Ryan Robinson, the new vice chancellor for communications for UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport, receives a significant pay boost moving from assistant spokesman for the Athletics Department to the Chancellor’s office on May 17. He jumps $80,000 from his current $145,000 a year to $225,000.
This is more than double what the communications directors for Knoxville and Knox County make. It far exceeds the going rate for media people in the East Tennessee area. Why is UT doing this? The answer will be it is consistent with comparable positions in other universities. Many do not agree with that argument.
The Cornerstone Foundation here in Knoxville, headed by former city director and attorney Laurens Tullock, is closing its doors on Sept. 4 after operating 20 years. The Foundation has been funded by Rodney and Dell Lawler.
The announcement stated that Cornerstone, which has funded many projects in East Tennessee impacting downtown development, disadvantaged kids and community leadership development, was never meant to be permanent.
The University of Tennessee spends over a half-million dollars a year running its Nashville lobbying office to influence the legislature and state government. The top dog there is Anthony Haynes, who makes $201,088 a year with a pay raise due in July. But he has four others who help him – Carey Whitworth at $80,000; Lou Hanemann at $93,000; Valerie Yancey at $98,500. Connie Cantrell comes in 2 days a week at $31.29 an hour when the other four are overwhelmed with work.
Office space is $40,107 a year at $23.32 per square foot. These figures do not include retirement benefits, and the legislature is in session only four months of the year. So there is interest in what these folks do the other eight months of the year. It is hard to believe there is much heavy lifting when the legislature is away.
When state Sen. Mark Green is confirmed as the new Secretary of the Army (probably this summer) he must resign his state Senate seat, which triggers a special election to fill it until his term ends in 2020. Montgomery County Commission will appoint an interim senator for four months.
State Sen. Mark Norris, current majority leader, is widely mentioned as a new federal judge in Memphis, which would remove him from the governor’s race. He is 62 – older than what the Trump administration is looking for in new federal judges – but he has influential backers and could be tapped.
Federal magistrate judge Clifford Shirley is not seeking a third term when his term ends in February 2018. This triggers a search for a new magistrate, which ultimately is decided by the federal judges for the eastern district of Tennessee with Tom Varlan as the Chief Judge. It also includes active senior judges.
Under federal law, a magistrate judge merit selection panel has been established to review applicants and submit five names to the judges who will make a final decision. The search committee is chaired by highly respected and hard-working Knoxville attorney Mark Mamantov. It also includes two non-lawyers as required by law.
Another name being mentioned for the TVA board of directors is state Sen. Ken Yager from neighboring Roane County, who chairs the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee. He is a former county mayor and would be an interesting choice given the massive TVA spill several years ago in Roane County. However, if nominated and confirmed he would have to resign his state Senate seat to serve. He cannot do both at the same time.
At present, there is no one from East Tennessee serving on the TVA board for the first time in recent memory.
Former Election Commissioner Andrew Roberto, 40, who lives on Hayslope Drive in the new Westmoreland, is an attorney and is also running for the District 2 (Duane Grieve) seat on Knoxville City Council. He is a single parent who shares custody of his two daughters, Kylie and Hannah, with their mother.
He is the only candidate in this district who currently has a website at www.electroberto.com. The website does not yet specify his stands on issues. He wants to “give back” to the community. He wants to spend time listening to voters. He attends Cokesbury United Methodist Church. While a Democrat, he favors nonpartisan elections for city office.
Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones will be a credible candidate for county mayor, if he runs, and will keep Commissioner Bob Thomas and perhaps Glenn Jacobs, if he enters the race, busy. However, Jones will need to overcome the impression that he is only a sheriff.
Three previous sheriffs tried to transition to executive or legislative office in Knox County and failed. They were Archie Weaver for city mayor in 1965, Bernard Waggoner for state senator in 1974 and Tim Hutchison for county mayor in 2010. Democrats do not yet have a credible candidate, and the GOP primary in May 2018 will decide who the next county mayor will be.
The current controversy on high pay for UT administrators who return to teach as faculty could not come at a worse time for the university, as it suggests waste through inflated salaries that are not genuinely earned or deserved.
To retire as chancellor, president or provost and then earn 75 percent of your salary with no limit as to how long it lasts and no connection to duties, workload or ability seems fundamentally misplaced. It is not fiscally conservative. It is wasteful. UT is often asking for more money and telling the Legislature not to micromanage. This weakens their argument as the board of trustees allowed this to happen.
Newly designated University of Tennessee Athletic Director John Currie was not the unanimous choice of the six-member search committee, this writer has learned from sources who declined to be named. Peyton Manning and trustee Charlie Anderson voted for former coach Phil Fulmer, while Currie was the choice of the remaining four members. None are talking on the record.
The hire was a strong surprise. Manning did attend the Currie news conference Thursday in a show of unity.