APNewsBreak: Lee spurned paperwork in building first Cabinet
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — More than half of Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s newly appointed cabinet members, including his education czar and Tennessee’s Medicaid chief, didn’t submit applications or provide any documents outlining why they deserved the jobs he gave them.
The Associated Press reviewed all the applications submitted to Lee’s office during his transition. These public records included submissions for cabinet spots as well as other top jobs in the executive branch.
More than 1,400 applicants, mostly based in Tennessee, reached out to Lee’s office seeking employment. However, only a few were chosen from this pile to work in his administration.
“In roughly 90 days, Gov. Lee and the transition team built a complete cabinet and senior staff that was ready to hit the ground running on day one,” said Laine Arnold, Lee’s spokeswoman, in a statement. “With the governor’s extensive business and non-profit network, as well as the many Tennesseans he visited with and got to know leading up to his election, this provided a significant pool to engage with leaders who are the most qualified and prepared to advance his agenda.”
It took the governor’s office more than five weeks to make the applications and other materials available for viewing by the AP. Officials balked at providing copies, estimating that it would charge $2,236 to do so. The public can view public records for free in Tennessee, but are prevented from making their own copies or taking pictures of them while reviewing the documents, so the AP took the time to take notes and build its own database.
The records showed how Lee -- a first-time politician who ran on being a political outsider during the 2018 campaign -- assembled his team. Lee had set up a website during the transition, asking the public to apply for jobs in his administration, and his aides repeatedly touted how many people responded.
At the cabinet level, only nine of Lee’s 23 current members submitted a resume or cover letter to the administration for review. These applicants include Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Labor and Workforce Commissioner Jeff McCord.
The top two paid cabinet members, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and TennCare Director Gabe Roberts, did not provide or present application materials.
During the AP’s review, Lee’s staff provided an additional list of names which included many other applicants for cabinet positions. The list did not include application materials, but Lee’s staffers said it was compiled to show who was considered for positions even if they didn’t submit an application.
Lee’s staff said no application documents have been destroyed since Lee took office.
Altogether, the applicants included chief executive officers of businesses across Tennessee, local mayors, police chiefs, legislative interns and campaign staffers from both Republican and Democratic candidates. Staffers for U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean all showed interest in jobs after the November election.
While not all applicants indicated the position they sought, several did; for example, former FedEx Freight President and CEO Mike Ducker submitted an application to be Lee’s economic and community development commissioner. Ducker retired from his FedEx position last August, shortly after donating $4,000 to Lee’s campaign.
Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee, sought the same position, though her application also noted she was considered for finance and administration commissioner. She didn’t receive either job.
A. Yarnell Beatty, the Tennessee Medical Association’s legal and governmental affairs director, applied to be state health commissioner. That job went to Piercey, former executive vice president of West Tennessee Healthcare.
Failed congressional candidate and former state Rep. Judd Matheny wasn’t hired, despite sending a resume asking to be either safety and homeland security commissioner, a state parole board member, or a legislative liaison. At least four other candidates also sought the same commissioner position, but it eventually went to Jeff Long, a former Williams County sheriff.
Circuit Court Judge Larry Wallace, who has been on the bench since 2006, asked Lee’s administration to consider him for legal counsel. Wallace was the only judge to ask the newly elected governor for a job. He was not hired for the non-cabinet position.
Another noteworthy submission came from Lois Jordan, the first woman elected to Nashville’s city council in 1971. She was not hired.
Not in the list was former Republican gubernatorial candidate Diane Black — a former political opponent who was long rumored to be angling for a post with Lee’s administration. After campaigning heavily against Lee, she was rumored to be seeking a job with the Republican but has not yet been hired by Lee.
Former state Rep. Joe Carr also applied for a job. Though he submitted a resume before Lee was sworn into office in January, Carr eventually was hired in late March as assistant commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Lee was sworn into office in January and has been in office for roughly 100 days.
“It’s important to note that personnel selection is just one part of the transition process that also invited Tennesseans to share their ideas for improving state government. As we celebrate 100 days in office, Gov. Lee is pleased with the perspectives and caliber of leadership that this group has shown,” Arnold said.
Reporter Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report from Nashville.