This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The Volunteer State is creating a personnel environment more akin to the private sector. On April 24, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act into law, ushering in a new era of civil service reform marked by the executive branch’s increased control over the hiring and firing of its state workers. Like other states that have implemented civil service reform — including Florida, Georgia and Indiana — Tennessee will create a personnel environment more akin to the private sector.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s simply not his way to bully lawmakers into going along with his agenda and points to successes in this year’s General Assembly as proof it isn’t always needed. “It’s not my style to try to twist every arm we can and get one more vote than the other side,” Haslam said Tuesday as he discussed this year’s legislative session with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “I don’t think long-term that’s how good government works.” Haslam saw some proposals shot down in the Republican-controlled legislature this year, most notably an effort to grant local school systems more flexibility on teacher salaries and average class sizes.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he expects to sign into law the bill allowing referendums this year on establishing new municipal school districts in the Memphis suburbs. The governor said in an interview with The Commercial Appeal, however, that he would have preferred more time for suburban residents to review the Transition Planning Commission’s recommendations on the design of the new countywide school district before they vote.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced on Wednesday a grant for the Tennessee Historical Commission to fund an airborne research project with the hopes of discovering more historic sites in Castalian Springs and gaining a deeper understanding of the area’s existing ones. The project, which is being done through the Fullerton Laboratory for Spatial Technology at Middle Tennessee State University, hopes to locate prehistoric villages, archaeological mound sites, Civil War-era fortified sites and Zeigler’s Station, a settlement that was destroyed by Native Americans in 1792.
Tennessee gets a B-minus in terms of friendliness to small business in a new survey sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and professional services website Thumbtack.com. Tennessee scored As in eight of 12 categories, including hiring costs, regulations and tax code. The state scored a B for its ease of starting a business and its overall health and safety. Tennessee ranked at No. 17 and 18 for last year’s growth rate and its current economic health, respectively.
Gov. Bill Haslam has relocated to temporary office space while the state Capitol gets renovated. The governor and his staff of about 35 have moved to the 27th floor of the Tennessee Tower across the street while the work is completed. The about $15 million project is scheduled to completed in December. The work on the 150-year-old building includes upgrades and repairs to heating and air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical systems.
The state has collected $190 million more than budgeted so far this fiscal year. Finance and administration officials reported Tuesday that April collections were 9.6 percent over those in April a year ago. The figure was $1.4 billion, or $83 million more than budgeted. Sales tax collections for April recorded their 25th straight month of growth dating back to April 2010. On an accrual basis, April is the ninth month in the fiscal year that ends on June 30.
Tennessee continued to see improved tax collections in April, the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration announced Tuesday. According to Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes, the state collected $1.39 billion in tax revenue last month, up 9.7 percent over a year ago and $82.8 million more than officials had budgeted. “Sales tax collections recorded the 25th consecutive month of positive growth dating back to April of 2010,” Emkes said in a news release.
Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and Health Care Finance and Administration Deputy Commissioner Darin Gordon said Tennessee will receive at least $5 million more as part of a settlement over how Abbott Labs marketed the drug Depakote. The money is on top of nearly $2 million designated for Tennessee as part of a consumer protection agreement announced on Monday in connection with the same case. It involved the use of the drug for off-label uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
More than 60 attended this month’s Vietnam Era Veterans meeting at the American Legion Center. Many-Bears Grinder, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs, was guest speaker. Military family Grinder, who spent 35 years in the Tennessee Army National Guard, comes from a long line of military servitude. Her family has heeded the call to serve for generations, including her mother, husband, herself and her children. Her daughter-in-law, Billie Jean Grinder, even gave her life in service more than two years ago in Iraq.
Former Booker T Washington High School student Christopher Dean will be featured in a new documentary. The WKNO/PBS documentary is entitled American Graduate: The Tennessee Story. Tennessee’s First Lady Crissy Haslam will host the half-hour documentary. The PBS documentary will also focus on the high school dropout rate in the U.S. and the state of Tennessee. American Graduate: The Tennessee Story will air statewide Thursday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. In 2011, Dean and the BTW class of 2011 welcomed President Barack Obama as keynote speaker for their graduation.
The evolving slope slide under Interstate 75 in Campbell County is one of the worst in the state in more than two decades and is being exacerbated by rainfall, a state geotechnical engineer said Tuesday. Sometime after midnight Monday, a section of the embankment at the 143 mile marker already undergoing repairs slid, taking with it a lot of moisture-laden material and a portion of a stabilization wall already finished.
