published Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Tennessee says nothing suspicious about Labor resignations

NASHVILLE -- A spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday it's only natural that two top aides to Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis quit at the same time she did this week.

"The reason for Commissioner Davis' resignation is stated in the release, and as you know, it is not uncommon when an executive resigns for members of the executive team to do so as well," Haslam spokesman David Smith said in response to questions.

Haslam officials announced in a news release on Monday that Haslam's handpicked commissioner, Davis, was resigning "due to family reasons."

What the governor's office didn't mention in the release was that also resigning were Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and the assistant administrator of unemployment, Turner Nashe.

Asked whether the governor or any of his staff played a role in getting the commissioner, Malone or Nashe to leave, Smith said, "I would refer you to the governor's comments in the release."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville, said he has not had an opportunity to discuss the resignations with Haslam, a Republican.

Haslam brought Davis into the job in January 2011 after taking office.

"Something happened over there," Turner said. "There's a lot of rumors."

The move comes as a lawsuit filed last fall by the department's former administrator over unemployment, Don Ingram, moves through federal court. Ingram, who is white, contends among other things that he was wrongfully fired and that Davis and Malone, who are black, systematically purged agency veterans, replacing them with less qualified personnel who are black.

The agency last June said Ingram was fired because of problems in the department's unemployment insurance program that he managed.

During budget hearings in November, Haslam asked Davis to explain agency problems with handling unemployment insurance claims affecting thousands of Tennesseans.

"What's the backlog?" the governor asked.

Replied Davis: "We have about 24,000 claims holding and about 7,000 over the 14-day time limit."

Haslam asked was "there any kind of federal penalty" for the backlog. "I should know this."

Davis said there was but added, "this kind of backlog is being experienced across the country."

Earlier in her presentation, Davis said the department experienced "a number of challenges" as a result of the recession while personnel had "remained stagnant." The department "couldn't handle" an "unprecedented" number of claims and was still struggling in November, she said.

Beginning last April, they brought on part-time workers to man telephone lines, increased the number of lines from 229 to 618 and combined the functions of taking claims and making initial determinations on whether someone should get unemployment insurance.

Eating away from the backlog went from 2,000 a month to 4,000, and officials were hoping to get to 6,000 a month by December, she told Haslam.

Meanwhile, any number of people continued to charge they still couldn't get through.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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