Monthly Archives: October 2016

UT paying $75K to search for Knoxville campus chancellor

The University of Tennessee is paying the Parker Executive Search firm $75,000, plus expenses, to help in its nationwide hunt for a new chancellor for the Knoxville campus, reports the News Sentinel.

In addition to the search fee, the university also agreed to pay expenses of up $7,500 – in addition to the cost of advertising the job and the travel expenses for candidates and search committee members.

The UT system has a standing five-year contract with the firm, not to exceed $3 million, that began in April 2014 and runs through the end of April 2019. The contract lays out terms for any search administrators, coaches, deans, academic chairs or other high-level administrators. The fees range from $60,000 to $75,000, depending on the salary of the new hire.

The contract locks in terms that can be used by Tennessee Board of Regents and any of the UT campuses for searches, but neither are required to use Parker. The next Knoxville chancellor will be tasked with filling out his or her cabinet, including a provost and an athletic director.

The university has also recently conducted searches for a new chancellor of the Martin campus and a new chief financial officer for the system, both of which were conducted in-house. The current search for a new chancellor for the agriculture campus is also being conducted internally, said UT spokeswoman Tiffany Carpenter.

Though behind schedule – UT officials had hoped to bring finalists to campus for interviews at the end of October – the university still expects to name a successor to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek by the end of the year, officials said recently.

National report card: TN student science scores on upswing

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Tennessee students are the fastest improving in the nation in science, according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The last time fourth and eighth grade students both took NAEP science was 2009, and the 2015 NAEP results show Tennessee is the only state to grow faster than the nation in both grades with Tennessee students doubling the average national growth.

Tennessee also narrowed or eliminated several achievement gaps. The gap between the science performance of male and female students was completely eliminated in both grades. In both fourth and eighth grade science the gap in achievement scores between white and African-American students narrowed, and the gap tightened between white and Latino students in fourth grade.

With these scores, Tennessee now ranks 19th and 21st in the country on fourth and eighth grade science, respectively – the highest rankings the state has ever had on the Nation’s Report Card.

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Retiring museum director gets $40K-per-year part-time job

Longtime Tennessee State Museum Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell will go to work for the museum’s fundraising arm when she retires Dec. 31 at a $40,000-per-year salary, reports the Nashville Post.

The board of the Tennessee State Museum Foundation voted to hire Riggins-Ezzell at a meeting Monday that included closed doors for part of the session. The Foundation is a separate entity from the board that oversees the museum itself,.

 But members of the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission, the actual governing body of the museum, are not so sure about the unprecedented move to to keep the 35-year veteran executive director in the same building as her yet-to-be-hired successor, even though Riggins-Ezzell will no longer be a state employee. And with the new salary, plus her state pension of around $52,000, the 76-year-old Riggins-Ezzell will actually make more than her current annual salary of $90,216.

“The Foundation is making decisions for the space that only the Commission can make,” said DHSMC member Victor Ashe. “No other state employee gets these kind of benefits when they retire. What sort of message does that send?”

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Reps. Faison, Holt rented home from Miller

State Reps. Andy Holt and Jeremy Faison rented a Nashville home from Andy Miller Jr.,  reports The Tennessean. Miller is “the prominent Republican donor who paid for a European trip for several lawmakers in 2011 and took business investments from disgraced lawmaker Jeremy Durham.”

The transaction underlines the cozy relationship between lawmakers and Miller, a wealthy politico who regularly tries to advance his agenda through interactions with public officials.

The exact timeline of when the lawmakers rented Miller’s home is unclear — Faison said it was during the early part of 2013; Holt said it was 2014.

“We rented a house from him for what I would assume was fair market value. It was $1,200 or $1,500 a month and that was split,” Holt said.

…When asked if Miller ever talked about legislation with the lawmakers while they rented the house, Holt and Faison said that never occurred.

“The guy has never lobbied me for a bill, never once,” said Faison, who was one of six lawmakers who went on a five-day “fact finding” trip to Europe in 2011 with Miller to learn about radical Islam. The expenses for the trip were paid by Miller.

