Haslam stresses transparency in first meeting of Cabinet
Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2011 8:57 pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam stressed the themes of transparency, responsiveness and humility at his first full Cabinet meeting Wednesday even as he defended a decision to scrap financial disclosure rules for himself and other top officials.
Haslam, who took office Saturday, said the meeting was meant to underscore the need to get the new administration up and running as soon as possible.
“There’s a couple ways you can lose that trust at that table, and one of those would be to have an arrogant attitude,” Haslam said at a news conference following the Cabinet meeting
“You only get one chance to start fresh,” the Republican added. “First impressions do matter, and the culture you set up early does matter.”
Haslam dismissed reporters’ questions about the early impressions he might have given by signing an executive order the same day he took office to scuttle the previous administration’s rules requiring the governor and top aides to disclose their annual earnings from outside sources.
“There was no secret about any of this or how I felt about it when I ran, and ultimately I think the people of Tennessee felt very comfortable with it,” Haslam said.
The move keeps Haslam from having to disclose income from his undisclosed share in family-owned Pilot Flying J, a national truck stop chain with annual revenues of about $20 billion. Haslam is also keeping his Pilot holdings outside of a blind trust he has created for other investments.
Haslam denied that he was lowering the disclosure standards set by his predecessor, Democrat Phil Bredesen.
“I think it is the highest ethical standard,” he insisted. “We’re telling everybody exactly what we own. I don’t think that that next step of telling exactly what that amount is makes a difference.”
The governor said he doesn’t consider it a conflict of interest for chief administration lobbyist Dale Kelley, who earns a state salary of $135,000 a year, to serve simultaneously as part-time mayor of Huntingdon. But Kelley will not take the helm of the Tennessee Municipal League, as he had been scheduled to do.
“We both agreed he should not be head of TML because it’s a lobbying agency,” Haslam said.
No blanket ban has been placed on Cabinet members serving on corporate boards.
“We’re looking at those on a case-by-case basis, making certain that we can hold everybody to those highest ethical standards, where there’s no conflict at all,” Haslam said.
Haslam’s new finance commissioner, Mark Emkes, is the former CEO of Bridgestone Americas and serves on the boards of Franklin-based filter maker Clarcor Inc.; Memphis-based First Horizon National Corp.; and industrial packaging company Greif Inc. of Delaware, Ohio.
Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty serves on the boards of Boston-based publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. and independent futures brokerage R.J. O’Brien of Chicago.
Haslam also announced the administration is putting a 45-day freeze on new rules or regulations. The move is meant to ensure that the state isn’t “doing anything to hinder our ability to create jobs.”
The governor said the rules suspension won’t affect areas that could harm public health or safety, or those required through court orders.
Published in The Messenger 1.20.11