State finance chief Mark Emkes is retiring after presiding over three annual spending plans, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's administration announced Monday.
Emkes, a former CEO of Nashville-based tiremaker Bridgestone Americas, was one of Haslam's highest-profile Cabinet choices following the 2010 election.
Emkes said he has no interest in following in the footsteps of Bob Corker, a former finance commissioner who went on to be elected Chattanooga mayor and then U.S. senator.
"I have absolutely no political aspirations," Emkes, 60, said in a phone interview. "I think that's one of the reasons I got along so well with people down in the (Legislative) Plaza."
As commissioner of the Department of Finance and Administration, Emkes has been responsible for budget matters and managing the state's day-to-day finances. Haslam praised him for his business-like approach.
"We've presented three responsible, thoughtful and strategic budgets, and he has played a significant role in those efforts," Haslam said in a release. "Mark has brought a fresh perspective to state government with a focus on running it like a business."
Emkes' retirement comes following Haslam's decision to forgo - at least for the time being - $1.4 billion in federal money in the upcoming budget year for Medicaid expansion while pursuing a special arrangement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Emkes, whose last day will be May 31, is the third Cabinet member to resign from the Haslam administration this year.
Children's Services Commissioner Kate O'Day resigned in February amid mounting criticism about her agency, and Labor Commissioner Karla Davis left her department last month shortly before the release of an audit that determined that management had led to the overpayment of $73 million in unemployment benefits over the course of six years.
Emkes has been a vocal supporter of changing the culture of state employment, calling for more emphasis on performance rather than experience. He also has worked to make state government more customer friendly and to streamline management.
"It's one of those deals where you don't hit home runs, you just hit a few singles," he said. "But if you can reduce the time it takes to get an environmental permit or improve the service you're getting at call centers, little by little we become more customer focused and serve the citizens better."
Emkes, a native of Seymour, Ind., was recruited by what was then the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1976, and ended up spending 21 of his 33 years with the company overseas. His wife, Conchi, is from Spain, and his two children were born in Mexico and Brazil.
"For 27 years my wife has helped me live my dream, which was living overseas and more recently serving in state government," he said. "Now it's my turn to help her live her dream, which is spending more time in her home country of Spain."