Monthly Archives: December 2016

Chattanooga State president picked as new Board of Regents chief

News release from Board of Regents

The Tennessee Board of Regents will meet in a special called session Tuesday, Dec. 27, to consider a recommendation for the appointment of Dr. Flora Tydings as the next chancellor of the Board of Regents system.

Tydings has been president of Chattanooga State Community College since July 2015, and was president of Athens Technical College in Athens, Ga., a campus of the public Technical College System of Georgia, from 2003 to 2015.

The Board of Regents will meet via a telephone conference call at 1 p.m. CST Tuesday to consider the recommendation by Gov. Bill Haslam for Tydings’ appointment. The governor is chairman of the Board of Regents and also chaired a 16-member chancellor search committee appointed by the Board in August, personally leading the search for the TBR system’s next chief executive officer.

“After a very deliberate search, careful thought and much input from the search committee and the TBR system and campus communities, I’m pleased to recommend Dr. Flora Tydings to lead the Board of Regents as it transitions under the FOCUS Act and continues its critical work ahead in the Drive to 55 effort to equip a majority of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees, diplomas and certificates,” Gov. Haslam said today.

Continue reading

Fitzhugh wins Democratic gubernatorial candidate straw poll

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh won a straw poll vote on possible 2018 candidates for governor conducted Tuesday by the Davidson County Democratic Party, reports the Nashville Post.

Congressman Jim Cooper was second with former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. There was a tie for third between Nashville businessman Bill Freeman, a major donor to Democratic causes, and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero came in sixth place, followed by Memphis state Sen. Sara Kyle, Kim McMillan and comedian Ralphie May, who has tweeted about running for governor.

Fitzhugh, Dean and Freeman are all thought highly likely to be running in 2018. Berke and Rogero almost certainly are not running. There’s been zero chatter about Cooper leaving his House seat, so if he does run, it will be a bit of a surprise.

The Tennessean reports Fitzhugh had 26 of 103 votes cast; Cooper 24; Dean 20. And there’s a quote from Fitzhugh:

“I’m going to check it out a little bit,” Fitzhugh said. It’s a bit early and it’s a long climb, but I certainly want to have a look at it. I’m just going to talk to a few folks and see what it looks like.”

“It’s been suggested to me and I’ve had some conversations,” he added. “I don’t want to end up like we did two years ago when we didn’t have a viable year at all.”

M. Lee Smith, Tennessee Journal founder, dies aged 74

Lee Smith, founder of The Tennessee Journal and M. Lee Smith Publishers, died Tuesday night in Nashville after battling a blood condition for several years. He was 74.

Starting with the Journal in January 1975, Smith built an enterprise that eventually published newsletters in all 50 states, most of them dealing with workplace law compliance. He sold the company in 2005.

He was a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Law School who in the late 1960s worked on the staff of U.S. Sen. Howard Baker. Among his co-workers was Lamar Alexander, now a U.S. senator himself. Smith served as general counsel for Gov. Winfield Dunn in the early 1970s.

Despite his background of working for Republican officeholders, upon launching his political newsletter Smith was determined, as he often discussed, to “play it straight down the middle” in political analysis and reporting.

In a statement Wednesday on his longtime friend’s death, Alexander said Smith and his newsletter “participated in Tennessee politics in a straightforward way that commanded the respect of both Democrats and Republicans.”

In 1977, Smith got perhaps his most famous scoop when he spotted Roger Humphreys of Johnson City working in the Capitol as a state photographer. Smith, a Johnson City native, knew Humphreys had been sentenced to prison a couple of years earlier for a double murder. But Humphreys was the son of Gov. Ray Blanton’s Washington County patronage committee chairman. Smith’s note in The Tennessee Journal on the matter set off a political firestorm that continued through Blanton’s administration.

Dan Oswald, who purchased M. Lee Smith Publishers in 2005 and has since expanded the business through a series of mergers and acquisitions, today described Smith as “a true southern gentleman and a savvy businessman.”

“I had the privilege of knowing Lee as a colleague in our industry for many years before having the opportunity to relocate to Tennessee and purchase his company from him,” Oswald said. “… I was lucky to know Lee Smith. I was lucky that he entrusted me with the business he had built and the people he cared so much about. And I was lucky to call Lee my friend and adviser. I’m going to miss him.”

Note: Oswald’s full posting on Lee Smith is HERE and he has a link to another post.

UPDATE: Visitation from noon to 2 p.m. on Friday at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, followed by a funeral service at 2 p.m.