The University of Tennessee is one of more than a dozen schools that will get federal money for research into how to make new nuclear plants more efficient. While progress on new reactors is slow—and the current crop is aging—officials at the Department of Energy says the US will need more nuclear scientists in the future. It’ll be years before any of the nuclear reactors in the pipeline start churning out power. Meanwhile, scientists are still dealing with issues created by the plants that are currently online.
Man wanted to share his religious beliefs All John McGlone wanted to do was share his Christian beliefs with students at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. One on one. Instead, he was asked to leave campus by police simply because he didn’t give the university notice two weeks ahead of time, and he didn’t disclose what he wanted to talk about. Now McGlone has won a case before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled Tennessee Tech’s policy was unreasonable and violated the First Amendment.
Alarmed Tennessee officials seek ways to improve safety “Please don’t tell me he’s dead.” Susan Collier pleaded with grief counselors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Wednesday after rushing there to see her son, who had been in a motorcycle crash. “I’m so sorry,” a counselor responded. “No, don’t tell me that, please,” Collier pleaded. Her son, Bradley Collier, 35, of Nashville died after his motorcycle smashed into the back of a truck.
An environmental law that has Nashville-based Gibson Guitar mired in legal trouble was up for debate Tuesday in Washington. A House subcommittee heard arguments for and against the Lacey Act. Legislation called the RELIEF Act would rewrite the century-old law, which only recently began governing the importation of wood. Musical instruments are the concern of the bill’s sponsors, which include Rep. Jim Cooper. The Nashville Democrat says artists fear their guitars could be confiscated when they reenter the U.S. if they can’t document that all of the wood was legally harvested.
Cost kept a larger percentage of Tennesseans out of the doctor’s office from 2000 to 2010 than it did citizens of any other state, according to a new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute. About 857,000 Tennesseans between the ages of 19 and 64 said in surveys over the last decade that they didn’t go the doctor because they couldn’t afford it. The number grew 10.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, higher growth than any other state.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has spent the last week going to bat for his property tax increase. He says the alternative is laying off policemen and teachers. The additional 53-cents – what amounts to $16 a month on a $150,000 home – is a few cents shy of triggering a referendum where voters would have to sign off. But the mayor still has to get the Metro Council’s approval. “I’m not saying that there is every little bit of fat cut out of the government and there’s not areas that wouldn’t benefit from being cut, but you can’t find the amount of money that’s needed for the government to continue to operate.”
Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed 53-cent tax increase is rapidly becoming the top Metro Nashville topic, and it’s also on the lips of many business people mulling its impact — both on their pocketbooks and the city at large. The mayor’s office estimates the increase on homeowners and businesses would mean about $100 million in new revenue. Dean says it will stave off cuts and allow critical investments.
For the second year in a row, Chattanoogans won’t be staring at a property tax increase. The $209 million budget for next year is $8 million more than this year’s and includes more than $2.8 million in pay raises for city employees, city records show. “There were no surprises,” said Councilwoman Carol Berz, chairwoman of the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee. Chief Finance Officer Daisy Madison took about 45 minutes to go over the budget with the council Tuesday during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting.
State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Tenn., said there was a moment Tuesday morning when he had to take a breath before taking the podium inside the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. “This is a big moment for me,” Berke said afterward. “This is a big moment for my family.” Berke announced he will run for Chattanooga mayor in the March 2013 election. Standing in front of a cheering crowd of almost 150 people packed inside the center, he said he wanted to “build bridges.”
State Senator Andy Berke is setting his sights on Chattanooga government. More than a hundred people gathered at the Chattanooga Theatre Center Tuesday morning, as Berke officially announced his candidacy for mayor. Berke says he sees a lot of potential for economic success in Chattanooga, and there are a lot of factors that play into make Chattanooga the best city it can be. “We have to make sure that people want to live here and that we have a quality of life and that certainly includes crime. So these issues are tied together. If we can enhance our quality of life here in Chattanooga, we’re going to have great success for our citizens,” Berke said.
Bradley County commissioners say the county can’t afford to lose more revenues in a sales tax dispute with Cleveland and still participate in joint capital projects with the city. County commissioners voiced support late Monday — but withheld a vote — for a resolution that states the county will be unable to join the city in any major projects “due to a potential loss of sales tax revenues.” “The facts are that without some of that sales tax revenue, we — the County Commission — do not have the money to participate in some projects we would otherwise participate in,” Commissioner Ed Elkins said.
