In the early 1980’s troopers were receiving very low pay, and a handful of motivated individuals decided they needed a vehicle to help push along a piece of legislation to change that situation. This all started with a few like-minded individuals and slowly grew into an organized grass roots coalition.
Troopers gradually began to work together, forming a group who could work towards a common goal—to be recognized by the state legislature and receive a pay raise. There were a number of troopers who took active roles in the early days, but one person, Captain Robert “Bob” McDonald, was one of the most influential in this regard. Capt. McDonald was aided by a number of troopers, such as Ralph Swift, who helped turn a dream into reality. They named this group “The Committee of Legislation” which was the initial name for what we now know as the TSTA.
In short order, they were able to unite enough troopers to pay a rather substantial sum of money so they could hire a lobbyist. As a startup entity, initial dues were upwards of $200 per person. At that time that was a huge sum of money because, in 1984, a trooper only made $960 a month. It was no small task, but everyone stuck together and the funds were raised to hire a top notch lobbyist.
Our first lobbyist was Attorney John Lyell. He did an outstanding job and was integral to our organization for many years. Through a unified effort of The Committee of Legislation and our lobbyist, troopers received close to an 11% raise. This accomplishment set the tone for the future of our organization.
THE SALARY SURVEY
In 1986, The Committee of Legislation and Lobbyist John Lyell worked on the most significant piece of legislation to affect our organization. Senator Riley Darnell and Representative Shelby Rhinehart helped push the legislation through and an Act became law creating TCA 4-7-201: it is known as the “salary survey.” In short, the salary survey is a law that regulates how troopers are paid.
How the survey works is that trooper salaries in surrounding states are surveyed and the average of those salaries is what Tennessee troopers should be paid. The salary survey exists only because of our organization and because of a favorable consideration by the 94th General Assembly, led by the Honorable Ned Ray McWhorter (then Speaker of the House). Although the name of our origination has changed over the years, the concept of working together as a team has not.
A few years later, during the McWhorter Administration, and for reasons unknown at the time of this writing, we changed names from “The Committee of Legislation” to “The Legislative Committee.” Governor McWhorter approached Captain McDonald and asked him to change the name of our organization. Since the governor (during his tenure as House Speaker) was extremely instrumental in helping us get the salary survey law passed, changing our name was a minor request to accommodate and we changed names again.
THE C.O.S.T COMMITTEE
Our organization was rebranded “The C.O.S.T. Committee.” C.O.S.T. stands for “Commissioned Officers of the State of Tennessee.” There were no changes other than the name and we ran under that banner for several years. Then, in 2010, it was decided that we wanted to expand the C.O.S.T. Committee to do more beneficial things for our troopers as well as take a bigger role in the community. The idea came about after a couple members attended a National Trooper Council (NTC) conference.
Our new name became The Tennessee State Trooper Association (TSTA). After making this name change, we added altruism to our business model. Ultimately, that decision resulted in our organization creating a separate not-for-profit business.
The TSTA started off as a small group of likeminded people who cultivated an idea into where we are today. This brings to mind a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” When looking at our history, it’s likely that few would argue we chose the wrong path. And we’re excited to see where this path takes us in the future.