Embattled Raquel Hatter exits as TN Human Services Commissioner

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Raquel Hatter will return to the private sector in February to work at the national level on poverty, social mobility and social justice with children, families and communities across the country.

Under her team-oriented leadership, DHS adopted the Two Gen strategy focused on addressing poverty and creating cycles of success, and the department received national recognition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service for administration of the SNAP program. She also established the Fatherhood Initiative Office to ensure an intentional focus on whole family services when partnering with families and collaborated with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to develop an adult protective services investigation academy.

“When Raquel informed me she was leaving, my immediate thought was how much I would miss her passion and dedication to serving families and children,” Haslam said. “She brought fresh perspective and subject matter expertise to her role, taking a generational approach to solving some of the unique challenges facing Tennessee’s most vulnerable, and the State of Tennessee was extremely fortunate to have her lead the Department of Human Services over the last six years.”

Continue reading

Why is TN top state in reporting voter fraud? ‘We’re probably more vigilant’

The New York Times reports making a survey of all 50 states for cases of voter fraud during the November election and finding “next to none” overall. The article says Tennessee, however, was at the top of the national list with “40 credible allegations out of some 4.3 million primary and general election votes.”

So why does Tennessee have the highest number of cases? WPLN asked and reported:

Mark Goins, the state’s director of elections, believes it’s because officials here are looking harder.

“I think we’re probably more vigilant,” he says. “It’s something that we have focused on, somewhat. We’ve encouraged the counties to look for these things.”

Goins declines to give specifics about individual allegations, saying the investigations haven’t been completed. But he says the largest number of cases involve felons who’ve been stripped of their rights to vote. Another big group are people who’ve voted outside their districts.

One case involves a suspicious absentee ballot. The allegation is that it wasn’t filled out by the person who supposedly cast it.

And one other involves a possible non-citizen who voted.

Even if all the allegations prove to be true, the 40 cases would represent less than one vote out of every 100,000 cast this year in Tennessee, according to the Times.

But Goins predicts more suspicious votes will be identified. He says officials plan to keep digging into voter records next year.

New TennCare waiver could mean ‘whole new ballgame’ in fed funding

After six months of operating under temporary extensions, state and federal health care officials have reached a new long-term agreement on continuing federal funding of TennCare that will change the way money is distributed to hospitals in two years.

From a Modern Health Care article:

 Under the new agreement, the CMS will continue the uncompensated-care payments through June 30, 2017, at current levels, which have averaged around $500 million a year.

During a one-year transition period, the total possible payments will ramp up to $708 million.

After that, Tennessee must submit a revised methodology for distributing the money that limits the subsidies to care provided to people who wouldn’t be eligible for Medicaid if the state agreed to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act.

“Coverage is the best way to assure beneficiary access to healthcare for low income individuals, and uncompensated care pool funding should not pay for costs that would otherwise be covered in a Medicaid expansion,” Eliot Fishman, director of the CMS’ State Demonstrations Group wrote in a letter to the state in November 2015.

Tennessee hospitals are nervous about how the allocations will change. It’s “a whole new ballgame with a new distribution system of funding for hospitals,” said Craig Becker, CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association. “We have some concerns about precisely how this will work, but we have a couple of years to work with state and federal officials to nail down details and secure needed funding for hospitals in the state.”

The CMS has increasingly resisted paying for healthcare for the uninsured now that most of them have access to coverage under the Affordable Care Act. That issue has been an obstacle to renewing waivers in other states, including California, Florida and Texas.

See also The Tennessean, HERE

Haslam ‘very ready to present’ gas tax plan — but now waiting on legislators

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s “very ready to present” his long-awaited transportation-funding recommendations is waiting at the request of some fellow Republicans in the General Assembly who want to explore their own funding ideas, reports the Times-Free Press.

“In talking with them, [they] said we want to have time to think through their proposals,” the governor said when asked when he expected to announce a new transportation program and a funding proposal. “So we said, sure, we’ll spend this month having those discussions and letting you think through alternatives that you might be able to come up with.”

Haslam said the unspecified lawmakers “said they’d come back to us some time. We told them the budget process and the timing and hopefully they’ll come back with their ideas pretty quickly.

“I think everybody just feels obviously this is a big decision for this state and they wanted a chance to think through it and talk through it with people in their districts before they heard our proposal,” the governor added. “At the appropriate time, obviously, we’ll come with our proposal.”

In mid-2015, Haslam began trying to make the case to the GOP-dominated Legislature that Tennessee needed to shore up funding for roads and other transportation-related needs. He has yet to present a plan and has shied away from stating it would include a recommendation the state approve its first gas tax increase since 1989.

