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Bredesen names 5 new commissioners

(From a Governor's Office Media Release)

Nashville – Three attorneys were among five Tennesseans named today by Governor Phil Bredesen as the next commissioners of the state departments of Commerce and Insurance, Financial Institutions, Health, Revenue and Safety. Today’s appointees will take their oath of office during Bredesen’s second inauguration on Jan. 20.

“I asked these Tennesseans to serve because I believe in their talent, professionalism and commitment to our state,” Bredesen said. “Their leadership will help us continue to serve all Tennesseans as we continue strengthening education, job creation and health care in Tennessee.”

Bredesen has appointed Leslie Shechter Newman to the Department of Commerce and Insurance; Susan Cooper to the Department of Health; Greg Gonzales to the Department of Financial Institutions; Reagan Farr to the Department of Revenue and David Mitchell to the Department of Safety. Further, Bredesen announced the Office of Homeland Security will merge into the Department of Safety under Mitchell’s leadership.

Bredesen also thanked current commissioners Paula Flowers, Kenneth Robinson, Loren Chumley and Gerald Nicely for their service, which will continue until today’s appointees take their oath.

“These colleagues have invested real energy and heart into their work, and Tennessee is the better for their service,” Bredesen said. “I wish them the very best for their future endeavors.”

Department of Commerce and Insurance: Leslie Shechter Newman
Newman is a partner with Nashville’s Farmer & Luna law firm.  She has worked in private and public practice, including local and state regulatory law, for 26 years. She served with the Metropolitan Nashville Department of Law from 1994 – 2000; during that time, she advised the Office of the Mayor and supervised the Metro Law Department’s staff. Newman is a Johns Hopkins University graduate and earned her law degree from the Washington University School of Law.

“I want to thank Governor Bredesen for this vote of confidence and am thrilled to be working for him again,” Newman said. “I’m committed to maintaining the important balance between consumer protection and an open business environment that will benefit all Tennesseans.”

The Department of Commerce and Insurance includes a wide variety of regulatory and licensing programs governing Insurance, Securities, and more than two dozen occupational categories. It also contains the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the state’s E-911 Board, TennCare Oversight, Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs, P.O.S.T. Commission and TLETA. Its mission is to enforce statutory and regulatory standards to assure public safety, a balanced and fair business climate, and the protection of Tennessee consumers.

Department of Financial Institutions: Greg Gonzales
Gonzales has served as the Department’s Acting Commissioner since December 2005. He has worked for Financial Institutions since 1986, and his duties have included serving as general counsel, as well as directing budget, human resources and legislative efforts for the Department. Gonzales is a Tennessee Technological University graduate and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee.

"I am grateful to Governor Bredesen for his confidence in me,” Gonzales said. “After serving more than 20 years in the Department of Financial Institutions in a number of different roles, including most recently as Acting Commissioner, I am honored to lead this agency. I will continue the Department's work in ensuring that Tennessee's financial institutions remain safe and sound for the people of Tennessee."

The Department of Financial Institutions is responsible for monitoring the safety and soundness of all state-chartered depository financial institutions and for ensuring that licensed non-depository financial institutions comply with governing laws and regulations. 

Department of Health: Susan Cooper
Cooper joined state government in September 2005 as a health advisor and was instrumental in developing Tennessee’s Health Care Safety Net. She later assumed leadership of Project Diabetes, a program Bredesen created to curb the Type II Diabetes threat facing young Tennesseans. Cooper also helped facilitate GetFitTN, the public awareness portion of Bredesen’s campaign to promote healthier lifestyles and habits among Tennesseans.

Before joining state government, Cooper was a faculty member and assistant dean at Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing, where she also earned her nursing degree. Cooper began her career as a nurse specializing in emergency and intensive care.

“Governor Bredesen has given me a huge honor with this opportunity,” Cooper said. “My goal is to continue fostering partnerships statewide that will improve the health of Tennesseans – especially among our young people.”

The Department of Health has a range of responsibilities, including administering several community health programs, licensing healthcare professionals and maintaining vital health records and statistics.  The department works closely with local governments and nonprofit agencies to monitor and improve community health – including a campaign created by Bredesen to improve infant mortality and birth outcomes in Tennessee.

Department of Revenue: Reagan Farr
Farr has served as Deputy Commissioner and as an assistant commissioner with the Department of Revenue since 2003. As the agency’s primary legislative liaison and tax policy coordinator, he worked with the General Assembly to pass four consecutive tax packages that introduced no new taxes in the state. Before joining state government, Farr worked in the state and local tax department of the Ernst & Young accounting firm. Farr is a Louisiana State University graduate and holds his law degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

“I want to thank Governor Bredesen for this opportunity,” Farr said. “I want to continue to work with him to further increase efficiency at the department and improve taxpayer education among Tennesseans.”

The Department of Revenue is responsible for the administration of state tax laws and motor vehicle title and registration laws. During the 2005-2006 fiscal year, the department collected $12.1 billion in taxes and fees used to fund vital services including education and health care.  Additionally, in August 2006, the department implemented Tennessee's first-ever sales tax holiday, a three-day break from local and state sales taxes that saved Tennessee families $14.8 million.

Department of Safety: David Mitchell
Mitchell first joined state government in November 2005 as Bredesen’s Director of Homeland Security. Under his leadership, the Office of Homeland Security helped establish a statewide fusion center, used as an information hub for law enforcement and emergency response agencies across Tennessee.

Mitchell also worked closely with the Department of Safety to streamline and strengthen public safety efforts in Tennessee. That inter-agency cooperation will continue as the Office of Homeland Security merges into the Department of Safety under Mitchell’s leadership.

Before taking this position, Mitchell served 26 years as an FBI agent in a career that spanned the nation and globe and included assignments in Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York, Washington and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is a Middle Tennessee State University graduate and completed training at the Kellogg School of Management at Chicago’s Northwestern University.

“I owe a great deal of thanks to Governor Bredesen for these opportunities to serve Tennesseans,” Mitchell said. “I began my career as a local patrol officer and police detective, and I can’t wait to get back to working with the men and women in uniform who work so hard to protect our citizens.”

The Tennessee Department of Safety is responsible for ensuring the safety and general welfare of the traveling public.  The department's general areas of responsibility include law enforcement, safety education and motorist services, including the issuance of driver licenses.  The department and its highly trained staff of Troopers are responsible for safety on more than 15,000 miles of state and federal highways.

The Tennessee Office of Homeland Security has the primary responsibility and authority for directing statewide activities pertaining to the prevention of, and protection from, terrorist related events. This responsibility includes the development and implementation of a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to secure the state from terrorist threats and attacks. Further, the office of Homeland Security serves as a liaison between federal, state and local agencies, and private sector on matters relating to the security of our state and citizens.

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