Bill Lee

Lee looking for out-of-state troopers again

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is looking out of state again to attract new troopers to Tennessee. The Republican’s call last year for law enforcement officers to transfer to the state resulted in 25 troopers being added to the THP rolls. Another 57 new recruits came from inside Tennessee.

Here’s what Lee says in a video touting the program:

I got a message today for cops in New York, all the way to sheriff deputies out in LA. We want you to join the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Our force is one of the most professional in the country. And we won’t get between you and your doctor. We believe that you would be a great fit for our state. We’ll even help cover your moving expenses. Now let me tell you why Tennessee would be a great fit for you. Here in Tennessee. We have so much to offer like a low cost of living and no income tax. We got a beautiful state with everything from backroads to Broadway in Nashville. And for you, there’s an open road to opportunity. In Tennessee, you will be given our full support and respect and our work to make sure your freedoms are protected. We stand with our law enforcement and will stand with you, too. If you’re looking for America at its best, come to Tennessee. Visit jointhp.com today, and we’ll see you soon in a Volunteer State.

Here’s the full release from the governor’s office.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released a nationwide Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) recruitment video and renewed efforts to welcome out of state law enforcement officers to Tennessee.

In the video, titled “Join THP 2.0,” Troopers Da’Juan Clark of New Mexico and Louis Celaya of California share their experience moving to Tennessee to join the THP in 2022. Clark and Celaya now serve Middle Tennessee communities.

“In Tennessee, law enforcement officers get the respect they deserve, and we welcome qualified men and women from across the country to join our ranks,” said Lee. “Take it from our THP troopers – if you want to live, work and raise a family in a community where you’ll be given full support, come to Tennessee.”

Last fall, Gov. Lee launched a nationwide pitch to relocate qualified law enforcement to Tennessee. Since then, 82 new troopers have joined the THP, including 25 officers from out of state.
Tennesseans enjoy the lowest state and local tax burden per capita in the country. Additionally, the THP offers some of the most competitive benefits, including:

— Full benefits package

— A self-issued vehicle rather than a shared vehicle program

— Complimentary uniforms and equipment provided

— All fees for training academy paid for by the department

In addition to THP recruitment efforts, Lee has made proven crime prevention investments to strengthen public safety and directly support law enforcement across Tennessee:

— 100 additional Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers funded by the state

— Creation of a $100 million Violent Crime Intervention Fund for law enforcement agencies across the state to invest in evidence-based programming and resources

— $30 million to support recruitment and retention bonuses for out-of-state police officers seeking to move to Tennessee

— Expansion of state funding for law enforcement basic training and increasing the frequency of training for new recruits

Out of state law enforcement officials interested in joining the THP can learn more at www.joinTHP.org.

Living in a world gone crazy: Lee launches first general election ad

Gov. Bill Lee has released a new campaign ad declaring “we’re just getting started” following the first four years of his administration.

Here’s the transcript of the spot to run on broadcast and cable TV stations:

“You turn on the tv today, and it feels like the world’s gone a little crazy – but not in Tennessee. I’m proud of the work we’ve done the last four years: America’s fastest growing economy, America’s lowest taxes, a lot more skilled trades. We’ve put families first like we said we would, and I think we’re just getting started. Being your governor has been the honor of my life and I’d be honored to serve, again.”

New TNJ edition alert: This is the (Lamar!) way

New signs posted on the Capitol horseshoe indicate it is not named after Lamar Alexander. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it.

— No cooling off required: Lawmakers quick to land government positions.

— United in indignation: GOP outraged over pediatric transgender clinic at Vanderbilt hospital.

— Vouchers go back to court, appeals panel hears from charter operators.

Also: Tim Burchett can’t understand Australian golfer or “country clubbers,” Glenn Jacobs’ former chief of staff pleads guilty, Bill Lee names a new head of the Governor’s office of faith-based initiatives, and the Capitol horseshoe gets a new name.