The GOP donor, his wife, his brother and his sister-in-law gave Holt a total of $6,000 in October 2014 — just months after when Holt said he rented the home. Faison has never received any campaign donations from Miller or his relatives.

Holt said he didn’t think it was a problem for him to rent the home from Miller and take donations, admitting that there would only be an issue if he was staying at the home for free.

“I could see where that would be something that we could say that’s probably not something that looks like an arms-length transaction,” Holt said. “I could understand that.”

Haslam ‘working hard’ for GOP candidates (except Trump)

Gov. Bill Haslam, who stirred complaints from some Republicans for refusing to back Donald Trump, predicts intra-party strife will ease once the election is over and, for now, he is focusing on helping the handful of state legislative candidates who face competitive contests.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Haslam was asked about several county GOP groups passing resolutions critical of the governor for declaring he would not vote for Trump.

From WPLN’s report:

“I think that’s part of what happens in a big party. You’re always going to have people going to have a little bit different perspective. In the end, what’s important is to make certain we elect people who can win and then can govern real effectively.”

His support for Republican legislative candidates includes going door-to-door with state Sen. Steve Dickerson in Nashville, where Haslam has also been supporting House Speaker Beth Harwell.

From The Tennessean:

“I’m working really hard in our competitive legislative races,” Haslam said Tuesday morning after an event in Nashville.

“In Tennessee there’s only a handful of close races and in every one of those we’re trying to help out the Republican candidate as much as we can,” said the governor.

Haslam hails TDEC for ending ‘gotcha’ approach to polluters

Gov. Bill Haslam’ is defending the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s anti-pollution efforts despite recent criticism in an Environmental Protection Agency audit, reports WPLN.

Last month, federal regulators faulted the state for not penalizing water polluters, even after they’ve been dumping waste for months. Auditors also found the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation took action against polluters only 19 times last year. Down from an average of more than 180 actions before Haslam took office.

But the governor says the department and its leader, Bob Martineau, have shifted the focus from punishing polluters to working with them.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Commissioner Martineau. He is somebody who takes that responsibility very seriously,” Haslam says. “And, again, we have brought an approach of instead of saying ‘Gotcha’ after something’s wrong to saying, ‘How do we prevent something happening up front?’

“I think that’s how Tennesseans want us to do that.”

Environmentalists say enforcement of water regulations has been uneven. They argue penalties have to be tough enough to hurt polluters’ bottom lines if they’re going to be effective.

League seeks change in TN voter purging practices

Tennessee League of Women Voters and a public interest law firm are calling on Secretary of State Tre Hargett to change current state practice for purging voters from registration lists, reports the Times-Free Press. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals last money ruled that a similar purging procedure used in Ohio violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993

With Tennessee also falling under the 6th Circuit’s jurisdiction, League of Women Voters President Marian Ott and Stuart Naifeh, a senior counsel with a New York law firm involved in the Ohio litigation, say Hargett should drop Tennessee’s similar method of purging voters from registration lists.

“The League of Women Voters strongly supports efforts to enable all eligible Tennesseans to vote,” said League President Ott in a statement. “The law is the law, and Tennessee officials should follow the law and let eligible voters vote.  It’s just not right to block eligible citizens from voting.”

… In a letter to Hargett dated Thursday, Naifeh, the senior counsel with the Demos law firm, said Tennessee is “not in compliance with Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act.”

He noted Tennessee law describes a process in which voters who don’t vote in a period of “two consecutive November elections” are sent a forwardable confirmation notice. Voters who don’t respond to the notice or don’t update their registration or vote in the subsequent period “between the time the notice is sent and the second regular November election after the notice was sent” see their registrations purged, Naifeh wrote.

…”We urge you, as the State’s chief election official, to take immediate steps to bring the State into compliance with federal law by directing local election officials to cease and desist from cancelling any voter registration based on voter inactivity and by implementing a process through which the ballots of improperly cancelled voters can be counted,” Naifeh’s letter says.’

Hargett has not yet responded.





On Fannon vs. Powers in House District 36

According to a rundown on both candidates in the Lafollette Press, Republican state Rep. Dennis Powers’ focal point in seeking reelection to House District 36 is the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on states’ rights and a concern about federal overreach.

