$12,000 paid to fired state employee to write paper - WSMV Channel 4

$12,000 paid to fired state employee to write paper

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found a state agency paid a fired deputy commissioner his full monthly salary of $12,000 to stay at home and write a nine-page research paper, which contained three pages of information copied from other news articles.

Even the former deputy commissioner said he'd rather have worked his last month of the job instead of writing the paper.

"I had absolutely no choice in the matter. Was there something else I could have provided? Absolutely," said Jose McNeill, former deputy commissioner in the state Department of General Services.

When McNeill was suddenly fired on April 23, he received unusual news from his boss, Commissioner Stephen Cates.

In his termination letter, Cates wrote that even thought McNeill had been terminated, he would still be paid for a month to work from home on a research paper about then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to sell and lease back state buildings.

"The decision to leave was not mine. The assignment I was delivered was not mine," said McNeill.

McNeill had written a previous paper on Schwarzenegger's failed attempt to sell state buildings and lease them back as a way to raise money for California.

The state Department of General Services was considering the same concept as well, but even McNeill admits he wasn't chained to his home computer for his last month of employment.

"Was it eight hours a day, five days a week? No. But when you're writing a research paper like that, you're thinking a lot at different times," McNeill said.

"It's at least questionable about whether it was worth the money," said Dick Williams, chairman of Tennessee Common Cause.

The Channel 4 I-team obtained a copy of the paper, and roughly three pages of it are copies of news articles that explain Schwarzenegger's politically-torpedoed plan.

"It didn't seem at all that thorough to me," Williams said.

The Channel 4 I-Team also showed the paper to college students, who pointed out that they couldn't turn in the paper for a class because of the copied articles.

"That would be a straight up fail," said Ian Bush, college student.

"Getting paid $12,000 to write a research paper, even in that field, just seem ludicrous to me," said Stephen Mage, college student.

McNeill admitted there was a lot of cut and paste in the article because employees in the Department of General Services aren't experts in commercial real estate, and he had to keep the subject basic.

"Would you pay $12,000 for it? I don't think that's a fair question. I think the question would be, over the time that I was there, did I deliver more for the state of Tennessee than I was paid? And the answer is absolutely yes," McNeill said.

Cates refused to do an interview to explain why McNeill was fired or why he paid him the additional month's salary to write the paper.

Cates' spokeswoman Kelly Smith said Cates' termination letter speaks for itself, although the letter doesn't state why McNeill was fired or why he was given the research paper assignment.

Smith did issue a brief statement that read, "Mr. McNeill was writing the paper on California's recent portfolio sale-lease back project and its successes, failures and causes thereof. He had extensive experience in this area, and we were looking to evaluate it to see if it could potentially work here in Tennessee."

The Channel 4 I-Team reviewed McNeill's file, and there's no indication of why he was fired.

McNeill said he and the commissioner didn't agree on how quickly projects were being completed, and that he felt Cates had someone else in mind for his job.

Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation).  Allrights reserved.

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