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Senate Aide Fired, Caught Doing Political Work on State Time

An aide to Sen. Ophelia Ford was fired Tuesday in the wake of a TNReport story that showed him apparently conducting political work while collecting his state paycheck.

“As of today, Derek Hummel’s employment with the Tennessee General Assembly has been terminated,” Office of Legislative Administration official Tammy Rather told TNReport via email.

Hummel had been executive secretary for Ford, D-Memphis, since April, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. He’s also been working for the Phillip North campaign, a Democrat locked in a tight race against Republican Steve Dickerson for a Davidson County state Senate seat.

Over the past three months, Hummel had apparently been conducting political activities during state business hours on his state-issued computer, according to phone records, Facebook postings and documents reviewed by TNReport.

Hummel had identified himself as field director for the Phillip North for State Senate campaign. Hummel was paid $625 in September by the North campaign, according to campaign finance filings released last week.

Attempts to reach Ford have been unsuccessful. A call and an email to the Phillip North campaign have now gone unreturned for more than 48 hours.

Hummel abruptly hung up on TNReport on Monday.

TNReport will update this story if we hear back from any of those we have contacted.

According to a state law called the “Little Hatch Act,” state employees are prohibited from “engaging in political activity not directly a part of that person’s employment during any period when the person should be conducting business of the state.” The law mirrors the federal Hatch Act.

Examples that suggest Hummel may have been conducting political activities while collecting a state paycheck include:

+ Under a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post, Hummel on July 25 at 10:07 a.m. urged readers to sign a political petition. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

+ Under an ‘Americans Against the Tea Party’ Facebook post, Hummel on July 26 discussed a Tennessee Democratic Party petition at 11:15 a.m., 11:19 a.m. and 12:51 p.m. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day, again 8 to 4:30. On one of those posts he made during business hours Hummel mentioned how an intern for the Democratic Party had drafted the petition dictated by him “because, by state law, we can’t meddle in politics during business hours.”

+ During a phone call taken by Hummel on a non-state cell phone — a recording was provided to TNReport from someone who said they made the call on Sept. 24 during work hours — he talked about working throughout the week on ‘get out the vote’ efforts in his role as field director for the North campaign. State records show he was paid by the state for working that day.

+ On a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post that links to North’s views on a Nashville school issue, Hummel commented on Sept. 18 at 3:48 p.m. State records show Hummel was paid by the state for working that day.

+ On a ‘North for Senate’ Facebook post on Sept. 21 at 4:21 p.m., Hummel’s cell phone number was posted with a message asking volunteers to call. State records show that Hummel was paid for working that day.

+ On Hummel’s desk and on web browser tabs on his state desktop computer, TNReport last week observed campaign documents connected to the North campaign and campaigning in general. (TNReport did not open any desk drawers or search the computer other than to look at the tabs that were open on the computer screen.)

It is not uncommon for staffers in the Tennessee General Assembly to participate in political work, but it is common practice for those staffers to provide notice to the Senate’s chief of staff or to Legislative Administration officials saying they are taking hours off, days off, or a leave of absence for that political work.

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’Tis the Season: Campaign Time on Taxpayer Dime

A Tennessee Senate staffer appears to have been doing political work while collecting a full-time state paycheck, an apparent violation of state law, public records and documents reviewed by TNReport show.

Derek Hummel has been executive secretary for Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, since April of this year, drawing a $30,468 annual salary. Over the past three months, he has also been conducting political activities during state business hours on his state-issued computer, according to phone records and Facebook postings.

Hummel has identified himself as field director for the Phillip North for State Senate campaign. Hummel was paid $625 in September by the North campaign, according to campaign finance filings released last week.

When TNReport visited Ford’s office at the Capitol last week to interview Hummel, no one was present, but Hummel’s desk was strewn with what appeared to be campaign material, and political documents were visible on his taxpayer-funded desktop computer.

During an attempt to interview Hummel today, he accused TNReport of violating state law by calling him on his government-office phone.

“You’re an idiot,” Hummel told TNReport. “I’m calling Bill Fletcher,” he added, before abruptly hanging up. Fletcher is a prominent Tennessee Democratic campaign advertising specialist and political strategist.

A call and an email to the Phillip North campaign have gone unreturned. Attempts to leave a message with Sen. Ford at her Memphis office were unsuccessful because her voicemail box was full.

According to a state law call the “Little Hatch Act,” state employees are prohibited from “engaging in political activity not directly a part of that person’s employment during any period when the person should be conducting business of the state.” The law mirrors the federal Hatch Act.

Examples that suggest Hummel may have been conducting political activities while collecting a state paycheck include:

+Under a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post, Hummel on July 25 at 10:07 a.m. urged readers to sign a political petition. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

+Under an ‘Americans Against the Tea Party’ Facebook post, Hummel on July 26 discussed a Tennessee Democratic Party petition at 11:15 a.m., 11:19 a.m. and 12:51 p.m. Records signed by Hummel show he was working for the state that day, again 8 to 4:30. On one of those posts he makes during business hours Hummel mentioned how an intern for the Democratic Party had drafted the petition dictated by him “because, by state law, we can’t meddle in politics during business hours.”