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

Or subscribe here.

Read Susan Lynn’s public apology to Mae Beavers

As first reported in the print edition of the The Tennessee Journal, the yearslong acrimony between Rep. Susan Lynn and former Sen. Mae Beavers (both R-Mt. Juliet) appears to have reached a conclusion of sorts.

Lynn, who was chair of the powerful House Finance Committee under then-Speaker Glen Casada, is running a public apology in Wilson County newspapers. The move comes after Beavers sued Lynn in 2019 for allegedly spreading rumors about Beavers breaking into her home and trying to have her killed.

When Beavers announced plans to run for Wilson County mayor in 2010, Lynn promptly declared she would run for the vacated Senate seat. But Beavers changed her mind and ran for re-election instead, claiming victory by 6 points. Lynn later won back the House seat she had given up to run for the upper chamber.

Beavers resigned her seat in the Senate to run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018. But she dropped out of the contest, endorsing longshot candidate Bill Lee’s status as an outsider who, like Donald Trump on the national level, would “take on the permanent political class in Nashville.” Nearly a year after he took office, Lee named Beavers to the Board of Parole.

Lee gives update on school safety efforts

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters after a bill signing ceremony in Nashville on May 24, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A release from Gov. Bill Lee’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee released a video update on key actions the Lee administration has taken to enhance school safety following Executive Order 97, which directed state agencies to engage parents, increase transparency and collaborate with local law enforcement and school districts.

“Our administration has taken meaningful steps to further strengthen school safety in Tennessee by engaging parents, evaluating security measures and strengthening partnerships with law enforcement,” said Lee. “Nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and I thank Tennesseans for doing their part as we continue our coordinated effort to protect students and teachers across the state.”

The Lee administration has taken the following actions to further enhance school safety across Tennessee and promote engagement with parents, schools and law enforcement:

Engaging Parents

— More than 10,000 Tennesseans are using the Safe TN app, a free resource to quickly and confidentially report safety concerns at a child’s school, with a record 2,000 downloads this month

— Expanded School-Based Behavioral Health Liaisons to cover all 95 counties

— Mobile crisis providers are available to families across the state and can be reached by dialing ‘988’

Securing Schools

— Every Tennessee school has completed a physical school security assessment – a total of 1,838 schools

— More than two-thirds of school districts – 104 districts – have participated in school safety training
Frequent, unannounced checks are being prioritized to see that school doors latch and precautions are in place

— Every school district has received an updated School Safety Plan Template

Partnering with Law Enforcement

— State and local law enforcement have collaborated to provide proven, hands-on active shooter training courses in each Grand Division

— Updated training has been provided to more than 600 School Resource Officers

— Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers are building stronger relationships with local school leadership

In the coming months, additional resources will be made available to support parents, teachers and law enforcement in improving school security practices. Future actions will include:

— Tennessee parents and schools will have access to a new School Safety Resource and Engagement Guide
— School districts will receive updated building security standards
— State and local law enforcement will be supported through improved recruitment and training efforts

First Lady Maria Lee diagnosed with lymphoma

Gov. Bill Lee and his wife, Maria, clap along to “Rocky Top” at his inauguration celebration in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig)

First Lady Maria Lee has been diagnosed with lymphoma, Gov. Bill Lee’s office announced Friday.

“Maria and I have learned that she has lymphoma and will begin treatment immediately,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a statement. “While this news is unexpected, her prognosis is good and it is treatable. Maria and I deeply appreciate prayers for healing. We are hopeful and will share more in the days ahead.”

Tenn. joining evidence-based policy network

Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) and other s check their watches awaiting the time for Gov. Bill Lee, right, to enter the House chamber to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee in joining a national evidence-based policymaking network, according to the Department of Finance and Administration. Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE — Tennessee is joining a network of states to advance state use of evidence-based policymaking. The Office of Evidence and Impact in the Department of Finance and Administration will join the Governing for Results Network, a community of state executive and legislative branch leaders who exchange insights and best practices for greater efficiencies and improved services to citizens. State Senator Bo Watson of Hixson, Tennessee will also participate in the network.

