TN environmental director who warned against flushing shoes departs

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Sandra Dudley has moved on, free to worry about other toilets in other places.

Dudley, you’ll remember, is the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation official who warned employees against flushing shoes down work toilets.

TDEC officials are adamant the results of a recent employee engagement survey had nothing to do with Dudley’s departure.

Dudley’s replacement — for a job that generally requires a professional engineer — has a background in journalism.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton

TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau announced this month Tisha Calabrese-Benton would replace Dudley as the agency’s Water Resources Division director.

Tennessee law requires that a registered engineer or someone with experience in water resources and hydraulics fill the position. State law, however, gives TDEC officials the right to hire someone else, provided they have “administrative experience and training.”

“Tisha Calabrese-Benton has been with TDEC for more than a decade and has been involved in highly technical projects since she has been with the department,” TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman told Tennessee Watchdog in an email Thursday.

“She was appointed to this position and is an executive service employee. Tisha understands the issues of the department and has been substantively involved in our work throughout her TDEC career.”

According to Benton’s LinkedIn page, she has worked for TDEC in various external affairs and communications capacities for the past decade. Before that Benton served as a television and radio producer in Knoxville, Milwaukee and Nevada.

Benton received a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1996.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported earlier this year, about 800 of TDEC’s 2,500 workers participated in the employee engagement survey, which was designed to gauge happiness.

Brockman released the results of the survey to Tennessee Watchdog on Thursday. It showed a high percentage of employees reporting they and their co-workers and supervisors have a good working relationship. Additionally, employees report feeling engaged and believing their work positively affects other people’s lives.

Employees, however, reported low scores on whether they think management recognizes strong job performance and whether they think career advancement opportunities and communication levels between TDEC’s different divisions are satisfactory.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The survey had 43 multiple-choice questions, though the 44th and final question was open-ended and requested written feedback.

Tennessee Watchdog received anonymous information earlier this year suggesting TDEC management got a lot of lousy feedback on that final question; Brockman would not address the issue Thursday.

One could argue that TDEC employees might have a lot to say in response to recent events.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported earlier this year, TDEC’s Water Quality deputy director under the Division of Water Resources criticized employees for “non-productive, non-work related activities during the work hours.”

Dudley, who was the Tennessee official most responsible for maintaining the quality of the state’s water and public works systems, reminded her own employees how to use a toilet.

Dudley’s email included a warning that workers aren’t supposed to flush their shoes at the department’s main offices in downtown Nashville, at the Tennessee Tower.

Dudley also advised employees not to flush ink pens and paper clips.

When asked whether Dudley’s departure had anything to do with the survey, Brockman said she had simply taken a teaching job in Dickson County and at Lipscomb University.

“During her time here and under her leadership, our department consolidated three heritage water programs into one Division of Water Resources,” Brockman said.

“This was a major integration effort, probably the largest one of its kind in the history of our department.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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