Commissioner, deputy resign following investigations

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The head of Tennessee’s Veterans Services, as well as a top deputy, resigned following separate investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and abusive behavior, records show.

Gov. Bill Lee’s office confirmed Monday that former Commissioner Courtney Rogers and Deputy Commissioner Tilman Goins had resigned. The governor’s office did not reveal further details about why or when the resignations had taken place.

Instead, investigation summary reports provided to The Associated Press by the Department of Human Resources show the two faced separate complaints and eventually submitted their resignation letters on Nov. 25.

The records show Rogers was accused of subjecting employees to abusive behavior — which included frequent yelling and belittling remarks. She was also accused of using inappropriate “racial and homophobic stereotypes and slurs.”

“Statements from a witness corroborated that the accused referred to a race of people as prostitutes who slept their way into the United States,” the report states of an incident at an undated military installation visit with Rogers.

“The accused did not deny making the statement and did not recall in what context she would have made the comment,” the report adds.

Over the summer, Rogers allegedly used a racial slur during a phone call with department leadership when describing a meeting that discussed “diversity and equity based on race.”

Rogers denied using the slur while referencing any specific person, but acknowledged she was “incensed” following “all that Mr. Floyd stuff” — a reference to the May 25 death police custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Separately, one employee alleged that in October 2019, Rogers yelled ” “I’m sick of your stupid mouth! I’m going to quit and tell the governor it’s all your fault!” While Rogers told investigators she didn’t remember saying this, another witness who was in the car confirmed the events had taken place.

Meanwhile, a separate investigation summary showed that Tilman Goins was accused of having inappropriate relationships with two subordinate employees.

Investigators reported that Goins and one of the employees had feelings for each other based on text messages provided by both parties and “reported conduct from the other person of a sexual nature.”

However, this employee — who is not identified in the report — claimed that the conduct occurred while Goins was their supervisor. Goins said he did not believe that to be true.

The report states that either way, Goins “did not appropriately handle the situation or halt any further romantic or sexual conduct or comments from Employee 1, and sent inappropriate messages …”

In the case involving the second employee, both Goins and the employee denied being in a romantic relationship despite witnesses claiming the two participated in conduct “outside of normal supervisor/employee relationship.”

Rogers’ investigation summary was provided to the governor’s office on Oct. 23. Goins’ summary was provided on Nov. 20.

Both of them then handed identical one-sentence resignation letters on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

“The governor is aware of the investigations and he’s accepted their resignations,” said Gillum Ferguson, Lee’s spokesman.

Both Rogers and Goins are former Republican state representatives who served from 2012 to 2018.

In 2016, Rogers raised eyebrows when she referred to people as “light and dark meat” when debating legislation that would strip funding from the University of Tennessee’s diversity office.

Maj. Gen. Tommy H. Baker, who was previously the deputy adjutant general of the Tennessee National Guard, will serve as the department’s interim commissioner.

“Gen. Baker is a committed public servant and I thank him for his willingness to lead the Department of Veterans Services during this critical time for our state,” Lee said in a statement.

This is the third resignation inside Lee’s administration in the past few months.

Former Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda announced he was leaving the department in October following an investigation over allegations of sexual misconduct by one of his department’s employees. Meanwhile, former Human Services Commissioner Danielle Barnes also left Lee’s administration in late October.

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