+During a phone call taken by Hummel on a non-state cell phone — a recording was provided to TNReport from someone who said they made the call on Sept. 24 during work hours — he talked about working throughout the week on ‘get out the vote’ efforts in his role as field director for the North campaign. State records show he was paid by the state that day.

+On a Tennessee Democratic Party Facebook post that links to North’s views on a Nashville school issue, Hummel commented on Sept. 18 at 3:48 p.m. State records show Hummel was paid by the state for working that day.

+On a ‘North for Senate’ Facebook post on Sept. 21 at 4:21 p.m., Hummel’s cell phone number is posted with a message asking volunteers to call. State records show that Hummel was paid for working that day.

+On Hummel’s desk and on web browser tabs on his state desktop computer, TNReport last week observed campaign documents connected to the North campaign and campaigning in general. (TNReport did not open any desk drawers or search the computer other than to look at the tabs that were open on the computer screen.)

It is not uncommon for staffers in the Tennessee General Assembly to participate in political work, but it is common practice for those staffers to provide notice to the Senate’s chief of staff or to Legislative Administration officials saying they are taking hours off, days off, or a leave of absence for that political work.

In the case of Hummel, it appears he did no such thing: The Senate “does not have any correspondence from Mr. Derek Hummel concerning leave of absences,” Connie Ridley, director of the Office of Legislative Administration, said via email in response to a records request from TNReport.

A spokesman for the lieutenant governor’s office, to whom all Senate staff officially report, declined comment.

Charges of elected officials and their staff using taxpayer dollars to boost political activities are heard occasionally throughout Tennessee.

For example, earlier this year, a reception sponsored by East Ridge city officials for a congressional candidate drew questions about how local taxpayer money was used.

The reception, for Scottie Mayfield, a Republican running for Tennessee’s 3rd District seat, took place while employees were on the clock, and about $80 in city funds were spent on snacks for the employees, according to the Chattanooga Times Free-Press.

City Manager Tim Gobble insisted that the reception was not meant to be an endorsement and was an attempt to be “hospitable,” but other city leaders have said it was an inappropriate use of city funds, according to the paper’s report.

And last year, Democrats accused Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, of violating the Little Hatch Act, saying it was illegal for Ramsey to use his publicly funded office to promote his “Red Tape” initiative because it is funded by his political action committee, RAAMPAC.

Ramsey denied doing anything wrong, and soon after, Drew Rawlins, the executive director of the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, said he saw no evidence of ethical wrongdoing.

But Rawlins also said his office does not handle alleged Little Hatch Act violations. Because the Little Hatch Act is a criminal statute, that task would fall to Tennessee’s district attorneys, as it did two years ago in Bradley County.

An investigation was launched after Bradley County’s Board of Education chairman and vice chairman sent an e-mail to 800 county school employees endorsing a county mayoral candidate in the Republican Primary, according to the Cleveland Daily Banner.

No charges were filed in that case.

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Ramsey: Signs Pointing Toward GOP Supermajority in Senate

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTYwGvWGVE[/youtube]


Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
says that come Election Day, Republicans will enjoy a supermajority in the Tennessee Senate — meaning that the GOP will not need any Democratic support to pass legislation.

“I do think we’re going to have the supermajority,” Ramsey told TNReport. “There are six seats we’re playing in, and none of us as incumbent Republicans have serious opposition. This is the first time I’ve ever run without an opponent.”

Republicans need to win two more seats to snag the supermajority, or 22 of the 33 seats.

And if money talks, Ramsey may be right. GOP candidates for state Senate have a massive financial lead going into the final days of their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports released by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The reports released this week show Republican Senate candidates with a more than 2-to-1 lead in terms of cash on hand. And when you add up the total amount of money raised in contested races, Republicans have outraised Democrats $1.8 million to $861,000 since Jan. 1, records show.

You can search all of the filings by clicking here.

Perhaps more telling is the amount of money spent in the past two months, which is what the most recent campaign finance reports show.

Of the six key races that Ramsey spoke of, Republicans have spent $384,041 and Democrats have spent $253,451, according to those filings.

That’s money that goes for newspaper and radio ads, campaign workers, mailings, food and gas to fill up the gas tank.

In only one of those races did the Democrat outspend his opponent. That was the race in Senate District 24, a West Tennessee district that spans from Obion County to Benton County.

In that race, Democrat Brad Thompson spent $111,372 over the past two months. His Republican opponent John Stevens spent $62,932 over that same period.

Most of the six races, though, more closely resemble the contest in Senate District 20, a district that surrounds downtown Nashville like a letter “C” spanning from Belle Meade to Goodlettsville. Republican Steve Dickerson plowed $54,941 into the race over the past two months. His opponent, Democrat Phillip North, spent $28,028 over that same period.

“I do think there will be significant gains,” Ramsey said. “Somewhere between two (Senate seats) to five or six.”

This is not the first time that Ramsey has been talking about a possible supermajority. Check out what he told the Nashville Scene and Nooga.com.

Other Senate seats identified as being in play include: