Press Release from the Transition Team of Tennessee Governor-Elect Bill Lee, November 27, 2018

Transition names three commissioners and several key personnel to the governor’s staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Lee announced his first cabinet appointments as well as several key appointments to his forthcoming gubernatorial staff.

“We have received a tremendous amount of interest from Tennesseans across the state who are interested in serving our administration,” said Lee. “I am proud to announce these first members of my cabinet and staff. They are highly qualified to lead in their respective areas and will be an important part in helping our state continue to grow.”

The Governor-elect named the following appointments to his cabinet today:

  • Danielle Barnes – Department of Human Services
  • Stuart McWhorter – Department of Finance and Administration
  • Marie Williams – Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Danielle Barnes currently serves as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and she will continue in that role. Prior to joining DHS, she served as Deputy Commissioner & General Counsel for the Tennessee Department of Human Resources. In her capacity, she had oversight over all legal issues within the Department, offering counsel and advice to her agency, other state agencies and individuals on employment law matters. Commissioner Barnes grew up in the Knoxville area. She received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College and her law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law.

Stuart McWhorter currently chairs inauguration planning efforts. He served as Finance Chairman for Governor-elect Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. McWhorter serves as Chairman and President of Clayton Associates, founded in 1996, an investment management company primarily focused on the early stage investment cycle in the healthcare and technology industries.

Crockett County native Marie Williams currently serves as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), and she will continue in that role. She leads the Department and their over 1,800 employees in assisting individuals in securing treatment and recovery services for serious mental illness, serious emotional disturbances, and substance abuse disorders. Prior to assuming the Commissioner role, she served as Deputy Commissioner and as the Assistant Commissioner of Mental Health Services where she worked collaboratively to expand consumer-based recovery services.

Governor-elect Lee also announced the following senior staff roles in the governor’s office:

  • Blake Harris – Chief of Staff
  • Butch Eley – Chief Operating Officer
  • Lang Wiseman – Deputy to the Governor & Chief Counsel
  • Chris Walker – Communications Director
  • Tony Niknejad – Policy Director
  • Laine Arnold – Press Secretary

Blake Harris currently serves as the Executive Director for Governor-elect Lee’s transition leadership team. He is an attorney and served as General Consultant for Bill Lee’s successful gubernatorial campaign. Responsible for overall campaign strategy for the campaign, he built the campaign team that helped propel Bill to victory this year.

Butch Eley currently serves as the Chairman for Governor-elect Lee’s transition leadership team. He most recently served as Chief Growth Officer of DBI Services, one of the nation’s leading providers of performance-driven operations and maintenance and asset management services. Prior to that, he founded Infrastructure Corporation of America in 1998 to provide comprehensive asset management solutions for infrastructure assets. Butch served on Bill Lee’s Business Advisory Coalition during his campaign and is a former member of the Republican Governor’s Association Executive Roundtable.

Lang Wiseman served as Campaign Counsel to Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. He founded Wiseman Bray PLLC in Memphis and specializes in business and commercial litigation. Lang currently serves on the University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees and also currently serves on Gov. Haslam’s Council for Judicial Appointments.

Chris Walker served as Communications Advisor to Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. Most recently, he worked in communications advisory roles with the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation. He has served in various capacities for former U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson and served as Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Richard Burr (NC). He also served in the George W. Bush administration as a Public Affairs officer at the Department of the Treasury and as a Defense Fellow at the Department of Defense.

Tony Niknejad served as the Policy Director for Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. Prior to that, he served as Tennessee State Director for the American Federation for Children. He also worked with the Republican Party of Kentucky in their historic retaking of the state House in 2016, as well as two Republican campaigns for congressional candidates in Georgia and Tennessee. He has also served as a policy staffer at the Tennessee State Senate and is the former chairman of the Davidson County Young Republicans.

Laine Arnold currently serves as the Press Secretary for the Transition. Previously, Arnold served in the same role for Governor-elect Lee’s General Election campaign. She also served as Press Secretary for the Randy Boyd for Governor campaign in 2017 and 2018.

On November 7, the transition unveiled a new website – transition.billlee.com. The site includes detailed information about the Governor-elect’s policy priorities, a section where Tennesseans can submit their resumes to potentially join his team, and most importantly, a section where Tennesseans can share their ideas with the Governor-elect and his team.

Since launching the site, the Lee Transition Team has received information from over 900 applicants who are interested in serving in the administration and nearly 2,000 ideas for bettering state government.

Fascinating history accompanies marvelous scenery around state park

State agencies and local Warren County business and political leaders are analyzing the prospect of restoring a long-shuttered historical landmark that was once a hub of commerce and industrial activity.

Mill workers around the turn of the 19th century,

Built on the banks of the Caney Fork River in 1892, the Great Falls Cotton Mill operated for just a decade before its wheelhouse turbine system was destroyed by a cataclysmic flood in 1902. Nevertheless, in that relatively short span it became a prominent feature of the local landscape and economy, even sprouting its own adjoining company town known as Falls City.

“The mill was operate by a flume, turbine, ropes and pulleys powered by the water diverted from the falls,” reads to a placard near the mill. “The operation included the manufacture of cotton, wool products, and was known for its heavy cotton sheeting.”

An information page about the mill at TNGenWeb.org, an online genealogical research organization, recounts that the facility’s purpose was to “manufacture, spin, weave, bleach, dye, print, finish and sell all goods of every kind made of wool and cotton.”

Details and specifics about costs and timelines for the project are sketchy at this time, but the overarching goal is to boost visitation and enhance tourism in the area, officials say. The project is still in a “conceptual phase,” according to a Nov. 14 press release from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The mill was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

“We are excited to pursue restoration of this important piece of Warren County history,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill. Preserving and protecting “the cultural significance of Tennessee’s special places” is part of the agency’s mission, he said.

Falls below Great Falls Cotton Mill. A cataclysmic flood of the Caney Fork River in 1902 destroyed the mill’s turbine.

The mill property is situated along the Caney Fork River about about a quarter mile below Great Falls Dam, which was completed in 1917 by the Tennessee Electric Power Company. Today the mill’s remains and the dam are owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which is involved in the restoration discussions.

According to TDEC, other agencies mulling the costs, rewards and logistics of refurbishing the mill are the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Historical Commission, the McMinnville-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Development Board of McMinnville-Warren County and various local elected officials.

Patrick McIntyre, executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, said his agency is “pleased to be a part of this effort to restore the Great Falls Cotton Mill. The project would fit well with the commission’s efforts “to preserve historically significant properties that are part of the rich history of Tennessee,” he added.

Rock Island State Park was established in 1969. However, the community of Rock Island dates back to the early days of Tennessee. Not only was it the first permanent settlement in Warren County, but the old Tennessee Superior Court, a forerunner to the state supreme court, would from time to time hold proceedings there. Andrew Jackson sat on the Superior Court in the late 1700s and early 1800s, nearly three decades before he served as president of the United States.

In order to improve access and parking and enhance the surrounding “green space” for people to safely and enjoyably explore the Great Falls Mill and surrounding grounds in the event that it’s transformed into a special attraction, rerouting the section of Highway 287 that runs by the mill may become necessary, officials say.

“During peak season, we have a lot of visitors who park in this area and our goal is to provide a safe experience that gives park-goers access to the historical and natural sites they’ve come to see,” said Rock Island State Park Manager Damon Graham.

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, NOVEMBER 8, 2018:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee State Parks will offer free, guided hikes at all 56 state parks the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23.

“Tennessee’s state parks are once again offering the opportunity to get outdoors the day after Thanksgiving to engage in healthy, fun activities,” said Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “It’s a chance to explore the state parks with loved ones around the holidays, with skilled rangers leading the way.”

Hikes for all ages and abilities will be hosted at state parks from Memphis to Johnson City, including easy, peaceful strolls and rugged excursions. Each hike will be led by an experienced ranger, trained in interpreting the ecological, cultural and historical significance of Tennessee’s state parks.

Tennessee State Parks will feature the best that Tennessee lands have to offer, from hikes along historical and interpretive trails to stunning views of waterfalls, peaks and plateaus. Some hikes are designed for novice hikers at short distances, while others are lengthier and geared toward more experienced hikers.

All the hikes are listed at https://tnstateparks.com/about/special-events/after-thanksgiving-hikes/.

Visitors are encouraged to share photos of their hikes on social media with the hashtag #thankful4hiking.

Other statewide hikes Tennessee State Parks offers include First Day Hikes in January, Spring Hikes in March, National Trails Day in June, and National Public Lands Day in September.