- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Oct. 28

The Johnson City Press on dealing with habitual DUI offenders:

It’s not uncommon to read in this paper of a habitual motor vehicle offender, who while driving on a revoked license, is charged with a third or fourth offense of DUI.

These reports serve as a sobering reminder of why changes are needed to the state’s DUI laws. Specifically, state lawmakers must do more to address the problem of offenders who repeatedly put themselves and anyone they meet on the road in jeopardy.

But how? That’s the question that has vexed law enforcement officials, lawmakers and concerned citizens for years.

One option (which has been implemented by Tennessee in recent years) is to require the vehicles of repeat DUI offenders be equipped with ignition locks. Officials say this measure has helped in some cases, but much more is needed.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to address this problem is to increase funding for intensive substance abuse programs. Too often, such programs for DUI offenders are lost to budget cuts. That shouldn’t happen.

As we’ve noted in this space before, no matter how tough state lawmakers make the penalties for drunken driving, some people still do it again and again. Many Tennesseans believe locking up repeat DUI offenders and throwing away the key is the only way to deal with the problem.

It is, however, a very expensive way to address habitual DUI offenders.

Maybe it’s time for a different approach, one that incorporates both treatment and punishment. This is a subject members of the Tennessee General Assembly should make a priority when they return to work in January.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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Nov. 1

The Tennessean on sexual harassment in state government:

Standards, expectations and consequences regarding sexual harassment should be consistent across Tennessee state government.

It must be clear that sexual harassment is not to be tolerated.

In addition, all complaint reports need to become part of the public record so taxpayers can understand the extent of the problem and how state officials are addressing it.

Attention on this matter stems from a Tennessean investigation related to the conduct of former state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin.

His colleagues expelled him in September after the release of an attorney general’s office report documenting the sexual harassment accusations of 22 women against him. That created a hostile environment in the legislature.

Fellow lawmakers were zealous about ousting Durham after he became a political liability; however, the Tennessee General Assembly keeps records of sexual harassment complaints secret.

Forty-four of 45 state agencies or departments at the executive and judicial branch levels treat these complaints as public documents. Only the legislative branch - the General Assembly - does not.

According to the public record requests fulfilled, there have been 460 sexual harassment complaints made since 2010, or an average of one per week.

In some cases, an investigation found no merit to the complaint. However, some agencies had no clear sexual harassment policy, and punishment was inconsistent across departments.

For example, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development handed a two-day suspension without pay to a security guard who admitted groping a co-worker.

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce and Insurance dismissed an employee who had made several racially and sexually offensive comments.

Up to 85 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission also is working on making standards and consequences consistent at the federal level.

That is good news and a good example for the state at all levels to follow.

There needs to be consistency to emphasize the seriousness of the complaints but also to treat the 40,000 state employees fairly.

Regarding transparency, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said consideration of victims’ privacy is what merits secrecy of the complaints: “Sexual harassment cannot be effectively combated without complete confidentiality of complaints. If strict confidentiality is not respected, complainants will not come forward and sexual harassers will continue to offend,” he said in a statement.

The privacy of victims is important, but that can be protected without denying the public the opportunity to examine the details in each complaint.

In the Durham report, for example, people interviewed in the investigation were identified as Jane Doe or John Doe.

The details, however, were presented raw and showed what a distraction Durham had become to the credibility and effectiveness of the legislature.

Tennesseans should know to what extent there is a culture of harassment at the Tennessee General Assembly.

Was Durham an outlier or was he part of a greater problem?

We just do not know, and the current system makes it appear as if lawmakers do not want the public to know.

Greater transparency - and consistency - can only benefit legislators and the public alike.

Online: https://www.tennessean.com/

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Nov. 2

The Knoxville News-Sentinel on the University of Tennessee chancellor search:

Pamela S. Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia, is the first known finalist for the chancellor’s position at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus.

UT officials are not calling her a finalist, however. They would rather play word games to get around state law than be candid with the people of Tennessee.

State law requires UT to publicly name finalists - defined as no fewer than three candidates - for top administrative positions. The law is designed to allow for a confidential search at the beginning of the process and public scrutiny of the top candidates at the end.

Last week, UT President Joe DiPietro announced three candidates would visit the state’s flagship campus in the coming weeks but refused to call them finalists.

“What I’m really worried about is that if these names become all public very quickly, it could blow this whole search up in terms of (keeping the candidates) in the process,” DiPietro said Friday.

Instead, DiPietro revealed that UT would post the curriculum vitae of each candidate on the university’s website the day before his or her visit to campus. UT posted Whitten’s curriculum vitae on Tuesday, and she arrives today for two days of meetings with students, faculty, staff and administrators.

After the three candidates visit, a search committee will officially recommend finalists to DiPietro. Matthew Scoggins, deputy general counsel at UT, said that because the search committee has not submitted a list of recommendations to the president, the candidates visiting campus should remain exempt from disclosure.

“They’re more finalists than other people who applied, and they’re in the final stages of this process, but they’re not finalists,” Scoggins said.

Given the way the law is written, however, publicly announcing Whitten’s candidacy essentially names her a finalist. The only conclusion one can draw from the process is that all three of the candidates scheduled for visits are finalists, despite Scoggins’ assertion to the contrary.

The News Sentinel has submitted a public records request for the finalists’ application documents.

UT received 62 formal applications. The candidates are vying to replace Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, who announced in June that he was stepping down to return to teaching. UT is using Parker Executive Search firm to assist in the search for a fee of $75,000 plus expenses.

Secrecy is a recurring and troubling theme in UT’s hiring of top administrators. In 2002, for example, UT conducted parallel searches - one public, one private - for a new president. Each search produced one finalist, and the university chose John Shumaker from the private pool. Shumaker resigned after 14 months amid ethical and financial scandals.

The search that resulted in DiPietro becoming president in 2010 was more open and should have been emulated. After a private search firm did the initial screening, a UT search committee publicly named five semifinalists, then two finalists before the board of trustees voted for DiPietro.

Identifying finalists serially is not following the spirit of the law and undermines public confidence in the process. As the state’s premier public educational institution, UT must be more forthcoming.

Online: https://www.knoxnews.com/

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