Tenn. HP promotions prompt reforms

Andy Sher, Nashville Bureau

Copyright 2006 Chattanooga Publishing Company 

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Monday that he will take new steps to halt the "decades-old influence of politics" at the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

He said he would adopt major recommendations made by interim Safety Commissioner Gerald Nicely and the Kroll Government Services security consulting firm.

"Political interference and influence have become part of the THP's culture," the Kroll report stated.

Kroll's report stated it found Safety Department civil service rank-and-file employees and its executive service "rife with political favoritism at the expense of competence."

Kroll and Mr. Nicely recommended the Safety Department:

* Create a "fair and transparent hiring and promotion process."

* Implement nationally recognized professional standards for the Highway Patrol.

* Move title and registration duties from Safety to the Revenue Department.

Gov. Bredesen embraced the proposals and said he replaced top managers at Safety in late 2005.

"I believe we've made great progress over these past three months in reforming both the management and the internal structures of the Tennessee Highway Patrol," he said. "And with the announcement today of these changes, we move an important step closer to our goal."

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said early Monday evening that the governor's office had not presented committee members with the recommendations.

Sen. Norris has been a critic of cronyism at the department. He said he could not comment on the substance of the recommendations until he sees them. He said Kroll ignored his committee's request to meet with the panel and let its members provide input on the report.

"The question is whether his true intention is to try to piecemeal the dismantling of the Department of Safety," Sen. Norris said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Phillip Pinion, D-Union City, said that "after looking at what the governor has proposed, I don't see any real problems. I think maybe it will help."

Gov. Bredesen began making changes at the Safety Department after news reports suggested links between campaign contributions and trooper promotions and hiring at the Highway Patrol.

Later, the Safety Department released information showing that 41 troopers or dispatchers had serious driving or criminal arrest records.

The Safety Department has 850 commissioned positions and is charged with enforcing state traffic laws on more than 15,000 miles of state and federal highways.

Gov. Bredesen accepted a Kroll recommendation that would subject the Safety Department's uniformed personnel to the standards set by the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The commission issues standards and training requirements for officers' certification.

Gov. Bredesen said he wants to move the POST Commission from Safety to the Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Sen. Norris said he thinks moving the commission to the Commerce and Insurance Department would require legislative approval. Other recommendations may require the Bredesen administration to seek legislative permission as well, he said.

Gov. Bredesen has maintained that the political influence affecting the THP and Safety Department began well before his tenure.

In its report, Kroll described a Safety Department in which employees "have come to assume that people will be hired and promoted based on recommendations -- a euphemism for pressure -- by elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches of state government."

"It should be noted that almost all state law enforcement agencies dismiss applicants and candidates for promotion who present false information," the report states. "This includes falsifying or misrepresenting residence, which we found to be a standard method of manipulating the system in the THP."

Kroll advised the state to prohibit consideration of outside recommendations for appointment, promotion or transfer if they have no direct bearing upon a candidate's professional qualifications.

E-mail Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com 
March 21, 2006

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