NASHVILLE — A Tennessee lawmaker who supports Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's efforts to privatize Fall Creek Falls State Park's hospitality operations has introduced legislation targeting the Tennessee State Employees Association, which is fighting the outsourcing.
Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, whose district includes the park, filed the bill, which would end state government's automatic payroll dues deductions for state workers who are employees association members.
TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps told the Times Free Press in an interview he sees the bill as punishment for the employees group's opposition.
"I do see it as retaliation and again I think we're perfectly within our rights when we see a public policy that impacts state employees but also impacts the entire state to take a stand and become involved," Stamps said.
But Sexton countered that he believes "Randy's probably using Fall Creek Falls as a recruitment tool for them."
Sexton said that's Stamp's and TSEA's "right" just as a state worker has "a right to be a member" of the employees association.
The lawmaker, however, noted he is "just about the state employees feeling that the state association is using intimidation or coercion to try to get people to sign up who weren't wanting to be [members], and maybe Randy's using causes to pressure people into enrolling and it should be their decision if they want to."
State workers' participation in TSEA is strictly voluntary.
"I just don't think that Randy should be able to use payroll deduction when there's that little number of people who are actually employees [who are TSEA members]," Sexton said. "And if employees actually want to do it, they should write a separate check."
Similar efforts in previous years targeting the Tennessee Education Association, which represents many public school educators, failed in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
The Haslam administration, which last year successfully sought a $22 million budget provision to tear down and replace Fall Creek Fall's inn, is engaged in a request for proposal process to find a for-profit company interested in running that park's hospitality aspects, including the inn and restaurant.
The state employees association is opposed, questioning why the state went years without making major improvements at the park, only to invest large sums now to entice a private company to operate hospitality services there.
The group also is concerned about the future jobs of current workers, who now work for the state, if a private company takes over.
Van Buren County officials, meanwhile, fear a two-year closure of the inn and restaurant for improvements and a resulting loss of sales tax revenue will hit the tiny county's revenues hard.
Sexton described the park as a "vital economic spur for that area, especially for Van Buren County.
"What the department is doing, what the administration is doing, is trying to make that a long-term success," he said.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.
This story was updated Feb. 6 at 11:30 p.m.