Former Tennessee top aide to stay on payroll until July

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former top aide for Tennessee's embattled House speaker who resigned after admitting to once using cocaine in a legislative office and sending lewd text messages about women will continue to be paid by state taxpayers until July.

House Speaker Glen Casada accepted Chief of Staff Cade Cothren's resignation May 6. While the resignation was effective immediately, Cothren had accumulated more than 300 hours of vacation time.

That means Cothren will continue to stay on the state payroll until July 5.

Casada raised eyebrows earlier this year when he bumped Cothren's salary to nearly $200,000 a year, or about $102 an hour, after naming Cothren as chief of staff at the beginning of the year. The pay increase made Cothren, 32, one of the Legislature's top paid employees.

In total, Cothren will earn more than $32,000 in the span of approximately seven weeks.

Cothren has also built up 60 hours of sick leave, which will remain available to him should Cothren return back to state government employment. Cothren will not receive a severance package, according to Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration.

In Tennessee, full-time employees are allowed to receive pay for the unused portion of their annual leave upon resignation except in the case of termination for gross misconduct.

Casada has been the center of several growing scandals, including one involving recently revealed texts he exchanged years ago with Cothren containing lewd remarks about women. He has also fielded a question on whether Cothren tampered with evidence involving a young black activist's criminal case.

First revealed in The Tennessean last week, Cothren allegedly sent sexually explicit messages to and made inappropriate advances toward former interns, lobbyists, and campaign staffers between 2014 and 2016.

The text messages between Casada and Cothren did not involve the former interns. Instead, the recently released text messages show Cothren bragging to Casada about having sex in a Nashville restaurant. A separate sexually explicit discussion between the two men included Cothren sending a photo of a woman next to a pole and Casada asking if he could "just touch" her after Cothren joked "Hands to yourself."

After the text messages were released, Casada assured GOP caucus members during an emergency conference call on May 8 that no more scandalous texts were left to be discovered. He told those Republicans: "Let me be very clear, there's nothing else to come out."

However, after making that promise, new messages leaked from 2016 showing Casada and Cothren — then the Tennessee House Republican caucus press secretary — joking about the ages of two women and asking if they were 21 years old.

Cothren also acknowledged using cocaine in his legislative office years before in a previous position.

Separately, a Republican lawmaker accused Casada of trying to "rig and predetermine" an ethics review regarding his mounting scandals. He's requesting Casada's leadership resignation.

In a statement Thursday to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Ethics Committee member Rep. Mike Carter said he was presented a statement of facts Monday that didn't seem aligned with the public record about Casada, along with an unsigned advisory opinion finding no ethical violations.

"I respectfully now call for the immediate resignation of the Speaker," Carter said. "For the good of the people of Tennessee it is time the Republican Caucus lead, not follow, stand straight and firm, not cowering to political threats and pressures, to follow our oaths of office and to vote to remove the speaker."

House GOP spokesman Doug Kufner says Casada hasn't seen the Ethics Committee's draft work.

Previously, Casada only requested a review of Cothren's termination.

House Republicans meet Monday to weigh Casada's controversies.

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