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Inside Story: Gov's Friend Lands Books Job

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Jeff Conyers Jeff Conyers
Gov. Phil Bredesen Gov. Phil Bredesen

From Phil Williams:

Gov. Phil Bredesen has warned that hundreds, maybe thousands, of state employees could soon face layoffs.

But one friend of the governor doesn't have to worry about a job.

Books from Birth is one of Governor Phil Bredesen's pet projects. It's, by all accounts, a good cause. But some are privately questioning whether it was recently used for some good, old-fashioned favoritism.

Books from Birth aims to put a book a month into the hands of Tennessee children from birth to age five.

State lawmakers have appropriated millions of dollars for the project -- money that's administered by a foundation set up by the governor.

But when the Governor's Foundation recently needed a new executive director -- a job that pays more than $100,000 a year -- the governor's friends who control it didn't take out a help-wanted ad.

Instead, they just hired another friend of the governor.

Jeff Conyers is a Nashville real estate agent, who was Bredesen's driver during the 2002 campaign and later his personal assistant. He's also the son of Bredesen's longtime administrative assistant Janie Conyers.

The governor's personal lawyer, Byron Trauger, heads the foundation.

Trauger says that Conyers was picked because he's got a lot of contacts across the state, and he insists the governor had nothing to do with the decision. (Here's the announcement from the governor's office.)

In addition, Trauger says that, as a non-profit, the governor's foundation was under no legal obligation to conduct an open search -- maybe to give some poor state employee a shot at the job.

And, he's right -- there's nothing illegal here.

But the governor's critics ask, "What kind of message does that send to Tennessee's children?"

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