This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
National Weather Service survey teams from the Morristown office have assessed several tornadoes that occurred Friday in East Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Here is a summary of the assessments, including their EF Scale rating. The EF Scale, or Enhanced Fujita Scale, is a zero to five rating based on damage. The National Weather Service said: The tornado that hit Tellico Plains in Monroe County has been rated an EF-2 with maximum winds at 130 mph. The path width was 400 yards with a length was 14.6 miles.
EF-3 tornado stormed through Harrison The whirlwind which ripped through the Harrison community Friday afternoon has been confirmed as an EF-3 tornado by the National Weather service. The designation, the fourth-most intense on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, means winds during the storm could have reached a maximum strength of 165 miles-per-hour. The gusts, which according to residents lasted only seconds, were strong enough to shatter homes and snap trees in half. While a total of 24 injuries were reported in Hamilton County, there were no fatalities. According the the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Friday’s storms injured a total of 45 people across the state.
In this small town in southeast Indiana, the tornado’s devastation was so severe that residents weren’t asking how to rebuild—but whether to try at all. The twister Friday destroyed nearly all of the roughly 30 homes in the center of Marysville, which sprouted up 140 years ago around a train station. Although no one died, the storm scattered pieces of homes across miles of surrounding farmland, peeled the roof from Marysville’s community center, and shifted the town’s only church off its foundation. “I hate to say this, but I’d honestly be surprised if Marysville comes back,” said Kimberly Hoselton, 38, who lived near Marysville Christian Church, where she was baptized and married.
The sawdust flying off Jojo Macatiag’s chain saw mingles with the ashen sky, backdropped by houses without roofs and walls. Nearby, Salvation Army trucks rattle down barricaded roads, weaving between power company cherry pickers to deliver hot meals to people collecting scattered storm detritus. So begins volunteers’ arduous task of helping those affected by tornadoes in Harrison and Ooltewah get their lives back on track. After his stepfather’s house was demolished by the April 27 tornadoes last year, Macatiag banded with other volunteer workers, a hodgepodge group including loggers, engineers, a nurse and a former police officer.
At the 103-year-old dream home on a hill that Roger Ledbetter had restored, Sunday was burial day. The house had been knocked off its foundation and ruined by killer twisters. A neighbor worked a backhoe to carve open a grave for three of Ledbetter’s seven horses, so badly injured they had to be put down. Shep the dog had already been buried. A search was underway for the family cat, Miss Beasley. Yet for all the tears and tragedy that weather delivered along the miles of winding country road here, Ledbetter says, it could have been far worse. His in-laws, who were living in the farmhouse that he rebuilt for his future retirement, had enough warning of the storms’ approach to leave for safer ground. It saved their lives.
Improvement sought quickly Upon approaching his one-year anniversary as commissioner of education in Tennessee, Kevin Huffman said that the goal is to be the fastest-improving state in the country by 2015. Huffman invited all of the state’s education reporters to his office in Nashville last week to discuss the challenges he’s faced in his first year as well as what is next now that the state has been granted a waiver releasing it from some No Child Left Behind requirements. “We expect to see performance improve quickly,” Huffman said. In addition to the new teacher evaluation model used across the state, Huffman said Tennessee will begin rolling out common core standards for third- through eighth-grade students.
Healthy dining doesn’t stop with calorie counts and nutrient content.A growing number of restaurant-goers want to know where the food originated — and the closer to home, the better. In its annual chef survey, the National Restaurant Association found that local and sustainable food production trumped even health-oriented trends forecast for 2012. Additionally, 72 percent of adult consumers indicated they are more likely to visit a restaurant that sells local items, according to the organization. A Chicago-based research firm, however, says the trade group may be overstating the case. Technomic Inc. found that just 21 percent of consumers consider “local sourcing” when buying restaurant food or beverages.
State lawmakers are considering giving teachers and other school personnel more authority — including reasonable force — with less fear of liability for students who are posing a safety threat to themselves or others. The bill won unanimous approval in the state Senate and is set for review in the House Education Committee on Tuesday. It requires local school boards to adopt policies authorizing teachers and others to temporarily relocate a student with “reasonable or justifiable force,” if required, or for the students to remain in place until law enforcement or school resource officers arrive. Senate Bill 3116, sponsored by Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, also requires principals to fully support teachers in taking action when it is done according to the policy.
