NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Last Friday was the last day on the job for one of Governor Lee's top cabinet members. He resigned shortly after an investigation into sexual harassment charges.
But now comes yet another bombshell or rather two.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates found that while he worked for the state and was paid six figures, he was the only commissioner being provided free housing. And on top of that, he also held a second very well-paying job on the side.
As Tennessee's Commissioner of Commerce and Insurance, Hodgen Mainda ran one of the state's largest departments. It oversees insurance companies and how they operate in Tennessee. It trains and licenses law enforcement officers across the state and regulates more than two dozen professional occupations, everything from realtors to architects, car dealers and cosmetologists. Plus, the commissioner also serves as state fire marshal.
All that and Mainda still found time to hold a second also high-paying job.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered that the same day Mainda started as Commerce and Insurance Commissioner, he signed a contract with his previous employer, the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, to do "government relation and communication services" for the utility company. According to the contract, he was to be paid $8,300 a month.
"It just kind of smells. It stinks," Mark Cunningham said of the second job.
Cunningham is with the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based conservative think tank.
"Everything that was done was legal but there’s a difference between what is legal and what is appropriate in a position like that," Cunningham added.
Mainda turned down our request for an interview, but through his attorney maintained, "The (Lee) administration was fully informed about this consulting work beforehand and confirmed it was appropriate."
The Governor's Office refused to confirm this.
But we found Mainda did not initially disclose it, as required, on his first state disclosure form. He filled out the form two weeks after he signed the contract with EPB, yet where it asked if he currently held any job other than his job with the state, Mainda checked no.
"It’s just hard to believe he would have forgotten 13 days after starting somewhere that he had that job. It seems like that something that you would expect to remember," the Beacon Center's Cunningham remarked.
He noted that that raised all sorts of red flags.
"The entire point of these disclosure forms is to honestly give the public and the administration a great idea of what’s going on. And if you are lying or if you are being dishonest on those disclosure reports, how can we possibly know what’s happening?" Cunningham said.
Mainda, again through his attorney, refused to say why he did not originally disclose the EPB job.
But when he filled out his 2020 disclosure form in March of this year, he did include the EPB job. But, he wrote that he'd just started it in January.
That's when he signed a new contract with the Chattanooga utility, but the job description was the same. The only difference was the pay. It was now $5,000 a month.
"That’s the kind of thing that makes people distrustful of government, I think in some ways," Cunningham said.
We also discovered that on top of making more than $161,000 a year as Commissioner, Mainda also got free housing from the Department of Correction, a perk we learned no other commissioner has received.
The TDOC confirmed Mainda moved into a state-owned house next to the old state prison in west Nashville the day he started as Commerce and Insurance Commissioner.
He lived there rent-free, in a two bedroom, one bath house. He also did not have to pay utilities.
The Department of Correction would not confirm who else lives in the cluster of homes there, but we're told it's typically top level Correction employees like the Commissioner, his deputy and wardens.
A spokesperson told us Correction Commissioner Tony Parker offered Mainda a place to stay when he learned Mainda was moving to Nashville from Chattanooga. State policy does allow this sort of arrangement. But it seems to be highly unusual. Parker, we're told, has never made the same offer to any other commissioner, let alone anyone else outside the Correction Department.
The spokesperson said Mainda was invited to live in the TDOC house on a temporary basis, until he could find a "permanent residence" in Nashville. Yet, thirteen months later, as he announced his resignation, he was still living there.
Mark Cunningham called this all a very strange situation.
"As a taxpayer, it’s just a little concerning and I don’t think that no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, you would think that’s necessarily a good look," Cunningham said.
Under state policy, the TDOC could charge just over $1,000 a month for rent and utilities for the house, but because Mainda was deemed "an essential" worker, he paid nothing.
Governor Lee named Mainda's replacement last week, by promoting deputy commissioner Carter Lawrence to the job. We are told Lawrence does not have a second job and has no plans to live at the old prison.