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Tennessee General Assembly Demands Answers from State Agency Over its Diversity and Equity Program
May 11, 2021 Chris Butler
Tennessee State Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) has formally asked Tennessee Department of Human Resources (DOHR) Commissioner Juan Williams to explain the diversity and equity council program he wants state agencies to enforce.
In his letter, Ragan requested that Williams justify his actions — in a timely manner — and explain how much it will cost taxpayers.
Ragan chairs the Tennessee General Assembly’s Government Operations Committee. Committee members meet during the summer to ensure that state government officials do not waste taxpayer money and perform their duties in the most efficient and effective and least costly manner possible.
Ragan told The Tennessee Star Monday that Williams and members of his staff formally acknowledged receiving his letter — but they have yet to formally respond.
“My concerns [about the diversity and equity council] fall into two categories. First, I want to know whether this is an internal policy, only going to affect people inside their department or if it was going to affect people outside their department. My concern there is because I chair the Government Operations Committee. Our TCA Code 4-5-102 lays out guidelines for what’s policy and what has to be rules. So I am trying to get that issue resolved,” Ragan said.
“The second thing of concern to me is I did not see anything related to costs. What is this going to cost us in terms of expenditures of doing training or having meetings or whatever it is they are going to do? That, of course, is related to an issue that goes both ways on both of these things. What state or federal guidelines was this effort in response to?”
DOHR staff did not return a request for comment Monday, and neither did staff for Gov. Bill Lee, who appointed Williams.
Without informing anybody, at least not in a straightforward manner, DOHR officials this year snuck in their diversity and equity council program
Lee, according to the DOHR’s 2020 Annual Report, told Williams in June of last year “to build a framework for strengthening efforts around the employee experience in our workplace.” But Williams took Lee’s original mandate and apparently distorted it into something else entirely — indoctrinating the DOHR and all other state agencies into woke politics and left-wing Diversity and Equity propaganda.
The annual report said DOHR staff, also in June of last year, “established a statewide framework to sustain Diversity & Equity [D&E].”
“Recent events have highlighted a need to foster an environment in which conversations about race, diversity, and equity are productive and thoughtful parts of the employee experience,” according to the 2020 DOHR Annual Report.
DOHR staff said they wanted to make working for the State of Tennessee “an edifying and equitable experience for all employees who have chosen the calling of public service.”
“As we navigate D&E together, the statewide framework is designed to engage all stakeholders in sustaining diversity and equity now and in the future,” according to the report.
Last October, DOHR officials, according to their annual report, released a Starting the Conversation Guide “to facilitate healthy discussions on diversity and equity.”
The Star obtained another DOHR document that calls for “Diversity and Equity Champions” to connect directly with an Enterprise Diversity and Equity Council and also connect with teams who focus on Leadership Development and Diversity and Equity Strategy. The stated vision: “To ensure working for the State of Tennessee continues to be a fair and equitable experience for every single employee by creating an environment in which employees thrive.”
Each state agency, the DOHR document went on to say, should establish an action plan that, among other things, requires that State of Tennessee employees discuss race and diversity and develop strategies to address inequities. Another part of the plan requires state employees to educate themselves about work-related D&E through conferences, newsletters, and team-building activities.
Sources who are familiar with the situation informed The Star that Lee is now aware of these rogue staff efforts to distort his June 2020 charge to DHR by inserting “diversity and equity” into his order. Those sources said Lee will directly address the issue with DHR leadership this week.
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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