Lawmaker questions TBR chancellor about Northeast State financial woes

NASHVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Flora Tydings drove to Kingsport to meet with Rep. Bud Hulsey (R), TN-District 2, earlier this week after he spoke out about the past financial problems at Northeast State Community College the week before.

Rep. Hulsey raised multiple concerns during a Joint Government Operations subcommittee hearing in Nashville last week.

“There is a great deal of mistrust,” he said during the hearing.

A $5 million budget shortfall at Northeast State led to massive cuts earlier this year. Rep. Hulsey is one of four area lawmakers who asked the Comptroller of the Treasury to investigate the situation further last month after we discovered TBR knew Northeast State’s financial survival was in question as far back as 2013.

While state auditors review the situation, Rep. Hulsey asked to share his concerns directly with TBR leaders at a Higher Education audit meeting.

“How in the world did that happen when there’s four financial records a year go to the board, red flags everywhere, people in leadership where I live came down here multiple times, saying ‘Please do something’ and it was ignored?” Hulsey asked.

Although Dr. Tydings was not in charge in the years leading up to the budget problems at Northeast State, she did take over as chancellor before the school eliminated dozens of positions.

“One of (the employees) in my district had 26 years there, lost her house when she lost her position,” Rep. Hulsey said.

Not only did the lawmaker question TBR’s former leadership, he also questioned decisions made by former Northeast State President Dr. Janice Gilliam.

“In the same time that was going on, she created jobs for high paying positions, at least 10 I know of and I’m not sure that I’ve got a handle on all of them,” Rep. Hulsey said. “What I’m asking you is are you planning to make it right and take care of these high paying over $100,000 jobs created for folks that were unnecessary when there’s a decline?”

In her response, Dr. Tydings reiterated what TBR has repeatedly said.

“I feel like we’re in a good position there now,” she said.

She also asked a vice chancellor to address some of the steps the agency’s taken to try and prevent future budget problems, which include better training for college presidents about financial indicators, corrective action plans when necessary and more accountability.

“We I think have improved the education surrounding financial awareness and I think we are more frequently reaching out and touching the institutions going forward,” Vice Chancellor of Business and Finance Danny Gibbs said.

Before the hearing ended, Dr. Tydings also apologized for a communication breakdown that left Rep. Hulsey waiting for a response for months.

“I apologize and I had absolutely no idea he had been trying to get in touch with us for two months and when you told me that, I immediately picked up the phone and called him back,” she said to the chairman.

That followed Rep. Jeremy Faison (R), TN-District 11, telling her, “You need to call (lawmakers) back.”

A TBR spokesperson said following that meeting, Chancellor Tydings drove to our area this week and met with Rep. Hulsey again in person.

“They discussed his questions and concerns and she answered each of them,” TBR Communications Director Rick Locker said. “She apologized for whatever confusion there was over his calls and gave him her cellphone number to call her on if he ever has any other questions or concerns. Rep. Hulsey can, of course, speak for himself but I think it’s fair to say that he appreciated her visit.”

Rep. Hulsey told us today he did appreciate the effort.

Despite the previous financial trouble, TBR expects Northeast State to end the year with a positive balance.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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