Outsourcing plan developed in secrecy with potential contractors

For almost a year and a half, a small group of highly paid state executives have been regularly meeting in secret, determining the future of more than 3,000 state employees whose jobs could be outsourced, according to the Nashville Post.

From late August through November of this year, the (10-member “steering committee) was joined by representatives of the company or companies — name and number unknown — that will bid on the contract to hire outside workers for physically laborious state jobs.

Officials issued a request for proposals on Dec. 1, with a timeline that will have the state accepting a bid in late March — and only companies that have been involved in the process so far are allowed to apply.

The unprecedented secrecy of the process has already led to questions about the results of an outside accounting review by KraftCPAs, a Nashville firm with strong ties to Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. Now, documents obtained by the Post via an open records request, along with the RFP itself, show that the state’s claims to protect all current employees’ jobs and provide the same level of benefits are misleading at best — although critics of the plan use much harsher language.

“The Governor is already breaking his own promises about outsourcing, and the proof is right there in the RFP,” said Thomas Walker, a spokesperson for United Campus Workers.

(While the governor has said no employees will lose their jobs or have compensation reduced, the article notes that employees are not covered by the promise if they work less than 30 hours a week, have been employed less than six months or fail a background check not now required. Also, the job can be moved to a new location up to 50 miles away. And when vacancies occur, the contractor need not fill them and, if so, can hire new employees at lower pay.)

…Despite making many qualifying statements about how nothing is set in stone until a contract is signed, it’s apparent that the steering committee itself is considering the outsourcing move a virtually done deal.

…Keep in mind that “vested” or “collaborative value development” procurement is basically designed to result in a done deal. Under the process… the contractor is involved in creating the RFP to which it will respond in the hopes of getting a contract. It is a process that has been used by some large companies but is virtually untested in the public sector.

Respondents to the RFI were given the opportunity to reply to a RFQ, or request for qualifications, that was issued April 11. Only the companies deemed qualified were allowed to participate in the vested creation of the RFP, which occurred during meetings every Thursday and Friday from Aug. 25 to Nov. 21, per PowerPoint slides from April and August steering committee meetings. And only those companies will be allowed to respond to the RFP itself.

How many companies are there? Is there even more than one company involved? Only the people involved in the process know, and they’ve all signed non-disclosure agreements.

TN electors ignore protesters to cast votes for Trump

Tennessee’s 11 Electoral College votes all went to Republican Donald Trump today despite calls from protesters to ignore a state requirement to support the candidate who wins the popular vote, reports Andy Sher.

Republican electors here said they had been blitzed by thousands of letters, emails and phone calls, some of them threatening and nearly all from out-of-state groups aiming to deny an expected Electoral College victory by Trump.

But Tennessee’s vote was not without some side drama. Protesters in the state Capitol’s House gallery twice interrupted proceedings. One woman shouted Trump was “nuts,” prompting state Election Coordinator Mark Goins to bang his gavel and demand order. She was escorted out.

A man later sought to read a Bible verse, prompting Goins to tell him: “We certainly appreciate the Scripture, but this is a procedure the Electoral College can only proceed in. The answer is no.”

On Election Day in Tennessee, Trump won 1,522,925 votes while Democrat Hillary Clinton garnered 870,960.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam presided over portions of the meeting.

“Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States; I want to do everything I can to make him and Mike Pence be successful in that role,” Haslam said.

“While some people don’t like the result, and obviously, we had protesters today who didn’t like that, ultimately, you have to love the process that we’re a part of in this country,” he added. “It’s the best process there is.”

Note: Nationally, seven electors voted against their state mandates, a record number of so-called “faithless” electors, reports Politico. The previous record was set in 1808 when six electors refused to vote for James Madison.

Obama commutes sentences of five Tennesseans; grants pardons to two

President Barack Obama commuted the sentences Monday of five Tennesseans jailed on drug-related charges and pardoned two others convicted of non-violent crimes, reports Michael Collins.

In all, Obama commuted the sentences of 153 people across the country, including Rodney Bates of Milan, Amilcar Butler of Nashville, Joseph Lee Gulledge Jr. of Chattanooga, Kari Nicole Parks of Bristol and Timothy Orlando Rainey of Nashville.

Seventy-eight others received presidential pardons, including Kenneth Shannon Meadows of Celina and Allen Thompson Sherwood of Ooltewah.

The White House press release is HERE. Below is a cut-and-paste of information provided therein on each of the Tennesseans.

Continue reading