Senate panel deals new blow to Gov. Haslam's proposed new UT board nominees

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam

NASHVILLE - The Senate Education Committee on Thursday delivered another stinging rebuke to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed nominees for the new University of Tennessee system board of trustees.

Nashville attorney and lobbyist Melvin Malone's nomination failed when he received only four of the five required votes from the nine-member GOP-run panel.

Chairwoman Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, then asked Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who is handling the confirmations, to send the resolutions for Sharon Pryse, Bill Evans and Brad Lampley to a general subcommittee, often a symbol of death for bills and resolutions going nowhere.

Pryse, Evans and Lampley are all members of the current UT system board, which Haslam, a Republican, is seeking to refashion with his UT Focus Act approved this month by the GOP-run General Assembly.

On Wednesday, Raja Jubran, the current UT board vice chairman and a personal friend of Haslam, a Republican, withdrew his name from contention when it became clear that lawmakers would not approve him.

Conservative Republican lawmakers are furious over controversies, primarily at the UT-Knoxville campus involving "Sex Week," a sometimes provocative, student-led program to teach fellow students about safe sex practices and how to deal with sexual harassment and assault and other issues, including last year's blow-up in Knoxville's athletic department.

With regard to Malone, Sen. Joey Hensley, R- Hohenwald, said, "I just don't think it's appropriate for a lobbyist to be on the UT board."

Chairwoman Gresham, Hensley and two other members passed on voting for Malone. One member, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, wasn't present. Four members voted yes. It needed five votes for passage.

Lampley is an attorney and lobbyist, as well.

Norris later said he believes Gresham's philosophy is that "if you're starting with a new board, we need to start with a new board and need to have new members. And that's what they chalked it up to."

He said that while "I could have made a fuss over it and tried to forge ahead" on the other nominees, it appeared clear given Malone's experience that it wasn't worthwhile.

In a later statement, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who is the Senate speaker, said "in order to create a true fresh start for the University of Tennessee, the Senate Education Committee elected to confirm only those individuals not currently serving on the board of trustees."

McNally said "the success of the new individual boards for our Board of Regents universities is persuasive proof a completely fresh start is the wisest course for the University of Tennessee. In addition, the General Assembly has been making a concerted effort to reduce the number of lobbyists sitting on the state's boards and commissions."

McNally said, "I look forward to this newly confirmed board continuing the standard of excellence we expect from the University of Tennessee system."

On Wednesday, the House Administration and Planning Committee approved all the nominees with the exception of Jubran, who had withdrawn his name.

Senate Education Committee members on Thursday did confirm five of Haslam's nominees, including Kim White, president of the River City Company, a nonprofit group involved in downtown Chattanooga projects.

Others confirmed were former Pepsico president John Compton, Kara Lawson, Donnie Smith and William Rhodes IV. All five nominations are now going to the Senate floor.

Haslam Press Secretary Jennifer Donnals said in an email that the governor "is disappointed by these circumstances, but remains very optimistic about the outcomes that will result from the UT FOCUS Act."

She said the governor "congratulates the exceptional individuals approved by the legislative committees this week and is hopeful full Senate and House confirmation will take place in the coming days."

Haslam is thanking the rejected nominees who gave what the administration says was "outstanding service to the University of Tennessee throughout their time as students, alumni and in their service on the Board of Trustees."

Norris said the new 12-member board, which includes a non-voting student member, will be able to function with the five nominees because the state agriculture commissioner is also on the panel because of his position.

Speaking later with reporters, McNally pointed out the new law allows Haslam to make emergency appointments. But they will have to be confirmed later by lawmakers. That would happen next year.

The term-limited Haslam leaves office in January.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.