published Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Gov. Bill Haslam's 'top-to-bottom reviews' of Tennessee state operations bear fruit

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam said a controversial recommendation to close Taft Youth Center near Pikeville is "very persuasive."

If the center is closed, its 90 or so teen inmates would be moved to four other centers scattered across the state. The proposal, suggested by Children's Services Commissioner Kathryn O'Day, would save about $4.4 million.

"I still have some homework to do," Haslam said. "But I think Kate's basic argument of does it make sense to have four facilities that are 100 percent full and five that are 80 percent full is very persuasive."

In a wide-ranging Times Free Press interview last week about his first year in office, Haslam said he is "particularly inclined" to go along with the proposal sooner rather than later.

He cited O'Day's argument that many of Taft's 167 employees should be able to find jobs at the nearby $208 million Bledsoe Correctional Complex, a prison for adults that's slated to open in 2013.

Haslam, a Republican who took office last January, said O'Day's proposal emerged from his directive to all departments and agencies that they conduct exhaustive "top-to-bottom reviews" of their operations. The review's purpose is to ferret out savings, streamline operations and make state government operate more efficiently as he prepared his proposed 2012-13 budget.

But the Taft proposal and another proposal to close Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville are proving controversial.

A bipartisan group of area lawmakers already oppose closing Taft. They question the cost savings and O'Day's assertions that the aging center is the state's least efficient, is too remote and needs $37 million in improvements.

They also worry about the impact on the local economy if Taft is closed.

Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, whose district includes Bledsoe County where Taft is located, said the governor should take into account Bledsoe County's low cost of living compared to other youth centers in Nashville and Memphis. The fourth center is in rural west Tennessee.

"I appreciate the governor asking for more detailed information and taking a little closer look at the closing of Taft and using his business background and expertise before he presents his final budget," Cameron said.

Taft is the most secure facility and already handles problem cases from the other centers, he said, so the state should look at closing one of those other facilities and shifting residents to Taft.

Haslam said he is still sorting through various cost-cutting recommendations he will present to lawmakers early next year.

"We're trying to wrestle through the budget but also then kind of the service implications," Haslam said. "I've asked for additional data on [Taft] and other facilities as well, both in terms of their impact on, in this case kids that are served, but also financial implications for the facilities."

He said he and his staff are "going through the budget now, literally line by line" in an effort to examine "cross-departmental consequences" of various recommendations.

The current budget largely followed the proposals sketched out by his predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, which Haslam inherited when he took office.

It's a move often used by new governors, who usually have little time to fully develop their own spending plans. Now Haslam is crafting a budget incorporating his administration's ideas.

"It helps to be one more year into the budget," Haslam said. "So again, the questions I'm asking the budget team this year -- it's not like I'm on the graduate school level -- but I've definitely moved to a different level than I was before."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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pikeville said...

Everything our Governor is being told about TYC is a LIE. Either his commissioner is trying to set the stage for her own gain when she leaves office,or Dept Comm. Dawson is misinforming her to achieve a goal a certain group in Nashville have tried to accomplish for years. Seems funny to me Mr. Dawson was TYC #1 supported at his last job at WHYDC. Under Dawson's leadership at WHYDC he transferred more youth to TYC than the other two facilities combined. Funny isn't it? Now he wants to close it. Wonder why? Anyone who is interested in hearing the TRUTH about the areas oldest employer and the states #1 rehabilitation/treatment center for youth. Come to Bledsoe County courthouse Jan. 3rd @ 5:00pm cst. There you will find a bi-patrician group of lawmakers and Judges who are fighting to let our Governor know the truth!!!!!

December 30, 2011 at 2:01 p.m.
pikeville said...

O'Day told Haslam during a November budget hearing that Taft is the system's most costly facility, with a $12 million annual operating budget and as much as $37 million in capital needs. By closing Taft, the department would save $4.4 million a year, according to O'Day. Most of the 167 people who work at Taft are trained by the Tennessee Department of Correction and should be able to find jobs at the nearby $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, slated to open in 2013, O'Day said. O'Day responded Friday, saying the $37 million in repairs and updates needed at Taft includes repairs to its 1932-era boiler, replacement of a security building and kitchen facility and construction of new dormitories, which were built in 1943 and 1963. Taft was built in 1918. These are direct quotes from the commissioner of children’s services Kate O’Day. This is the same commissioner that told Governor Haslam during budget hearings in Knoxville last month;“there is no differentiating line between Dependent Neglect/Foster Children and Juvenile Justice kids.” Either this commissioner is being badly misinformed from within her own department, or she is misleading the Governor and the taxpayers for another reason. This is the facts of the case! 1. Tafts total budget is 12,328,500. In this 12.3 million there is the operating costs of a water plant that serves thousands of residents, SETRCF, and Fall Creek Falls State Park. The state will not allow Taft to profit from the water sales, in fact they don’t let them break even. In this budget number TRICOR farm utilities are deducted. This is a large milk producing farm that runs 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. The costs to operate these things are 400,000 dollars annually. This drops Tafts budget to 11,928,500 in comparison WHYDC’s in Nashville budget is 12,148,400 Wilder in west Tn. 11,342,300 MVYDC in east Tn. 11,287,700. Considering Taft returned over 800,000 dollars in 2010 and 1.2 million in 2009 saying Taft is the most expensive is misleading. 2. Ms.O’Day says Taft needs 37 million in repairs of this 37 million she has listed 1932 era boiler, new security complex, and kitchen. 1948 and 1963 dorms. Even if all this were true it is a far cry from 37 million. The truth is Taft has 2 new boilers powered by natural gas installed in Oct.2005, There was a new state of the art security complex built in 2006, The dorms and kitchen were totally renovated in 1982. Taft was accredited by ACA in 2009 with a score of 99.9. The lowest score the kitchen has ever received from the health department going back 6 years is 93. As I said earlier either this commissioner is being badly misinformed from within her own department or she is misleading the Governor and the tax payers for another reason? You be the judge!!

January 1, 2012 at 1:28 p.m.
Crossville said...

I still say it would be very interesting to actually get to see how the $37 million was came to. I would really like the opportunity to see that... I'm sure we won't get to though.

January 2, 2012 at 8:28 p.m.
Crossville said...

Concerning the article "Meeting on proposed Taft Youth Development Center closure set Tuesday" (since it won’t let me post on it).... I have read 2 or 3 times in these articles that Ms. O’Day has said that the Taft employees were trained by the Tennessee Department of Correction and could get a job at the new prison being built. I would like to say that Taft employees may be trained at that academy, but they are trained in different classes. All juvenile institutions go there for training and it has NOTHING to do with the department of corrections. I feel that is being said to soften the blow to the public about so many jobs being sacrificed. The fact is the training that is received by ALL juvenile institutions at the Tennessee Correction Academy does not qualify any of them for the Department of Corrections. There are very distinct differences in working with juveniles and working in the adult prison system. The statement is very misleading to the public that those employees can just move right over into Department of Corrections when in fact they have no qualifications to do so!

January 2, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.
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