“Gov. Bill Lee made it a priority to place a greater focus on ensuring that we invest in what works to best serve citizens across the state,” OEI Director Christin Lotz said. “We’re excited to join with peer states and collaborate with others who are using data to examine policy outcomes to find the best ways of serving Tennesseans.”

“It’s exciting to be part of a network of states using data for budget and policy decisions, and to compare practices among states so we can all learn from each other,” Watson said. “I’m proud that the state has made this a priority and look forward to the positive outcomes that will result for Tennesseans.”

The project is a collaboration of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the Policy Lab at Brown University. The trio of organizations bring leaders together to have candid conversations, share challenges and ideas, and learn from other states’ approaches. Legislators, legislative staff and executive branch leaders from ten other states—Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Rhode Island and Utah—comprise the network.

OEI was launched in the spring of 2019, now working with agencies to classify state programs based on the level of available supporting evidence and to follow the principles of evidence-based budgeting.

In 2020 and 2021, the national group Results For America named Tennessee one of the top states in the nation for using data to make decisions. OEI’s Lotz was selected in 2020 to serve on the Federal Advisory Committee on Data for Evidence Building, which makes recommendations to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget on how to improve data sharing and data linkage.

Sen. Watson was elected to the Senate in 2005, after first serving in the State House of Representatives. He is chairman of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Rules Committee.

For more information about evidence-based budgeting, the framework for evaluating state programs or to meet the Office of Evidence and Impact team, visit their website at  https://www.tn.gov/finance/oei.html.

Lee names new communications director, legal counsel

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Monday announced Casey Black Sellers will take over from Laine Arnold as commutations director and Erin Merrick will succeed Jonathan Skrmetti as chief legal counsel. Arnold is moving to Lee’s re-election campaign while the state Supreme Court named Skrmetti attorney general last week.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointments of Erin Merrick to succeed Jonathan Skrmetti as Chief Legal Counsel, effective September 1, and Casey Black Sellers to succeed Laine Arnold as Director of Communications, effective September 2. Skrmetti will assume the role of Tennessee Attorney General and Reporter. Arnold will lead communications for the governor’s re-election campaign in addition to starting a strategic communications venture for corporations and causes.

“Jonathan is a brilliant legal mind with vast experience at the state and federal levels, and Tennesseans will be well-represented by his service as Attorney General,” said Lee. “Erin is a dedicated public servant who will lead with integrity and bring significant expertise as Chief Legal Counsel, and I appreciate her continued service to Tennessee.”

Erin Merrick currently serves as Lee’s deputy legal counsel, a role she has held since 2019. Previously, Merrick was an assistant attorney general in the Tennessee Office of the Attorney General, where she practiced state and federal civil litigation before both trial and appellate courts. Merrick earned her bachelor’s degree at American University and holds a master’s degree in Economics and Juris Doctor from Vanderbilt University.

“Laine’s leadership and insight as Communications Director and Senior Advisor have played an invaluable role in my administration. I commend her work to ensure key priorities and accomplishments were communicated effectively, and Maria and I treasure her friendship,” said Lee. “Casey has been an integral member of our team, and I have full confidence that her extensive communications experience will continue to serve Tennesseans well.”

Casey Black Sellers currently serves as Lee’s press secretary. Sellers has deep experience in state and federal political communications, including service with U.S. Representative David Kustoff of Tennessee and former U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee. Sellers earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Jade Cooper Byers, currently deputy press secretary, will assume key responsibilities as Lee’s press secretary. Byers earned her bachelor’s degree at Belmont University and has served Lee since his successful primary run in 2018.

New TNJ alert: New AG, Democratic infighting, and another rejection of loosening term limits

AG applicants pose for a photo outside the state Supreme Court chamber on Aug. 9, 2022. From left are Bill Young, Jonathan Skrmetti, Culver Schmid, Don Cochran, Mike Dunavant, and Jerome Cochran.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Supreme Court appoints Gov. Bill Lee’s top legal adviser Skrmetti as new AG.

— Skrmetti in public interview posited creating a new unit to handle lawsuits against the federal government, acknowledged “hunger” for more formal legal opinions.

— From the campaign trail: Democrats fight over text message flap, tiebreaker options in Cocke County, and Memphis voters don’t want their elected officials to serve more than two terms.

— Obituary: Larry Wallace, TBI director in wake of bingo gambling corruption probe.

Also: Lee joins GOP governors blasting climate bill that includes tax credits for electric vehicles (many of which will be built in Tennessee), constitutional amendment campaigns ramp up activity, and diverging fortunes for write-in campaigns.

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

Or subscribe here.

Lee Cabinet member named president of Northeast State Community College

Gov. Bill Lee, bottom left, looks on as his Cabinet takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig Tennessee Journal)

Jeff McCord, the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce in Gov. Bill Lee’s administration, has been named president of Northeast State Community College.

Here’s the release from the state Board of Regents:

NASHVILLE (Aug. 8, 2022) – The Tennessee Board of Regents today unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Jeff McCord as the next president of Northeast State Community College, effective Sept. 30.

Dr. McCord, currently commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, will be returning to the college he served as a vice president for seven years prior to his appointment as commissioner. As Northeast State’s vice president for economic and workforce development from 2012 to 2019, he led the successful operation and expansion of the college’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing and provided administrative leadership for the Kingsport Academic Village, among other responsibilities.

“I’m excited to come alongside the hundreds of individuals who work at the College, who love the College, and who want the very best for the students and communities in which they live,” McCord said after the board’s vote. “Northeast Tennessee is a special place with enormous opportunity. And Northeast State is central to helping our region realize its potential.”

He will succeed Dr. Bethany Bullock, who stepped down as Northeast’s president in March, and Dr. Connie Marshall, the college’s vice president for academic affairs who is serving as interim president. Board members thanked Dr. Marshall for her work as interim president.

In other action during today’s special-called meeting, the Board of Regents approved criteria for the next presidents of the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology at Athens and Murfreesboro. TCAT Athens President Stewart Smith is retiring Dec. 31 and TCAT Murfreesboro President Carol Puryear is retiring Sept. 30, both after 30 years of service in the College System of Tennessee.

Approval of the criteria is the first step in the search process for the next presidents. Search advisory committees, composed of Board members and representatives of the colleges’ faculty, staff, students and alumni and the local civic and business communities, will be appointed soon.

McCord earned a Doctor of Education degree in Learning & Leadership at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Information Systems at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

He was appointed commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development by Gov. Bill Lee in January 2019, after he served for seven years as Northeast State’s vice president for economic and workforce development. Prior to joining the Northeast State leadership team in January 2012, he worked in several leadership and management positions at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport from 1996 to 2012. His full resumé is posted on the TBR website at https://www.tbr.edu/hr/executivesearches/president-northeast-state-community-college.

McCord was one of four finalists for the Northeast presidency recommended in late June by a 17-member search advisory committee that reviewed 58 applicants and candidates. Chaired by Regent Miles Burdine of Kingsport, the search committee also included Board Members Emily J. Reynolds and Danni Varlan, representatives of the college’s students, faculty, staff and alumni, and civic and business leaders from the Northeast Tennessee area. The finalists participated in campus visits and open forums with campus groups and the public July 11-14.

After the forums, Dr. Tydings reviewed input from the campus community and the public and conducted further interviews with each of the finalists before recommending McCord to the board.

The Tennessee Board of Regents governs the state’s public community colleges and colleges of applied technology. Today’s meeting was live-streamed and is archived on the TBR website at https://www.tbr.edu/board/august-8-2022-special-called-board-meeting.