Thanks to The Tennessee Republican Party for the heads up of this story from the Tennessean. Hey, Governor Phillip with close associates like this, you surely don’t need all the enemies that you do have.
Top official: Bredesen knew about cronyism, didn’t act
‘We had been busy with other things,’ Goetz says about THP
By TRENT SEIBERT
Gov. Phil Bredesen knew of the deep-seated problems of cronyism and politics in the Tennessee Highway Patrol some time ago but was focused on other issues, one of the governor’s top lieutenants said in a radio interview yesterday.
Dave Goetz, state commissioner of finance and administration, appeared to lay blame for the problems in the patrol with former Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips, who was ousted last week.
Cronyism “had been accepted as part of the culture there, and we had been busy with other things,” Goetz said in response to questions from talk show host Steve Gill on WWTN-FM 99.7. “And I’ll just have to take the blame for that. But we had relied on the commissioner and the staff there to clean these things up, and frankly, there had been multiple conversations over a period of time saying, ‘You need to straighten these things out,’ and they weren’t straightened out.”
Goetz later backed off those statements in an interview with The Tennessean: “I think I probably misspoke a little bit there,” during the quick-paced banter with Gill, he said.
Bredesen, who has spent much of the past 12 months dealing with the overhaul of the TennCare health insurance program, was not available for comment late yesterday, spokeswoman Lydia Lenker said.
The governor, who appointed Phillips as his safety commissioner in 2003, launched an effort last week to overhaul the THP, including sweeping out the upper management of the Safety Department. “It is not a pretty picture,” the governor said a week ago yesterday after a review of the THP by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and some of his top staff from the Personnel Department.
But Goetz’s statements on the morning radio show also jibe with Bredesen’s comments in recent months, suggesting that the governor knew — at least, in general — about problems in the Safety Department as far back as August and pledged then to find a fix.
“We need to professionalize the department,” Bredesen said in an August interview. “We need especially to treat young people in the department in a way that they think the way they get ahead is to do a good job as opposed to making friendships. And I’m headed in that direction.”
That same month, the administration halted a round of THP promotions, fearing allegations of favoritism and political influence raised in The Tennessean.
Then, in November, the newspaper reported that two-thirds of THP promotions under Bredesen’s administration went to officers who gave money to his campaign, or had family members or political patrons who did. And more than half in that group were promoted, although they were competing against officers with higher promotion scores.
Phillips and Pitts signed off on the agency’s promotions, state records indicate.
Bredesen was quoted in a Nov. 15 story saying he would look into the allegations.
Later in the month, Bredesen ordered another look at the agency when reports showed that dozens of officers with criminal backgrounds were on the Highway Patrol.
Bredesen last week forced the resignation of Phillips and replaced him with a longtime ally, Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely, who will serve a 60-day stint with Safety.
In his interview with The Tennessean late yesterday, Goetz said he was not part of any conversation between Bredesen and Phillips, and that Bredesen gave Phillips the same marching orders the governor gave all his Cabinet members when he appointed them. He said the governor only learned of specific problems in the THP in recent months.
“My understanding was, the governor looked at Fred a year and a half ago, before we knew about all of the things that have come out in the last six months, and said, ‘Look, this is your department to run, and I want you to straighten out any things that need straightening out,’ ” Goetz said. “Obviously that didn’t occur. It’s not that we knew that these problems that have come out in the last few months were going on and we didn’t deal with them.”
Phillips could not be reached for comment yesterday. There was no answer at a phone number listed for his home in Washington County, where Phillips is from and where he ran Bredesen’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
Bredesen tapped Goetz to “straighten out” the Safety Department in late November, before Phillips resigned, Goetz said. That’s when Goetz started researching private consulting firms with outside law enforcement experience to give a hard, outsider’s look at how the THP runs.
The governor and his aides ultimately realized that “this isn’t working” with Phillips and then recruited Nicely, according to Goetz.
Working with other top officials, Goetz chose New York-based Kroll Inc. as the outside consultant. That firm has played key roles in reforming the Los Angeles and Detroit police departments and helped implement big changes in the Pennsylvania State Police after a sex-harassment scandal.
“We were going to bring in this external help and see if Commissioner Phillips couldn’t straighten it out,” Goetz said.