A multimillion dollar proposal that local educators say will lead to better schools but increased taxes received overwhelming support Tuesday night from roughly 150 residents during a Knox County Commission meeting designed to seek more information about a budget the county mayor recently shot down. “The children in our county deserve the best we can give them,” said Gerry O’Farrell. “I don’t see this as money being thrown at a problem. It looks to me as being a carefully planned … investment. I do not believe this will solve all our problems … but I think this is a very, very important step to take.”
The no-tax-hike budget proposed by Oak Ridge City Manager Mark S. Watson faces intense scrutiny and first reading in an Oak Ridge City Council meeting Monday. But there’s an intensely debated issue — debt payments on the city’s $66 million renovation of its high school — that leaves vast uncertainties and for months has been a hot-button topic in the city. City Council and the Board of Education remain deadlocked over exactly how that IOU is to be repaid.
City Manager John Campbell is proposing a balanced budget for the next fiscal year with no property tax increase and a 2 percent pay raise for city employees. However, the proposed budget does call for small hikes in the water and sewer rates and the hiring of three part-time employees in the public works department. Another item of note, Campbell’s proposed budget includes no decision on how much more money, if any, to give to the Kingsport City School system, which has requested an additional $2.4 million from the city to balance its budget — $520,000 of which would go toward the operational costs of the new STEM platform school.
It’s not making a dent in the $138 million that the city owes to the unsustainable city employees pension fund, but Knoxville City Council is slightly closer to putting a referendum before voters this fall. On Tuesday council took a straw poll that showed support for what they’ve called a hybrid plan, which would change the retirement age, cost of living adjustments and other costly details of the employees pension fund to save money.
Vermont lawmakers last week made an emphatic statement on the issue of fracking: Not in our state, at least not yet. In the final vote of its legislative session, the state’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would make Vermont the first state to ban hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method used to extract natural gas stored in shale deposits. The practice, commonly known as fracking, involves blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals deep into wells, freeing the gas.
Tennessee received a D+ today from the National Partnership for Women & Families. The grade is for the state’s lack of support and protection for working parents that have recently had a child, the group said. “The birth of a child should be a joyous event for new mothers and fathers, not the cause of financial hardship or devastation,” National Partnership President Debra Ness said in a news release.
Electrolux’s move from Canada to Memphis notwithstanding, the long-term shift of manufacturing to the South ended in 2000-2010, according to a new report that studied the geography of manufacturing in the U.S. The Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program report — “Locating American Manufacturing: Trends in the Geography of Production” — also found that manufacturing for most metro areas, not including Memphis, falls into one of six broad categories: computers and electronics; transportation equipment; chemicals; machinery; food production; and low-wage manufacturing.
Erlanger hospital’s interim chief executive officer asked Hamilton County commissioners to restore the full $3 million they used to give the hospital for treating the poor and uninsured. The full $3 million for indigent care previously came through a sales tax agreement between the city and county, with each entity contributing $1.5 million. When that agreement ended last year, the county no longer picked up the city’s share and the city declined to contribute $1.5 million.
Pinnacle Airlines Corp. said Tuesday it is ditching a 900-employee division that provides professional ground-handling services to 16 airlines at 11 American airports. Nearly 400 workers in Memphis, 330 part time and 68 full time, including 10 managers, will be affected. The company notified PinnPro Professional Ground Services workers on Monday that it would wind down the operation by September as part of bankruptcy-related restructuring.
Pinnacle Airlines Corp. announced Tuesday, May 8, that it will wind down its PinnPro Professional Ground Services subsidiary “over the next several months,” leaving the company’s ground operations restructured and much smaller. Leaders of the Memphis-based regional air carrier began telling those in the rebranded business unit Monday about the decision, which is the latest chapter in the company’s restructuring and reorganization as part of federal bankruptcy court proceedings.
Conference to share ideas on improving student performance Leaders from about 30 school districts from across Tennessee gathered Monday on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University for a two-day conference to share ideas on ways to improve student performance. The Tennessee Superintendents’ Colloquium featured discussions on Professional Learning Communities, a concept advanced by MTSU’s College of Education that has helped several districts improve test scores and student comprehension.
