ballot.

Sexton was one of six candidate for speaker after Glen Casada (R-Franklin) resigned the post amid scandal in the summer of 2019. Faison was elected to succeed Sexton as caucus chair. Lamberth was first elected majority leader in 2017.

Here’s the release from House Republicans:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee House Republicans today selected Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, by unanimous vote to lead the House of Representatives for a third term.
The Republican House Caucus held its biennial organizational meeting to elect leadership positions following a historic election in which the House GOP gained two seats, securing a 75-24 supermajority. The caucus election was held at Paris Landing State Park in Paris, Tenn.

“I greatly appreciate the overwhelming support and the trust my colleagues have placed in me to continue serving as speaker,” said Sexton. “Tennessee leads because Republicans continue standing strong to preserve the freedoms, liberties, and conservative values that are important to the citizens of our state. Together, we will continue to effectively partner to prioritize solutions that build upon the General Assembly’s successes so Tennessee remains the best place to live, work, raise a family, and retire.”

Members voted unanimously to reelect for a third term State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, as majority leader, State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, as caucus chairman, and State Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, as majority whip. State Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, was unanimously chosen to serve his second term as Speaker Pro Tempore.

Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, was elected to his first term as Assistant Majority Leader.

“Tennessee voters spoke loud and clear this year when they overwhelmingly elected Republicans to represent them at every level,” Lamberth said. “I am so proud of all this caucus has accomplished. Together, with the leadership of Speaker Sexton, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Gov. Bill Lee, we will continue to deliver on our promise to uphold common sense conservative values and seek the best possible quality of life for all Tennesseans.”

“Republicans in the legislature have been extremely successful over the last decade at building a stronger, safer, and more prosperous Tennessee,” Faison said. “The House Republican Caucus for the 113th General Assembly is made up of 75 talented, hardworking Tennesseans from every corner of this state who have a great desire to build on that tradition. I’m proud to have their support as we work to move Tennessee forward.”

Others elected to caucus leadership positions include State Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta as floor leader; State Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, as caucus vice chair; State Rep. Michelle Carringer, R-Knoxville as Secretary; State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, as Treasurer.

Freshman State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, was elected Assistant Floor Leader.

The 113th General Assembly is scheduled to convene on Jan. 10, 2023.

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