published Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Burns Phillips to lead Workforce Development

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam on Wednesday announced he has named Burns Phillips as the new commissioner of the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"I am very grateful to Burns for taking on this role," Haslam said of Phillips, who had been serving as acting commissioner after the abrupt departure of then-chief Karla Davis shortly before an audit critical of the department's operations was released.

Haslam said in a news release that Burns has "both public and private sector experience and has served in multiple departments at the state level, and I appreciate his willingness to continue serving at Labor and Workforce Development."

On Tuesday, Phillips won praise from members of the Legislature's Fiscal Review Committee as he gave a departmental review.

"It sounds like things are moving in the right direction," Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, the panel's chairman, told Phillips.

The commissioner later told reporters that when he arrived at the department, "I just found there was a significant number of very talented people who were just in the wrong place."

He said "it's really about aligning your resources and skill sets with the job that needs to be done. And fortunately, this department has a wealth of talented people."

So far, Phillips said, he has made only one outside hire when it comes to "rebuilding staff."

When Davis left two of her top aides also left.

Phillips, 64, once worked in the state's budget office early in his career before going to work in the private sector where in 1991 he founded a surgical instrument company that operates in the U.S. and 30 other countries.

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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