On Fat Tuesday, some 30 members of Occupy Nashville gathered at War Memorial Plaza for a general assembly. The plaza’s eastern steps were darker than when they were lit by floodlights from television news vans four months ago. There was enough light for the Occupiers to see each other but not quite enough to illuminate where they’re going. In October, at the height of the group’s clash with the state — which resulted in 55 arrests on the plaza — such assemblies played out like defiant pep rallies, incited by the clear sense that there was constitutional and geographical ground to defend. A common cause and a common enemy were like an elixir to the waning occupation, which at the time wasn’t even a month old.
Shawn Malone knows the roads in Chattanooga. He and his wife routinely ride their sports bikes up and down city streets and main roads. He has a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle that he made into a lowrider and it feels every bump. The good news is Malone doesn’t feel many bumps in the roads around Chattanooga. “I’ve seen a lot of other places where the roads are a lot worse,” he said. “But there’s some places that need attention.” The city plans to try to keep Malone’s rides and other motorists as smooth as possible by using a new scientific method to categorize roads and stretch city dollars as far as possible to get and keep them in the best condition.
3 from Mich. to help ease backlog of cases in Memphis With federal caseloads growing, a vacant seat on the bench and no relief in sight, local court officials are calling in the cavalry from the north. Under a special Visiting Judges Program, three federal judges from Michigan — one of the four states in the Sixth Judicial Circuit that includes Tennessee — have agreed to help ease the local backlog. So far 30 local criminal and civil cases have been reassigned to the three judges — Robert Cleland, Stephen Murphy and Arthur Tarnow — who may be able to handle some of the work by teleconference, but who otherwise will be scheduling court time in Memphis.
Mitt Romney is showing signs of closing in on Rick Santorum in Tennessee, drawing new attention to the state as a battleground ahead of this week’s Super Tuesday balloting. Mr. Romney has won contests in the Northeast, the Midwest, the West and in the southern state of Florida. But a victory by Mr. Romney in Tennessee would damp claims that he has only a weak hold on the South, the region where his support in polls has been softest. It would come just as the Republican presidential campaign turns more directly toward the South, with balloting later this month in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney brought his quest for the Republican nomination for president to Knoxville on Sunday, promising to get the federal budget under control, an act he said will result in Americans feeling optimistic again for future generations. Some 1,000 people attended a rally in the gymnasium of West Hills Elementary School and often chimed in with rounds of “Mitt, Mitt” when he said something they liked and particularly when he criticized Democratic President Barack Obama. His visit came two days before Tennessee’s presidential primary — part of a 10-state Super Tuesday election.
With just two days until Super Tuesday, GOP Nominee Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Knoxville Sunday. He already has the support of Governor Bill Haslam and several state senators and representatives, but that doesn’t seem to be enough as he trails behind Rick Santorum. Romney hopes that changes after Sunday’s rally. The presidential hopeful and his wife received a warm welcome as Gov. Haslam introduced the couple to a crowd of nearly 1,000 people at West Hills Elementary School. Just minutes before taking on the stage, Romney sat down with Local 8 News to talk about his plans on moving the country forward.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Knoxville Sunday afternoon ahead of Super Tuesday. Romney spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 people at West Hills Elementary School. The former Massachusetts governor was introduced by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. He has endorsed Romney publicly. Romney’s speech, which lasted about half an hour, touched on a number of topics. He talked to the crowd about investing more money in the military and looking for more ways to develop carbon-based fuels. But, Romney’s biggest focus was on the economy.
As polls showed his formerly huge lead in Tennessee dwindling to almost nothing, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attended church services Sunday in the Memphis area and lunched on barbecue at Corky’s before heading to Oklahoma. Across the state, in Knoxville, national GOP front-runner Mitt Romney made his first visit to the state in several weeks looking to score a surprise in Tennessee as recent polls showed his national lead growing and his standing in the South improving ahead of this week’s Super Tuesday primaries.
