UPDATE: TBR Director of Policy & Research Cassie Lynn sent the following note to TBR board members shortly after 5 p.m. Friday:
The following is a message from Gregg Morton, President of the TN Business Roundtable: “I wanted to send you a brief note to inform you that today Ellen Register resigned as executive director of the Tennessee Business Roundtable. I want to thank Ellen for her contributions to the Roundtable and I wish her the very best in her future endeavors. I will call a special meeting of the board as soon as calendars permit to discuss next steps. Thank you.”
Ellen Thornton has been relieved of her executive director duties at the Tennessee Business Roundtable, the business advocacy group she had helmed for more than a decade.
Sources have told NashvillePost.com Thornton’s exit occurred after this week’s meeting of the TBR board, which comprises about 30 senior executives active in a number of industries around the state. Sources close to the situation say board President Gregg Morton, the president of AT&T’s Tennessee operations, fired Thornton (who now goes by Ellen Register) following that meeting and did not consult the board in doing so.
A statement from the organization, which is based in downtown's AT&T Building, is expected this afternoon. That communication may well be the first time a number of board members find out about Thornton’s exit. One source said the board “does not officially know” Thornton is no longer leading TBR. Another said the move has led to a considerable amount of unrest among board members, several of whom have resigned or are planning to leave.
"Another thing to consider is how on Earth do you hire another president given how this has happened," said one board member.
The TBR has in recent years focused much of its work on reforming the state’s education system. (A recent policy brief for 2013 also identified judicial selection, workers’ compensation insurance and guns in parking lots as priorities.) A month ago, a new education task force chaired by Volkswagen executive Hans-Herbert Jagla held its first meeting in Chattanooga.
What the firing of Thornton means for the TBR’s direction is unclear. Chatter about the group’s ability to influence policy has persisted for years — our then-sister publication BusinessTN wrote about it in 2004 — and it’s become harder for a number of business organizations to be heard amid the increasingly strident rhetoric heard on Capitol Hill in recent years.
NashvillePost.com will update this story as more information become available.