His Democratic opponent, Bob Fannon, a pharmacist and veteran Lafollette city councilman, says his focus is on failure of the Legislature to approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal.

The district includes all of Campbell County, much of Union County and a piece of  Anderson County.

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Justin Timberlake broke state law with voting booth ‘selfie’?

Singer Justin Timberlake may have run afoul of Tennessee law taking a picture of himself while voting in Shelby County, reports the Commercial Appeal. A state statue enacted by the Legislature in 2015 prohibits photos in polling places.

A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office initially told the newspaper the matter was “under review,” but later provided this comment instead: “While we are aware of an allegation that someone may have violated a Tennessee state election law, we have not been presented anything by an investigative authority.”

Timberlake, who lives in California and recently bought a spread near Nashville, posted a selfie on Instagram on Monday that showed him casting his ballot at the New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Germantown.

… “We’re thrilled Justin can’t stop the feeling when it comes to voting so much that he voted early in person and is promoting voting to his millions of fans,” said (Tennessee Secretary of State) spokesman Adam Ghassemi. “In Tennessee, using electronic devices inside polling locations to take pictures, videos or make calls is not allowed. We hope this encourages more people than ever to vote, but Tennesseans should only use their phones inside polling locations for informational purposes to assist while voting, like our free GoVoteTN mobile app. If polling officials discover someone violating this law they will ask the voter to put their phone away.”

An AP report on the matter includes this statement on voting selfies in other states: Federal courts have struck down bans in New Hampshire and Indiana, and on Monday, a judge in Michigan blocked enforcement of a ban on ballot selfies, saying it violates free speech.

Note: The Instanagram post is HERE – with commenters criticizing both him and the state law.

Memory Lane Note: Back in 2007, Timberlake was a Tennessee news topic when state legislators balked at adopting a resolution honoring his work (basically it was deemed too sexually oriented), which had been introduced by a Memphis senator. A Google search shows the resulting AP story is still online, HERE, for example.

Two legislators seek more ‘Healthy Task Force’ transparency

Two Knox County legislators say they’re concerned about a lack of transparency in dealings of the legislative task force studying options for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee, reports WSMV-TV.

Sen. Richard Briggs and Rep. Roger Kane, both Knoxville Republicans and members of the 3-Star Healthy Task Force set up by House Speaker Beth Harwell, made their concerns known in a letter to Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, who chairs the panel. (Letter text, HERE.) In particular, they complain about task force members using cell phones to communicate with one another in a manner that would violate the state’s “sunshine law.”

Sexton, on the other hand, tells the station his group has been “more transparent and open than any task force that’s ever been created in the history of Tennessee.”

“In the spirit of transparency and accountability, we have real concerns about using personal cell phone devices to transmit  information back and forth on the Healthy Task Force. In addition, there needs to be a permanent record at the state level of all transactions that we are doing in order to be in compliance with the Open Records and Freedom of Information Acts,” says the letter. “Going forward, it is vital that we have documentation of our communication and procedures through the legislative email system.”

Excerpt from WSMV’s report:

In a phone interview, Briggs said he and Rep. Kane feel strongly about open government issues, which is why they contacted Sexton.

“We’re about to get into some serious areas of the Three-Star Health plan,” Briggs said. “I wanted to put everything out in the clear.”

Their letter made a reference to “Black Wednesday,” an event in 2007 when Knox County politicians struck backroom deals over appointments to the county commission.

“We realize the Tennessee Legislature is not bound by Sunshine rules, but in some cases like this, we should be,” Briggs and Kane wrote.

Note: State courts have repeatedly held that laws on open meetings of governmental bodies do not pply to the General Assembly. The Senate, however, has adopted the open meetings law as part of its official rules and is thus bound to follow the provisions. The House has not done so.

The court rulings are generally based on this provision in Article II, Section 22 of the Tennessee Constitution: “The doors of each House and of committees of the whole shall be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.” In other words, the legislature is open to the public except when legislators decide it should not be open to the public.