Most of East Tennessee’s congressional delegation is backing Mitt Romney for president. U.S. Reps. John J. Duncan Jr. of Knoxville, Phil Roe of Johnson City and Scott DesJarlais of Jasper have all publicly thrown their support behind the former Massachusetts governor in the GOP presidential primary on Tuesday. “Gov. Romney is a very nice man, a family man, with a good track record as governor of Massachusetts and in business,” Duncan said. “We need someone like that in the White House who understands what it takes to create jobs.”
Rep. Scott DesJarlais announced Friday he would back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for president. Romney, who is fighting for the Republican nomination, has shown momentum in recent polls of Tennesseans leading up to Super Tuesday. One week ago, presidential candidate Rick Santorum held a 2-1 lead over Romney in a poll conducted by Vanderbilt University. DesJarlais, a freshman Republican, joined Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander, and four of Tennessee’s nine congressional representatives as backers of Romney. In a news release, DesJarlais said he believed the impending election would be one of the most important in the nation’s history.
Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith could be a factor as Tennesseans and voters in nine other states head for the polls Tuesday and may be the reason the former Massachusetts governor is struggling for delegate votes when many pundits expected him to have the nomination within reach by now. Religion is a factor in the 2012 Republican presidential primary in Tennessee based on the latest poll done at Middle Tennessee State University, said Ken Blake, the poll’s director and an associate professor of journalism. The poll showed Rick Santorum leading among Republicans at 40 percent; Romney getting support of 19 percent; former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 13 percent; and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 11 percent.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is scheduled to make a campaign stop in Chattanooga Monday evening, when he will appear at a rally at the Chattanooga Airport. The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Hanger Two at TAC Air, and is free and open to the public. Following campaign events in Kingsport and Knoxville, the rally will be Gingrich’s final event before voters in Tennessee and nine other states go to the polls on Super Tuesday.
After a dozen contests, 20 debates and the prospect of weeks or even months of continued skirmishing, there is a growing clamor among Republicans to bring the presidential nomination race to a close for fear of hopelessly damaging the party’s chances against President Barack Obama. Republicans designed their plan for picking a nominee to test their candidates with a longer, more, grueling campaign. But the move threatens to backfire against a Democratic incumbent who has gained strength as the increasingly nasty GOP contest has worn on.
A walk through Northwood Elementary School in this small city shows almost at a glance the privations that tight Florida budget years have imposed on K-12 education. There is an up-to-date science lab at Northwood waiting for customers, but there is no science specialist competent to take advantage of it. So it remains empty for much of the day. “If funding were available, we’d have a hands-on science teacher,” says Principal Jacqueline Craig. “We have the facility, but unless the teachers bring their students over here, there’s no one to teach in this classroom.”
In the waning days of this year’s legislative session, Florida lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing to overhaul the state’s alimony law in a bid to better reflect today’s marriages and make the system less burdensome for the alimony payer. Florida joins a grass-roots movement in a growing number of states that seeks to rewrite alimony laws by curbing lifelong alimony and alleviating the financial distress that some payers — still mostly men — say they face. The activists say the laws in several states, including Florida, unfairly favor women and do not take into account the fact that a majority of women work and nearly a third have college degrees.
Billions of dollars in credit card debt that was charged off during the Great Recession— some of it decades old — is coming back to haunt borrowers in the form of unexpected tax bills. Debt that is canceled or forgiven is considered taxable income, something many borrowers don’t realize until they receive a 1099-C tax form from their lender. The IRS projects that creditors will send taxpayers 6.4 million 1099-Cs in 2012, up from 3.9 million in 2010. The increase likely reflects the rise in credit card defaults during the economic downturn, says Gerri Detweiler, personal finance expert for Credit.com. Moody’s Investor Service estimates that the nation’s six largest credit card companies wrote off more than $75 billion in uncollectible balances in 2009 and 2010.