Chattering and carrying-on was fine Tuesday at Houston High, after the school was ranked seventh in the state on U.S. News & World Report’s best public high school list. Principal Leisa Justus got word first from a teacher who saw it on Twitter and shot her the tweet. “A few minutes later, I looked at a daily briefing I get on curriculum and instruction,” she said. “My goodness, this must be true,” she said to herself.
The School Board capped a meeting dominated by awards for students by approving the district’s massive budget without discussion. Clarksville-Montgomery County School System Schools Director Mike Harris had already presented the full budget, which was made up of local, state and federal dollars, during two earlier study sessions. The County Commission will have to sign off on the budget in June for it to take effect.
Though scores of parents are celebrating a Metro charter proposal as much-needed option for a school system that historically loses students to private academie, a competing faction that it would threaten racial diversity within the system. Great Hearts Academies, an Arizona-based charter organization that has proposed a network of five publicly-financed, privately-led schools in Nashville, took center stage at Tuesday’s school board meeting, with more than 60 parents having a say in the debate before the board casts a final vote on 11 charter applicants by May 29. Martha Galyon, a parent of a rising kindergartener in the Hillsboro cluster, told the board she was “quickly overwhelmed by the rising cost of private education in Nashville” during a recent school hunt for her child.
Officials with Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies charter school chain say they never have had resistance trying to start schools around Phoenix like they’re having in Nashville. After laws changed in Tennessee to lift a cap on the number of charter schools that can open, and also allow any student to enroll, Great Hearts targeted the Volunteer State and Texas to expand. But about 50 Metro school parents stood before a microphone at Tuesday’s school board meeting, half asking members not to approve the charter school’s opening in 2013.
Fighting back tears, Cheatham County director of schools Tim Webb told the school board Monday that he is stepping down. “I have taken all I can take,” said the former Tennessee commissioner of education, who apologized for being emotional. Some board members said they would not accept his resignation, and an emergency board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at the Board Annex on Elizabeth Street in Ashland City.
Now is the time for the Bradley County school board to begin a savings account for a future science wing at Bradley Central High School, according to board member Troy Weathers. It’s a good idea but now is not the time to begin setting aside $200,000 a year, according to board member David Kelley. A two-week debate on the issue came down to a 3-3 tie vote Tuesday. The board did approve a $65.5 million general fund budget for 2012-13 that includes a 3 percent raise for school system employees and contractor bus drivers.
North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional amendment Tuesday declaring marriage is solely between a man and a woman, dealing a setback to gay-rights advocates. Approval means North Carolina becomes the 30th state with such a constitutional provision. The constitutional change solidifies a state law in place banning same-sex marriage. Supporters of the amendment, including the Rev. Billy Graham, 93, and the conservative Family Research Council, contended the amendment was needed to block legal challenges to the state law.
The Legislature’s passage of a bill requiring eligible welfare applicants in Tennessee to submit to drug testing in order to qualify for benefits isn’t expected, by the state comptroller’s own analysis, to save Tennessee any money in the operations of the Department of Human Services. In fact, it’s expected to impose new costs of approximately $100,000 to defend against a predictable lawsuit on constitutional grounds.
Last week, the Sumner County school district removed John Green’s award-winning young-adult novel, looking for alaska, from its assigned classroom reading list because a parent complained about a scene describing oral sex between a teenage boy and girl. Sumner is the second county in Tennessee to remove the book from class this year. In a country that categorizes children as chattel, with schools operating in loco parentis, teachers and school boards must respond to parental complaint.
Before we can achieve our vision of establishing a world-class education system, we must first understand the conditions of the two school districts and develop the capacity to remove any inconsistencies that exist between the current conditions and our overall goal. As chair of the assessment committee, the group responsible for providing support and information to the other seven subcommittees to enable them to make data-driven decisions as they draft plans for the merged district, I understand many individuals in the community have a wide variety of perceptions of each district, what is working and what is not.
America faces an obesity epidemic costing hundreds of billions of dollars in health care expenses, higher health insurance premiums, lost productivity and absenteeism. Obesity is taking years off people’s lives and reducing their quality of life. Obesity in children is sentencing them to lives of medical dependency. Yet, except for a relative handful of people with serious medical conditions that lead to obesity, the problem can be controlled, but it will take more than individual willpower. That is the conclusion of a 478-page report from the Institute of Medicine — part of the Washington-based National Academies — released on Tuesday.