The Tennessee Valley Authority continues to repair tornado damage to its power transmission lines from Friday’s storms, spokeswoman Myra Ireland said. The most damage is in Harrison and Davis Mill areas in Hamilton County and into Bradley County, Ireland said. A line near Murphy, N.C., and two lines west of Huntsville, Ala., were damaged as well, she said. On Sunday evening, nine lines still were out of service, down from 16, Ireland said. “A total of 20 structures are damaged — from minor damage to tangled [steel and cables] on the ground,” she said.
Grading work could start soon on last big chunk of land in huge office park Just days before workers begin demolishing the old Murray Ohio Corp. headquarters at the gateway of Maryland Farms, construction could be on the horizon on the other end for the last big chunk of undeveloped land in the office park. A master grading plan for the 55 acres of land known locally as “the Cooper property” is on the plate for the Brentwood Planning Commission tonight. “It’s a big piece of property,” agreed Brentwood Planning Director Jeff Dobson. “There’s a much smaller tract up on Powell Place that still hasn’t been developed yet, but that’s pretty much it.”
Employment help for military members and veterans moves to the Memphis area this week. An employment workshop and job fair will be Tuesday through Thursday in Millington at the NSA Pat Thompson Conference Center. The free event is open to National Guard members, reservists and all vets and military spouses. It is the 21st such job fair and workshop held across the state in the past 15 months. The first 2 days are workshops, followed by a job fair Thursday afternoon.
Parents, teachers await plans, possible charters Most of the parents crossing guard Lisa Collins has talked to at Corning Elementary have no idea what it means that the state will soon be running their school. “I know because I talked to them,” she said. “The parents I’ve been talking to don’t know anything about what is going on.” Days after the state Department of Education announced six Memphis City Schools would be run by the state or turned into charter schools, families of 1,600 students in three Frayser schools and dozens of teachers are waiting for details. “It seems like it could be a good thing,” Corning first-grade teacher Teresa Shannon said as she weighs whether to apply to work in the state-run Achievement School District or cast her luck with MCS.
Delay blamed on legal advice Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register violated the terms of his contract, and possibly the city’s ethics code, by failing to file financial disclosure statements with the Metro Clerk for 2010 and 2011. In doing so, Register joined a growing group of high-profile officials who have had problems with such disclosures. Previous reports by The Tennessean found Gov. Bill Haslam and Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling also failed to properly disclose business dealings on their disclosure forms. Last month, state Sen. Mae Beavers amended her disclosures. After filing a disclosure form for 2009, Register went two years without submitting a statement to the Metro Clerk.
McIntyre recommends request with caveats Officials with the Knoxville Charter Academy, Knoxville’s first charter school, have asked the Knox County school board to approve a former church for its location. Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre has backed the school’s plan in a memo to the board, but with stipulations. The Knoxville Charter Academy, scheduled to open in 2012, will eventually house kindergarten through eighth grades, and have an emphasis on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known commonly as STEM. The school’s board has chosen the former Bridgewater Church building, located at 205 Bridgewater Road in West Knoxville, to house its school.
Cheatham residents say effort to protect gay students resisted Cheatham County students and recent graduates upset about the district’s bullying policies and the suicide death of a peer are planning to launch an effort to change policy at tonight’s school board meeting. To do so, they’ll have to wait for the board’s formal public comment period. Their recent attempt to get three proposals placed on the agenda through a little-used board policy that legally permits them to do so was unsuccessful. Director of Schools Tim Webb told The Ashland City Times that, although the residents took the right steps to suggest agenda items, the policy does not require board members to include them.
The Hawkins County Board of Education voted Thursday to forego the time and expense of SACS accreditation this year and rely on new state and federal accountability programs for system oversight. With the state and federal government playing an increased role in public school accountability, many schools across the region and state are opting out the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation program. Hawkins County is a recipient of federal “Race to the Top” grant funds, and with that program comes the same teacher evaluations and curriculum evaluations that SACS would provide.
Under Massachusetts regulations, a hair salon owner who wants to sell her shop to an employee must first temporarily close down. A funeral director can’t hire a part-time apprentice—only full-time is allowed. The state’s legal size for a sea clam differs from what federal requirements specify. These and other “nuisance” regulations, as many businesses describe them, are coming under scrutiny by Gov. Deval Patrick, who on Monday is expected to announce that he’s tossing or tweaking 150 requirements—pertaining to everything from sea bass to sewer lines—that get in the way of doing business.
While Gov. Bill Haslam often declares his intention to make Tennessee the most business-friendly state in the Southeast, his “flag” list shows that some legislators’ ideas for advancing that goal are just a little too friendly.The governor this year began issuing “flags,” which are written notices of his administration’s objections to pending bills, after refraining last year. Gubernatorial flags have traditionally served as major roadblocks to a bill’s chance of success. Early indications are that this will apply to Haslam’s administration as well, as his party holds a strong majority in the Legislature. Several flagged bills have already flopped.
Tennessee benefits from having no general income tax, even though that necessitates higher state and local sales taxes to raise revenue. The Tax Foundation recently determined that Tennessee has the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the United States. The state levies a 7 percent sales tax, and the average additional local sales tax rate is 2.45 percent. That means an average sales tax of $9.45 on $100 in purchases. No one doubts that is significant to consumers in Tennessee. But it is still preferable to imposing a general state income tax. One of the chief benefits of a sales tax is that it is highly visible.
The recent shakeup at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is not entirely surprising. What is different are changes in career managers and the manner in which they were treated. Based on details provided publicly, the case of Paul Estill Davis is particularly troubling. Davis was our nation’s longest-serving water regulator. During his 38 years managing water issues, our water became much cleaner while our economy grew faster than the national average. TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau has said that efforts by Georgia and other states to take Tennessee’s water are one of many reasons why staff changes were made.
You’ve heard of “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.” Well, in Tennessee, get ready for “Bring Your Pistol to Work.” Because nothing celebrates a round of layoffs like having employees armed and angry. The state Senate Judiciary Committee is set to debate legislation this week that would allow gun owners to keep their firearms in their cars at work parking lots. The House version, thankfully, is bottled up in a subcommittee where it may stay jammed. The law does not say people who have gun permits could bring their guns to workplace parking lots. It says any gun owner. It’s being pushed by the Tenneessee Firearms Association.
Some Knox County commissioners want to revisit the issue of restoring their discretionary funds that at one time enabled each commissioner to spend up to $6,000 in taxpayer money in their districts. The discretionary funds were reduced to $3,000 in 2010, before being eliminated altogether in the current Knox County budget, which took effect on July 1, 2011. The commission members likely will discuss the issue at workshops and meetings this month and when they review the mayor’s budget proposal later in the spring. There might be valid points for restoring the funds, but there are equally valid points for leaving the matter where it stands and avoid reviving the funds.
It’s good to see that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and the schools merger Transition Planning Commission are of the same mind about the importance of pre-kindergarten programs. After the merger occurs, the mayor wants to use some of the annual $60 million to $70 million city government will no longer have to provide schools to expand early-childhood and after-school programs for children. The TPC has set a goal to make sure every child is ready for school, which means an expansion of the community’s pre-kindergarten programs.
Sen. Lamar Alexander characterizes the federal government’s decision to grant a license for two new atomic energy reactors “not a renaissance, but a reawakening.”It’s still welcome news to Alexander and others who extol the benefits of nuclear energy. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 in February to approve a license for the Atlanta-based Southern Company to build and operate two reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga. The $14 billion project marks the first time in three decades a new reactor has received government approval. Alexander, who advocates for the construction of 100 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, sees the new reactors as a sign that Americans are waking up to the importance of nuclear energy as a clean, reliable source of electricity.
High-level visits don’t always translate into high-level funding, but sometimes they can help. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was in Oak Ridge Feb. 15 to promote the administration’s support for nuclear energy. He visited Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, where scientists and engineers are using the lab’s super-powerful computers to create a virtual reactor that may help fix real-time problems in real-life reactors. Perhaps more importantly, from an Oak Ridge perspective, was a separate, unconnected visit on the same day by DOE Undersecretary Tom D’Agostino, who took a close look at some of the neediest cleanup projects.